Need and Philosophy of Nath (Hath-Yoga) system

(From the Paper of Gopinath Kaviraj published in the Princess of Wales Sarasvati Bhavan Series, Vol VI, 1927)

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 –

‘shivasyAbhyantare shaktiH shakterabhyantare shivaH.
antara.m naiva pashyAmi chandrachandrikayoriva .’. (Siddhasiddhanta sangraha, IV. 37)

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.

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