The Radiance Sutras is now available from Sounds True, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes
This has all the latest versions of the Sutras, plus essays on interesting Sanskrit words in each verse.
The Radiance Sutras
Bhairava and Devi traversing the Night Sky, from Lotus Sculpture.
Now in print
Foreword by Shiva Rea
I came across the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra when I was 14 and it was my initiation into Yoga. My first love, this teaching has given me entryway into the vast wisdom at the heart of tantra. I feel I have a home base now.
What is so extraordinary about the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra is that it is a description of the vibratory intelligence that is guiding us at every moment of our lives. This text is loving – a rare thing in the universe of yoga texts. The teaching emerges from the lovemaking of the Goddess and the God within our hearts. This is the revealed tantra. If you are reading these words, the divinity in your heart is wanting to awaken you into the interconnected field we are all vibrating with.
This book is absolutely magical. One line, or just the pairing of some of the words, can change your relationships, activate an awakening. Reading one of these sutras is enough to change a life. I have seen this happen again and again in myself and in my teaching. People who find this text are enlightened by it.
The teaching is practical – here are 112 ways of yoga meditation. Inside any one of these, you can experience the highest yogic insights, through your own direct experience. These practices are at the heart of yoga. It is magical, the first experience of finding a sutra that hits you and sets you vibrating.
Lorin’s translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra is refreshingly intimate, sensual, fierce, and immediately effective. As you are reading a sutra, even if you are not doing a formal practice, your body is being affected, even from the first reading. The outer mind is reflected back to its sacred source.
This text glows with an expansive intimacy in the conversation between two lovers, Bhairava and Devi. It releases a naturalness of being. This is a very different feeling than one gets from the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras, or the Bhagavad-Gita; when I read those texts I do not have the same somatic relaxation into my sacred body. This relaxation is so essential for Westerners. When we get the feeling of vertical ascension, it tends to tighten us up. We tighten up! We just do. Western yoga practitioners need an entryway into the quantum vibratory body, one that retains the magical spontaneity that is there in one’s original experience of finding such a work.
This text specifically releases us, through these practical methods, from the limitations of the way we think of space, of the material world, and transforms it into a living, flowing, vibrational consciousness. This is what the sages and yogis, are saying, that we are living in an incredibly spacious field of vibrational intelligence known as spanda.
I want this book to be on the bookshelf of every lover of yoga, next to the Yoga Sutras and the Upanishads. Lorin is on the front lines as a meditation teacher, bringing over into the Western world the deepest teachings of Tantra, giving them voice to sing out clearly.
– December 2008, Malibu
Preface by Lorin Roche
This little book is the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, one of the early teachings on yoga and meditation. The name, loosely translated, means “The terror and joy of realizing oneness with the Soul.” It is from the oral tradition, meaning that it was chanted and memorized for generations, and seems to have appeared as a written text in about 800 AD. I say it is little because it is only about three thousand words in the original Sanskrit, perhaps half an hour of chanting. It is astonishing that in so few words it describes the essence of many of the world’s meditation techniques. I call it The Radiance Sutras because it is so luminous.
A tantra is a manual of practices. This one is a book of meditation instructions, set as a conversation between lovers. The focus is on full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and how to accept every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.
The text feels as though it was composed by a couple, a man and a woman who sang the verses to each other as they co-composed. They lived this teaching. The techniques that are described here occurred to them naturally, as an evolution of the questions they were asking of life, and their explorations of the body of love. As was the convention of the time, they frame the conversation as the Goddess and the God in them speaking. The conversation is about how to enter into the vibrant essence of the world with the dual balance of passion and detachment.
A translation of this tantra came into my hands about forty years ago, and I have worked with the methods every day since then. It has been a love affair, and I am blessed. One day in 1989 I started to write a fresh version and it evolved into this book.
I call this a “version” rather than a “translation” because there are many different schools of translation, each with its own rules. Sanskrit is engineered to have layers and layers of meaning, and one sentence of a text such as this would take an entire book to unfold. In Sanskrit, every word is a poem.
For the last twenty-five years, the text has been waking me up at four in the morning, purring Sanskrit in my ear and calling me to come out and play. I walk around in the predawn for a few hours, whispering the words of the timeless language, letting it teach me about itself. In this way, the Sanskrit has sung itself into modern English.
The original Sanskrit of the Bhairava Tantra has a musical, mantric quality that massages the nerves like no other language I have ever heard. Sanskrit, like tantric meditation, is a union of opposites. The opposites embrace each other, as lovers do, as the eternally fascinating polarity of male and female, day and night, sun and moon.
Sanskrit sings of rhythm, vibrancy, and the transmutation of terror into ecstasy, fear into movement, stasis into electricity. It evokes flow, tenderness, intimacy with oneself and the universe, informality, attentiveness, and responsiveness. Devi’s opening statement to Bhairava gets my vote for one of the most enchanting phrases I have ever heard in any language. Chant it softly to yourself and listen:
Shrutam deva maya sarvam rudra yamala sambhavam.
“Beloved, I have been listening to the hymns of creation.”
Many types of translations—academic, literary, historical, etymological—can be done of this tantra, and yet each conveys only a small part of its meaning. This version is a bhashantaram, a rendering of the text into the vernacular and a migration or reincarnation into another tongue.
