The role of suṣumṇā in the mantra realisation

Looking through the Bengali text, the Bṛhattantrasāra, written by Guru Kṛṣṇānandāgamavāgīśa, I found an interesting point regarding the mantra practice, where the Gautamīya-tantra is quoted. We know that there is a classical practice of puraścaraṇa in the form of japa, homatarpaṇamārjana and brāhmaṇa bhojana. However, it speaks of a certain “exception”, which, in my opinion, is a transitional moment of sādhanā, “joining” in itself the goals of vāmācāra and yoga of the Nāthas (vajrolī). I decided to share this piece of text with you, maybe it will give someone an additional understanding of the tantra and Nātha yoga practice.

पशुभावे स्थिता मन्त्राः प्रोक्ता वर्णास्तु  केवलाः 
सौषुम्ने  ध्वन्युच्चरिता  प्रभुत्वं प्राप्नुवन्ति ते
मन्त्राक्षराणि चिच्छक्तौ प्रोतानि परिभावयेत्
तामेव परमव्योम्नि परमामृतबृंहिते
दर्शयत्यात्मसद्भावं पूजाहोमादिभिर्व्विनेति
मूलमन्त्रं प्राणबुद्ध्या सुषुम्नामूलदेशके
मन्त्रार्थं तस्य चैतन्यं जीवं ध्यात्वा पुनः पुनः

In the Gautamīya Tantra:

The mantras practiced in the paśu bhava are recited only at the letter level. The Suṣumṇā-related, practiced sounds are overflowing with power. During jāpa, the mantrāksharas should be fully connected to the power of consciousness. That (mantra) in the highest space is nourished by the highest bliss. Pūjā, homa and etc. are not required for this type of practice, practice the main mantra* through the power of consciousness in the root area (the base) of suṣumṇā (genitals). Practice meditation over and over again with that mantra essence, the consciousness of a living being.

Mūlamantra (the root mantra) is the main mantra of a Deity. For example, Śiva’s mantra is oṃ namaḥ śivāya, Gaṇeśa’s mantra is oṃ gaṃ gaṇapataye namaḥ, etc.

Forceful yoga of the Sun and Moon

The term haṭha-yoga as “an effort or force” has very ancient roots associated not only with the ferocious cults of Yoginis, but also with earlier sources originating in the Vedas. And the understanding of haṭha-yoga, as the yoga of the Sun and Moon, borrowed by such nāthas as Gorakṣanāth and others from the kaula tantra teachers like Matsyendranāth and Ādināth. If you look at popular dictionaries, then ह ‘ha’ is identical to Viṣṇu and Śiva, especially Bhairava, which indicates annihilation. In jyotiṣa (the Indian astrology), in addition to Mars and Saturn, the Sun can also be considered as one of the aggressive planets. In haṭha-yoga, the Sun is a fire eating the nectar of life and leading to death consequently. This is all symbolism indirectly indicating the Sun. If you look at ठ ‘ṭha‘, one of the meanings is “disk of the moon” in the Monier Williams’s dictionary. Also, the bīja ठं ‘ṭhaṃ‘ in tantrism is used as the mantra of nectar, which essentially indicates the nature of the Moon. The Moon has a creative nature, and the Sun is destructive one, together they harmonise each other.

Why do the texts say that paścimottānāsana activates suṣumṇā and awakens the kuṇḍalinī?

It so happened in India, that spiritual practices are most often performed facing east. Accordingly, the west (conditionally) is our back, the south is the right and hot side and the north is left and cold. The Sun is associated with vital power, it rises in the east and sets (i.e. disappears) in the west. We fall asleep at sunset and our senses become silent, and they turn on at sunrise. We can see basically everything that is in front of us, on the sides, below and even sometimes from above, but we cannot see our back. We can only feel it, while there should be an inversion element, i.e. direction inward, listening to our sensations inside. The west is a symbol of the extinction of activities, the completeness of them, so it is suṣumṇā. It is also no coincidence that one of the well-known traditions, where kuṇḍalinī is worshiped in the form of the Goddess Kubjikā, is called paśchimāmnayā – the Western Doctrine. Paśchima – from paścāt (behind, the last, completed, western), therefore it is a symbol of suṣumṇā, self-absorption. Thus, paścimottānāsana is focused specifically on the direction of attention and the prāṇa in suṣumṇā along with it. This āsana is also focused on the conscious activation of suṣumṇā with pratyāhāra and the awakening of the kuṇḍalinī power.

