[EM1 xiii] When one approaches an exotic spirituality, one understands principally what one is predestined to understand by one’s own vocation, by one own’s cultural orientation and that of the historical moment to which one belongs.
I. The Doctrines of Yoga
[EM1 5] What characterizes Yoga is not only its practical side, but also its initiatory structure. One does not learn Yoga by oneself; the guidance of a master (guru) is necessary. Strictly speaking, all the other “systems of philosophy” as, in fact, all traditional disciplines or crafts are, in India, taught by masters and are thus initiations; for millenniums they have been transmitted orally, “from mouth to ear.” But Yoga is even more markedly initiatory in character. For, as in other religious initiations, the yogin begins by forsaking the profane world (family, society) and, guided by his guru, applies himself to passing successively beyond the behavior patterns and values proper to the human condition. When we shall have seen to what a degree the yogin attempts to dissociate himself from the profane condition, we shall understand that he dreams of “dying to this life.”
[EM1 10] From the time of the Upanishads India rejects the world as it is and devaluates life as it reveals itself to the eyes of the sage ephemeral, painful, illusory. Such a conception leads neither to nihilism nor to pessimism. This world is rejected, this life depreciated, because it is known that something else exists, beyond becoming, beyond temporality, beyond suffering. In religious terms, it could almost be said that India rejects the profane cosmos and profane life, because it thirsts for a sacred world and a sacred mode of being.
The Equation Pain-Existence
[EM1 12] Yet this universal suffering does not lead to a “philosophy of pessimism.” No Indian philosophy or gnosis falls into despair. On the contrary, the revelation of “pain” as the law of existence can be regarded as the conditio sine qua non for emancipation. Intrinsically, then, this universal suffering has a positive, stimulating value. It perpetually reminds the sage and the ascetic that but one way remains for him to attain to freedom and bliss withdrawal from the world, detachment from possessions and ambitions, radical isolation.
[EM1 12] To “emancipate” oneself from suffering such is the goal of all Indian philosophies and all Indian mysticisms. Whether this deliverance is obtained directly through “knowledge” (according to the teaching of Vedanta and Samkhya, for example ) or by means of techniques ( as Yoga and the majority of Buddhist schools hold), the fact remains that no knowledge has any value if it does not seek the “salvation” of man.
[EM1 14] The importance that all these Indian metaphysics, and even the ascetic technique and contemplative method that constitute Yoga, accord to “knowledge” is easily explained if we take into consideration the causes of human suffering. The wretchedness of human life is not owing to a divine punishment or to an original sin, but to ignorance. Not any and every kind of ignorance, but only ignorance of the true nature of Spirit, the ignorance that makes us confuse Spirit with our psychomental experience, that makes us attribute “qualities” and predicates to the eternal and autonomous principle that is Spirit in short, a metaphysical ignorance. Hence it is natural that it should be a metaphysical knowledge that supervenes to end this ignorance. This metaphysical knowledge leads the disciple to the threshold of illumination that is, to the true “Self.” And it is this knowledge of one’s Self not in the profane sense of the term, but in its ascetic and spiritual sense that is the end pursued by the majority of Indian speculative systems, though each of them indicates a different way of reaching it.
For Samkhya and Yoga the problem is clearly defined. Since suffering has its origin in ignorance of “Spirit” that is, in confusing “Spirit” with psychomental states emancipation can be obtained only if the confusion is abolished. The differences between Samkhya and Yoga on this point are insignificant. Only their methods differ: Samkhya seeks to obtain liberation solely by gnosis, whereas for Yoga an ascesis and a technique of meditation are indispensable. In both darshanas human suffering is rooted in illusion, for man believes that his psychomental life activity of the senses, feelings, thoughts, and volitions is identical with Spirit, with the Self. He thus confuses two wholly autonomous and opposed realities, between which there is no real connection but only an illusory relation, for psychomental experience does not belong to Spirit, it belongs to nature (prakriti); states of consciousness are the refined products of the same substance that is at the base of the physical world and the world of life. Between psychic states and inanimate objects or living beings, there are only differences of degree. But between psychic states and Spirit there is a difference of an ontological order; they belong to two different modes of being. “Liberation” occurs when one has understood this truth, and when the Spirit regains its original freedom. Thus, according to Samkhya, he who would gain emancipation must begin by thoroughly knowing the essence and the forms of nature (prakriti) and the laws that govern its evolution. For its part, Yoga also accepts this analysis of Substance, but finds value only in the practice of contemplation, which is alone capable of revealing the autonomy and omnipotence of Spirit experimentally.
[EM1 15-16] Spirit (“soul”) as a transcendent and autonomous principle is accepted by all Indian philosophies, except by the Buddhists and the materialists (the Lokayatas). But it is by entirely different approaches that the various darshanas seek to prove its existence and explain its essence. For the Nyaya school, soul-spirit is an entity without qualities, absolute, unknowing. Vedanta, on the contrary, defines the atman as being saccidananada (sat = being; cit = consciuosness, ananda = bliss) and regards Spirit as a unique, universal, and eternal reality, dramatically enmeshed in the temporal illusion of creation (maya). Samkhya and Yoga deny Spirit (purusha) any attribute and any relation; according to these two “philosophies,” all that can be affirmed of purusha is that it is and that it knows (its knowing is, of course, the metaphysical knowledge that results from its contemplation of its own mode of being).
The Relation Spirit-Nature
[EM1 26] If the Samkhya-Yoga philosophy explains neither the cause nor the origin of the strange association established between Spirit and experience, it nevertheless attempts to explain the nature of their association, to define the character of their mutual relations. They are not real relations, in the strict sense of the word relations such as exist, for example, between external objects and perceptions. Real relations, of course, imply change and plurality; now, these are modalities essentially opposed to the nature of Spirit.
“States of consciousness” are only products of prakriti and can have no kind of relation with Spirit the latter, by its very essence, being above all experience. However and for SamPhya and Yoga this is the key to the paradoxical situation the most subtle, most transparent part of mental life, that is, intelligence (buddhi) in its mode of pure luminosity (sattva), has a specific quality that of reflecting Spirit. Comprehension of the external world is possible only by virtue of this reflection of purusha in intelligence. But the Self is not corrupted by this reflection and does not lose its ontological modalities (impassibility, eternity, etc.). The Yoga-sutras (II, 20) say in substance: seeing (drashtri; i.e., purusha) is absolute consciousness (“sight par excellence”) and, while remaining pure, it knows cognitions (it “looks at the ideas that are presented to it”).
[EM1 27] Vyasa interprets: Spirit is reflected in intelligence (buddhi), but is neither like it nor different from it. It is not like intelligence because intelligence is modified by knowledge of objects, which knowledge is ever-changing whereas purusha commands uninterrupted knowledge, in some sort it is knowledge. On the other hand, purusha is not completely different from buddhi, for, although it is pure, it knows knowledge. Patanjali employs a different image to define the relationship between Spirit and intelligence: just as a flower is reflected in a crystal, intelligence reflects purusha. But only ignorance can attribute to the crystal the qualities of the flower (form, dimensions, colors). When the object (the flower) moves, its image moves in the crystal, though the latter remains motionless. It is an illusion to believe that Spirit is dynamic because mental experience is so. In reality, there is here only an illusory relation (upadhi) owing to a “sympathetic correspondence” (yogyata) between the Self and intelligence.
[EM1 28] Pain exists only to the extent to which experience is referred to the human personality regarded as identical with purusha, with the Self. But since this relation is illusory, it can easily be abolished. When purusha is known, values are annulled; pain is no longer either pain or nonpain, but a simple fact; a fact that, while it preserves its sensory structure, loses its value, its meaning. This point should be thoroughly understood, for it is of capital importance in Samkhya and Yoga and, in our opinion, has not been sufficiently emphasized. In order to deliver us from suffering, Samkhya and Yoga deny suffering as such, thus doing away with all relation between suffering and the Self. From the moment we understand that the Self is free, eternal, and inactive, whatever happens to us sufferings, feelings, volitions, thoughts, and so on no longer belongs to us.
How is Liberation Possible?
[EM1 32-33] Vedanta also criticizes the concept of the plurality of “selves” (purusha), as formulated by Samkhya and Yoga. For these two darshanas affirm that there are as many purushas as there are human beings. And each of these purushas is a monad, is completely isolated; for the Self can have no contact either with the world around it (derived from prakriti) or with other spirits. The cosmos, then, is peopled with these eternal, free, unmoving purushas monads between which no communication is possible. According to Vedanta, this conception is erroneous and the plurality of “selves” is an illusion. In any case, this is a tragic and paradoxical conception of Spirit, which is thus cut offnot only from the world of phenomena but also from other liberated “selves.” Nevertheless, Samkhya and Yoga were obliged to postulate the multiplicity of purushas; for if there were but one Spirit, salvation would have been an infinitely simpler problem, the first man who should attain liberation would necessarily bring about that of the entire human race. If there had been but one universal Spirit, the concomitant existence of “liberated spirits” and “bound spirits” would have been impossible. Nor indeed, in such a case, could death, life, difference of se+, diversity in action, etc., have coexisted. The paradox is obvious: this doctrine reduces the infinite variety of phenomena to a single principle, matter (prakriti); it sees the physical universe, life, and consciousness as derived from a single matrix and yet it postulates the plurality of spirits, although by their nature these are essentially identical. Thus it unites what would appear to be so different the physical, the biotic, and the mental and isolates what, especially in India, seems so unique and universal Spirit.
[EM1 37] Vyasa [Yoga-sutras, I, I.] classifies the modalities of consciousness (or “mental planes,” citta bhumi) as follows: (1) unstable (kshipta); (2) confused, obscure (mudha); (5) stable and unstable (vikshipta); (4) fixed on a single point (ekagra); (5) completely restrained (niruddha). Of these modalities, the first two are common to all men, for, from the Indian point of view, psychomental life is normally confused. The third modality of consciousness, vikshipta, is obtained by fixing the mind “occasionally and provisionally,” through the exercise of attention (for example, in an effort of memory or in connection with a mathematical problem, etc. ); but it is transitory and is of no help toward liberation, since it was not obtained through Yoga. Only the last two of the modalities enumerated above are yogic “states” i.e., brought on by ascesis and meditation.
