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.

Sohaṃ mantra and mātṝkā

I have already quoted from the Prapañcasāra-tantra (4.21). It says that the praṇavaOṃ’ comes from the mantrasohaṃ’. If there is no ‘sa’ and ‘ha’ in it, then ‘o’ remains, and with the bindu we get ‘Oṃ’.

सकारं च हकारं च लोपयित्वा प्रयोजयेत्।
संधिं वै पूर्वरूपाख्यं ततोऽसौ प्रणवो भवेत् ।।४.२१।।

sakāraṃ ca hakāraṃ ca lopayitvā prayojayet।
saṃdhiṃ vai pūrvarūpākhyaṃ tato’sau praṇavo bhavet ।।4.21।।

According to the pūrva-rūpa saṁdhi rule, removing ‘sa’ and also ‘ha’, definitely, one should definitely get that praṇava (Oṃ) from there.

The mantra ‘Oṃ’ is called ‘para-praṇava’. That means it is primordial, it is identified with the spontaneously arising vibration (anāhata). There are many interpretations of this mantra and one of them is that the spelling ॐ is a combination of three mātrā  अ – उ – म् / a – u – m. Sometimes you can find other spellings, for example ओँ / om̐, which could be explained by grammar rules, according to which ओ / o is a combination of syllables अ – उ / a – u. So relatively speaking, we can say that all vowels fall into the range from अ / a to म् / m, which could also shift to anusvāra. According to the Parā-trīṃśikā-vivaraṇa, all vowels are associated with Śiva-tattva, and all consonants are associated with Śakti and all manifestations that emerge due to it (the remaining 35 tattvas). Sanskrit consonants are connected with all other tattvas, they end with ह / ha. Together, through the union of Śiva and Śakti, by means of kāma-kalā, they are aparapraṇava, known as अहं ‘aham’, which is the symbol of kāma-kalā.

Thus, aham is an abbreviation, in which all akṣaras of the Sanskrit alphabet and all 36 tattvas are contained. That is, ‘aham’ is Śiva himself with his Śakti and ‘viśva’ – all manifestations emerging from them, which are always contained in them at any stage of their unfolding. Saying ‘aham’ (Self), we kind of reveal the experience of ourselves as the whole universe, what both nāthas and tantrikas call piṇḍabrahmāṇḍa-vada (the connection of microcosm and macrocosm). Different worlds of outer space are represented in our body, mainly in cakras.

So, we have two praṇavas, ‘para’ – is directly ‘Oṃ’, originating from sohaṃ, this is Śiva himself and the vowels of Śakti. And then, from the parapraṇava, the aparapraṇava manifests, in which the Sanskrit consonants and the remaining 35 tattvas unfold. When we repeat ‘sohaṃ’, or rather, we experience this phenomenon comprehensively, then we feel the identity of ourselves – अहं ‘aham’ with सः ‘sah’ (he). It can be associated with any deity or mantra associated with it. And ultimately, any mantra should lead to that experience, which is known as ‘ajapa-japa’.

There is also an inverted version of this mantra, known as हंसः ‘haṃsaḥ’. If translated literally, it means ‘swan’. Śaṅkara identifies a swan with the principle of the Sun, since it is a source of prāṇa, and the Sun, like a swan, moves through the sky. The Sun can touch a surface of the earth, its rays glide over it. The Sun rises and disappears with the sunset, and in the same way a swan can submerge under water and stay there, to be on and above water. If ‘sohaṃ’ is paramātmā, then ‘haṃsa’ is also a symbol of omnipresence, but rather, like ‘ātman’ (from the root ‘at’ – to move and spread, that is, ātman abides in everything). There is one famous mantra which is used in tantrism sometimes. It is quoted in the earliest Kaṭhopaniṣad, but initially it is found in the Rigveda, in the hymn to Dadhikar (the Sun).

