from a Nath math in Rajasthan
© 1975-2021 All rights reserved. None of this material may be
Some Aspects of the History and Doctrines of the Nathas
Life is real, only then when ‘I am’ – Gurdjieff
This, again, is a piece written by Gopinath Kaviraj published in the Princess of Wales Sarasvati Bhavan Series, Vol VI, 1927. It is therefore out of copyright. Kaviraj here presents his views on the Natha sampradaya, including information on Kundalini and the imperishable physical body, and alchemy. Sanskrit/Hindi etc. words in the original text use the iTrans format. Ed.
A detailed and systematic history of Indian Culture remains yet to be written. But there is hardly any doubt that. before it can be successfully undertaken continued spade-work is necessary in various fields of study. The cultural history of a people is no less complex than its political one, and it becomes all the more so when it extends through long centuries and represents the outcome of diverse currents and cross-currents of forces.
The study of Natha and Siddha sects is a preliminary to a thorough study of mediaeval Indian Thought. Even this study has its different aspects. The present paper, which sums up some of the main points on the subject, is therefore meant to be no more than a suggestive one. And it may be hoped that the subject, will be taken up for investigation and an attempt will, be made to throw light on the many obscure issues involved.
Mahamahopadhyaya Haraprasad Sastri drew the attention of scholars to the literature of the so-called Buddhist Siddhacharyas. That many of the acharyas were identical with the Nathas, who were known as Siddhas, is indeed a fact. But their exact position is not known. The history of Tantrik Literature, specially that of the Tripura section, abounds in the names of Nathas. Many of these, names are of, course not proper or historical names at all, but only of certain abstract principles. But, some are indeed historical, After initiation the disciple is given there a name ending in Natha. It is needless to say that we have no concern here with these ‘Nathas’. A regular and systematic study of the teachings of the Hatha Yogins – the Nathas proper, e.g., Matsyendra Natha, Goraksanatha, etc., – of the Vajrayana and Sahajayana Buddhists, of the Tantrists of Tripura order and also of the Virachara cult, of the followers of Dattatreya, of the Saivas, of the later Sahajiyas and the neo-Vaisnavas, will reveal several features in common. The relation between Mahayana Buddhism and Tantric culture is an important one and deserves close and careful examination. It would be of great interest to find out how the Sunyavada of Mahayana has crept into Hatha Yoga, Tantra, etc. and how ultimately this Sunya has came to be interpreted in the way it has been done in the later Buddhist Schools. All these Schools of Thought being allied to the philosophical position of the Alchemists the science of Alchemy as it used to be cultivated in Ancient India has also to be studied. The Rasavada of the neo-Vaisnavas owes much to the development of the mystic Science associated with the names of the Siddhas.
The scope of the present paper is not however so wide. It is an humble attempt to present in a very few words, mainly on the basis of Mss. and of printed books, a sketch of the doctrines of the Nathas, together with a short note on the origin of the sect and on the bibliography of its literature.
Origin of the Sect
As usual in this country the Natha sect claims a divine origin. Brahmananda, 1in his commentary, called Jyotsna, on the Hathayogapradipika (1.5), clearly states that Adinatha, or Siva was the first of all the Nathas and that according to a tradition preserved. in Nathist literature the sect was founded by Siva:
AdinAthaH shivaH sarveShA.m nAthAnA.m prathamo nAthaH . tato nAthasampradAyaH pravR^itta iti nAthasampradAyino vadanti .
From the above extract it would appear that the Sect was known by the name of Natha-panth. Scholars too generally use this very term in referring to the sect. But in literature – it is also known is Siddhamarga, Avadhuta marga, etc., and as the teachers of this School lay a great emphasis on the practice of Yoga for the attainment of perfection it has come to be designated as Yogamarga par excellence.
The Kapalika sect is in some minor respects closely allied to it, but it is a distinct path altogether; and though its origin is attributed to Adinatha, its main teachings and practices have a character of their own.
