Gheranda Samhita is a Tantrika work, treating of Hathayoga. It consists of a dialogue between the sage Gheranda and an enquirer called Candakapali. The book is divided into seven Lessons or Chapters and comprises, in all, some three hundred and fifty verses. It closely follows in the foot-steps of the famous treatise on the Hathayoga, known as Hathayogapradipika. In fact, a large number of verses of Gheranda Samhita correspond verbatim with those of the Pradipika. It may, therefore, be presumed that one has borrowed from the other, or both have drawn from a common source.
The book teaches Yoga under seven heads of Sadhanas. The first gives directions for the purification of the body (inside and out). The second relates to Postures, third to Mudras, the fourth to Pratyahara, the fifth to Pranayama, the sixth to Dhyana, and the seventh to Samadhi. These are taught successively, a chapter being devoted to each (see Ch. I, 9-11).
The theory of Hathayoga, to put it broadly, is that concentration or Samadhi can be attained by purification of the physical body and certain physical exercises. The relation between physical shell (ghata) and mind is so complete and subtle, and their interaction is so curious and so much enveloped in mystery, that it is not strange that Hathayogins should have imagined that certain physical training will induce certain mental transformations.
Another explanation and a later one is that Hathayoga means the Yoga or union between ha and tha he meaning the sun; and tha the moon; or the union of the Prana and the Apana Vayus. This is also a physical process carried to a higher plane.
The first question, which an unprejudiced enquirer will naturally put, after perusing this book, will be, are all these things possible? and do these practices, produce the result attributed to them?
As to the possibility of these practices, there can be no doubt. They do not violate any anatomical or physiological facts. The practices, some of them at least, may appear revolting and disgusting, but they are not per se impossible. Moreover, many of my readers may have come across persons who can practically illustrate these. Such persons are by no means rare in India. Every place of pilgrimage, such as Benares and Allahabad, contains several of them, in various stages of progress. My own Guru showed me and all his visitors at Allahabad and Meerut several of these processes, and taught some people how to do them themselves. The difficult process, such as Vari-sara (Ch. I, 17), Agni-sara (I, 20), Danda-dhauti (I, 37), Vaso-dhauti (1, 40), etc., were all shown by him; so also the various Bastis, Neti, Asanas, etc. Many of these may be classified as gymnastic exercises; their performers need not always be holy or saint-like personages. Several jugglers have been known to perform various Asanas and Mudras, and earn their livelihood by showing them to the public. For persons whose muscles have become stiffened and the bones hardened by age, the acquirement of several of these postures, etc., is next to impossible; and it is better that they should not court failure of disappointment by attempting these at an advanced age. But Pranayama (regulation of breath), Dharana and Dhyana are possible for all.
As to the utility of these processes, genuine doubts may be entertained. Many of them may appear perilous, and, if not positively injurious, at least, useless. Although it is not possible within the short space at my command, to give the rationale of all these practices, and to justify them to a doubting public, I shall briefly illustrate the advantages of some of them. Thus, to begin with Vata-sara (I, 15). It is the process of filling the stomach with air and expelling the wind through the posterior passage. The greatest duct or canal in the human body is the alimentary canal, beginning with the oesophagus (throat) and ending with the rectum. It is some twenty-six feet in length. This great drain contains all the rubbish of the body. Nature periodically cleanses it. Yoga practice makes that cleansing through and voluntary. If the cleansing is incomplete, then the faecal matters putrefy in the stomach and intestines, and generate noxious and deleterious gases which cause diseases. Now Vata-sara by passing a current of air through the canal, causes the oxidation of the faecal products of the body; and thus conducive to health, and increases digestion. In fact, it gives a tone to the whole system. Similarly, Vari-sara is flushing the canal with water instead of air. It thoroughly purges the whole canal; and does the same work as an aperient or a purgative, but with ten times more efficacy and without the injurious effects of these drugs. A person, knowing Vata-sara and Vari-sara, stands in no need of purgative: the same may be said of Bahiskrta Dhauti (I, 22). By Agni-sara (I, 20), the nerves and muscles of the stomach are brought under the control of volition; and by the gentle shaking of the stomach and the intestines, these organs lose their lethargy, and act with greater vigour. The washing taught in I, 23, 24, is a little dangerous, and may lead to prolapsus, and, a person who can do Vari-sara need not do this. The advantages of cleaning the teeth and the tongue are obvious, and, need not be dilated upon. The lengthening of the tongue (I, 32) is necessary for performing hybernation. In doing this, man but imitates the lower creation, like frogs, etc., who in hybernating turn their tongues upward, closing the respiratory passage. Perhaps, the most interesting of all Dhautis is the Vaso-dhauti (I, 41), which has led unobservant persons to the belief that the Yogins can bring out the intestines by the mouth, wash them, and then swallowing them, again place them in their proper position. This Dhauti is, however, a very simple process, and by so doing the mucus, phlegm, etc., adhering to the sides of the alimentary canal are removed. Water and air could not remove these viscid substances that stick to the sides of the canal.
