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A Quick Course in Zen Theology

Ming Zhen Shakya

Ming Zhen Shakya

There are few things as disconcerting to a Zen Buddhist as having to respond to someone’s assumption that doctrines held by other schools of Buddhism are also held by him. The confusion would easily disappear if all Zen Buddhists held to a common doctrine; but we have our differences, too. We are mostly independent groups, and no consensus rises to fill the void of hierarchical control. Additionally, we hold ourselves “outside the sutras” and are not constrained by the written word – which, even if we were, presents another problem.

The Divine Word that was conveyed by Christ or through Mohammed was memorialized immediately in print; but it was not similarly recorded in Buddhism. Writing may have been known in other areas of India, but it is assumed that five hundred years before the common era it had not yet come to the Buddha’s east India kingdom. Regardless of capability, only in a listener’s memory was anything the Buddha taught ever recorded; and for several hundred years after the Buddha’s death, the routine way to transmit the Dharma was by a bard-like recitation of memorized lines.

Then as now – as, for example, in the case of Catholicism and Santeria, an introduced religion invariably is altered to some degree by the native beliefs and practices. As Buddhism spread, doctrines were skewed according to the differing memories of those who proselytized, to the translation problems of foreign languages, to cultural accommodations, and to the accretions of native gods and religious practices. In China, Daoism and Confucianism influenced the message; in Tibet the Bon religion altered it; in India and neighboring southeast Asian countries, Jainism and Hinduism intertwined its lines with theirs. Buddhism, however, also benefited from its encounters with alien philosophies. By 250 BCE, India’s great Emperor Ashoka, a Buddhist convert, established missions as far away as Syria, Egypt, Persia-Iran, Greece, Italy, and Turkey. In Bamyan, Afghanistan, the ancient cliff-carved Buddhas dynamited by the Taliban are a sad reminder of the Faith’s westward movement.

The Mahayana School, which was created within a hundred years, plus or minus, of the birth of Christ, expanded Buddhist theology to embrace a Trinitarian godhead: Buddha, Bodhisattva, and Future Buddha, the latter being named for Persia’s Mithras/Maitreya, the divine hero of Rome’s legions. Persian-Iranian religious influence was extensive, both east and west. Bodhidharma’s country of origin, we recall, has never definitively been determined. The Chinese merely identified his alien status as “aryan” the root of “noble,” cognates of which are Erin, Iran, Aryan, and aristocratic. As a matter of convenience we usually accept the “aryan” that they applied to him as being aryan-Indian. He was, however, also called “the blue-eyed demon” by the Chinese. In the year 520 CE, when he entered China, there were probably many more blue eyed Iranians than Indians. Maitreya’s Iranian origins is not such a stretch as we might suppose.

Wikipedia: Mithras and the Bull
This fresco from the mithraeumat Marino, Italy (third century) shows the tauroctony and the celestial lining of Mithras’ cape

Mithraism had been the dominant religion of Rome until the Roman Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313 CE. Accommodations, which were merely liturgical and in no way compromised the Christian message, were made to reduce the trauma of transitioning to the new “state” religion. Many Mithrasian holidays and practices were retained. Christians had originally worshipped on the Sabbath; but Mithras, being associated with the sun as Sol Invictus, was worshipped on Sunday. Sunday, then, was adopted as the day of worship. Mithras’ birth was celebrated on December 25th, which, owing to the earth’s precession, used to be the winter solstice. Jesus’ birth was believed to have occurred sometime in the spring or early summer – given the activity of the shepherds, but December 25 was agreed upon. The Persian Magi “kings” who had attended the mithraic birth, were retained for Jesus’ Nativity.

Mithraism had both a water communion ritual and a bread communion ritual. It had always been a “mystery” religion that functioned as a kind of exclusive club – if you weren’t a member you couldn’t attend any sacred rite. Christianity, too, followed the practice of “dismissing the catechumens,” i.e., persons who were not baptized were not members, and while they could stay for the first half of the Mass, they were dismissed before the Eucharistic services could begin. This is the reason the Mass is still called the Missa in much of the Catholic world. Curiously, Zen Buddhism also “dismisses” all persons who are not ordained in the Dharma before our sacred Water Communion ritual can begin. (In antiquity it was believed that amniotic fluid nourished the fetus. The water, then, is consecrated to allow us to participate in the generation of the Divine Child.) In our Communion ritual, altar boys pour water into a chalice; and a priest who has dedicated himself to the adoration of Guan Yin, recites mantras, conforms his hands in various mudras over the chalice, dips willow sprigs into the water, and the miracle of transubstantiation occurs. The willow is then used to sprinkle those in attendance with sacred water; and depending on the number of priests present, the chalice may be passed around for all to sip.