[EM1 41] ... at this point we can already recognize in Yoga a tendency that is specifically its own, and one that, therefore, we have not encountered in the Samkhya darshana. It is a tendency toward the concrete, toward the act, toward experimental verification. Even Patanjali’s “classic” Yoga (and still more the other kinds of Yogas) accords the greatest importance to experience that is, to knowledge of the different states of consciousness. And there is nothing surprising in this, given the aim that Yoga in general pursues which is to rarefy, to dislocate, and, finally, to do away with these states of consciousness. This tendency toward concrete, experimental knowledge, in view of finally mastering that of which one has, so to speak, taken possession through knowing it, will be carried to its extreme by tantrism.
[EM1 45] Long before psychoanalysis, Yoga showed the importance of the role played by the subconscious. Indeed, it is in the dynamism that characterizes the unconscious that Yoga sees the most serious obstacle that the yogin has to overcome. This is because the latencies as if a strange impulse drove them to self-extinction want to emerge into the light, want, by actualizing themselves, to become states of consciousness. The resistance that the subconscious opposes to every act of renunciation and asceticism, to every act that could result in the emancipation of the Self, is, as it were, the token of the fear that the subconscious feels at the mere idea that the mass of as yet unmanifested latencies could fail of their destiny, could be destroyed before having time to manifest and actualize themselves.
II. Techniques for Autonomy
Concentration “on a Single Point”
[EM1 47] The point of departure of Yoga meditation is concentration on a single object; whether this is a physical object (the space between the eyebrows, the tip of the nose, something luminous, etc.), or a thought (a metaphysical truth), or God (Ishvara) makes no difference. This determined and continuous concentration, called ekagrata (“on a single point”), is obtained by integrating the psychomental flux (sarvarthata, “variously directed, discontinuous, diffused attention”). [Yoga-sutras, III, 11]
[EM1 47] The immediate result of ekagrata, concentration on a single point, is prompt and lucid censorship of all the distractions and automatisms that dominate or, properly speaking, compose profane consciousness. Completely at the mercy of associations (themselves produced by sensations and the vasanas), man passes his days allowing himself to be swept hither and thither by an infinity of disparate moments that are, as it were, external to himself. The senses or the subconscious continually introduce into consciousness objects that dominate and change it, according to their form and intensity. Associations disperse consciousness, passions do it violence, the “thirst for life” betrays it by projecting it [EM1 48] outward. Even in his intellectual efforts, man is passive, for the fate of secular thoughts (controlled not by ekagrata but only by fluctuating moments of concentration, kshiptavikshipta) is to be thought by objects. Under the appearance of thought, there is really an indefinite and disordered flickering, fed by sensations, words, and memory. The first duty of the yogin is to think that is, not to let himself think. This is why Yoga practice begins with ekagrata, which dams the mental stream and thus constitutes a “psychic mass,” a solid and unified continuum.
The practice of ekagrata tends to control the two generators of mental fluidity: sense activity (indriya) and the activity of the subconscious (samskara). Control is the ability to intervene, at will and directly, in the functioning of these two sources of mental “whirlwinds” (cittavritti). A yogin can obtain discontinuity of consciousness at will; in other words, he can, at any time and any place, bring about concentration of his attention on a “single point” and become insensible to any other sensory or mnemonic stimulus. Through ekagrata one gains a genuine will that is, the power freely to regulate an important sector of biomental activity. It goes without saying that ekagrata can be obtained only through the practice of numerous exercises and techniques, in which physiology plays a role of primary importance. One cannot obtain ekagrata if, for example, the body is in a tiring or even uncomfortable posture, or if the respiration is disorganized, unrhythmical. This is why, according to Patanjali, yogic technique implies several categories of physiological practices and spiritual exercises (called angas, “members”), which one must have learned if one seeks to obtain ekagrata and, ultimately, the highest concentration, samadhi. These “members” of Yoga can be regarded both as forming a group of techniques and as being stages of the mental ascetic itinerary whose end is final liberation. They are: (1) restraints (yama); (2) disciplines (niyama); (3) bodily attitudes and postures (asana); (4) rhythm of respiration (pranayama); (~) emancipation of sensory activity from the domination of exterior objects [EM1 79] (pratyahara); ( 6) concentration ( dharana); ( 7) yogic meditation (dhyana ); ( 8 ) samadhi.
Each class (anga) of practices and disciplines has a definite purpose. Patanjali hierarchizes these “members of Yoga” in such a way that the yogin cannot omit any of them, except in certain cases. The first two groups, yama and niyama, obviously constitute the necessary preliminaries for any type of asceticism, hence there is nothing specifically yogic in them. The restraints (yama) purify from certain sins that all systems of morality disapprove but that social life tolerates. Now, the moral law can no longer be infringed here as it is in secular life without immediate danger to the seeker for deliverance. In Yoga, every sin produces its consequences immediately.
[EM1 52] It is interesting to note, here and now, that the yogin’s struggle against any of these “obstacles” is magical in character. Every temptation that he conquers is equivalent to a force that he appropriates. Such forces are obviously not moral; they are magical forces. To renounce a temptation is not only to “purify” oneself in the negative sense of the word; it is also to realize a true and positive gain; the yogin thereby extends his power over that which he had begun by renouncing. Even more: he reaches the point of mastering not only the objects that he had renounced, but also a magical force infinitely more precious than all objects as such. For example, he who realizes the restraint asteya (not to steal) “sees all jewels come to him.” [Yoga-sutras, II, 37]
Yogic Postures and Respiratory Discipline
[EM1 54] asana is distinctly a sign of transcending the human condition. Whether this “arrest,” this invulnerability in respect to the pairs of opposites, to the external world, represents a regression to the vegetable condition or a transcendence toward the divine archetype, iconographically formulated, is a question that we shall examine later. For the moment, we shall note only that asana is the first concrete step taken for the purpose of abolishing the modalities of human existence. What is certain is that the motionless, hieratic position of the body imitates some other condition than the human; the yogin in the state of asana can be homologized with a plant or a sacred statue; under no circumstances can he be homologized with man qua man, who, by definition, is mobile, agitated, unrhythmic. On the plane of the “body,” asana is an ekagrata, a concentration on a single point; the body is “tensed,” concentrated in a [EM1 55] single position. Just as ekagrata puts an end to the fluctuation and dispersion of the states of consciousness, so asana puts an end to the mobility and disposability of the body, by reducing the infinity of possible positions to a single archetypal, iconographic posture. We shall soon see that the tendency toward “unification” and “totalization” is a feature of all yogic techniques. The profound meaning of these “unifications” will become clear to us a little later. But their immediate purpose is even now obvious; it is to abolish (or to transcend) the human condition by a refusal to conform to the most elementary human inclinations. Refusal to move (asana), to let oneself be carried along on the rushing stream of states of consciousness (ekagrata), will be continued by a long series of refusals of every kind.
The most important and, certainly, the most specifically yogic of these various refusals is the disciplining of respiration (pranayama) in other words, the “refusal” to breathe like the majority of mankind, that is, nonrhythmically.
[EM1 56] The statement that a connection always exists between respiration and mental states seems to us highly important. It contains far more than mere observation of the bare fact that, for example, the respiration of a man in anger is agitated, while that of one who is concentrating (even if only provisionally and without any yogic purpose) becomes rhythmical and automatically slows down, etc. The relation connecting the rhythm of respiration with the states of consciousness mentioned by Bhoja, which has undoubtedly been observed and experienced by yogins from the earliest times this relation has served them as an instrument for “unifying” consciousness. The “unification” here under consideration must be understood in the sense that, by making his respiration rhythmical and progressively slower, the yogin can “penetrate” that is, he can experience, in perfect lucidity certain states of consciousness that are inaccessible in a waking condition, particularly the states of consciousness that are peculiar to sleep. For there is no doubt that the respiratory rhythm of a man asleep is slower than that of a man awake. By reaching this rhythm of sleep through the practice of pranayama, the yogin, without renouncing his lucidity, penetrates the states of consciousness that accompany sleep.
Yogic Concentration and Meditation
[EM1 69] Autonomy with respect to stimuli from the outer world and to the dynamism of the subconscious an autonomy that he realizes through pratyahara allows the yogin to practice a threefold technique, which the texts call samyama. The term designates the last stages of yogic meditation, the last three “members of Yoga” (yoganga). These are: concentration (dharana), meditation properly [EM1 70] speaking (dhyana), and stasis (samadhi). These mental exercises become possible only after sufficient repetition of all the other physiological exercises, when the yogin has succeeded in attaining perfect mastery over his body, his subconscious, and his psychomental flux. The adjective “subtle” (antaranga) is applied to them to emphasize the fact that they imply no new physiological technique. They are so much alike that the yogin who attempts one of them (concentration, for example) cannot easily remain in it, and sometimes finds himself, quite against his will, slipping over into meditation or enstasis. It is for this reasor. that these last three yogic exercises have a common name samyama.
Concentration (dharana, from the root dhri, “to hold fast”) is in fact an ekagrata, a “fixing on a single point,” but its content is strictly notional. In other words, dharana and this is what distinguishes it from ekagrata, whose sole purpose is to arrest the psychomental flux and “fix it on a single point” realizes such a “fixation” for the purpose of comprehension. Patanjali’s definition of it is: “fixation of thought on a single point”.
The Role of Ishvara
[EM1 73] Unlike Samkhya, Yoga affirms the existence of a God, Ishvara. This God is, of course, no creator (the cosmos, life and man having ... been “created” by prakriti, for they all proceed from the primordial substance). But in the case of certain men, Ishvara can hasten the process of deliverance; he helps them toward a more speedy arrival at samadhi. This God, to whom Patanjali refers, is more especially a god of yogins.
[EM1 74] According to Patanjali [Yoga-sutras, II, 45], this divine aid is not the effect of a “desire” or a “feeling” for God can have neither desires nor emotions but of a “metaphysical sympathy” between Ishvara and the purusha, a sympathy explained by their structural correspondence. Ishvara is a purusha that has been free since all eternity, never touched by the kleshas [Yoga-sutras, I, 24].”
