Friday, November 19, 2010

Yoga Chudamani Upanishad: Crown Jewel of Yoga

Book Review: Yoga Chudamani Upanishad: Crown Jewel of Yoga
commentary by Swami Satyadharma (Yoga Publications Trust 2003)

This is a Tantric treatise on kundalini yoga from the quite late Yoga Upanishads of medieval times in India. Swami Satyadharma is a student of Swami Satyananda Saraswati who was a student of the famed Swami Sivananda. This text translation and commentary are published in cooperation  with the Bihar School of Yoga in India. The commentary is from Vedantic perspective.

I found this book to be very practical and filled with interesting tidbits of information as well as technique. It is every bit as informative as the Hatha Yoga Pradapika but has very little hatha yoga and is an earlier text. The introductory chapter notes the traditional organization of the Vedas and the Upanishads and some variations where there are different numbers of Upanishads. The word – upanishad – means to – sit near – referring to learning spiritual knowledge and technique by sitting near the master, or guru.

The Yoga Chudamani Upanishad is thought to have been composed between 700 AD and 1000 AD although the authors are unknown. It is a concise text of about 121 mantras, or short statements with traditional commentaries enhanced by Swami Satyadharmas commentary and info. The subject is the esoteric kundalini yoga of the prana, nadi, and bindu – or the winds, channels, and drops.

First described are the shatanga – or six-limbed yoga. Basically this is the same as Patanjali’s ashtanga – or eight-limbed yoga without the yama and niyama as preliminary conditions. So we have Asana (posture), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (holding the concentration on an object), Dhyana (stabilized concentration), and Samadhi (integrated non-dual meditative stability). Asana is used to regulate the prana and Pranayama is used to expand the prana. Dhyana is also called spontaneous meditation or contemplation and Samadhi is also referred to as the transcendental state of equanimity. There is some interesting info in the commentaries about the five akashas of the Vedas and the three akashas of the yogic tradition. These refer to the etheric planes. In yoga they are: 1) Chidakasha – infinite consciousness in head region or ajna chakra. Consciousness is said to become more refined as it rises up through the chakras so here it is most subtle. 2) Hridayakasha – the experience of personality transformation after awakening the energy within associated with the heart region or the anahata chakra. 3) Daharakasha – the psychic dimension of the manifest universe – the deep etheric plane – chakras and elements.

There is some very good detailed information on the chakras and how one meditates on them and what happens as the kundalini rises through them. Kundalini-shakti in dormant state is said to be coiled at the base of the spine at the root chakra (mooladhara). When it is awakened it may rise up through the swadhisthana chakra but may then fall back down. When it rises to the level of the manipura chakra it is said to be irreversible so for this reason it is sometimes said to begin its journey upward here. Of the 72,000 channels in the body there are three main ones in importance – the Ida, Pingala, and Shushumna. Shushumna is the central channel and in most of these yogic systems the method is to gather energy into the central channel and also to remove obstacles and knots in the other two – the lunar and solar channels. There is information about the panchavayus – or five pranas and mention also of the five secondary pranas. Straight from the text translation:

“The vital airs are named prana, apana, samana, vyana, udana, ....” “Prana is located in the heart and apana is always in the lower regions. Samana is located in the navel region and udana in the throat region. Vyana moves in the entire body....” The five secondary pranas – or upa-pranas are related as well to specific bodily functions: naga is the energy that controls belching, vomiting, or spitting. Koorma controls the flickering of the eyelids. Krikara controls sneezing. Devadatta controls yawning. The all-pervading dhananjaya stays with the body for a time after death. i am pretty sure that these secondary pranas can also be considered aspects of the respective primary pranas.

Jiva – the individual soul (or Jiva Atman – the spark of divinity as yet unrecognized) is said to move with the breath and prana. Breath itself represents entry into the dualistic universe of the duality of inhalation and exhalation. Jiva moves with prana, the upward-moving active aspect of breath as inhalation and with apana, the downward-moving passive aspect of breath as exhalation. Jiva is also said to move through Ida and Pingala nadis at the speed of light and difficult to detect but since these nadis terminate at the nostrils one may control this flow through pranayama, or breath awareness and control. Breath itself is aid to be the mantra Hamsa (or HamSo or SoHam). Since this is automatic and without deliberate sound it is called ajapa gayatri – or spontaneous mantra. Ha is associated with Shiva/Purusa and Sa is associated with Shakti/Prakriti.

