It seems to me that between such a Vedic or Vedantic principle as नेति नेति (neti-neti – «neither this nor that») has much in common with द्वैताद्वैत विलक्षण (dvaitādvaita vilakṣaṇa) in the Nātha Tradition. The second is often found in the Sanskrit texts of Nāthas. In the later Nātha text in Hindi, Gorakh Sabadi, this principle is represented as अलख (alakh) – from the Sanskrit अलक्ष अ-लक्ष (a-lakṣa, i.e. «transcendence beyond the limits of symbols»).
The name of Śarabha is first mentioned in the Rig Veda, in the hymn to Indra and Vāyu, he is mentioned as a relative of ṛṣi (शरभाय ऋषि बन्धवे śarabhāya ṛṣi bandhave):
विश्वेत्ता ते सवनेषु प्रवाच्या या चकर्थ मघवन्निन्द्र सुन्वते ।
पारावतं यत्पुरुसम्भृतं वस्वपावृणोः शरभाय ऋषिबन्धवे ॥६॥
viśvettā te savaneṣu pravācyā yā cakartha maghavannindra sunvate ।
pārāvataṃ yatpurusambhṛtaṃ vasvapāvṛṇoḥ śarabhāya ṛṣibandhave ॥ 6 ॥
Oh, Meghavan (the name of Indra, who was crowned on Mount Mekhvan)! All your actions, which grant the well-being to Pārāvana and gathered in large numbers for Śarabha, who is a relative of ṛṣi, are worthy of praise at performing sacrifices.
Besides the mention, also, in the Atharva Veda, an interesting reference of Śarabha is found in Śatapatha-brahmana, where he is mentioned as kimpuruṣa (a half-human, a half-animal):
स यं पुरुषमालभन्त । स किम्पुरुषोऽभवद्यावश्वं च गां च तौ गौरश्च गवयश्चाभवतां यमविमालभन्त स उष्ट्रोऽभवद्यमजमालभन्त स शरभोऽभवत्तस्मादेतेषां पशूनां नाशितव्यमपक्रान्तमेधा हैते पशवः – १.२.३.
sa yaṃ puruṣamālabhanta। sa kimpuruṣo’bhavadyāvaśvaṃ ca gāṃ ca tau gauraśca gavayaścābhavatāṃ yamavimālabhanta sa uṣṭro’bhavadyamajamālabhanta sa śarabho’bhavattasmādeteṣāṃ paśūnāṃ nāśitavyamapakrāntamedhā haite paśavaḥ – 1.2.3.
He is the person whom they offered as a sacrifice, he became kimpuruṣa; the horse and the bull, which they sacrificed, became a female and a male buffalo, and the sheep that was killed became a camel, the killed goat became Śarabha. These animals cannot be eaten, because they are devoid of sacrificial essence. 1.2.3.
Later, Śarabha, also known as Śalabha, is also found in the following Purāṇas (Śriīmadbhāgavata, Matsya, Skanda, Harivamśa, Śiva and Padma Purāṇas), as well as in the Mahābhārata (Vana Parva, Śanti Parva, Adi Parva, Udyoga Parva, Droṇa Parva), in the Rāmāyaṇa (in Yuddhakanda) and also in various forms in the most diverse Tantras. Often he is described as a Deity having four paws, which symbolise the eight forms of Śiva, his thighs symbolise the vyādhi (illnesses) and mṛityu (death) that he controls. His stomach is Vadavagni Bhairava, Bālātripurasundari is in his heart, in the two wings there are the Goddesses –Śulini Durgā and Pratyaṅgirā, in the throat there is Mahakala Bhairava, in his eyes – the sun, the moon and fire, in his claws there are vajras of Indra. He also has the face of a lion.
Basically, Śarabha is known to many upāsakas as a form of Bhairava, who prevented the contamination with the blood, that Narasiṃha had drunk, killing the demon Hiraṇyakaśipu. The story is that Hiraṇyakaśipu performed austerities in order to gain the strength not to be killed either on earth or in the air, in the room or on the street, by animals or by men. Then Viṣṇu appeared in the guise of a half-lion, half-man. It happened on the steps of a palace (neither in the house nor on the street), he raised Hiraṇyakaśipu and killed him on his own knee (neither on earth nor in the air). However, after drinking the blood of Hiraṇyakaśipu, Narasiṃha began to fall under his demonic influence. For that purpose Śiva took the form of Śarabheśvara, raised Narasiṃha above the earth and “dropped” him so that he spewed all the blood of Hiraṇyakaśipu out of himself. Sometimes Śarabheśvara is called Aśu Garuḍa because he has the ability to fly. In that sense, Śarabha symbolises the strength of a large number of living beings. A modern example might be given: when new types of weapons are being developed, with more sophisticated program control and functional capabilities. In fact, Śarabha is a kind of Deity with Narasiṃha‘s “improved” abilities, more advanced to combat demons, with more flexible methods of warfare.
His name Śalabha, which translates as “grasshopper”, means that the insect is capable of making jumps that resemble a flight, although in general it is on the ground. In honour of him, there is a well-known śalabhāsana in yoga, which is quite powerful; Śalabha or Śarabha is a symbol of strength, he is full of Śakti (energy). Narayanasvami gives a yogic interpretation of the image of Śarabha in his text Tantrika Mahākāvya, for example, that his eight paws mean aṣṭāṅga-yoga, four of them look upwards (antaraṅga-yoga) and four – down (bahiraṅga–yoga). However, it seems to me, Śarabha can rather be associated with different kinds of living beings and their forces, as many yoga texts say, there are as many yogic āsanas as living beings. Mastering of āsanas could mean even more than the ability to take different positions of the body, but also probably the awareness of the various vibrational characteristics that fill the entire universe, to realise the main ability – to become a siddha-puruṣa and get out of the influence of saṃsāra and māyā. Śarabha is a Deity who removes a magical enchantment, takes the practitioner out of bewitchment by an illusory force. Therefore, he is able to grant spiritual liberation. However, the Deity includes a conglomerate of very different energies, so he is capable of giving a strong transformation, thus sādhaka should have strong self-control and be mature. Tremendous devotion to a real Guru (realised Siddha), who has realised this Deity and its mantras in himself and can transmit it in its full state to his own śiśya is a necessary part. Otherwise, mantras of Śarabha, Pratyaṅgirā, and others can greatly damage the experimenter with such mantras and sādhanas. In connection with that, I won’t make any technical information on the practice of such Deities publicly available.
