About breath measurement, depth and so on

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)

Viveka Mārtaṇḍa

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)


अथ प्लाविनी।
अन्तः प्रवर्तितोदारमारुतापूरितोदरः।
पयस्यगाधेऽपि सुखात्प्लवते पद्मपत्रवत् ॥७०॥

atha plāvinī |
antaḥ pravartitodāramārutāpūritodaraḥ|
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 kuṇḍalinīśakti.

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 sahitaprāṇāyāma 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 (anāhatanāda) 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 samantrakaprāṇāyāma (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.

Sequence and randomness of aṅgas in yoga

I have found different sequences and quantity of the yoga parts (aṅgas), but the following sequence from Agni-purāṇa (381.11), I think, is especially interesting:

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.

Khecarī as a mudrā, mantra and a Goddess

There are many practices and elements of one or another practice under the name of khecarīmudrā, 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.

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:

खेचरावसथं वह्निमम्बुमण्डलभूषितम्
व्याख्यातं खेचरीबीजं तेन योगः प्रसिध्यति

khecarāvasathaṃ vahnimambumaṇḍalabhūṣitam
vyākhyātaṃ khecarībījaṃ tena yogaḥ prasidhyati

«Khecarī means ha (i.e. the element of space), ra or ‘repha’ is the state of fire, so 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:

ह्रीं गं सः नमः  oṁ hrīṁ gaṁ saḥ namaḥ

In Yogacūḍāmaṇyupaniṣaḍ, khecharī  is mentioned in connection with the “So-Hammantra:

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 (), 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  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 गुरुर्ब्रह्मन्दिव्ययोगप्रदायकः १४॥
तत्र गत्वा 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.

The “Dark Nature” of Shiva is not one of the gunas, but the original abyss

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.

Sound as light and fluids in the Rig Veda

We often find practices related to light and sound in Yoga. You can see a lot of such elements as sexual secretion, red and white in Kaula Tantrism, as well as in the Yoga of Nathas and Siddhas. These elements can be described both as liquid substances and as forms of light (fire). Abhinavagupta described the sounds of anahata and the manifestation of the entire Matrika, as a manifestation of Shiva and Shakti passions, linking this with the theory of Shabda Brahman. However, the connection of sound with light and liquid can be traced in the Vedas, I offer quotes from the most ancient one, the Rig Veda.

Sound as light:

07.101.01 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

ति॒स्रो वाचः॒ प्र व॑द॒ ज्योति॑रग्रा॒ या ए॒तद्दु॒ह्रे म॑धुदो॒घमूधः॑ ।
स व॒त्सं कृ॒ण्वन्गर्भ॒मोष॑धीनां स॒द्यो जा॒तो वृ॑ष॒भो रो॑रवीति ॥

tisraḥ ǀ vācaḥ ǀ pra ǀ vada ǀ jyotiḥ-agrāḥ ǀ yāḥ ǀ etat ǀ duhre ǀ madhu-dogham ǀ ūdhaḥ ǀ
saḥ ǀ vatsam ǀ kṛṇvan ǀ garbham ǀ oṣadhīnām ǀ sadyaḥ ǀ jātaḥ ǀ vṛṣabhaḥ ǀ roravīti ǁ

VII, 101. To Parjanya

1. Pronounce three speeches ahead of which is the light,
(Those) that are milked from this udder flowing the honey.
Creating a calf, a plant fragment,
Barely born, the bull immediately roars loudly.

01.138.02 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

प्र हि त्वा॑ पूषन्नजि॒रं न याम॑नि॒ स्तोमे॑भिः कृ॒ण्व ऋ॒णवो॒ यथा॒ मृध॒ उष्ट्रो॒ न पी॑परो॒ मृधः॑ ।
हु॒वे यत्त्वा॑ मयो॒भुवं॑ दे॒वं स॒ख्याय॒ मर्त्यः॑ ।
अ॒स्माक॑मांगू॒षान्द्यु॒म्निन॑स्कृधि॒ वाजे॑षु द्यु॒म्निन॑स्कृधि ॥

pra ǀ hi ǀ tvā ǀ pūṣan ǀ ajiram ǀ na ǀ yāmani ǀ stomebhiḥ ǀ kṛṇve ǀ ṛṇavaḥ ǀ yathā ǀ mṛdhaḥ ǀ uṣṭraḥ ǀ na ǀ pīparaḥ ǀ mṛdhaḥ ǀ
huve ǀ yat ǀ tvā ǀ mayaḥ-bhuvam ǀ devam ǀ sakhyāya ǀ martyaḥ ǀ
asmākam ǀ āṅgūṣān ǀ dyumninaḥ ǀ kṛdhi ǀ vājeṣu ǀ dyumninaḥ ǀ kṛdhi ǁ

