Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika: The Classic Esoteric Handbook of Kundalini Yoga

Book Review: The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika: The Classic Esoteric Handbook of Kundalini Yoga – by Hans-Ulrich Rieker, translated by Elsy Becherer (Dawn Horse Press, 1971)

This is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, by Yoga Swami Svatmarama with commentary by Rieker, who studied intensively for many years with yogis in India. It was translated from Sanskrit to German and here from German to English. The translator sees the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as a “rare and fruitful combination of the two paths: hatha and raja {yogas}.” Rieker says that his translation and commentary here were not written from a desk but from the straw mats of India.

In the introduction Rieker notes that success in yoga can occur but requires devoted self-discipline. He notes the importance of the guru but also says that not every guru is a teacher and yet not every teacher is a guru. He notes that his kundalini guru (presumably Dr. Rammurti S. Mishra) was also quite learned in the shastras (commentaries).

The author notes that the text often reminds that the goal of yoga is to become a siddha, one who has developed powers or accomplishments of a magical or spiritual nature. However, striving for such powers can impede. In the opening stanzas Swami Svatmarama invokes Siva and Parvati, praises the goal of accomplishing raja, or ‘royal’ yoga, then invokes the gurus and siddhas of the lineage, beginning with Goraksha and Matsyendra. I should note that both of these yogis are part of both Hindu and Buddhist yogic lineages – they appear as founders of the Nath Yoga tradition and are also among the eighty-four Indian mahasiddhas of the Tantric Buddhist tradition. The Swami states that some yogis conquered time and roam still.

(10) [Therefore] hatha yoga is a refuge for all those who are scorched by the three fires. To those who practice yoga, hatha yoga is like the tortoise that supports the world.

The three fires refer to the three sufferings that are difficult to avoid: self-created suffering, suffering caused by higher powers, and suffering caused by other beings. Rieker states that sufferings are unfulfilled desires.

The Swami states that hatha yoga should be practiced in secret in a solitary place, preferably a windowless cave laid daily with cow dung! This is of course a cultural notion, but the idea is simply a quiet place free of distractions. Too much food, fasting, labor, company, vow observances, and talking are discouraged. Thus, moderation is encouraged. A cheerful disposition, perseverance, courage, self-knowledge, avoidance of bad company, and faith in the guru’s instructions are said to be the keys to success. Also, there is a passage that relates to the yamas and niyamas from Patanjali: avoiding the causing of harm to the living, avoiding stealing and lying, and to practice moderation – and to practice austerities, cheerfulness, faith, charity, contemplation, modesty, recitation of mantras, observing rules, and reading sacred works.

Before moving on to the next chapter on Asanas, Rieker gives some introductory information about the internal subtle body system of chakras and about the related notions of Ayurveda. Interestingly, he notes that the Tantric Buddhists posit that the yogi must ‘create’ the chakras. Many people seem to view the chakras and subtle body system of winds, channels, and drops sort of literally and fuss over details as if the ideas were scientifically precise. The way I see it, these ideas are props that point us toward drawing our senses inward (pratyahara) and working extensively with these aids or supports allow us to “yoke” our mind to them and reify an imagined perception of them – neurologically, an imagined perception produces similar effects to a “real” perception. The three doshas of Ayurveda, what he calls “the three dominant forces of man,” are explained since the links between yoga and Ayurveda are close. The three doshas are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Vata is wind or movement and is associated with the five pranas and their movement throughout the subtle body. Pitta has been translated as “gall” but is often related to temperament. It is the fire of digestion and of asceticism. Kapha has been translated as “life-fluid” or “phlegm” and refers to the liquids of the body and their roles. Kapha is also associated with soma as the divine nectar. The three forces will be in balance for optimum health. As said in the most famous Ayurvedic text, the Charaka Samhita:

“No pain without vata (the stream of life), no inflammation without pitta (the fire of life), and no swellings without kapha (the fluid of life).”