The language of the sutras is brief, meant to be read over and over. Each Sanskrit verse is only thirty-two syllables, intricately woven and saturated with the power of bliss, anandashakti. Just as all of life is interconnected, one word of Sanskrit may have a spectrum of interconnected meanings, encompassing the realms of meditation, music, cooking, medicine, alchemy, sex, ritual worship, art, dance, theater, astronomy, astrology, and mathematics. These definitions are full of physical images that give clues to how to practice.
For example, the word yoga has the central meaning of “joining things together,” or “hooking up.” The first definition of yoga listed in the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary is “the act of yoking, joining, attaching, putting to (of horses.)” If we look up the English phrase “putting to,” we see that it is a British expression for hitching up a horse, “attaching the harness to the load.” Yoga also means “equipping or arraying an army, fixing an arrow on the bowstring, putting on of armor,” and in medicine, “a remedy or cure.” Yoga can refer to any junction—in astronomy and astrology, a conjunction of the stars or planets; in grammar, the connection of words together; in arithmetic, addition, sum, total. In alchemy or chemistry, mixing different materials together is yoga. In spirituality, yoga can mean the union of the soul with matter, the union of the individual soul with the universal soul, and the disciplines that serve this union.
If we take these images metaphorically, they are saying, “Get connected to your horsepower, the magic animal of your being. Arrange your forces. Put on your protection. Do the practices in a way that is a remedy, a cure, for you. Know the stars that guide you.” These are apt metaphors—yuktarupaka—for meditative experience.
The Bhairava Tantra is a conversation between The Goddess Who is the Creative Power of the Universe, and the God who is the Consciousness That Permeates Everywhere. For short, they call each other Devi and Bhairava, or Shakti and Shiva. They are lovers and inseparable partners, and one of their favorite places of dwelling is in the human heart.
The teaching emerges from their love-play, reminding us that we are educated from within our own hearts in the spirit of love. The secrets of how to meditate are revealed as one friend or lover would to another. What Devi and Bhairava sing to each other in this conversation are called sutras, and every sutra is an invitation to freshly appreciate what it is to be alive, to breathe, to exist and express and feel.
The conversation begins with the Goddess asking, “Beloved, tell me, how do I enter more deeply into the reality of the universe?” In reply Bhairava describes one hundred and twelve techniques for awakening into reality through everyday life experience. Each of these is a way of attending to the rhythms, pulsations and sensuousness of the divine energy flowing through us always - and out of which we are made.
Through these techniques, we are alerted to the presence of the sacred that is always permeating our bodies. All of these methods involve savoring the incredible intensity underlying the most common experiences and they work by activating the senses, extending their range further into the inner and the outer world. The basic dynamics of life such as breathing, falling asleep, waking up, walking, loving, all of these are used as gateways into alignment and enlightenment.
Each meditation is a dive deeper into life, into the underlying reality of what life is. Balance is there at every step: the unshakable serenity of the depths is used as a foundation so that we can tolerate the electrifying vastness of the universe. We are invited to cross the threshold, walk through the guardians of the gateway, face the terrors and make our way into the immense and timeless depths that are always calling us.
Many of these meditations are surprisingly informal: notice a moment of powerful emotion, or hunger, or desire, and enter into the awareness of that with total abandon, so that you go with it right into the root of the movement of the universe. When making love, put your awareness into the flame of desire flowing through the body, and become that flame. When falling asleep, pay attention to the transition from waking consciousness to unconsciousness, and catch a glimpse of what consciousness is in itself. Or go outside on a moonless night and be there for a long time, simply merging with the darkness and vastness of space. The text also describes what we think of as traditional sit-down meditation techniques, ways of savoring breath, sound and internal luminosity. The informality and intimacy with the self implied in this teaching means that meditation is not a technique imposed from outside. Rather, the techniques emerge naturally from one's relationship with the Self and with Life.
Taken as a whole, this teaching is startling in its breadth, in the huge range of human experience that it encompasses. It shatters the picture we have of what meditation is, or how meditation teachers too often present it - as a way of dissociating from the human experience and trying to rise above it. There is not a hint of the usual life-denial which permeates and distorts spirituality East and West. This tantra is about going deeply into experience, embracing it fully, without reservation. Nature is embraced as is all of human nature. Lust and passion become fires that illumine, and gusto is taken to its most refined degree possible. Meditation is presented as the nexus or meeting ground of light and matter, spirit and flesh, and the meeting is to be consummated with great joy.
You'll find here in one place many of the essential techniques that are utilized in the meditation traditions of the different cultures. If some of the experiences the sutras describe seem familiar to you as you read this book, it may be because you tend to invent your own private meditation techniques (that you probably never tell anyone). Or you may have had inexplicable realizations in the midst of some life experience. I am pretty much continually astonished at how frequently people who come for instruction in meditation already have one or more of these techniques going on spontaneously. It seems to me that it is an awakening-in-progress that gives a person the desire to study meditation. Sutras like these are there to remind us of what we already know. And they are there to remind us to go more deeply into the experience of being human.
It is likely that the same meditation techniques are invented or discovered independently around the world in different cultures, whenever people start paying attention to the subtle energies of the body. If this is true, then the Bhairava Tantra (its full name is vijnanabhairavatantra) is a syllabus of the types of techniques that could be discovered anywhere. The hundred and twelve techniques that are presented are those that are used all over the world in many different traditions.
"Lorin Roche's rendition of the Vijnana Bhairava is truly radiant, filled with insight and poetry, and illumined by the power of his practice." – Sally Kempton