The Sabara Tantra gives a list of twenty-four Kapalikas – 12 teachers and 12 pupils. It is interesting to find that some of these names, especially those of the pupils, are those of the well-known Nathas or Siddhas. The names of the twelve teachers, for instance, are – (1) Adinatha (2) Anadinatha (3) Kalanatha, (4) Atikalanatha, (5) Karalanatha, (6) Vikaralanatha, (7) Mahakalanatha, (8) Kala Bhairavanatha, (9) Batukanatha, (10) Bhutanatha, (11) Viranatha and (12) Srikanthanatha. The names of their twelve pupils appear in this order (1) Nagarjuna, (2) Jada Bharata, (3) Harischandra, (4) Satyanatha, (5) Bhimanatha (6) Goraksanatha, (7) Charpatanatha, (8) Avadyanatha, (9) Vairagyanatha, (10) Kanthadhari, (11) Jalandhara and (12) Malayarjuna.
Though the spiritual descent of the sect is said to be from the Divine source its historical foundation is ascribed to one Matsyendra Natha. The life history of this great man is so intimately woven up with legends that it is very difficult to make a proper discrimination. It is said that Matsyendra had originally bean s fish who overheard the secret Yoga instructions of Adinatha or Siva and become fixed in body and mind (tIrasamIpanIrasthaH kashchana matsyaH ta.m yogopadesha.m shrutvA ekAgrachitto nishchalakAyo.avatasthe). When the fact was noticed by the great Lord, He came to know what the steadiness meant and out of compassion sprinkled water on his body. The result was that the fish was immediately transfigured and his form was converted into a human body of celestial type – thenceforward famous as the Siddha Matsyendranatha. Mm. H. P. Sastri is of opinion that the real name of Matsyendra was Machchhaghna, which probably means a fisherman, Be that as it may, there is no doubt that Matsyendra was a Yogin of high order. It is said that in spite of his great powers he fell a victim to the snares of passion and that it was with much difficulty that Goraksa, his most favourite disciple, succeeded in, reclaiming him.
He had several disciples. Besides Goraksa, oho became the most renowned of the batch, there were Chaurangi, Ghoracholi and others. There are legends associated with each and every Siddha. And almost every Siddha is credited with the composition of certain musical verses which used to be sung in the middle ages and continue to be recited even now to the tune of an one-stringed instrument by pedestrian minstrel-beggars in the street.
In the literature of the Nathas one very often comes across the name Minanatha. It is hard to say whether this was a synonym of Matsyendra. – The two names were believed by many to refer to the same person. But in the list of Nathas furnished by Brahmananda we find the name of Mina mentioned separately from that of Matsyendra (in H. Yo. Pr. 1. 5 – 9). H. P. Sastri speaks of them as if they were two persons and says that both of them were natives of Chandradvipa.
The word Chaurangi (=Sk. Chaturangi) means a person shorn of hands and legs. It is said that while Matsyendra, after he had become a Siddha through the grace of Adinatha, was roaming at will through the world he came across Chaurangi in a certain forest and took pity on him. Chaurangi’s body, which was only a trunk, became furnished in a mysterious way with hands and legs, whereupon he fell at the feet of the great Siddha, asked for his Grace and obtained it. He became a Siddha, known as Chaurangi Natha. The following saying is attributed to him. [The original text omits the saying – Ed]
Ghoracholi was another disciple of Matsyendra.
But the greatest of Matsyendra’s disciples – indeed one of the greatest souls India has ever produced – was certainly Goraksa Natha. He was a great Siddha, was the father of Hatha Yoga in its current form and was the great apostle of Yogic mysticism in the mediaeval ages. In the Panchamatrayogi, attributed to himself, it is stated that during the period of his discipleship he passed twelve long years in watchfulness on the cremation ground. Mm. H.P. Sastri says, on the strength of Taranatha’s evidence, that Goraksa was originally a Buddhist and that he became a Natha only in his later ears. As a Buddhist he was known by the name of Ananga Vajra (according to Taranatha, but Ramana Vajra according to Mm. Sastri). This may be true. But in the Kayabodhi attributed to Goraksa Natha himself, there is a saying which would seem to show that he had been in all probability originally a slayer of animals (pashvArambhaka). If the word Arambha means sacrificial slaughter, as it often does, Goraksa cannot be described to have been a Buddhist before his conversion into Nathism. But as it is a mere conjecture the point need not be pressed far.
