The Nathas and Hatha Yoga
Whereas the yoga of Patanjali is rooted in the Samkhya doctrine, the yoga of the Nathas was a syncretic brew of tantric practices, with elements of Mahayana Buddhism, Saivite thought, alchemy and magic. It was the Nathas who were primarily responsible for extending the practices of asana and pranayama, with the aim of awakening the so-called Kundalini-Sakti, and the acquistion of magical powers or immortality. These bodily practices were formulated in principal Natha texts such as the Siddhasiddhantapaddhati (circa 11th century), Goraksasataka (11th-12th century) and the well-known Hathayogapradipika (14th Century). It is from these texts that the most popular forms of yoga known in contemporary culture derive from.
“How can Yogis, who do not know the six centres, the sixteen props,
the 3,00,000 (channels), the five sheaths in their own body attain perfection (in Yoga)?
How can those Yogis, who do not know their own body (as) a house
of one column (with) nine doors, and (as presided over by) five tutelary divinities,
attain perfection (in Yoga)?”
Goraksa Sataka (transl. in Briggs, Goraknath and the Kanphata Yogis)
A recent lecture (19 May 2009) by Dr. James Mallinson at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies (see Previous Lectures – some available as podcasts) argues that “…not one of the twenty Sanskrit texts that make up the corpus of early (pre-1450 CE) works on hatha-yoga was written in a Nath milieu. Furthermore, no single sect can be credited with starting hatha-yoga. On the contrary, hatha-yoga developed as a reaction against the sectarianism and exclusivity of tantra and was available to all, regardless of sectarian affiliation.”
Nad or nada (loosely, “divine sound”) is a key element in Natha practice. Firstly, nad parampara (roughly, “succession through sound”) denotes the Parampara in which the Guru gives the disciple a mantra. It’s complement is bindu parampara – which refers to the hereditory succession associated with householder Naths. ‘
Secondly, Nad is a concept in Yoga practice:
“By cleansing the nadis the prana (is) restrained as desired, the digestive fire (is) kindled, internal sound (i.e. nada) is heard (becomes manifest) (and) one becomes diseaseless.”
Similar sentiments are expressed in earlier texts such as the Yogacudamani Upanisad and in later texts such as the Hathayogapradipika.
An example of this auditory practice is the Dhum-Dhum-kara Nada found in the Siddhasiddhantapaddhati. Gorakhnath advises the practitioner in the initial stages, to close the ears with the forefingers, so that no external sound will distract. The practitioner will begin to hear a continuous sound – the dhum-dhum within the head. Attention should be fixed upon the inner sound until the sense of selfhood is absorbed within it. The mind is filled with deep joy, and this nada is the pure self-revelation of Siva-Sakti as sound power.
Various texts give lists of such internal sounds in varying degrees of subtlety.
Further, Nada can be understood as a primal sound. Siva as bindu is the eternal, unchanging aspect and Sakti, the diversification of sound (nada) and letters (varna). All forms of speech, and words both spoken and written are manifestations of nada.For the Nath adepts, as with other tantric streams, the communion of Siva-Sakti can be experienced in all diversified forms of sound.
NB: This sonic theology (to use Guy Beck’s phrase) is further elaborated in the works of Abhinavagupta and Ksemaraja.
There is a description of a Natha initiation in George Weston Briggs’ Goraknath and the Kanphata Yogis. The ceremony itself is preceded by a period of testing during which the aspirant is closely confined for a period between 40 days to six months, in order for the candidate to prove himself worthy of initiation. After the trial, the candidate must fast for a few days. Following the fast, the candidate bathes and presents gifts for the guru. The vow is then taken, the initiate is given instruction, and receives the mantra from the guru. The disciple is given a robe, and his head is shaved. The ceremony is closed by a communal feast.
Again, various Natha texts indicate that without a Guru and initiation, practice is meaningless (and potentially hazardous).