I, 138. To Pushan

O Pushan, after all, I urge you forward, by praising,
Like horse in a riding, that you disseminate the hostile intentions.
Like a camel (a load), pass over (through us) hostile plans!
When I call you, blessed
God, (I,) mortal, for friendship,
Make our praises brilliant,
To get awards, make (them) brilliant!

02.009.04 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

अग्ने॒ यज॑स्व ह॒विषा॒ यजी॑यांछ्रु॒ष्टी दे॒ष्णम॒भि गृ॑णीहि॒ राधः॑ ।
त्वं ह्यसि॑ रयि॒पती॑ रयी॒णां त्वं शु॒क्रस्य॒ वच॑सो म॒नोता॑ ॥

agne ǀ yajasva ǀ haviṣā ǀ yajīyān ǀ śruṣṭī ǀ deṣṇam ǀ abhi ǀ gṛṇīhi ǀ rādhaḥ ǀ
tvam ǀ hi ǀ asi ǀ rayi-patiḥ ǀ rayīṇām ǀ tvam ǀ śukrasya ǀ vacasaḥ ǀ manotā ǁ

II, 9. To Agni

4. O Agni, sacrifice the libation as the best sacrificer!
With (your) ability to favorably listen, accept cordially the gift (and) offering!
After all, you are the master of wealth,
You are the inventor of brilliant speech!

Sound as liquid:

09.057.01 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

प्र ते॒ धारा॑ अस॒श्चतो॑ दि॒वो न यं॑ति वृ॒ष्टयः॑ ।
अच्छा॒ वाजं॑ सह॒स्रिणं॑ ॥

pra ǀ te ǀ dhārāḥ ǀ asaścataḥ ǀ divaḥ ǀ na ǀ yanti ǀ vṛṣṭayaḥ ǀ
accha ǀ vājam ǀ sahasriṇam ǁ

1. Your flows, without drying out, are moving forward,
like raindrops from the sky,
To the thousandth reward.

09.057.02 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

अ॒भि प्रि॒याणि॒ काव्या॒ विश्वा॒ चक्षा॑णो अर्षति ।
हरि॑स्तुंजा॒न आयु॑धा ॥

abhi ǀ priyāṇi ǀ kāvyā ǀ viśvā ǀ cakṣāṇaḥ ǀ arṣati ǀ
hariḥ ǀ tuñjānaḥ ǀ āyudhā ǁ

2. Looking at all the pleasant
Poetic works, flowing
Golden, shaking with weapons.

IX, 34. 6. To Soma

समे॑न॒मह्रु॑ता इ॒मा गिरो॑ अर्षंति स॒स्रुतः॑ ।
धे॒नूर्वा॒श्रो अ॑वीवशत् ॥

sam ǀ enam ǀ ahrutāḥ ǀ imāḥ ǀ giraḥ ǀ arṣanti ǀ sa-srutaḥ ǀ
dhenūḥ ǀ vāśraḥ ǀ avīvaśan ǁ

6. These songs, non-deflecting, one way
are flowing one way all together to him.
The roaring caused the mooing of milk cows.

A hymn to Soma

त्वं धियं॑ मनो॒युजं॑ सृ॒जा वृ॒ष्टिं न त॑न्य॒तुः ।
त्वं वसू॑नि॒ पार्थि॑वा दि॒व्या च॑ सोम पुष्यसि ॥

tvam ǀ dhiyam ǀ manaḥ-yujam ǀ sṛja ǀ vṛṣṭim ǀ na ǀ tanyatuḥ ǀ
tvam ǀ vasūni ǀ pārthivā ǀ divyā ǀ ca ǀ soma ǀ puṣyasi ǁ

09.100.03 (Mandala. Sukta. Rik)

Release a poetic thought, harnessed by the spirit,
As the thunder (releases) rain!
You cause prosperity, o Soma,
Earthly and heavenly goods.