The age of Goraksa or of his Guru Matsyendra is not known with certainty. The tradition connecting him with Kabir (1500 A. D.) and with Madhusudana Sarasvati (1700 A. D.) is not probably of any historical value. But Jnana Natha, alias Jnana Deva, who is usually assigned to the thirteenth century, mentions his own spiritual pedigree, in his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita in which Goraksa Natha appears as his third predecessor,- thus: Adinatha, Matsyendra Natha, Goraksa Natha, Gahini Natha, Nivrtti Natha and Jnana Natha. This would place Goraksa in the beginning of the 12th Century A D. This date agrees with the tradition which makes Goraksa and Dharmanatha contemporaries and pupils of the same Guru. Dharmanatha is generally assigned to the 12th Century A. D. But there are other views according to which Goraksa lived in 500 A. D. or 700 A. D. or 1000 A. D. The disciples of Goraksa were numerous, some of whom attained to distinction. We read of Bala Natha, Halika Pava, Mali Pava, etc. as being his disciples. Mayanamati, the queen mother of Raja Gopichand, is also said to have been initiated by Goraksa.
This Bala Natha may be the same as the Siddha Balapada of whom we find an account in the Tibetan literature and who is identified with the great Jalandhara Natha. He had probably been a Sudra, but became a Buddhist afterwards and finally a convert to Nathism. He was a powerful saint. In Bengal he was popularly known as Hadipa. His greatness was universally acknowledged, some assigning to him a higher place, owing to his extraordinary sanctity, than Goraksa Natha himself.2 We can glean some account of this Saint from Niranjana Purana. It is said that in the neighbourhood of Kerali he showed Grace to one Sabala, who wrote certain dohas or verses in memory of his guru and of his own conversion. His achievements were many and varied. Among the persons on whom he condescended to confer Grace there was many an illustrious figure. Raja Gopi Chand of Bengal, Raja Bhartrihari of Ujjein and Charpata3, who is described as the maternal uncle of Gopi Chand, were among his disciples. The names of some of his other disciples are Goga4, Chatikanatha, Rama Sinha5, Bhima, the merchant Agila, the merchant Sandhara (in Palanpur), etc. He is said to have practised penances on a mountain, called Rakta, in the City (AdipurI) of Dandavati. Many of his Yogic feats are recounted. For instance he caused pearls to be miraculously produced. in the Yugandhara field; he turned a person, named Kanha, born dumb (janma mUka), into an eloquent Poet; he exhibited the whole Universe in a clear vision to king Renuka on mount Kanchana and gave him a wonderful sword; he conferred a boon on a gentleman of the Raghu family which enabled him to subdue the superior forces of the Emperor single-handed and granted a lovely son to a Charana named Dala. There are many other stories of this kind. It is related that once Jalandhara went to the borders of a village (named Sesali) and lit his dhooni (AgnidhAnI) there, when a prince came to meet him. Jalandhara was pleased to present him with an excellent sword, called Rama Chandra, with which the prince fought and killed several Yavanas – including those of Joya (?) class, one of whom had assassinated his father. Thereupon some Bhatis, a clan of the Yadavas, challenged him in battle and pressed him hard. The prince remembered Jalandhara in the battlefield, on which the latter appeared before him at once. The sword was immediately lengthened into an enormous size and the opponents were beaten back. Having won the battle the prince himself disappeared and became immortal.
Gopichand, the son of Raja Triloka chandra7 of Bengal, became the disciple of Jalandhara Natha and left his kingdom at the instance of his saintly mother Mayanamati. The Mahasanta Vakya contains a short account of his renunciation. The language in which the queen mother exhorted her reluctant son on the vanity of the world and its possessions and on the supreme necessity of taking recourse to a Spiritual Teacher for enlightenment is unrivalled. Seldom in human history has a mother been found to take the initiative in sending her own son away in quest of saving Wisdom – a quest fraught with immense perils and possibility of untold sufferings. The story of Gopichand’s renunciation has become classical, and almost every vernacular of northern India has got its own versions of it. Gopichand, as a Siddha, came to be known as Srngari Pava. In the Siddhanta Vakya there is an interesting dialogue between him and Jalandhara. The former puts to Jalandhara a series of questions, to which the latter replies. The questions are thus worded:
He further adds —
The last couplet contains the quintessence of the Nathic teachings.
