Some Aspects of the History and Doctrines of the Nathas

by Gopinath Kaviraj


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 Nātha and Siddha sects is a preli­minary to a through 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 and an attempt will be made to throw light on the many obscure issues involved.

Mahāmahopādhyāya Haraprasāda Śāstrī drew the attention of scholars to the literature of the so-called Buddhist Siddhācāryas. That many of the Ācāryas were identical with the Nāthas, who were known as Siddhas, is indeed a fact. But, their exact position is not known. The history of Tāntric Literature, specially that of the Tripurā section, abounds in the names of Nāthas. 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 'Nātha'. It is needless to say that we have no concern here with these 'Nāthas'. A regular and systematic study of the teachings of the Haṭha-yogins — the Nāthas proper, e. g., Matsyendra-nātha, Gorakṣanātha, etc., of the Vajrayāna and Sahajayāna Buddhists, of the Tāntrists of Tripura order and also of the Vīrācāra cult, of the followers of Dattātreya, of the Śaivas, of the later Sahajiyās and the neo-Vaiṣṇavas, will reveal several features in common. The relation between Mahāyāna Buddhism and Tāntric culture is an important one and deserves close and careful examination. It would be of great interest to find out how the Śūnyavāda of Mahāyāna has crept into Haṭha Yoga, Tantra etc., and, how ultimately this Śūnya has come 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 Rasavāda of the neo-Vaiṣṇavas 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 Nāthas 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 Nātha sect claims a divine origin. Brahmānanda,1 in his commentary, called Jyotsnā, on the Haṭhayogapradipika (1.5), clearly states that Ādinātha, or Śiva was the first of all the Nāthas and that according to a tradition preserved. in Nāthist literature the sect was founded by Śiva:

आदिनाथः शिवः सवैषां नाथानां प्रमी नाथः ।
(तती) नाथसम्प्रदायः प्रवृत्त इति नाथसम्प्रदायिनी वदन्ति ।

ādināthaḥ śivaḥ sarveṣāṁ nāthānāṁ prathamo nāthaḥ |
(tato) nāthasampradāyaḥ pravṛtta iti nāthasampradāyino vadanti | 2

From the above extract it would appear that the Sect was known by the name of Nātha-pantha. Scholars too generally use this very term in referring to the sect. But in literature it is also known is Siddhamārga, Avadhūta-mārga, 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 'Yoga-mārga' par excellence. The Kāpālika sect is in some minor respects closely allied to it, but it is a distinct path altogether; and though its origin is attributed to Ādinātha, its main teachings and practices have a character of their own.

The Śabara Tantra gives a list of twenty-four Kāpālikas – 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 Nāthas or Siddhas. The names of the twelve teachers, for instance, are – (1) Ādinātha (2) Anādinātha (3) Kālanātha, (4) Atikālanātha, (5) Karālanātha, (6) Vikarālanātha, (7) Mahākālanātha, (8) Kāla-bhairavanātha, (9) Baṭukanātha, (10) Bhūtanātha, (11) Viranātha and (12) Śrīkaṇṭhanātha. The names of their twelve pupils appear in this order (1) Nāgārjuna, (2) Jaḍa-bharata, (3) Hariścandra, (4) Satyanātha, (5) Bhīmanātha (6) Gorakṣanātha, (7) Carpaṭanātha, (8) Avaidyanātha, (9) Vairāgyanātha, (10) Kanthādhārī, (11) Jalandhara and (12) Malayārjuna.

Though the spiritual descent of the sect is said to be from the Divine source its historical foundation is ascribed to one Matsyendranātha. 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 been a fish who overheard the secret Yoga instructions of Ādinātha or Śiva and become fixed in body and mind (tīrasamīpanīrasthaḥ kaścana matsyaḥ taṁ yogopadeśaṁ śrutvā ekāgracitto niścalakāyo'vatasthe). 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 Matsyendranātha. Mm. H. P. Śāstrī is of opinion that the real name of Matsyendra was Macchaghna, 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 Gorakṣa, his most favourite disciple, succeeded in reclaiming him.