Mudrā in practices of yoga and tantra

We know that there are different types of mudrās in yoga, as well as in the practices of pūjā. What is common between them and what is the difference?

Let’s start with the grammatical meaning of the term. मुद्रा / mudrā originates from the root मुद् / mud, which could be of two classes. The first class चुरादिः / curādiḥ treats मुद् / mud as संसर्ग / saṃsarga – ‘mixing, unification’, which may in the sense coincide with the meaning of the terms ‘yoga’ or ‘bandha’ (binding, unification). Another class is भ्वादिः / bhvādiḥ, in which the root मुद् is interpreted as हर्ष / harṣa – ‘joy’. That could shed light on the understanding of mudrās in general, in spite of all their differences.

Then, what could be considered as mudrās? Firstly, there are yogic mudrās, such as mahāmudrā, mahābandha, etc. Secondly, there are hand mudrās, which are mostly used in pūjās in India. Thirdly, the mudrās as certain states of consciousness, for example, khecarīmudrā as continuous awareness, not as curling of the tongue back into the mouth above the palate. Although some of these mudrās may have names similar to ones in haṭha-yoga, but mudrā could be a state of consciousness, let’s say, as mahāmudrā in Buddhism. Fourthly, various forms of the Goddesses are called mudrās. Fifthly, money with certain images, signatures on documents, certain signs that convey some important meaning are called mudrās. Sixthly, certain attributes are sometimes called mudrās. For instance, in the Vaiṣṇava Śrī  Sampradāya such attributes, as a sacred thread (yajñopavīta), ashes (bhasma), skull (kapāla) and others, are also called mudrās. Or, in the Nātha Sampradāya – earrings, symbolising the archetype of Śiva, are also sometimes called mudrās. The attributes, which are hold by Deities are also sometimes called mudrās. Seventhly, in Kaśmīr Śaivism, Abhinavagupta divides mudrās into three categories: 1) performed by the body (dehodbhava) mentioned above, 2) states of consciousness (manobhava), which were also mentioned above, 3) he also names mantras, as vaghavamudrā.

For further clarification, I would like to give one more example, this time from a Western tradition. Some Greek philosophers, Aristotle, Plato for instance, had such a view regarding the genesis that there is the supreme consciousness or spirit, and there is an inert and lifeless matter. So, when the supreme consciousness comes into contact with that matter, then forms reflecting the paramount plan of the Creator arise. I think, it considers the meaning of the term ‘mudrā’ in a right way. Each created form is a transmitter and a reflection of the supreme consciousness, therefore everything in the world is arranged, everything interacts with everything and everything is in its place. That very well reflects a concept such as ṛta from the Vedas or the later one – dharma. When you peer into the essence of phenomena, through that you can come to the awareness from an ultimate source.

So, what do all these mudrās have in common, despite all the differences? All of them contain a certain, highly significant archetype. Even if we practise, for instance, such mudrās as mahāmudrā from haṭha-yoga or viparītakaraṇī, these are not just body poses. Of course, nowadays, most haṭha-yoga practitioners utilise these practices without any attempt to go deeper into their essence. But, if you take a look at the descriptions of all yoga techniques, then the mudrās are described in a poetic, colorful language there, and very few people understand that we can meditate on the very description of these methods. Thus, jānu-śīrṣāsana ceases to be just a body pose, when you realise that one leg represents the solar channel and the other – the lunar one, etc.

