Madhya the Heart


Paul Eduardo Muller-Ortega


Madhya: The Omnipresent Center

The Heart is madhya, which is to say that it stands in the middle, in the midst. It is intermediate; it stands between any two extremes. It is central; it is the interior, which is the space or vacuum at the center of all things. We encounter a developed teaching about madhya in the Vijnanabhairava-tantra, an important text that was well known to Abhinavagupta.

This text consists of 112 meditative techniques for the attainment of the Ultimate reality. One of these many meditations reads as follows:

When the energy in the form of breath neither goes out nor comes back in, then it simply expands in the center into a non-dual non-discursive awareness. This is the attainment of the condition of Bhairava.

We see that the “middle state” is instrumental in the attainment of the state of nirvikalpa, the condition of Bhairava. This attainment is contingent upon a balancing, produced by the meditative process, of the two flows of the vital breath, which is directly linked to the power. Another meditation technique makes reference to the central vein (madhyanadi) and likens this vein to a filament of the stem of a lotus. Within this central vein or channel resides the goddess in the form of the inner firmament (antarvyoman).

The medial “vein” (nadi) is situated in the middle. It is as slender as the stem of a lotus. If one meditates on the inner vacuity of this nadi, in the form of the Goddess, then the Divine is revealed.

The meanings of central, middle, and interior are skillfully intertwined in this verse. Meditation on this central reality unfolds, and illuminates (prakasate) that which is divine.

The notion of the madhyanadi is pursued by Abhinavagupta in contexts that allow us to see it as an important technical concept belonging to the yogic processes taught by the tradition. In the TA31 Abhinavagupta quotes a long passage from the Trisiro-bhairava-tantra which discusses the ascent through the “channel” of the “center” in order to achieve the plane of the mantra. The yogin must first balance the ascending and descending energies of breath, This is referred to as the method of the “stick” (dandaprayoga). He will then experience a great light which bestows eternal knowledge. As a result of this practice he then attains the highest abode and comes to dwell in the “city” of pure consciousness, which is free from waves and whose nature is Siva.

In the PTv Abhinavagupta goes into more detail on the entrance into the channel of the center:

The manifestation of Bhairava, the immovable abode, of Siva who transcends the Embodied Cosmos, without waves, requires that the breaths and vital energies and so on that are in the channels of the senses should be steeped and concentrated in a single place. Only under these circumstances will one be able to penetrate into the great central abode of the susumna and attain in this way a state of identity with this trembling agitation (ksobha) of one’s own power. Once this identity is achieved and the multiplicity has been dissolved, one enters into an amazement of the ‘I’ itself, of self-referential consciousness itself, abounding with all its powers. The manifestation of Bhairava occurs precisely as a result of this penetration which consists in a separation of the Emissional Power from the force of the great mantra and involves a union with the Rudra-Dyad which is bliss and a completely full emission.”

In this passage we see that the central channel is explicitly identified with the susumna. This coincides with the reference to the “stick,” a reference to the inner spinal passageway for the subtlest of vital energies. The various forms of vital energy which are dispersed throughout the sensory apparatus must be drawn inwards and amassed in one place. This concentration of energy will permit the practitioner to effect an entrance into the susumna. He then attains the agitation (ksobha) characteristic of the power. This agitation allows him to dissolve the multiplicity of finite objects and experiences and enter into the amazement (camatkara) of the infinite Self, the T.

The specificities of the yogic techniques for entrance into the central vein are generalized in other meditations of the V. BH. into a process of allowing awareness to rest in the interval between any two thoughts or perceptions. In the following two meditations these more general instructions are recommended:

At the moment when one has perception or knowledge of two objects or ideas, one should simultaneously banish both perceptions or ideas and, apprehending the gap or interval between the two, should mentally rest there. In that gap reality will flash forth suddenly. When the mind, which has just left one object, is not allowed to go toward another object, then, because of that which is between the two objects, an intense meditative realization unfolds.”

The Ultimate reality is omnipresent. However, the experience of the omnipresence of the Ultimate is hindered by one’s awareness of the entire range of manifest, finite objects that are constantly there to be experienced. These two meditations suggest that because of the omnipresence of the Ultimate, it may be located between the experience of any two thoughts, objects, or emotions. It is always to be found subjacent to the world of finite contents and dichotomizing thoughts. Thus, when one penetrates into the interval between any two things or ideas, one will not encounter a nothingness, but rather the fullness of the totality. This is the nirvikalpa condition, which simply shines forth when awareness penetrates into the interstices of its own contents.

Thus, the Heart as madhya underlies and mediates between any two distinctions. It can be discovered anywhere, not as an additional content of awareness, but as the uncovering of the very nature of pure consciousness itself. Thus Siva, the infinite consciousness, is spoken of as being beyond any distinctions. He is always the ‘third’ element that transcends, undercuts, and in the end, unifies all possible oppositions.

Ksemaraja had all of these processes in mind when he condensed into one technique the notion of the expansion of the center, madhyavikasa. He describes the technique in his Pratyabhijna-hrdayam:

By the expansion of the center, one attains the bliss of consciousness.

In his commentary, Ksemaraja defines madhya as the blessed consciousness, itself present as the innermost reality of everything, without which nothing is possible, unless it be attached to that consciousness for support.

It is in the center of the center that the Sakti dwells as the power that enlivens and controls the entire wheel of sense capacities and subtle conduits. This power is conceived as the place of birth of all beings. Its nature is of the linga and karnika. In the PTlv, this powerful dimensionless ‘point’ of the center is the place of union of the Divine Pair, Siva and sakti. It is from this place of union that the power which manifests all of reality radiates outward.

Consciousness, which is formed of the Ultimate (A), vibrates with a seed vibration in the two extreme points of the first vowel (A), two points whose nature is that of reposing in their own-nature. And because of the power of that vibration, consciousness, which is composed of the essence of all, becomes in the central point the impulse towards the manifestation of the distinct and different cognitions.

There are other meditations prescribed in the V. Bh. that counsel an attitude of attaining the center. A particularly obscure one prescribes resting the consciousness in the interval between the fire and the poison. This obscure verse is elucidated by Abhinavagupta in the TA with reference to the mantra SAUH.  This verse provides an excellent example of tantric symbolic language. The “fire” and “poison” refer at one and the same time to the moments of the beginning and end of the sexual act, and to the moments of expansion and contraction of the vital energy as it prepares to rise upward through the susumna. Another meditation consists in fixing the mind in the interval between pleasure and pain. It asserts that it is there that reality abides. Yet another meditation counsels an avoidance of both hatred and attachment and avers that it is in the freedom from these extremes that the brahman glides.