He had several disciples. Besides Gorakṣa, who became the most renowned of the batch, there were Cauraṅgī, Ghorācolī 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 Nāthas one very often comes across the name Mīnanātha. 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 Nāthas furnished by Brahmānanda we find the name of Mina mentioned separately from that of Matsyendra.3 Mm. H. P. Śāstrī speaks of them as if they were two persons and says that both of them were natives of Candradvīpa.

The word Cauraṅgī  (= Sk. Caturaṅgī) means a person shorn of hands and legs. It is said that while Matsyendra, after he had become a Siddha through the grace of Ādinātha, was roaming at will through the world he came across Cauraṅgī in a certain forest and took pity on him. Cauraṅgī '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 Cauraṅgī Nātha.

Ghorācolī was another disciple of Matsyendra.

But the greatest of Matsyendra's disciples – indeed one of the greatest souls India has ever produced – was certainly Gorakṣanātha. He was a great Siddha, was the father of Haṭha Yoga in its current form and was the great apostle of Yogic mysticism in the mediaeval ages. In the Pañcamātrāyoga, 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. Śāstrī says, on the strength of Tārānātha's evidence, that Gorakṣa was originally a Buddhist and that he became a Nātha only in his later years. As a Buddhist he was known by the name of Ananga Vajra (according to Tārānātha, but Ramaṇa-vajra according to Mm. H. P. Śāstrī). This may be true. But in the Kāyabodha, attributed to Gorakṣanātha himself, there is a saying which would seem to show that he had been in all probability originally a slayer of animals (paśvārambhaka). If the word Ārambha means sacrificial slaughter, as it often does, Gorakṣa cannot be described to have been a Buddhist before his conversion into Nāthism. But as it is a mere conjecture the point need not be pressed far.

The age of Gorakṣa or of his Guru Matsyendra is not known with certainty. The tradition connecting him with Kabīra (1500 A. D.) and with Madhusūdana Sarasvatī (1700 A. D.) is not probably of any historical value. But Jñāna-nātha, alias Jñāna-deva, who is usually assigned to the thirteenth century, mentions his own spiritual pedigree, in his Commentary on the Bhagavad Gītā in which Gorakṣa Nātha appears as his third predecessor, thus: Ādinātha, Matsyendra-nātha, Gorakṣanātha, Gahinī-nātha, Nivṛtti Nātha and Jñāna-nātha. This would place Gorakṣa in the beginning of the 12th Century A D. This date agrees with the tradition which makes Gorakṣa and Dharma-nātha contemporaries and pupils of the same Guru. Dharma-nātha is generally assigned to the 12th Century A. D. But there are other views according to which Gorakṣa lived in 500 A. D. or 700 A. D. or 1000 A. D. The disciples of Gorakṣa were numerous, some of whom attained to distinction. We read of Bāla-nātha, Hālika Pāva, Māli Pāva, etc., as being his disciples. Mayanāmatī, the queen mother of Rājā Gopīcanda, is also said to have been initiated by Gorakṣa.

This Bāla-nātha may be the same as the Siddha Bālapāda of whom we find an account in the Tibetan literature and who is identified with the great Jalandhara Nātha. He had probably been a Śūdra, but became a Buddhist afterwards and finally a convert to Nāthism. He was a powerful saint. In Bengal he was popularly known as Hāḍipā. His greatness was universally acknowledged, some assigning to him a higher place, owing to his extraordinary sanctity, than Gorakṣa Nātha himself.4 We can glean some account of this Saint from Nirañjana Purāṇa. It is said that in the neighbourhood of Kerali he showed Grace to one Śabala, who wrote certain dohās 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. Rājā Gopīcanda of Bengal, Rājā Bhartṛhari of Ujjein and Carpaṭa5, who is described as the maternal uncle of Gopīcanda, were among his disciples. The names of some of his other disciples are Gogā6, Caṭikānātha, Rāma Siṁha7, Bhima8, the merchant Agila, the merchant Sandhara (in Palanpur), etc. He is said to have practised penances on a mountain, called Rakta, in the City (Ādipurī) of Daṇḍavatī. 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 Kānha, born dumb (janma-mūka), into an eloquent Poet; he exhibited the whole Universe in a clear vision to king Reṇuka on mount Kāñcana 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 Cāraṇa named Dala. There are many other stories of this kind. It is related that once Jalandhara went to the borders of a village (named Śeṣāli) and lit his dhūnī(agni-dhānī) there, when a prince came to meet him. Jalandhara was pleased to present him with an excellent sword, called Rāma-candra, with which the prince fought and killed several Yavanas – including those of 'Joya' (?) class, one of whom had assassinated his father. Thereupon some Bhāṭis, a clan of the Yādavas, 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.