The Neti, an easy process, clears. the nostrils; and cures the tendency or predisposition to cold and catarrh. The Kapalabhati (I, 55) is a means of cleansing the frontal sinus, said to be the seat of Intelligence. This hollow cannot be directly reached from the outside, but by this process of Kapalabhati, the nerves surrounding it and spreading over the forehead are brought into play and invigorated.
The various Asanas taught in Chapter II are gymnastic exercises, good for general health and peace of mind, and calming of passions. The thirty-two Asanas taught in this book are not all of equal efficacy or importance. Padmasana is generally approved by all. The others may be practised occasionally for variation and recreation. Some of these postures help in checking animal passions by causing atrophy of the nerves of particular places. Others by straining and stretching of certain muscles create a pleasant sensation of strength and refreshment. The Asanas are antidotes to the sedentary contemplation of yoga, a habit which may otherwise lead to mental hallucinations and nervous disorders.
The word ‘Yoga’ has originated from the root ‘Yuj’ of the Sanskrit language which means ‘Yoke’, i.e. union with God. The Bhagavadgita which reflects the quintessence of all the Vedas teaches that the true goal of human life is union with God or the Supreme Brahman. The different paths taught by the various branches of Yoga cater to the varying temperaments, attitudes and stages of spiritual evolution, and people follow the path most suited to them. The practice of Hathayoga is a pre-requisite to purify heart and mind, and make one eligible for Jnanayoga or Samkhyayoga or say Rajayoga, the Yoga that takes one to the knowledge or realization of the Paramatman. The Upanisads declare in unequivocal terms that this eternal knowledge alone puts the aspirant on the path of merging the individual consciousness (the consciousness of the microcosm) into the cosmic consciousness (the consciousness of the macrocosm). When we talk of Yoga, it is not the Yoga that people generally understand and the normal perception that they carry about it. It is necessary to know that Yoga is something very very great, something so deep which can be known by plumbing the world within our own system, the heart.
The truth of the matter is that one can be close to God by subduing one’s own senses and transcending one’s mind and intellect. This spiritual regeneration can be brought out through the practice of Yoga Sadhana-Asana, Pranayama, Mudras and Meditation. When a Yogi understands the very spirit of Yoga that it functions as a harmonious unit, the life undergoes a tremendous change. Its regular practice in a disciplined way brings a total self-transformation. When the yogi realizes his true Self (Atman) transcending the practice of physical gratification, he recognizes his essential nature, i.e. the divinity itself and he gets established in the Brahman. Life then becomes a festival, a celebration.
The Yoga makes one understand the infinite energy manifest within us. The Yoga exercises demons that lurk in our minds as it deals with our essential inner nature and creates the right kind of interior to foster joyous and peaceful living.
Fortunately, our nation has got a rich heritage of scriptures which unfold the spiritual revelations of the master minds, the pious saints and sages. We have always looked our life very sacred. Sanctity is the very foundation of life. The whole of the creation is founded on holiness since the Lord is the very substratum of it. The Lord pervades every sentient and non-sentient creation. The etiology of the maladies today including the deteriorating environment, stems from an erosion of purity or sanctity. Lack of spiritual hygiene is a precarious thing. This may endanger the entire social fabric. The fact of unveiling the splendour of the human person lies at the core of spirituality which is instrumental through Yoga-sadhana. Never carry any wrong perception about Yoga. It gets one the true exhilaration in life and never there remains dryness. Since we are put in delusion due to the impurities sticking inside us, we have no alternate but to seek shelter with Hathayoga which in fact culminates in Rajayoga. The three main Yogas specified by Lord Krishna are Karmayoga, Bhaktiyoga and Jnanayoga, which occur after Hathayoga, which smash the belief that we are different from the totality, the Supreme Cosmic Power. We remain stripped off the Supreme Power due to the delusion that we are a separate entity, separate individual. When we, as a Yogi, dwelve deep inside we are able to discover a dazzling world. That Supreme Power Thou art Tattvamasi.
The Yoga practices, the spiritual discipline and techniques of meditation, enable an aspirant to attain the knowledge of the Supreme Reality, the Paramatman. Though the original exposition of the Vedic philosophy occurs in the texts called Upanisads, Maharshi Patanjali composed them into Aphorisms over 1500 years ago making it accessible to the succeeding generation.
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