Modern myths of globalised yoga

I want to touch the subject of delusions unseen by the majority of people, and explain the reasons for their occurrence and existence. More than once I have came across the discourse that Nātha yogins in India do not properly teach āsanas and other haṭha-yoga techniques any longer. But, in such sampradāyas as Daśanāmi for example and some of Vaiṣṇava the process of teaching haṭha-yoga is going better than anywhere else. Let’s analyse it in the most proper manner.

First of all, have you ever been concerned why such traditions as Vaiṣṇavavism, which is focused on bhakti, or those ascending to Śankarācārya, where the focus is put on jñāna and Vedānta, are now teaching ‘yoga therapy’, different ‘yoga styles’ etc.? I will tell you why. These are traditions represented by the biggest numbers of followers in comparison to others – both in the West and India. That is why many gurus there have a very clear vision on how to use Western ’āsana addiction’ trends, they know they can attract more people and more money by that. And when someone says that the real haṭha-yoga is ‘preserved’ exactly in these traditions, they clearly choose the wrong words. They confuse ‘preserved’ with the indulgence of marketing demands of those, whose principles are very superficial. Many Hindus think that it is useless to teach foreigners who initially did not get proper saṃskāras as well as do not usually sacrifice themselves to the spiritual path, therefore it is at least necessary to get money from them. This is an attempt to exaggerate the phenomenon of āsana, only one of the aṅgas (sections) of yoga, and often to borrow this element from other traditions to add it to their sampradāya and exaggerate it anyway. Nāthas do not have such amount of ‘gymnastics’ is due to the fact that, unlike Daśanāmi, they only became popular in the West recently. Even now they are not so common there, because, they generally do not care much about their ‘presentation’. One or two sections should not cause any damage to other sections of yoga, to true discipleship, the formation of a thorough world view.

If you had time to notice, yoga for Hindus is not a hobby, which is ‘practiced’ in between ‘pub’ time, but that is something you live in all the time. From the start, West could see no gains in accepting this concept by its people. Now, due to easy access to a large amount of information and globalisation, a lot has changed. Today saṃskāras of Eurocentrism are dominating not only among those who practice yoga, but even among those who have learned Sanskrit etc. In fact, the desire of the West to dominate exists in all areas, and spiritual one is no exception. Many people pretend either to not notice that fact, or to show that it is not very important. But, this is important, as it makes everything difficult to understand, including even such ‘simple practices’ as āsana, prāṇāyāma, etc.

Nāthas are not engaged in the propaganda of āsanas, for the reason that the goal of āsanas is to learn to practice contemplation in one position for a long time. And if you have no initial understanding of it, if you only formally say that you have it, then you continue to believe in such delusions, as guru Nanak teaching ‘kuṇḍalinī-yoga’, or Śankarācārya teaching ‘yoga therapy’ or giving physical practices to build a ’beach body’. People want to grab everything from India and from the whole world: they want to have a ‘beach body’ and to be ‘traditional’, they want to look 30-years old at the age of 100 and a lot more. What is it, if not an ego? Is it not a desire to reshape other culture in your own way, due to your arrogance and unwillingness to learn and change to the full extent? Is it also the willingness of some Indian gurus not to teach the essence of their traditions, but simply to reshape their teachings to the Western patterns in order to sell better? Ask yourself this question and maybe a great deal will naturally fall into place. I don’t say that money is only evil or only good, money is strictly in the middle between these two poles. It is bad when money supersede the truth, when the main principles of mystical traditions are forgotten, the significance of the essential is reduced, and what is tied to the most banal motives of a man is exaggerated. I do not want to criticise someone’s business, as for I am not the one who created the global financial system in its form which permeates the whole world now. I am not the one to fight with it. My goal is to remind people what is important and to remove layers by layers of massive delusions in people’s minds. Of course someone can say ‘Well, why talk about bad things? Let’s talk about good.’ But, you will never understand the truth by not seeing a delusion. Knowing one of these poles, you will know the other, if one is perfectly recognised, then the other will be perfectly recognised too, it’s just unavoidable.