The asanas, or postures, of hatha yoga are said in the text to give the yogi strength, good health, and make the limbs supple. The first few given (with illustrations) are variations of sitting posture – some fairly easy, others difficult. The half lotus posture is called virasana, or hero’s posture. The tortoise posture, kurmasana, is given, where one sits cross-legged pressing the anus with one heel. Here Rieker digresses to note the tortoise symbolism in hatha yoga and Indian mythology – noting the story of Vishnu appearing as a tortoise to dive into the ocean and raise the mountain so the gods and demons (devas and asuras) can successfully churn the ocean milk with the serpent Apesh to produce the nectar. He suggests that this also has yogic symbolism related to raising kundalini. He also notes the line noted previously that “hatha yoga is like the tortoise that supports the world,” which confirms the connection. Thus, it makes the transformation of ocean milk to nectar possible or as Rieker suggests:

“Upon this “axis of the [human] universe” we exert pressure in kurmasana, so that the combined forces of the divine (subconscious) and the earthly (conscious) can accomplish their task.”

Other asanas are given – and most of these are not seen in any modern hatha yoga classes, at least in these forms. They are most often modified to make them easier or in many cases merely possible. A spinal twist posture called matsyendrasana is often modified in several ways to make it do-able. The effect is of churning (think again of the Indian myth of churning the milk ocean) and is sometimes referred to as chalasana (which refers to churning). From the text:

“(27) This matsyendrasana increases the appetite by fanning the gastric fire [pitta], and destroys physical ailments. Kundalini is awakened and the moon is made steady.”

This is said to direct the kundalini or at least the upward-moving prana upward. Rieker notes that variations in asanas and their names have come about from medieval times to now. For example, postures in the much later Gheranda Samhita have changed from those of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The kundalini is said to be wound into three and a half coils at the base of the spine just like the snake in the story of the churning of the ocean milk. The “moon” is said to refer to the upper point of the spinal column at the medulla oblongata and is said to be massaged by the matsyendra posture.

The posture called paccimasana is simply a seated forward fold while grasping feet, ideally with head laid between the knees. This is commonly practiced in modern hatha yoga classes and is often said to stimulate the immune system. In HYP it is said to cause “the breath [prana] to flow through the shushumna [central channel.]”

The first product of the ocean milk churning was sheer poison, called halahala. Shiva was said to swallow this poison which turned his throat blue. (Oddly enough there is apparently an Irish myth that is quite similar which suggests that the origin of this story may be of great antiquity since the Celtic and Aryan lines of Indo-European separated possibly several hundred to a few thousand years before the Vedas were thought to be composed). The mayurasana posture of standing on hands close to torso while in a horizontal position is said to neutralize the halahala poison. This is a difficult posture that requires arm/wrist strength and core strength. Rieker and the Swami see the churning of the ocean milk as an allegory for yogic attainment. According to Rieker:

“In the course of yoga training there occurs a transformation of consciousness from the “milk of devotional thinking” through the “poison of imperfect development” to the “nectar of enlightenment.”

Next the very well known posture savasana, or corpse pose, is given. It is simply lying on the back in a resting relaxation mode. However, simple as it is it is also said to be necessary.

The Swami notes that Siva taught 84 asanas. Next, he describes what are said to be the four most important ones. Siddhasana is simply sitting cross-legged with one heel pressing the perineum, the chin to the chest, and eyes focused upward. These positions stimulate the muladhara, swadhisthana, vishuddhi, and ajna chakras. There is another form of siddhasana given where both heels are up without one under. Siddhasana is said to be the most important of the asanas and is said to purify the 72,000 nadis. Nadis are channels throughout the subtle body. The most important nadis, of course, are the three that rise up along the spinal column: ida (left), pingala (right), and shushumna in the center.

The text states that the yogi who meditates on the atman eats moderately and practices siddhasana for twelve years attains siddhis. The atman refers to the soul or self, which the Upanishads first elucidated but which the Buddhists say doesn’t really exist.