The story of Bhartrhari, another prince of royal blood, is equally interesting. He too renounced the joys and luxuries of the palace and under the guidance of Jalandhara attained to perfection in Yoga. In the literature of the Siddhas his name appears as Vichara Natha.
The Teachings of the Nathas
In the Siddhanta Vakya of Jalandhara we read –
vande tannAthateho bhuvanatimiraha.m bhAnutejasphara.m vA
This shows that the metaphysical position of the Nathas was not monistic, nor was it dualistic either. It was transcendental in the truest sense of the term. They speak of the Natha, the Absolute, as beyond the opposition involved in the concepts of Saguna and Nirguna or of Sakara and Nirakara. And so to them the Supreme End of Life is to realise oneself as Natha and to remain eternally fixed above the world of relations. The way to this realisation is stated to be Yoga, on which they lay great emphasis. It is held that Perfection can not be attained by any means unless it is supplemented by the disciplinary practices of Yoga. The Siddhasiddhantapaddhati, attributed sometimes to Goraksa Natha and sometimes to Nitya Natha, goes further and says:
But what is Yoga? It is explained in different works in different ways. But in whatever way it is explained the central conception remains the same. It is what since then has come to be known as Hatha – a term which is thus interpreted in the Siddhasiddhanta paddhati –
According to Brahmananda the Sun and the Moon stand here for Prana and Apana, and their union is Pranayama, which is therefore the meaning of Hathayoga. The conquest of Vayu is thus the essence of Hathayoga.
It is believed that this kind of Yoga was introduced in India by the Nathas. The Hatha yoga pradipika (I. 4) says that the mystery of this Yoga was known only to Matsyendra Natha and Goraksa Natha. Brahmananda adds the names of Jalandhara, Bhartrhari and Gopi Chand. It is of interest to note that all these persons were associated with the Nath panth. Hence it seems likely that Goraksa, or more probably Matsyendra, was the earliest preacher of Hatha Yoga.9 This need not be inconsistent with the statement –
It is hard to ascertain how far the tradition ascribing to the Nathas the foundation of Hatha Yoga as a science is true. For there is a rival tradition which speaks of two schools of Hatha, one ancient and the other modern, founded by Markandeya and the Nathas respectively.
dvidhA haThaH syAdekastu goraxAdisusAdhitaH .
If this tradition has any historical basis it means that the Nathas simply revived an ancient and dying science. And this seems to be the more plausible view to take.
But what was the need of reviving this Yoga at all, when Raja Yoga was already in a flourishing condition? That the Hatha Yoga, even in its higher and perfected forms, is only an ancillary, nay a stepping stone, to Rajayoga, is admitted by the Siddhas themselves. Patanjali’s system is mainly based on Raja Yoga principles; so are the Buddhist and Jain systems, though in all these the utility of simple Hatha practices has also been recognised.
The Hatha Yogins are of opinion that for ordinary people who have very little control over their mind the practice of Raja Yogi is simply impossible. Mantra Yoga and the practices of meditations are indeed capable, if properly resorted to, of leading to the perfection of Raja Yoga; but these too require the exercise of mental concentration to be of any efficacy at all – an exercise which is beyond the power of the average man. Hatha Yoga, however, which consists in certain mechanical devices of the physical character is the only form of scientific yoga which can be useful in such circumstances. For it does not presuppose the possession of mental strength which every other class of yoga more or less implies. We have already said that the essence of Hatha lies in the conquest of Vayu. It is an article of universal acceptance in this country that Bindu (essence of the physical body in the form of Virya, Sukra, or seminal fluid), Vayu (the intra-organic vital currents) and Manas (mind or the principle of thinking) are closely related to one another, so that by restraining any one of them the remaining two may be easily held in check. The restraint of Bindu, as accomplished by the practice of successful Brahmacharya, being already assumed, the Hatha yogins direct the control of Vayu as a preliminary, or rather a means, to the realisation of mental quiescence which is the ultimate aim of all strivings. But to facilitate this restraint of Vayu or Pranayama they recommend the employment of a few other practices, viz. (1) Asana, (2) Mudra and (3) Nadanusandhana. 13
The continued practice of Asana is of great help in securing the lightness, health and steadiness of the body. These qualities, once attained naturally react upon the mind. The practice of Mudra is intended to rouse the dormant Kundalini Sakti without whose active guidance no spiritual realisation is possible. And the practice of Nada audition acts directly upon the mind and tends to destroy its inherent restlessness. As soon as the mind is rendered inactive and the Vayu is absorbed in the Brahmarandhra there arises the resplendent glory of Beatific State, technically known as Laya or Manonmani or Sahajavastha.