Elements of Kaśmir Śaivism mentioned in ‘Amaraugha-śāsana’ of Gorakṣanāth

Right at the beginning of the text “Amaraugha-śāsanaGorakṣanāth describes various processes, connected with different types of Śakti. The highest ultimate space (parama-sukha) could be acquired via ūrdhva-śaktinipātāna (descent of the upper Śakti), adhaḥ-śaktikuñcanā (folding of the lower Śakti) and madhya-śaktiprabodhena (awakening of the middle Śakti). Further, Gorakṣanāth tells about a practice named ṣaḍadhvagā-sāraṇā (unfolding of six flows), these ṣaḍadhvagās are also described in Trika texts. I’ll briefly explain what that practice is about. Bindu and a tendency to create are manifested through tension of nāda, which is generated by Śiva, playing with Śakti. Then Śiva manifests himself in the forms of vācaka (he who manifests speech) and vācya (what is manifesting), which are designated as arthas (objects). Such self-manifestation of Śiva has three levels: para (supreme), sūkṣma (subtle) and sthūla (gross), each of whom are divided in two, the one where vācaka (subject) prevails and the other, where vācya (objectivity) prevails. On the para level the subject is vārṇa (mātrikas) and the object is kalā (aspects of creation). On the whole, different mātrikas cover certain kalāsvārṇa क्ष corresponds to nivṛtti-kalāvārṇas ह to ट correspond to pratiṣṭhā-kalāvārṇas ञ to घ correspond to vidyā-kalāvārṇas ग ख and क are located in śāntā-kalāvārṇas from visarga to अ are located in śāntyatīta-kalā. Further, mantras and their manifestations as 36 tattvas are located on the sūkṣma level. Pada (word-forms) and manifested worlds of bhuvan are located on the sthūla level. A considerable amount of different mantras, padas and worlds are described in texts. All in all these elements have a match for each other, Śiva manifests them as Macrocosm, whereas they are presented in us as a microcosmic structures. A practice, where these elements are used, is given in “Vijñānabhairava-tantra”:

भुवनाध्वादिरूपेण चिन्तयेत्क्रमशोऽखिलम्।
स्थूलसूक्ष्मपरस्थित्या यावद् अन्ते मनोलयः॥ ५६॥

bhuvanādhvādirūpeṇa cintayetkramaśo’khilam |
sthūlasūkṣmaparasthityā yāvad ante manolayaḥ || 56 ||

It is necessary to contemplate dissolution from bhuvan etc. to all adhvas, from the gross level (sthūla) to the subtle (sūkṣma), and further, to the supreme level (para) and to achieve the dissolution of the mind in the end.

