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The radiance sutras

I entered the magical world of the Radiance Sutras in the summer of 2006 while attending a yoga teacher training with Shiva Rea at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts.  We were lying down in savasana (corpse pose) after an intense two hour long practice, and Shiva was guiding our descent into stillness.  After we all settled into a deeply relaxed and receptive state, she started reading a stunning sutra from an ancient sanskrit text called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.  I was mesmerized both by the slow rhythm and sensual tone of her voice, and by the sheer beauty of that sutra which opens with these lines:

“The one who is at play everywhere said:
There is a place in the heart where everything meets. 
Go there if you want to find me. 
Mind, soul, senses, eternity, all are there. 
Are you there?”

I was suspended to her lips, drinking in her every word, and noticing that the sensations in my body were getting increasingly subtler, as my heart was softening and expanding in all directions. I started feeling connected to every one else in the room, not as a concept, but as an actual felt experience. And this is how I fell in love with “a place in the heart,” sutra 26 of the Vijnana Bhairava tantra, translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras.  Right after class, I asked one of Shiva’s assistants where I could get a copy of what she read, and was happy to hear that it had been included in our teacher training manual, along with a link to Lorin’s website.  Later that day, I visited the site, and discovered that thirty more of the 112 sutras which make up this magnificent text were available on his site, each one more beautiful and inspiring than the other.

In the months that followed, I started learning several of these sutras by heart.  I just loved what happened to me whenever I would spend time reading and reciting their lines.  I would spend hours with them, taking them on walks, bringing them into my yoga practice, and sharing them with friends.  I eventually contacted Lorin to express my enthusiasm and gratitude for his work, and to inquire about the other 70+ sutras not included on his site.  He said he was in the process of editing them, and did not yet have clear plans for their publication, but kindly offered to keep me posted.  Then, a couple of years later, in February of 2009, while I was in Bali, I attended a week end retreat with Ateeka, another wonderful yoga teacher.  She had just facilitated a three weeks long teacher training, and several of her students were present for the week end.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were each carrying a copy of the newly released print version of all 112 Radiance Sutras!   I was delirious with joy!   Ateeka unfortunately did not have a spare copy for me to buy, so I begged someone to lend me theirs and stayed up half of the night, reading and savoring the sutras I had never read, and typing them up. I later bought several copies of the book, so I could give them away to friends.

The book is still one of my most treasured possessions.  The sutras have literally changed the way I experience ‘reality.’  This text is much more than a book.  It’s collection of rare and precious gems, each of them a portal into presence, an invitation to experience all aspects of life more fully by connecting with our life force with all our senses.  In Lorin’s words, the book is about “full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The sutras have played a big part in my embodiment journey, and learning them by heart has kept giving me opportunities to feel and experience my inner body and subtle energy while moving through life, walking, playing, working, and dealing with day-to-day curve balls.   Each sutra is an invitation to enter the body fully and then let the deepening of that connection naturally expand one’s sense of self beyond the boundaries of skin, and the constrictions of identity and personality.

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You can listen to audio recordings of my favorite radiance sutras on this site, and order a copy of the whole book on Lorin Roche’s website.   You can also join the facebook page, and read Lorin’s stunning commentaries about the sutras in the LA yoga magazine.

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Lorin Roche’s preface

This little book is the Bhairava Tantra, one of the early teachings on yoga and meditation.  It is my favorite meditation text ever.  The name, loosely translated, means “The terror and joy of realizing oneness with the Soul.”  It is said to date back to the second millennium B.C.  For most of that time, it was purely in the oral tradition, meaning that it was changed and memorized.  I say it is little because it is only about three thousand words in the original Sanskrit, perhaps forty minutes of chanting.   It is astonishing that in so few words it describes the essence of many of the world’s meditation techniques.  I call it The Radiance Sutras because it is so luminous.

A tantra is not poetry, although it may sound that way in the original and in translation.   A tantra is a manual of practices.  This is what a how-to-book looked like several thousand years ago, at least in one of the meditation traditions.   It is a book of meditation instructions, set as a conversation between lovers.  The focus is on full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The text feels as though it was composed by a couple, a man and a woman who sang the verses to each other as they co-composed.  They lived this teaching.  The techniques that are described here occurred to them naturally, as an evolution of the questions they were asking of life, and their explorations of the body of love.   As was the convention of the time, they frame the conversation as the Goddess and the God in them speaking.  The conversation is about how to enter into the vibrant essence of the world with the dual balance of passion and detachment.

An early translation of this tantra came into my hands about thirty years ago, and I have worked with the methods every day ever since.   It has been a love affair and I am blessed.  One day several years ago, I started to write an English version and it evolved into this book.