Guan Yin as the androgynous Bodhisattva “Hibbo Kannon” by Kano Hogai, 19th Century Japan

Zen also has a ritual involving bread. In this, tiny loaves of bread are tossed into the congregation for the purpose of feeding “Hungry Ghosts.” (When Grandmaster Jy Din conducted this ceremony he wore an elaborate rose-colored headdress similar to this, except it had long gold embroidered bands hanging down the sides.) The priest who conducts our Water Communion ritual is also dressed differently; but I was standing too far to the side to get any of the details of his elaborate garments. Also, although this priest was in residence at Nan Hua (Ts’ao Chi) Temple, we never saw him walking through the courtyards or in company with other priests. Both rituals are conducted only on special occasions

The wisdom of the Hellenic Sophia inspired the wisdom of the Prajna Paramita. Salvation was no longer the province of the individual arahat; but with the accessibility of the new written word, a more interactive, non-ascetic priesthood, the immediate popularity of the rhythmic Mahayana chants, and the opportunity to seek the intercession of the new Bodhisattva (a deity not recognized in older Buddhist Schools), salvation was suddenly within the reach and grasp of the ordinary man and woman

Wisdom Goddess Sophia
Photo credit:

When the various schools had finally committed to print their versions of the Buddha’s teachings, much of what they attributed to him was in fact authored by individuals or committees that were deemed to be inspired – by whom is yet another problem. And even then, it continued to be a common practice for monks to enter a sutra and insert clarifying remarks or anecdotal material that they thought would amplify the message. (The general rule has always been “the shorter the version, the older it is.”) Even the Platform Sutra of Hui Neng, written at Nan Hua Temple in the last quarter of the 7th Century, has many versions. The one declared to be closest to the original by Philip Yampolsky of Columbia University and by my first master, the Venerable Wei Yin, Abbot of Nan Hua Temple, is the relatively short Tang Dynasty version found in the caves of Dun Huang in the 20th Century.

Individual schools and sects ignored certain scriptures and chose instead to regard others as authentic renditions of the Buddha’s words. All sects, however, accepted without question The Four Noble Truths; the Eightfold Path; the verses in theDhammapada; and his dying exhortation.

Zen groups, regardless of whatever other scriptures they may favor, embrace these four accounts as well as two relatively short sutras from the Mahayana Canon: The Heart and The Diamond. Additionally. the chanted Dharani of the Great Compassionate One, is commonly included in our liturgies.

Wikipedia: A statue of Prajnaparamita, from Singhasari, East Java

Zen, which by definition means Meditation, is the last step of the Eightfold Path; and, as such, concerns itself mainly with the various methods of attaining transcendence. Zen is not bereft of answers to theological questions – they are surely contained in the Mahayana’s more scholarly sutras; but searching these old, repetitious, and interminable texts for answers can be somewhat less than rewarding. Edward Conze did a remarkable translation of one of the Prajnaparamita expositions, The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom in 18,000 Lines, but it is one of those tomes that tend to melt the eyes and turn the brain to stone. (I recall one sentence that ran for nearly an entire page.) And so, while we Zen Buddhists are fairly certain about what doctrines we don’t subscribe to, what we do subscribe to is not exactly well defined; and when theological topics present themselves, considerations of mental self-defense usually leave us staring blankly or shrugging our shoulders in bewilderment.

It is a simple matter to brush aside the fanciful Jataka tales which are, after all, children’s stories (to save the life of an innocent bunny the Buddha changed himself into a rabbit and jumped into the frying pan); or the account of his mother’s non-vaginal impregnation by a sacred white elephant; or that he was born possessing the locomotive advantages of ruminant animals – immediately at birth he began to walk (and flowers sprang up wherever his feet touched the ground).

Zen is content to believe the Buddha’s self-description: “I am just a man who awakened,” he said. His choice of the title “Buddha” means exactly that – as the root “budh” in Sanskrit affirms.

Yet, underlying the nonsensical accounts are serious questions that cannot be dispensed with so easily. Can a god become a mortal man, or can a mortal man become a supernatural being… a god? We can smile about Alexander the Great’s response to his mother’s attempt to confer divinity on him. When asked, “Are you a god?” Alexander replied, “Ask the man who empties my chamber pot.” King Philip of Macedonia ridiculed his wife’s claim that not he – but Zeus – fathered her extraordinary son, but it is another matter entirely to consider Joseph’s acquiescence to Mary’s claim of Jesus’ divine paternity. Buddhist temples contain effigies of apparently divine beings. We certainly go through the motions of worship. What is it that we are worshipping?

Given that religion “binds” us to a code of conduct that imposes civilization on us whether we like it or not, it can come as no great shock that all great world religions proscribe murder or violent aggressions, lying and deceitful actions, stealing and cheating, and dissolute behavior involving alcohol, drugs, and sexual misconduct; and Buddhists, most assuredly, are so constrained. This code emphasizes the individual’s actions towards others and promotes peace in the community. The Seven Deadly Sins cover the same territory but focus more upon the person who commits the unacceptable behavior: pride, greed, anger, lust, gluttony, jealousy, and sloth.

There must, of course, be a carrot and stick mechanism that moves us to conform to these civilizing codes. Who among us would pay taxes if it were not for the looming presence of Fort Leavenworth?

Zen Buddhists may not believe in additional lives or in the posthumous rewards of Heaven or the punishments of Hell, but we cannot find it entirely sufficient to say, “The reward is gaining Nirvana and the punishment is simply not gaining it.”