Gopīcanda, the son of Rājā Triloka-candra9 of Bengal, became the disciple of Jalandhara-nātha and left his kingdom at the instance of his saintly mother Mayanāmatī. The Mahāsanta-vākya 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 Gopīcanda's renunciation has become classical, and almost every vernacular of northern India has got its own versions of it. Gopīcanda, as a Siddha, came to be known as Śṛṅgārī Pāva. In the Siddhānta-vākya 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:

गोपीचन्दः कथयति —
भो स्वामिन् पृच्छामि कथय अन्तर्यमिन् —
वसतौ स्थीयते तदा कन्दर्पी व्याप्नुते ।
वने स्थीयते तदा क्षुत् सन्तापयति ।
आसने स्थीयते तदा स्पृशति माया ।
पथि गम्यते तदा छिड्यते कायः ।
मिष्टं थक्ष्यते तदा वर्धते रोगः ।
कथय कथं साध्यते योगः ॥

gopīcandaḥ kathayati —
bho svāmin pṛcchāmi kathaya antaryāmin —
vasatau sthīyate tadā kandarpo vyāpnute |
vane sthīyate tadā kṣut santāpayati |
āsane sthīyate tadā spṛśati māyā |
pathi gamyate tadā chidyate kāyaḥ |
miṣṭaṃ bhakṣyate tadā vardhate rogaḥ |
kathaya.m katha.m sādhyate yogaḥ ||

Jalandhara answers:

श्रोतव्योऽवधुत तत्त्वस्य विचारः
यः एष सकलशिरोमगिः सारः ।
संयत आहारे कन्दर्पी न व्याप्नुते ।
बह्यरम्भे क्षुन्न सन्तापयति ।
सिद्ध आसने नहि स्पुशति माया ।
वादप्रमागेन छिद्यते कायः ।
जिह्वायाः सुखाय न कर्त्तव्यो भोगः ।
मनःपवनौ च गृहीत्वा साधनीयो योगः ॥

śrotavyo'vadhuta tattvasya vicāraḥ
yaḥ eṣa sakalaśiromaṇiḥ sāraḥ |
saṃyata āhāre kandarpo na vyāpnute |
bāhyārambhe kṣunna santāpayati |
siddha āsane nahi spṛśati māyā |
vādapramāṇena chidyate kāyaḥ |
jihvāyāḥ sukhāya na kattavyo bhogaḥ |
manaḥ pavanau ca gṛtītvā sādhanīyo yogaḥ ||

He further adds:

अल्पमश्नाति स तु कल्पति जल्पति ।
बहु भुनक्ति स तु रोगी ।
द्वयोरपि पक्षयोर्यः सन्धिं विचारयति स तु कोऽपि विरलो योगी ॥

alpamaśnāti sa tu kalpayati jalpati |
bahu bhunakti sa tu rogī |
dvayorapi pakṣayoryaḥ sandhiṃ vicārayati sa tu ko'api viralo yogī ||

The last couplet contains the quintessence of the Nāthic teachings.

The story of Bhartṛhari, 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 Vicāra-nātha.