Another misconception

I met attempts to find the first mention of haṭha-yoga or āsanas, that can be interpreted as “forceful” in early Vaiṣṇava or Buddhist sources. From this, some people conclude that, for example, the source of haṭha-yoga is Buddhism, or the source of forceful āsanas is Vaiṣṇavism of Pancharatra. In my opinion, this is a totally absurd approach. The fact of revelation of some texts does not mean at all that others will not be found after some time, and the existing theory will not be refuted. Considering the fact that many texts over the course of the millennium could not have been preserved at all, how can one confidently say that some yoga practices originated from a particular tradition? It is always worth adding “it may be”, “perhaps”, etc. This conclusion is wrong for other reasons. The main reason is that Pancharatra is a teaching where bhakti is taken as a basis, and its main practices are ritualistic karmakāṇḍa, yoga is not the main one there. And based on the fact that in the texts of this tradition you will find mayūrāsana and kukkuṭāsana, you should not conclude that this is something like one of the Iyengar’s books with 300 forceful āsanas. The idea itself is absurd, in the form of hypertrophied versions that the Nāthas did not have forceful yoga and they borrowed it from vaiṣṇavas. To say that Pancharatra is the basis of forceful āsanas, it is about the same as taking the following sūtra of Patañjali and using the manipulative method to state that Patañjali yoga is the basis of the six cakra system due to the fact that the navel cakra is mentioned there. Then, it developed in such traditions as Kubjikā, Śrī Vidyā and Kālī Vidyā, Trikaśasana, Nātha-sampradāya and others:

नाभिचक्रे कायव्यूहज्ञानम्॥२९॥
nābhicakre kāyavyūhajñānam ||29||

By concentrating on the navel cakra, knowledge of the body is gained.

Is there any mention of such a thing as “cakra” inside the thin body in Patañjali’s text? Of course! Is this proof that the Kubjikā tradition has “stolen” from or “dependent” on Patañjali’s yoga-darśana? Not. For the reason that the doctrines are completely different, and because Patañjali has a very fragmentary element in comparison with what he represents in general.

Also, the mention of some individual elements of haṭha-yoga is not in Nātha sources, does not mean that haṭha-yoga and yoga as a whole is not the prerogative of the Nātha-sampradāya. It is in the Nātha-sampradāya that yoga is the main point and the foundation of the teaching. When studying this or that sampradāyas, first of all it is necessary to take into account their main doctrine. Whether these or other practices are basic or not should be determined on the basis of the main doctrine of the particular sampradāya.

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.

The signs of the progress in prāṇāyāma

Different texts give the different signs of the progress in prāṇāyāma. The most famous is the division of the levels into the duration of the breath holding, namely कनिष्ठ kaniṣṭha (short period), मध्यम madhyama (medium) and उत्तम uttama (high). The yogin controls sweating (स्वेद sveda) on the first one, trembling in the body (कम्प kampa) on the middle and on the highest, according to the Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā (5-56), “earth abandonment” is happening or levitation (भूमि त्याग bhūmi tyāga). In other texts for example, in the description of the third stage, it is said about “fatigue”, “melancholy” (विषाद viṣāda), but since “triumph” (जय jaya) is used in relation to the three conditions, so it is about “conquering the gravity”, above “fatigue”, i.e. in contrast to the lightness. Therefore भूमि त्याग bhūmi tyāga can be understood not necessarily as a physical levitation, but more often as an “easy state,” although in some cases one cannot exclude the other.

Some tantras, for example, the Āgamarahasya-tantra or Mārkaṇḍeya-purāṇa (Ch. 36) give a similar description, the Kūrma-purāṇa (2.36, 21-26) says about the four processes of progress in prāṇāyāma. They are as following:

  1. ध्वस्ति dhvasti – the cessation of attachment to the fruits of good and bad actions.
  2. प्राप्ति prāpti – independence from such conditions as kāma, lobha, moha; abandonment of the wishes of the ordinary (ऐहिक aihika) and other (अमुष्मिन् amuṣmin) worlds. Acquisition of the abandonment of all desires (स्यात्सर्वकामिकी syātsarvakāmikī).
  3. संविद् saṃvid – knowledge (comprehension) of the past (अतीत atīta), the future (अनागत anāgata), nearest and remote objects, the moon, the sun, the planets, etc. (of the macrocosm).
  4. प्रसाद prasāda – realisation of “mercy”, “divine grace” thanks to which the mind, feelings, senses and five pranas are appeased.

