Vijnana Bhairava

The Vijnana Bhairava is one chapter from the ancient Rudrayamala Tantra. As a Bhairava Agama it is a purely monistic teaching where Bhairavi (Parvati) asks Bhairava (Lord Shiva) to reveal the essence of the way one has to tread on the path to the realization of the highest reality - the state of Bhairava. In his answer Bhairava describes 112 ways to enter into the universal and transcendental state of consciousness.

Traditionally regarded as a manual for masters, the Vijnana Bhairava is a comprehensive aid to students of meditation from any tradition since it deals with the most profound underlying principles of spiritual practice. Because it contains a vast library of techniques, from the most elementary to the most advanced, the Vijnana Bhairava is relevant to aspirants at every stage of spiritual development.

The Text

Vijnana Bhairava first appeared in year 1918 in the Kashmir Series of Text and Studies (KSTS). The Kashmir Series published two volumes: eight (VIII) with a commentary partly by Kshemaraja and partly by Shivopadhyaya; and nine (IX) with a commentary called Kaumadi by Ananda Bhatta. Apart from the above two volumes, references to verses from the Vijnana Bhairava appear throughout the literature of Kashmir Shaivism, indicating that it was considered to be an important text in the monistic school of Kashmir Shaiva philosophy.

The Means - upayas

Kashmir Shaivism proclaims that there are three means for entering into universal God consciousness: shambhavopaya, the supreme means; shaktopaya, the medium means; and anavopaya, the inferior means.

Shambhavopaya - supreme means

Aspirants of shambhavopaya are able to enter the state of God consciousness by mere will. For this reason, shambhavopaya is also known as icchopaya, because it originates from iccha shakti, the energy of will. But this is not ordinary gross will, for these aspirants have highly developed awareness and naturally reside in the state of thought-lessness (nirvikalpa). Aspirants of this upaya must reach the state where only the master shines for them. The prerequisite for this upaya is the grace of the master. Here the disciple merges with the master's consciousness, which is why it is said that, in shambhavopaya the master functions more than the disciple.

Shaktopaya - medium means

Aspirants of shaktopaya are able to enter the state of God consciousness by means of knowledge. For this reason shaktopaya is also known as jnanopaya, because it originates from jnana shakti, the energy of knowledge. But this is not gross knowledge, for the aspirants of shaktopaya have to have such velocity or firmness of awareness that their awareness remains in continuity. Only by maintaining an unbroken chain of awareness are they able to discover the gap or junction between two thoughts, or two actions. All actions and all thoughts are the proper framework for the practice of shaktopaya.

Anavopaya - inferior means

Aspirants of anavopaya are able to enter the state of God consciousness by means of action. For this reason anavopaya is also know as kriyopaya, because is originates from kriya shakti, the energy of action. Once again, this is not gross action, but the more refined action of concentration on breathing (uccara), organs of senses (karana), contemplation (dhyana), and concentration on a particular point (sthana prakalpana). These processes existing in anavopaya are called the upayas of anu or jiva, the means concerned with the individual.


Beyond the three upayas there is another called anupaya. Although it is not actually an upaya, yet it is mentioned in Kashmir Shaivism. Because anupaya is attributed to the ananda shakti (energy of bliss) of Lord Shiva it is also called anandopaya. The word anupaya means "no upaya", therefore the anupaya aspirant has only to observe that nothing is to be done. Be as you are. If you are talking, go on talking. If you are sitting, go on sitting. Do not do anything; only reside in your being. This is the nature of anupaya.

Understanding the upayas

Shambhavopaya is the means which exists in the world of pure monism, shaktopaya is the means which exists in the world of mono-duality, and anavopaya is the means found in the world of duality.

The difference between aspirants of shambhava, shakta and anavopaya is this. Shambhavopaya aspirants have such strength of awareness that there is no need for support. They reside in the meant and therefore there is nowhere to go. The rest is automatic. The strength of awareness of shaktopaya aspirants is such that they need only one point - the center - as a support for concentration. They begin with the center and become established there. Anavopaya aspirants have to take support of everything as an aid to maintaining and strengthening awareness. Though they concentrate on the center, their strength of awareness is such that they must take support of two things for concentrating on that center.

It is important to realize that although the ways are different, the point to be achieved is one - the state of one transcendental consciousness. The difference is that anavopaya will carry you in a long way, shaktopaya in a shorter way, and shambhavopaya in the shortest way.

An essential prerequisite to success in any of the 112 practices is a clear understanding of which upaya is most suitable to the practitioner. For example, without this understanding, an aspirant who is suitable only for practices in anavopaya might easily become disillusioned by their failure to experience the results of a shaktopaya or shambhavopaya practice, and since the majority of practices in Vijnana Bhairava are in these higher upayas, it could easily lead to disillusionment of ones abilities, or in the text as a whole.

Translations of Vijnana Bhairava

1957 Paul Reps - Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
1961 Lilian Silburn - Le Vijnana Bhairava.
1979 Jaidev Singh - Vijnana Bhairava or Divine Consciousness.
2002 Bettina Baumer - Vijnana Bhairava, The Practice of Centering Awareness.
2003 Swami Saraswati Satyasangananda - Sri Vijnana Bhairava Tantra: The Ascent.
2007 Swami Lakshmanjoo - Vijnana Bhairava, The Manual for Self Realization.

External links

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