It is a state of intense Joy. It is to be observed in this connection that all these practices are inter-connected.
The practice of Nada can be properly started only when the Inner Sound, which is in a sense a perpetual current running through the heart of sensible Nature, comes to be an object of hearing. And this sound can be heard as a matter of course after the Vayu has entered into the Susumna Nadi and its various branches rendered free from the impurities accumulated there for ages. When the Nadis are purified the Anahata Sound becomes audible at once But this purification requires the exercise of Asana and Mudra. On the contrary, the perfection of Asana is impossible until and unless the subtle causes which operate as deterrents upon the stability of the body are thoroughly removed. The awakening of Kundalini which is the immediate aim of the practice of Mudras and indeed of many other practices – is really bound up with the success, more or less complete, of Asana. In fact, all these mechanical devices have one end to fulfill, viz. to release and set in operation the Divine Power lying asleep under the burden of Matter within Man and to render clear its path of movement. This path is now blocked up.
The peculiarity of the Yoga which the Nathas taught consisted in the emphasis which it placed on the physical side of the discipline. It presupposes a thorough knowledge of the body, with its nervous and vital apparatus. The general principle on which they proceeded appears to be the recognition of the graded character of Matter, ranging from the densest form revealed in our waking sense-experience up to the most rarefied and tenuous form to which the end of Samprajnata Samadhi – the so-called Sasmita Samadhi – eventually leads. I am speaking here in terms of Sankhya nomenclature. The consciousness of the individual self as enmeshed in grosser matter is really identical with the Universal Consciousness of the World-soul – nay,- with Absolute Consciousness itself. Only that limitations have to be carefully removed. The Hatha Yogis are of opinion that the only surest and quickest way of transcending the limitations is to rise up, rather to raise up the Vayu, from one plane to another until the Universal Stuff is reached in the Spirit-Matter of the Highest Plane manifesting itself in the so called Thousand-petalled Lotus (sahastradalakamala). These limitations are the products of stress and strain caused by the Creative Impulse of the Supreme Lord in Matter.
To speak more clearly. The pure soul, which is a mode of the Absolute and, ultimately consubstantial with it, becomes enveloped in its mundane stage with a double coating of Manas and Bhutas, representing two aspects of subtle matter. The word Manas is used here in a very wide sense, including buddhi, anhankara, etc. The senses which develop later and are only the functional variations of Manas are also implied in it. The word Bhuta stands here for the objective stuff in a state of relative equilibrium. It holds within it the so-called tanmatras, viz. sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa and gandha, which are not yet distinguishable as such. Each of the five matras has its own centre, wherein it is capable of expanding and contracting. The soul in its descending or outgoing course takes upon itself as a matter of necessity these layers of subtle matter. Though its innate purity is marred thereby it still retains enough of self-consciousness and the consequent powers. Total self-forgetfulness takes place only when it emerges into the outer world, of gross matter which is the outcome of a combination, by means of a process known as Panchikarana, of the finer radiating particles shooting out of the tanmatric centres. The descent into subtle Matter was, as it were, in a straight line, but birth into the external world is the product of an oblique motion (tiryag.hgati) in Vayu. As soon as Consciousness finds itself encased in sensible or gross matter, the Manas develops into senses which begin to operate each in its own line with reference to a corresponding aspect of this Matter. It is for this reason that senses cannot apprehend anything beyond dense Matter. The Manas, as abstracted from the senses, is indeed capable of giving rise to supersensible knowledge. The greater the abstraction the purer the quality of this knowledge. The abstraction of Manas is really synonymous with its concentration and consequent purification. The so-called Divyachaksu, the Celestial Eye or the Third Eye of Siva is nothing but this purified, and concentrated Mind: mano hyevAtra daiva.m chaxuH. 14 The Manas as coated with dense Matter may be described as dense or sense-bound. And in this state the Vayu too is no longer rectilinear in its motion. Every form of Vayu with which we are familiar in our sensible experience is of this type.