[EM1 74-75] Although it was Patanjali who introduced this new and (when all is said and done) perfectly useless element of Ishvara into the dialectics of the Samkhya soteriological doctrine, he does not give Ishvara the significance that late commentators will accord to him. What is of first importance in the Yoga-sutras is technique in other words, the yogin’s will and capacity for self-mastery and concentration. [EM1 75] Why, then, did Patanjali nevertheless feel the need to introduce Ishvara? Because Ishvara corresponded to an experiential reality: Ishvara can, in fact, bring about samadhi, on condition that the yogin practice Ishvarapranidhana that is, devotion to Ishvara. [Yoga-sutras, II, 45] Having undertaken to collect and classify all the yogic techniques whose efficacy had been confirmed by the “classic tradition,” Patanjali could not neglect a whole series of experiences that had been made possible by the single process of concentration on Ishvara. In other words: alongside the tradition of a purely magical Yoga one that called upon nothing but the will and personal powers of the ascetic there was another, a “mystical” tradition, in which the last stages of Yoga practice were at least made easier by devotion even though an extremely rarefied, extremely “intellectual” devotion to a God. In any case, at least as he appears in Patanjali and Vyasa, Ishvara has none of the grandeur of the omnipotent Creator-God, none of the pathos that surrounds the dynamic and solemn God of various mystical schools. All in all, Ishvara is only an archetype of the yogin a macroyogin; very probably a patron of certain yogic sects. At least Patanjali says that Ishvara was the guru of the sages of immemorial times, for, he adds, Ishvara is not bound by time.
But let us now note a detail whose significance will not become clear until later. Into a dialectic of deliverance in which there was no need for a deity to figure, Patanjali introduces a “God,” to whom, it is true, he accords but a minor role for the yogin who takes him as the object of his concentration, Ishvara can facilitate the gaining of samadhi. But samadhi as we shall see can be gained without this “concentration on Ishvara. The Yoga practiced by the Buddha and his contemporaries can do without this “concentration on God.” It is quite easy to imagine a Yoga that would accept the Samkhya dialectic in toto, and we have no reason to believe that such a magical and atheistic Yoga did not exist. Patanjali nevertheless had to introduce Ishvara into Yoga, for Ishvara was, so to [EM1 75] speak, an experiential datum the yogins did in fact appeal to him, although they could have obtained liberation by simply following the technique of Yoga.
Enstasis and Hypnosis
[EM1 77 foornote] The meanings of the term samadhi are: union, totality; absorption in, complete concentration of mind; conjunction. The usual translation is “concentration,” but this entails the risk of confusion with dharana. Hence we have preferred to translate it “enstasis,” “stasis,” “conjunction.”
[EM1 77] The passage from “concentration” to “meditation” does not require the application of any new technique. Similarly, no supplementary yogic exercise is needed to realize samadhi, once the yogin has succeeded in “concentrating” and “meditating.” Samadhi, yogic “enstasis,” is the final result and the crown of all the ascetic’s spiritual efforts and exercises.
Innumerable difficulties must be overcome if we would understand precisely in what this yogic “stasis” consists. Even if we disregard the peripheral meanings that the concept samadhi acquires in Buddhist literature and in the “baroque” species of Yoga, and take into consideration only the meaning and value given it by Patanjali and his commentators, the difficulties remain. For one thing, samadhi expresses an experience that is completely indescribable. For another, this “enstatic experience” is not univalent its modalities are very numerous. Let us see if, proceeding by stages, we can discover to what samadhi refers. The word is first employed in a gnosiological sense; samadhi is the state of contemplation in which thought grasps the form of the object directly, without the help of categories and the imagination (kalpana); the state in which the object is revealed “in itself” (svarupa), in its essentials, and as if “empty of itself”.
[EM1 78] However, we must not regard this yogic state as a mere hypnotic trance. Indian “psychology” is familiar with hypnosis, and attributes it to a merely occasional and provisional state of concentration (vikshipta). Some passages from the Mahabharata show the popular Indian conception of the hypnotic trance; according to this conception, it is only an automatic damming of the “stream of consciousness” and not a yogic ekagrata.
The Siddhis or “Miraculous Powers”
[EM1 88] In India a yogin has always been considered a mahasiddha, a possesor of occult powers, a “magician.” That this lay opinion is not wholly erroneous is shown by the entire spiritual history of India, in which the magician has always played, if not the principal role, at least an important one.”
[EM1 88 footnote] ...list of the eight “great powers” (mahasiddhi) of the yogin: (1) animan (shrinking), that is, the power of becoming as small as an atom; laghiman (lightness), the power of becoming light as wool; (3) gariman (weight); (4) mahiman (illimitability), the power of touching any object at any distance (for example, the moon); (5) prakamya (irresistible will); (6) ishitva (supremacy over the body and the manas); (7) vashitva (dominion over the elements); (8) kamavasayitva (fulfillment of desires).”
[EM1 89] For as soon as the ascetic consents to making use of the magical forces gained by his disciplines, the possibility of his acquiring new forces vanishes. ... Only a new renunciation and a victorious struggle against the temptation of magic bring the ascetic a new spiritual enrichment.”
[EM1 90] For it is samadhi, not the “occult powers,” which represents true “mastery.” As Patanjali says (Yoga-sütras, III, 37), these powers are “perfections” (this is the literal meaning of the term siddhi) in the waking state (vyutthana), but represent obstacles in the state of samadhi which is only natural, if we consider that, for Indian thought, all possession implies bondage to the thing possessed.
And yet ... nostalgia for the “divine condition” conquered by force, magically, has never ceased to obsess ascetics and yogins.”
Reintegration and Freedom
[EM1 95-96] The method [of Yoga] comprises a number of different techniques (physiological, mental, physical), but they all have one characteristic in common they are antisocial, or, indeed, antihuman. The worldly man lives in society, marries, establishes a family; Yoga prescribed absolute solitude and chastity. The worldly man is “possessed” by his own life; the yogin refuses to “let himself live”; to continual movement, he opposes his static posture, the immobility of asana; to agitated, unrhythmical, changing respiration, he opposes pranayama, and even dreams of holding his breath indefinitely; to the chaotic flux of psychomental life, he replies by “fixing thought on a single point,” the first step to that final withdrawal from the phenomenal world which he will obtain through pratyahara. All of the yogic techniques invite to one and the same gesture to do exactly the opposite of what human nature forces one to do.”
[EM1 96] The man who refuses his native condition and consciously reacts against it by attempting to abolish it is a man who thirsts for the unconditioned, for freedom, for “power” in a word, for one of the countless modalities of the sacred.
This “reversal of all human values” that the yogin pursues is, furthermore, validated by a long Indian tradition; for, in the Vedic perspective, the world of the gods is exactly the opposite of ours (the god’s right hand corresponds to man’s left hand, an object broken here below remains whole in the beyond, etc.). By the refusal that he opposes to profane life, the yogin imitates a transcendent model Ishvara.
III. Yoga and Brahmanism
Tapas and Yoga
[EM1 106] The equivalence between this Indo-European religious archaism and that of the aborigines is very well illustrated by the theory and practice of tapas. This term (lit. “heat,” “ardor”) is used to designate ascetic effort in general. Tapas is clearly documented in the Rig-Veda, [Cf, for example, V111, 59, 6; X, 136, 2; 154, 2, 4; 167, 1; 109, 4, etc.] and its powers are creative on both the cosmic and the spiritual planes; through tapas the ascetic becomes clairvoyant and even incarnates the gods. Prajapati creates the world by “heating” himself to an extreme degree through asceticism that is, he creates it by a sort of magical sweating. For Brahmanic speculation, Prajapati was himself the product of tapas; in the beginning (agre) nonbeing (asat) became mind (manas) and heated itself (atapyata), giving birth to smoke, light, fire, and finally to Prajapati, Now, cosmogony and anthropogeny through sweating are mythical motifs also found elsewhere ( for example, in North America). They are very probably connected with a shamanistic ideology; we know that the North American shamans make use of sweating cabinets to stimulate violent perspiration. Moreover, the custom is only one aspect of a larger ideological complex that is earlier than shamanism, strictly speaking; we refer to “magical heat” and the “mastery of fire.” Magically increasing the heat of the body, and “mastering” fire to the point of not feeling the heat of burning coals, are two marvels universally attested among medicine men, shamans, and fakirs. Now, as we shall see later, one of the most typical yogico-tantric techniques consists precisely in producing inner heat (“mystical heat” ). The continuity between the oldest known magical technique and tantric Yoga is, in this particular, undeniable.
[EM1 106] It was not always the fervent devotees of yogic practices who tried to obtain Brahmanic approval of their attitude and method. Orthodoxy itself frequently took the first step. The very small number of “heresies” recorded during the three thousand years of Indian religious life is owing not only to the constant efforts of the innumerable sects and trends to gain formal admission to the traditional fold, but equally to the ceaseless assimilative and Hinduizing activity of orthodoxy. In India, orthodoxy means first of all the spiritual domination of a caste, that of the Brahmans. Its theological and ritual “system” can be reduced to two fundamental points: (1) the Vedas are regarded as forming an unalterable scriptural corpus; (2) sacrifice outweighs everything else in importance. The two elements are pre-eminently “static.” Yet the religious history of Indo-aryan India proves to be essentially dynamic, in perpetual transformation. A double action set in motion, and continued down to the present day, by Brahmanic orthodoxy explains this phenomenon: (1) by recourse to hermeneutics, the Vedas have been constantly reinterpreted; (2) by recourse to mythical, ritual, or religious homologizations, the complexities of extra-orthodox cults and mysticisms have been, so to speak, reduced to a common denominator and, finally, absorbed by orthodoxy. Assimilation of autochthonous “popular” divinities by Hinduism remains a current phenomenon.
Naturally, orthodoxy performed this assimilation only at moments of crisis that is, when its old ritual and doctrinal schemata no longer satisfied its own elites and when important [EM1 107] ascetico-mystical “experiences” or preaching had developed extra muros. All through the course of Indian history, we can detect a reaction against Brahmanism’s ritual schematization and also against its excessive “abstraction” a reaction whose point of departure is to to be found in the very heart of Indian society. The reaction will increase in volume as India becomes increasingly Brahmanized and Hinduized that is, the absorption of extra-Brahmanic and extra-aryan elements will become more intense.
