I was a premature baby, born six weeks before term. My lifelong pattern of bypassing the beginning was probably set that day. Here’s how I learned to ski:
My father took me to Davos Mountain in upstate New York, rented me boots and skis and out we went. By the end of the day I was making my way down the mountain without too many falls and quite enjoying myself. Walking back to the lodge we passed the beginner’s slope. I still remember my shock. “Dad,” I said, “Why didn’t you start me here?” “Try it now,” he said. And after a day on the intermediate slopes, the beginner’s run was easy…
And so too with our immersion in Vijnana Bhairava. I initially skipped us over the introductory verses, moving right into the dharanas. While the decision made sense at the time, I began to suspect the impulse was driven by this deep unconscious leapfrog pattern. While I’m not suggesting leapfrogging is always the wrong choice, I would rather not subject Monday Night Class to my unconscious motivation.
We’ve therefore circled back to the beginning of this text. Full disclosure: I’ve always discounted these first verses as a literary device to get the text moving. Devi asks Bhairava to explain the meaning of life and after some and back and forth, the discourse begins.
What I now come to see is that these introductory verses are much more than a literary device. They are setting up the text as a dialogue between that within us that asks the question and that within us that knows the answer.
Our culture places great value on knowing. We’re conditioned to give the “right” answer and many of us feel shame when we get it “wrong.” The answer is somehow more important than the question. I will say that this comes from our fear of the unknown, from our need to “look good,” from a deep and terrifying sense that we are not okay.
The notion that knowing will protect us is a dangerous one. We all see how on its own, knowing is a static state of being. At the individual level, it keeps us stuck in tired old narratives and belief systems. At the collective level, it hardens into oppressive political, religious, cultural, etc. institutions. And what is all of that but a thrust away from what actually is… from the unpredictable, unknowable Mystery in which we are born and live our lives and die back into again and again and again…
It’s quite possible that my father who was an expert skier thought we were on the beginner’s slope. However, I doubt that very much. I think he understood the power of not knowing. I think he took a risk that day, moved by a sense that taking me out on the intermediate slope would push me through any fear-based notion I had of what it is to be a beginning skier. Ironically, by bypassing the beginner’s slope, he broke me into “beginner’s mind.” He allowed me the experience of moving in the wide-open space that the yoga of Vijnana Bhairava is all about.
Here’s an audio clip of the June 2 class:
Here are the introductory verses. These are from The Radiance Sutras: A New Version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, by Lorin Roche.
One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava:
Beloved and radiant Lord of the space before birth,
Revealer of essence
Slayer of the ignorance that binds us,
You who in play have created this universe
And permeated all forms in it with never-ending truth —
I have been wondering…
I have been listening to hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet still I am curious.
What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness
Shimmering everywhere within it?
I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.
What are these energies
Undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?
And this “matter” out of which our forms are made –
What are these dancing particles of condensed radiance?
The Goddess then asks,
What is this power we call Life,
Appearing as the play of flesh and breath?
How may I know this mystery and enter it more deeply?
Beloved, my attention is ensnared by a myriad of forms,
Innumerable individual entities everywhere.
Lead me into the wholeness beyond all these parts.
You who hold the mysteries in your hand –
Of will, knowledge, and action,
Reveal to me the path of illumined knowing.
Lead me into joyous union
With the life of the universe.
Teach me that I may know it fully,
Realize it deeply,
And breathe in luminous truth.
Regular visitors to this blog know I like to bring in parallel readings to whatever text we’re wandering through. This is an excerpt from, Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic, by Adyashanti, reprinted in the Summer 2014 issue of Parabola Magazine. The article is titled, The Mystery of The Resurrection. Adyashanti is writing about the version of the story as told in the Gospel of Mark.
Of course, Mark always goes for the surprise; he turns corners in his storytelling you don’t expect, and that is the beauty of Mark. Mark doesn’t always read eloquently; he’s not a poet like the writer of John’s gospel. He’s more interested in exploring the unexpected shifts and turns of the story, and I think he does this because it opens the mind and heart to the mysteriousness of life. When we keep reading things that are unexpected, and encountering scenes that sometimes end almost before they’ve begun, it leaves us in a mysterious state of being. And I think this state of openness is where the writer of the Gospel of Mark wanted to leave us. This is the state in which we can recognize the radiance and, when we’re open and caught off guard by the winds of spirit, we can be transformed into its shining.
When SUNY Press reissued Jaideva Singh’s English translation of Vijnana Bhairava, they gave it the title, The Yoga of Delight, Wonder, and Astonishment. And that’s it right there. Wonder, astonishment, and delight. It’s enough to begin with contemplating the possibility of living in this space, of living in this spaciousness.
We tend to ascribe the so-called positive emotions — feelings of love, joy, contentment — to words like “delight” and “wonder.” Alas, this leaves out the other half of the experience of being human. I think it’s crucial to understand that as we practice living, breathing, perceiving, from the mysterious space between, what we might call the Heart Space, whatever is arising from our feeling-body, so-called positive or negative emotion, is held. That’s the paradox. We are so huge we can hold it all and in that holding, as Adyashanti writes, we are transformed.
I had a glimpse of this at my very first yogic meditation retreat. In those days my musical life was focused on improvisational piano. Much of the music that came through me was melodic and lyrical, beautiful, pleasing, acceptable. There was this whole other music that was wild and dissonant, dark, loud, crashing. There was nothing beautiful or acceptable about it. Yet when I was in this music, I felt a deep sense of power and aliveness. These were the early years of my journey. I had no way of holding what was happening to me. Mostly I kept it secret, shrouded in confusion and shame.
So here I am. It’s the third day of a euphoric experience. I’ve found my path, my practice, my guru. All is right with the world until the afternoon meditation session when I find myself lost in a maelstrom of doubt and self-loathing. Then comes the question, “What is wrong with me? I just want to make beautiful music. What is this terrible music I can’t stop playing?” And then I hear the voice. “Your music is my music. It is the music of the Earth. It is the music of crashing waves and thunderstorms, of sun and moon, of dark and light. Let it all sing through you. Let it all be one.”