A Meditation with The Flame Mantra from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra
I hate winter. Always have. Let me count the ways: There is less daylight. You have to wear more clothes – more than just surf shorts and a T-shirt. Sunset happens while you are still inside at work.
Other people love winter, and have a whole skill set, plus accessories for dealing with it. They have special clothes in the closet that they look forward to wearing, special shoes, and nifty things to do such as lighting candles and building a fire in the fireplace. I’ve never bonded with all that so I just feel depressed. Buddhists would mock me, with their superior tone, for “clinging.” And they would be right. I totally cling to the Sun, and it is the slow descent I dread –it feels to my body like the Sun is sinking into the Earth. One season I was moping around, feeling my inner life get darker and colder, when I realized I could do something about it. Meditation, in its many forms, is sitting around God’s campfire – all those suns and galaxies in the inner world.
The Flame Mantra in the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra
Thus I came into the presence of The Flame Mantra, one of the teachings from the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. The text describes itself as a conversation between Shiva (The One in Whom All Exists) and Devi (His Better Half). A bit of backstory – the Goddess has placed herself in the position (the asana) of a seeker, to get her guy talking. Shiva is not particularly chatty, usually – he likes to hang out in his Man Cave, thinking inscrutable thoughts. So Devi dares Shiva to describe the paths of Yoga meditation as quickly as he can, using as few syllables as possible. Shiva rises to the occasion, describing 112 yogas, using 32 syllables to invoke each meditation practice. This is a yoga with the element of Fire.
Live for a few days in the meditation,
“I am immersed in the flame –
The flame of time,
The flame of love,
The flame of life.
The universal fire flows through me.”
Step into that fire wholeheartedly,
Starting with the big toe,
Then surrendering everywhere.
Only the not-self,
Which doesn’t exist anyway,
Attend to this continually,
And awaken into tranquility.
Your essence is renewed in the flame,
For it is flame and knows itself as flame
Since the first heartbeat of creation.
kalagnina kalapadad utthitena svakam puram |
plustam vicintayed ante santabhasas tada bhavet |
Constructing an extremely simplified glossary:
kalagni – the flame of time, kala – time + agni – the divine flame, the flame of life.
kalapada the movement of time, and also, “the big toe of the left foot,” (Lakshmanjoo) or the toe of the right foot (Jaidev Singh).
Pada – a step, pace, stride, to set foot in or on, to enter
utthitena – rising, arising
svakam – your own
puram – city, fortress, divine body
plustam – to burn, to share, to annoint
vicintayed – perceive, discern, consider, imagine
ante – end
shantabhasas – tranquility
tada – then
bhavet – becomes
(Sources: the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary, online courtesy of The Institute of Indology and Tamil Studies, Cologne University. Vijnana Bhairava: The Manual for Self-Realization, revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo, edited by John Hughes, Universal Shaiva Fellowship. Vijnanabhairava or Divine Consciousness by Jaideva Singh, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, India, 1979. And Sri Vijnana Bhairava Tantra: The Ascent, by Swami Satyasangananga Saraswati. Yoga Publications Trust, Bihar, India, 2003.)
Imagine that the Flame of Divine Awareness, God’s Holy Fire, has consumed your form, and you are standing free in your true nature, which is utter peace.
Meditate on the Inner Flame
Perceive that every atom of your being, every cell, is already anointed with the divine flame of life, and you are serene and free.
If this were Mythbusters, I would say, “Don’t try this at home.” But the reality is, we are already aflame. Biological life – you know, your body – is a type of fire. Think about it: day and night, your body is burning at almost 100 degrees (98.6 is almost 100, don’t you think?). When you breathe, you are fanning the fire. When you eat, you stoke the fire. When you do any exercise that makes you breathe a bit more, you are burning extra calories. One of the main things bodies do is burn fuel to generate heat and energy, and distribute it. We are always warming our hands at the inner fire, and this yoga invites us in to merge with the sacred fire. “Come on in. You are already here. You may as well make yourself at home.”
With any element – fire, water, space, air, earth – we begin by realizing we are already made out of these elements. There is the story of two young fish that are swimming along, and they come across an older fish who says, “Hi, how’s the water?” The two fish swim on for awhile, and one says to the other, “What the heck is water?”
We begin by considering that we are already immersed in an element, and life is so beautifully constructed that we don’t notice it. If we are going to notice, if we are going to start paying attention, then we may as well build our practice out of what we love, for that is the best and most reliable guide to an evolutionary relationship with fire or any element.
What is it you love about the element of fire? To get into this practice, explore in a safe way what you love about flame – candles, fireplaces, car engines, electric lights, the warmth of human bodies, the way that certain breaths light your fire. Cherish this inner fire for a few minutes a day and see if it brightens up your mood a bit during these short days of Winter.
The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra describes 112 Yogas of wonder and delight touching the divine in the midst of daily life.
Dr. Lorin Roche began practicing with the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra in 1968 as part of scientific research on the physiology of meditation. He has a PhD from the University of California at Irvine, where his research focused on the language meditators generate to describe their inner experiences. He is the author of The Radiance Sutras and Meditation Made Easy. With his wife, Camille Maurine, he wrote Meditation Secrets for Women. A teacher of meditation for 46 years, Lorin’s approach centers on how to customize the practices to suit one’s individual nature. Lorin leads the Radiance Sutras Meditation Teacher Training, a 200 hour certification program registered with Yoga Alliance. Lorin teaches regularly at the Esalen Institute and around the world.