I was fortunate to attend a discourse by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (HHSSRS) on the Vigyan Bhairav at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, NC. Below are some musings, reflections and my “take” on this discourse. The below is strictly mine; my interpretation, my reasoning, mine only.
Lets start at the very beginning ’cause its a very good place to start! Vigyan is Science. Bhairav means frightful. per se there is nothing frightful about the text of Vigyan Bhairav. This text takes the student to infinity. The techniques lead to a merger of the finite (the student) into infinity (the unbounded consciousness). It is this merger that is frightening. HHSSRS explained this beautifully.
What is real? Is our body real? Sure feels like it! But wait… Lets drill down a bit. Our skin, looks solid, but infact it is like a mosquito net! Drilling down further, we find a collection of individual cells. As we drill down some more, we find the DNA and the deeper we go down this rabbit hole, the weirder it gets. This video summarizes it visually. So, we ask again, what is real?
The answer to this question can be arrived at from the other side. What is NOT real? This we can define:
Anything that Changes with Time is not Real
It is easy to accept this definition and by the process of elimination of what is NOT real to arrive at what is Real. But wait, if we are to be precise, we need another definition for how long is long enough wait time to measure for change. Now things get complicated.
In the lifespan of a Gnat, mountains are unchanging. However, as a trained Chemical Engineer, I know of the Deborah Number: Given enough timeeven solid-like material will flow. In other words, on the timescale of Gods, even Mountains are fluid.
Extending this line of thought, it is is a real possibility that given enough time, everything will change. Which means that nothing is Real! Everything is a Lie! Oops. Now what?!
This is the question that Parvati asked Shiva. She asked him that if everything is not real, then how do we get to what is Real? Shiva’s answer is the Vigyan Bhairav which consists of a series of processes or techniques called Tantra that leads one to merge into the infinite conscious which is the only thing that is Real.
A word of caution is necessary here. It is easy to Google this and find the list of the Tantric techniques. There are various interpretations also available. As a dominant left brainer, I had also done this before the recently concluded discourse.
And, boy were the interpretations only partially correct!
It takes a fully realized Master to interpret this text and to simplify and present it for us normal folk. This is a necessary and indispensable step.
Lets take one particular example of a technique given in the Vigyan Bhairav. It involves focusing on the transition between inhale and exhale. Wait, let me back up a bit.
The technique is this:
As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves from up to down — through both these turns, realize.
The instruction from Shiva is to focus, acutely, on the points where the breath transitions from the in-breath to the out-breath and vice versa. It is easy to interpret this as one transition point in the nose and the other somewhere in the lungs. Yet, it is an incorrect interpretation.
It is here where the student gets lost without a realized Master to explain the technique. The point of transition of the out-breath to the in-breath happens outside the body at precisely the intersection of the line from the tip of the nose to the circle corresponding to the 12th Chakra. Woah! Firstly, most are not even aware that there are 12 Chakras. We normally know the 7. But there are more. The 8th and 9th are above the head. The 10th one is below the ground! And the 11th and 12th are again above the 9th. Now this does not seem that straightforward anymore, does it?
Loosely, this point is some precise distance from the tip of the nostril. But, in reality, locating this point of transition takes many many years (or maybe even lifetimes). For this, the perception of the senses needs to become acutely sharp.
Lets take an example. Say we have to measure your height. The only measuring tool we have is the span of your palm, which is about 8 inches. Now unless your height is an exact multiple of 8 inches, the estimation of your height will be approximate!
It is like measuring with a ruler, marking with a chalk and cutting with an axe!! Good luck getting a precisely cut piece of wood!
This is exactly what happens. When we are engaged in the world chasing after different desires, our senses get fatigued. In such a state, the senses are overused and insensitive and unable to precisely locate the transition points between the in- and out- breaths. And as a result, the realization or the merger with the infinite does not happen. The student spends time getting disillusioned and caught up in Maya.
The Master knows this very well. So, S/He gives some precursor techniques to the student. These are designed to remove the fatigue from the senses and make the senses sharp with practice. Some such techniques include Meditation which needs to be practiced daily. In addition, some guided process are prescribed where, in silence, again and again (punah-punah), the flow of energy in the body is observed intently. Some preparatory breath work is also usually needed.
Only after the student is become sufficiently proficient in these precursor techniques does the Master initiate the Tantra processes to enable merger with infinity. No other way is safe.
Be careful using the Tantra on your own. Tantra techniques are only to be used to merge into infinity. They are not to be used loosely, without guidance, just for quick thrills.