Probably, you know that sometimes we can understand each other without words, on the level of gestures or glance. Why is that so? Because, all these levels transmit the meaning and precisely that element of ‘meaning’, especially when it comes to the ultimate meaning, makes them all mudrās. So, the speech that has become logos, which tries to convey a very high meaning, becomes both a mantra and a mudrā. A nāth, who wears kuṇḍalas (attributes of Śiva), wears them realising himself as Śiva and he never takes them off, since they are forever, eternal, just like Śiva himself. Kuṇḍalas are a symbol of your meditation, or of something that is beyond sleep, wakefulness, and generally any worldly change. Although of course, not everyone knows that meaning, even among those who receive and wear them. Unfortunately, that is not explained to everyone who receives them. And if there is something high and meaningful, you never remain indifferent, and if that is really so, then you cannot be insincere. A mudrā is something that affects you very deeply, you can attain samādhī and samādhī itself could also be a mudrā. If it is a level of essentiality, the differences are conditional there. A mudrā instantly makes you both attentive and responsible. For example, you signed an agreement that you will be going to work at a certain time, put a signature there. It connects you with something, because there is also bandhana. But, this bandha does not have a negative meaning, because the other meaning of the root and the term as a whole is something that gives joy. If there is a high meaning and the joy associated with it, then it becomes a practice of mudrā. Hand mudrās, with which you resonate with deities, thereby creating a subtle and deep channel of communication, work on the same principle. That is the use of the essential meaning displayed in a sign, in this case, performed by various positions of hands. If there is a mantra, and you engage with it and get into its higher meaning, then it becomes mudrā too. If mudrās activate a connection with the Divine in you, that connection gives you perfections, therefore it is believed that mudrās grant siddhis.

Vajrolī in Buddhism and Indian traditions

Recently, one of my students asked me a question, “Is it true that there is semen retention in Vajrayana (in the practice of karmamudrā of the Completion stage), but is it not so in Indian tantras?”

First of all, I think that it is wrong to sacrifice a human nature to religious corporations, dividing it into Tibetan and Indian one. There is a tendency to think that if you are a Tibetan, you can retain semen, and if you are an Indian, the practice must necessarily be different. The  retention  of ejaculation in the practice of maithuna or karmamudrā is an allegory. In Indian kaulācāra, this kind of practices implies ejaculation, as an analogue of pūrṇāhuti in agnihotra. After which, this substance is mixed with wine and then used in pūjā. There is a lot of evidences of that fact, for example, in the Guhyasamāja-tantra:

विण्मूत्रशुक्ररक्तादीन् देवतानां निवेदयेत्।
एवं तुष्यन्ति सम्बुद्धाः बोधिसत्त्वा महाशयाः॥२१॥

viṇmūtraśukraraktādīn devatānāṃ nivedayet।
evaṃ tuṣyanti sambuddhāḥ bodhisattvā mahāśayāḥ ॥21॥

It is necessary to offer the secretion: urine, semen, female bodily fluids and offer them to the Deities. Thus, it will satisfy the great awakened ones, buddhas and bodhisattvas.

Prior to that, there is a recommendation to practice intercourse with a beautiful young woman. In order, for example, to offer semen in pūjā, it is obvious that there must be present a finalised ritual of maithuna. And there is quite a bit of such recommendations in Vajrayana. These kinds of transgressions in Vajrayana, which seems to be full of  savagery to the common man, in fact, are not much different from saptamakaras in aghora, which took a lot from traditions like kāpālikas.