Returning to the theme of yoga, a very interesting description of śarabhāsana is found in the Agama-rahasya-tantra, where many āsanas are described by the same names as in the texts of haṭha-yoga (as understood by many now). However, these āsanas are often described as mats made of different materials, on which one must sit and chant a mantra a certain number of times, which leads to different siddhis. For example, mayūrāsana, siṁhāsana, kukkuṭāsana, etc. are different materials from animal skin. But speaking of śarabhāsana, confusion may arise, because there is no such “animal” in the real nature. Respectively, the conclusion is: āsanas also mean the image itself, which carries this or that kind of force.
Originally, the term “Bagalāmukhī” was mentioned in the Vedas, precisely as the name of the Goddess वल्गा माता (valgā mātā, Valga Mata). Further, “va” in the Valgā name was transformed into “ba” by transposition and changing varṇa-vyatyaya letters, “la” and “ga” swapped, so the “Bagalā” term appeared . The Goddess herself is described as “the one who eliminates enemy magical actions”. She is mentioned in Kṛṣṇa Yajurveda (6.2.10) and Śukla Yajurveda (5.23-24) and described there as the Goddess Vaiśṇavī, eliminating magical effects, as well as the one by virtue of whom prāṇa is controlled.
शिरो वा एतद् यज्ञस्य यद् धविर्धानम् प्राणा उपरवाः ।
हविर्धाने खायन्ते तस्माच् छीर्षन् प्राणाः ।
अधस्तात् खायन्ते तस्माद् अधस्ताच् छीर्ष्णः प्राणाः ।
रक्षोहणो वलगहनो वैष्णवान् खनामीत्य् आह वैष्णवा हि देवतयोपरवाः ।
असुरा वै निर्यन्तो देवानाम् प्राणेषु वलगान् न्य् अखनन् तान् बाहुमात्रे ऽन्व् अविन्दन् तस्माद् बाहुमात्राः खायन्ते । इदम् अहं तं वलगं उद् वपामि ।
śiro vā etad yajñasya yad dhavirdhānam prāṇā uparavāḥ ।
havirdhāne khāyante tasmāc chīrṣan prāṇāḥ ।
adhastāt khāyante tasmād adhastāc chīrṣṇaḥ prāṇāḥ ।
rakṣohaṇo valagahano vaiṣṇavān khanāmīty āha vaiṣṇavā hi devatayoparavāḥ ।
asurā vai niryanto devānām prāṇeṣu valagān ny akhanan tān bāhumātre ‘nv avindan tasmād bāhumātrāḥ khāyante । idam ahaṃ taṃ valagaṃ ud vapāmi ।
The mention of Valgā occurs in the same context in both Taitiriya Brahmana and Śatapatha Brahmana (3.5.4). Further, she is mentioned in Atharva Veda in the form of sūktam, as “abolishing the negative magical impact”. The very term “Valgā” is translated as “harness,” like the one by which horses can be controlled. By the way, a horse is a symbol of prāṇa (the life force) in the Vedas. In the literal sense, it is about management and control. Actually, that is one of several meanings of a term “yoga”, derived from युज् (yuj), which can mean “harness” too. The earliest mention of the term (from which the yogic context can be derived) that I was able to discover with a help of Tara Michael, a French scholar, is found in the Rig Veda. The first one is the Hymns to Savitur (RV 5-81.1):
युंजते मन उत युंजते धियो विप्रा विप्रस्य बृहतो विपश्चितः। वि होत्रा दधे वयुनाविदेक इन्मही देवस्य सवितुः परिष्टुतिः ।
yuṃjate mana uta yuṃjate dhiyo viprā viprasya bṛhato vipaścitaḥ। vi hotrā dadhe vayunāvideka inmahī devasya savituḥ pariṣṭutiḥ ।
He is a priest who “harnesses” his spirit, harnesses his sublime thoughts. Only he knows all the rules of sacrifice. Sublime praise of God Savitur.
I.e. there is a hint here that the yogic state is a basis of full devotion. Which, by the way, we can find in many Purāṇic and Tantric pūjās, where such yogic elements as prāṇāyāma or bhūta-śuddhi always go first in the ritual.
Also in the Hymns to Brahmanapasthi (RV 1 – 18 6-7):
सदसस्पतिमद्भुतं प्रियमिन्द्रस्य काम्यम् । सनिं मेधामयासिषं ।
sadasaspatimadbhutaṃ priyamindrasya kāmyam । saniṃ medhāmayāsiṣaṃ |
The one, who is a dear friend of Indra, the beautiful lord of the seat, I honor for the sake of gaining intelligence.
यस्मादृते न सिध्यति यज्ञो विपश्चितश्चन ।
स घीनां योगमिन्वति ॥७॥
yasmādṛte na sidhyati yajño vipaścitaścana ।
sa ghīnāṃ yogaminvati ॥7॥
He, without whom the yajña is not complete, even if he is sincere. He subordinates thoughts through yoga.
Yoga, as a discipline of controlling prāṇa, mind, senses and a body, is examined in many texts, and in this case it is very similar in meaning to that of the Goddess Valgā or Bagalā (Bagalāmukhī). Also, for a proper sādhaka, in the first place, She is the Goddess, helping to subdue or paralyse inner enemies, such as kāma, moha, matsarya, etc. Although, of course, many worldly people, who are worshipping Bagalāmukhī, hope to subordinate external enemies instead of eliminating their internal ones. That is a form of internal obscuration. By virtue of Bagalāmukhī, controlling his prāṇa, mind and indriyas, a sādhaka gradually passes from a southern āmnāya to the upper one in a state of samyama. There he gains the experience of Bagalāmukhī in the form of light, consciousness or the Goddess Lalitā. Bagalāmukhī is related to the Śri Tradition (Śrikula), and it is no accident that She is mentioned as Vaiśṇavī in the Vedic texts. Although, in some Tantras She is also seen as Kalī of yellow color – Pīta Kalī. In any case, in the form of Kalī, She helps to overcome time limitations, since there is also a connection between time and prāṇa. If you can set your prāṇa to balance and calmness, then you will go beyond time. And it is no coincidence that Bagalāmukhī is connected with Śiva Mṛtyuñjaya – the Сonqueror of death.
