Vijnana Bhairava on Shunya
As I had indicated in this blog, the Vijnana Bhairava talks about various paths to reaching the truth. In this blog I write about “Shunya” that is talked about in Vijnana Bhairava. Shunya translates to void. But what is void? Can we even start to describe void? A number of verses exists such as the Nirvana Shatakam, Siva Dasaloki and so on that attempt to describe this. The Mandukya Upanishad also tries to describe this as Turiya state. But, how do you describe something that does not exist in this physical world? The only way all of these do it is by negation. For eg., the Nirvana Shatakam talks about it as this:
Na Punnyam Na Paapam Na Saukhyam Na Duhkham Na Mantro Na Tiirtham Na Vedaa Na Yajnyaah | Aham Bhojanam Naiva Bhojyam Na Bhoktaa Cid-Aananda-Ruupah ShivoAham ShivoAham ||4|| Aham Nirvikalpo Niraakaara-Ruupo Vibhu-Tvaacca Sarvatra Sarvendriyaannaam | Na Caa-Sanggatam Naiva Muktirnameyah Cid-aananda-ruupah ShivoAham ShivoAham ||6||
I am neither good nor bad, neither comfort nor sadness, neither chants nor sacred, neither vedas nor sacrifice. I am neither the experience, the experienced or the experiencer. I am the form of pure awareness, I am potential. I am non-imaginable, non-aspect-form, I am present as skin of all present in all senses, I am neither attached to anything nor is anything free from me. I am the form of pure awareness, I am potential.
The only way to describe void is “absence of”. The Vijnana Bhairava does not describe void at all. I think it is true, we should not attempt to describe it at all. Why do we need description which is also just a characteristic of this world? The Vijnana Bhairva tells us what to do and what not to do to go to this void. Yes, what not to do is also as important in this case as what to do. I will describe only 4 verses of the Vijnana Bhairava here which I think is pretty illuminating.
praNavAdisamucchArAt plutAnte shUnyabhAvAnAth | shUnyayA parayA shaktayA shUnyatAmeti bhairavi || 39 || praNavAdi + saMucchArAt = wise-people + rise / ascend plut + ante = filled with + till end shUnya + bhAvanAth = void + contemplation shUnyayA = void will parayA = overwhelmed by shaktayA = energy shUnya + tAmeti = void + desirous of / wanting bhairavi = manifest
The wise ascend by filling to the end with void contemplation, void will be overwhelmed by energy, wanting, the void will manifest.
I am not sure how many have played the game of statue. The game of statue is very simple. One person says statue and all others have to be as still as a statue till one person moves and becomes the next person to say statue. Now, if you have played this game you will know how difficult it is to really keep still. The minute someone says statue, the eyes will water, there will be an itch somewhere, the muscle will tense, the breeze will move a strand of hair irritating you and so many things start getting interpreted by the conscious self forcing you to want to act. This is exactly what this verse is saying, To be in the void a lot of people try to fill themselves with “void contemplation”, but it always gets overwhelmed, because the even the underlying want to be in the void is a disturbance in the void, so how can we not be manifest?
yasya kasyApi varNasya pUrvAntAvanubhAvayet | shUnyayA shUnyabhUtOsau shUnyAkArah pumAnbhaveth || 40 || yasya = perserverance kas + ya + api = approach + who + also varna + asya = describe + that pUrvAntA + avanu + bhAvayate = anticipating + to move towards + contemplation shUnyayA = void will shUnya + bhUta + asau = void + become + and shUnya + AkArah = void + form pumAn + bhaveth = will become
Persevering who also approach to describe that, anticipating to move towards contemplating, here void will become and have a form
Void is absence of, how can we make “existence in the form of contemplation” and use to recognize void? Or how can we take our “understanding” which is again a manifestation and use it to recognize void? The very fact that “understanding exists” says there is no void, is it not? If you still persist to try to understand and describe void, then only this will happen, void will start getting a form. There is a very good verse in the smritis that needs to be understood:
acintyam cintyamāno'pi cintārūpam bhajatyasau | tyaktvā tadbhāvanam tasmāt evamevāham āsthitaḥ ||
Thinking of the unthinkable only forms a thought of the unthinkable. Hence give up that thought knowing it will not last.
Basically thinking of void, even if it meant to fill yourself with no contemplation, can only form a thought of non-existence, it does not become non-existent. This is exactly what this verse is saying. But, if this is true and all that we have is thought, how then do we find void? This is what is answered in the next two verses.
tantrayadivAdyashabdeshu dIrgheshu kramasamsthiteh | ananyacetAh pratyante paravyomavapurbhavet || 41 || pindamantrasya sarvasya sthUlavarNakrameNa tu | ardhendubindunAdAntah shUnyoccArAbhdavecchivah || 42 || tantraya + adya + shabdeshu = to regulate + this moment + of noise dIrgheshu = prolonged krama + samsthiteh = progress / series + situated in ananya+ cetAh = undistracted / focused + awareness pratyante = continuous para + vyoma + vapur + bhavet = remote + space + scatter + will become pinda + mantra + asya = subsistence + incantation + of sarva + asya = of all / entire / whole / complete sthUla + varNakrameNa = thick / dense / large + series of descriptions ardhendu + bindu + nAda + antah = semi-circle + detached particle + noise + end shUnya + uccArAd + bhavecchivah = void + rise + preventing transmigration or birth / destroying mundane existence
Regulate the noise of this moment prolonging it being situated in “krama” by focussed awareness of continuity then this remoteness and space will become scattered.