February 2009, Marina del Rey, California

 


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How to train your dragon

A dear friend of mine from Cape Ann recommended last year that I check out a kids’ movie called “How to Train your Dragon,” which she described as a wonderful story about facing one’s fears.  I can always use some inspiration in that area, so I got a hold of the video and watched it.  It was honey for the soul: really fun and deeply wise, and just all the way around uplifting.   I  especially loved the way “Hiccup,” the underdog son of the leader of a Viking community, is willing to follow what feels right to him, even though this requires breaking free from the way his entire tribe operates.  The movie is all about the transformative impact of facing our fears and demons, and learning to befriend and ride the dragon instead of trying to kill it!


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The yoga of eating

Once in a while, you read a book that makes such an impression on you that you feel moved to tell everyone you know about it!  This is how I felt after finishing “The Yoga of Eating: Transcending Diets and Dogma to Nourish the Natural Self,” by Charles Eisenstein.

This book is for anyone who has ever felt confused about how to make sense of the contradictory recommendations of all the external dietary authorities out there as to what “eating healthy” involves.  From raw foods to macrobiotics, classical ayurveda to yogic or Chinese traditions, blood typing to body ecology, Nourishing Traditions to veganism, not to mention the more mainstream diets (South Beach, Atkins etc.), many cultures or experts offer their own  research and logic for why we should eat certain things and not others.  If you research the field of healthy nutrition long enough as I have casually done for the past 3 years, you will get to the utterly confusing place of finding pretty compelling evidence for everything and its contrary (beyond the typically shared condemnations of refined sugar, and factory farming or genetically engineered products).

Charles Eisenstein, the inspiring author of this gem of a book, basically argues that most people’s approach to healthy diet rarely recognizes the fact that our unique life purposes, activities, environmental and psychological circumstances, genetic inheritances, spiritual path and karma, and of course body types form a complex web of critical variables in determining what diet is uniquely right for each of us and what foods will provide the critical nutrients we need at any given time of our life.  The premise of his book is that because our optimal diets are very unique to each of us (and change over time), they can’t be abstracted from one size fits all (or even more sophisticated typology-based) frameworks.  All of these different traditions and approaches may each have valuable insights to offer, but none of them can replace our own body’s wisdom as the ultimate guide for what we need to feed it for its optimal healing and to support the type of work and activities in which we are involved and our overall life journey.

The Yoga of Eating totally challenges our culture’s deep distrust of the body’s requests and signals (including what we judge and dismiss as its unhealthy cravings), and our tendency to either discipline (and occasionally starve it) ‘for its own good’ or silence its emotional cries with numbing types of food or overeating…  without ever really listening to what ‘it’ actually wants.   It suggests that we instead learn to access and trust our body’s great intelligence, and its messages as to what we really need which involves removing the blocks — physical, emotional, and conceptual — that separate us from these messages and have us prefer to trust the prescriptions and advice of all kinds of external authorities or traditions over our own inner authority.  It is also about encouraging people to give up using their willpower to enforce whatever-we-think-is-right-for-us on the body, and restrict the use of willpower to supporting our own body’s deepest preferences (which is rarely the same thing as either its loudest surface cravings or the ‘holiest’ practices according to whatever tradition we feel connected to).  He also offers a very helpful way to navigate the whole dilemma of “How could we possibly trust our body when it craves ice-cream or comfort foods?!”

This book offers powerful reflections about the relationship between food and consciousness, between our eating practices and our spiritual growth (as individuals and a society), and also offers really insightful bits about the blind spots behind various types of perspectives that some people tend to either take for granted or be dogmatic about, including the distinction between body and soul, the benefits of all kinds of miracle supplements, vegetarianism or veganism as a ‘more evolved form’ of eating, habitual cleansing etc.   And somehow, the author talks about all that, without ever being dogmatic himself, recognizing instead the partial truth and insights of all these different perspectives for the right person at the right time, and if and only if the body says yes to it.

Just to be very clear, Charles Eisenstein is not suggesting that we mindlessly eat whatever we want whenever we want, but that we mindfully discover what our bodies (which is really us) actually want rather than regard them as an obstacle or enemy to fulfilling the plans we develop without consulting with it!   And that requires a lot of “unlearning” about what our minds or our cultural beliefs and practices or the latest nutritional fad have led us to get our bodies to eat.   He believes that much of what we eat when we eat unhealthily (defined as out of alignment with what we need), or we “act out” is often an overblown reaction to routinely ignoring or suppressing our body’s deeper signals (or other kinds of needs), and is in all cases the result of being altogether disconnected from our bodies in the first place.

You would need to read the book (which is fairly short and wonderfully well written) to get the whole picture.  It has pretty radical implications for anyone who cares about healthy eating.   I’d like to second an Amazon reviewer who wrote: “If we lived in a sane world, this book would be a bestseller.”


The radiance sutras

I entered the magical world of the Radiance Sutras in the summer of 2006 while attending...
article post

How to train your dragon

A dear friend of mine from Cape Ann recommended last year that I check out a...
article post

The yoga of eating

Once in a while, you read a book that makes such an impression on you that you...
article post