Modern science verifies what humanity has always suspected and The Buddha specified in his Four Noble Truths: Life is bitter and painful and the cause of this bitterness and pain is desire. Desire, as we know, is a wish or thought process – one of those Skandhas that are products of the illusionary material world. In his book, Man Against Himself, noted psychiatrist Karl Menninger informs us:

There are certain laws governing the activity of the conscience with which we have come to be familiar from clinical experience. One of them is that the ego must suffer in direct proportion to its externally directed destructiveness. It is as if that part of the destructive instinct retained within the ego had to carry on within the microcosmos of the personality an activity precisely comparable to that which the ego is directing toward the macrocosmos outside. If the individual directs an attack of a certain nature upon some person in the environment, the conscience, or super-ego, directs an attack of the same nature upon the ego. This formula is well known to us in social organization in the form of the lex talionis, the intuitive basis of all penal systems.” He later adds, “One more fact or ‘law’ about the conscience: a sense of guilt may arise from other than actual aggression; in the unconscious, a wish to destroy is quite equivalent to the actual destruction with regard to exposing the ego to punishment.

Buddhists who don’t believe in after-life karmic judgment, know full well that karmic retribution by way of bad luck, bad health, miscalculation, or a victim’s revenge, always seems to follow the person who egotistically indulges in unethical conduct. “What goes around, comes around,” we say. “You reap what you sow.” Or the wise but unintelligible, “He got his comeupance.” Sentimentally motivated largesse, extended by impulse or with the anticipated quid pro quo of love and respect, are usually regretted with varying degrees of bitterness. On the other hand, a beneficial action taken without expectation of reward is usually taken by an enlightened person who, by definition, is sustained by faith and a deep understanding of human nature. Such a person is not easily felled by misfortune.

Still, while Buddhist ethics are clear, or at least should be, theological fundamentals manage too often to elude us. Finding so little help within the great Mahayana Canon, some Zen groups, including ours, look to another source in the Buddha’s India for answers.

In 1957 – the very beginning of Zen’s popularity in the U.S., Paul Reps wrote one of Zen’s most popular books, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones – the last part of which was his version of a Kashmiri Shaivist text, the Vijnanabhairava Tantra. Reps was a lifelong haiku master and devotee of Zen Buddhism; yet, he also was a disciple of Swami Lakshmanju of Kashmir.

In his book’s introduction to the Kashmiri scripture, he writes:

Zen is nothing new, neither is it anything old. Long before Buddha was born, the search was on in India, as the present work shows…

“Wandering in the ineffable beauty of Kashmir, above Shrinigar I come upon the hermitage of Lakshmanjoo. It overlooks green rice fields, the gardens of Shalimar and Nishat Bagh, lakes fringed with lotus. Water streams down from a mountaintop.”

Here Lakshmanjoo – tall, full bodied, shining – welomes me. He shares with me this ancient teaching from the Vigyan Bhairava and Sochanda Tantra, both written about four thousand years ago, and from Malini Vijaya Tantra, probably another thousand years older yet.

Reps translated the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra twelve times before he and Swami Lakshmanju settled on the version he published. Throughout the centuries, numerous translations of this valuable work have been made. Many are wildly different from others, some in the stilted language of their time. We sorted through a collection of these translations and offer below what we determined would best suit our Zen objectives.

A further hint of the connection between Zen and Kashmiri Shaivism comes in the common appellation of Shiva and Avalokitesvara that we find in the Dharani of the Great Compassionate One. We usually chant this Dharani in one of the oriental versions of it, nearly all of which appear on the internet and Youtube. One of our Sangha members has posted the Chinese version. The one I learned first at the Zen Center of San Francisco is the Japanese version, Dai Hi Shin Dharani, which begins, “Namu kara tan no tora ya ya…” Until D. T. Suzuki reconstructed the original Sanskrit, no one had the slightest idea of what the syllables meant. We now know that Avalokitesvara had been accorded one of the names traditionally given to Shiva, Nilakantha, which means The Blue Necked One (his neck is blue since, to protect humanity. he holds the poisons of the world in his throat).

Rather than remain lost in a theological maze, we have followed the line of thought that leads out to the Right Hand (Dakshina Marga) Path of Kashmiri Shaivism. The Right Hand version of any oriental religion is that version that does not include sexual practices – either partnered; in groups; or as a master’s teaching method. The Vajrayana of Tibet has both Paths, but the Dalai Lama is a member of the Right Hand Path, as are all legitimate Zen or Chan Buddhist sanghas. Left Hand (Vama Marga) versions, with their often bizarre sexual rituals, receive much negative publicity that frequently is extended to the rest of us. In Daoism, the two Paths are known as Single Cultivation and Dual Cultivation.

Kashmiri Shaivism is also filled with holy writ, but since Zen is outside the Buddhist scriptures it follows that a serious Zen Buddhist is not going to gravitate to the Canon of another religion. Each Shaivist scripture has many versions and it is easy to become mired in words, especially since the Left Hand Path is also a thriving part of the religion.

It sometimes seems peculiar, particularly to atheists who subscribe to the notion that Buddhists are their non-spiritual brothers, that we support such a large and apparently unemployed pantheon. This accumulation of heavenly creatures, being largely due to the natural affects of proselytization, is admittedly confusing.

The Mahayana’s Trinity may have different names; but most Zen versions essentially compare to the better known Christian Trinity: God the Father would be our Buddha Amitabha or Amitayus (the same Buddha with two names, Infinite Light and Infinite Time). ( In Shaivism this position is usually occupied by Brahman, or by Paramashiva and the feminine Paravach. Shiva means “Auspicious One and Vach (pronounced Vash – as in Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s cosmic girlfriend) means, as in the Latin version, “vox,” means voice.