If you read a description of vajrolī or amarolī in the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā, you will see that there is a recommendation to mix the released semen with ash and apply it as a tilaka. That is, it means that ash is a symbol of amṛta, as well as semen. It says of the same principles as in the description from the Guhyasamāja-tantra and other Buddhist texts. Here is a very similar fragment from the Yoni-tantra:

भक्त्या द्रव्यं जपेन्मन्त्रं जप्त्वा मैथुनमाचरेत् शु्क्तोत्सरणकाले च शृ्णु पार्वति सुन्दरि
योनितत्त्वं समादाय तिलकं क्रियते यदि शतजन्मावर्ज्जितं पापं तत्क्षणादेव नश्यति ॥20-21॥

bhaktyā dravyaṃ japenmantraṃ japtvā maithunamācaret 
śuktotsaraṇakāle ca śṛṇu pārvati sundari
yonitattvaṃ samādāya tilakaṃ kriyate yadi
śatajanmāvarjjitaṃ pāpaṃ tatkṣaṇādeva naśyati ॥20-21॥

The sādhaka should chant the mantra and enjoy the ‘substances’ during the practice of maithuna. Listen, beautiful Parvatī, if a sādhaka makes himself a tilaka with ‘yoni fluids’ after an orgasm, then he will instantly forsake all the sins associated with a hundred births. (20-21)

The requirement given here is very similar to the one from the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā. Probably, the goal here is not to retain semen so that there is no ejaculation at all. If the process is contemplative, then such a suspension or extension of the act occurs naturally. And the practitioner accomplishes that not by themselves and not because their ego wants it, like they can feed it by being ‘good technicians’. Here, the Goddess also controls the process through you. And the prolongation of the act is needed more in order to satisfy the Goddess in a woman, so she will bestow siddhi through her satisfaction. And at the end of the ritual, pūrṇāhuti is being done in the form of an orgasm. A prolongation of the act may occur due to the desire to satisfy the Divine. But not at all in order to demonstrate some kind of  ‘athletic abilities’ to stretch time, in which many people mistakenly believe. Each practice has a main task that must not be forgotten, otherwise it loses its true purpose and value, no matter how exclusive the technique may look. As we can see, ūrdhvaretā could be understood as  retracting substances back, but that is not by drawing them back into the genitals. That could be, for instance, the communion in the form of tilaka (as ūrdhva is the head area), and so on. And the most important thing is what happens on a psychic level, psychic vibes are significant. For a yogin who understands the essence of this practice, the physical side may be less relevant. They can perceive the sexual energy of life and flowering in their essence. Therefore, for some, a yogic practice is simply the essence of such ceremonies, even without their external implementation.

Symbolism of the Chinnamastā image

Today is an interesting day, the birthday of Nṛsiṃha, the incarnation of Viṣṇu, and of the Goddess Chinnamastā. According to the Toḍala-tantra, the Ten Mahāvidiyās are associated with the Ten Viṣṇu avatārs.

What do the images of Chinnamastā and Nṛsiṃha have in common? According to one legend, Nṛsiṃha came to destroy the demon HiraṇyakaśipuHiraṇyakaśipu, performing austerities, asked Brahmā not to be killed either outdoors or indoors, either on the ground or in the air, either by humans or animals. Then Viṣṇu appeared in the form of a half-man and a half-lion, he killed the demon on the porch of his palace, placing him over his knee. So the demon was killed in a way that he did not expect. There is also a continuation of this story,  in which Nṛsiṃha gets drunk on the blood of the killed demon and becomes infected with it. After that, Śiva appears in the form of Śarabheśvara and neutralises the blood of the demon in NṛsiṃhaŚarabheśvara is depicted not  just as a lion, but with wings, i.e. he has a great  ability of manifestation in various  realms, since he is able to  fly through the air. Two Goddesses appear from his wings, one is Pratyaṅgirā and the other is Śūlinī Durgā, both of which are related to the elimination of the negative influence or witchcraft on the practitioner. In fact, Śarabheśvara is nothing more than an enhanced form of Nṛsiṃha. I heard from Indian tantrikas that there are no contradictions here, because Viṣṇu and Śiva are  fused in the form of Harihara.