Mudrās from Nātha texts and Tāntric mudrās

Such mudrās as karaṅkiṇi, krodhinī, bhairavī, lelihānā and khecarī belong to the same system. The basis of this system is khecarī-mudrā, and the other four are in fact various aspects of khecarī-mudrā. These mudrās are mentioned in 32nd āhnika (5-6) of ‘Tantrāloka’ as a manifestation of khecarī-mudrā, and altogether they described as a principle (प्रतिबिम्बोदयो pratibimbodayo), reflection of divine awareness between a subject and an object(s). The practice of these five mudrās is mentioned in a famous ‘Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra’ (dhāraṇā 54) and in a number of other texts, such as, for instance, ‘Mahārtha Manjarī.’ Nāthas attribute ‘Mahārtha Manjarī’ to Gorakṣanāth, as the text identifies Maheshvarananda and Gorakṣanāth as authors. Also, these five mudrās are connected with Kuṇḍalinī Śakti, through its awakening by ritual sexual practices, ascending over five centres in the microcosm of a practitioner, starting from ‘kanda’ in a lower part of a body to bhrūmadhya. While Kuṇḍalinī ascends, these mudrās proceed as follows: karaṅkiṇi, krodhinī, bhairavī, lelihānā and in bhrūmadhyakhecarī. That practice may include both inner and objective awareness. Also, many texts state that these mudrās reveal different perfections. Karaṅkiṇi is translated as ‘a carcass’. This mudrā gives an experience of ‘jñāna-siddhi’ – the knowledge of conventionality of external form, because there is a divine dimension behind it. ‘Krodhinī’ means destructive qualities of Bhairava or Bhairavī, when tattva of a Deity, presented as devouring fire of a mantra, consumes basic elements of creation. Bhairavī-mudrā shows the unity of internal and external spaces, feeling of their interflow, which is an analog to śāmbhavī-mudrā in Tantra, described in many Tāntric sources and in ‘Amanaska Yoga’ of Gorakṣanāth as “an unblinking outward gaze” (with simultaneous inner awareness). Bhairavī-mudrā grants melāpa-siddhi, which is a realisation of unity between consciousness and outer space, or between Bhairava and Yoginī. Lelihānā-mudrā means the consumption of neсtar ‘kulāmṛita’. This mudrā gives śakta-siddhi, practically it’s an enhanced form of bhairavī-mudra. Khecarī-mudrā grants a state of immersion into the omnipresent space of appeasement, which reveals śāmbhava-siddhi. Five chakras in microcosmic system of human being can be found in many early Tāntric traditions and their texts: in the 29th Chapter of ‘Tantrāloka’, where they are mentioned in connection with eight vyomas; in Kubjikā Tantras, also in texts of Gorakṣanāth (e.g. ‘Gorakṣa-purāṇa’). Many similarities about such sort of practices can be found in texts of Gorakṣanāth and many other Nātha Yogins, as in the title of Tāntric mudrās, as well as in their essential reference points. The fact that yoga texts say that of all yogic mudrās khecarī-mudrā is the fundamental (essential) is not accidental. Guruji Mithileś Nāth ji told me once that Tantra is a nutrition environment for Nātha Yogins, it served as ‘nourishment’ for yogic life of Nāthas. But of course, there is a vast amount of detailing in Tantrism, sacred use of Sanskrit alphabet, it’s phonetics, including mentioned mudrās and other methods. However, it’s impossible to examine all these subtle details in a short article, they bound with secrecy and a certain level of a relationship (confidence, devotion) between a disciple and a Guru.

Viṣa and Amṛta in Tantra

Various Sampradayas could define many images of Vedas, Puranas, Tantras, Yoga-Shastras in their own, sometimes diametrically opposing ways. They use metaphorical language which is intentionally called ‘sandha-bhasa’ by siddha yogis. This is a language which allows you to find doors to multidimensionality and versatility of meanings. One of such often described terms in Tantras is विष “viṣa” (poison), which is related to a poison consumed by Shiva after Samudra manthan (churning of the ocean by Devas and Danavas). Shiva also wears snakes instead of brahmanical thread and as earrings in his ears and etc. However, you may notice that the same element, for example, the churned ocean could produce opposite elements such as amṛta (nectar of immortality) and poison. Goddess Kundalini in her snake form could be associated with poison, but she is the Goddess of nectar, Sudha as well. Kundalini is described in ‘Tantraloka’ (29.248) as following:

अथ एतदनुषाक्तं भुजङ्गवेधमभिधातुमाह
atha etadanuṣāktaṃ bhujaṅgavedhamabhidhātumāha

Then, in such a way penetration of a snake is explained as closely connected to penetration related to Shakti. He says:

सा चैव परमा शक्तिरानन्दप्रविकासिनी । जन्मस्थानात्परं याति फणपञ्चकभूषिता ॥२४८॥
sā caiva paramā śaktirānandapravikāsinī ।
janmasthānātparaṃ yāti phaṇapañcakabhūṣitā ॥248॥ 

The same Supreme Shakti, she manifests bliss and goes from a place connected with ‘Birth’ to a highest level, she, who is adorned with five snake hoods. .. 248 ..

Then Shakti ascends, appears as five vyomas in five places in the body and goes to dvadashanta, said in this part from 248 stanza and further.

