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)

Elements of yoga in Tantras

Despite the fact that some traditions criticise methods of other sampradāya, sometimes it happens, however, that they themselves utilise them. For example, Abhinavagupta and others criticised Patañjali’s methods. Even though you can often come across the usage of methods of yoga in Kaśmir Śaivism and other tantric traditions, they are actually considered there as an integral part of tantra. In the same way as tantra, they are supporting elements on the path of yoga. I can cite a simple example of such quotations from the description of several techniques from Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra (VBT), which were commented by Śivopadhyaya. In one part, he explains a method from VBT quoting Patañjali, and in another he quotes Viveka-mārtaṇḍa of Gorakśanāth.

सर्वस्रोतोनिबन्धेन प्राणशक्त्योर्ध्वया शनैः |
पिपीलस्पर्शवेलायाम् प्रथते परमं सुखम् || ६७ ||

sarvasrotonibandhena prāṇaśaktyordhvayā śanaiḥ |
pipīlasparśavelāyām prathate paramaṁ sukham || 67 ||

By blocking all channels (jñānendriyas), the force of prāṇa slowly goes upwards. Then there is a sensation like the motion of an ant, and it comes the highest state of euphoria.

First of all, it is clear that it is a description of yoni-mudrā (or ṣaṇmukhi-mudrā). Also, there is an interesting description of kuṇḍalinī movement, which is characterised as pipīlikā-calana (like the motion of an ant) in Nātha texts. That could often be found in Nātha texts in the description of Śakti uprising, in addition to some other motions like vihaṅgama (bird), sarpa (snake) etc. Furthermore, Śivopadhyaya, in his comments to this technique quotes Patañjali, where he defines prāṇāyāma.

.बाह्याभ्यन्तरस्तम्भवृित्तः देशकालसङ्ख्यािभः पिरदृष्टो दीघर्सूक्ष्मः॥५०॥

bāhyābhyantarastambhavṛttirdeśakālasaṅkhyābhiḥ paridṛṣṭo dīrghasūkṣmaḥ 50

The fluctuations of prāṇa could be outward and inward (exhales and inhales), it could also come to a standstill (of breathing). It should be observed, that this process would be elongating, subtle, happens according to time, place and quantity.

Also, Śivopadhyaya cites sutra 49, where Patañjali defines prāṇāyāma as a cessation (vicchedaḥ) of inhales and exhales (śvāsapraśvāsa). Although the term ‘viccheda’ could indeed be translated like that, I would define it in other way. It could also mean ‘cutting off’, like something that is no longer needed ‘comes off’. If the goal of prāṇāyāma is calming of consciousness and prāṇa (with which it’s connected), than it is exactly ‘cutting off’ prāṇavṛtti and cittavṛtti. But, it is actually happening in a natural way with the involvement in the process of proper contemplation. Consciousness, being agitated by the sensual experience is unable to calm down, it is fragmented. Only when the practise enables an involvement in higher orientations and higher dimension, it subsides and everything in excess ‘comes off’, ‘cuts off’ by itself. It happens as at the level of sensual perception, as well as of prāṇa and mind.

Equally interesting explanation of the quotation from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa, also the Bhagavadgītā appears in the description of a technique from VBT in the other part of the text:

मध्यजिह्वे स्फारितास्ये मध्ये निक्षिप्य चेतनाम् |
होच्चारं मनसा कुर्वंस् ततः शान्ते प्रलीयते || ८१ ||

madhyajihve sphāritāsye madhye nikṣipya cetanām |
hoccāraṁ manasā kurvaṁs tataḥ śānte pralīyate || 81 ||

With the middle of the tongue (it is the tip, if you look at it from the particular angle), pointed in the centre of something that is widely open (the head area – ‘ākāśa’), you should mentally recite the uprising sound ‘ha’, dissolving your mind in calm.

Śivopadhyaya quotes this śloka:

कपालकुहरे जिह्वा प्रविष्टा विपरीतगा|भ्रुवोरन्तर्गता दृष्टिर्मुद्रा भवति खेचरी ॥

kapālakuhare jihvā praviṣṭā viparītagā|bhruvorantargatā dṛṣṭirmudrā bhavati khecarī

When the tongue points backwards and enters the cavity of skull, and the look is directed between the eyebrows – it is khecarī-mudrā.