Padmasana, or lotus posture is next given. This is like so-called full lotus posture with the arms crossed behind the back and grabbing the opposite feet and with head bowed to chest. Many of us would consider it, like several of the other postures, impossible. Perhaps medieval Indians had more anatomical flexibility or early training in such matters or perhaps approximating the position has a similar effect. Another padmasana is also given which is the basic full lotus posture with eyes focused on nose and tongue at back of upper teeth. The chin is pressed to the chest and the anus is contracted and this is done to slowly raise the air or downward-moving prana (apana vayu). It is said to destroy all diseases. Padmasana is said to straighten the spinal column and thus the shushumna and to draw the “bow of the nadis” as Rieker’s guru stated it. The apana is one of the five pranas. It flows in the lower regions below the diaphragm while prana only moves above the diaphragm. Thus the idea is to tie the two together so that the prana can enter the shushumna at the base of the spine. Apana is raised by frequent contraction of the anus while contracting the throat to force prana down.

Next is simhasana, sitting on the bent legs on the feet with the feet crossed underneath, again impossible for most. Hands are on knees. This is said to “facilitate the three bandhas.”  The bandhas refer to the binds or locks that control the pranas. Another is the simpler position of bhadrasana or gorakshasana, sitting on the feet with hands on thighs/knees. Goraksha was the Buddhist Mahasiddha without legs or arms so that is perhaps a reference to him. This pose is said to control unwanted desires.

The text then mentions concentration on the inner sound (nada), moderation, (with the celibacy of the brahmacharyin leading to fast results) and renouncing the fruits of one’s actions (a theme noted in the Bhagavad Gita). Moderation in diet means “pleasant, sweet food, leaving free one fourth of the stomach.” Sour, pungent, and hot foods are not recommended. Wheat/bread, rice, milk, fats, honey, cucumbers, ginger, water, and rock candy are recommended. In Ayurveda the prescribed foods for yogis are sattvic (light, revealing) referring to the theory of the three gunas (sattva [light, revealing, pure]; tamas [dark, concealing, heavy/inertial, impure]; and rajas [dynamic, passionate]) that are said to be the modes of material nature.

After perfecting the asanas comes pranayama:

“(2) When the breath “wanders” [ie., is irregular] the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still, and the yogi achieves long life. Therefore, one should learn to control the breath.”

The practice of pranayama (controlling the breath) is said to purify the nadis (channels). The yogi is urged to practice “with the mind in a sattvic state.”

Next is given a version of alternate nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana with kumbhaka, or retention of the breath. There are many versions of this about these days from many traditions. I personally have learned it in many different yoga classes, in Tibetan Buddhism, in Tibetan Bon, in Hindu ashrams and centers, and even in occultism – all more or less the same but also with significant variations, mostly surficial. Rieker notes that asanas aim at the spinal column while pranayama in centered in kumbhaka. The prescription in HYP is to practice kumbhaka four times a day. He mentions a commentary that gives the three phases of kumbhaka as holding the breath for 30, 60, and 90 seconds. The text says that the results of the three phases are perspiration, bodily trembling, and prana reaching the center of the head via the central channel (shushumna). Rieker also notes curiously that the yogi when doing asanas should not overly concentrate on the body and bodily position. He then talks about guyhasanas, special asanas given to a student after initiation and describes the process known as kriyavati, whereby the yogi’s body is cold except for the top of the head which is hot (presumably with raised prana) and impossible asanas are able to be performed through the consciousness of the yogi as well as magical feats akin to siddhis.

