Vijñānabhairava-tantra verse 46 becoming Void
“He should, for a moment, contemplate emptiness in a part of his body. [The result is] freedom from thought constructs. Being devoid of thought constructs, he becomes the Void itself ”
तनूदेशे शून्यतैव क्षणमात्रं विभावयेत्।
निर्विकल्पं निर्विकल्पो निर्विकल्पस्वरूपभाक्॥ ४६॥
tanūdeśe śūnyataiva kṣaṇamātraṁ vibhāvayet|
nirvikalpaṁ nirvikalpo nirvikalpasvarūpabhāk || 46 ||
“He should contemplate emptiness”
The term “emptiness” (śūnyatā) has many facets. On the one hand it refers to the essential instability of all matter, therefore of any “part of his body” (tanūdeśe), for all is transient. Matter has no absolute reality. It is in keeping with verse 29:64 of the Tantrāloka, “I am not, …. I am only energies (śakti)”. This verse contrasts with the famous phrase ‘I am Brahman’ (aham brahmāsmi). The primary stain (mala) is to give absolute value to the ego (ahamkāra). Nothing exists in itself. It is only a combination of śaktis. Solidity and reality are attributed to the body, but that is an illusion.
That teaching applies not only to the body but also to all aspects of one’s person: the faculties and memories, one’s history and reputation. These are all empty.
This practice is difficult, for it involves detachment in every regard. It implies a rejection of the sense of identity and self-absorption. It means not worrying about what to eat, what to have, what to be. It means attaching no importance to fame and honour, popularity or acceptance. It means giving up the many fears and desires that dominate society.
This emptiness can be considered in a more positive sense also, since all arises out of the transcendent, which is beyond all understanding and definition. The transcendent cannot be classed as a being among beings. It rises above all such things. Therefore at the heart of all matter, and therefor at the heart of any part of the body, there is the Void (śūnyatā); there is something apophatic that cannot be described. There is a profound freedom at the centre of what seem most inert and material. Thus insubstantiality and indefinability and freedom and transcendence are contemplated there, in what touches us most closely: the body.
This is not a prolonged act of contemplation. It is “for a moment” (kṣaṇamātraṁ).
“freedom from thought constructs”
As a result there occurs an abandonment of thought constructs (nirvikalpaṁ). The categories disappear because they are irrelevant and can longer interest the mind. The practitioner has gone beyond them.
“Being devoid of though constructs”
This attitude penetrates the practitioners such that they themselves become identified with the absence of thought constructs. They can be named as ‘devoid of constructs’ (nirvikalpo), of ideas and categories and all limitations.
“he becomes the Void itself”
But the practitioners go further. Śiva himself is Akula, without the aspects that belong to Kula. Śiva is without form and so, like a mirror, can take on every form. This absence of innate form is not weakness but strength. Since Śiva is nothing he can be everything. Since he is empty he can receive all without barrier or inhibition.
The practitioner, therefore, takes on the very being of Śiva. He becomes the very “essence of lack of thought constructs” (nirvikalpasvarūpa). He becomes Void. He is ‘fully empty’, so to speak. He is nothing; he is everything, not in his limited self, but in his essential being.
This in turn transforms the practitioner’s being, which now manifests the infinite. The body, which is still mortal and corruptible, takes on surpassing beauty and infinite worth. Its loveliness does not depend on externals such as youthful good looks, but on inner radiance. Even in old age magnificence shines forth, because the divine is manifest in the human. It is transfiguration.
The Christian dimension
This is what happens in the scene of the transfiguration (Mk 9:2-8). Jesus allows his infinite divinity to shine through his human form. His face gleams like the sun and his clothes becomes whiter than any bleacher could make them.
This prospect is held out to all who are one with him. Their corruptible bodies become glorious. This does not occur simply at the end of time, at the resurrection of the dead, but also, at least partially, in the here and now. This śloka 46 is connected with transfiguration.
Patricia, a good friend of my made the following comment on this post: “Is it even harder to contemplate emptiness in a body filled with pain? How did Christ do this on his cross?”.
Absolutely right. All such suffering is overwhelming. How did he see any ’emptiness’ in his body wracked with pain? But this is precisely what happens, as St Paul says in Philippians 2: “He emptied himself …. even to death on a cross”. The pain is not just physical but emotional and spiritual as well. St Paul goes on, “Therefore he was exalted and given a name above all other names.” This verse 46 resonates so well with Christian themes.
The transfiguration and the crucifixion are counterpart. The one speaks of glory, the other of utter humiliation: two sides of the same coin.