You can notice a description of snake as Sankarshana (destroyer of time) and there are Universe’s worlds lie on snake’s hoods. Also, if you check behaviour of common snakes while attacking, you will notice how they coil before strike, so probably a coiled snake in kanda, described as ‘sleeping’, is a symbol of poison and destruction. When snake, listening the Nada sound, straightens and stretches upwards, as for example, when snakes are charmed by fakirs, it is another symbol which is often found in yoga scriptures. Yet again, concerning a poison, a term विष (n.m.) – is poison, but as a feminine and neuter noun it is translated as ‘evil’. Probably, by poison, ‘the poison of samsara’ i.e. various Worldly Defilements are allegorically implied. Though Kshemaraja gave another context to poison related to kaula interpretations, he said that this term is correlated with विश् (penetrate), i.e. character of Shakti. Shakti can spread in the form of visarga and bindu, and poison possesses similar qualities. ‘Even a poison transforms into the nectar during tantric sadhana’ said in ‘Shiva Stotravali’ (20.12). I.e. the context is that worldly defilements form the nectar in connection with the fire of consciousness. This definition of ‘poison’ can be found in almost all known tantric systems: Shri Kula, Kali Kula, Kubjika, Trika etc., also in the Natha Yoga. According to Kshemaraja, ‘viṣa’ is nothing more than ‘avesha’, i.e. absorption of consciousness by expression of Shakti. Look how this technique is described in ‘Vijñana Bhairava Tantra’:

वह्नेर् विषस्य मध्ये तु चित्तं सुखमयं क्षिपेत् । केवलं वायुपूर्णं वा स्मरानन्देन युज्यते ॥ ६८ ॥
vahner viṣasya madhye tu cittaṁ sukhamayaṁ kṣipet |
kevalaṁ vāyupūrṇaṁ vā smarānandena yujyate ॥ 68 ॥

It is necessary to put your consciousness, being similar to the purest space, into the very centre of engagement between fire (consciousness) and a poison (various defilements) or to be absorbed into fullness of vital force through sexual intercourse.

In general, it is possible to explain many ‘impure elements’ in vamachara tantra, such as various intoxicants: alcohol, bhang (vijaya) and drugs, as smokable, as well as liquefied (which is made from the same seeds as bhang) through the concept of ‘poison’ as enhancing element for awakening of blossoming consciousness. Also, sex, which is criticised by Orthodox Hinduism, especially with a deliberate disregard to the system of varnas, castes, households and, in general, to sexual emanations, meat consumption etc. Whatever the case I use substitutions for the most of these elements, because I realised many states of consciousness and there is no necessity for a variety of radicalisms. These substitutes are called ‘anukalpas’. In yoga these states and effects are often connected with particular psychophysical inner processes. The conclusion is that ‘the poison of samsara’ could be doubly viewed as destructive element, as well as realising true pureness.


Vijñānabhairava-tantra (Shloka 35)

Verse 35, Vijñānabhairava-tantra

Summary of discussion on Vijnana-bhairava-tantra made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

“The central channel stands at the centre like the stem of a lotus. By meditating on this space within, the God shines forth, because of the Goddess.”

मध्यनाडी मध्यसंस्था बिससूत्राभरूपया।
ध्यातान्तर्व्योमया देव्या तया देवः प्रकाशते॥ ३५॥

madhyanāḍī madhyasaṁsthā bisasūtrābharūpayā |
dhyātāntarvyomayā devyā tayā devaḥ prakāśate|| 35 ||

This śloka is concerned with the context in which the Goddess can be effective.  She is the major operative force in his śloka. It is because of her that the God becomes evident.

The first line of the  śloka gives a set of balances.

1. The first is between the left (iḍā ) and right (piṅgalā) channels of the body.  Iḍā is described as ‘white’, ‘feminine’, ‘cold’, and represents the ‘moon’ while piṅgalā is described as ‘red’, ‘masculine’, ‘hot’, and represents the ‘sun’. The channels start from the base chakra (mūlādhāra), cross from side to side of the body, and finally meet at the point between the eye-brows (ājñā). The subtle-breath (prāṇa) circulates through them.

Between iḍā and piṅgalā is the central channel (madhyanāḍī) which is called   suṣumnā. It is where the left and right channels balance their energies.

The Spandakārikā, another of the texts of Kashmir Shaivism, associates the practice of this śloka with the outward (prāṇa) and inward (apāna) breaths. The contrasting forces of exteriority and interiority are balanced. Persons with an extrovert nature, if not balanced by a sense of interiority, become bombastic. Likewise persons with an excessively introvert character lose touch with reality. A balance of outward (prāṇa) and inward (apāna) is necessary.  A balanced personality will be both self-aware and outer-aware.

