Walk in Wonder

A Meditation On Wonder From The Radiance Sutras, A New Translation Of The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

There is a feeling we all know -- a mixture of surprise and delight, caused by perceiving something marvelous, and we want to stay there, drink it in, and know more. 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 essential ways of tasting life. The Sanskrit word for wonder is adbhuta (“extraordinary, super-natural, 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. It 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?

śrī devy uvāca
śrutaṃ deva mayā sarvaṃ rudrayāmalasambhavam
trikabhedam aśeṣeṇa sārāt sāravibhāgaśaḥ

adyāpi na nivṛtto me saṃśayaḥ parameśvara
kiṃ rūpaṃ tattvato deva śabdarāśikalāmayam

An approximate glossary, we see:

  • shri ~ “to be aflame, luminous” excellent, blessed, venerable, glorious, auspicious
  • devi ~ shining one, goddess
  • uvacha ~ Literally, “said” in past tense, yet this conversation is always underway within the heart, so we can read it as in the present, ongoing.
  • shrutam ~ heard, I have heard, listened. Also resonant with the Shrutis, the songs of creation resonating in the ethers. I am listening.
  • deva ~ o shining One
  • maya (mayaa) ~ by me
  • sarvam ~ all
  • rudra ~ a name of Shiva
  • yamala ~ twin, paired
  • sambhavam ~ born of, the place of generation, produced
  • trika ~ three.bhedam ~ divisions, section
  • asheshena ~ in detail, complete
  • sarat sara ~ the essence
  • vibhagashah ~ in all sections
  • adyapi ~ even today
  • na nivritto me ~ not dispelled, the doubts of me
  • na ~ not
  • nivritta ~ ceased, to cause the cessation
  • me ~ my
  • samsayah ~ lying down to rest, uncertainty, doubt
  • parama ~ supreme
  • Ishvara ~ Lord
  • kim ~ what
  • rupam ~ form
  • tattvatah ~ in reality, in its real essence.
  • deva ~ O shining One
  • kim rūpam tattvato deva ~ what is the form, the essence (of the path we must walk?) What is the path through all these states of consciousness?
  • shabda ~ sound vibrations
  • sabda-rasikalamayam ~ the group of basic sounds through which the divine creative energy expresses.
  • mayam - this energy, external potency
  • kalamayam - divine creative energy

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 on what on Earth or 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. Perhaps 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.

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, but my feeling is, we have to come meet them halfway. When we entertain our sense of wonder, then we become open to revelation.

If the Goddess can interrupt Shiva’s dance to bug Him with her questions, why can’t you? Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk we all consider a living treasure, suggests walking meditations – walk in peace; walk like a tiger; walk as every footstep is kissing the earth. Walk as if with every touch of your feet on the ground, you are absorbing healing energy

Walk in wonder.

LORIN ROCHE, a meditation teacher for more than forty years, is the author of The Radiance Sutras and Meditation Made Easy: lorinroche.com