Milk and ghee are recommended early in a yogi’s practice. Signs of purified nadis are a perceived lightness and brightness of the body. Breath retention improves, the gastric fire is activated, and the inner sound (nada) can be heard. Good health is experienced. Kumbhaka is the key to pranayama and to keeping the breath alive with prana, says Rieker. He notes the stories of yogis living on one breath a day, stories echoed also in the Tibetan tradition. The idea is to keep the breath imbued with prana. Those prone to kapha disorders are prescribed the six techniques of shatkarma. These are also done in Ayurveda. The six techniques are dhauti, vasti, neti, trataka, nauli, and kapalabhati. Dhauti is swallowing a clothing and retrieving it back out from the throat and esophagus. Vasti involves inserting a bamboo pipe into the anus and flushing with water – basically an enema. Neti involves pulling a thread or piece of cloth through the nostrils and out the throat through the sinus cavities. One might also use a neti pot although that is not prescribed in HYP. Trataka is gazing without blinking on a small object such as a candle flame. The text says oddly that trataka should be kept secret. Tantric mahasiddhas also practices “ritual gazes” extensively, including willing things to move via a kind of ‘psychokinesis.” Nauli, said in the text to be the most important of the hatha yoga practices, is described thus:

“33-34 With the head bent forward slowly rotate the innards [intestines and stomach], like a whirlpool in a river, toward the right and the left.”

Nauli is said to remove sluggishness, stimulate the digestive fire, renmove disease, and produce an agreeable feeling. It is also said to train the muscles for dhauti and vasti. It is prescribed for the obese. Often it is given in the form of drawing in the abdomen while leaning forward with hands on knees, then moving it circular. Drawing in and up the abdomen in such a way combined with closing the anal sphincter is also taught in Tibetan meditation as a way to help balance the five pranas.

Kapalabhati, or shining skull breath, refers to quickly inhaling and exhaling like the bellows of a blacksmith, typically through the nose. It is a feature of modern yoga sometimes called ‘fire breath.’

Shatkarma is considered a nadi purification for the lower stages of hatha yoga while pranayama is considered more sattvic and for the higher stages.

The next practice given is closing the anal sphincter while drawing up apana (downward-moving prana) toward the throat and regurgitating what is in the stomach. This is called gajakarani and is said to bring the nadi chakras under control. The apana cannot go to the throat but pushes on the udana current which causes regurgitation. Apparently, this is not much practiced today. The text says that Brahma and the other gods practiced pranayama to remove fear of death and thus we should too. When the nadis are purified the breath will find its way into the central channel and this will bring steadiness of mind called unmani avastha. Kumbhakas are the key to getting there.

Here eight forms of kumbhaka are given along with bandhas, or locks. Jalandhara-bandha after inhalation and uddiyana-bandha after exhalation are given followed by kumbhaka. Jalandhara-bandha involves the ‘moon’ or upper part of spinal column while uddiyana-bandha involves the ‘sun’ or solar plexus. At the same time the throat is contracted and the anus in contracted – this is mula-bandha. Apana is forced upward while prana is forced downward from the throat which is said to lead to youthfulness. This bandha sequence reminds me much of what was called among Indian and Tibetan siddhas – “pot-belly breathing.”

The method for alternate-nostril breathing, or nadi shodhana, is given here in between periods of kumbhaka and also utilizing the ujjayi breath (ocean breath – making an ocean sound with the throat while breathing – this is taught in many modern yoga classes). This is called suryabheda kumbhaka.

Breathing in through the mouth with tongue slightly protruding from the mouth while making a hissing sound is practiced between kumbhakas. This is called sitkari and is said to make one beautiful and strong.

Other pranayamas and kumbhakas are given including bhastrika kumbhaka which is another form of “bellows breath” here prescribed between kumbhakas. Various yoga traditions teach bhastrika in somewhat different ways as I have experienced. Bhastrika kumbhaka is said to cause kundalini to rise and to pierce the three knots in the shushumna. This happens after the prana enters the shushumna and the bandhas bring the solar and lunar currents face to face so they can be knotted together. Bhastrika kumbhaka is a means of testing the learning of previous practices.

The next kumbhaka is rather cryptic – inhale rapidly making the sound of a male bee then exhale making the sound of a female bee. This is called bhramari. Rieker says that only a humming sound is necessary.

Murccha kumbhaka involves slowly exhaling while doing jalandhara-bandha and is said to produce an agreeable stupor.