This oblique motion of Vayu in our physical body necessitates the existence of tracks of an oblique character. This is what is technically known as Nadichakra consisting of numerous Nadis ramifying in different directions. Leaving out the Susumna which is the central track of the straight motion of refined Vayu, the other Nadis may be loosely classed under two heads, Right and Left, from their position in relation to the Susumna. The Manas and Vayu of an ordinary man in his senses move along these winding tracks. This movement is his Samsara – his Vyutthana.
The Nathas insist that if the Absolute is to be reached, the central Track, which leads directly into it as a river loses itself in the ocean, must be found out and resorted to. All other ways will mislead, as leading to the different planes of material existence, because they contain sediment of gross matter. As soon as the divergent currents of physical Manas, the vrttis of the senses, and of the physical Vayu i.e. the functions of the vital Principle, are brought to a point with a certain degree of intensity, there flashes forth a bright light representing the expression of the concentrated Saktis of the soul. This expression of Sakti is the revelation of Kundalini and its partial release from the obscuration of Matter. The Sakti as thus released, however partially it may be, rises up spontaneously and disappears in the Infinity of the Absolute. This disappearances does, not mean annihilation it simply means absorption and unification. The Absolute, as conceived in terms of Sakti, is the Infinity of Sakti actualised. Sakti is a Unity, whether manifest or otherwise. Brahman is nothing but the eternally manifest Sakti, which as such is only a synonym of Siva. It is free from action and from. every tinge of Matter. But it is a fact that a portion of this Sakti is swallowed up by Matter and appears to lose its identity under the pressure of the latter. The Nathas claim that the Sad-guru, the true Spiritual Teacher, alone is able by virtue of his active Sakti, which is indeed nothing but Siva at work, to call forth the slumbering Sakti of the disciple. The difference between Siva and Sakti is really a difference without any distinction. It is said –
It is an inscrutable mystery how Sakti can at all be veiled by Matter. It is, nevertheless, true that once it is released it is drawn into the Infinite and universal Source which, is actually free.
It is Matter that seems to divide Siva and Sakti, so that as soon as Matter is transcended this apparent division also vanishes. And what is Matter itself? It is a phantasm appearing from the self-alienation of the Absolute as Siva and Sakti. Naturally, therefore, when Siva and Sakti are united this phantasm vanishes into nothing. We shall see that the aim of Yoga is the establishment of this Union. This will also explain the existence of so much erotic imagery in connection with an account of this mater in the Tantric and Nathic literature, both Hindu and Buddhistic, in the mediaeval ages.
The point is that the soul cannot know Siva, i.e. cannot gain self-realisation, so long as it is bound by matter, which it can do only when its Sakti becomes free. The obscuration of Sakti means (i) its loss of connection with Siva from which it emanated, (ii) its consequent engulfment within the dark womb of Primary Matter and (iii) its final emergence into the dense world of evanescent light which is produced from Primary Matter. The first and second moments may be successive in time or only in logical sequence. In any case it represents the so-called prakR^itilIna stage of the Yoga literature. The taint of Cosmic Nescience is the characteristic of this stage which precedes the subsequent evolution. The physical state of bondage, the third stadium in the present scheme, is characterised by a disturbance of the relative equilibrium of the forces. By way of illustration it may be pointed out that the Vayu in the physical body is working unequally – so are the other forces.
It is therefore enjoined that this inequality has to be removed. In natural course also it is removed, though only for a moment, from time to time. This is called the Sandhiksana, corresponding to the Nirodhaksana of the earlier literature. What is necessary is to increase the duration of this ksana. It has already been shown that the Vital and other currents working within the system may be brought under a twofold head – one flowing along the right course and the other along the left. The two currents are opposite being positive and negative, and are supplementary to each other. In the literature of the Siddhas and Nathas they are known is the Solar and the Lunar Currents, 15 and their tracks as the Solar and the Lunar paths, the Pingala and Ida Nadis of Hathayoga, respectively. The neutralisation of these Solar and Lunar forces, often described as Purusa and Prakrti, by allowing them to act upon, each other by certain specified means, helps to open the Natural or Middle Track which is called Susumna or Brahma Nadi or Sunya Nadi. As soon as this Path is opened, which was till now lying blocked under a heap of dense matter, the Bindu, Vayu and Manas rendered fine through Kriyayoga rush into it at once and begin to take an upward course spontaneously.