The Teachings of Nāthas

In the Siddhānta-vākya of Jalandhara we read:

वन्दे तन्नाथतेजो भुवनतिमिरहं भानुतेस्करं वा
सत्कर्तृव्यापकं त्वा पवनगतिकरं व्योमवन्नर्थरं वा ।

मुद्रानादत्रिशूलैर्विमलरुनधरं खर्परं भस्ममिश्रं
द्वैतं वाऽद्वैतरूपं द्वयत उत परं योगिनां शङ्करं वा ॥

vande tannāthatejo bhuvanatimirahaṃ bhānutejaskaraṃ vā
satkartṛvyāpakaṃ tvā pavanagatikaraṃ vyomavannirbharaṃ vā |
mudrānādatriśūlairvimalarucidharaṃ kharparaṃ bhasmamiśraṃ
dvaitaṃ vā'dvaitarūpaṃ dvayata uta paraṃ yogināṃ śaṅkaraṃ vā ||

This shows that the metaphysical position of the Nāthas was not monistic, nor was it dualistic either. It was transcendental in the truest sense of the term. They speak of the Nātha, the Absolute, as beyond the opposition involved in the concepts of Saguṇa and Nirguṇa or of Sākāra and Nirākāra. And so to them the Supreme End of Life is to realise oneself as Nātha 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 cannot be attained by any means unless it is supplemented by the disciplinary practices of Yoga. The Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati, attributed sometimes to Gorakṣanātha and sometimes to Nityanātha, goes further and says:

सन्मार्गश्व योगमार्गः, तदितरस्तु पाषण्डमार्गः ।

sanmārgaśva yogamārgaḥ taditarastu pāṣaṇḍamārgaḥ |10

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 Haṭha – a term which is thus interpreted in the Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati:

हकारः कीर्त्तितः सूर्यष्ठकारश्चन्द्र उच्यते ।
सूर्याचन्द्रमसोर्योगाद् हठयोगो निगद्यते ॥

hakāraḥ kīrttitaḥ sūryaṣṭhakāraścandra ucyate |
sūryaćandramaseryogād haṭhayogo nigadyate ||

According to Brahmānanda the Sun and the Moon stand here for Prāṇa and Apāna, and their union is Prāṇāyāma, which is therefore the meaning of Haṭhayoga. The conquest of Vāyu is thus the essence of Haṭhayoga.

It is believed that this kind of Yoga was introduced in India by the Nāthas. The Haṭhayoga-pradīpikā11 says that the mystery of this Yoga was known only to Matsyendranātha and Gorakṣanātha. Brahmānanda adds the names of Jalandhara, Bhartṛhari and Gopīcanda. It is of interest to note that all these persons were associated with the Nātha-pantha. Hence it seems likely that Gorakṣa, or more probably Matsyendra, was the earliest preacher of Haṭha Yoga.12 This need not be inconsistent with the statement:

श्रीआदिनाथायनमोऽस्तु तस्मै
येनोपदिष्टा हठयोगविद्या ।

śrīādināthāya namo'stu tasmai
yenopadiṣṭā haṭhayogavidyā |13

because every Vidyā may be said to emanate in a sense from the Supreme Lord.14

It is hard to ascertain how far the tradition ascribing to the Nāthas the foundation of Haṭhayoga as a science is true. For there is a rival tradition which speaks of two schools of Haṭha, one ancient and the other modern, founded by Markaṇdeya and the Nāthas respectively:

द्विधा हठः स्यादेकस्तु गोरक्षादिसुसाधितः ।
अन्ये मृकण्डुपुत्राद्यैःसाधितोहठसंझकः ॥

dvidhā haṭhaḥ syādekastu gorakṣādisusādhitaḥ |
anyo mṛkaṇḍuputrādyaiḥ sādhito haṭhasaṃjñakaḥ ||15

If this tradition has any historical basis it means that the Nāthas 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 Rāja Yoga was already in a flourishing condition? That the Haṭha Yoga, even in its higher and perfected forms, is only an ancillary, nay a stepping stone, to Rājayoga, is admitted by the Siddhas themselves. Patañjali's system is mainly based on Rāja Yoga principles; so are the Buddhist and Jain systems, though in all these the utility of simple Haṭha practices has also been recognised.