Then filling the lungs with air the yogi “floats upon the water like a lotus leaf. This is plavini kumbhaka.

The text states there are three types of pranayama: inhalation, exhalation, and breath retention (kumbhaka). Two kinds of kumbhaka are also given: sahita and kevala. The text says one should practice sahita kumbhaka until one is able to practice kevala kumbhaka. Rieker notes that sahita refers to holding the breath without force or exertion and kevala refers to holding the breath when the blood is overoxygenized.   

Arousing kundalini is paramount and can be initiated by the guru and by the practice of certain mudras. Kundalini asleep coiled at the base of the spine closes the gate to the shushumna. Regarding mudras the text states:

“6-9 Mahamudra, mahabandha, mahavedha, khecari, uddiyana bandha, mula bandha, and jalandhara bandha, viparitaka rani, vajroli, and shakticalana; these are the ten mudras which conquer old age and death. – They have been given by Siva and confer the eight siddhis.”

Mahamudra involves pressing the anus with the left heal with right leg extended while practicing jalandhara bandha. This can cause the kundalini to stretch out or uncoil. The prerequisites for mahamudra are purification of the nadis and pranayama. Rieker notes that the goal of mahamudra is to guide the newly unified prana-apana stream into the now opened gate to the shushumna. At this point the two other nadis “die off” and the yogi appears dead and cold like a corpse with only the crown of the head warm. The prana-apana stream is said to carry the kundalini up through the shushumna. Mahavedha involves sitting in full lotus then putting the palms on the ground and lifting up and striking the ground several times with the buttock. It is said to make the prana leave ida and pingala and enter shushumna. Thus, it is the union of the three: sun, moon, and fire.

Next the khecari mudra which can be done by stretching the tongue over a period of months by gradually cutting further into the membrane which connects the tongue to the lower part of the mouth. In such a way it is said that the tongue can be made to reach the eyebrows. The mudra, however, has the tongue curled back into the throat for the yogic purpose of closing “the place where the three paths meet.” This mudra is said to free one from karma presumably due to the suspension of time, according to Rieker. He says the khecari mudra (the word khecari means to ‘move through the empty sky) aids an undisturbable meditative absorption. The mudra is thought to affect some process of endocrine secretion, possibly a glandular secretion that is equivalent to the kapha secretion. This kapha secretion is the soma, or nectar – the same as that hinted in the lore of the churning of the ocean of milk but here in allegorical form. It is said that yogis who perform miraculous feats like being buried for days or eating poisons do so by preparation with khecari mudra so that they will be immune to the dangers. The nectar (of the moon, soma) becomes like a fuel that protects as long as it can be produced. The nectar may cause one to be able to teach all the Vedas and Shastras due to the power of the throat chakra vishuddhi where cognition can be transformed into word. The poison from the churned milk ocean is sequestered in Siva’s throat. The throat where the nectar is secreted represents the “upper part of Mount Meru – that is the shushumna.”

Now he and the text return to the bandhas, first summarizing:

“Mahamudra: the joining of prana and apana.

Mahabandha: preventing prana and apana from reverting their course

Mahavedha: connecting the three nadis by beating the buttocks on the floor

Khecari mudra: bending back the tongue”

Uddiyana bandha – drawing up the intestines toward the navel so that they touch the back and diaphragm. This causes the prana to “fly up” through the shushumna. Mula bandha – pressing scrotum with heel with contacted anus – guides apana upward. Mula bandha awakens the dormant kundalini. “Through mula bandha, prana and apana as well as nada and bindu unite to give perfection to the yogi.” Jalandhara bandha – pressing chin against breast with contracted throat – is said to make the nadis taut and prevent downward flow of nectar from throat. The nectar of the moon is prevented from being swallowed by the sun where it would drop. This is said to stop the aging process. Another practice is mentioned but not elaborated since it can only be learned from a guru. That is the process called viparitakarani, whereby the sun in the solar plexus and the moon in the throat change places. It involves practicing the head stand and is said to be able to reverse aging. I assume the reverse of position changes the relative gravity.