The awaking of Kundalini, the opening of the Middle Path, the purification of Vayu and Manas, the rise of Gnosis (praGYA), the dissolution of Ahankara and the knot of Ignorance (avidyAgranthi) are different names of this very act from different points of view. It is not an instantaneous act, as a rule, for the accumulated vasanas – the heritage of the ages – have to be worked off slowly. The entire course is graduated. The Nathas generally describe it in terms of Tantra phraseology as Satchchakrabheda, thus representing the successful transcendence of each of the six intra-organic Centres as a definite stage in the journey. This corresponds to the purgative process of the western mystics and to the bhutasuddhi and chittasuddhi of the upasana kanda of Tantra.
The secret path of Brahma (brahmanADI) was indeed known to the Vedic seers. Leaving aside the testimony of the minor Upanisads, we find evidence of this knowledge in the Chhandogya, where there is a reference to a Central Nadi running up from the Hrdaya to the Cranium (mUrdhA). This is evidently the Susumna. It appears from a study of the ancient literature on the subject that there were mainly four distinct views on the point from which the upward journey of the Manas was to be undertaken, the four places according to the four views being – (1) Muladhara Chakra, (2) Navel, (3) Heart and (4) middle of the two eyebrows. The Vedic Schools were generally in favour of the ‘Heart’, but the Nathas preferred the first and the second places. In every case it represents the spot where the Manas and Vayu are focussed into a Point. It is after such concentration that the Great Path reveals itself. Speaking graphically, one end of this Luminous Path represents Isvara or Guru, and the other end enlightened Jiva or Sisya and the path itself the relation between the two. With continued practice the distance between the two ends begins to be reduced and the Yoga gains in strength, until at last the path disappears, leaving Isvara and Jiva, or Siva and Sakti, in close union with each other. As it has been stated above, the Union may be termed Identity also, in the sense that the two principles lose all semblance of distinction and inequality and become, what in reality they have always been, the Absolute.
This is shivashaktisAmarasya, the equilibrium of Siva and Sakti, manifesting itself in Ananda or Divine Bliss. It presupposes Jnana or Realisation in the manner just mentioned, and Jnana is the natural expression of Yoga. This Jnana alone has saving virtue. The theoretical knowledge gained from a study of books is severely condemned by the Nathas as a useless lumber, as leading to confusion rather than illumination.
True Knowledge cannot be gained without Yoga. Merely intellectual knowledge does not avail for salvation. The Yogabija(verse 64) says – “+ + yogena rahita.m GYAna.m moxAya no bhavet.h”. There are indeed records in history that several people obtained knowledge directly without the need of practising Yogi. By way of illustration the names of Jaigisavya, Asita, Janaka, Tuladhara, Dharmavyadha, Pailavakh, Maitreyi, Sulabha, Saragi and Sandili, to name a few among many such, may be mentioned. But it is replied that even in these cases the practice of Yoga in a previous life has to be presupposed. The Siddhas assert that a man who has obtained Knowledge but not Siddhi will be required to come under the sanctifying influence of a Siddha in course of time and through his Grace receive initiation into the mysteries of Yoga (cf Yogabija 159 – 60). This is absolutely necessary for the realisation of Moksa. 16
They lay so much emphasis on Yoga, because without its instrumentality the conquest of physical body cannot be accomplished. None but a true Yogin can rise above the imitations imposed by the body. So long as these limitations persist, which imply not only the passions but also the dependence upon the elements of nature, the stability of mind and the consequent enlightenment is not possible. The physical organism, for instance, as it exists in the present state, is considered to be the source of all evil. It is affected by the action of the five elements, is afflicted with heat and cold, and is subject to decay and death. This corruptibility of the physical body, the Yogins claim, can be overcome only by Yoga.