Samantabhadra as a courtesan and as a warrior. The iconographic identifying “seat” is the elephant

The Holy Ghost equates to the androgynous Bodhisattva, a being whose visionary presence is encountered after the meditator attains Enlightment (Satori). Bodhisattva means “enlightenment being” the spiritual state in which the divinity is encountered. It is the Bodhisattva who delivers the fluid medium of the Child’s conception. Throughout the world there are effigies that represent what the person has seen and experienced during his profound meditative states. For most iconographic purposes, the figure may appear as a single sexless individual – such as an angelic creature; or as a subtly androgynous individual; or as a “married” brother and sister pair, such as Zeus and Hera, who do not, for obvious reasons, have children by each other; or the same divinity in two distinct forms, such as the Bodhisattva Samantabhadra who may be depicted either as a warrior or as a demure courtesan; or by two different names, as our more familiar Bodhisattva may be seen as the male Avalokitesvara or the lovely Guan Yin.

Avalokitesvara, National Museum; Sri Lanka Guan Yin, Penang Island, Malaysia

There are also animal representations of the Bodhisattva as Queen Maya’s White Elephant or Zeus’ swan as in Leda and the swan, or as a dove – Guan Yin is often depicted holding “the dove of fruitfulness.” (Hinduism has many sacred pairs, but the one favored in Shaivism is Shiva and his Shakti consort, Parvati, who address each other in theVijnanabhairava Tantra as Bhairava and Bhairavi.)

Christ, The Son member of the Trinity, is our Maitreya or Mithras, our young Future Buddha. Whereas Christians, Daoists, and spiritual alchemists, among others, believe that it is possible for a spiritual entity to penetrate the material world – as a “Spirit made flesh” i.e., to incarnate, and some Buddhists believe that divine beings may, through reincarnation, assume the bodies of living persons, Zen holds that while this may or may not be possible, it has not happened in our case. Our “Son” exists as a spiritual entity whom we may access spiritually, but who does not substantively emerge from our body through the standard spiritual exit, the fontanelles, to appear materially in the temporal world. That event is slated for an unspecified future time. (In Shaivism, the Son is often represented as Skanda or Murugan.)

Zen holds that (to use a Christian assertion which had its origins in the Vedas) “the kingdom of God is within.” And the divine inhabitants of that kingdom are precisely those whose effigies we see in our temples. The Buddha we bow to is the Buddha within. Korea’s beautiful allegorical film, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, elegantly shows the relationship between our ego (the child who grows to manhood, making many mistakes along the way) and our interior Buddha Self (the master who cares for him) and to the Master’s Triune identity. In the film, the veiled Lady and the Child she delivers represent the Bodhisattva and the Future Buddha, as the main character in the film prepares to attain Buddhahood.

Photo credit:
Skanda on his iconographically identifiable peacock “seat”

Human beings, then, have these two identities. The ego identity and the Buddha Self in all its Triune splendor. The relationship is also beautifully stated in the Mundaka Upanishad

Like two birds of golden plumage, inseparable companions, the individual self and the Immortal Self sit side by side on the self-same tree. The former tastes of the sweet and bitter fruits of the tree; the latter, tasting of neither, calmly observes.”

Zen’s goal, then, is to eliminate or, at least, to diminish the ego-bird’s appetite for worldly fruits, so that when even little is as surfeit, it will be possible to live out the life of the calm Immortal Observer. We do not overly concern ourselves with celestial topography. A cosmic “t – 1” may be an occasion of significance to astro-physicists, but it is of no value to a man who is trying to recover from a drug dependency, a destroyed marriage, or the venoms of greed or lust.

Detachment and transcendence constitute salvation and bring us to a direct experience of Nirvana, which accords with the Buddha’s dying instruction: “Work hard to break the bonds of worldly passions. Pursue your salvation with diligence.” Fortunately, the same divine Buddha Self exists in each of us; but if an ego-self has not accepted the Four Noble Truths’ directive to discipline himself by following the Eightfold Path or any other religion’s code of ethical self-control, that ego-self is likely to get lost this side of Nirvana.

The ascendancy to salvation occurs in each person’s lifetime, or we, as individual conscious persons, die without knowing Nirvana’s heavenly bliss, but with, unfortunately, more than enough of earthly heartaches. Again, no system of reincarnation or life after death gives us other opportunities. Dead means dead. Those who believe that dead does not mean dead have a right to disagree; and it is a right that we must respect – and never argue about. The burden of proof is not upon us.

It need not be said that the Buddha of Infinite Light and Infinite Time into whom we merge when we attain “the origin” or Empty Circle, continues on eternally without requiring any of our ego’s advice or assistance.

Kashmiri Shaivism outlines in ways that are clear and, as we might expect, decidedly non-scientific, the creation of the material world and the individual’s physical progression through it until he at last returns to its spiritual origins. There are thirty-six stages of development, called Tattvas. Laid out on a number line, only the Tattvas that extend from zero through to, but not including ,#6, are of particular interest to Zen Buddhists. The negative side of the abscissa constitutes The Void.