[EM1 107] The Upanishads, too, in their particular way, react against ritualism. They are the expression of experiences and meditations on the margin of Brahmanic orthodoxy. They answered to a need for the absolute that the abstract schemata of ritualism were far from satisfying. In this respect, the Upanishadic risis took the same position as the yogins; both abandoned orthodoxy (sacrifice, civic life, the family) and, in all simplicity, set out in search of the absolute. It is true that the Upanishads remain in the line of metaphysics and contemplation, whereas Yoga employs asceticism and a technique of meditation. But this is not enough to halt the constant osmosis between the Upanishadic and yogic milieus. Some yogic methods are even accepted by the Upanishads as preliminary exercises in purification and contemplation. We shall not go into details here; out of the considerable body of Upanishadic meditations, we shall mention only the aspects that concern our subject directly. The great discovery of the Upanishads was, of course, the systematic statement of the identity between the atman and the brahman. Now, if we take into consideration what brahman had meant from Vedic times, the Upanishadic discovery entailed the following consequence: immortality and absolute power became accessible to every being who made the effort to reach gnosis and thus acquire knowledge of every mystery, for the brahman represented all that it was the immortal, the imperishable, the powerful.
Symbolism and Gnosis in the Upanishads
[EM1 117] In late texts, we begin to see a twofold osmotic movement: the yogins take advantage of the aura of sanctity that clings to the ancient Upanishads and adorn their treatises with the epithet “Upanishadic”; the Upanishadic risis turn to their profit the recent but already great fame of the yogins, of those who can simultaneously gain liberation and magical mastery of the world. It is for this reason that a rapid review of the yogic elements to be found in the Upanishads cannot but be instructive; it will help us to see the progress made in the acceptance of Yoga by Brahmanism, as well as the prodigious polymorphism of the former.
[EM1 117] The term yoga, in its technical sense, first occurs in the Taittiriya Upanishad (II, 4: yoga atma) and the Katha Upanishad (II, 12: adhyatma yoga). But yogic practice is discernible in the earliest [EM1 118] Upanishads. Thus a passage from the Chandogya Upanishad (VIII, 15: atmani sarvendriyani sampratishtha, “concentrating all one’s senses upon one’s self”) allows us to infer the practice of pratyahara; similarly, pranayama is frequently to be found in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Immortality and Liberation
[EM1 119] Finally, we find a physiological detail that is yogic; resuming a [EM1 120] shloka preserved in the Chandogya Upanishad, our text tells us that
There are a hundred and one arteries of the heart.
Only one of these passes up to the crown of the head.
Going up by it, one goes to immortality.
This reference is of considerable importance; it reveals the existence of a system of mystical physiology concerning which later texts, especially the yogic Upanishads and the literature of tantrism, will give increasingly abundant details.
The Yogic Upanishads
[EM1 130] A long list of siddhis (occult powers) shows that this Upanishad [Yogatattva, 73f] was composed in a magical milieu; among those mentioned are “clairaudience, clairvoyance, transportation across vast distances in a short time, yogic vocal powers, yogic power of transforming one’s self into any form desired, yogic method of making oneself invisible and the power of transmuting iron and other baser metals into gold by smearing with the yogin’s urine and excreta”.”
[EM1 131] ...the power of flying through the air, knowledge of the future, even immortality...”
IV. The Triumph of Yoga
Yoga and Hinduism
[EM1 143] The gradual spread of Yoga practice, regarded as an admirable way of salvation, can be traced both in juridico-theological literature and in the didactic and religious portions of the Mahabharata. Yet it would be difficult to define the successive stages of this infiltration, which will finally result in the almost total conquest of Indian spirituality by Yoga. We shall say only that we are dealing with works whose composition lies in the period between the fourth century B.C. and the fourth century of our era. A fact of greater interest for us is the coincidcnce between this triumph of yogic practices and the irresistible upsurge of popular mystical devotion. For this planting of Yoga technique in the very heart of Hinduism took place at a moment of crisis for orthodoxy; that is, at the very moment when the latter validated the “sectarian” mystical movements en bloc. In the course of its expansion, Brahmanism like every victorious religion was forced to accept a number of elements that had originally been foreign or even hostile to it. Assimilation of the forms in which autochthonous, pre-aryan religious sentiment had found expression began very early, from the Vedic period (the god Shiva is an example). But this time that is, at the beginning of the Indian Middle Ages (during the period that extends from the flowering of Buddhism to the Bhagavad Gita) assimilation assumes alarming [EM1 144] proportions. We sometimes have the impression of a victorious revolution, before which Brahman orthodoxy can only bow. What is called “Hinduism” dates from the still little-known period when the ancient Vedic pantheon was eclipsed by the enormous popularity of a Shiva, a Vishnu, or a Krishna. There is no room here to study the causes of this profound and immense transformation. But let us note that one of its principal causes was precisely the need that the masses of the people felt for a more concrete religious experience, for a mystical devotion more easily accessible, more intimate, more personal. Now, the traditional (i.e., popular, “baroque,” nonsystematic) practices of Yoga offered just this type of mystical experience; scorning rituals and theological science, they were based almost entirely on immediate, concrete data still hardly separated from their physiological substratum.
Naturally, this increasing infiltration of yogic techniques into orthodoxy did not take place without encountering a certain degree of resistance. From time to time voices were raised against the propaganda of the ascetics and “magicians,” who claimed that neither final liberation (mukti) nor the occult powers (siddhi) could be gained except by adherence to their particular disciplines. Needless to say, this resistance appeared first in the official circles of orthodox Brahmanism, made up of Vedantist jurists and metaphysicians. Both groups adhered to the “golden mean” in respect to Yoga ascetic and contemplative techniques, which they considered to be exaggerated in some cases and contrary to the Vedantic ideal in others. Manu writes: “If he keeps both his organs and his consciousness under subjection, he can attain his ends without further tormenting his body by Yoga.” Shankara too writes in the same vein; Yoga, he warns, “leads to the acquirement of extraordinary powers,” but “the highest beatitude cannot be obtained [EM1 144] by the road of Yoga.” The true Vedantist chooses purely metaphysical knowledge.
But reactions of this kind are sporadic. In fact, if the Vedantic tradition continues to see Yoga practices only as a means for acquiring possession of magical powers or, at best, as a purification preliminary to true salvation, to which only metaphysical knowledge can lead, it nevertheless remains true that the majority of the juridico-theological treatises do in fact validate such practices and sometimes even praise them.
Acts and Sacrifices
[EM1 157] [on the Bhagavad Gita] ...by the very fact that he no longer enjoys their ‘fruits,’ man transforms his acts into sacrifices that is, into transpersonal dynamisms contributing to the maintenance of the cosmic order.”
[EM1 157] For him who engages in sacrifice, ‘all acts are destroyed’ (IV, 23). This is to be understood as meaning that his activity no longer ‘fetters,’ creates no new karmic ties. It is in this sense that the various ascetics and yogins ‘sacrifice’ their physiological and psychic activities: they detach themselves from these activities, give them a transpersonal value...”
[EM1 157] The ‘man of action’ here means the man who cannot retire from secular life in order to accomplish his salvation through knowledge or mystical devotion. The only rule that he must follow is this: he must detach himself from his acts and their results in other words, ‘renounce the fruits of his acts’ (phalatrishnvairagya), act impersonally, without passion, without desire, as if he were acting by proxy, in another’s stead. If he follows this rule strictly, his acts will no longer sow new karmic potentialities, will no longer keep him in subjection to the karmic circuit.”
V. Yoga Techniques in Buddhism
The Road to Nirvana and the Symbolism of Initiation
[EM1 163] [The] seemingly paradoxical situation, in which the Buddha opposed both orthodox doctrines and ascetico-contemplative disciplines yet at the same time adopted their premises and techniques, will be better understood if we consider that he set out to go beyond all the philosophical formulas and mystical rules current in his day, in order to deliver man from their dominance and to set him on the “way” to the Absolute. If he took over the pitiless analysis to which preclassic Samkhya and Yoga submitted the notion of “person” and of psychomental life, it was because the “self” had nothing to do with that illusory entity, the human “soul.”
But the Buddha went even further than Samkhya and Yoga, for he declined to postulate the existence of a purusha or an atman. Indeed, he denied the possibility of discussing any absolute principle, as he denied the possibility of having an even approximate experience of the true Self, so long as man was not “awakened.” The Buddha likewise rejected the conclusions of Upanishadic speculation the postulate of a brahman, a pure, absolute, immortal, eternal spirit identical with the atman but he did so because this dogma might satisfy the intellect and thus prevent man from awakening.”
VI. Yoga and Tantrism
[EM1 200] It is not easy to define tantrism. Among the many meanings 1 of the word tantra (root tan, “extend,” “continue,” “multiply”), one concerns us particularly that of “succession,” “unfolding,” “continuous process.” Tantra would be “what extends knowledge” (tanyate, vistaryate, jnanm anena iti tantram). In this acceptation, the term was already applied to certain philosophical systems. We do not know why and under what circumstances it came to designate a great philosophical and religious movement, which, appearing as early as the fourth century of our era, assumed the form of a pan-Indian vogue from the sixth century onward. For it was really a vogue; quite suddenly, tantrism becomes immensely popular, not only among philosophers and theologians, but also among the active practitioners of the religious life ( ascetics, yogins, etc. ), and its prestige also reaches the “popular” strata. In a comparatively short time, Indian philosophy, mysticism, ritual, ethics, iconography, and even literature are influenced by tantrism. It is a pan-Indian movement, for it is assimilated by all the great Indian religions and by all the “sectarian” schools. There is a Buddhist tantrism and a Hindu tantrism, both of considerable proportions. But Jainism too accepts certain tantric methods ( never those of the “left hand”), and strong tantric influences can be seen in Kashmirian [EM1 201] Shivaism, in the great Pancaratra movement (c. 550), in the Bhagavata Purana (c. 600), and in other Vishnuist devotional trends.