Śivopadhyaya points out that it is from the Viveka-mārtaṇḍa (68), although you can come across it in many texts – it seems that many authors have copied it from Gorakśanāth. You can see it in the Dhyānabindu Upaniṣad, the Yogacūḍāmaṇi Upaniṣad, in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, the Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā etc. It’s quite obvious that Śivopadhyaya implies khecarī-mudrā, which is known in haṭhayoga in particular, in spite of the fact that in Kaśmir Śaivism it is also known as the practise performed inside consciousness. It is clear, that in India, some masters could claim that practises from different traditions cannot be mixed, but other gurus boldly mixes them and see their interconnection. I incline towards the latter approach. It is interesting that Śivopadhyaya quotes śloka from the Bhagavadgītā while commenting this śloka from VBT:

स्पशार्न्कृत्वा बिहबार्ह्यांश्चक्षुश्चैवान्तरे भ्रुवोः।
प्राणापानौ समौ कृत्वा नासाभ्यन्तरचािरणौ ।।५.२७।।

sparśānkṛtvā bahirbāhyāṃścakṣuścaivāntare bhruvoḥ
prāṇāpānau samau kṛtvā nāsābhyantaracāriṇau ।। 5.27।।

Leaving with external (world) the tangency (of consciousness), concentrating the look between the eyebrows, a yogin balances prāṇa and apāna.

This technique is known in haṭhayoga as bhrūmadhyadṛṣṭi or śāmbhavī-mudrā. It is for a reason, that it is often associated with sādhana of khecarīmudrā. However, in Kaśmir Śaivism, this practise means the way to achieve pratimilanasamādhi, or bhairavīmudrā (the union of internal and external spaces), that is often acquired through the practise of maithuna in kaula ritual. Then in accord with the Tantrāloka and the Mahārtha Mañjarī (the text which is connected with Gorakśanāth according to nāthas), the sound ‘ha’, which is made during mahākśobha (orgasm) – is the sound of anāhata, which dissolves (laya) the mind. However, it is more likely that in this practise it is implied ‘the internal coition’ of Kuṇḍalinī Śakti, upraised to Śiva in sahasrāra cakra, where Śakti was released in the space above the crown of the head.

All these methods, actually, could become the one unified process for those who don’t stuck in modern yoga, where everything is being ‘divided’,everyone ‘comes up with something new’ because of the obsession with markets and trade concepts.


My perception of the right āsana

Over the years of yoga practice, I have developed my own definition of what the true āsana is. The right āsana is that, which leads to the interconnection of the two main dimensions of all. And through this in particular you will find explanations of any categories of āsanas. What those dimensions are, physical and spiritual or other explanations will be found for this, for everyone at their stage of practice, this can vary and can always be flexible. But, for any practitioner at any moment, this awareness of polarities must be total.

Alternative view on Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa

Speaking of Rādhā, we cannot leave out her śaktimānKṛṣṇa. As you know, a number of Tantras correlate Kṛṣṇa with Kālī, who is manifested through him. However, Tantras are an immense ocean of the most diverse possibilities, multidimensional perception of apparently one and the same phenomenon. So for example, according to the Tantra-rāja-tantra (34/11), the Goddess Lalitā Tripurasundarī is also manifested through Kṛṣṇa:

कदाचिदाद्या ललिता पुंरूपा कृष्णविग्रहा |
kadācidādyā lalitā puṃrūpā kṛṣṇavigrahā |

Sometimes (kadācit) the primordial (ādyā) Lalitā appears in the masculine form of Kṛṣṇa (puṃrūpā kṛṣṇavigrahā).

It may seem contradictory for those, who are used to dividing the  worshipping of Lalitā and Kālī in a strict way, but Kālī  could also be a part of Śrīkula. When through Śrīkula you obtain the experience of fullness, you come to the liberation from limitations of time, for which Kālī is responsible. Therefore, she is also inseparable from Tripurasundarī. We can say that Kāmakalā Kālī (the highest form of Kālī), worshiped in Urdhvāmnāya (of Kālī–kula krama), is most strongly associated with Tripura. Or, we can consider Tripurasundarī itself as Rakta Kālī (Red Kālī). Thus, we can see one reality from different perspectives.