If you  look at the  image of Chinnamastā, you will see that it stands on Kāma, the God of sex, who is in the intercourse with his companion Rati (Goddess of passion). Thus, Chinnamastā  gets energy from passion, but in its essence, this passion is also self-transformation or sublimation. Chinnamastā chopped off her own head and holds it in her hand, while her head drinks a stream of blood from the body. Two other streams are drunk by her two companions. This is a symbol of the three channels, where Chinnamastā herself symbolises suṣumṇā and the other two Goddesses – the channels iḍā and piṅgala. In other words, Chinnamastā is a certain single reality that is present in all channels, in the power of passion and creation. In fact, it is a single indestructible force within every living form. Her mantra is the same as the Vajravārāhī mantra in Buddhism,  who is also known there as the Goddess Khecharī (mudrā) of white color. The name Chinnamastā in the mantra is “Vajravairocanī” (‘the shining lightning’), and the term vajra  could also mean “indestructibility”.

From my experience of worshiping Chinnamastā, I can say that this form is associated with a deep comprehension of one element or aspect of self, through which it is possible to penetrate into all others. You  kind of unite them and go beyond them. In yoga, for example, you exhale smoothly (rechaka) and automatically comprehend the essence of the correct inhalation (pūraka). Through both of them you comprehend the essence of the retention (kumbhaka). Kumbhaka – from the root कुम्ब् / kumb ( something which encompasses, embodies in itself). Therefore,  a  vessel is often a symbol of female genitals  (yonī), from the root यु / yu, – something which connects, forms and holds in itself. Yonī  could also mean something that is associated with  various forms of birth, all creation comes from it, all forms of life, they dissolve in it. Kumbha or a vessel is a symbol of the body, both individual and the body of the universe, all life (amṛta) and the whole universe is in it. A vessel is a symbol of the unity of external and internal space (vyoman), the void inside  and outside a vessel is one in its essence. Therefore, there is one single reality in all our bodies. We  could say that these are parts: inhalation, exhalation, retention, like other parts of yoga, besides prāṇāyāmaāsanapratyāhāradhāraṇāyamaniyama, etc. All of them are one single sādhanā, one yoga, like other yogas (rājakarmajñānalaya). Unfortunately, people have separated all these methods now, although they have one goal and one reality. Once you comprehend one aspect well, you automatically come to the comprehension of its inextricable connection with  all others. Chinnamastā is a very paradoxical symbol, it is a symbol of cutting off all worldly things and at the same time it is a symbol of presence in everything. It is the transcendental, indestructible,  radiant emptiness that generates an abundance of life forms and is present in each such form.  Surely, she is associated with the complete absence of oneself in something, but also with the complete presence of oneself there. Chinnamastā is a symbol of spiritual death in which there is no conditioning by births, she is also a symbol of the fullness of life and the infinite wealth of life. Fear of death and fear of life are usually related. A yogi is one who dies for the world and through this death he is resurrected to a new vision of life in all its beauty and fullness. In this regard, Chinnamastā is a part of the Kālī pantheon (Kālīkūla), because Kālī is connected with time, which is divided into parts, into segments. The term Kālī is feminine from kāla (‘time’), which is  masculine.  It comes from the root कल् (kal),  which is the first gaṇa (group of roots) of ten in Pāṇini, and means सङ्ख्यान (saṅkhyāna – “to count”) , and कला (kalā) is from the same root – “a part of something  general, art, etc.” She teaches to control prāṇa, and through the management of prāṇa leads to going beyond time or death.

 What happens when the granthis are untied?

A practitioner experiences the nature of Brahma (the creative power), the power of material diversity and countless channels, the connection between them. An ordinary person gets entangled in these material connections, while the yogi “sneak out” of them. In his heart he comprehends the nature of Nārāyaṇa. Nara means “a man”, that implies our connections with people, human attachments, these are emotional connections with people too. When we are “released” by a variety of bindings, the knot untied. Rudra is associated with liberation, with various experiences of the subtle level, with “spiritual ideas” and identification of oneself with them. That is, the idea of liberation is not liberation itself; thoughts of emptiness are not emptiness itself. There is a suitable definition in Russian Orthodoxy, I have come across, “falling into falsehood.” If a practitioner leaves clinging to such self-identifications, then he passes, frees this knots (granthis) and receives a living spiritual experience. This living realisation, associated with the sahasrāra cakra, is easier to experience in practice than to talk about it. Nevertheless, my experience shows that for full development you need a perfect guide, a Master. The gates to the sahasrāra open through the Guru-cakra that precedes it.