From another yogic viewpoint, the balance of the prāṇa and apāna lead to the from of subtle breath called samāna (‘equality’, ‘evenness’) and from this comes the ‘upward rising subtle-breath’ (udāna) which in turn leads to the vyāna and the full flowering, the energizing of the all the centers, and faculties, so that in the end the whole person is empowered.

It is also the state of bhairavamudrā where inner and outer coincide. When Bhairava looks within himself he sees the whole world, since all things proceed from him. If he looks at the world outside he recognizes it as his very self.

2. The second balance is between upper and lower. The image is that of the lotus stalk (bisa-sūtra), which comes out of the mud, rises and flowers on the surface of the water. The stalk links lower and upper, immanence and transcendence, the transience (saṁsāra) of water and the infinity of space. Both upper and lower are present, neither is rejected.

The stalk is a tube, and therefore is empty in its inmost core. This is the suṣumnā, the central channel, which is not anatomically visible but is experienced in the body, particularly along the spine.

The first half of second line of the śloka describes the practice

The practitioner meditates (dhyātā) on the emptiness (vyoman) of the ‘stalk’ within himself (antar), located between right and left, between base and height. In this way he ensures there is openness and freedom; he makes sure there is neither rejection nor control.

The second half of second line of the śloka describes the result

As a result the Goddess is free to function. She becomes active and energetic, and under her influence (devyā) the suṣumnā becomes a place of movement, as the energy unfurls from the base (mūlādhāra) to the highest level, to the thousand-petalled lotus (sahasrāra) at the crown of the head. The goddess rises spontaneously and brings the practitioner to fullness of knowledge. Because of her (tayā) the God (devaḥ) shines forth (prakāśate).

It is then that the practitioner realizes he is not just like Śiva but is Śiva.  He is full of light, he is light.





Tantrāloka chapter 5 śloka 71

Summary of discussion on Tantrāloka made by Guru Yogi Matsyendranath and Rev. John Dupuche

The verse reads as follows:

“Let the wise man come to the ‘heart’: when the śakti is aroused, when he enters into the kula, when he is aware of the extremities of all the channels, when there is omnipresence, when everything is drawn into the Self.”

śākte kṣobhe kulāveśe sarvanāḍyagragocare |
vyāptau sarvātmasaṁkoce hṛdayaṁ praviśetsudhīḥ ||


This śloka lists a range of different contexts of pleasure and concludes by noting that that the wise person (sudhīḥ) will, in all these various contexts, arrive (praviśet) at the principle that unites them all, which is the heart (hṛdayaṁ).

The contexts proceed from the outer and most visible to the most interior and unperceived. This is in keeping with the general principle that the inner is superior to the outer, the universal to the particular, the unexpressed to the expressed; the inner is the source of the outer; the purpose of the outer is to reach the inner.

The list goes, by stages from the individual ‘external śakti’ to the sense of universal presence and ultimately to the ‘self’. These are put in sequence to show that one leads to the other, for when there is sexual union, either actual or remembered, then all the faculties are heightened, every sensation is awakened, and one acquires a sense of universality and of the Self. The list is thus read as a sequence, a series of consequences, a progression.

The list can also be read as a set of alternatives: the actual intercourse, the memory of it, the awakening of any faculty, the sense of universal pervasion, the focus on the self etc.  Any of these methods will lead to the heart. This idea is found also in the Vijñānabhairava-tantra, which consists of 112 methods of which only two are clearly sexual. These two are quoted in Jayaratha’s commentary on 5:71.

Jayaratha’s commentary:

Jayaratha prepares the reader for 5:71 by making two comments. First he notes that the ‘individual means’ (āṇavopāya), which is the subject matter of Tantrāloka chapter 5, is a practice (sādhanatva) concerned with pleasant things (sukha). He then goes on to say that pleasure has a host of disparate (bhagna) forms. How then can the practitioner maintain a sense of unity or single-mindedness (ekaka)? The question is valid. Given the multiplicity of forms of pleasure is there not a risk of the practitioner’s mind being dissipated? Will he not become so distracted by one delight after another that he becomes disjointed?