The Rigveda (Maṇḍala 4.40.5)

हं॒सः शु॑चि॒षद्वसु॑रंतरिक्ष॒सद्धोता॑ वेदि॒षदति॑थिर्दुरोण॒सत् ।
नृ॒षद्व॑र॒सदृ॑त॒सद्व्यो॑म॒सद॒ब्जा गो॒जा ऋ॑त॒जा अ॑द्रि॒जा ऋ॒तं ॥

The swan [the Sun], which abides (षद् / ṣad) in the clear sky (शुचि / śuci), abides in air (वसु / vasu), in the middle atmosphere (अन्तरिक्ष / antarikṣa), in fire (होता / hotā), dwells in the center of the Vedic altar for agnihotra (वेदिषद् / vediṣad), in the guest* (अतिथि / atithi), staying at the house (दुरोणसत् / duroṇasat). Being in people (नृषद् / nṛṣad), in good beings (gods, siddhas) (वरसत् / varasat), in harmony with the world (a world order) (ऋतसत् / ṛtasat), who is in space (व्योमसत् / vyomasat), born under water अब्जा / abjā (वडवानल  / vaḍavānala – fire within the ocean), born from the Sun (गो / go) (जा / jā – sunlight). The one who was born from the perfect world order (ऋतजा / ṛtajā), born on the mountains** (अद्रिजा / adrijā), the basis of the world order (ऋतं / ṛtaṃ), the great one from whom the whole universe emerges (बृ्हत् / bṛhat).

Explanation of terms:

* Guests in India are identified with the gods and vice versa, the gods are invoked during a pūjā into the space of the rite, therefore they are also ‘guests’.

** ‘Who is born on the mountains’ – could have many meanings; adri could mean ‘cloud’, the Sun, ‘mountain’, clouds covering a mountain, something related to the number seven. I believe that we are talking about seven sacred rivers, the worship of which is present in all pūjās, they all descend from heaven, these are heavenly rivers, symbols of nectar (amṛta).

Based on this hymn, we can better understand the significance of the ‘haṃsa’ symbol.

The connection between praṇava  and sohaṃ (continuation)

Besides the Nādabindūpaniṣad, I came across other interpretations of how praṇava is manifested from mantra sohaṃ. There is also the interpretation in which, if we remove ‘sa’ and ‘ha’ from sohaṃ, we get praṇava Oṃ. One of the early texts that I went through was the Prapañcasāra Tantra (4.21):

सकारं च हकारं च लोपयित्वा प्रयोजयेत्।संधिं वै पूर्वरूपाख्यं ततोऽसौ प्रणवो भवेत्।।४.२१ ।।

sakāraṃ ca hakāraṃ ca lopayitvā prayojayet ।
saṃdhiṃ vai pūrvarūpākhyaṃ tato’sau praṇavo bhavet ।।4.21।।

According to the image of pūrva rūpa saṃdhi, removing ‘sa’ and ‘ha’, one must definitely get that praṇava (oṃ) from there.

Explanation: pūrva rūpa saṃdhi is connected with the ending ओ/o, which stands before अ/a of the next word, turning into a sign known as avagraha / ऽ. Thus, the text implies that from ओ/o we get the praṇava mantra.

Oṃkāra inside sohaṃ

Many connections can be found between the praṇava oṃ and the mantrahaṃsa” (sohaṃ). The symbol of the swan, like a bird, is found in the Nādabindūpaniṣad. This image and the connection with praṇava are described there as following:

अकारो दक्षिणः पक्ष उकारस्तूत्तरः स्मृतः।
मकारं पुच्छमित्याहुरर्धमात्रा तु मस्तकम् मस्तकम् १॥

akāro dakṣiṇaḥ pakṣa ukārastūttaraḥ smṛtaḥ
makāraṃ pucchamityāhurardhamātrā tu mastakam mastakam 1

It is believed (smṛtaḥ) the mātrā “A” (akāraḥ) is in the right wing (dakṣinaḥ-pakṣaḥ), the mātrā “U”(ukāraḥ) in the north (uttaraḥ – “north” is “in the left” wing). Thus (iti), in his tail (puccham) is the mātrā “Ma” (makāraṃ), also (tu) they say (āhuḥ), ia half the mātrā, (ardhamātrā) is in his head (mastakam), i.e. nasalized vibration.