Nevertheless, going backwards from the first group: Tattvas 36, 35, 34, 33, 32 account for the five physical orders which all obey the laws of force that govern the vibrating “hairs of Shiva.” These are related to the energy chakras: Earth; Water; Fire; Air; and Ether or Space.

Tattvas 31, 30, 29, 28, 27 empower the individual to function in the material world: he must be able to communicate; handle things; move about; perform normal bodily functions such as those of nutrition: eating, digesting, assimilating, and eliminating his food. He must also be able to sleep and keep his body in working condition.

Tattvas 26, 25, 24, 23, 22 provide for those material world qualities which can be perceived: material things have sound, texture, temperature, light and color, flavor and odor.

Tattvas 21, 20, 19, 18, 17 constitute the capacity to perceive. The individual needs to hear; touch; see; taste; and smell.

Tattvas 16, 15, 14 enable the mind to be aware of the perceptions, and to perform those functions which elucidate and govern both the conscious mind and the impulses and intuitions that arise from his unconscious psyche: imagination; memory; thought; judgment; willpower; and so on.

Tattva 13 enables a person to choose among actions that provide for undefiled purity, or for troublesome emotional excitement, or for defiled sluggishness and emotional depression.

Tattvas 12, 11, 10, 9, 8 give to objects those facts of existence by which they can be known. Objects must have position or location; they must exist at a specified time; they must have characteristics that can engage the attention; they must differentiate themselves from the one who is observing them; and they must yield to the observer’s desire to change them as, for example, the farmer oversees the planting of a seed, the irrigation of the plant’s soil, and the harvesting of a crop. New life must be produced just as all life must end.

Tattvas 7 is the individual’s awareness that he is a creature who can transcend the material world and directly access his spiritual center, i.e., his Buddha Self.

Tattva 6, “Maya” (called in Japanese “Makyo”), is the matrix or the initial state of materiality, the fulfillment of divine fiat. Our familiar example of this would be, “And God said, ‘Let there be light, and there was light.'” In Oriental religions it is usually the mantric sound of “Om” that initiates the process. According to the Vedas, “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God.” This establishes the union of male speaker and female voice; and the divine command that once uttered, actualizes that which was named. “Om” said with a prolonged, vibrating “m” sound is the transformation of spirit into materiality. A scientifically oriented translation of Kashmiri Shaivism’s Spanda Karikas (Yoga of Vibration) covers this originating point.

These “things” of creation, which include the conscious mind, are regarded as being in constant flux and, by definition, are illusionary. In Zen, in order for a thing to exist it must be real and true, and, more, it must be unconditionally true; it must universally true; it must be immutable; and it must be eternal. (It can’t be true here but not there. It can’t be true today but false tomorrow, and so on.) These are the attributes of the real or spiritual world, and, perhaps because it is a genetic code that we all share just as we share the tendency to have two eyes, one nose, two ears, etc., experiences of the spiritual world are virtually identical around the globe.

Religions, at their base level, are wildly different from each other. But each religion has a mystical ladder that the spiritually motivated may climb. As each aspirant reaches the top and looks around, he sees absolutely no difference between himself and the other fellows perched atop their religion’s ladder. At the base level people will torture and kill each other over an interpretation of a line of scripture. At the top of the ladder there is no dissent. The splendor of the spiritual world frees an individual from the curse of pedantry and religiosity that afflicts base-level habitues. Since everything in the material world is in constant flux, including our ego-conscious minds, only those divine laws which govern the material world are real. (Physicists and Chemists should be the natural high-priests of religion since they know these laws better than the rest of us. Unfortunately too many of them assume that their high IQ’s make them more superior to the average man than the average man is to the ape, and they find, therefore, no need to seek a higher interior Self. There are, of course, notable exceptions. Einstein knew that he had a internal spiritual “other,” as did the Reverends George LeMaitre and Blaise Pascal, among others.)

When the individual seeks his salvation, he must pass from Tattva #6 through to Tattva #5, the state of meditation. This is transcendence. It is not a warm, fuzzy feeling or the ephemeral sensation of peacefulness. This is the end of the drab chaos of the whirling material world, an end to conflict, romantic vicissitudes, jealousies, broken promises, grudging duty, and having our happiness depend upon other people. A door opens into brilliantly colored, still perfection. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas, anymore.”

It is in Tattva 5 that we encounter the Platonic Ideal Forms laid up in Heaven. The chosen meditation object will be seen suspended in space in glorious perfection. No matter how prosaic or how complex the object is, it alone in its aura and immensity – yet however much we previously knew about its structure and dynamics, we are left with the profound sense of understanding it as we have never understood it before.

We may experience other visual phenomena, usually a repeating geometric design of related colors. If we are sufficiently rapt, we will ascend into Tattva 4, Samadhi, which is a breathless, prolonged, non-visionary, full-bodied orgasmic experience usually called the Divine Embrace.

Hypnosis, bio-feedback, drugs, sex, and other mind-control frivolities cannot get us there. Humility is a non-negotiable requirement which no doubt accounts for the absence of so many of our scientific brethren.