The knower through experience of prana and kundalini-shakti may access the eight siddhis, or magical powers: 1) the ability to infinitely small 2) infinitely large 3) infinitely heavy 4) infinitely light 5) ability to fulfill wishes 6) ability to fulfill desires 7) ability to subjugate others 8) attainment of absolute supremacy. These refer to the eight coils of kundalini although some texts refer to three coils sometimes equated to Nada – the primal sound, Bindu – the primal point source and Bija – the seed of creation. Others say the three coils represent the three aspects of shakti: will, action, and knowledge necessary to create the world of name, form, and idea. Other say omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.

Kundalini in dormant state as the sleeping coiled serpent is said to block the Door of Brahma (access to Shushumna that leads to knowledge of the Infinite). It is said in the text translation that: “She can be awakened (through) the mind along with the prana by the fire of yoga.”

Next there is explanation of the bhandas, or yogic locks and other information regarding diet and discipline. The Jalandhara Bhanda, or throat lock is explained. The Moola Bhanda, or pelvic/anal lock is explained as is the Uddiyana Bhanda, or pulling up and in the abdomen into a lock. These are means to work prana and their benefits to the yogi are given. As for diet the recommendations are soft, sweet, and milky and to avoid harsh and pungent foods and to keep sexual abstinence for best results.

The subject of the Khechari Mudra is explained. This is a rather strange mudra where one attempts to place the tongue as far up into the sinus cavity from the throat as is possible. It is said that yogis will hang weights and otherwise try to stretch their tongues over long periods of time in order to do this mudra. Parts of the tongue and inner mouth may be cut in a gradual fashion to help affect the changes. This should be considered the external form of khechari mudra according to hatha yoga. According to raja yoga method one just attempts to get the tongue along the upper palate as best one can towards the nasal cavity. The gaze is fixed at the eyebrows – at the ajna chakra, or third eye. That is where the effect is said to be observed. This practice is said to keep the nectar that drips from the bindu (point) at the top back of the head from going down below the throat chakra and is said to free the yogi from the effects of (and need for) sleep and food. The yogi is freed from karmic effects and overcomes death.

The bindu (drop, or point) is said to be the source point of the human body and may have a few different meanings: 1) Bindu chakra at the top back of the head important in kundalini yoga; 2) Drop of nectar/ambrosia which falls down from bindu chakra to empower the whole bodily systems; 3) Semen, or Seed Potential in humans; 4) Vital Energy which creates and sustains the physical.

If the bindu (ambrosial drops) do fall down they can be brought back up through the yoni mudra. If it falls down to the manipura chakra it may be burnt in gastric or metabolic fire. The yoni mudra is said to prevent this. This practice is similar to the Shanmukhi mudra where the seven apertures of the head are closed with the thumb and fingers (as in the method for pratyahara), the breath is held, and the attention is placed on the bindu point in the head. This is the method for bringing the fallen drops of nectar back up.

Next we come to the merging of the red bindu and the white bindu. I am familiar with this process as interpreted in the Buddhist Tantric Texts where it is said that at death they merge at the heart before the most subtle consciousness leaves the bodily abode. The yoga to merge them while living is very similar to the kundalini yoga described here. The red bindu is at the manipura (solar chakra) and is associated with the female reproductive cycle (menstuum) and also with the guna of rajas – dynamic activity. It is the prana shakti. The white bindu is associated with the male sperm within the seminal fluid and is situated either at the swadhisthana chakra (at genitals) or at the bindu visarga – also referred to as the place of the moon - in the top back of the head – depending on context. It is the citta shakti – or consciousness energy. This merger is said to be exceedingly difficult and is referred to as a gateway to divinity. I have heard Buddhist teachers refer to this as the physical basis of enlightenment. Here is a related quote given in the book from the Shiva Samhita, “Know that the seminal fluid is the moon and the menstrual fluid is the sun. It is necessary to unite the two within one’s own body. In fact,  I (Shiva) am the seminal fluid and the menstrual fluid is Shakti. When the two are united in the body of a yogi, he attains a divine body.” This union can be seen as a more detailed basis of the goal of yoga as the union of jivatma – the individual soul – with the paramatma – the universal soul of divinity.

