Practice pages: meditation by dr. Lorin Roche

Walk in Wonder

A meditation on wonder from The Radiance Sutras, a new translation of the vijnana bhairava tantra

There is a certain feeling we all know - a mixture of surprise and delight, caused by perceiving something marvelous. We want to learn more, stay there and drink it in. It’s called wonder, and the body responds -- we say AH and Oooh and Mmmm, or our hair stands on end, tears come, or we laugh.

In the yoga of emotion, wonder is one of the rasas*, the essential ways of tasting life. The Sanskrit word for wonder is adbhuta (“extraordinary, supernatural, wonderful, marvelous, surprise”). Adbhuta is a great gift to meditation practice because when we are in it, time stops and we are touched by the intrinsic magic of life. All our senses open up to welcome contact with essence. We dissolve in wonder. The mind goes silent in awe. Then questions come.

The vijnana bhairava tantra is sometimes called The Yoga of Delight, Wonder and Astonishment.** The text begins with Devi, the Goddess, wondering about the path to union with her Beloved, Shiva.

One day the Goddess sang to her lover, Bhairava:

Beloved and radiant Lord of the space before birth,
Revealer of essence,
Slayer of the ignorance that binds us,
You, who in play have created this universe
And permeated all forms in it with never-ending truth.
I have been wondering. . .
I have been listening to the hymns of creation,
Enchanted by the verses,
Yet still I am curious.
What is this delight-filled universe
Into which we find ourselves born?
What is this mysterious awareness shimmering
Everywhere within it?
I have been listening to the love songs of
Form longing for formless.
What are these energies undulating through our bodies,
Pulsing us into action?
And this “matter” out of which our forms are made —
What are these dancing particles of condensed radiance?

VBT v 1
VBT v2

śrī devy uvāca |
śrutaṃ deva mayā sarvaṃ rudrayāmalasambhavam |
trikabhedam aśeṣeṇa sārāt sāravibhāgaśaḥ || 1 ||
adyāpi na nivṛtto me saṃśayaḥ parameśvara |
kiṃ rūpaṃ tattvato deva śabdarāśikalāmayam || 2 ||

Consulting the marvelous Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary (first published at Oxford in the late 1800’s), creating an extremely simplified and approximate glossary, we see:

shri - to burn, flame, diffuse light, radiance, excellent, blessed, venerable, glorious, auspicious, to be aflame, luminous; devi - shining one, goddess; uvacha –said; shrutam - heard, I have heard, listened; deva - o shining One, heavenly, divine, the gods as the heavenly or shining ones, sport, play; mayaa - by me; sarvam – all; rudra, a wild god mentioned in the Rig Veda, who later came to be associated with Shiva. (Entire books have been written about this evolution); yamala - twin, paired, the gods and goddesses (the Shaktis) are always paired; sambhavam - born of, the place of generation, produced; trika – three, in this tradition, refers to Shakti, Shiva, and Nara, or energy, consciousness, matter; bhedam - divisions, sections; asheshena - in detail, complete; sarat sara - the essence; vibhagashah - in all sections; adyapi - even today; na - not; nivritta – disappeared, ceased, to cause the cessation; me – my; samsayah - lying down to rest, uncertainty, doubt; parama – supreme; Ishvara – Lord; kim – what; rupam – form, appearance, color, shape; tattvatah - in its real essence; deva - O shining One; shabda - sound vibrations; sabdaraashi kalamayam - the group of basic sounds through which the divine creative energy expresses, the energy of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet.

Keep in mind that the Sanskrit used here has many different dictionary meanings, and many more connotations in this particular yoga tradition. The language is so richly resonant that it is as if Devi is saying, Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Keith Richards, Kirk Hammet, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Chuck Berry, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell Joan Jett. Where each name evokes a person, a style, a state of consciousness, a series of legendary performances, a list of songs, and the impact that performer had on the culture and on everyone’s hearts and souls and bodies.

Devi, the Goddess who is the energy of life, the energy of creation, is placing herself in the position of a student, a yogi, and asking Shiva to teach her. She opens herself up in wonder, and then the teachings flow. In so doing, Devi is giving us the first teaching: begin with wonder. Inhabit your questions.

There is also a pun – the word Devi uses is saṃśayaḥ or samshaya, and its first meaning is “lying down to rest or sleep,” and it also means “doubt about the point to be discussed.” The implication is that Devi is saying, “When I think about all the divisions of consciousness and all the mantras, I just want to lie down and go to sleep.”

If you are still awake, here is a practice. Take a piece of paper and write a few notes about what on Earth and in the Heavens invokes a feeling of wonder in you. What are you astonished by? What is surprising? Then every day for a week, look at your list before you begin your practice. Breathe with your list. Notice how inhabiting the rasa** of wonder blesses your practice, opens your senses and your heart. Perhaps Devi using samshaya, a word that means lying down, suggests entering Shavasana with your questions.

Walking, with eyes open, is also a form of prayer and meditation conducive to allowing wonder to have its way with us. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, suggests walking meditations – walk in peace; walk like a tiger; walk as if you are absorbing healing energy with every step; walk as if your feet are kissing the earth; walk as if you are a sovereign, a Queen or King. Walk with wonder.

If the Goddess can interrupt Shiva’s dance to bug him with her questions, why can’t you? If we do not entertain wonder, we are just imposing other people’s answers on ourselves, without having asked our own questions. Yoga has so many amazing answers. When we entertain our sense of wonder, then we become open to revelation.

*(Rasa is a word that seems to have started out meaning “the sap or juice of plants, the best or finest part of anything, nectar, elixir,” and then expanded its semantic range to include “taste, flavor,” and the “taste or character of a work of art.” Rasa is also “aesthetic relish,” the process of savoring life as art.)

** The Yoga of Delight, Wonder and Astonishment is the title of a translation of the vijnana bhairava tantra, by Jaideva Singh and published by SUNY press.

The Monier-Williams is available online at the University of Cologne.