Haṃsa is the Sun

I heard from my Guru that the so-ham mantra is connected with the experience related to the sahasrāracakra, when kuṇḍalinī-śakti connects jīva with Śiiva. The haṃsa-mantra (inverted “so-ham”) is located in the six-cakras and symbolises the jīvātman (the eternal soul embodied in the body). Both mantras, which are essentially one mantra, have many meanings. I suppose, haṃsa, which is formally translated as “a swan”, requires special explanations of what is actually meant by a swan. You can find the essence of the haṃsa concept in one of the ślokas from the Rigveda, which is later repeated in the Yajurveda, the Taittirīya-āraṇyaka and the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (one of the earliest Upaniṣadas), the Mahānārāyaṇa Upaniṣad and others. This mantra is also found in tantric sādhana. It refers to the haṃsa – a swan, generally symbolising the sun. The sun is the source of prāṇa (the symbol of the jīva respectively), the sun – like a swan, rises on the horizon, moves in the sky and goes back to the earth in the evening. Thus, it is present both in the sky and on the earth, is also able to be under water and on its surface. It is something omnipresent, like prāṇa that pervades the entire universe. Here is the mantra from the Rig Veda dedicated to the Swan Sun (haṃsa):

हं॒सः शु॑चि॒षद्वसु॑रंतरिक्ष॒सद्धोता॑ वेदि॒षदति॑थिर्दुरोण॒सत् ।
नृ॒षद्व॑र॒सदृ॑त॒सद्व्यो॑म॒सद॒ब्जा गो॒जा ऋ॑त॒जा अ॑द्रि॒जा ऋ॒तं ॥  ०४।०४०।०५

The sun (swan – haṃsaḥ) located in the clear sky (śuciṣat), in the atmosphere (antarikṣasat), moving through the air (vasu), it is a priest (hotar – Agni himself) staying in a hollow (the center of the vedic altar – vediṣat), the guest (atithi) abiding in the house (duroṇasat). Dwelling in people (nṛṣat), being in the best (varasat) (that can be deities or siddhas), in the world order (ṛtasat), located in space (vyomasat), born in water (abjā, the fire inside the ocean – vaḍavānala), born of “the cows” (gojā – the sun rays), born of a world order (ṛtajā), appeared from the mountain (adrijā) – the great truth (ṛtaṃ bṛhat) (the rising sun).

The sun (savitā) is one of the main worshiping aim in the VedasSāvitrī in the Vedas is a prototype of Śakti, after which it became known as kuṇḍalinī, which ascends through suṣumṇā to Śiva in the form of the light of prākāśa. The kuṇḍalinī raises the jīva (haṃsa) through the cakras and is absorbed back into itself in the sahasrāra, turning into the realisation of so-ham (I am him) in the form of Śiva.

Goddess Bālāsundarī in Śrīvidyā and Nāth Sampradāya

This practise you can see in the Śiva Samhitā:

मूलाधारेस्ति यत्पद्य चतुर्दलसमन्वितम् तन्मध्ये वावभव बीजं विस्फुरन्तं तडित्यथम् || १९० ||
हृदये कामबीजंतु कधूककुसुमप्रभम् आज्ञारविन्दे शक्त्याख्य चन्द्रकोटिसमप्रभम्
बीजत्रयमिदं गोप्यं भुक्तिमुक्तिफलप्रदम् एतन्मन्त्रत्रयं योगी साधयेत्सिद्धिसाधकः || १९१ ||

mūlādhāresti yatpadya caturdalasamanvitam
tanmadhye vāvabhava bījaṃ visphurantaṃ taḍityatham ॥190॥
hṛdaye kāmabījaṃtu kadhūkakusumaprabham
ājñāravinde śaktyākhya candrakoṭisamaprabham
bījatrayamidaṃ gopyaṃ bhuktimuktiphalapradam
etanmantratrayaṃ yogī sādhayetsiddhisādhakaḥ ॥191॥