Next is given instruction in the method called maha mudra and maha bhedra mudra. This practice involves khechari mudra, shambhavi focus on third eye center, and all three bhandas – moola, uddiyana, and jalandhara. It is done in utthanpadasana, or a forward fold posture with one foot tucked back under the perineum to apply pressure at the mooladhara chakra. In both forms the breath is retained. One benefit of the practice is that it is said to make all foods equally digestible as it greatly increases the digestive power – this awakens the agni mandala. The lower chakras then assist in reversing the bindu nectar-energy back upward. It is even said that at this level of digestive functioning that one could even consume poison without harm. The fall of the bindu is said to be responsible for the onset of aging and of all diseases. It is said that disease can be prevented or removed by reversing this process. The method is said to be very good for men especially. The method is also said here in the text to best be kept secret. The author being female goes on to explain the difference between the genders in this regard: “The nature of the female system differs in this respect. It relates with rajas, the red bindu, which is established in the lower centers and associated with the reproductive system and the menstrual cycle. Rajas is united with the Sun at manipura, which means that the natural tendency of women is to create and support life. Women do not need to transcend the material world in order to undergo spiritual experience. Their inner receptivity is enhanced through the natural processes of life, especially the production of children, resulting in direct experience of higher reality. Therefore, in the past women generally did not seek to perform practices to derive spiritual awakening and powers. However, should a woman choose to rechannel her force to the higher centres, she can undergo a more powerful awakening than a man because rajas is stronger than shukla, especially in the lower centres. This is why a female countertpart was often sought in the tradition of Tantra.”

Next covered is the meditation posture of padmasana, or lotus posture. The eyes gaze on the tip of the nose – nasikagra drishti - and one chants the mantra AUM. The nature of AUM as Brahman is covered as well and commented on according to the Mandukya Upanishad of much older vintage. The four states: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the 4th, or turiya state of Brahman are equated to the four matras, or meters of AUM – the last being the silent integrated whole. In the commentary the author states that,
“Therefore, the goal of yoga is to transcend the modifications and associations of the mind. This can only be achieved through realization that the entire manifest existence, in all of its change and complexity, is the projection of the unmanifest reality. Behind the world of name and form there abides one eternal reality, symbolized by AUM.” The experience of AUM in the heart center – or anahata – is described as the anahad nada – or unstruck sound which leads the yogi upwards into unmanifest reality. In nada yoga there are four classes of sound – audible, whispered, mental, and transcendental. One may practice mantra audibly, whisper, mentally hearing the sound, or one may experience the transcendental mantra if one is so inclined – as the unstruck sound. The powers of AUM are given as will, action, knowledge, creation, maintenance, and destruction.

The subject of pranayama is covered as well in the text – often re-iterating the benefits of controlling the prana. Prerequisite to pranayama is clearing the channels with the practice of nadi shodhana – alternate nostril breathing which includes chandra bheda and surya bheda which are simply breathing in from each nostril and holding the breath while visualizing the luminous white moon at bindu while retaining inhalation from the left nostril and visualizing a fiery sun at anahata (although I have heard also at manipura) while retaining inhalation from the right nostril. The benefits are said to be good health, activation of the fire, and hearing of the inner sound.

As regards kumbhaka, or breath retention, it is stated that it should be held in the confines of the region of prana in the heart space, or hridayakasha, moving up and down within its confines. That way it would not be burned up in the agni fire in the manipura region. Inhalation, retention, and exhalation are equated to A, U, and M of the pranava. The ratio for the Omkara Pranayama is 12:16:10 rather than the typical ratio of 1: 4:2 in other pranayamas. Omkara Pranayama is done while focusing on AUM symbol and sound. Three levels of pranayama effects are given: sweating, trembling, and stability.  The kundalini practice is to close the 9 gates (seven of the head with the mudra) as well as the anal sphincter (with moola bhanda) and urinary tract (with vajroli mudra). Then the kundalini-shakti is drawn up through shushumna nadi. This practice is the Shaktichalini Mudra that leads to the union of Shiva and Shakti, Consciousness and Energy, at the Sahasrara, or Crown Chakra.

Asanas destroy disease and pranayama destroys unskillful karma. Pratyahara removes mental impurities. The process of purifying the mind through pratyahara is said to be gradual and one improves with practice. Eventually one observes the arising of thoughts and discards them by not attaching to them and purity increases.

This is a wonderful book for a yogi, more detailed and useful than the Hatha Yoga Pradapika, but also a great companion to it. Technique is emphasized as well as expected results and benefits of practicing. Highly useful text and commentary.

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