The Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā is a classic Sanskrit manual on hatha yoga, written by Svāmi Svātmārāma, a disciple of Swami Gorakhnath.
Important scriptures on Haṭhayoga were written:
(1) Haṭhayogapradīpikā (by Svātmārāma);
(2) Gheraṇḍasaṁhitā (by Gheraṇḍa);
(3) Haṭharatnāvalī (by Śrīnivāsabhaṭṭa Mahāyogīndra, what a name!) and
(4) Gorakṣasaṁhitā (by Gorakṣa).
The Pradipika is divided into four parts. The first explains yamas (restraints on behaviour), niyamas (observances), asanas (posture) and food. The second describes pranayama (control or restraint of energy), and the shatkarmas (internal cleansing practices). The third deals with mudras (seals), bandhas (locks), the nadis (channels of energy through which prana flows) and the kundalini power. The fourth expounds pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
In all, the text contains 390 verses (floras). Out of these, about forty deal with asanas, approximately one hundred and ten with pranayama, one hundred and fifty with mudras, bandhas and Shatkarmas and the rest with pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
The text begins with asanas as the first step in hatha yoga. For this reason it has been referred to as six-limbed yoga (sadanga yoga) as opposed to the eight-limbed patanjala yoga (astanga yoga) which includes, as its foundation, the first two limbs, yama and niyama. However, hatha yoga does not overlook the yamas and niyamas. Possibly, in Svatmarama's time, the ethical disciplines were taken for granted, so he does not explain them at length.
He does speak of non-violence, truthfulness, non-covetousness, continence, forbearance, fortitude, compassion, straightforwardness, moderation in food and cleanliness as yama, and zeal in yoga, contentment, faith, charity, worship of God, study of spiritual scriptures, modesty, discriminative power of mind, prayers and rituals as niyama. (The ethical disciplines of what to do and what not to do are given in the text. Asanas, pranayamas, bandhas, mudras and shotkarmas are illustrated by examples to assist aspirants with their practice. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi cannot be explained, but only experienced, when the earlier stages have been mastered.)
It is said that there areas many asanas as there are living species: 840,000. That means the muscles and joints can flex, extead-and rotate in several thousand ways. The Pradipika, however, describes only sixteen asanas. Similarly, Vyasa names only eleven asanas in his Yoga Sutras', and there are thirty-two in the Gheranda Samhita. It is possible that yogasana practices were such a regular daily routine that it was necessary only to touch on the subject without going into depth. In view of these figures, to claim that hatha yoga is merely physical yoga is simply ridiculous.
Yogis were in constant contact with nature and they were searching for natural remedies to combat afflictions. In their search, they discovered hundreds of asanas to increase the life-giving force and restore it to its optimum level.
Asanas arenot just physical exercises: they have biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual effects. The cells of the body have their own intelligence and memory. Through practice of different asanas blood circulation is improved, the hormone system is balanced, the nervous system is stimulated, and toxins are eliminated, so that the cells, sinews and nerves are kept at their peak level. Physical, mental, and spiritual health and harmony are attained.
The commentary Jyotsna1 of Sri Brahmananda clearly and beautifully sums up the effect of asanas. He says: "the body is full of inertia (tamasic), the mind vibrant (rajastc) and the Self serene and luminous (sattvic). By perfection in asanas, the lazy body is transformed to the level of the vibrant mind and they together are cultured to reach the level of the serenity of the Self."
Patanjali, too, states that perfection in asanas brings concord between body, mind and soul. When asanas are performed with the interpenetration of all three, benevolence in consciousness develops. Then the aspirant ceases to be troubled by the pairs of opposites, and the indivisible state of existence is experienced.
1 The Hatha yoga pradipika of Svatmaratma (with the commentary Jyotsna of Brahma-nanda) Adyar library and Research Centre, The Theosophical Society, Madras, India, 1972.
Part Two is devoted mainly to pranayama and its techniques. Pranayama means prana vrtti nirodha or restraint of the breath, which is by nature unsteady. According to Svatmarama, "When the breath wanders the mind is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed, the mind too will be still." (2:2)
Pranayama flushes away the toxins and rectifies disturbances of the humours, wind (vata), bile (pitta) and phlegm (kapha).
All the yoga texts, including Patanjali's, are emphatic in their view that one must gain perfection in asanas before practising pranayama. This point is overlooked today, and many people think that any comfortable sitting asana is good enough for pranayama practice, and that pranayama may be safely practised without the foundation of asana. Svatmarama cautions: "By the faulty practice of pranayama the yogi invites all kinds of ailments." (2:16)
Asanas, important though they arefor the health and balance of the body, have a deeper purpose: to diffuse the consciousness uniformly throughout the body, so that duality between senses, nerves, cells, mind, intelligence and consciousness are eradicated, and the whole being is in harmony. When the nervous, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine and genito-excretory systems are cleansed through asanas, prana moves unobstructed to the remotest cells and feeds them with a copious supply of energy. Thus rejuvenated and revitalised, the body--the instrument of the Self--moves towards the goal of Self-realisation.
Prana is an auto-energising force. The inbreath fans and fuses the two opposing elements of nature--fire and water--so that a new, bioelectrical energy, called prana, is produced. Prana neutralises the fluctuations of the mind and acts as a spring-board towards emancipation.