The Haṭha Yogins are of opinion that for ordinary people who have very little control over their mind the practice of Rāja Yogi is simply impossible. Mantra Yoga and the practices of meditations are indeed capable, if properly resorted to, of leading to the perfection of Rāja 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. Haṭha 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 Haṭha lies in the conquest of Vāyu. It is an article of universal acceptance in this country that Bindu (essence of the physical body in the form of Vīrya, Śukra, or seminal fluid), Vāyu (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 Brahmacarya, being already assumed, the Haṭha-yogins direct the control of Vāyu 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 Vāyu or Prāṇāyāma they recommend the employment of a few other practices, viz. (1) Āsana, (2) Mudrā and (3) Nādānusandhāna.16 The continued practice of Āsana 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 Mudrā is intended to rouse the dormant Kuṇḍalinī Śakti without whose active guidance no spiritual realisation is possible. And the practice of Nāda audition acts directly upon the mind and tends to destroy its inherent restlessness. As soon as the mind is rendered inactive and the Vāyu is absorbed in the Brahmarandhra there arises the resplendent glory of Beatific State, technically known as Laya or Manonmanī or Sahajāvasthā. 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 Nāḍa 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 Vāyu has entered into the Suṣumṇā Nāḍī and its various branches rendered free from the impurities accumulated there for ages. When the Nāḍīs are purified the Anāhata Sound becomes audible at once But this purification requires the exercise of Āsana and Mudrā. On the contrary, the perfection of Āsana is impossible until and unless the subtle causes which operate as deterrents upon the stability of the body are thoroughly removed. The awakening of Kuṇḍalinī  which is the immediate aim of the practice of Mudrās and indeed of many other practices – is really bound up with the success, more or less complete, of Āsana. In fact, all these mechanical devices have one end to fulfil, 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 Nāthas 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 Samprajñāta Samādhi – the so-called Sāsmita Samādhi – eventually leads. I am speaking here in terms of Sāṅkhya 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 Haṭha-yogins are of opinion that the only surest and quickest way of transcending the limitations is to rise up, rather to raise up the Vāyu, 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 Bhūtas, representing two aspects of subtle matter. The word Manas is used here in a very wide sense, including buddhi, ahaṅkāra, etc. The senses which develop later and are only the functional variations of Manas are also implied in it. The word Bhūta stands here for the objective stuff in a state of relative equilibrium. It holds within it the so-called tanmātrās, viz. śabda, sparśa, rūpa, 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 Pañcīkaraṇa, of the finer radiating particles shooting out of the tanmātric 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-gati) in Vāyu. 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 Divya-cakṣu, the Celestial Eye or the Third Eye of Śiva is nothing but this purified, and concentrated Mind: "mano hyevātra daivaṃ cakṣuḥ".17 The Manas as coated with dense Matter may be described as dense or sense-bound. And in this state the Vāyu too is no longer rectilinear in its motion. Every form of Vāyu with which we are familiar in our sensible experience is of this type.

This oblique motion of Vāyu in our physical body necessitates the existence of tracks of an oblique character. This is what is technically known as Nāḍī-cakra consisting of numerous Nāḍīs ramifying in different directions. Leaving out the Suṣumṇā which is the central track of the straight motion of refined Vāyu, the other Nāḍīs may be loosely classed under two heads, Right and Left, from their position in relation to the Suṣumṇā. The Manas and Vāyu of an ordinary man in his senses move along these winding tracks. This movement is his Saṁsāra – his Vyutthāna.

The Nāthas 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 vṛttis of the senses, and of the physical Vāyu 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 Śaktis of the soul. This expression of Śakti is the revelation of Kuṇḍalinīand its partial release from the obscuration of Matter. The Śakti 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 Śakti, is the Infinity of Śakti actualised. Śakti is a Unity, whether manifest or otherwise. Brahman is nothing but the eternally manifest Śakti, which as such is only a synonym of Śiva. It is free from action and from. every tinge of Matter. But it is a fact that a portion of this Śakti is swallowed up by Matter and appears to lose its identity under the pressure of the latter. The Nāthas claim that the Sad-guru, the true Spiritual Teacher, alone is able by virtue of his active Śakti, which is indeed nothing but Śiva at work, to call forth the slumbering Śakti of the disciple. The difference between Śiva and Śakti is really a difference without any distinction. It is said:

शिवस्याभ्यन्तरे शक्तिः शक्तेरभ्यन्तरे शिवः ।
अन्तरं नैव पश्यामि चन्द्रचन्द्रिकयोरिव ॥

śivasyābhyantare śaktiḥ shakterabhyantare śivaḥ |
antaraṃ naiva paśyāmi candracandrikayoriva ||18

It is an inscrutable mystery how Śakti 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 Śiva and Śakti, 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 Śiva and Śakti. Naturally, therefore, when Śiva and Śakti 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 Nāthic literature, both Hindu and Buddhistic, in the mediaeval ages.