To answer this question Jayaratha takes each of the different contexts of 5:71 and supplies a śloka from the Vijñānabhairava-tantra as an illustration.

śākte kṣobhe

Jayaratha specifies that śākte kṣobhe refers to the enjoyment of the  ‘external śakti’ (bāhyaśaktisabhoge), namely the act of intercourse. In illustration he quotes Vijñānabhairava-tantra 69, which we have studied elsewhere in detail.

“He comes to the śakti; the śakti is fully aroused; he enters into the śakti; the climax occurs: – the pleasure [experienced at that point] is ‘Brahma’; that pleasure is his very own.”

यत्सुखम् ब्रह्मतत्त्वस्य तत्सुखं स्वाक्यम् उच्यते॥ ६९॥

śaktisaṃgamasaṃkṣubdhaśaktyāveśāvasānikam |
yat sukham brahmatattvasya tat sukhaṃ svākyam[1] ucyate || 69 ||

The phrase śākte kṣobhe is echoed in śakti-saṃgama-saṃkṣubdha of 69: the śakti is fully aroused’. This phrase, śākta kṣobhe, is further investigated in the following śloka at 5:72 where Jayaratha asks what is the meaning of śāktasya kobhasya and makes it clear that it refers to sexual union.


5:71 broadens the area of awareness, from the individual woman to the realm of the feminine. The term kula can refer to Śakti and is contrasted with Akula, which refers to Śiva, but it can also have a wider reference, namely all the outpourings of Śakti who is the source of the universe.

Jayaratha quotes Vijñānabhairava-tantra 70, which speaks of the memory of a past encounter and all that happened.  We have already studied it elsewhere in detail.

“O Mistress of the Gods, bliss surges even in the absence of a śakti, through the act of recalling intently the pleasure experienced with a woman, the kissing, the embracing, the clasping.”

लेहनामन्थनाकोटैः स्त्रीसुखस्य भरात्स्मृतेः।
शक्त्यभावेऽपि देवेशि भवेद् आनन्दसम्प्लवः॥ ७०॥

lehanāmanthanākoṭaiḥ strīsukhasya bharāt smṛteḥ |
śaktyabhāve ‘pi deveśi bhaved ānandasamplavaḥ || 70 ||


5:71 expands the realm of awareness.

Jayaratha gives two interpretations at this point. First of all he interprets sarvanāḍyagragocare to refer to dvādaśānta (‘end-of-twelve’), which can refer to a multitude of locations such as at twelve finger widths from the nostril where the outgoing breath ceases but ‘principally or eventually’ (pradhāne pāryantike vā)  to the point at twelve finger widths from the crown of the head where all the channels come together.

With reference to dvādaśānta he quotes Vijñānabhairava-tantra 51.

‘One should focus the mind on the higher centre (dvādaśānte) in whatever which way. After a few days, once the agitation gradually comes to an end, the Ineffable (vailakṣaṇyaṁ) occurs.”

यथा तथा यत्र तत्र द्वादशान्ते मनः क्षिपेत्॥
प्रतिक्षणं क्षीणवृत्तेर् वैलक्षण्यं दिनैर् भवेत्॥ ५१॥

yathā tathā yatra tatra dvādaśānte manaḥ kṣipet ||
pratikṣaṇaṁ kṣīṇavṛtter vailakṣaṇyaṁ dinair bhavet || 51 ||


Jayaratha goes on to focus on a section of the term sarvanāḍyagragocare, namely the phrase agragocare and gives a wider interpretation of the word ‘extremity’ (agra) and includes all sorts of places (prāntadeśe) in this. He provides the example of gently pressing the armpit (kaka). Great pleasure is felt (mahānanda) there. So it is no only the point above the crown of the head but at any and every point that great pleasure can be felt.

To illustrate this point, he quotes Vijñānabhairava-tantra 66, which speaks of mahānando. It also refers to the element of surprise, as though by a trick of magic (kuhanena).

“As though by magic, O Lady with the eyes of a gazelle, a great bliss suddenly rises. As a result, the Reality manifests itself.”

कुहनेन प्रयोगेण सद्य एव मृगेक्षणे।
समुदेति महानन्दो येन तत्त्वं प्रकाशते॥ ६६॥

kuhanena prayogeṇa sadya eva mṛgekṣaṇe |
samudeti mahānando yena tattvaṁ prakāśate || 66 ||


Abhinavagupta makes the point that it is not only in the act or memory of lovemaking, or in the sensations felt at the extremities, but also by the sense of universal presence that entry is gained to the heart.

