|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - Nov 2016|
The Yoga of the Netra Tantra
by Joanne Sullivan (Divya) with Dr. Stephen Parker (Stoma)
Dr. Bettina “Sharada” Bäumer gave a course on “The Yoga of the Netra Tantra: The Third Eye and Overcoming Death” at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) October 20th – 27th, 2016.
The Netra Tantra is one of the authoritative scriptures of non-dualist Kashmir Shaivism (dated not later than 700 AD) with important sections on Yoga. It is the only Tantra on the Third Eye of Shiva, and it is also called Mṛtyujit or mṛityuñjaya, “the Overcomer of Death”, relating to the form of Shiva revealed in it and to his mantra. The commentary by Kṣemarāja (early 11th century) is an important help in understanding this profound text and its practice.
The participants came from around the world and included many serious students who observed silence much of the time. There was an air of deep quietude in the hall. We were also graced by the presence of Swami Ritavan Bharati. Two days after the seminar ended, I was still hearing the chanting of sacred verses of this very intensive seminar. The “Conqueror of Death” mantra of Kashmir Shaivism that correlates with what we know as the Mahā-mṛtyuñjaya Mantra is a jewel at the heart of this text.
Dr. Bäumer is a direct disciple of the master of Kashmir Shaivism, Swami Lakshman Joo (1907-1991). She currently divides her time primarily between Varanasi, where she established a teaching and research center in 1967 and Shimla where she is a Fellow at the India Institute of Advanced Study. She also teaches Religious Studies at several European universities including the Universities of Vienna and Salzburg, Austria, where she and is an accredited Professor. In 2015, the government of India awarded her the prestigious Padma Shri Award.
Dr. Bäumer distinguishes herself as a scholar, teacher and aspirant who has written and edited more than 25 books in Sanskrit, English and German, and about 60 research articles. She is noted for her work in Āgama/ Tantra and Kashmir Shaivism, Upanishads, Indian aesthetics, temple architecture, the religious traditions of Orissa, and interreligious dialogue.
At the request of friends who could not attend, Dr. Stephen Parker (Stomaji) wrote a “Netra Tantra Chronicle,” which forms the main heft of this article. Direct quotes reflect the words of Dr. Bäumer and of Stoma’s “Netra Chronicles.” Indu Arora also contributed a poem.
Stoma introduced Dr. Bäumer on the first day. Remembering Swami Veda Bharati’s elaborate and glowing introduction of Dr. Bäumer in 2010, Stoma quoted her response: “…looking out over the audience [she] “quietly…simply [said] ‘Our only qualification is our master.’"
This truly reflects the gentle caring of a teacher who humbles herself before the living text, its commentators and predecessors and, no less, before her master and her students. The course itself was a perpetual darshan--- being in the sacred presence of --- the Netra Tantra, its seers, commentators and those luminous beings (earlier tantras) who came before it.
A sense of wonder and attention permeated the hall.
“Netra Chronicles” by Stomaji
“…Silence is kept … in order to come to the text with a concentrated mind and a receptive heart. The shastra, Sharada taught, can give transmission if it is approached with a receptive heart. This is true because like the presence of a realized master, the shastra is āgama, that which has come [to us from Divine Grace]…. . This is one of the deep meanings of svadhyaya. Most of each day is passed in silence and each teaching session is followed by a one hour meditation to allow the deeper intuitions to surface in buddhi. Have been looking forward to this all year--I get to be a simple, silent student (for once!!)."
“Today …we heard about the background of the text among the five tantras of Kashmir Shaivism: Mālini-vijaya-uttara, Svacchanda, Vijñāna-bhairava, Netra and Parātriśika. We follow a very traditional teaching method. Today we learned to chant a set of benedictory verses (Maṅgala-ślokas), which we do at the beginning of each session and we also sing each verse as we go through the text (nearly 40 verses in the first chapter today)."
“You expect that Shiva will teach you how to open the third eye. . . The texts are not that simplistic. . . It is implied [but never stated]. . . It says you will become divine, then, sooner or later, that eye will open. . . It is jñāna . . . not 'knowledge' but gnosis--insight!”
“The term netra means ‘eye.’ Wherever in the text (or elsewhere, really) the term appears in the singular, it refers to the third eye, the spiritual eye in the Bhagavad Gita chapter 11, the divine eye, divya-cakṣu. It is not identical to the Ajna chakra, the center between the eyebrows. In the iconography it is always placed above. And lest one thinks that this is merely a Hindu idea, take a look at the Christian Bible, Matthew 6:22 and Luke 11:34: ‘The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.’ The Netra Tantra is a detailed commentary on the meaning and method of that passage.”
“The Yoga of the Netra Tantra has three levels: 1.) sthūla, the corporeal, where the goal is to heal the physical body and prevent untimely death; 2.) sūkṣma, where the goal is to develop your subtle body into a divine body, divya-deha and 3.) parā, which is realization of absolute consciousness without a method.”