The unity of Śrī and Kālī-kula is  revealed in the story described in the kaula text the Rādhā Tantra. In short, it describes a long story of how Viṣṇu with the blessings of Tripurasundarī is embodied in the form of Kṛṣṇa, and Lakṣmī in the form of Rādhārānī (in fact, she herself is considered as a manifestation of Tripurasundarī). They both worshiped Kālī and also Kāmākhya, where Kṛṣṇa invokes Kālī into the Rādhā’s body. The first part of the Rādhā-tanra describes the famous mantra of Lalitā Pancadaśī, it also speaks of Ten Mahāvidyās, of which Tripurasundarī is the main one (tasmād daśasu vidyāsu pradhānaṃ tripurā parā). These Mahāvidyās are worshiped in a special way in Śrīyantra by experienced practitioners. The Rādhā Tantra speaks of her as giving realisation of the four puruṣarthas (dharmārthakāmamokṣadāyinī), and because of her worship in kaula-sādhana, Kṛṣṇa realised all siddhis. We know many stories about the successes of Kṛṣṇa, and all His siddhis, according to the Rādhā Tantra, were achieved through this upāsana. The text also frequently mentions  the term ‘yoga’ in relation to tantric sādhana; in the second part of the RT (ślokas 3-4), the union of Kṛṣṇa and Śakti (Rādhā) is called Śakti Yoga. The famous Hare Kṛṣṇa maha-mantra can also be found in there. There is also a description of the preliminary practice of purification (karṇa-shuddhi), the ability to purely hear the tantric mantras of Mahāvidyā. Periodically, recommendations for contemplating sacred places in one’s own body are given there (Ch. 5, ślokas 11-12 or Ch. 14, ślokas 1-2), for example, Govardhan Hill in sahasrāracakra, etc. It also refers to the kula-kuṇḍalinī awakening through yoni-mudrā (Ch. 15 / 19-21). Apparently, the text speaks of yoni-mudrā as the body of the Goddess, rather than the technical practice of haṭha-yoga in the likeness of ‘ṣaṇmukhi–mudrā’. Although, for a long time, it is no secret that the essential elements of tantra are also connected with many practices of the well-known and popular haṭha–yoga, the essence of which is currently understood by  a very small number  from millions of practitioners.

From my point of view, Gaudiya Vaiṣṇavism was once influenced  exactly by vāmācāra, but in a Vaiṣṇava Śakti format. In the  course of time, most likely, everything came down to formal substitutions (anukalpa) and symbolism, so the doctrine became more refined.

Today is the Rādhāṣṭamī festival associated with Śrī Rādhika, Śakti of Kṛṣṇa.

My congratulations and blessings to everyone. Jay Śrī Rādhe!

Yoga is the highest aim of a man

I always proceed from the fact that yoga, in its most essential form, is the prerogative of very few individuals. We can slowly go to it, this also includes our constant seeks and researches, but not everyone in this life reaches the point. Vyāsa, commenting on Patāñjali, gives such a definition of yoga योगः समाधिः  yogaḥ samādhiḥ“Yoga is samādhi”. We also find a great deal in the texts of the Nāthas and the most essential elements from yoga in diverse Tantras. But, we know that tantric practices have traditionally been largely kept in secret. So, what should be the attitude to yogic sādhanā, if it is the essence of tantric sādhanā? If you look at ancient yoga texts, secrecy is often mentioned there. The question is, what part of the yogic tradition and practice should be open and for whom, and which is closed? This is a very slippery moment, each guru, in one case or another, himself defines this boundary. With whom, when and what boundaries should be, and with whom should they not be at all, depends on each specific situation.

Reflection on the terms of ‘kṛṣṇa’ and ‘arjuna’ in the Rigveda

In the Rigveda (6-9-1), the terms kṛṣṇa and arjuna are found in a slightly different context than we all see in the Mahābhārata.