As it is a very important issue in the study of the doctrines of the Nathas, it is desirable to consider this question of physical purification at great length in this context. The human body, as it is ordinarily known to us with its defects and corruptions, is described by the Yogins as immature (apakka). It is possessed of all the characteristics of physical matter. Contact with such a body must inevitably result in the experience of Pain and in the veiling of the inherent powers of the soul. For an ordinary man therefore it becomes practically impossible to subdue the senses and the passions even with austere self-restraint. The effect of the elements of Nature makes itself felt, for all his efforts, as a disturbance of the mind. Such a man is a slave to circumstances. The so-called Jnana is unable to remove these defects which are incidental to a dense physical body. The body as such requires therefore to be purified and rendered mature (pakka) by means of Yoga.
The doctrine of physical immortality, which is an immediate corollary from that of physical purification referred to above, finds a special treatment in the system of the Nathas. If the defects which cling to the dense organism can somehow be eliminated from it, the body will naturally become immune from disease, decay and death and from all the ills attendant on physical matter. It will be free from weight and capable of moving through space with the velocity of thought, assuming any shapes at will and multiplying itself to any number. It will pass through a solid wall, enter into a stone, be not drenched by water, burned by fire or affected by the wind, and it will be invisible in pure space. It will be able to expand and contract itself and will be endowed with all the Powers consequent upon the conquest of the five elements (bhUtajaya). A body like this is said to be rare even among the gods.
It is pure – purer than Akasa itself. Siddha Kaya, Divya Deha, Yoga Deha, etc. are but names of this Body, and the process of this transformation is called Dehavedha, Pindasthainhya, Pinda Dharana, etc.
It may be pointed out in this connection that the possession of an immortal body of this kind has been felt to be a desideratum by the mystics in all ages and in all countries. In the literature connected with Hatha Yogi, Rasayana (Alchemy), Tantra, etc. we find repeated references to such a body. It is said that as a base metal can be transmuted into gold (lohavedha), in the same way a natural body may be spiritualised (dehavedha). The alchemists of the ancient age had their own method of transmutation in which mercury, mica, sulphur, etc. played an important part. They called this body by the name of “Rasamayi Tanu” and “Hara Gauri Srstija Tanu,” because it was effected through the action of Rasa or Mercury – the seed of Hara (Harasrsti) on one hand and Mica – the seed of Gauri (Gaurisrsti) on the other. 17
What the alchemists professed to accomplish by means of Mercury, the Hatha Yogins attempted through the discipline of Vayu. It is therefore said that Karmayoga by which the stability of the body is secured, is twofold,- karmayogena deveshi prApyate piNDadhAraNam.h . rasashcha pavanashcheti karmayogo dvidhA smR^itaH .. Nagarjuna, the great Mahayana Teacher is said to have been a great alchemist credited with wonderful powers. He was also a Tantrist and a Yogin of rare perfection, Many of his followers too were worthy of his name. The Nathas were apparently influenced by Nagarjuna and his teachings. And there are indications to show that though the Nathas were advocates of the Hatha process, they were equally masters of the alchemic lore.
Both the Hatha and the alchemical processes have the same limitations. They render the body immortal, pure and free. But they cannot without stepping beyond their bounds lead to the cessation of mind and the attainment of final equilibrium. They give rise to Jivanmukti – the state in which Mind and Vayu (Life) continue to remain steady in the Ajna Chakra illuminated by the white radiance of the Universal Light of the Sahasrara above. This. state lasts for a long time – for countless aeons, it may be – during which time the continued Upasana or the course of Raja Yoga which follows naturally tends to render the mind liable to sink gradually into the Infinite. From this it is clear that the true scope of Raja Yoga comes in only after the Hatha and alchemical processes terminate. 18 Raja Yoga ends in the Final Illumination of Perfect Wisdom (pUrNa praGYA), which only a thoroughly purified body and mind, such as what a Siddha Deha implies, can sustain. A natural and corruptible body is thus totally unfit for receiving Wisdom19 — nay, incapable of practising unbroken meditation which precedes it.
1. The date of Brahmananda is not known. But as he refers to Narayana Tirtha in his commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (I.4), he must have lived in the beginning of the 18th century or even later.
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1975-2021. Translations are © Mike Magee 1975-2021.Questions or comments to email@example.com