Feast for the Senses
The Radiance Sutras
Practice pages: meditation by dr. Lorin Roche
Food – can’t live without it. So why not take delight in each bite? The same goes for other appetites. We are hungry for many things besides purely physical food. Music and poetry feed the soul. Love feeds the hungry heart.
From a Tantric perspective, we are always eating, always absorbing nutrition from the cosmos, always being fed by the universe on many levels. All sensual perception is food. Each of the senses is feeding on infinity, metabolizing the energies of creation.
Every bit of sunlight that touches our skin and blesses the eyes is nourishment: the body absorbs the wavelengths and transmutes that electromagnetic energy into substances it can use. Every sound we hear is the vibration of life in action; our ears are sustained by laughter, good conversations, and rhythms of all kinds. Breath is a primary food – we breathe in and out twenty thousand times a day, we are filled and emptied as two thousand gallons of air-substance flows across the sensitive sensory tissues of the nose, mouth, and throat. We may as well notice this continual feast and rejoice in it, instead of taking it for granted.
In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, Shiva sings:
All around you, in every moment,
The world is offering a feast for your senses.
Songs are playing, tasty food is on the table,
Fragrances are in the air,
Colors fill the eyes with light.
You who long for union,
Attend this banquet with loving focus.
The outer and inner worlds
Open to each other.
Oneness of vision, oneness of heart.
Right here, in the midst of it all,
Merge with the elation.
With the ecstatic Essence
Embracing both worlds.
yoginas tanmayatvena manorūḍhes tadātmatā
This is verse 73 of the Bhairava Tantra, which correlates to Sutra 50 of The Radiance Sutras. If you want to sound out the words, here they are, approximately (thanks to Dr. John Casey of Loyola Marymount University):
geetaa aadi vishaya–aasvaadaa
manas–aaroodheh tat–aatmataa 73
Looking in the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary we see:
Gita - song, musical performances, music instruments; adi – the first, or etcetera; visaya – anything perceptible by the senses, object of sense, sensuality; asvada – eating with relish, (also metaphorically), tasting, flavor, enjoying; sama - equal, equipoise; saukhya - comfort, welfare, felicity, enjoyment; ekataat manah – one-pointed focus; yoginas – the yogis; tanmayatvena - become one with that; tanmaya - absorbed in THAT, identical with THAT; dvaina – duality; manah – mind; arudhi - ascent, mounting, elevation, riding; tat-atmata - become one with that; atma, nature, existence, essence, the life principle, spirit, soul.
Visaya deserves its own paragraph, for its semantic range is quite broad: anything perceptible by the senses, object of sense, sensuality, range, detail, material enjoyment, material happiness, abode, dominion, kingdom, scope, compass, horizon, range, reach of the eyes, ears, mind, within the reach of the five indriyas or senses; shabda - sound, sparsa – tangibility to the skin, rupa - form or color, for the eyes, rasa - savor, for the tongue, gandha - odor, for the nose.
Swami Lakshmanjoo (1907 – 1991) from Srinagar, Kashmir, India, was one of the main exponents of Kashmir Shaiva philosophy in our time. In a teaching he gave to John Hughes, Denise Hughes, and Alexis Sanderson, he commented, “Gitadi visaya, that is also visaya, that is also our diet, our diet through ears, aural diet.” (Recorded in Vijnana Bhairava, The Manual for Self Realization, available from Universal Shaiva Fellowship, universalshaivafellowship.org). Your real diet is the divine feast you are in the midst of, all the sensual pleasures within the range of your senses. Lakshmanjoo suggests that asama saukhya means unparalleled happiness – the unparalleled joy that arises from listening to song. If you listen with your whole being, you can hear the song of life even in ordinary conversation. We are called to listen wholeheartedly.
There are many ways of paying attention, a whole continuum – scrutiny, skepticism, clinical watching, cold observation, appreciation, delight, wonder, adoration, love. Each has its place. We can dial each one in as needed or appropriate. But if we get stuck in cold witnessing, we may miss the joy of outer life and also our own gateways to transcendence.
The quality of attention this sutra is calling for is more than sterile, joyless noticing. Jack Kornfield, the Vipassana meditation teacher, once pointed out that “mindfulness” is an “insipid word,” not suggestive of living fully, with courage and spaciousness. Mindfulness is not a good translation of what Buddha taught – “heartfulness” would be a better term.
Every experience is divine if you accept it as such. There are times when we need to give ourselves permission to be in shameless pleasure, and absorb delight with our whole bodies, in every cell, with every sense. This is spiritually and physically healthy, and a way of giving thanks to life.
Use yoga to extend the reach of your senses – visaya – and tune your body’s ability to metabolize prana, the energy of life. The bliss flowing in your nerves and body is also a form of prana. In yoga, become one with the happiness of this divine feast; mount this happiness, arudhi - ride it, ascend with it, become one with it. This is sublime spiritual bliss, and it is available to us, here in the midst of everyday life. This sutra is inviting us to attend to the feast of the senses that is everyday life, and use the skills we practice in yoga to ascend and transcend with the joy.