There is a description of the other four elements closely associated with the four aforementioned in the purāṇa, for example in the Vāyu-purāṇa (11.4 – 11) and in the cases where they are quoted by tantras accordingly.

  1. शान्ति śānti – getting rid of imperfections (पाप pāpa).
  2. प्रशान्ति praśānti – perfection in speech, elimination of the problems associated with the father, mother and other relatives (पितृमातृप्रदुष्टानां pitṛmātṛpraduṣṭānāṃ).
  3. दीप्ति dīpti – enlightened vision, the vision of the past and the future, comprehension of the objects of the universe (the sun, the moon, etc.).
  4. प्रसाद praśāda – an appeasement of the five prāṇa, the mind, the senses and their objects of perception.

Yājñavalkya as a Nātha yogin

There is an interesting explanation of the oldest source of the yoga doctrine found in बृहद्योगीयाज्ञवल्क्यस्मृति Bṛhadyogīyājñavalkyasmṛti (12.5):

सांख्यस्य कर्ता कपिलः परमार्थः स स
हिरण्यगर्भो योगस्य वक्ता नान्यः पुरातनः ||12.5 ||

sāṃkhyasya kartā kapilaḥ paramārthaḥ sa sa
hiraṇyagarbho yogasya vaktā nānyaḥ purātanaḥ (12.5)

Kapila, the founder of Sāṃkhya, is known as paramārtha. (Similar to that) Hiraṇyagarbha expounded the yoga doctrine, there is none more ancient than him.

However, in the Nātha Sampradāya, Yājñavalkya is known not only as a Vedic ṛishi, but also as a disciple of Brahma (Satyanāth), who in the form of Hiranyagarbha transmitted the knowledge of yoga to Yājñavalkya. And Yājñavalkya Nātha is mentioned on the lists of 84 Nāthas.

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).

Issue in understanding traditions

Sometimes I’m really astonished by the statements of some people, who earned their academic degrees in the US or the UK. For example, by  the one that Nathas do not practice “real yogic methods” for the last 400 years (i.e., “real” in the sense that they are understood by scholars and their beloved  modernised and globalised yoga environment, despite the fact that they often deny it). They state that the real hatha-yoga is now easier to be found in the lines related to Dashanami.

But it does not occur to them that the Nathas began to spread widely in the West over the past 10-15 years – thanks to people like me, and not  to the Gurus from Dashanami, who had long since left for the West. In my opinion, those Dashanami Gurus have long been adapted to the needs of Western  consumers, lovers of fitness and  New Age culture. Nathas simply did not have time to  make it, and God forbid they do. It’s not Nathas to blame for not practising “real hatha” for the last 400 years, since the “real hatha” didn’t exist among Nathas or any other followers of the spiritual path either 400, or 700, or 1000 years ago. The fact is that both Western Indologists and Indian Gurus have long been susceptible  to the ideas of Western consumerism, in  which commerce supplanted the  goal of yoga as a sadhana.

For the sake of business they are  eager to recognise everything as traditional. Rather, they have already done  so and integrated it into their Indian culture a long time ago. Yes, the Nathas did practice that yoga neither 400, nor 700 years ago, never. It is ignorance to seek confirmation of your own delusions in the Tradition, doesn’t matter who you are – a  fitness trainer, a scholar or a Guru from India, who dreams of  owning 200 cars in the US  like Rajneesh.