One needs to contemplate vāgbhava-bīja (in Śrīvidyā, it is bīja aiṃ ऐं) in the center of the four-petalled lotus (mūlādhāra), like the trembling light of lightning (vispurana). In the heart (anāhata-cakra) there is kāmabīja (known as klīṃ क्लीं in Śrīvidyā), it is similar to a bandhuk flower (in India it is associated with passion). In the lotus of the ājñā-cakra, there is śaktibīja (in Śrīvidyā they call it sauḥ सौः), it is like ten million moons (candrakoṭisamaprabha). This secret mantra bestows fruit both in the form of spiritual liberation and enjoyment. A yogin must diligently practice these three mantras.

Based on that, some people conclude that this is not a text of the Nāthas, but rather the vedantic one, belonging to the tradition of Śrīvidyā. But I don’t think so, the text could well belong to Nāthas. Because, one of the initiations in the Nātha-sampradāya, known as upadeśī-dīkṣā, implies the worship of the Goddess Bālāsundarī. To begin with, I will give you Her śabar-mantra with my translation. Pay attention to the description of the Goddess:

सत नमो आदेश | गुरूजी को आदेश | ॐ गुरुजीसों अलिय कलिय तारा त्रिपुरा तोतला |
बायें हाथ पुस्तक दायें हाथ मालाजपो तपो श्री सुन्दरी बालाजीव पिण्ड का तुम रखवाला इतना योगमाया स्वरूप उपदेशी मन्त्र सम्पूर्ण भयाश्री नाथजी गुरुजी को आदेश आदेश आदेश ||

sat namo ādeś | gurūjī ko ādeś | oṃ gurujī | soṃ aliya kaliya tārā tripurā totalā |
bāyeṃ hāth pustak dāyeṃ hāth mālā | japo tapo śrī sundarī bālā, jīv piṇḍ kā tum rakhvālā
itnā yogamāyā svarūp upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā | śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś ādeś ādeś |

We pay respect to the highest being (truth), let there be its will (ādeś). Let there be the will of Guruji, with all respect to Guruji. Soṃ is the expression of the Goddess of Speech (aliya), Kālī (kaliya), Tārā (tārā), Tripurā (tripurā). She holds a scripture in her left hand, and japa-mala in her right. So (itnā) it was your (tum),Śrī Bālāsundarī (śrī bālā sundarī), in the form of the nature of yoga (yogamāyā svarūp), complete repetition (japa) and spiritual effort (tapas) of the upadeśīmantra (upadeśī mantr sampūrṇ bhayā) in the form of a living soul, located inside the body (jīv piṇḍ kā rakhvālā). Let there be the will (blessing) of the respected Ś Guru Nāth (śrī nāthjī gurujī ko ādeś).

It describes exactly the same image of the Goddess Bālā, which is worshipped in the Tradition of Śrīvidyā. We can argue about the varieties of syllables, the differences between Saṃskṛt mantras and Śabar mantras. But, that is the same as, for instance, we confidently say that Gorakṣagāyatrī is not Gāyatrī, because it does not correspond to the metric size, as there are no 24 syllables in it. Or, to argue about the fact that it is not right to consider the Gāyatrī mantra as so-ham. However, if you thoroughly study the topic of metric sizes, you will see that each metric size has many variations. One chandas can have variations with different numbers of akṣaras. On the other hand, Bālā is not limited to three bījas; there are combinations of six, nine, and even sixteen (ṣoḍaśī). Her bījas are parts of the Mahaṣoḍaśī mantra, inside of which there is the pañcadaśī or ṣoḍaśī (mantra) from kādi, hādi and sādi kūṭakṣaras, with the addition of śrīṃ, and also praṇava Om. In fact, the mantra of Tripura Bhairavī is also derived from the mantra of Bālā, in which bījas ha, sa and ra are added. The former is the essence of the Śrī Yantra, and also the form of Kālī. For that reason, virtually all the main mantras of Śrīvidyā are derived from Bālā. In general, Tripura Sundarī in tantrism is the Goddess of ūrdhvāmnāya, oriented on the ideals of mokṣa, the main goal in yoga.