"’The satisfaction that you have in a spiritual experience is linked to the satisfaction that you achieve through the senses. . . .It [spirituality] integrates and transforms your sensual experience. . . The word used, ‘tṛpti’, is the same for both.’ – Sharada….
“This is Swami Veda’s notion of tapas: “enjoyment through concentration,” taking a sip of orange juice to go into samadhi, focused on the taste.”
"’Who is Kundalini? She is ever self-arisen, svodita, …spontaneous,… People think you have to make all kinds of efforts to pull her up… What the yogi is supposed to do is vahet--flow, subtle flow! …It's just not to present any obstacle [to the flow]…Vahet is something VERY gentle.’— Sharada”
“In fact, one of the names for Kundalini is Vahnī, she who flows, and in this way She is also related to Saraswati, she who is possessed of flow, flow of inspiration, creativity and awakening to spiritual Reality.”
“Yesterday we covered the kula-prakriyā, the subtler process of realization involving a very swift movement of "flow," Vahnī, one of the names of Kundalini from the lowest to the highest centers. In this advanced process the movement is very swift. Today we learned about the tantra-prakriyā, the more gradual path which most of us will follow. It is more detailed because we require more preparation. The simple meaning of the word ‘prakriyā’ means ‘method.’”
"’The higher you go [in realization], the simpler [the process].’ Here one goes from chakra to chakra, knot (granthi) to knot, obstructions to the supreme consciousness. Each one is the ādhāra, the foundation for the next higher one. The ‘piercing’ is accomplished ‘by awareness (vijñāna) and creative concentration (bhāvanā).’ (Bhāvanā is not simply emotion.) Having pierced all the knots one arrives at the supreme state. ‘People always identify the third eye with a chakra, ...but the opening of the third eye is the ultimate result of enlightenment. . . The third eye is beyond all the chakras!’— Sharada”
“In response to a question about shakti-pata, Sharada tells us ‘Shakti-pata, the spontaneous, overwhelming experience of grace, has nothing to do with any yoga. It doesn't matter [to the Shakti] whether the person is prepared or not… It is independent of any particular prakriyā.’-- Sharada.”
“The three methods, sthūla-dhyāna (corporeal meditation), sūkṣma-dhyāna (subtle, energetic meditation) or parā-dhyāna (supreme meditation) are not sequential steps. Ultimately every yoga leads to the goal… sooner or later--the later, the more trouble, you need to make more effort." The more purification you need, the more steps and practices to the method you must follow to realize.”
"’You may not think you are parāyogīs…it may seem beyond us…but even if you have not climbed the Himalayas, when you listen to the stories of those who have climbed you draw inspiration, you are elevated…Let us approach the text in that spirit.’— Sharada”
“Bhāvanā is a term that is very difficult to translate and to understand. SVB defined it as immersing your being in a certain thought until you become that thought. Sharada describes it as, ‘dynamic transformative meditation mediating between the individual and the Divine,’ also as ‘creative contemplation.’
“‘When Bhāvanā [of Shiva] is accomplished, the mind becomes supportless [in samadhi].’--Kṣemarāja”
“We concluded our seminar with Sharada this morning. She asked everyone to recall the one specific thing in the text that struck them the most. For my part I told the story of coming to India in 1974 and going to Motilal Banarsidass ‘the temple of book addicts,’ and going into the back room to find a nearly complete set of the Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies, which I brought home. I asked Swami Veda, with whom I was studying Sanskrit at the time whether I should write my final paper for my BA degree on Kashmir Shaivism. He said that if I did that now it would just be an academic exercise. He suggested that I wait until I had twenty years of meditation experience and then study them, so I did not touch them until his 2010 seminar on Shiva Sutras. I discovered how right he was because each time I take up these texts now there are sparks of recognition one after the other. Others had many similar profound experiences. I also told a personal story of an experience of that intensity of bhāvanā that showed me how naive I was about how deep that self-reflective intensity really is.”
“In honor of Sharada I recited a meditative verse about Sharada which Patricia Obermaier, one of her students, had just learned to sing in her studies of Dhrupad and so she then sang it beautifully, as always, with the appropriate melody.”
“After the conclusion of our seminar on Netra Tantra, Sharada invited several people to help inaugurate and consecrate a new meditation and teaching space at her hermitage outside of Rishikesh. The building is beautifully made by a couple of architects from Himachal Pradesh with traditional materials including walls plastered traditionally with cow dung and clay. It is a beautiful space and although new it feels like it has been there forever.”
Indu Arora’s Poem
Indu Arora, who attended both the Netra Tantra and the earlier Vijñāna Bhairava seminars given by Dr. Bäumer, wrote this poem:
"I am blinded by my eyes I am blinded by my ‘I.’ Let my ‘I’ lead to THE EYE. Let my eyes lead to THE EYE. Let the Sun burn the ‘I.’ Let the Moon nourish the ‘eyes.’ Let the Fire illuminate THE EYE.”