Rieker actually leaves out a section of HYP, slokas 84-103. These describe vajroli mudra, sahajoli mudra, and amaroli mudra. The text says that if one practices the yamas and niyamas one can attain siddhis through the vajroli mudra, even if one maintains a worldly life. I think this is unfortunate. Vajroli mudra is practiced as cutting off the flow of urine in a specific way. It is said that a male can control ejaculation in such a way and females can strengthen vaginal control. I am guessing that perhaps he leaves this section out because he and/or his guru were influenced by the anti-Tantric sentiments among some Hindus, especially toward sexual practices, who were in turn influenced by the morality of Victorian English sentiments. Rieker notes them as “obscure and repugnant practices that are followed by only those yogis who lack the will power to reach their goal otherwise.” That certainly suggests a bias.

Shakti is often defined as the feminine energetic aspect of divinity. Kundalini is also shakti and may be called kundalini-shakti. The text describes the raising of kundalini – shakti calana kriya. She is described as a young widow. Her spouse in sahasrara (crown chakra) is Vishnu. The kundalini serpent should be aroused by grasping it by the tail. Rieker says that prana and apana pull on the head of the serpent. This the allegory continues where the gods (devas) pull the tail and the demons (asuras) pull on the head of the great serpent to churn the milk ocean. Rieker also notes that: “Hatha yoga is composed of jyoti (light) and mantra (sound).” Light and sound are the means to manipulate kundalini through the tail. The kanda where lies the coiled and sleeping kundalini is said to be four inches above the anus. The asanas, pranayama, and mudras purify the nadis and straighten the shushumna so that the kundalini can flow unimpeded.

According to the text, the guru, Siva, is said to be in the form of nada, bindu, and kala. Nada is the lower range of vibration – sound and kala is the higher range of vibration – light. Rieker calls bindu the principle of intelligence. He also calls bindu – sense. Bindu is also “drop, period, zero, seed, the void.” Rieker speaks of three levels of reception of vibrations. The text speaks now of samadhi (meditative absorption) and gives synonyms: “Raja yoga, samadhi, unmani, manomani, immortality, dissolution, emptiness-but-not-emptiness, the highest state, passivity of the intellect, non-dualism, beginninglessness, purity, liberation in this lifetime, the primordial state, and turiya (the Fourth State),…”

It is also the union of mind with atman/Brahman and the union of jivatman and paramatman (individual self and divine self). It is also the union of mind and prana/breath.

“(8-9) He who recognizes the true meaning of raja yoga can by the grace of the guru achieve realization, liberation, inner steadfastness, and the siddhis. Without the grace of the guru and without indifference to worldly things recognition of Truth, [attainment of] samadhi, is impossible.”

The grace of the guru as a requirement and spur to liberation is well attested in Tantra and among the Mahasiddhas.

The text notes that after kundalini is successfully raised then “emptiness [sunya] absorbs prana.” This leads to samadhi and the destruction of karma. Rieker calls samadhi the karma-free state. What he doesn’t say is that samadhi is often considered to be a temporary state with several different forms, at least in other systems such as Buddhism. Samadhi may have different meanings in this regard. Buddhists might say that karma is not created during samadhi but resumes when one comes out of the meditative absorption, unless the state is the irreversible state of enlightenment, which might be considered a sustained samadhi.

“(17) Sun and moon cause day and night. The shushumna [however] swallows time. This is a secret.”

There the sun refers to pingala nadi and the right nostril and the moon refers to ida nadi and the left nostril. Equilibrium between both nostrils and all inner functions is required. The text also notes that mind and prana depend on one another and often change together, where one goes so goes the other.

“(29-30) Dissolution [laya] depends on nada {sound}. Laya produces prana. Prana is the lord of the mind [mano]; mind is the lord of the senses [indriyas]. When mind is absorbed in itself it is called moksha [liberation]. Call it this or that; when mind and prana are absorbed in each other the immeasurable joy of samadhi ensues.”