By incantation of subsistence of all (interpreted as the “M” vibration of OM) dense series of descriptions the particles of detached noise ends and void will rise destroying the mundane existence
This I believe cannot be understood unless practically tried out. The two things that really stand out in the 41st verse is “prolonging the moment” and “situated in krama”. The inherent meaning of the verse seems pretty simple. As I have said in Advaita Prakarana, limit the awareness, give it the thought of “I”, make it recognize direction and remoteness we have space and time. So, obviously if I have to go back to the void, all I have to do is undo the sense of direction and remoteness as the first step. The above verse seems to saying how to do this. But, when the verse says prolong the moment by regulating the noise by being situated in krama, that is something to think about.
If we think about it, what is “now”? I have always been stumped by the fact that what we recognize as the now is always a sense of what occurred in the past. There is always, even if very small, a time difference between the actual occurrence and the recognition of the occurrence. Hence “I” am always lagging behind. But this is because we have always defined time with external entities. We have said earth moves around the sun in a year or earth rotates on its axis in a day. Obviously, if I defined time in this manner, I have to sense the movement and hence know the time which always leads to parallax errors and so on.
I am pretty sure, “adhya” or “the moment” or “now” is not what is defined in the current world. The only conclusion I can come to which makes sense to me is “Time was not defined then, the same way it is defined in the current world”!!! While we may translate words correctly, we seem to have lost what they really represented. But, possibly we could try to infer what it could have meant from this verse. Definitely one thing that is emerging out of this verse is that “time was defined as something inherent to us rather than external to us”. Agreed, this means there is no global time and what this implies is that time varies from one person to another. I find this to be naturally true. Why?
Take the simplest eg of the traffic on a road. Multiple vehicles are moving at different speeds on the road. Now, would you say time is a single time shared among all of them or a truly multi-threaded system where and each and every driver acts and reacts independent of each other? In computer parlance, the difference between single core processor processing multiple threads means it is time slicing between various threads, vs a multi-core processor processing means each core is processing each thread and there is no time slicing. I think, time is definitely not global, it has to be redefined to something more inherent to us.
If we start wondering what time is, I find it is variation, without variation there is no time. I find we can define variation with a series of data points that are received by us. It is like time moves as the series of data points move. Again in computer parlance, if we look at a set of sensors say temperature sensor, humidity sensor and so on sending data at 15min interval to an application. For the application, variation is only occurring ever 15mins and that is the definition of its “moment”, isn’t it? Only when the data from the next 15 mins comes does the state of the application change.
Similarly for us, while we seem to receive an analogous series of signals, the interpretation speed of these signals by the brain seems to be the definition of “the moment” for human beings? Even though we have analogous data, we seem to sample data at a certain frequency. We interpret and push to the processing and wait for the next data signal and this is a continuous process. The minute the data is pushed for processing our next moment starts. So, if we now go back to the 41st verse with this definition of the moment, we find it makes more sense.
Now to define “kramasamsthitah”. “samsthitah” means to be situated in. Let’s see if I can put this correctly. If we observe ourselves as we live, we find “the awareness” varies based on what we are doing, it is not constant. We cannot be fully aware of everything in our own selves, such is the sampling of the brain. When we are solving a problem, the awareness is fully on the brain, when we are sad, awareness is fully on the heart and so on. We can control where we want to locate or situate this awareness when we act/react. Hence “kramasamsithitah” must be talking about having our awareness in some place. Mostly given that this is problem solving we are looking at the concentration centre or the one that interprets the “series” of data from the senses.
So, the 41st verse is saying, if keep our awareness in the concentration centre, prolong the interpretation of the data (my take here is rather than interpreting each and every data, prolong it and interpret it as a set of data from a window and prolong the window as much as you can) by focusing on the continuity of the data, then remoteness should go. And why should it go? That is also easily explainable right? When we do one data at a time, the previous data became separate from this and we have very acute sense of remoteness, but the minute we combine data together to interpret together all of them become continuously one, we have taken away the remoteness of time.
Coming to the 42nd verse of this very illuminating set of verses. It seems to say by incantation of the “M” vibration of the “OM”, the dense series of data which is the noise ends and hence void rises. Now, I really do not understand what “ardhendubindu” means. If I were to hazzard a guess, I would say that this would be related to the wave properties of noise, we have noise formed not by full formed waves by half formed waves and he is saying by resonating with the “M” this noise and hence data is eliminated which means that void prevails when that noise ends.
But, truly these set of verses raise very good questions. Do we understand this world at all? Looks like time and space the very basics of this world fabric is in question here and according to these verse, they can be ended by us concentrating and changing ourselves, not by changing the world around us?