I propose to analyse the shorter śabar-mantra of Bālā from the Nātha-Sampradāya:

The Nātha-mantra of Yoga Māyā Bālā:

ॐ सों इलीं क्लीं श्रीं सों श्रीं सुन्दरी बाला नमः ॥
oṁ sōṁ Ilīṁ klīṁ śrīṁ sōṁ śrīṁ sundarī bālā namaḥ ॥

These bījas are slightly transformed versions of the triakṣari, as well as of other mantras of Śrīvidyā (śriṃ, oṃ and sohaṃ) derived from it.

The Śrīvidyā mantra of Bālā:

ऐं  क्लीं सौः ॥
aiṁ klīṁ sauḥ ॥

Some are compressed according to the principle of pratyāhāra, some, on the contrary, are expanded. Let’s take a closer look.

The bīja सों soṁ is a combination of सोऽहं so̕haṁ and Parā (Śaktibīja सौः sauḥ. The bīja इलीं ilīṁ is simply a modified ऐं aiṁ (vākbīja), because ऐं aiṁ is nothing more than a sandhyakṣara from + , although there could be short variants of them. We get , then if we again add to it, we get . Just like joining + , we get , with bindu it will be praṇava ओं, and if we further ‘strengthen’ it, we will get , which can be a part of the bīja सौः, called Śaktibīja and sometimes Parābīja. In fact, इलीं could be understood as a compressed form that extends from to – the last akṣara of the Sanskrit alphabet (mātṝkā), with the exception of the first akṣara , from which the entire mātṝkā emerges. The bīja क्लीं klīṁ is the kāmabīja without modifications. This is just a small analysis of the parallels between the Nāth Tradition and the Śrīvidyā-tantra mantras. Of course, I cannot give out all the secrets of the mantras to those who are not dīkṣita. Nevertheless, even from that one can see a lot of connections and parallels of seemingly different traditions. In my opinion, the situation here is about the same as in Vajrayana, when many siddhas could not really separate themselves from Buddhism and from Nāthism at the same time. But after centuries, the paths diverged. Although, there are fewer differences between Śrīvidyā and Nāthism, since both traditions are theistic and have much in common.

Goddess Bālā is directly related to Gorakṣanāth, because she is young, just like Gorakṣanāth (bal-jati). Both deities are symbols of living energy, opened to everything new, without the weight of worldly affairs etc.

Grammatical analysis of the mantra ॐ

This mantra comes from the dhātu of the first verbal group – अव् / av, which means – रक्षण / rakṣaṇa – ‘protection’ (receiving from God, Ishvara). The semi-vowel labial व् / v is transformed into labial उ / u, then it is transformed into ओ / ou with the addition of labial and मन् / man, where only the nasalized म् / m remains, that can turn into a bindu.

This famous mantra is also called प्रणव / praṇava, from the prefix प्र / pra and the root णु / ṇu, which means ‘adoration’. But in this case, the vowel उ / u goes into a strengthened अव / ava, that gives णव / ṇava with the prefix प्रणव / praṇava. In a word, all together this can mean ‘the primary, initial adoration’ from which all forms of worship come from.

There are many other esoteric interpretations of praṇava. The most famous is its splitting into three mātras (अ – उ – म्), to which many traditions give very different meanings.