Jayaratha quotes two texts in this regard. The first is Vijñānabhairava-tantra 109, which we have already studied elsewhere in detail.

“The Supreme Lord is all-knowing, all-doing, and all-doing, pervading. ‘I am He indeed, the reality of Śiva’. As a result of dwelling on this thought, one becomes Śiva.

सर्वज्ञः सर्वकर्ता च व्यापकः परमेश्वरः।
स एवाहं शैवधर्मा इति दार्ढ्याच् चिवो भवेत्॥ १०९॥

sarvajñaḥ sarvakartā ca vyāpakaḥ parameśvaraḥ |
sa evāhaṁ śaivadharmā iti dārḍhyāc civo bhavet || 109 ||

The second is Vijñānabhairava-tantra 110, which we have already studied elsewhere in detail.

“Just as the waves arise from the water, flames from fire and rays from the sun, so too from me, Bhairava, the aspects of the universe arise in their variety.”

जलस्येवोर्मयो वह्नेर् ज्वालाभङ्ग्यः प्रभा रवेः।
ममैव भैरवस्यैता विश्वभङ्ग्यो विभेदिताः॥ ११०॥

jalasyevormayo vahner jvālābhaṅgyaḥ prabhā raveḥ |
mamaiva bhairavasyaitā viśvabhaṅgyo vibheditāḥ|| 110 ||


Abhinavagupta then refers to the act of withdrawing from all these external sensations and perceptions. It is the focusing (saṁkoce) without any object of knowledge, a movement beyond knowledge, into the depths.

In his commentary Jayaratha quotes the phrase naitadvastu sat kicit, ‘there is nothing at all’, which echoes kasyacin naitad  in Vijñānabhairava-tantra 99 which he quotes.

“All knowledge is without cause, without support, fallacious.  In absolute terms, no one has [knowledge]. By adopting this point of view, O Beloved, one becomes Śiva.”

निर्निमित्तम् भवेज् ज्ञानं निराधारम् भ्रमात्मकम्।
तत्त्वतः कस्यचिन् नैतद् एवम्भावी शिवः प्रिये॥ ९९॥

nirnimittam[2] bhavej jñānaṁ nirādhāram bhramātmakam |
tattvataḥ kasyacin naitad evambhāvī śivaḥ priye || 99 ||

He reinforces this idea with another quote from the Vijñānabhairava-tantra 102.

“If one meditates on the universe by considering it to be a fantasm, a painting or a whirlwind and comes to perceive all things in that way, happiness (sukha) arises.”

इन्द्रजालमयं विश्वं व्यस्तं वा चित्रकर्मवत्।
भ्रमद् वा ध्यायतः सर्वम् पश्यतश्च सुखोद्गमः॥ १०२॥

indrajālamayaṁ viśvaṁ vyastaṁ vā citrakarmavat|
bhramad vā dhyāyataḥ sarvam paśyataśca sukhodgamaḥ || 102 ||

hṛdayaṁ praviśetsudhīḥ

This is the climax of TĀ 5.71.

Jayaratha does not quote any text for this final section.  He simply explains that the wise person has fullness of knowledge (pūrṇajñāna) and will not experience rebirth (janmā). By union with all manifestations the wise person comes to (praviśet) union with the source of them all, namely the ‘heart’ (hṛdayaṁ), which Jayaratha defines as the ‘place of emission’ (visargabhuva) and therefore the universal yoni. The heart is the totality of things, without the limitation of particular sensations. The particularities of earlier experiences are, in the hands of a wise person, the means of entry into universality. Unity is found by not by rejecting experiences but by allowing them to lead to the fine point at the origin of them all.  Unity and diversity are reconciled.








[1] For ākyam read ākhyam  ‘named’, ‘called’, ‘declared’. The word svākhyam can be spelt out as sva-ākhyam ‘deemed to be his own’.

[2] Silburn’s and Bäumer’s versions of Vijñānabhairava-tantra 99 place  nirnimittam  first and nirādhāram  later. Jayaratha’s version inverts the order.