After a few years, perhaps the time needed to prove ourselves even more worthy and of use to the Dharma, we enter into the Trinitarian experience, Tattva 3. Satori. In this brief encounter, our ego is completely extinguished, and our identity recedes to a vanishing point in the horizon and we look out at the world through the eyes of our Buddha Self. Everything is still there… the sun is shining and the cricket outside the window is still chirping, but everything is suddenly pristine and exquisitely beautiful, and we know that despite the apparent insanities of the material world, all the laws are being faithfully obeyed. As Browning put it, “God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.” It is exactly as it should be. And then, Amitabha closes his eyes and our egos return. Usually we can’t shut up about the experience and are considered to be afflicted with “Zen Disease.” We enter a euphoric state that abates in a matter of days, weeks, or sometimes months.

The “big” experience of Tattvas 2&1 has various names: the Mysterium Coniunctionis, Divine Marriage, the Union of Opposites, or the Rebis experience of spiritual androgyny. This is the Divine Visionary Drama in which we are both a participant and a passive observer. This experience is possible only, in Jungian terms, when the Anima or Animus is fully and contentedly integrated and is therefore not projected outside the meditator onto some human being. Being “in residence” the Anima or Animus is free to subsume the ego identity; the male meditator is subsumed by his Anima (Tattva 2, the female Bodhisattva); the female meditator by her Animus (Tattva 1, the male Bodhisattva). This trans-sexual identity is realized only during meditation and does not, in any way, alter the meditator’s normal demeanor. The honeymoon period lasts for a couple of delirious weeks until it finally settles down into a few years’ worth of indescribable bliss during visionary meditation. Again, the meditator functions in society without anyone’s being aware of what is going on inside his head.

And then comes the dreadful “Dark Night of the Spirit” a wretched series of meditations that the meditator cannot seem to be able to stop. (This experience is detailed in Assault on the Summit which is on our website.)

In the orient, contained within each monastery complex are little one room dwellings reserved for those monks or nuns who attain Tattvas 2 & 1. They may come and go as they please, but no one is permitted to disturb them. Usually only at night do they exit their dwellings to sit under the stars and chat with each other. Their meals and their laundry are cared for by the monastery staff, and the privilege of such care and privacy lasts for up to three years.

Once the Dark Night meditations are concluded, we finally get to the tattva that lies between Zero and Tattva 1. This is the appearance of the Hero archetype, the Mercurial Child/Man, who will subsume our identity during meditation for years to come. The visionary meditations end when the meditator crosses the origin and enters the Void.

The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, a dialogue between Shiva (Bhairava) and Parvati (Bhairavi) is to be read slowly and the techniques it recommends are to be practiced without expectation and with gratitude for the instruction. The lessons learned will assist the Path Climber who is ready to proceed at this level of instruction. At the very least the instructions will leave foot prints in his mind that he can follow when he is ready to advance.

Vijnanabhairava Tantra (Divine Consciousness)

Bhairava and Bhairav?, in union and in unity, engaged in a dialogue for the benefit of all who seek liberation.

The lovely Bhairavi spoke:

Lord, by your command the universe came into existence as a grand illusion that hides the splendor of your reality. Many souls have sought the contentment that can come through you, alone. Many are the ways they mistook false for real and brought themselves to bitter regret. How may they free themselves from such painful errors? How may they find the bliss that lies beyond the shifting shapes and names that so confuse them? How may they dispel illusion and see your glorious presence? Teach me so that all may learn. Let all doubt be cleared away.

Bhairava answered:

Beloved, we are eternally bound. As I am the laws that command, you are the energy that moves at my command. The various forms you take are ephemeral and are merely perceived as substantive. Indeed, your forms, in all their manifestations, are illusions.

I will impart to you the hidden truths. Those who see a form and think that they can possess it are trying to embrace a ghost or hold the fog in their hands. All forms are in constant change, and the man who desires to possess the forms, he, too, is constantly changing. Rituals, scriptures, titles and robes of office cannot influence the intrinsic nature of the changing forms, just as they cannot produce a path to salvation’s Reality, a path that lies beyond the forms.

Men, driven by lust and greed, search endlessly to satisfy their cravings. In their folly they do not understand that the greatest wealth and the greatest bliss are contained within their own body.

The Mystical Path leads mankind into the realm of Reality, where there is neither space nor time, and all that is encountered in that realm – the people and things and our interactions with them – follow the outlines of a story which I have written in the stars.

To read that story a man must learn the language of the Real. He must close his eyes to the deceptions of material illusion and turn his attention inwards, upon himself. There he will learn the way. Since you have inquired on man’s behalf, I will give you the instructions.

1. Radiant One, with concentration, the Real may be experienced between the space of a single breath. After breathing in, as the breath is held, feel the beneficence of God. And let all cares escape as the breath flows out.

2. Again, as your breath enters and curves down and as it begins to leave and curves up, through both of these turns, experience the Real.

3. Or, at the precise moment that your in-breath changes into out-breath, feel a pulse beat in the long hollow tube that lies directly in front of your spine and that now waits to be filled.

4. Or, when your breath has gently flowed out and before you breathe in again, pause, and in that moment your illusionary self will disappear and you will glimpse the Real. This will be difficult only to those who are guilty but who feel no remorse.

5. Beloved, think of your True Self as a light that is glowing at the base of the hollow tube. With concentration you will feel a pulse beating at the base of that hollow tube. With each pulse beat, that light will grow brighter and its illumination will rise; and with it will rise the warmth of Eternal Life.