Laya yoga, the yoga of dissolution, is called passive yoga by Rieker. Dissolution is into the Absolute, into Brahman, and there is no breath (prana) or mind and no longer any subjective experience. The text says that laya is the state of forgetting, forgetting subjectivity in the form of sense objects and impressions (samskaras) on consciousness that become the seeds of karma.

The next topic is shambhavi mudra. Riekers says that: “Dissolution is samadhi; re-creation is shambhavi mudra, work with the sound symbol (mantra) and the image symbol (yantra), the source of inner light.” It involves focusing the eyes outwardly on an external object and the mind inwardly on a chakra. When mind and prana are absorbed by the object(s?) it becomes shambhavi mudra. The word shambhavi refers to Siva as Shambu. Shambhavi mudra and khecari mudra are one in that they both “bring about the state of bliss in the concentrated consciousness of the mind absorbed in atman.” Realization of Truth via shambhavi mudra (as learned from one’s guru) manifests in the form of an inner light. This inner light is said to be the source of all and the highest realization. The lingham, or phallus (of God or Siva), is a symbol of the inner light. Rieker points out that shambhavi mudra is an inner process while khecari mudra is a technical process - blocking the shushumna at the throat with the curled back tongue to stoke the fire. Khecari mudra is the prerequisite for shambhavi mudra. The text also says that through meditation the shakti and mind become one. At this stage the yogi is said to become like an empty pot at the bottom of the sea – simultaneously both empty and full.

The last topic is nada (sound) as described by Gorakshanath. The Swami says that while there are numerous paths to laya, that he thinks nada is the best. The text gives four stages of yoga practice: introduction, transition, attainment, and perfection. In each stage prana pierces one or more of the three knots (granthis) except in the second stage where it also enters the heart chakra – so first the brahma granthi at the heart chakra is pierced which has associated tinkling sounds, then entered into when nada and prana are unified. Then the vishnu granthi at the throat is pierced which is accompanied by a complex sound like that of a big drum, followed by the piercing of the granthi at the agna chakra at the forehead. This initiates the fourth stage which is accompanied by the sound of the flute and the vina (guitar). The Swami states that: I believe that concentration on the space between the eyebrows is the best way to reach samadhi in a short time. For those of small intellect this is the easiest means to attain to raja yoga.” This statement is likely the basis for some of the modern nada yoga cults. The nada is said to progress from ocean-like and drum-like sounds to sounds like flutes and harps experienced from the center of the body. The text speaks of the dissolution of the sensory world into the nada laya so that concentration on the non-conceptual inner sound (nada) after such is developed, effectively replaces any concentration on sense objects and conceptuality. The inner light (kala) and the inner sound (nada) are revealed as indistinguishable. In the Vedas and Upanishads it is said that sound came to be when space (akasha) came to be. “In soundlessness atman and Brahman are one. Whatever is manifested as sound is a power of nature [shakti]. The state of dissolution [laya] of conceptual thought is beyond all form. It is divine [paramesvara]”

The perfected yogi can only be described in contradictory terms: his mind is neither awake nor asleep, he is free from remembering or forgetting, not dead yet not living, seemingly asleep yet awake, etc. He is transcendent yet seemingly immanent.

The Hatha Yoga Pradapika is certainly an enigmatic text. This translation and commentary is fair but informative and with some bias – certainly more has been learned in the 46 years since this one was published. The actual yogic path described in HYP is quite difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible, and often unclear. Embarking on such a path without a guru in a well-defined lineage is likely untenable. However, the principles of the text do give insight and support to a detailed and intricate philosophy of yoga and tantra practiced by both Hindus and Buddhists and possibly Jains. and more recently by a small percentage of Sikhs and modern Western yoga practitioners, at least those who follow Yogi Bhajan’s tradition which is often the main form of “kundalini yoga” presented in the west as such.

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