कृ॒ष्णमह॒रर्जु॑नं च॒ वि व॑र्तेते॒ रज॑सी वे॒द्याभि॑:।
जाय॑मानो॒ न राजावा॑तिर॒ज्ज्योति॑षा॒ग्निस्तमां॑सि॥ १॥

ahaśca kṛṣṇamahararjunaṃ ca vi vartete rajasī vedyābhiḥ
vaiśvānaro jāyamāno na rājāvātirajjyotiṣāgnistamāṃsi ॥1॥

The two beings (rajasī) rotate alternately (vi vartete), by means of these forces the dark period of the day (night) (ahaḥ kṛṣṇam) and the light period of the day (day) (ahaḥ arjunam) must be known (vedyābhiḥ). Fire (agniḥ), being born (jāyamānaḥ) within each person (vaiśvānaraḥ), like a king (na rājā), coming into being and overcoming (ava atirat) darkness (tamāṃsi) by light (jyotiṣā).

The text of the Rigveda does not directly say what kṛṣṇa (is dark day) and arjuna (is bright day), but I found clarification in Nirukta (2-21) by Yāska, he explains that these are the day and night – ‘ahaḥ ca kṛṣṇaṃ rātriḥ śuklaṃ ca ahaḥ arjunam’ (black and white days are also day and night). In this hymn of Vaiśvānara it is said that Vaiśvānara is beyond sleep and wakefulness, also Śankarācārya in his comments to this verse connects it with a state of consciousness, which is beyond sleep and wakefulness. We can also recall the famous metaphorical statement of the Gītā that when ordinary people sleep, the yogi is awake, and vice versa, e.g. the yogi focuses on dimension that is beyond normal human states. For the yogi, “the battle of Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna” is a process of victory over constantly changing impermanence during sleep and wakefulness. On the other hand, day and night are also forms of the Deities in the Vedas. For example, by falling asleep we give ourselves into the hands of Goddess Ratri, it returns us to our being and thereby restores the vital forces that are lost during the day. Sleep and awakening are a kind of “micro-rebirth,” in tantric yoga there are enough practices associated with sleep or dreams.

The importance of svara in the nātha sādhana

On higher levels of initiation and practice of tantrism, such as pūrṇābhiṣeka, medhā-sāmrājya and practices of upper āmnāya, there are methods of contemplation of Ardhanārīśvara. Also, such ritual as pañca-tattva is not usually practiced before śāktābhiṣeka dīkṣā, and this is especially true for higher initiations and āmnāyas. Such titles as left-handed or right-handed tantra have both symbolic and quite practical values, for instance, pātra with wine is taken by the left hand when we offer it to the ”inner fire” into the mouth of Kuṇḍalinī. The left part of the body is Śakti and the right is Śiva. Some tantrikas say that kaula sādhana begins where such dualistic methods as Patañjali yoga are ended. But the same could be said about nāthas and kaulasnātha sādhana begins where kaula sādhana ends. It has always been like that in India: the more recent endevour to continue something is more substantial than the previous one. That is why Gorakṣanātha is more honoured today than even Matsyendranātha, but this, of course, does not belittle the benefit and the authority of the latter. In the same way, for example, Vedanta – the completion of the Vedas, is not considered as something below the Vedas, but rather as its essence by either Vedantins or many other Hundu. Or, similarly, we couldn’t say that Vajrayana Buddhism is a simplification of Theravada, despite the fact that it had been developed later. Or, for instance, the fact that some cults of early female deities, like sapta and aṣṭa mātrikās have been transformed into such sophisticated cults as Trika, Kubjikā, Śrīvidyā and others, doesn’t make the latter less developed or less authoritative. And the most essential way was always the most secret, with a very careful selection of applicants for that kind of dedication and practice. The same could be said about nāthas. The phenomenon of svara-yoga is of tantric origin, but its basis is still yogic. In speaking of essence, by which we usually mean something that is closer to us as subjects, and also implying the involvement of the subjects in different degrees of the external process. That is why the practices with the body, breathing, with tracking how the breath is associated with the sun and the moon, how these two are related to the elements, tithis, grahas, nakṣatras and other aspects of both micro- and macrocosmos, are very great and subtle processes. But the most important thing is that they are all tied to the essence of it all, namely the yoga of the Sun and the Moon. In many books of both the medieval gurus of the Nāth Sampradāya and the present authors, we can very often find a description of the importance of svara-yoga and, of course, the practices of it. That can be called the basis of nātha-yoga, as its symbol is the Sun and the Moon, i.e. Śiva-Śakti saṃyukta.