Yoga and upāyas

There is an interesting book in Hindi published by Gorakhnath-mandir (in Gorakhpur), its title is गोरक्षनाथ और नाथ सिद्ध / Gorakṣanāth aur nāth siddh. There is written following:

आजकल हम विभिन्न प्रकार के योगों के नाम सुनते हैं  – राजयोग, हठयोग, ज्ञानयोग, लययोग, भक्तियोग और कर्मयोग| ये शब्द आधुनिक शब्द हैं |  प्राचीन योगियों  की इसमें आस्था नहीं हैं |

My translation:

In modern time we have heard about many varieties of Yoga: rajayoga, haṭha-yoga, jñānayoga, layayoga, bhaktiyoga, also karmayoga. These terms are modern. Ancient yogis did not believe this.

I do not think that all these varieties are completely modern, however, in this statement there is much truth. A person who is limited to a vision of yoga in only one category, is unlikely following the right yogic direction. While modern styles of “haṭhayoga” sin even more, they often lead away from the main yogic goals, they are feeding people’s ego instead of giving liberation from it. They create confusion in the people’s minds, instead of freeing oneself from it. And this mass situation is paradoxical, as often what is called yoga, on the contrary, leads away from the yogic path. Yoga is the integrity of own nature, and how you will come to this and call it is a secondary importance think. It is no coincidence that the term upāya can be translated both, as a method, as a ruse or a trick.

Yoga and death experience

I think that for most people any information about death is virtually almost irrelevant until it is more and more correlating with the subject. On the Internet, we can see the information about catastrophes, wars, hunger occurred somewhere, but even death happened next to you is not necessarily significant for some people. There are plenty of people who like to speak about death by repetitively savouring trivial phrases, introduced by some wise men, but still it is the experience only of wise men, but not a repeater. That’s why yoga is, first of all, an experimental research of oneself, of something we don’t know, or barely know, or have forgotten. We know nothing of afterlife, we have no proof of rebirth or other things except for only sayings of some people and different religions.

And what is yoga for? Yoga proposes to study death on practice. Actually, yoga is a gradual immersion into the experience of death, not external, but your own. If we refer to the states of death, described in Vedanta, Tantras, Yoga texts, all of them – from jāgrat to turya or turyatita – illustrate a gradual transition from objective self-awareness to more and more subjective one. If you correlate yourself with your dreams in svapna, then in suṣupti you correlate yourself with a reality beyond mental constructions. In turya, you realise yourself beyond all the three stages, and use this experience to study yourself as their witness, where all of them serve as supporting instruments of self-awareness. You are Nirālamba Śhiva (Unsupported Shiva) and do not need any of these instruments in turiyatita. In yoga, you slow down the process of breathing by practicing prāṇāyāma, thereby you can gain a more thorough insight into the dimension, revealing itself from the experience, which is usually seen as death.

In India, death is usually divided into two categories: natural and unnatural. Unnatural death is sudden, for instance, from accident, when a person abruptly falls into the unconscious. Natural death, even if it is not strongly perceivable, has at least a more or less smooth transition. Yoga sets the goal to make that process as smooth and conscious as possible, and, at the same time, to get the knowledge of something, which goes beyond what we usually see as life. As I see it, to a greater extent it is connected with the accomplished prāṇāyāma practice.

First of all, yoga offers a self-study of our own unconscious, which is the fundamental goal of a human being. It transcends him from the human to the yogiс level. Some say about stages of videha-mukti (liberation attained by a person after death), some – about sadeha-mukti (liberation while still in the body), however, I see it as a combination of both. Yoga is nothing more than laying a bridge between two realities, and only by this experience we can comprehend and see for ourselves: is there rebirth or not, is there a soul or not, is there God or not. I think that the true knowledge (jñāna), is contained in the yogic experience in particular, none any over-prestigious traditions, nor Gurus, books or theories will give you this knowledge, until you reveal it yourself. Of course, there are huge benefits in traditions, but the true value can be gained only when you are fully correlated with it, otherwise a tradition is worth no more than a visit to a pub. A person can try on a tradition as many times as they want, even not accepting the fact that it remains something secondary for them, after a favourite pub, the Internet, McDonalds or anything else. Do you fully correlate with it or not, that is what you need to think of.

Different terms with the same meaning

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»).