“The Radiance Sutras” by Lorin Roche – a review

As most of you know, there are many different schools of yoga philosophy.  In fact, there are so many different schools and they say so many different things that it’s hard to speak of yoga as one consistent system of thought.  One of the more popular schools of thought is tantra, and as one of my teachers is fond of saying, despite popular belief it has nothing to do with sex (though it’s certainly a sex positive philosophy).

Tantra is challenging for me.  I’ve listened to different teachers talk about it, I’ve read various tantric writers, and still, most of it sounds to me like “Everything is wonderful because everything is wonderful, and therefore everything is wonderful.  Yay!”  It sounds circular; insular even.  I’m not saying tantra is not a valid perspective; I’m certainly not saying that.  What I’m saying is that I don’t see much overlap between tantra and my own experience in life; and I’m not sure whose experience it does reflect.  Tantra, as I’ve understood it, seems utterly blasé about hardship.  Is this philosophy designed for people who have not experienced difficulties?  Or those who have better coping skills than me, therefore can shrug off whatever ills befall them?  Or does it attract those whose chief coping strategy is avoidance and denial?  Or have I been missing some essential point?  (I suspect the answer to all of these questions is yes, in varying degrees.)

I know these questions all point to my own failure to understand, and not necessarily any inherent lack in tantra.  I want to be forthright about the fact that I recognise my own ignorance here.

I recently read a translation and commentary on the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (The Radiance Sutras).  Lorin Roche, the translator/commentator, really did an excellent job.  This is the first time that tantra has made any sort of sense to me.  I think it’s because Roche’s take is less “gee, everything is swell” and more “everything you experience is a gateway to the numinous – the shit as much as the shiny.”  This, I do believe (and maybe that belief is one of my coping mechanisms; but if so, then it’s a healthy one).  I’m very grateful to my friend A for periodically recommending The Radiance Sutras to me over the past few years.  I’m glad I finally took her advice.  I could never get behind a philosophy that dismissed the hardships in life; frankly, that would be dismissive of far too much of my own experience.  But this is different.  Yes, there are difficulties, some of them awful, but they don’t need to destroy us.  We don’t need to use them as reasons to shut down to the world; we can use them to deepen our compassion and our practice.

So, if like me, you’ve never really gotten tantra, and life sometimes seems like an ongoing series of increasingly Rube-Goldbergian systems designed to kick you in the keister in creative new ways, give The Radiance Sutras a shot.  It may help.  (Apologies to Lorin Roche for using such puerile imagery in my review of his very fine book.)

yasya kasya indriyasya api vyaughatat cha
nirodhatah pravistasya advaye
shunye tatraiva atma prakasate

Whenever any of the senses is impaired
It becomes a gateway to infinity.

Whether by self-imposed deprivation, injury, or age,
Obstruction of the senses invites awareness of Soul.
The mind can no longer take the world for granted.

Attention turns inward,
And touches the shimmering emptiness —
The reality behind the world of appearances.


3 Responses

  1. Yoga done right is rather all encompassing, isn’t it?

  2. Yes – quite so, quite so.

  3. Greetings from Bali! I just found your review this morning and loved it, especially:

    ~ “Roche’s take is less “gee, everything is swell” and more “everything you experience is a gateway to the numinous – the shit as much as the shiny.” This, I do believe (and maybe that belief is one of my coping mechanisms; but if so, then it’s a healthy one) ~

    I am also a big fan of the sutras. You might enjoy my own review of the book ~ just google Learning to Linger and Radiance Sutras – I have recorded a few of my favorite ones (#1, #26 etc) on Soundcloud, and if you are welcome to listen to them by googling Soundcloud and Radiance Sutras.


    Have you thought of contributing a shorter version of your review to Amazon? This is where people often go when they want to check out a book.

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