More than half a century ago I decided I needed to learn how to meditate. I’d been introduced to Vedanta by reading Christopher Isherwood’s My Guru and His Disciples. I quickly read more, and then decided to visit a Vedanta Center in Berkeley. At that moment in my life the pews and the Protestant flavor of the service made me think I should move on.
Not long later, I stumbled on Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps and at about the same moment The Way of Zen by Alan Watts. I no longer recall which I read first. But, they are joined in my heart in many ways as the gateways into something that would touch my heart for the rest of my life.
It was at this moment that I realized I really needed a meditation practice. And the first thing I read as a guide to meditation was in Zen Flesh, where Paul Reps recommended a text given him by his teacher the Hindu mystic Lakshman Joo. I had no idea of its source, other than it seemed obviously Hindu. It became my first pointer on the inward journey.
The Wikipedia article on Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, tells us:
“The Vigyan Bhairav Tantra is a chapter from the Rudrayamala Tantra. It was introduced to the west by Paul Reps, a student of Lakshman Roo. Reps brought the text to wider attention by including an English translation in his popular book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. Cast as a discourse between the god Shiva and his consort Devi or Shakti, it briefly presents 112 meditation methods or centering techniques (dharanas).”
Not long after, a few months, maybe, I made my way to the San Francisco Zen Center and received formal instruction for meditation in the style of Soto Zen. That, and later koan introspection would become the foundation of my inner life.
But, I would always really fondly the pointers in this little text. Many of which have continued to help me on on my way. Perhaps the same will be true for you.
Devi Asks: O Shiva, what is your reality? What is this wonder-filled universe? What consttutes seed? Who centers the universal wheel? What is this life beyond form pervading forms? How may we enter it fully, above space and time, names and descriptions? Let my doubts be cleared! Shiva replies:
1. Radiant One, this experience may dawn between two breaths. After breath comes in (down) and just before turning up (out) – the beneficence.
2. As breath turns from down to up, and again as breath curves up to down – through both these turns, realize.
3. Or, whenever in-breath and out-breath fuse, at this instant touch the energy-less, energy-filled center.
4. Or, when breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) and stopped – in such universal pause, one’s small self vanishes. This is difficult only for the impure.
5. Attention between Eyebrows, let mind be before thought. Let form fill with breath essence to the top of the head and there shower as light.
6. When in worldly activities, keep attention between two breaths, and so practicing, in a few days be born anew.
7. With intangible breath in center of forehead, as this reaches the heart at the moment of sleep, have direction over dreams and over death itself.
8. With utmost devotion, center on the two junctions of breath and know the knower.
9. Lie down as dead. Enraged in wrath, stay so. Or stare without moving an eyelash. Or suck something and become the sucking.
10. While being caressed, Sweet Princess, enter the caress as everlassting life.
11. Stop the doors of the senses when feeling the creeping of an ant. Then.
12. When on a bed or a seat, let yourself become weightless, beyond mind.
13. Or, imagine the five coloured circles of the peacock tail to be your five senses in illimitable space. Now let their beauty melt within. Similarly, at any point in space or on the wall – untill the point dissolves. Then your wish for another comes true.
14. Place your whole attention in the nerve, delicate as the lotus thread, in the center of your spinal column. In such be tansformed.
15. Closing the seven openings of the head with your hands, a space between your eyes becomes all-inclusive.
16. Blessed One, as senses are absorbed in the Heart, reach the center of the lotus.
17. Unminding mind, keep in the middle – until.
18. Look lovingly at some object. Do not go to another object. Here in the middle of the object – the blessing.
19. Without support for feet or hands, sit only on the buttocks. Suddenly the centering.
20. In a moving vehicle, by rhythmically swaying, experience. Or in a still vehicle, by letting yourself swing in slowing invisible circles.
21. Pierce some part of you nectar filled form with a pin, and gently enter the piercing and attain to the inner purity.
22. Let attention be at a place where you are seeing some past happening, and even your form, having lost its present characteristics, is transformed.
23. Feel an object before you. Feel the absence of all other objects but this one. Then leaving aside the object-feeling And the absence-feeling, Realize
24. When a mood against someone or for someone arises, Do not place it on the person in question, But remain centered.
25. Just as you have the impulse To do something, Stop.
26. When some desire comes, consider it. Then, suddenly, quit it.
27. Roam about until exhausted and then, dropping to the ground, in this dropping be whole.
28. Suppose you are gradually being deprived of strength or of knowledge. At the instant of deprivation, transcend.
29. Devotion frees.
30. Eyes closed, See your inner being in detail. Thus see your true nature.
31. Look upon a bowl without seeing The sides or the material. In a few moments become aware.
32. See as if for the first time A beauteous person Or an ordinary object.
33. Simply by looking into the blue sky Beyond the clouds, The serenity.
34. Listen while the ultimate mystical teaching is imparted. Eyes still, without blinking, at once, become absolutely free.
35. At the edge of a deep well look steadily into its depths until – the wondrousness.
36. Look upon some object, Then slowly withdraw your sight from it, Then slowly withdraw your thought from it. Then.
37. Devi, Imagine Sanskrit letters in these Honey filled foci of awareness, First as letters, The more subtly as sounds, Then as most subtle feeling. Then, leaving them aside, be free.38. Bathe in the center of sound, As in the continuous sound of a waterfall. Or, by putting the fingers in the ears, Hear the sound of sounds.
39. Intone a sound, As AUM ?? Slowly, As sound enters soundfulness, So do you.
40. In the beginning and gradual refinement of the sound of any letter, Awake.
41. While listening to stringed instruments, Hear their composite central sound; Thus omnipresence.
42. Intone a sound audibly, Then less and less audibly As feeling deepens Into this silent harmony.
43. With mouth slightly open, Keep mind in the middle of the tongue. Or, as breath comes silently in, Feel the sound ‘HH’.