Not so long ago I was asked, “Why there are such ślokas in the last chapter (VI) of Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati:
लिङ्गाद्दण्डाङ्कुरान्तर्मनः पवनगमात् ब्रह्मनाड्यादिभेदम्।
कृत्वा बिन्दुं नयन्तः परमपदगुहां शङ्खगर्भोदरोर्ध्वम्॥
तत्रान्तर्नादघोषं गगनगुणमयं वज्रदण्डोक्रमेण।
ये कुर्वन्तीहकष्टान् परमपदमहो नास्ति तेषां निरुत्थम्॥ ७९॥
liṅgāddaṇḍāṅkurāntarmanaḥ pavanagamāt brahmanāḍyādibhedam |
kṛtvā binduṁ nayantaḥ paramapadaguhāṁ śaṅkhagarbhodarordhvam ||
tatrāntarnādaghoṣaṁ gaganaguṇamayaṁ vajradaṇḍokrameṇa |
ye kurvantīhakaṣṭān paramapadamaho nāsti teṣāṁ niruttham || 79 ||
Those who enter the brahma-nāḍi into the spine through the convergence of the mind and breathing, enter bindu into the upper state cavity through the vajroli-kriyā which is located above the cavity of the shell, and listen to a vibration similar to the sound of the heavens. They who suffer here [for the sake of perfection], do not reach the highest state of non-manifestation.
सम्यक् चालनदोहनेन सततं दीर्धीकृतां लम्बिकां।
तां ताल्वन्तखेशितां च दशमद्वारोदरे शंखिनीम्॥
नीत्वा मध्यमसन्धिसंघटघटात् प्राप्तां शिरोदेशतः।
पीत्वा षड्विधपानकाष्ठभजनं वाञ्च्छन्ति ये मोहिताः॥ ८१॥
samyak cālanadohanena satataṁ dīrdhīkṛtāṁ lambikāṁ |
tāṁ tālvantakheśitāṁ ca daśamadvārodare śaṃkhinīm||
nītvā madhyamasandhisaṁghaṭaghaṭāt prāptāṁ śirodeśataḥ |
pītvā ṣaḍvidhapānakāṣṭhabhajanaṁ vāñcchanti ye mohitāḥ || 81 ||
Those who perfectly “milk” (stretching) their tongue, as well as moving it (cālana) wrapping it back into the palatine region and through the shankhini channel in the tenth hole (brahmarandhra). Who tastes the six-part nectar from the head region.They fall into misguided path.
There’s also a lot of criticism of those who do yoga exercises. Then the question arises, how can yogic Tradition criticise methods that themselves relate to it? After criticising all these methods and yogic states, even after revealing which the yogi can fall into delusion, the following is said:
आज्ञासिद्धिकरं सदा समुचितं सम्पूर्णमाभासकं
पिण्डे सर्वगतं विधानममलं सिद्धान्तसारं वरम्।
भ्रान्तेर्निर्हरणं सुखातिसुखदं कालान्तकं शाश्वतं
तन्नित्यं कलनोज्झितं गुरुमयं ज्ञेयं निरुत्थं पदम्॥ ९३॥
ājñāsiddhikaraṁ sadā samucitaṁ sampūrṇamābhāsakaṁ
piṇḍe sarvagataṁ vidhānamamalaṁ siddhāntasāraṁ varam |
bhrānternirharaṇaṁ sukhātisukhadaṁ kālāntakaṁ śāśvataṁ
tannityaṁ kalanojjhitaṁ gurumayaṁ jñeyaṁ nirutthaṁ padam || 93 ||
The non-manifestation state is comprehended as having a nature of the Guru, it is devoid of manifestation, eternally, it destroys time, bestows supreme happiness, eliminates delusion. It, residing in the body, totally shining, granting the perfection of Will (ājña), is the pure essence of the teachings of the perfect.
The sense is that without patronage and correction from the traditional Guru realised in the purity, any practices and even “achievements” can be meaningless. These ślokas are very relevant for the present time, when yoga has lost its traditional goals.
Even if someone is not pleased to read these parts of the text, one must admit the fact that they have truth. Although the described yogic techniques being applied in the original yoga guidelines, in any case, have their value. It’s just like if an ignorant jungle man was shown a computer and the Internet, not guarantee he wouldn’t decide to dig a hole by the laptop. He has to understand what the true purpose of this device is, what its usefulness, if he learns to use it. Similarly, with any yoga methods.
अन्तर्लक्ष्यविलीनचित्तपवनो योगी यदा वर्तते
दृष्ट्या निश्चलतारया बहिरधः पश्यन्नपश्यन्नपि ।
मुद्रेयं खलु शाम्भवी भवति सा लब्धा प्रसादाद्गुरोः
शून्याशून्यविलक्षणं स्फुरति तत्तत्त्वं पदं शाम्भवम् ॥ ३७ ॥
antarlakṣyavilīnacittapavano yogī yadā vartate
dṛṣṭyā niścalatārayā bahiradhaḥ paśyannapaśyannapi |
mudreyaṁ khalu śāmbhavī bhavati sā labdhā prasādādguroḥ
śūnyāśūnyavilakṣaṇaṁ sphurati tattattvaṁ padaṁ śāmbhavam || 37 ||
By the grace of the Guru, when the consciousness and energy of Yogī are absorbed by the inner aim, perception (vision) is directed to the outside and motionless, but at the same time, suspended from vision; this mudrā known as śāmbhavī. That radiant essence beyond (vilakṣaṇam) of emptiness (śūnya) or fullness (aśūnya), is known as the Śambhū state (Śiva or the embodiment of appeasement).
Thuse, according to the Nātha Yogīs doctrine, to be beyond emptiness or fullness – means to be both emptiness and fullness simultaneously.
Bagalāmukhī many consider as the Goddess who is paralysing the enemies, however, Her goal is to eliminate the internal enemies in the form of our weaknesses. She helps to control feelings, mind and the most important – prāṇa (vital force). Then She leads to samādhi and the light of our consciousness appearing in the form of the radiant Lalitā Goddess. What is said in the form of aphorisms in Bagalāmukhī-paṭala:
अंतरवायु – सञ्चार – निरोधेन वा || १२ ||
aṃtaravāyu – sañcāra – nirodhena vā (12)
Or through holding the air inside (kubhaka).
तं हठ – योगमाहुः || १३ ||
taṃ haṭha – yogamāhuḥ (13)
This is called haṭha-yoga.
Touchy questions that I am often asked on seminars, specifically about the practice of prāṇāyāma.
Which ancient texts mention “full breathing”? Is there a description that firstly you need to fill the lower part of the lungs, then the middle and finally the upper one? Why various sources differently correlate inhalation and exhalation with prāṇa and apāna?
Let’s start with the “full breath”. In truth, I have never met such a description of the “wave” going from the bottom or top in ancient texts, as can be found in the works of later authors. Some modern teachers recommend to fill your belly from the bottom and spread the filling upwards, while exhale backwards. Others recommend to fill your belly from the bottom going upwards, and to exhale, too, from the bottom, gradually emptying the top.
In the classical texts, everything is described simply as “take a breath in and exhale” But often there are recommendations regarding the use of your belly. Find some examples below.
Haṭhayogapradīpikā, the description of bhastrikā includes the following:
When the belly becomes full of inhaled air, close the nostrils with thumb, middle and little fingers. (2.64)
He (a yogi) should inhale through the right nostril, gently filling his belly. After holding the breath as long as possible, he should exhale calmly through the left nostril. (63)
A wise yogi should inhale through the both nadīs on sides of the kuṇḍalinī and hold it in the belly, then exhale again through ida. (104)
Inhaling through the solar nostril, you should slowly fill the belly with air, then, according to the method, hold your breath, then exhale through the lunar nostril. (100)
पयस्यगाधेऽपि सुखात्प्लवते पद्मपत्रवत् ॥७०॥
atha plāvinī |
payasyagādhe’pi sukhātplavate padmapatravat ॥ 70॥
Now begins plāvinī.
Fill the abdomen with air to the limit and you can move freely on the water like a floating lotus leaf (2.70).
The term आपूरित āpūrita – “filled” – is used here, the word पूरक pūraka, which is translated as an inhalation, in fact, also means “full” or “whole” (from “filling” or “filling up”). There is already the idea of fullness in the term itself, the root पूर pūra means “overflow”.
However, as I said above, the concept of breathing is not quite what many understand. In that regard, the “overflow” could “contradict to physiology”. Here’s another example from the Haṭhayogapradīpikā:
आकेशादानखाग्राच्च निरोधावधि कुम्भयेत्।
ततः शनैः सव्यनाड्या रेचयेत्पवनं शनैः॥४९॥
ākeśādānakhāgrācca nirodhāvadhi kumbhayet।
tataḥ śanaiḥ savyanāḍyā recayetpavanaṃ śanaiḥ ॥ 49 ॥
He holds his breath until the air is held in his whole body from the fingernails to the top of the head (crown). Then he exhales slowly through the left channel (2.49).
The texts of yoga are not only about the physical side, (even if “physical exercises” are there) as all the exercises are a combination of meditation and physical activity. That is the full breath in both the physical and energetic sense.
I think there is a lot of confusion because of various factors. I suggest to move to the analysis of the terminology itself. The root अन् an means “breathing”, prefix प्र pra – “forward” and अन् an or आन āna – “breathing”, i.e. “breathing forward”, resulting in the term प्राण prāṇa. अपान apāna – from अप apa – “outside” and आन āna – “to breathe”. Just like समान samāna from सम sama (“balanced”) and आन āna (“balanced breathing”) or उदान udāna – from उद् ud (“up”) and आन āna (“breathing up”), व्यान vyāna from वि vi – “separately” and आन āna – “breathing”, that is, distributed “breathing” (in different parts of the body). Breathing is not always understood only as a physical process, you сan see that, at least, by the example of breathing “distributed over the body”. I would not take as an example such a description of prāṇa as in Prāṇa-sūkta from Atharvaveda, which is a hymn dedicated to prāṇa as the Absolute itself, i.e., kind of a pulsating force or energy.
On the whole, I am a supporter of the version that recaka is prāṇa, and pūraka is apāna. Recaka comes from the root रेच (rec), which means “devastation”, this root produces रेचक (recaka) or रेचन (recana), which can be both adjectives and nouns in three genders. The term रेचक (recaka) can also mean “purification”; in this connection, it could mean अपान (apāna) from अप (apa) – “back” (opposed to “pra” or “prāṇa”), “down” or “away”, and आन (āna), which means “breathing”. Something that “moves outwards” – matches with recaka, but something that goes “backwards” – doesn’t. The meaning of “purification” could be qualified for category अपान (apāna) in connection with its function of removing unnecessary substances from the body. But in the case of रेचक (recaka), that is the exhalation of carbon dioxide through the nose, which is not connected, for example, with the discharge of excrements, menstrual blood, etc. As for the term पूरक (pūraka), there is a connection with पूर (pūra), which means “filling up, flooding, satisfaction, overflow, fullness”. Also, there is an obvious connection with the root पॄ (pṝ), which also means “filling, satiation, satisfaction”. Accordingly, पूरक (pūraka) is “filling” or “filling up”, or, simply speaking, – inhaling. If प्राण (prāṇa) consists of the prefix प्र (prā), which means the forward movement, the initial movement, and the suffix kvip, आन (āna), indicating the one who breathes, then it can also be associated with रेचक (recaka), since recaka is an exhalation of air outward. However, there are different interpretations, another common one is: प्राण (prāṇa) comes from the root पॄ (pṝ), पृणाति (pṛṇāti) which means “to fill, nourish, satiate”, and therefore it is related to पूर्ण (pūrṇa), fullness. If we look at the term प्राण in that context, then it could be similar to पूरक (pūraka), because it can mean “filling” too and there is the idea of “satiation”.
I think both versions regarding प्राण (prāṇa) and अपान (apāna) have the right to exist, the point of view can vary depending on the specific sampradaya and even the specific Guru, which is normal for India. I am more intimate with the idea of inhalation – as satiation and, accordingly, as the symbol of nectar, soma, associated with watery fluid; and exhalation – as fire, which purifies and absorbs the soma. Fire in the Indian tradition is very significant for purification, it accepts offerings and transfers them to heaven to Indra and other Gods. Thanks to the fire offering, Indra sends rain to the earth and everything starts to grow, to blossom. We also have a havan-kuṇḍa in the lower part of our body, the fire of kuṇḍalinī rises upward when it is nourished by the nectar from sahasrara-cakra. Fire, of course, is also a symbol of purification, and a symbol of passion (kāma) leading to death, that’s why many yogis avoid the outer fire as a symbol of gṛihastha life, but they have the inner fire in the form of kuṇḍalinī–śakti.
Some descriptions of the breathing process in yogic resources are full of symbolism, in such cases, of course, one can derive a variety of interpretations. For example, here is an interesting description in Vāyu Purāṇa:
नालेन तु यथा तोयं यन्त्रेणैव बलान्वितः।
आपिबेत प्रयत्नेन तथा वायुञ्जितश्रमः ।। ११.२६ ।।
nālena tu yathā toyaṃ yantreṇaiva balānvitaḥ।
āpibeta prayatnena tathā vāyuñjitaśramaḥ ।। 11.26 ।।
Just like water is absorbed with effort by a pipe or a mechanical device, so a yogi should drink air diligently, but not bringing himself to fatigue.
नाभ्यां च हृदये चैव कण्ठे उरसि चानने।
नासाग्रे तु तथा नेत्रे भ्रुवोर्मध्येऽथ मूर्द्धनि ।। ११.२७ ।।
nābhyāṃ ca hṛdaye caiva kaṇṭhe urasi cānane।
nāsāgre tu tathā netre bhruvormadhye’tha mūrddhani ।। 11.27 ।।
The wind should be maintained gradually in the navel, heart, chest, throat, mouth, tip of the nose, eyes, between the eyebrows and in the head.
In yogic texts, sometimes there is a description of inhalation as “drinking” of air or prāṇa, in which case it can be assumed that the body is like a pitcher into which air is poured and held during kumbhaka. So, if the water is gradually poured into the vessel, firstly it fills the bottom, then the middle part and so on up to the top. Then it can be like above described in Vāyu Purāṇa, in one of the sections dedicated to yoga. That is the filling up and the movement of prāṇa goes from nābhi (belly), then hṛidaya (chest), throat and even higher up to the head (if we take the energetic part of the process into consideration). In that case, at least, we can deduce the “gradual filling” and the context of full breathing, as many do now.
The description of matras (counting the length of inhalation, exhalation and breath-holding). In different texts, there are various definitions of what is a high level, for example 16-64-32 (in Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā), somewhere smaller ratios are given. How to make a right choice of matras, if there are such contradictions in the texts? What do you consider to be lower, middle and higher levels as you master prāṇāyāma?
As for the counting of breath on inhale, while breath-holding and on exhale, you can find a lot of recommendations in the texts. Usually, texts divide mastering of prāṇāyāma onto three levels. It is said that at the lowest level of prāṇāyāma the fire rises in the body and sweat is produced, on the middle level there is a strong vibration, and at the highest – the state of lightness. However, the texts actually give different ratios for the number of counts. For example, in Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā, the highest ratio is 24-64-48. According to the Jogpradīpikā, “matras” (counts) during breathing are not only different, but there is one for those who practice according to the Vedas and the other – according to the Tantras. According to the Vedas, the highest level in sahita–prāṇāyāma is 8-19-9, and according to the Tantras it is 25-50-25. Viveka Mārtaṇḍa, as well as a number of other texts, gives the following prescriptions:
“In the beginning, it has twelve measures (i.e. 12-16-10), then twice as many (24-32-20), and the best one is three times as much (36-48-30). With the initial prāṇāyāma sweat is produced, with the middle one – the body starts to shake, and with the highest prāṇāyāma one reaches the immobility. So, a yogi should control the air” (107-108).
Obviously, in the latter version there is some connection with solar, lunar and fiery kalā (energy rays). However, I think that whatever regulations the texts give, it is necessary to be oriented on something different. The first thing which is necessary to understand is why texts recommend using the mental repetition of the mantra as a count and what connection is there between the mantra and breathing. The thing is that breathing and sound have the same origin, they both come from vibration, spandana, which manifests itself in us, for example, in the form of a pulse, etc. If we want prāṇāyāma to bring us full value, then during prāṇāyāma we need to learn to listen to yourself. We do not need to forcefully push our own capabilities of inhalation, breath-holding or exhalation, moreover, we should not try to immediately reach the proportion of 24-64-48. We must completely change our attitude to what is considered as vital energy and its manifestation in the form of breathing and other functions, and in the same way to the mantra. It is not by chance that in the Vedas there are hymns dedicated to prāṇa as the divine power and Brahman himself. And how can we put pressure on what is absolute? The same is with the mantra: the mantra is the spiritual body of the Divine, this is the Divine itself. We can perceive prāṇa at the level of vital functions or the Deity – at the level of mūrti, but these are only manifestations of that highest power, and we must learn to see what is behind the form. Furthermore, we must treat the form carefully, the Divine gives us signals through it, teaches us.
The disciple is not the one who imposes, but the one who learns to perceive and that is the one who is the practitioner. It’s just the outside world teaches us to seise everything, take it by storm, and often we automatically extend this inclination to spiritual practice. During practice of any prāṇāyāma we always have to focus our own attention on necessity to “let ourselves go”, leave “expectations” in order to report to someone that I have reached something in a long breath-holding. The texts say that one must be very cautious day by day, very carefully, to increase simultaneously the length of inhalation, exhalation, and breath-holding. Of course, you can, as it is recommended by many, firstly start to make equal proportions: 1-1-1, then 1-1-2, then 1-2-2, then 1-3-2 and go to 1-4-2. After, you can increase the number in that scheme: 4-16-12, gradually moving on to 5-20-10, etc. However, I would recommend to perceive all these schemes, even though they discipline and “set the course”, keeping the main goal in mind. The main thing is to dissolve your consciousness in spanda (anāhata–nāda) coming from inside, it is necessary that your mantra would also be absorbed by the source of its own origin (anāhata). In short, the goal is to accept oneself, one’s nature, to perceive oneself as the eternal ātman, in which consciousness, mantra, feelings, and even a Devata as “saguṇa” dissolve. Then prāṇāyāma will really purify the nadīs and save you from many troubles, etc.
In that regard, contrary to the widespread descriptions of prāṇāyāma in many texts, which claim that prāṇāyāma with mantra is higher than prāṇāyāma without it, there are other interpretations that exist, and I would like to give an example. Devī-bhāgavata-purāṇa says that prāṇāyāma could be of six kinds:
धारयेत्तत्र चात्मानं धारणां धारयेद्बुधः । सधूमश्च विधूमश्च सगर्भश्चाप्यगर्भकः ॥
सलक्ष्यश्चाप्यलक्ष्यश्च प्राणायामस्तु षड्विधः । प्राणायामसमो योगः प्राणायाम इतीरितः॥
dhārayettatra cātmānaṃ dhāraṇāṃ dhārayedbudhaḥ ।
sadhūmaśca vidhūmaśca sagarbhaścāpyagarbhakaḥ ॥
salakṣyaścāpyalakṣyaśca prāṇāyāmastu ṣaḍvidhaḥ ।
prāṇāyāmasamo yogaḥ prāṇāyāma itīritaḥ॥
“Let the awakened one practice dhāraṇa, concentrating on ātman. Sadhūma (unstable breathing), vidhūma (unfluctuating breathing), sagarbha (breathing with a mantra), agarbha (breathing without a mantra), salakṣhya (with the concentration on a Deity within oneself or a divine symbol), alakṣya (beyond attributes) – these are six kinds of prāṇāyāma. In yoga, there is no higher method than prāṇāyāma.”
I.e. that focusing on alakṣhya or “alakh” (as Nāthas say in Hindi) – the eternal ātman, which is outside of any forms, is considered higher than with using the mantra. The immersion into the nature of ātman (into oneself), according to the Devī-bhāgavata-purāṇa, is the best guideline for prāṇāyāma, which differs from many other texts, where samantraka–prāṇāyāma (with a mantra) is higher. Then the body becomes like a metal, under the intense temperature of fire it acquires the qualities of fire. The body of feeling, immersing in nature, spiritualises.
When it’s said that prāṇāyāma improves health, it means that you achieve your natural state by getting rid of the unnatural. Health in Sanskrit is “svastha”, from the roots sva (own) and stha (existing), but the meaning is much more than that. From yoga point of view the normal state includes a natural state of mind, feelings, etc. If we return to the subject of counting, I even received such recommendations as to use rhythm while chanting a mantra, so the mind immerses itself into the repetition of the mantra easier. It’s easier for immersion, because we won’t see anything spiritual in the practice of prāṇāyāma if it’s based only on counting, but after all prāṇāyāma removes the worldly state of mind. Theoretically rhythm captures the mind as for instance in the theory of chandas in Sanskrit poetics. I think, the practice of measuring the breath with the use of “matras” can be compared to riding a car to some destination, but somewhere, say, a traffic jam has been formed. Then a driver can look for another way, a little longer or shorter, but still to the same destination. There are basic guidelines during practice, but some small temporary deviations are permissible, if a practitioner feels they are needed.
However, all these subtleties, even such seemingly simple as matras, should be explained by a Guru. Because such elements as mantras, anāhata, etc., are more than simple technics as everybody understands them nowadays. Yoga is the highest level of spiritual practice, although it is bonded with simplicity and nature, many lost it in the artificial world and the artificial way of life. There should be a balance between the spiritual and the physical in yoga, that must always be remembered.
प्रणयमस्तथा ध्यानं योगो प्रत्याहारोऽथ धारणा | समाधिश्च मुनिश्रेष्ठा यमो नियम आसनम् ||
praṇayamastathā dhyānaṃ yogo pratyāhāro’tha dhāraṇā |
samādhiśca muniśreṣṭhā yamo niyama āsanam ||
The eleventh part of Kūrma-purāṇa (11.11-12) actually repeats this śloka and the description of the aṅgas sequence: praṇayama, dhyāna, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇa, samādhi, yama, niyama, āsana.
What is most interesting that ‘āsana’, which now has become the most important and maybe even the only practice, is listed in the very last position; yama and niyama go prior to it. I personally see logic even how the āsana is described by Patañjali, by Gorakśanāth, in Śiva-sūtra-vimarśinī, and other texts of different traditions and darśanas. Concerning yama and niyama, it is also logical, there is even a version that they were prescribed to saṃnyāsin, and also the logic is that the perception and perfection of yama and niyama can change with enhancement in contemplative methods.
There are many practices and elements of one or another practice under the name of khecarī–mudrā, for the reason that in India every spiritual path introduced something of its own. For example, in Gorakh-bānī, khecarī-mudrā is one of eight mudrās:
मुष मध्ये षेचरी मुद्रा, स्वाद विस्वाद ले उतपनी |
स्वाद विस्वाद समो कृत्वा, मुद्रा तौ भई ||
muṣ madhye ṣecarī mudrā, svād visvād le utapanī |
svād visvād samo kṛtvā, mudrā tau bhaī ||
«Khecarī-mudrā is inside the mouth, where a feeling of pleasant and unpleasant taste appears. Khecarī-mudrā is realised when a practitioner is in even attitude to pleasant and unpleasant tastes.»
Some of these eight mudrās are described in a similar way, as a form of regulation of sensory states.
In Jogpradīpikā by Jayatarāma, which is also written in dialect, khecarī-mudrā is included in the category of several mudrās, which resemble hand mudrās of Śrīvidyā by their names. There are such mudrās as: सर्वसंक्षोभिणी मुद्रा (sarvasaṃkṣobhiṇī mudrā), सर्वविद्राविणी मुद्रा (sarvavidrāviṇī mudrā) etc. They are presented in the same sequence as in Śrīvidyā Tantra, with the difference that in Jogpradīpikā those are not hand gestures, but internal yogic processes. In Śrīvidyā, these mudrās are also associated with various Goddesses (Yoginis), who are worshiped with mantras and also those gestures. Obviously, these elements of Śrīvidyā Ttantra, as well as the elements of other Tantric systems, have influenced yogic methods. Another text that I found in the Nath Chaungera Mandir in Nepal, is Gorakh-yog-mañjarī, which also describes those mudrās. The text is a combination of elements of Hatha-yoga-pradīpikā and possibly Jogpradīpikā. In the yogic khecarī-mudrā description, in the same manner as in Jogpradīpikā, can be found such approaches as चलन calana (a movement of the tongue for stretching of its base), दोहन dohana (stretching), छेदन chedana (cutting the base of the tongue). In the same text, the practices of khecarī-mantra are given with viniyoga, aṅga– and kara-nyāsas.
ॐ अस्य श्री खेचरीमन्त्रस्य कपिल ऋषिः सिद्धिनाथो देवता खेचरीमुद्राप्रसादे सिद्धयर्थे जापे विनियोगः
oṃ asya śrī khecarīmantrasya kapila ṛṣiḥ siddhinātho devatā khecarīmudrāprasāde siddhayarthe jāpe viniyogaḥ
With the declaration of content and the purpose of a sādhana, in the form of success in chanting the mantra, ṛishi, Devatā.
गं हृदयाय नमः| सं शिरसे स्वाहा | नं शिखायै वषट् | मं कवचाय हुं | फं नेत्रत्रयाय वौषट् | लं सः अस्त्राय फट्|
gaṃ hṛdayāya namaḥ| saṃ śirase svāhā | naṃ śikhāyai vaṣaṭ | maṃ kavacāya huṃ | phaṃ netratrayāya vauṣaṭ | laṃ saḥ astrāya phaṭ|
Then recommendations are given to perform kara-nyāsa by adding the following bijas: ह्रं ह्रीं ह्रूं ह्रैं ह्रौं ह्रः hraṃ hrīṃ hrūṃ hraiṃ hrauṃ hraḥ to each element of the kara-nyāsa.
Similar recommendations are given in Yogakuṇḍalyupaniṣaḍ:
पूर्वं बीजयुता विद्या ह्याख्याता याति दुर्लभाम् ॥ ३७ ॥
तस्याः षडङ्गं कुर्वीत तया षट्स्वरभिन्नया ।
कुर्यादेवं करन्यासं सर्वसिद्ध्यादिहेतवे ॥ ३८ ॥
pūrvaṃ bījayutā vidyā hyākhyātā yāti durlabhām ॥
tasyāḥ ṣaḍaṅgaṃ kurvīta tayā ṣaṭsvarabhinnayā ।
kuryādevaṃ karanyāsaṃ sarvasiddhyādihetave ॥ 38 ॥
«This is a special knowledge, described earlier, with the bija which is difficult to implement. It is necessary to perform ṣadaṅga (nyāsa) with an addition of six “svāras” of vowels (previously mentioned as ह्रं ह्रीं ह्रूं ह्रैं ह्रौं ह्रः hraṃ hrīṃ hrūṃ hraiṃ hrauṃ hraḥ. To achieve perfection, one must perform kara-nyāsa.»
Khecarī-mantra is described in Haṭha-tattva-kaumudī (Ch.18) in same way as in Yogakuṇḍalyupaniṣaḍ, and viniyoga, nyāsa with the dhyāna are also given. Five lakhs (500 thousand times) of mantra is recommended to recite for its realisation. The bija-mantra ह्रीं hrīṃ is described as the main khecarī-bija in the following way:
व्याख्यातं खेचरीबीजं तेन योगः प्रसिध्यति ।
vyākhyātaṃ khecarībījaṃ tena yogaḥ prasidhyati ।
«Khecarī means ह ha (i.e. the element of space), र ra or ‘repha’ is the state of fire, so ई–कार ī-kāra is adorned with the space of the moon (i.e. bindu or anusvāra). This way khecharī-bija ह्रीं hrīṃ, which grants perfection in yoga, is formed».
In addition, several more mantras are given. For example, to remove obstacles and please Deities, the following mantra is mentioned:
ह्रीं खेचर्यै नमः hrīṃ khecaryai namaḥ
The melana-mantra in Yogakuṇḍalyupaniṣaḍ is the same as in Khecharī Vidyā of Ādinātha:
ह्रीं भं सं पं फं सं क्षं hrīṃ bhaṃ saṃ paṃ phaṃ saṃ kṣaṃ
However, there are many sources where mantras or bijas, khecharī kūṭākṣaras are very different.
In Gorakh-yog-mañjarī there is a mantra:
ॐ ह्रीं गं सः नमः oṁ hrīṁ gaṁ saḥ namaḥ
In Yogacūḍāmaṇyupaniṣaḍ, khecharī is mentioned in connection with the “So-Ham” mantra:
जाग्रन्नेत्रद्वयोर्मध्ये हंस एव प्रकाशते ।
सकारः खेचरी प्रोक्तस्त्वंपदं चेति निश्चितम् ॥ ८२॥
हकारः परमेशः स्यात्तत्पदं चेति निश्चितम् ।
सकारो ध्यायते जन्तुर्हकारो हि भवेद्धृवम् ॥ ८३॥
jāgrannetradvayormadhye haṃsa eva prakāśate ।
sakāraḥ khecarī proktastvaṃpadaṃ ceti niścitam ॥ 82॥
hakāraḥ parameśaḥ syāttatpadaṃ ceti niścitam ।
sakāro dhyāyate janturhakāro hi bhaveddhṛvam ॥ 83॥
«In the awakened state the so-ham shines in the centre of the eyebrow. The produced sound “Sa” is known as khecharī, it symbolises the state of tvam (the individual Self). The pronounced sound “Ha” means the Supreme Lord, it symbolises tat (That). Who contemplates himself as “Sa” becomes definitely identified with “Ha”(That, i.e. Absolute).»
In Kubjikā Tantra khecharī-bija is called ख्फ्रें khphreṃ, in Tantrāloka Abhinavagupta associated this bija with dissolution in the macrocosm, the practices of Bhairava-mudrā (the unity of outer and inner spaces), etc. There is an instruction given for each element of that bija in Tantrāloka. The Yogi in a state of total renunciation must immerse himself into the space of ‘Kha’, reaching full bloom पुल्ल pulla (‘Pha’ symbol). Individuality will be dissolved in the fire of ‘Ra’ of the triangle (yoni), symbolised by the “E”-phoneme (ए), letting a yogi reside in the great reality of bindu “M”.
In Mahākāla-saṃhitā there are many khecharī-mantras, such as ख्रौं khrauṃ and others. We can consider khecharī as the Goddess, where ‘mudrā‘ is the term of the feminine gender and means ‘a Goddess’, in this sense it can be Kuṇḍalinī itself, ascending into the space above the head, identical to Śiva. In that case she is also a Goddess Śambhavi (Śambhavi-mudrā), i.e. directed to Śambhu – Śiva’s name meaning someone who is manifested as the pacification ‘Śam’. In that context, khecharī-mudrā is the internal process of Śiva-Śakti merging. The mudrā can also mean ‘joy’ (ānanda) of the Goddess and Śiva union. In Kashmir Śaivism, khecharī is a union (mudrā) of the space of our consciousness ‘Kha’ with carana (something that moves within this consciousness or changes, i.e. Śakti). In the texts of KŚ खेचरी khecarī is described among four special mudrās, such as करङ्किणी (karaṅkiṇī), क्रोधिनी (krodhinī), भैरवी (bhairavī), लेलिहाना (lelihānā). Their meditative practices are described in Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra and other texts. The experiences of those mudrās are related to the five centres of the body: kanda (a place where Kuṇḍalinī is in a contracted state), nābhi (abdominal area), hṛdaya (heart), kaṇṭha (throat) and khecharī is comprehended in the bhrumadhya (a point between the eyebrows). It corresponds to the Haṭha-yoga texts, because khecharī is mainly associated with the space of the head or above it. Those mudrās, as well as others are described in detail in āhnika 34 of Tantrāloka, devoted to mudrās. But all the mudrās are considered as manifestations of khecharī, and this also fits with how khecharī is presented in the Yogic texts. In truth, many of Yogic texts, especially some particular parts of them, I personally associate with Tantric processes, which are expounded in Tantras. Here is an example, the part of Yogakuṇḍalyupaniṣad:
तस्मात्सर्वप्रयत्नेन गोपनीयं विजानता । यत्रास्ते च गुरुर्ब्रह्मन्दिव्ययोगप्रदायकः ॥ १४॥
तत्र गत्वा च तेनोक्तविद्यां संगृह्य खेचरीम् । तेनोक्तः सम्यगभ्यासं कुर्यादादावतन्द्रितः ॥ १५॥
अनया विद्यया योगी खेचरीसिद्धिभाग्भवेत् । खेचर्या खेचरीं युञ्जन्खेचरीबीजपूरया ॥ १६॥
खेचराधिपतिर्भूत्वा खेचरेषु सदा वसेत् |
tasmātsarvaprayatnena gopanīyaṃ vijānatā ।
yatrāste ca gururbrahmandivyayogapradāyakaḥ ॥ 14॥
tatra gatvā ca tenoktavidyāṃ saṃgṛhya khecarīm ।
tenoktaḥ samyagabhyāsaṃ kuryādādāvatandritaḥ ॥ 15॥
anayā vidyayā yogī khecarīsiddhibhāgbhavet ।
khecaryā khecarīṃ yuñjankhecarībījapūrayā ॥ 16॥
khecarādhipatirbhūtvā khecareṣu sadā vaset |
«The practitioner must consider a transmission of that practice from a Guru as a connection with Acyuta (Viṣṇu), it is necessary to perceive the Guru, transmitting that secret knowledge, as Śiva himself. Having received that knowledge, it cannot be shared with anyone. Oh Brahman, it’s required to come to the place where that Guru teaches divine yoga and receive khecharī-vidyā from him. After that one can practice very keenly, and khecharī will give him siddhi. “Connecting” युञ्जान yuñjāna with khecharī, through khecharī and khecharī-bija, a yogi becomes a lord of the khecarās and resides in the space all the time (unconditioned).»
This part reminds me of gaining of śaktipāta and transmission of a sādhana, described in Tantrāloka, where śaktipāta is firstly transmitted from a Guru and the knowledge of how to practice. Then a sādhaka receives śaktipāta from a Goddess “Duti”, connecting with her, and that second śaktipāta is considered stronger (तीव्र शक्तिपात tīvra śaktipāta) then the first (मन्द शक्तिपात manda śaktipāta), it gives the highest realisation. Although of course, one cannot be realised without the other, but there is nothing higher then śaktipāta from the Goddess itself.
A good example of the fact that when talking about tamas and relating it to Shiva, it is meant not simply one guna of the Prakriti, but something more, we can see in the earliest sources. Here is how it is said about the nature of darkness in “Nasadiya-suktam” (Rig Veda, Mandala 10. 129. 03):
तम आसीत्तमसा गूढमग्रेऽप्रकेतं सलिलं सर्वमा इदं ।
तुच्छ्येनाभ्वपिहितं यदासीत्तपसस्तन्महिना जायतैकं ॥३॥
tama āsīttamasā gūḍhamagre’praketaṃ salilaṃ sarvamā idaṃ ।
tucchyenābhvapihitaṃ yadāsīttapasastanmahinā jāyataikaṃ ॥3॥
At the very beginning of the creation of all existence was darkness, hidden by the very darkness, all these were waters. From a single tapas (the heat) in the void, the One was originated.
The darkness there is not just one of the qualities (as some of the Krishna’s followers interpret, for example) of the primary cause of the Prakriti creation, but indeed, this is the Great Abyss from which everything manifested itself and into which everything is absorbed back. Exactly in this context Shiva is also meant, when one speaks of His inherent darkness.