6. Or, in the time and space between the pulse-beats, feel lightning strike the base.

7. Goddess, you may instead imagine a trail of your alphabet’s letters, each in black ink, waiting to enter the hollow tube and to slowly rise to your throat before the next letter enters. Do not hurry.

When you have mastered the sight of each letter rising, select the letters L and M. Place between them the vowel sound of “uh” and see this syllable LuM printed in bright red. Let it enter the hollow tube at the base, and let it strike the base with the sound of a musical note from a scale of your choosing. Let that syllable rise slowly to your throat and when it reaches your mouth, softly sing that sound, letting your barely parted lips vibrate as you pronounce the sound of Mmmmm… which will then trail away into infinity with your escaping breath.

When you have mastered the sight and sound of LuM, select the letters V and M and place between them the vowel “uh” and see this syllable printed in orange. Let it enter the hollow tube at the base, and let it strike the base with the next higher note on the scale you have chosen. Let that syllable VuM rise to your throat and as it enters your mouth, softly sing that sound, letting your barely parted lips vibrate as you pronounce the Mmmmm. That sound will retreat into infinity with your escaping breath.

When you have mastered this, repeat the instructions for each spectral color: Yellow paired with R and “uM” and the next higher note; Green paired with Y and “uM” and the next higher note; Blue paired with H and “uM” and the next higher note; Indigo paired with O and “m” and the next higher note. And finally, in violet, let the pure Ahhm enter, strike the next higher note and rise up to your throat. When it enters your mouth, softly sing the sacred syllable.

Do not hurry. Only those who are angry and have not vowed to forgive will have difficulty.

8. Radiant Goddess, place your attention between your eyebrows. See there a light that glows softly and with each breath grows brighter until it fills your head so completely that it bursts, showering sparkling light in all directions.

9. Or, imagine each of the spectral colors to be a small sphere in space. See each, in turn, shimmer like a star and then slowly fade, dissolving into the vastness of the sky. See Red, then Orange, then Yellow, then Green, then Blue, then Indigo, and finally Violet.

10. Devi, With your eyes closed, see your divine beloved as living inside your body. Study your beloved. Learn the details of face and form.

11. Imagine that all your thoughts twist into a fine thread that circles your body. Let it start at the space between your eyebrows, run over your head, down your back, curve under you, and ascend, passing your abdomen, chest, neck, and face until it reaches its starting point. Twist each worldly thought that arises into a thread that will circle your body until it forms a cocoon of finest silk.

12. Perform the mudra that closes the seven gates. Raise your elbows outwards, place your thumbs tightly in your ears, your index fingers gently on your eyes, your middle fingers against your nostrils, and your fourth and fifth fingers on either side of your mouth, pressing your lips together as a child’s kiss. Listen intently to the silence.

13. Or, when you touch your closed eyelids as lightly as a feather, waves of undulating shapes will form. Study these shapes. These will open your heart and from your heart they will enter the firmament.

14. Recall a sound… a distant bell… or a waterfall.. or as if you have placed coiled sea shells against your ears. Listen intently to the recalled sound.

15. Inhale and as if you are chanting aloud, hear the single sound “Om” in your mind. Hear it clearly and prolong the sound as if you are expending one breath.. Then add to it another harmonious voice and let the two voices chant Om for as long as one breath would last. Then add another harmonious note as if three voices are singing. Then add a fourth voice and when you have heard that chord clearly, add a fifth and a sixth, singing that one chord more loudly, clearly, and harmoniously until it seems as if a heavenly choir is singing that chord and filling the cosmos with its rapturous sound.

16. With each addition of a voice to the original sound, awaken to its beauty.

17. While listening to an orchestra, focus your attention on one instrument and trace its path through the composition.

18. Aloud, hum a single note, then reduce the sound to a whisper and then to the point that it is inaudible; and as it fades, sink into a silent harmony with that note.

19. Imagine that your body has become a spirit and then imagine that all around you cease to be material until the world is filled with spiritual beings.

20. Bhairavi, enter the space that is above your own form. Observe yourself from above and see that your form is not different from mine.

21. Experience the bliss of mystical union with that form.

22. As that form of your other self, live your spiritual life among the spiritual persons that fill your universe. This life will be real and you will understand the illusions of earthly life when you return to them.

23. Consider your body as expanding into infinity, embracing all of the cosmos.

24. Consider your body as shrinking down to the size of a mustard seed.

25. The Beloved is revealed when one breath has been exhaled but the next breath has not yet begun. So, between two breaths, feel the Beloved fill your body.

26. Withdraw all your senses into your heart. Feel that you touch, taste, smell, hear, and see from a place inside your heart and that the rest of your body is lifeless.

27. Let your breathing slow down until your sense of self disappears and then your other Self will reveal itself.

28. When your body has completely relaxed and you are unaware of your breath, forget your thoughts and perceive your heart and see all the sensory energy scintillate and crackle with life. Into all this activity your Beloved will enter and calm your heart. It will be as a sea that knows no wind.

29. When you are working in the world, you will keep your thoughts on your work; but when you have a free moment, focus your attention on the space between two breaths. If you practice this relentlessly, within a few days, you will be reborn.