According to Buddhist tradition, tantrism was introduced by Asanga (c. 400), the eminent Yogacara master, and by Nagarjuna (second century A.D.), the brilliant representative of the Madhyamika and one of the most famous and mysterious figures in medieval Buddhism. But the problem of the historical origins of Buddhist tantrism is still far from being solved. There is reason to suppose that the Vajrayana (“Diamond Vehicle”), the name under which Buddhist tantrism is generally known, appeared at the beginning of the fourth century and reached its apogee in the eighth. The Gutyasamaja-tantra, which some scholars attribute to Asanga, is probably the earliest Vajrayanic text and certainly the most important.
In principle, the Buddhist tantras are divided into four classes: kriya-tantras, carya-tantras, yoga-tantras, and anuttara-tantras, the first two being concerned with rituals and the others with yogic procedures for attaining supreme truth. In fact, however, nearly all tantric texts include ritual matter as well as yogic instruction and passages of philosophy. According to Tibetan tradition, the four classes of tantras are related to the principal human types and temperaments: the kriya-tantra texts are suitable for Brahmans and, in general, for all those whose cast of mind is ritualistic; the carya-tantras are for businessmen, and so on.
It is noteworthy that tantrism developed in the two border, regions of India in the Northwest, along the Afghan frontier, in western Bengal, and especially in Assam. On the other hand, according to Tibetan tradition, Nagarjuna was a native of Andhra, in southern India that is, in the heart of the Dravidian region. From all this we may conclude that, especially at first, tantrism developed in provinces that had been but little Hinduized, where the spiritual counteroffensive of the aboriginal inhabitants was in full force. For the fact is that tantrism served as the vehicle by EM1 202] which a large number of foreign and exotic elements made their way into Hinduism; it is full of names and myths of peripheral divinities ( Assamese, Burmese, Himalayan, Tibetan, to say nothing of the Dravidian gods), and exotic rites and beliefs are clearly discernible in it. In this respect, tantrism continues and intensifies the process of Hinduization that began in the post-Vedic period. But this time the assimilation extends not to aboriginal Indian elements alone, but also to elements outside of India proper; the “tantric country” par excellence is Kamarupa, Assam. We must also reckon with possible Gnostic influences, which could have reached India by way of Iran over the Northwest frontier. For more than one curious parallel can be noted between tantrism and the great Western mysterio-sophic current that, at the beginning of the Christian era, arose from the confluence of Gnosticism, Hermetism, Greco-Egyptian alchemy, and the traditions of the Mysteries.
Since our chief concern is with the application of yogic disciplines to tantric sadhana (“realization”), we are obliged to neglect certain important aspects of tantrism. Let us note, however, that, for the first time in the spiritual history of Aryan India, the Great Goddess acquires a predominant position. Early in the second century of our era, two feminine divinities made their way into Buddhism: Prajnaparamita, a “creation” of the metaphysicians and ascetics, an incarnation of Supreme Wisdom, and Tara, the epiphany of the Great Goddess of aboriginal India. In Hinduism the Shakti, the “cosmic force,” is raised to the rank of a Divine Mother who sustains not only the universe and all its beings but also the many and various manifestations of the gods. Here we recognize the “religion of the Mother” that in ancient times reigned over an immense Aegeo-Afrasiatic territory and which was always the chief form of devotion among the autochthonous peoples of India. In this sense, the irresistible tantric advance also implies a new victory for the pre-aryan popular strata.
But we also recognize a sort of religious rediscovery of the mystery of woman, for, as we shall see later, every woman becomes [EM1 203] the incarnation of the Shakti. Mystical emotion in the presence of the mystery of generation and fecundity such it is in part. But it is also recognition of all that is remote, “transcendent,” invulnerable in woman; and thus woman comes to symbolize the irreducibility of the sacred and the divine, the inapprehensible essence of the ultimate reality. Woman incarnates both the mystery of creation and the mystery of Being, of everything that is, that incomprehensibly becomes and dies and is reborn. The schema of the Samkhya philosophy is prolonged on both the metaphysical and the mythological planes: Spirit, the “male,” purusha, is the “great impotent one,” the motionless, the contemplative; it is Prakriti that works, engenders, nourishes. When a great danger threatens the foundations of the cosmos, the gods appeal to the Shakti to avert it. A well-known myth thus accounts for the birth of the Great Goddess. A monstrous demon, Mahisha, threatened the universe and even the existence of the gods. Brahma and the whole pantheon appealed to Vishnu and Shiva for help. Swollen with rage, all the gods put forth their energies in the form of fire darting from their mouths. The flames joined into a fiery cloud, which finally took the form of a goddess with eighteen arms. And it was this goddess, Shakti, who succeeded in crushing the monster Mahisha and thus saved the world. As Heinrich Zimmer remarks, the gods “had returned their energies to the primeval Shakti, the One Force, the fountain head, whence originally all had stemmed. And the result was now a great renewal of the original state of universal potency.”
We must never lose sight of this primacy of the Shakti in the last analysis, of the Divine Woman and Mother in tantrism and in all the movements deriving from it. It is through this channel that the great underground current of autochthonous and popular spirituality made its way into Hinduism. Philosophically, the rediscovery of the Goddess is bound up with the carnal condition of Spirit in the kali-yuga. Thus the tantric writers present the doctrine [EM1 204] as a new revelation of timeless truth, addressed to the man of this “dark age” in which the spirit is deeply veiled under the flesh. The doctors of Hindu tantrism regarded the Vedas and the Brahmanic tradition as inadequate for “modern times.” Man, they held, no longer possessed the spiritual spontaneity and vigor that he enjoyed at the beginning of the cycle; he was incapable of direct access to truth; he must, then, “stem the current,” and, to do so, he must set out from the basic and typical experiences of his fallen condition that is, from the very sources of his life. This is why the “living rite” plays such a decisive role in tantric sadhana; this is why the “heart” and “se+uality” serve as vehicles for attaining transcendence.
For the Buddhists the Vajrayana similarly constituted a new revelation of the Buddha’s doctrine, a revelation adapted to the greatly diminished possibilities of “modern man.” The Kalacakratantra tells how King Sucandra went to the Buddha and asked him for the Yoga that could save the men of the kali-yuga. In answer, the Buddha revealed to him that the cosmos is contained in man’s own body, explained the importance of se+uality, and taught him to control the temporal rhythms by disciplining respiration thus he could escape from the domination of time. The flesh, the living cosmos, and time are the three fundamental elements of tantric sadhana.
From this follows a first characteristic of tantrism its antiascetic and, in general, antispeculative attitude. “Donkeys and other animals wander about n‰ked, too. Does that make them yogins?” [Kularnava-tantra, V, 48.] Since the body represents the cosmos and all the gods, since liberation can be gained only by setting out from the body, it is important to have a body that is healthy and strong. In some tantric schools, contempt for asceticism and speculation is accompanied by complete rejection of all meditation; liberation is pure spontaneity.
Praise of the Body: Hatha Yoga
[EM1 228] We can distinguish at least two orientations, different yet convergent, in this emphatic valuation of the human body and its possibilities: ( I ) there is the importance accorded to the total experience of life as constituting an integral part of sadhana, and this is the general position of all tantric schools; ( 2 ) there is, in addition, the will to master the body in order to transmute it into a divine body, and this is especially the position of Hatha Yoga. Such a mastery must begin modestly, on the basis of an accurate knowledge of the organs and their functions. For “How can the Yogis who do not know their body (as) a house of one column (with) nine doors, and (as presided over by) five tutelary divinities, attain perfection (in Yoga)?” [Goraksha Shataka, 14; tr. G. W. Briggs, Gorakhnath and the Kanphata Yogis, pp. 287-88.] But perfection is always the goal, and, as we shall soon see, it is neither athletic nor hygienic perfection. Hatha Yoga cannot and must not be confused with gymnastics. Its appearance is linked with the name of an ascetic, Gorakhnath, founder of an order, the Kanphata Yogis. He is supposed to have lived in the twelfth century, perhaps even earlier. All that we know about Gorakhnath is distorted by a sectarian mythology and a profuse magical folklore, but facts that may be considered reliable warrant the supposition that he was in close relation with the “Diamond Vehicle.” In any case, as we shall see, the Hatha Yoga treatises refer to se+ual practices advocated by Buddhist tantrism.
Gorakhnath is credited with the authorship of a treatise no longer extant, entitled Hatha Yoga, and of a text that has come down to us, the Goraksha Shataka. A commentary on this latter, the Goraksha Paddhati, explains the word hatha (lit., “violence,” “violent effort”) [EM1 229] by ha = sun and tha = moon; the union of moon and sun forming Yoga. ( According to other texts, ha-thau = surya-candrau = pranapanau.) We shall later see that this interpretation perfectly accords with tantric doctrine. The Kanphatas called their particular discipline Hatha Yoga, but the term soon came to be the collective designation for the traditional formulas and disciplines that made it possible to attain to perfect mastery of the body. In any case, in one way or another the Hatha Yoga treatises stem from the literature composed by or fathered upon the Gorakhnatha yogis. We possess a large number of texts, [Briggs, pp. 251 ff.] but, aside from the Goraksha Shataka, only three are of interest for the present study: ( 1 ) the Hathayogapradipika ( by Svatmarama Svamin, probably of the fifteenth century; uses and reproduces a number of stanzas from the Goraksha Shataka); (2) the Gheranda Samhita ( by a certain Gheranda, a Vaishnavite of Bengal; abundantly reproduced in the Hathayogapradipika ); ( 3 ) Shiva Samhita ( longer than the two preceding contains 617 stanzas and more elaborated philosophically; tantric yoga strongly colored by Vedanta). Of these three texts, the oldest appears to be the Hathayogapradipika, which itself, according to tradition, is based on the lost Hatha Yoga.
[EM1 230] Hatha Yoga accords great importance to preliminary “purifications,” of which it distinguishes six kinds: dhauti, basti, neti, nauli, trataka, kapala bhati. [Hathayogapradipika II,22] The most commonly employed are the first two. The dhautis ( lit., “cleansings” ) are divided into several classes and subclasses: “internal cleansings,” cleaning the teeth, the rectum, etc. The most effective is dhauti karma: a long piece of cloth is swallowed and left for some time in the stomach. Basti comprises cleansing the large intestine and the rectum, which is performed by anal suction. Neti consists in cleansing the nasal fossae by threads inserted into the nostrils. To practice nauli one [EM1 231] executes energetic and complex movements of the stomach and intestines; the Gheranda Samhita (I, 52) calls this exercise lauliki yoga. Trataka consists in gazing steadily at a small object until the eyes fill with tears. Kapala bhati comprises three variations of “purificatio” of the nasal fossae (vamakrama, vyutkrama, and shsitkrama): water is drawn in through the nostrils and expelled through the mouth, etc.