 The meaning of the circle principle (the cakra)

According to the Pāṇini’s grammar, the term cakra comes from the root कृkṛ, meaning “movement”. Abhinavagupta, in the Tantrāloka (āhnika 19, ślokas 106-107), explains that the term is really from the root kṛ, but it also means vikāsa (expansion), tṛpti (satisfaction), paśotkartanātkṛtiśaktitaḥ (what cuts off the fetters and what is the power of activity). Further, he says that the term is connected with the root कस् / kas or कः / kaḥ, which is translated as “who,” by which denote Ātman, Brahman, light and much more in different sources. Abhinavagupta chooses the meaning of light, pleasure.

Based on these sources, I would deduce the following: kaḥ is Brahman or Ātman, and , which means “movement”, is Śakti. Since Brahman is infinite in nature, no matter what energies emanate from Him, they close on Him forming reverse or circular motions. This also has the principle of movement, repetition – japa in Sanskrit. Since this is natural for Śakti and Brahman, it can be called ajapa-japa. The circle symbolises infinity, it evenly embraces all sides, without emphasis on any one relative to the rest, hence probably, the principle of vairāgya, or liberation from fetters (pāśa) comes. Uniformity is possible only when there is a center in a circle or bindu, which means Ātman. Accordingly, if you take the cakras in the subtle body, then these are different spheres or levels of comprehension of Ātman. For example, Gorakṣanāth, in the Gorakṣa-vacana-saṃgraha (93-100), gives the practice of comprehending the Ātman in each cakra of your body. Not only cakras are arranged by the circle principle, but also channels of the subtle body, the movement of prāṇa in the iḍā and piṅgala occurs in a spiral. The circular movements are harmonious, they generate and accumulate prāṇa, while all “broken” and “ragged” ones (that are reflection of weak control and awareness) – destroy and waste power. Therefore, the cakra or cakras are essential elements of our spiritual development.

Where does the number of 84 āsanas come from?

The idea of ​​84 āsanas, which is often found in yoga texts, is based on the worship of 84 nāthayogis. Each of these 84 nāthas is responsible for the evolution of one lakh of living beings (100,000). When you follow the yoga path, you develop the psychophysical, spiritual purity in yourself, that you radiate into space. By doing your practice you help not only yourself, but also your close ones. Souls reincarnate in different forms until they become perfect yogis, the symbolism of 84 āsanas is based on this principle. The most important thing here is to understand that āsana is not just a physical process, but also a psychophysical one. The purpose of many āsanas is to be able to stay stable in the position of siddha (siddhāsana). Generally, it is the ability to stay in a meditative posture for three hours, to hold it easily, so that you can meditate, remaining in the position, on something sublime and pure in it.

Four aspects of the Laya process

इन्द्रियाणां मनो नाथो मनोनाथस्तु मारुत:।
मारुतस्य लयो नाथ: स लयो नादमाश्रित: ।। ॥ २ ९॥

indriyāṇāṁ mano nātho manonāthastu mārutaḥ |
mārutasya layo nāthaḥ sa layo nādamāśritaḥ || 29 ||

1) The mind (manaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of the senses (indriyāṇām).
2) Also (tu) vital force (mārutaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of the mind (manaḥ).
3) Dissolution (layaḥ) is the lord (nāthaḥ) of air (mārutasya).
4) And that (sa) depends (āśritaḥ) on resonance (nādam). (Haṭhayogapradīpikā 4.29)