The point is that the soul cannot know Śiva, i.e. cannot gain self-realisation, so long as it is bound by matter, which it can do only when its Śakti becomes free. The obscuration of Śakti means (i) its loss of connection with Śiva 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 Prakṛti-līna 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 Vāyu 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 Sandhikṣaṇa, corresponding to the Nirodhakṣaṇa of the earlier literature. What is necessary is to increase the duration of this kṣaṇa. 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 Nāthas they are known is the Solar and the Lunar Currents,19 and their tracks as the Solar and the Lunar paths, the Piṅgalā and Iḍā Nāḍīs of Haṭhayoga, respectively. The neutralisation of these Solar and Lunar forces, often described as Puruṣa and Prakṛti, by allowing them to act upon, each other by certain specified means, helps to open the Natural or Middle Track which is called Suṣumṇā or Brahma-nāḍī or Sūnya-nāḍī. As soon as this Path is opened, which was till now lying blocked under a heap of dense matter, the Bindu, Vāyu and Manas rendered fine through Kriyāyoga rush into it at once and begin to take an upward course spontaneously.

The awaking of Kuṇḍalinī , the opening of the Middle Path, the purification of Vāyu and Manas, the rise of Gnosis (Prajñā), the dissolution of Ahaṅkāra and the knot of Ignorance (Avidyā-granthi) are different names of this very act from different points of view. It is not an instantaneous act, as a rule, for the accumulated vāsanās – the heritage of the ages – have to be worked off slowly. The entire course is graduated. The Nāthas generally describe it in terms of Tantra phraseology as Ṣaṭcakrabheda, 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 bhūta-śuddhi and citta-śuddhi of the Upāsanā-kāṇḍa of Tantra.

The secret path of Brahma (Brahma-nāḍī) was indeed known to the Vedic seers. Leaving aside the testimony of the minor Upaniṣads, we find evidence of this knowledge in the Chāndogya, where there is a reference to a Central Nāḍī running up from the Hṛdaya to the Cranium (Mūrdhā). This is evidently the Suṣumṇā. 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) Mūlādhāra-chakra, (2) Navel, (3) Heart and (4) middle of the two eyebrows. The Vedic Schools were generally in favour of the 'Heart', but the Nāthas preferred the first and the second places. In every case it represents the spot where the Manas and Vāyu 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 Īśvara or Guru, and the other end enlightened Jīva or Śiṣya 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 Īśvara and Jīva, or Śiva and Śakti, 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 Śiva-śakti-sāmarasya, the equilibrium of Śiva and Śakti, manifesting itself in Ānanda or Divine Bliss. It presupposes Jñāna or Realisation in the manner just mentioned, and Jñāna is the natural expression of Yoga. This Jñāna alone has saving virtue. The theoretical knowledge gained from a study of books is severely condemned by the Nāthas 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 Yogabija20 says:

...योगेन रहितं झानं मोक्षाय नो भवेत्

...yogena rahitaṃ jñānaṃ mokṣāya no bhavet

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 Jaigīṣavya, Asita, Janaka, Tulādhāra, Dharmavyādha, Pailavaka, Maitreyī, Sulabhā, Śārṅgi and Sāṇḍili, 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 Yoga21. This is absolutely necessary for the realisation of Mokṣa.22

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 limitations 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 Nāthas, 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 (apakva). 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 Jñāna 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 (pakva) 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 Nāthas. 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 (bhūta-jaya). A body like this is said to be rare even among the gods. It is pure – purer than Ākāśa itself. Siddha-kāya, Divya-deha, Yoga-deha, etc. are but names of this Body, and the process of this transformation is called Deha-vedha, Piṇḍa-sthairya, Piṇḍa-dhāraṇa, 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 Haṭha Yogi, Rasāyana (Alchemy), Tantra, etc. we find repeated references to such a body. It is said that as a base metal can be transmuted into gold (loha-vedha), in the same way a natural body may be spiritualised (deha-vedha). 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 "Rasamayī Tanu" and "Hara-Gaurī-sṛṣṭijā Tanu", because it was effected through the action of Rasa or Mercury – the seed of Hara (Harasṛṣṭi) on one hand and Mica – the seed of Gaurī (Gaurīsṛṣṭi) on the other.23