Pranayama stores prana in the seven energy chambers, or chakras, of the spine, so it can be discharged as and when necessary to deal with the upheavals of life.
Patan)ali states that "mastery in pranayama removes the veil that covers the lamp of intelligence and heralds the dawn of wisdom."
Svatmarama explains various types of pranayamas and their effects, but cautions that just as a trainer of lions, tigers or elephants studies their habits and moods and treats them with kindness and compassion, and then puts them through their paces slowly and steadily, the practitioner of pranayama should study the capacity of his lungs and make the mind passive in order to tame the incoming and outgoing breath. If the animal trainer is careless, the animals will maim him. In the same way, a wrong practice of pranayama will sap the energy of the practitioner.
Bandhas and Madras
Bandhas and mudras are dealt with in Part Three. Bandha means lock and mudra means seal. The human system has many apertures or outlets. By locking and sealing these, the divine energy known as kundalini is awakened and finds its union with purusa in the sahasrara chakra.
Mudras and bandhas act as safety valves in the human system. Asanas act in a similar way. All three help to suspend the fluctuations of the mind, intellect and ego, so that attention is drawn in towards the Self. The union of the divine force with the divine Self is the essence of Part Three.
Samadhi, the subject of Part Four, is the subjective science of liberation, the experience of unalloyed bliss. Before discussing Samadhi, we need to look at consciousness (citta).
Consciousness is a sprout from the Self, like a seedling from a seed. As a branch of a tree is covered by bark, so the consciousness is enveloped by the mind. While the concept of mind can be understood by an average intellect, that of consciousness remains elusive: it is not easy to catch hold of mercury. Consciousness has many facets and channels which move in various directions simultaneously. The breath, on the other hand, once it
has been steadied, flows rhythmically in and out in a single channel. Svatmarama, after watchful study of the mind and breath, says that whether the mind is sleepy, dreammg or awake, the breath moves in a single rhythmic way.
Just as water mixed with milk appears as milk, energy (prana) united with consciousness becomes consciousness. So hatha yoga texts emphasise the restraint of energy, which can be more easily achieved than the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind. A steady and mindful inbreath and outbreath minimises the fluctuations and helps to stabilise the mind. Once this steadiness has been established through pranayama, the senses can be withdrawn from their objects. This is pratyahara. Pratyahara must be established before dhyana (concentration) can take place. Dhyana flows into dharana (meditation) and dharana into samadhi. The last three cannot be described, only experienced.
Svatmarama says that through samadhi, the mind dissolves in the consciousness; the consciousness in cosmic intelligence; cosmic intelligence in nature and nature in the Universal Spirit (Brahman).
The moment the consciousness, the ego, the intelligence and the mind are quietened, the Self, which is the king of these, surfaces and reflects on its own. This is samadhi.
Hatha yoga practices bring certain powers (such as clairvoyance and clairaudience) called siddhis, about which Svatmarama cautions the aspirant, If he does not practice with the proper attitude, there is danger that he will misuse these powers. (Patanjali calls the siddhis worthless, and a hindrance to the true goal of Self-realization).
Svatmarama says that practice has to be done without thinking of its fruits, but with steadfast attention, living a chaste life and moderation of food. One should avoid "bad company, proximity to fire, sexual relations, long trips, cold baths in the early morning, fasting, and heavy physical work". (1.61). In 1.66 he says that yoga cannot be experienced "by wearing yoga garments, or by conversation about yoga, but only through tireless practice". Earlier, in 1:16, he says: "Success depends on a cheerful disposition, perseverance, courage, self-knowledge, unshakable faith in the word of the guru and the avoidance of all superfluous company." And Patanjali says, "faith, vigour, sharp memory, absorption and total awareness are the key to success".
Hans-Ulrich Rieker presents Indian thoughts in Western terms so that people can understand them with less difficulty. I am glad to note that he asks his readers to regard with open mind the Indian masters' unattached and dispassionate attitude and their ways of testing prospective pupils. No master accepts a pupil just for the asking. First, he studies the student's capacity for determination and one-pointed devotion. Through the practice of hatha yoga, the body and the mind are refined and purified, and the pupil becomes worthy of acceptance by the master, to be uplifted towards spiritual emancipation.
Hans-Ulrich Rieker's explanation of the mystical terms nada, bindu and kala is praiseworthy. Nada means vibration or sound, bindu is a dot or a seed and kala means a sprout, or to shine or glitter. Here, bindu represents the Self; kala, the sprout of the Self, that is, consciousness; and nada the sound of the inner consciousness. A return journey from nada to kala, kala to bindu is the ultimate in hatha yoga. Svatmarama says that if the consciousness is the seed, hatha yoga is the field. He enjoins the student of yoga to water the field with the help of yogic practice and renunciation so that the consciousness becomes stainless and the Self shines forth.
Hans-Ulrich Rieker is to be commended for the accuracy of his representation of the original text as well as the helpfulness and clarity of his commentary. I hope this book will be studied by yoga aspirants, to help them to understand hatha yoga and savour its effects. Then I shall feel proud to have shared in its presentation.
B K S lyengar December 1991