[EM1 233] It would appear, then, that there are several Hatha-yogic methods of obtaining the same results. Hence we are justified in supposing that some yogins specialized in physiological techniques, but that the majority of them followed the age-old technique of “mystical physiology.” For, although the Hindus have elaborated a complex system of scientific medicine, nothing obliges us to believe that the theories of mystical physiology were developed in dependence upon this objective and utilitarian medicine or at least in connection with it. “Subtle physiology” was probably elaborated on the basis of ascetic, ecstatic, and contemplative experiences expressed in the same symbolic language as the traditional cosmology [EM1 234] and ritual. This does not mean that such experiences were not real; they were perfectly real, but not in the sense in which a physical phenomenon is real. The tantric and Hatha-yogic texts impress us by their “experimental character,” but the experiments are performed on levels other than those of daily secular life. The “veins,” the “nerves,” and the “centers” that we shall presently discuss no doubt correspond to psychosomatic experiences and are related to the deep life of the human being, but it does not seem that the “veins” and similar terms designate anatomical organs and strictly physiological functions.
[EM1 234] ... careful reading of the texts suffices to show that the experiences in question are transphysiological, that all these “centers” represent yogic states that is, states that are inaccessible without preliminary spiritual ascesis. Purely psychophysiological mortifications and disciplines are not enough to “awaken” the cakras or to penetrate them; the essential and indispensable factor remains meditation, spiritual “realization.” Thus, it is safer to regard “mystical physiology” as the result and the conceptualization of experiments undertaken from very remote times by ascetics and yogins. Now, we must not forget that the yogins performed their experiments on a “subtle body” (that is, by making use of sensations, tensions, and transconscious states inaccessible to the uninitiate), that they became masters of a zone infinitely greater than the “normal” psychic [EM1 235] zone, that they penetrated into the depths of the unconscious and were able to “awaken” the archaic strata of primordial consciousness, which, in other human beings, are fossilized.
The body thus built up in the course of time by the Hatha yogins, tantrists, and alchemists corresponded in some measure to the body of a “man-god” a concept that, we know, has a long prehistory, both Indo-aryan and pre-aryan. The tantric theandry was only a new variant of the Vedic macranthropy. The point of departure for all these formulas was of course the transformation of the human body into a microcosmos, an archaic theory and practice, examples of which have been found almost all over the world and which, in aryan India, had already found expression from Vedic times. The “breaths,” as we have seen, were identified with the cosmic winds and with the cardinal points. Air “weaves” the universe, and breath “weaves” man and this symbolism of weaving developed in India into the grandiose concept of cosmic illusion ( Maya) and elsewhere into the concepts of the “life thread” and of fate as spun by certain goddesses.
[EM1 247] It is impossible to set about waking the kundalini without the spiritual preparation implied by all the disciplines we have just discussed. But its actual awakening and its journey through the cakras are brought about by a technique whose essential element is arresting respiration ( kumbhaka ) by a special bodily position (asana, mudra). One of the most frequently used methods of arresting the breath is that prescribed by the khecarimudra: obstructing the cavum by turning the tongue back and inserting the tip of it into the throat. The abundant salival secretion thus produced is interpreted as celestial ambrosia ( amrita ) and the flesh of the tongue itself as the “flesh of the cow” that the yogin “eats.” This symbolical interpretation of a “physiological situatio” is not without interest; it is an attempt to express the fact that the yogin already participates in “transcendence”: he transgresses the strictest of Hindu prohibitions (eating cow flesh) that is, he is no longer conditioned, is no longer in the world; hence he tastes the celestial ambrosia.
This is but one aspect of the khecarimudra; we shall see that the obstruction of the cavum by the tongue and the arrest of breathing that follows are accompanied by a se+ual practice. Before presenting it, we shall add that the awakening of the kundalini [EM1 248] brought about in this way is only the beginning of the exercise; the yogin further endeavors both to keep the kundalini in the median “duct” (sushumna) and to make it rise through the cakras to the top of the head. Now, according to the tantric authors themselves, this effort is rarely successful.
[EM1 250] Ritual enigmas and riddles were in use from Vedic times; in their particular way, they revealed the secrets of the universe. But in tantrism we find a whole system of elaborately worked-out ciphers, which the incommunicability of yogico-tantric experiences does not suffice to explain; to signify these kinds of experiences, symbols, mantras, and mystical letters had long been employed.
The sandha-bhasha pursues a different end it seeks to conceal the doctrine from the noninitiate, but chiefly to project the yogin into the “paradoxical situation” indispensable to his training. The semantic polyvalence of words finally substitutes ambiguity for the usual system of reference inherent in every ordinary language. And this destruction of language contributes, in its way too, toward “breaking” the profane universe and replacing it by a universe of convertible and integrable planes. In general, symbolism [EM1 251] brings about a universal “porousness,” “opening” beings and things to transobjective meanings. But in tantrism “intentional language” becomes a mental exercise, forms an integral part of sadhana. The disciple must constantly experience the mysterious process of homologization and convergence that is at the root of cosmic manifestation, for he himself has now become a microcosm and, by “awakening” them, he must become conscious of all the forces that, on various planes, periodically create and absorb the universes. It is not only in order to hide the Great Secret from the noninitiate that he is asked to understand bodhicitta at once as “thought of awakening” and semen virile; through language itself (that is, by the creation of a new and paradoxical speech replacing the destroyed profane language ) the yogin must enter the plane on which semen can be transformed into thought, and vice versa.
[EM1 254] Maithuna was known from Vedic times, but it remained for tantrism to transform it into an instrument of salvation. In pretantric India, we must distinguish two possible ritual values of se+ual union both of which, we may note, are archaic in structure and of unquestionable antiquity: (1) conjugal union as a hierogamy; (2) orgiastic se+ual union, to the end either of procuring universal fecundity (rain, harvests, flocks, women, etc.) or of creating a “magical defense.” We shall not dwell upon the marital act transformed into a hierogamy: “I am the heaven; thou, the earth,” says the husband to the wife. The union is a ceremony, comprising many preliminary purifications, symbolical [EM1 255] homologizations, and prayers just as in the performance of the Vedic ritual. The woman is first transfigured; she becomes the consecrated place where the sacrifice is performed: “Her lap is a sacrificial altar; her hairs, the sacrificial grass; her skin, the somapress. The two lips of the vulva are the fire in the middle [of the vulva]. Verily, indeed, as great as is the world of him who sacrifices with the Vajapeya (“Strength-libation”) sacrifice, so great is the world of him who practices se+ual intercourse, knowing this.” Let us note a fact that is of importance. From the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad on, the belief becomes prevalent that the fruit of “works” the result of a Vedic sacrifice can be obtained by a ritually consummated marital union. The identification of the sacrificial fire with the female se+ual organ is confirmed by the magical charm cast on the wife’s lover: “You have made a libation in my fire,” etc.
The Conjunction of Opposites
[EM1 270] In Hatha Yoga, the adept works to obtain “immobility” of breath and semen; there is even supposed to be a “return of semen” that is, a paradoxical act, impossible to execute in a “normal” physiological context dependent upon a “normal” cosmos; in other words, the “return of semen” stands, on the physiological plane, for a transcendence of the phenomenal world, entrance into freedom. This is but one application of what is termed “going against the current” (ujana sadhana), or of the “regressive” process (ulta) of the Natha Siddhas, implying a complete “inversion” of all psychophysiological processes; it is, basically, the mysterious paravritti that is already to be found in Mahayanic texts, which, in tantrism, also designates the “return of semen.” For one who realizes them, this “return,” this “regression,” imply destruction of the cosmos and hence “emergence from time,” entrance into “immortality.”
[EM1 270] Now, immortality cannot be gained except by arresting manifestation, and hence the process of disintegration; one must proceed “against the current” (ujana sadhana)and once again find the primordial, motionless Unity, which existed before the rupture. This is what the Hatha yogins do when they unite the “sun” and “moon.” The paradoxical act takes place on several planes at once: through the union of Shakti (=kundalini) with Shiva in the sahasrara, the yogin brings about inversion of the cosmic process, regression to the undiscriminated state of the original Totality; “physiologically,” the conjunction sun-moon is represented by the “union” of the prana and apana that is, by a “totalization” of the breaths; in short, by their arrest; finally, se+ual union, [EM1 271] through the action of the vajrolimudra, realizes the “return of semen.”
As we have seen, the union of “sun” and “moon” is brought about by unification of the breaths and vital energies circulating in the ida and pingala; it takes place in the sushumna. Now, the Hathayogapradipika (IV, 16-17) says that “the sushumna devours time.” The texts dwell upon the “conquest of death” and the immortality that the yogin who “conquers time” obtains. To arrest respiration, suspend thought, immobilize the semen these are only formulas expressing the same paradox of the abolishment of time. We have noted that every effort to transcend the cosmos is preceded by a long process of “cosmicizing” the body and the psychomental life, for it is from a perfect “cosmos” that the yogin sets out to transcend the cosmic condition. But “cosmicization,” first realized through pranayama, already modifies the yogin’s temporal experience. The Kalacakra-tantra relates inhalation and exhalation to day and night, then to the half months, months, years, thus progressively reaching the longest cosmic cycles. This is equivalent to saying that, through his own respiratory rhythm, the yogin repeats and, as it were, relives the cosmic Great Time, the periodical creations and destructions of the universes (the cosmic “days and nights”). By arresting his breathing, by “unifying” it in the sushumna, he transcends the phenomenal world, he passes into that nonconditioned and timeless state in which “there is neither day nor night,” “neither sickness nor death” naïve and inadequate formulas to signify “emergence from time.” To transcend “day and night” means to transcend the opposites. In the language of the Natha Siddhas, it is the reabsorption of the cosmos through inversion of all the processes of manifestation. It is the coincidence of time and eternity, of bhava and nirvana; on the purely “human” plane, it is the reintegration of the primordial androgyne, the conjunction, in one’s own being, of male and female in a word, the reconquest of the completeness that precedes all creation.