What the alchemists professed to accomplish by means of Mercury, the Haṭha Yogins attempted through the discipline of Vāyu. It is therefore said that Karmayoga by which the stability of the body is secured, is twofold:

कर्मयोगेन देवेशि प्रप्यते पिण्डधारणम् ।
रसश्च पवनश्चेति कर्मयोगो द्विधा स्मृतः ॥

karmayogena deveśi prāpyate piṇḍadhāraṇam |
rasaśca pavanaśceti karmayogo dvidhā smṛtaḥ ||

Nāgārjuna, the great Mahāyāna 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 Nāthas were apparently influenced by Nāgārjuna and his teachings. And there are indications to show that though the Nāthas were advocates of the Haṭha process, they were equally masters of the alchemic lore.

Both the Haṭha 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 Jīvanmukti – the state in which Mind and Vāyu (Life) continue to remain steady in the Ājñā-cakra illuminated by the white radiance of the Universal Light of the Sahasrāra above. This. state lasts for a long time – for countless aeons, it may be – during which time the continued Upāsanā or the course of Rājayoga 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 Haṭha and alchemical processes terminate.24 Rājayoga ends in the Final Illumination of Perfect Wisdom (Pūrṇa-prajñā), 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 Wisdom25 − nay, incapable of practising unbroken meditation which precedes it.26


1. The date of Brahmānanda is not known. But as he refers to Nārāyaṇa Tirtha in his commentary on the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā (1. 4), he must have lived in the beginning of the 18th century or even later.

2. Ibid.

3. On Haṭha-yoga-pradīpika 1. 5-9.

4. Cf. 'Jalandhara-stotra' attributed to Śabala.

5. In the 'Ananta-vākya' attributed to Carpaṭa, he is called a Rājā ('satya satyaṃ vadati ćarpaṭo rājeti') that is, a prince of royal heritage. In the 'Mahā-santa-vākya' Mayanāmatī calls him her brother.

6. About Gogā several traditions are in existence, viz.: (1) He was the son of a Chauhan King of Bagar in Rajputana— born by the grace of Gorakṣanātha; (2) he lived about 1150 A. D.; (3) he was a contemporary of Pṛthvī Rāja Ghauhan; (4) he was a great warrior and was killed with his son in a battle with Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024 A.D.

7. Rāma Siṁha was of 'Gauḍa-jāti'! Jalandhara showed him Grace on the bank of the river 'Kāliya'.

8. It is said that Jalandhara showed special favour to Bhīma and transmitted to him all the Yogic Powers (Ṛddhayaḥ) at once. The name of one Bhīma occurs on the list of Siddhas furnished in the Varṇa-ratnākara.

9. The name appears in the 'Mahā-santa-vākya' as well as in Marathi traditions. In the Hindi version of the story Triloka-candra has been corrupted into Tilaka Canda. In some early Bengali works the name occurs as Trailokya-candra.

10. Ādinātha: "yogamārgāt parī mārgo nāsti nāsti śrutau smṛtau"; Viveka-mārtaṇḍa: "yogaśāstraṃ paṭhennityaṃ kimanyaiḥ śāstravistaraiḥ" etc.

11. 1. 4.

12. It may be remembered in this connection that some of the Haṭha practices are associated with the names of certain historical persons of this school, e.g., Matsyendrāsana, Padmāsana (approved, according to Brahmānanda, by Matsyendra, etc.) with Matsyendra; the Jālandhara-bandha with Jālandhara-nātha, and so forth.

13. Hatha-yoga-pradīpikā 1. 1; Ādinātha taught thisVidyā to Pārvatī, as described in the Mahākāla-yoga-śāstra and other works: "girijāyai ādināthakṛto haṭhavidyopadeśo mahākālayogashāstrādau prasiddhaḥ" - Jyotsnā.