30. When lying on your bed, imagine that an electrical charge, like a enveloping grass fire, starts at your toes and spreads up your legs and up to your skull… consuming your body while yet leaving your ghost-like, spirit-filled body intact.

31. When lying on your bed, imagine that waves are lapping at your feet and then are gently traveling up your legs, abdomen, chest, hands, and arms, until the undulations lap against the inside of your eyes. The Shakti will fill you.

32. When you are sitting in sunshine, breathe deeply and slowly and gently close your eyes and see geometric shapes form like a kaleidoscope on the inside of your eyelids.

33. As you exhale, direct your breath to fill the space between your eyebrows before you allow it to pass through your nostrils.

34. With the space between your eyebrows filled with energy, send it down to your heart and then take control of your dreams.

35. Create a make-believe world in your mind, walk through it and learn its details, then burn it down to ashes and watch the wind blow the ashes away.

36. If you are directing anger towards someone or something, or if someone’s anger is directed towards you, imagine that you are sitting on a beach as the tide is coming in and that you are writing the word “calm” in the sand. Watch the word disappear as the tide comes in. The anger given or received will disappear as the word crumbles into the tide. Remember this when you sit down to meditate, and as you recall the water erasing the word, erase your sense of ego-self and be filled with your spiritual other.

37. Smell a flower or a perfume so that you know its scent and then, later, as you sit in meditation, recall the scent.

38. Hear the sound of a chord and understand its notes and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the chord.

39. Run your fingers over soft velvet or a coarse stone, learn how it feels, and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the touch of it.

40. Taste a tart fruit like a lemon or a grapefruit, memorize the effect it has upon your mouth, and later, as you sit in meditation, recall the taste of it and the effect it had upon your mouth.

41. Look at a bowl that contains a substance and visualize the bowl as being empty, and later, when you are sitting in meditation recall the bowl as being full and then again as being empty. See it clearly as though it were in front of you.

42. When you sit in meditation imagine that you are alone in the universe. Let everything around you disappear, one object at a time. The pressure of “things” will disappear.

43. When you are in meditation imagine that you are sitting where you are and then imagine that you have vanished and that the space is empty.

44. When feeling a caressing breeze, imagine that you, as your beloved, are caressing you through the breeze.

45. When feeling an insect such as an ant crawl across your foot, concentrate upon the feeling and make it vanish even though you can still see the ant.

46. When feeling sexually aroused, feel it as a fire that eternally burns without becoming embers.

47. When in this excitation your senses quiver as shaking leaves, enter this shaking.

48. Even while only recalling an embrace, remember the moments of transformation and then relive them.

49. Imagine that the inner channel which lies before your spine is the stem of a lotus flower. See it as red inside and blue outside. Meditate on its internal emptiness and you will feel the emptiness of space.

50. When you eat or drink, become the taste of the food or drink, and be filled with it.

51. Oh Lotus Eyed One, whatever you see or taste or touch or smell, be aware of that sensation and understand that it is now part of you.

52. Whenever you act, be aware of your actions and let no other activity intrude upon your awareness.

53. In a hypnogogic or hypnopompic state, at the moment between these two states of sleep and wakefulness, and observe your mind and you will be rewarded with glimpses into the Real.

54. When you see the cloudless sky on a sunny day, stop and enter its clarity.

55. In your mind create a home for yourself, a perfect dwelling in a place that you consider beautiful. Create a protective zone around this setting and when you are beset with the illusions of the material world, repair to your perfect dwelling and there sleep peacefully or walk along the secret paths.

56. Look lovingly at an object that you often see but rarely consider the manner in which it is made, and then, close your eyes and piece by piece, take it apart and lay the pieces side by side. Note the color and texture of each piece.

57. Sit and face a white blank wall or a sand dune and stare into the light and you will see and feel the presence of your spiritual other.

58. On nights on which there is no moon, stare into the darkness and let your entire being dissolve into the darkness.

59. Waves are born of the ocean and get lost in it, flames arise and die, the sun appears then vanishes. So does everything find its source in spatiality and returns to it.

60. Dance until you are exhausted or spin rhythmically until your mind can no longer think clearly, and then stop and retreat into your exhaustion and confusion and suddenly you will feel the essence of Bhairava.

61. Feel as if you are lifeless, unable to move, totally without energy. Having no resistance let Bhairava enter you.

62. Stare into a well as a fortune teller stares into a crystal ball and see the surface of the water become a screen upon which pictures move.

63. Make no judgments or criticisms about the practices of other people. Do not try to determine sacred and profane.

64. Be careful whenever you refer to yourself as a substantive being. When you say, “I am” or “I want” know that neither you nor the object of your desire is real. Knowing this cease your desire and your ego awareness.

65. Remember that the universe is a shifting illusion. Happiness lies in realizing that the false is false. Seek always the real.

66. Beloved One, anger, jealousy, contempt, vanity, pride, embarrassment, love, hate, lust, fear… these are all forms of bondage to those who are tricked by Maya into believing the ephemeral is permanent, that paste is pearl, that self-interest is generosity, or that casual promises are sacred vows. In ignorance, pleasures found quickly will end quickly; but the pains they cause seem endless.

67. If you should awaken to reality through one of the senses or through thought, quickly send your joy down into your heart and you will feel the boundlessness of space.


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