[EM1 272] In short, this nostalgia for the primordial completeness and bliss is what animates and informs all the techniques that lead to the coincidentia oppositorum in one’s own being. We know that the same nostalgia, with an astonishing variety of symbolisms and techniques, is found almost everywhere in the archaic world; we know, too, that many aberrant ceremonies have their basis and theoretical justification in the desire to recover the “paradisal” state of primordial man. Most of the excesses, cruelties, and aberrations referred to as “tantric orgies” spring, in the last analysis, from the same traditional metaphysics, which refused to define ultimate reality otherwise than as the coincidentia oppositorum. Some of these excesses, certain “popular” forms connected with tantric theories and methods, will be examined in a later chapter.
But we have still to emphasize an aspect of tantric sadhana that is generally overlooked; we refer to the particular meaning of cosmic reabsorption. After describing the process of creation by Shiva (I, 69-77), the Shiva Samhita describes the inverse process, in which the yogin takes part: he sees the element earth become “subtle” and dissolve in water, water dissolve in fire, fire in air, air in ether, etc., until everything is reabsorbed into the Great Brahman. Now, the yogin undertakes this spiritual exercise in order to anticipate the process of reabsorption that occurs at death. In other words, through his sadhana, the yogin already witnesses the reabsorption of these cosmic elements into their respective matrices, a process set in motion at the instant of death and continuing during the first stages of existence beyond the world. The Bardo Thödol gives some invaluable information on the subject. Viewed from this angle, tantric sadhana is centered on the experience of initiatory death, as we should expect, since every archaic spiritual discipline implies initiation in one form or another that is, the experience of ritual death and resurrection. In this respect the tantrist is a “dead man in life,” for he has experienced his own death in advance; he is, by the same token, “twice born,” in the [EM1 273] initiatory sense of the term, for he has not gained this “new birth” on a purely theoretical plane, but by means of a personal experience. It is possible that many references to the yogin’s “immortality,” references that are especially frequent in Hatha-yogic texts, ultimately stem from the experiences of such “dead men in life.”
VIII. Yoga and Aboriginal India
The Roads to Freedom
[EM1 294] If the yogins were confused with all these types of magicoreligious behavior, it is because all Indian spiritual techniques shared in Yoga to some degree. Among the populace, the yogins have always been regarded as redoubtable magicians, gifted with superhuman powers. Despite the reservations expressed by Patanjali and by other forms of Yoga in regard to the siddhis, the assimilation of the yogin to the magician was almost inevitable. For the uninstructed could easily confuse liberation and absolute freedom, the jivan-mukta and the “immortal” magician, who had access to all experiences without being subject to their karmic effects.  The phenomenon becomes intelligible if we consider that freedom manifests itself under countless forms, some of them antisocial a free man no longer feels bound by the laws and prejudices of society; he takes his stand outside of all ethics and all social forms. The excesses and aberrations echoed in the legends of the Vamacaris, the cruelties and crimes of the Kapalikas and the Aghoris, are, for Indian feeling, so many proofs of a total freedom conquered from the human condition and outside of society. We must not forget that, for Indian thought, the “normal” human condition is equivalent to bondage, ignorance, and suffering; freedom, knowledge, and bliss are inaccessible so long as this “normality” is not destroyed. [EM1 295] And the same premise is the metaphysical justification for all excesses and all aberrations, which are also effective methods of abolishing the human condition. Let us say at once that, in India, the extremists have always remained a minority, that the great spiritual movements have never encouraged these manifestations in which nihilism vied with turpitude, that the cynics, the libertines, and the adepts of the “terrible schools” have for the most part existed on the margin of Indian asceticism and mysticism. But all such literal interpretations of transcending the human condition were justified by respectable ideologies, both Hinduistic and Mahayanic.
On the other hand, such excesses, adopted in the name of a doctrine of salvation, opened the way to almost inevitable syncretisms with rites relegated to the lower levels of spirituality and with the behavior patterns of subordinate groups; tantrism finally incorporates the major and minor magic of the people, erotic Yoga encourages the open emergence of secret orgiastic cults and of licentious maniacs, which, but for the prestige of the tantric maithuna and the techniques of Hatha Yoga, would have continued their obscure existence in the margin of society and of the community’s religious life. Like every Gnosticism and every mysticism that spread and triumph, tantric Yoga does not succeed in avoiding degradation as it penetrates increasingly broad and eccentric social strata. Those who cannot practice a full Yoga will content themselves with imitating certain external aspects of it, will interpret certain technical details literally. This is the risk run by every spiritual message that is assimilated and lived by masses lacking in a preliminary initiation. From the Indian point of view, this phenomenon of degradation corresponds to the movement of accelerated descent typical of the end of the cycle; during the kali-yuga, truth is buried in the darkness of ignorance. This is why new masters continually appear and readapt the timeless doctrine to the slender aptitudes of a fallen humanity. But we shall see, in connection with Gorakhnath and the eighty-four Siddhas that the constantly renewed message of these new masters undergoes the [EM1 296] erosive action of the masses (for the appearance of the masses is the characteristic note of the kali-yuga) and ends by being degraded and forgotten; more precisely, on a certain “popular” level, every spiritual master ends by coinciding with the archetypal image of the Great Magician, of the jivan-mukta, liberated in life and possessor of all the siddhis.
In this spiritual process, we find one point important. It is the degradation of an ideology through failure to comprehend the symbolism that forms its vehicle. We shall give an example. The role that the cemetery (shmashana) together with meditations performed while sitting on corpses, plays in a number of Indian ascetic schools is well known. The symbolism is frequently emphasized in the texts: the cemetery represents the totality of psychomental life, fed by consciousness of the “I”; the corpses symbolize the various sensory and mental activities. Seated at the center of his profane experience, the yogin “burns” the activities that feed them, just as corpses are burned in the cemetery. By meditating in a shmashana he more directly achieves the combustion of egotistic experiences; at the same time, he frees himself from fear, he evokes the terrible demons and obtains mastery over them.
Now, there is a class of Shivaist ascetics, the Aghoris or Aghorapanthis, who have at times interpreted this symbolism of the “cemetery” and “corpses” materially. Their name has been translated “not terrific” (a-ghora); the aghorapanthi would, then, be one who follows the path ( or the cult ) of Shiva under this form. The connections with tantrisnn are patent. These Aghoris eat from human skulls, haunt cemeteries, and still practiced cannibalism at the end of the nineteenth century; Crooke cites the case of an Aghori from Ujjain who, in 1887, ate a corpse from the pile at the burning ghat. They eat all sorts of refuse and any kind of meat except horse meat. They justify these practices by saying that all of man’s natural [EM1 296] inclinations and tastes should be destroyed, that there is neither good nor evil, pleasant nor unpleasant, etc. Even as human excrement fertilizes a sterile soil, so assimilating every kind of filth makes the mind capable of any and every meditation. [H. W. Barrow, “On Aghoris and Aghorapanthis” (Proceedings of the Arthropological Society of Bombay, III, l893, 197-251), p. 222.] For them, there is no distinction of castes or religions; parents are mere accidents.4 They are divided into two branches: the shuddhs (the pure) and the malins (the dirty). As to cult, some of them profess that they worship Sitala Devi, others Parnagiri Devi, [Goddess worshiped at Pali, near Ajmer, and regarded as the tutelary goddess of ascetics; cf. Barrow, p. 210.] yet others Kali. Any Shaiva of any caste can become an Aghori. According to Barrow, even Jainas are admitted, but not Vishnuists. They do not worship images. Except God, they respect only their guru. Celibacy is obligatory. They lead a life of vagabondage, and a disciple (chela) cannot become a guru until twelve years after the death of his spiritual master. Every guru is always accompanied by a dog. Their bodies are not buried in the recumbent position, but seated, with the legs crossed.
These Aghoris are only the successors to a much older and more widespread ascetic order, the Kapalikas, or “wearers of skulls.” The Maitrayani Upanishad (VII, 8) already mentions a kapalin; an inscription from the first half of the seventh century names the god Kapaleshvara and his ascetics. [R. G. Bhandarkar, Yaishnavism, Shaivism and Miror Religious Systems, p. 118. Cf. Brahma-sutras, 11, 2, 37.] The Kapalikas venerated Shiva under his aspects of Mahakala (the Great Destroyer) and Kapalabhrit (he who carries a skull). They resemble the tantric Vamacaris, but they carry orgiastic practices and ritual cruelty to the extreme. From the sixth century on, references become more frequent: the Dashakumaracarita in the sixth century; Hiuen Tsiang, who encountered them on his journey through India (650-645); [EM1 298] Bhavabhuti (eighth century), who, in his play Malati-Madhava, represents a Kapalika named Aghoraghanta on the point of sacrificing the virgin Malati to the goddess Camunda. There is a similar episode in the Prabodha Chandrodaya, which was performed in 1065; the author is a sannyasi named Krishnamishra, who seems to have known the Kapalikas well. He makes one of them say: “My necklace and ornaments are of human bones; I dwell among the ashes of the dead and eat my food in human skulls. . . . We drink liquor out of the skulls of Brahmans; our sacred fires are fed with the brains and lungs of men mixed up with their flesh, and human victims covered with the fresh blood gushing from the dreadful wound in their throats, are the offerings by which we appease the terrible god [Maha Bhairava].... The might of our religion is such that I control Hari-Hara and the greatest and most ancient of the gods; I stop the course of the planets in the heavens; I submerge the earth in water, with its mountains and cities, and I again drink up the waters in a moment.... He who resembles the gods, whose crest is the lunar orb, and who with delight embraces women as beautiful as Parvati, feels supreme bliss.” [Tr. Briggs, Gorakhnath, p. 226.] In the Prabodha Chandrodaya, a Kapalini accompanies the Kapalika; in attire like his, the heavy-breasted Kapalini dances with him under Bhairava’s direction. There is no possible doubt about the licentious rites practiced by the Kapalikas; “without renouncing the pleasures derived through the organs of sense, the eight great siddhis may be obtained.” [Tr. Briggs, Gorakhnath, p. 226.] Ramanuja, who distinguishes two classes of Kapalikas, one extremist, the other moderate, emphasizes their connections with se+ual techniques.[Shribhashya, 11, 2, 35-38] He makes the Kapalas say: “He who knows the true nature of the six mudras, who understands the highest mudra, meditating on himself as in the position called bhagasana (i.e., visualizing himself as seated on the pudendum muliebre), reaches Nirvana.” [Tr. G. Thibaut, The Vedanta Sutra (SacredBooks ofthe East, XLVIII), p. 520.]