Dr. Bäumer quietly uttered the words “iti Shivam” and the Netra Tantra seminar ended. I wrote her to ask the significance of this phrase. She replied “Every Shaiva text, Tantra or otherwise, ends with this exclamation, which means: ‘All is Shiva’ or ‘everything (contained in the text) is auspicious and liberating’, or ‘everything is graceful’. So I also like to end with this traditional expression, like the Amen in Christianity.”
More on Bhāvanā
Dr. Bäumer repeatedly emphasized the importance of an intensity of bhāvanā. This is a concept that deserves clarification. So I located an article she wrote on bhāvanā and at my request she kindly sent it to me.
The article is “Creative Contemplation: Bhāvanā in the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra” which is in the book Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist Meditation: Cultural Histories by Halvor Eifring (Editor) and Louis Komjathy (Contributor). In this chapter, she explains that bhāvanā is a process. It is nothing less than “the transformation of the meditator, moving from dualistic consciousness to the unity with the ‘content’ of meditation.” Thus the seer and the seen are one.
She cites French Indologist Lilian Silburn, a disciple of Swami Lakshman Joo. She tells us that bhāvanā is “the mystical zone, the ‘in between’ (Madhya).” In her article, Dr. Bäumer gives several bhāvanās practices including one that “serves to overcome the dichotomy of subject-object, one of the main aims of an advaitic understanding of reality.” Another bhāvanā, she explains, illuminates the “important overcoming of the duality of self and other.” It is quite a rich and helpful article. In summary, Dr. Bäumer ends where she began. In describing bhāvanā she writes:
“There is no subject-object relationship implied, but rather a merging in that in-between which may be termed as void, or as pure …divine Consciousness.” In the words of her master, Swami Lakshman Joo, “’Bhāvanā is directing your mind with awareness’. Finally, Dr. Bäumer sums up the meaning of bhāvanā. “The transformation operated is one leading from visualization to identification, and hence from limited consciousness to its universalization, and hence divinization.”
Swami Rama and Swami Veda on Bhavana
Both Swami Rama and Swami Veda spoke of the significance of bhavana. Over the years, Swami Veda (and as Dr. Usharbudh Arya before his sanyasa vows) spoke often of bhavana and its important role in sadhana. In the Glossary of Yoga Sutras, Volume I, Dr. Arya (Swami Veda Bharati) defined bhavana as “cultivated concentration, cultivating and absorbing a meaning: an internal process of impressing an object of concentration (bhāvya) repeatedly in the mind.” Bhāvya is defined as “object of concentration.”
Swami Rama discussed bhavana in the context of Shri Vidya and the text known as the Bhavanopapanisad. He wrote:
"Sri Yantra thus maps the path of eternal return to inner wholeness and perfection. It shows that the origin of life is perfect bliss, peace, happiness, and wisdom and that its final destination must be the same. The subtlemost supreme internal worship practiced in the samaya school is called bhavana, and it is explained in the Bhavanopanishad. This scripture explains that that which is found in the individual self exists in the universe, and so in order to analyze and understand the universe, one can study the individual self. One’s own body, mind, and spirit are the Sri Yantra. When all symbols and rituals are internalized, then the human body itself resembles Sri Yantra, and the student becomes one with the ultimate truth. (p. 191, Swami Rama: Choosing a Path)
Only a Beginning
The Netra Tantra course was only a beginning. It will reverberate in many of us for years to come. The retreat itself was like entering into a chamber of secrets that is not confined to place and has no particular name.
Those interested in Kundalini may be interested in reading Kundalini – Stilled or Stirred by Swami Veda Bharati.
Swami Rama wrote of shaktipata in The Essence of Spiritual Life (Page 100):
“People think that by the grace of God alone they will be enlightened. That is not the case. My master said, ‘A human being should make all possible sincere efforts. When he has become exhausted, and then cries out in despair in the highest state of devotional emotion, he will attain ecstasy. That is the grace of God. Grace is the fruit that you receive from your faithful and sincere efforts.’
“Shaktipata is only possible with a disciple who has gone through a long period of discipline, austerity, and spiritual practices. Shaktipata on a mass scale seems suspicious to me. It is true that when the disciple is ready, the master appears and gives the appropriate initiation.
“When a student has done his sadhana with all faithfulness, truthfulness, and sincerity, then the subtlest obstacle is removed by the master. Those who do not believe in discipline should not expect enlightenment. No master can or will give it to them just because they want it.
“The experience of enlightenment comes from the sincere effort of both master and disciple. Let us put it in different words. When you have done your duty skillfully and wholeheartedly, you reap the fruits gracefully. Grace dawns when action ends. Shaktipata is the grace of God through the master.”
To watch the video “Swami Rama on Shaktipata,” please use this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwQWuFjj1-sStoma wrote about the Bhavanopanishad, “It is a text on meditation in the Shri Vidya tradition which explains the meaning of all of the different segments of the Shri Yantra. The book Tantra of the Sri Chakra by Ramachandra Rao in the [SRSG] bookstore is an essay and translation of that text.”