14. Cf. Yogi Yājñavalkya: "hiraṇyagarbhā yogasya vaktā nānyaḥ purātanaḥ", where Rāja-yoga is attributed to Hiraṇyagarbha.

15. The School of Mārkaṇḍeya recognised eight aṅgas of Yoga, but the latter School eliminated yama and niyama from Yogāṅga proper and reduced the number to six.

16. The four aspects of Haṭha-yoga are: (a)Āsana, (b) Kumbhaka or Prāṇāyāma, (c) Mudrā and (d) Nādānusandhāna: "āsanaṃ kumbhakaṃ chitraṃ mudrākhyaṃ karaṇaṃ | atha nādānusandhānam". Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna and Samādhi, as enunciated in Yoga treatises, would come under the fourth head.

17. Read in this connection the Paper on "The Doctrine of Pratibhā in Indian Philosophy" by the present Writer in the 'Annals of the Bhandarkar Institute', Poona.

18. Siddha-siddhānta-saṅgraha, IV. 37.

19. Amaraugha-śāsana attributed to Gorakṣanātha: "yatra ca mūlabhagamaṇḍalānte kuṇḍalinīśaktirvanirgatā tatra vāmabhāgodbhavasomanāḍikā dakṣiṇabhāgodbhavasūryanāḍikā, candro vāmāṅgavyāpakaḥ sūryo dakṣiṇāṅgavyāpakaḥ, candro vāmāṅge vāmanāsāpuṭaṃ sūryo dakṣiṇāṅge dakṣiṇanāsāpuṭam ­ ityevaṃ suryachandrau vyavasthitau".

20. Verse 64.

21. Yogabīja, p. 159-160.

22. Cf. Yogabīja, verse 31:

jñānaniṣhṭho virakto vā dharmajño vijitendriyaḥ |
vinā yogena devo'pi na mokṣaṃ labhate priye ||

The Sarva-siddhānta-saṅgraha, attributed to Saṅkaracharya, declares the Yoga view thus: "jñānamātreṇa muktiḥ syādityālasyasya lakṣaṇam" etc. (Patañjali-pakṣa, verses 4 et seq.)

23. The Rasa-hṛdaya says:

ye chātyaktaśarīrā haragaurīsṛṣṭhijāṃ tanuṃ prāptāḥ |
muktāste rasasiddhā mantragaṇaḥ kiṅkaro yeṣām ||

The body referred to here is the immortal (nitya), divine body (divya-tanu), produced from Rasa (Mercury) and Abhraka (mica). The 18 varieties of Rasakarma, known as 18 Saṁskāras, have to be gone through before the desired perfection in the Mercury can be obtained.

24. Cf. "tasmāt divyaṃ dehaṃ sampādya yogābhyāsavaśāt paratattve dṛṣṭe puruṣārthaprāptirbhavati" (Sarva-darśana-saṅgraha, Raseśvara Section). Here the practice of Yoga is evidently in the sense of Rāja-yoga.

25. Cf. Rasa-hṛdaya:

galitānalpavikalpaḥ sarvādhavivakṣitashchidānandaḥ |
sphurito'pyasphuritatanoḥ karoti kiṃ jantuvargasya ||

In the 'Gopīcandrera Sanyāsa' by Sukur Muhammad we read:

(1) guru bhajile vāch­ā amara haya kandha (kandha = skandha = body).
(2) bhajile gurura charaṇa amara haya kāya.
(3) bhajana sādha nāma japa haibe amara.

All these passages tend to show that the principal instruction given to the disciple in the school of the Nāthas is to make the body immortal. In the 'Gorakṣavijaya' of Shaikh Faizulla there are similar statements, some of which are quoted at random:

1 Āpa guru ulaṭiyā yoga dhara kāyā tomāra sthira karaha smaraṇa . P. 115
2 kāyā sādha āmi putra bali . P. 130
3 kāyā sādhe mīnanātha vasiyā āsane . P. 198
4 yoga sādhe mīnanāthe sthira kaila kāyā . P. 198

See also