The Amṛtasiddhi as a Nātha text

Not long ago student of mine sent me a curious article by Kurtis R. Schaeffer The Attainment of immortality: from Nāthas in India to buddhists in Tibet. It is dedicated to a text, which James Mallinson identified as ‘buddhist one’, which is, in my opinion, not quite correct. I also find his another claim, when during an online interview he said that the Haṭha-yoga-pradīpikā is the Vīraśaiva text only because Allama Prabhudeva is mentioned there, to be also incorrect. An attempt to take only one name related to Vīraśaivism from a huge number of listed names, ignoring all the others, and attribute the whole text to Vīraśaiva, seems very strange to me. Especially when the text itself is quite distant from the main doctrine of Vīraśaivism and its goals. The same thing is with the text Amṛtasiddhi, a conclusion that this is a Buddhist text is based on the fact that it contains several Buddhist elements, at the same time completely ignoring the huge number of Śaiva elements. This text is more Nātha related, and Virūpakṣanāth (one of the famous Nāthas) could add some elements from Buddhism there. I believe that texts of this kind should be judged primarily by the number of prevailing elements of a particular tradition. And it is obvious there, that the elements of Nāthism are dominant. But for me, even without reading the article, it is clear that the text is not Buddhist, not least because there was the Mahāmudrā practice in Buddhism in those times and it was not in the form of haṭha-yoga practice. All Vajrayāna Buddhists perfectly understand what it is. So what was the point in calling completely different levels of practice in Vajrayāna with the same term? Here is another example from the Amṛtasiddhi:

म्रियन्ते मेरुवेधेन  ब्रह्माद्या देवता ध्रुवम्
आदौ संजायते क्षिप्रं वेधो ऽयं ब्रह्मग्रन्थितः॥

mriyante meruvedhena  brahmādyā devatā dhruvam 
ādau saṃjāyate kṣipraṃ vedho ‘yaṃ brahmagranthitaḥ॥

By piercing Meru (suṣumnā with prāṇa), Brahma and other Gods are getting killed.
First, this (prāṇa) quickly pierces the Brahma-granthi (Brahma knot).

ब्रह्मग्रन्थिं ततो भित्त्वा विष्णुग्रन्थिं भिनत्यसौ
विष्णुग्रन्थिं ततो भित्त्वा रुद्रग्रन्थिं भिनत्यसौ ॥

brahmagranthiṃ tato bhittvā viṣṇugranthiṃ bhinatyasau
viṣṇugranthiṃ tato bhittvā rudragranthiṃ bhinatyasau॥

Thus, when the Brahma-granthi is pierced, the Viṣṇu-granthi (Viṣṇu knot) is pierced.
When the Viṣṇu-granthi is pierced, the Rudra-granthi (Rudra knot) is pierced.

रुद्रग्रन्थिं ततो भित्त्वा छित्वा मोहमयीं लताम्
उद् घाटयत्ययं  वायुर्ब्रह्मद्वारं सुगोपितम् ॥

rudragranthiṃ tato bhittvā chitvā mohamayīṃ latām 
ud ghāṭayatyayaṃ  vāyurbrahmadvāraṃ sugopitam ॥

Thus, piercing the Rudra-granthi, the “vines of illusion” (the intricacies of Māyā) are getting cut off. Further, ascending upward, Vāyu (air) penetrates into the super secret, Brahmadvāra (the door of Brahma).

The question is, what is so ‘Buddhist’ in these images of Purāṇic Devatās, and where in Buddhism such names of granthas are being mentioned?

There are also many other arguments in the article, for example, mentions of jīvanmukti, when a practitioner is likened to Śiva in yogic realisation etc. That is why I consider the statement of attribution of the text to Buddhism to be incorrect. Of course, some borrowings could come to Indian yoga or tantra from Buddhism, but we also have to consider the main goals of different sampradāyas. For instance, we cannot call Pancharātra ‘a yogic tradition’, if it is in fact a Vaiṣṇava bhakti oriented sect full of its specific karmakāṇḍa etc. If I take, let’s say, Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini-yoga and claim that it belongs to a Sikh tradition, it will be an incorrect statement. Even if you find a Sikh lineage Sant Mat, where meditation on light and sound is practiced, it doesn’t make it the main practice of the whole tradition. And again, we cannot conclude from this that it is the rationale for what Yogi Bhajan developed while living in California. Just as it is not entirely accurate to say that the Ashtanga Vinyasa style is a ‘tradition’, it is more correct to say that it is rather a modern yoga style. It could be called a tradition being spread in the West on the condition Iyengar or Pattabhi Jois would have transmitted the same sacred threads (janeū), which they had from their Gurus – to their students. Which didn’t happen, and most likely couldn’t have happened. But, if this did happen, I doubt that such disciples would have the same discipline and practice that they exercise on masse today. And although these teachers were good innovators, we should not confuse a style and gymnastic exercises with dīkṣā, discipleship, nitya sādhanā and etc. For those who want to seriously understand these things, I highly recommend taking these factors into account, although there are actually a lot of them.

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.