Meditating on the Breath:
Dharanas from the Vijnanabhairava

Introduction by Swami Shantananda

The Vijnanabhairava, one of the Sanskrit scriptures revered by the sages of Kashmir Shaivism, consists of 112 dharanas, or centering techniques. The dharanas below describe ways to focus one’s attention on the breath for meditation.

The central approach given is to pay attention to the inward and outward movements of the breath and, finally, to the pause that naturally occurs between these. Exhalation (prana) originates from the “heart,” hrdaya, a subtle space of Consciousness at the center of the chest. The out-breath moves in an arc, first upward within the body and, once it leaves the body, downward until pausing briefly at a space parallel to the heart, a space of Consciousness known as the external heart. Inhalation (apana) originates from this same space outside the body and moves upward and then, once it enters the body, downward and back into the internal heart, where it pauses.

As the breath moves in and out of the body, it makes sounds—ham on the in-breath and sa on the out-breath. These two sounds form the syllables of what is called the natural mantra, identified as Hamsa (I am That) or So’ham (That I am). Thus, as the breath moves in and out of the body, it spontaneously repeats this natural mantra.

The Supreme Self—indicated as “That”—reveals its presence at the spaces where the breath pauses within the body and outside the body, both of which are essentially one Consciousness. Experiencing this pause, where prana and apana have merged at the heart, the meditator comes to a state of perfect stillness.

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Meditation on the Movement of BreathMeditation on the Hamsa Mantra Meditation on the Hamsa Mantra

Swami Shantananda

Swami Shantananda Copyright SYDA Foundation Swami Shantananda received shaktipat initiation from Baba Muktananda over forty years ago, when Baba gave him the mantra in Gurudev Siddha Peeth in Ganeshpuri, India. In meditation, Swamiji experienced the letters of the mantra dissolving into a vibrant, luminous power that rose up his spine to his head and gently wrapped itself around his mind. He then entered a deep inner space of silence and sweetness, from which he witnessed his quiet mind. Later, he learned from Baba that the Witness is the Supreme Self. He recognized, “This is who I am!” In 1977, he took monastic vows to become a Siddha Yoga Swami. Swami ji serves Gurumayi as a Siddha Yoga meditation teacher, drawing on his own profound experiences in sadhana and his extensive knowledge of the Indian scriptures. Swami Shantananda is the author of the book The Splendor of Recognition, an illuminating commentary on the Pratyabhijña-hrdayam, a key text of the philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism.