Core of the Nātha Tradition

One of the very common problems associated with understanding the Tradition is how to perceive Gorakśanāth and nathās in general. People often ask me, “I worship Durgā, Gaṇeśa or Viṣṇu and what should I do, if Gorakśanāth, Śiva and nathā are Śaivas?” There are even many attempts to argue what yoga or some of its specific forms are more related to, (with Shivaism, Vaishnavism or with Buddhism, etc.). Yoga is just yoga and that’s it. But it is a matter of choice to determine its relation.It so happened that India is a very religious country and in this regard it is very unique. Religion there permeates everything, therefore it is natural that yoga is tied to one or another belief system and a method of worship. To make you understand who Gorakshanāth is, I will give the following example. There is the famous mantra ॐ शिव गोरक्ष योगी ‘Om Śiva Gorakśa Yogi‘ and a shorter version of the Śabar-mantra, which should be correctly called ‘nama’ शिव गोरख śiv gorakh. However, they did not appear in any “canonical Tantras”. Everything that can be found is the Gorakshanāth mantra in some Tantras, for example, in the Puraścaryārṇava-tantra, which quotes the Kalpadruma-tantra, describing the dialogue between Garga ṛśi and Kṛṣṇa. Garga talks there about Gorakshanāthupāsana practice.

बिन गोरक्ष मंत्रेण योग सिद्धिर्न जायते |
गोराक्षस्य प्रसादेन सर्व सिद्धिर्न संशय ||

bina gorakṣa maṃtreṇa yoga siddhirna jāyate |
gorākṣasya prasādena sarva siddhirna saṃśaya ||

It is impossible to achieve success in yoga without the Gorakśanātha mantra.
There is no doubt that by the grace of Gorakśanātha any success (perfection) is gained.

The text describes the nature of Gorakśanātha and also the fact that the worship of Gorakśanātha is super-secret and his upāsana is the essence of the Vedas. His pūjā, viniyoga, nyāsa, sahasranāma, recommendations for puraścarana and many standard recommendations for tantra are described there. But, I propose to draw the attention to the Gorakśanātha mantras themselves, which are described in the text. They have different numbers of akṣaras (syllables).

ह्रीं श्रीं गों गोरक्ष हुं फट स्वाहा |
ह्रीं श्रीं गों गोरक्ष हुं हुं निरञ्जनात्मने हुं फट स्वाहा |
श्रीं गों लीं हं हां गोरक्षनाथाय निरञ्जनात्मने हं सं सं फट हंस: |

oṃ hrīṃ śrīṃ goṃ gorakṣa huṃ phaṭ svāhā |
oṃ hrīṃ śrīṃ goṃ gōrakṣa huṃ huṃ nirañjanātmane huṃ phaṭ svāhā |
oṃ śrīṃ goṃ līṃ haṃ hāṃ gorakṣanāthāya nirañjanātmane haṃ saṃ phaṭ haṃsa |

Gorakśagāyatri is also mentioned:

ह्रीं श्रीं गों गोरक्षनाथाय विदमहे शुन्य पुत्राय धीमहि तन्नो गोरक्ष गोरक्ष निरञ्जन प्रचोदयात् |

oṃ hrīṃ śrīṃ goṃ gorakṣanāthāya vidamahē śunya putrāya dhīmahi
tanno gorakṣa nirañjana pracodayāta |

It says that he is śūnya putra (born out of Emptiness or the son of emptiness), also he is nirānjānā (unblemished). In different ślokas it is mentioned that he manifests himself in the form of the spiritual light, etc. However, these mantras do not explicitly say that he is Śiva. But certainly, if Śiva can be present beyond the limits of qualities (nirguṇa), if he is the transcendental light (prakāśa), then why he cannot be Gorakśanātha, especially for someone who worship Śiva? Of course he can, just like for a Vaishnava he can be Viṣṇu, because Viṣṇu derived from the root ‘viṣ’ – the one who permeates the entire universe, since emptiness is omnipresent and it is pure nirānjānā (this is a well-known term, which is often used in relation to Viṣṇu).

Imagine if you are a Muslim and a Sufi for example, and you want to worship Gorakśanāth. How will you worship him? Perhaps, not in the same manner as Śiva and Viṣṇu, but as a great saint. The same, if you are a Buddhist, and for you Gorakśanāth will most likely be an enlightened mahasiddha, etc. In the Nātha Sampradaya there were quite a few people belonging to different dharmas, there were also Muslims too, Viṣṇu and Śiva devotees, as well as various forms of Śakti, Buddhists e.t.c. We cannot say that Gorakśanāth is present in only one of the many forms – for the yogi he is beyond all forms, even divine ones. But, he is also present in all forms as well. Nevertheless, for a correct understanding the emphasis must be put on the fact that Gorakśanāth is beyond the limits. This fact makes it possible to understand the Nātha Sampradaya and its main reference points. Of course, the majority of nātha prefer to perceive Gorakśanāth as Śiva, but I would not say they are Shaivites, or Vaishnavas, or Shaktas, etc. It would be more correct to say they are Yogis and their path is Yoga. If we proceed from that, then many things immediately fall into place: you are a yogi, you can be Śaiva or not, but you remain a yogi. You can say the same thing on whether you like to combine yoga with Viṣṇu upāsana or not e.t.c. To combine yoga with something or practice it “by itself”, you need to consider several things.

Firstly, there is the simplicity of yoga, without any contradictions. Since you comprehend one element of your faith in a very strict way, you cannot perceive anything else. Secondly, the simplicity has the kind of “ essence of everything” in it, which allows it to be present in everything or, if it is present by itself without everything – it should not become an abstract and special form of limitation (otherwise, it will contradict freedom, which is what yoga is for).

It follows from the foregoing that any upāsaka can be a nātha and most importantly, he can be just a nātha-yogi and no one else, or everything at once.

Two nāḍī-śuddhi prāṇāyāmas

In Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (4-35-44), at first, purification of nadīs is given in the form of using the alternate breathing technique with breath holdings, using bijas, which we can find in tantric rituals, such as bhūta-śuddhi or, for example, those intended to remove doṣas (defects) from some offerings. In that way, impurities are dried up by the bija of Air यं ‘yaṃ’ and then they are burned by the bija of Fire रं ‘raṃ’. Further, the remained ash is getting wet by the element of Water or Nectar by the corresponding bija वं ‘vaṃ’ (as it often happens in tantric practices), but sometimes in yogic and tantric texts another bija symbolising nectar ठं ‘ṭhaṃ’ is suggested to use instead. Then a newly formed body should be strengthened by the bija of Earth लं ‘laṃ’. Some prāṇāyāmas reduce these elements to only three bijas (of Air, Fire and Nectar) because in yoga, it is very typical to minimise the practise to the most essential components.

As in a tantric ritual, in Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā, there is a description of the further use of the alternate breathing but in combination with praṇavaOm’. Also, in the third part of Vasiṣṭha Saṃhitā prāṇāyāma with the use of praṇavaOm’, or, more precisely ‘A-U-M’ – three mātrās or counts of breath lengths, is described. It is said that a practitioner must mentally repeat अं ‘aṃ’ a certain number of times on the inhalation, then उं ‘uṃ’ during kumbhaka and मं ‘maṃ’ on the exhalation. It is recommended to meditate on each of the three elements as on one of the Goddesses, namely ‘A’ – Gāyatrī, ‘U’ – Sāvitrī and ‘M’ – SarasvatīGāyatrī is described as बाला bālā in a Sanskrit text, which usually means ‘a child, a girl at the age of eight’. She is red in color and rides on a swan (haṃsavāhinī). U-kara is Sāvitrī, she is described as युवती ‘yuvatī’ (she’s 15 y.o.). She is white in color and rides on Garuḍa (garuḍavāhinī). Similarly Ma-kara, or repetition of the vibration of ‘M’ correlates with Sarasvatī, who is described as वृद्धा ‘vṛddhā’, she is 28 years of age or older and she rides Vṛṣabha.

In Gāyatrīhṛdayam from Devī Bhāgavata Purāṇa is said:

॥ गायत्रीहृदयम् ॥
पूर्वा भवति गायत्री, मध्यमा सावित्री, पश्चिमा स्नध्या सरस्वती ।
रक्ता गायत्री, श्वेता सावित्री, कृष्णा सरस्वती ॥ १२॥

pūrvā bhavati gāyatrī, madhyamā sāvitrī, paścimā snadhyā sarasvatī ।
raktā gāyatrī, śvetā sāvitrī, kṛṣṇā sarasvatī ॥12॥

In the morning it is necessary to worship Gāyatrī, at noon – Sāvitrī, and in the evening –SarasvatīGāyatrī is red in color, Sāvitrī is bright, Sarasvatī is dark.

Although, there are differences about vāhanas (beings used as vehicles), for example in Gāyatrī Hṛdayam:

पूर्व सन्धि ब्राह्मी, मध्य सन्धि माहेश्वरी, परा सन्धि वैष्णवी ।
हंसवाहिनी ब्राह्मी, वृषवाहिनी माहेश्वरी, गरुडवाहिनी वैष्णवी ॥ १४॥

pūrva sandhi brāhmī, madhya sandhi māheśvarī, parā sandhi vaiṣṇavī ।
haṃsavāhinī brāhmī, vṛṣavāhinī māheśvarī, garuḍavāhinī vaiṣṇavī ॥14॥

In the first sandhya (in the morning) she is known as Brahmī, at noon as Maheshvarī, and in the evening she is Vaishnavī. Brahmī rides a swan, Maheshvarī rides a bull, Vaishnavī rides Garuda.

Something similar exists in many yogic texts where it is recommended to use praṇava (OM).

For instance, in the fifth upadesha of Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (shlokas 48-50) there is also a recommendation to use A-kara, U-kara and Ma-kara. But there, A-kara is connected with raja-guṇa and Brahma and is red in color, U-kara is connected with sattva and Viṣṇu and is black. And Ma-kara, in opposite, is white in color and connected with Śiva.

Here, as you can guess, some similarities with Śri Vidya are immediately come to mind. In the third part of Jñānārṇāva Tantra (shlokas 11-12), it is said that Tripurasundarī is a Goddess with three aspects, the one is with bijaaiṃ” and white in color, the Goddess in red color with kama-bijaklīṃ” and the Goddess suvarṇa (the golden color) with bijasauḥ”. At first she is like Bala, a girl at the age of eight, then she is Pancadaśī (15 y.o.), this is a time full of passion (kāma), and finally she is Śodaśī or Mahaśodaśī (from 16 to 28 years of age or older) – she is full of wisdom.

In yogic texts, It is also said that prāṇāyāma is the unity of three matras, i.e. in case they are unrelated to each other – it would mean a loss and a waste of the vital energy (prāṇa), but not it’s enhancement.

Venerable Suṣumna

In general suṣumna is very glorifying in Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā, many texts say that suṣumna contains the entire universe, it is very revered. The term itself comes from the root सुम्न (sumna), which means something desirable, magnificent with a strong prefix सु (su), where the “s” is transformed according to the sandhi rules into “ṣ”, thus the word suṣumna (very gorgeous) appeared. It comes up from the name that this channel is worthy of extremely serious perception, and Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati and a number of other texts describe it as a goal (lakṣya).

Sometimes there are translations of the term, like where the sun’s rays are. Obviously, this context comes from such early texts as Taittirīya Samhitā (

सुषुम्नः सूर्यरश्मिश्चन्द्रमा गन्धर्वस्तस्य नक्षत्राण्यप्सरसो वेकुरयः |
suṣumnaḥ sūryaraśmiścandramā gandharvastasya nakṣatrāṇyapsaraso vekurayaḥ |

Thanks to (suṣumna) moon, shining with the rays of the sun, is gāndharva, and his āpsaras (companions of gānharva) are the nakṣatras.

Further, it follows from the text, that this is described in the context of a fiery yajña, where the fire also relates to gānharva, the radiant rays of the flame – to āpsaras. In fact, the fire ofsuṣumna is the interiorised fire of the external yajña. Apparently, the term itself has Vedic origin.

Sometimes it is difficult to say where the object of reverence acts as a “support”, and where it is the goal.

āgamarahasyam Ch. 17

In the chapter devoted to the yoga practice, namely, in the section of dhyāna, the elements of sexuality are described in a positive context. Unlike many formal celibate guardians, who in fact do not follow it themselves, there is not so much hypocrisy directly in the ancient texts. On the contrary, sexual power is interpreted as extremely important in spiritual evolution. With the correct perception it is capable of bestowing a higher yogic realisation.

अग्रतः पृष्ठतो मध्ये पार्श्वतोऽथ समन्ततः ।
विद्युच्चकितवद्भाति सूर्यकोटिसमप्रभः ॥ २९७ ॥

रतान्ते स्त्री यथात्मानं क्षणं क्वाहं न बुध्यते ।
रमणोऽपि न जानाति कोऽहं योगे तथा पुमान् ॥ २९८ ॥

agrataḥ pṛṣṭhato madhye pārśvato’tha samantataḥ ।
vidyuccakitavadbhāti sūryakoṭisamaprabhaḥ ॥ 297 ॥

ratānte strī yathātmānaṃ kṣaṇaṃ kvāhaṃ na budhyate ।
ramaṇo’pi na jānāti ko’haṃ yoge tathā pumān ॥ 298 ॥

(Yogin) is shining with thousand millions of sun rays evenly in front, behind, in the middle, in the center and at the sides. During orgasm, a woman (रतान्ते स्त्री ratānte strī) tries to realise: “Where am I?” (क्वाहं kvāhaṃ?), but can not realise it. A man at the moment of pleasure asks the question: “Who am I?” (कोहं? ko’haṃ?) and cannot find the answer, also a person in the yogic state doesn’t know who he is (i.e. his false personality).