44. Center on the sound ‘AUM’ Without any ‘A’ or ‘M’.
45. Silently intone a word ending in ‘AH’. Then in the ‘HH’, Effortlessly, the spontaneity.
46. Stopping ears by pressing And the rectum by contracting, Enter the sound.
47. Enter the sound of your name And, through this sound, All sounds.
48. At the start of sexual union Keep attentive on the fire in the beginning, And so continuing, Avoid the embers in the end.
49. When in such embrace your senses are shaken as leaves, Enter this shaking.
50. Even remembering union, Without the embrace, Transformation.
51. On joyously seeing a long-absent friend, Permeate this joy.
52. When eating or drinking, Become the taste of food or drink, And be filled.
53. O lotus eyed one, Sweet of touch, When singing, seeing, tasting, Be aware you are and discover the Everliving.
54. Wherever satisfaction is found, In whatever act, Actualize this.
55. At the point of sleep, When the sleep has not yet come And the external wakefulness vanishes, At this point Being is revealed.
56. Illusions deceive, Colors circumscribe, Even divisibles are indivisible.
57. In moods of extreme desire Be undisturbed.
58. This so-called universe Appears as a juggling, A picture show. To be happy, look upon it so.
59. O Beloved, Put attention neither on pleasure nor on pain, But between these.
60. Objects and desires Exist in me as in others. So accepting, Let them be transformed.
61. As waves come with water And flames with fire, So the Universal waves with us.
62. Wherever your mind is wandering, Internally or externally, At this very place, this.
63. When vividly aware Through some particular sense, Keep in the awareness.
64. At the start of sneezing, during fright, In anxiety, above a chasm, flying in battle, In extreme curiosity, at the beginning of hunger, At the end of hunger, Be uninterruptedly aware.
65. The purity of other teachings Is an impurity to us. In reality, Know nothing as pure or impure.
66. Be the unsame same to friend as to stranger, in honor and dishonor.
67. Here is the sphere of change, change, change. Through change consume change.
68. As a hen mothers her chicks, mother particular knowings, particular doings, in reality.
69. Since, in truth, Bondage and freedom are relative, These words are only for those Terrified with the universe. This universe is a reflection of minds. As you see many suns in water from one sun, So see bondage and liberation.
70. Consider your essence as light rays From center to center up the vertebrae, And so rises “livingness” in you.
71. Or in the spaces between, Feel this as lightning.
72. Feel the cosmos as a translucent ever-living presence.
73. In summer when you see the entire sky Endlessly clear, Enter such clarity.
74. Shakti, See all space as if already Absorbed in your own head In the brilliance.
75. Waking, sleeping, dreaming, Know you as light.
76. In rain during a black night, Enter that blackness As the form of forms.
77. When a moonless rainy night is not present, close your eyes, see blackness. So, faults disappear forever.
78. Whenever your attention alights, At this very point, Experience.
79. Focus on fire rising through your form From the toes up Until the body burns to ashes But not you.
80. Meditate On the make believe world As burning to ashes, And become being above human.
81. As, subjectively, letters flow into words and words into sentences, and as, objectively, circles flow into worlds and worlds into principles, find at last these converging in our being.
82. Feel: my thought, I-ness, internal organs – me.
83. Before desire And before knowing, How can I say I am? Consider. Dissolve in the beauty.
84. Toss attachment for body aside, Realizing I am everywhere. One who is everywhere is joyous.
85. Thinking no thing Will limited-self unlimit.
86. Suppose you contemplate Something beyond perception, Beyond grasping, Beyond not being – you.
87. I am existing. This is mine. This is this. O, beloved, even in such know illimitably.
88. Each thing is perceived through knowing. The self shines in space through knowing. Perceive one being as knower and known.
89. Beloved, At this moment, Let mind, knowing, breath, form, Be included.
90. Touching eyeballs as a feather, Lightness between them opens into the heart And there permeates the cosmos.
91. Kind Devi, Enter etheric presence Pervading far above and below your form.
92. Put mindstuff in such inexpressible fineness Above, below and in your heart.
93. Consider any area of your present form As limitlessly spacious.
94. Feel your substance, Bones, flesh, blood, Saturated with cosmic essence.
95. Feel the fine qualities of creativity Permeating your breasts And assuming delicate configurations.
96. Abide in some place endlessly spacious, Clear of trees, hills, habitations. Thence comes the end of mind pressures.
97. Consider the plenum To be your own body of bliss.
98. In any easy position Gradually pervade an area between the armpits Into great peace.
99. Feel yourself as pervading all directions, Far, near.
100. The appreciation of objects and subjects Is the same for an enlightened As for an unenlightened person. The former has one greatness: He remains in the subjective mood, Not lost in things.
101. Believe omniscient, omnipotent, pervading.
102. Imagine spirit simultaneously Within and around you Until the entire universe spiritualizes.
103. With your entire consciousness In the very start of desire, of knowing, know.
104. O Shakti, Each particular perception is limited, Disappearing in omnipotence.
105. In truth forms are inseparate. Inseparate are omnipresent being And your own form. Realize each as made of this consciousness.
106. Feel the consciousness of each person As your own consciousness. So, leaving aside concern for your self, Become each being.
107. This consciousness exists as each being, And nothing else exists.
108. This consciousness is the spirit of guidance Of each one. Be this one.
109. Suppose your passive form to be an empty room With walls of skin – empty.
110. Gracious One, play. The universe is an empty shell Wherein your mind frolics infinitely.
111. Sweet heartened One, Meditate on knowing and not-knowing, Existing and non-existing. Then leave both aside that you may be.
112. Enter space, supportless, eternal, still.