[EM1 299] Both the European travelers to India and the Dabistan confuse the Kapalikas and the Aghoris with yogins in general. The description given by the Dabistan could not be more vivid: “There are some of this sect (of yogins), who, having mixed their excretions and filtered them through a piece of cloth, drink them and say, that such an act renders a man capable of great affairs, and they pretend to know strange things. They call the performer of this act AtShlSha and also AkhórSh.” [The Dabistan; or, School of Manners, tr. D. Shea and A. Troyer, 11, 129-60, compiled by Mu&Mac250;sin-i-Fani in the seventeenth century.] Further on, the author of the Dabistan probably confuses the Kapalikas with some Vamacari sect. For, writing of the li–ga and bhaga, he says: “In many places and among a great number of the Hindus, this worship exists: a great many follow the Agama, in which wine drinking is approved, and if, instead of a common cup, a man’s skull (which they call kapala) be used, the beverage is much more agreeable. They hold the killing of all animals, even of man, to be permitted and call it bala (daring). At night they go to the places which they call shmashana (cemetery), and where the dead bodies are burnt; there they intoxicate themselves, eat the flesh of the corpses burnt, and copulate before the eyes of others with women, whom they name shakti puja.” The information given by the author of the Dabistan is substantially correct. He says that these tantrics prefer incest to ordinary union. He knows that lulis (public women) are prized and that they are called deva kanya; that there are two kinds of cults, bhadram (pure) and vakam (impure), but that the second is preferred. He knows, too, that in the se+ual act the woman personifies the goddess. The author had seen a Kapalika meditating on a corpse, and in Gujarat he came upon a certain Mahadeo who spent his nights seated on a corpse. Sterile women spent a night with the guru.
Mu&Mac250;sin-i-Fani very probably misunderstood his sources to some extent and confused certain se+ual rites of the Kapalikas with the orgy (the rasamandali) of the Vallabhacaryas. However, there is [EM1 300] no doubt about the orgiastic tendency of the Kapalikas; we even have evidence of seasonal collective orgies, in which all the members of the sect participated. According to the Kaumudimahotsava Nataka, these festivals took place in the spring (vasantotsava) and autumn (kaumudimahotsava) and were strongly orgiastic in character. Now, those who took part in these ceremonies were not only all the Kapalikas, but also the “materialists” and the “cynics,” the Lokayatikas that is, those who rejected the Vedic tradition and all the values of Hinduism. Seasonal festivals and the orgies accompanying them were specific features of the archaic, pre-lndo-European cult of vegetation. It is interesting to note that some traditions make the Kapalikas the originators of the seasonal orgies in which the Lokayatikas also took part; here festivals of vegetation, tantric orgies, and the eccentric practices of the “materialists,” cannibals, and wearers of skulls are merged in a single system. This detail shows us the direction of the future coalescence between tantric yoga and the aboriginal spiritual values.
Heine-Geldern has established a connection between the human sacrifices and skull hunts that are abundantly attested in Assam and Burma, and a matriarchal ideology that still survives in Tibet and the Himalayan regions. In India proper, some of the archaic cultural elements played their part later in the prodigious advance of tantric Shaktism (whose center was none other than Assam-Kamarupa). Such are the ethnological elements of the problem. But it also has a historico-religious aspect the spiritual revalorization of prehistoric customs entailing human sacrifices and the cult of skulls. And it is this aspect which is of chief interest to us here.
The process may be imagined as follows. (1) An archaic ideology, connected with a particular lunar symbolism, implied, among other things, human sacrifice and skull hunting; populations holding these ideas were, during the historical period, settled in zones bordering on Hinduism. (2) On the level of the highest Indian spirituality, the cemetery, corpses, and skeletons were revalorized [EM1 301] and incorporated into an ascetico-mystical symbolism; to meditate seated on a corpse, to wear a skull, etc., now represented spiritual exercises that pursued a wholly different order of values from those, let us say, of the head-hunters. (3) When the two ideologies came into contact whether in the frontier regions (Assam, Himalayas), or in the districts of inner India in which the elements of archaic culture had been best preserved we witness phenomena of pseudomorphism and devalorization. In this light, we can understand how one or another tantric yoga becomes licentious on a certain cultural level imbued with matriarchal elements; we also understand why a particular Kapalin forgets the yogic meaning of the “corpse” and the “skeleton” and becomes a head-hunter, thus reverting to cannibal behavior (minus the “philosophy” of cannibalism, which, as Volhard has shown, was not as aberrant as it appears to modern eyes). Above all, these reciprocal degradations and devalorizations are explained by “symbolic confusionism,” by a symbolism being forgotten or inadequately comprehended. We shall have occasion to observe the same phenomenon again in other cultural contexts and in connection with other symbolisms, mythologies, or techniques incorporated into Yoga.
Gorakhnath and the Eighty-four Siddhas
A considerable number of yogins claim to be followers of Gorakshanatha (Gorakhnath) and call themselves “Gorakhnathis” or “Kanphata Yogis”; this latter term derives from the fact that, at the initiation ceremony, the disciple’s ears are split to permit the insertion of enormous earrings (kan = ear, phata = split). As we saw above, Hatha Yoga also claims that its founder was Gorakhnath, the supposed author of the school’s first treatise (now lost). In any case, the connections between Gorakhnath, the Kanphatas, and Hatha Yoga are beyond question; the Kanphatas call themselves simply “yogis,” and their literature contains a number of Hatha [EM1 302] yogic texts, among them the most famous treatises, including the Hathayogapradipika, the Gheranda Samhita, the Shiva Samhita, the Goraksha Shataka, etc. But this ascetic order goes far beyond the limits of the Hatha-yogic ideology and disciplines. In fact, we are dealing with a movement of considerable importance that seems to have been highly popular after the twelfth century of our era and that formed the point of convergence for a large number of religious, magical, and alchemical traditions and practices, most of them Shivaistic, but some of them Buddhist.
The movement originated by the historical figures who were later mythicized under the names of Gorakhnath, Matsyendranath, and other famous Siddhas seems to represent a fresh ground swell of the deep spirituality that reaches down to the aboriginal strata of India. Today, the Gorakhnathis show all the symptoms of a sect in decomposition, and the origins of this process probably go back several centuries. But the mythologies and folklores that have crystallized around their masters permit us to estimate the enormous popular response these masters aroused between the collapse of Buddhism in eastern India and the dawn of modern times. These mythologies and folklores, though comparatively “recent” from a strictly chronological point of view, actually represent extremely archaic contents; they are the emergence of spiritualities long unknown, and hence unrecorded, by the “official” cultural circles that is, by circles more or less dependent upon a learned tradition, whether Brahmanic, Buddhist, Jaina, or “sectarian.” The popular legends and vernacular literatures created around Gorakhnath, the Nathas, and the Siddhas give expression to the real spiritual longings of the superficially Hinduized masses. Now, it is noteworthy that such folkloric and literary creations were inspired precisely by tantric and alchemistic saints and masters, and especially by the supposed “inventor” of Hatha Yoga that is, by Siddhas who understood liberation as the conquest of immortality. We shall see the enormous importance of the motif of immortality in the folklores and literatures of the Gorakhnathis and the Nathas an importance that leads us to believe that this particular motif (which [EM1 303] continues and completes that of the jivan-mukta, the “liberated while living”) expresses the nostalgia of the whole Indian soul.
We know almost nothing of the historical personality of Gorakhnath. It was very soon distorted by myth, almost deified witness the countless myths and legends found almost everywhere in western and northern India, from Nepal to Rajputana, from the Punjab to Bengal, from Sind to the Deccan. His life may probably be dated between the ninth and the twelfth century, and he accomplished a new synthesis among certain Shivaist traditions (Pashupata), tantrism, and the doctrines (unfortunately, so imperfectly known) of the Siddhas that is, of the “perfect” yogis. In some respects, the Gorakhnathis continue such Shivaist sects as the Pashupata, Lakulisha, Kalamukha, and Kapalika. [Briggs, p. 218] But they also practice the rites of “lefthand” tantrism, and, in addition to Gorakhnath, whom they identify with Shiva, they venerate the nine Nathas and the eighty-four Siddhas. It is in this “milieu” of the Siddhas and the Nathas that we must place Gorakhnath’s message (for, concerning his historical personality, nothing definite has come down to us).
We cannot here enter into the problem ( still so little elucidated ) of the eighty-four Siddhas. We shall only note that all yogins who attained “perfection” could receive the name of siddha, but the fact that this term is connected with “miraculous power” (siddhi) indicates that what was in question was primarily a “magical perfection.”
Yoga and Shamanism
[EM1 320] Among the elements that constitute and are peculiar to shamanism, we must count as of primary importance: (1) an initiation comprising the candidate’s symbolical dismemberment, death, and resurrection, which, among other things, implies his descent into hell and ascent to heaven; (2) the shaman’s ability to make ecstatic journeys in his role of healer and psychopompos (he goes in search of the sick man’s soul, stolen by demons, captures it, and restores it to the body; he conducts the dead man’s soul to hell, etc.); (3) “mastery of fire” (the shaman touches red-hot iron, walks over burning coals, etc., without being hurt); (4) the shaman’s ability to assume animal forms (he flies like the birds, etc. ) and to make himself invisible.
This shamanic complex is very old; it is found, in whole or in part, among the Australians, the archaic peoples of North and South America, in the polar regions, etc. The essential and defining element of shamanism is ecstasy the shaman is a specialist in the sacred, able to abandon his body and undertake cosmic journeys “in the spirit” (in trance). “Possession” by spirits, although documented in a great many shamanisms, does not seem to have been a primary and essential element. Rather, it suggests a phenomenon of degeneration; for the supreme goal of the shaman is to abandon his body and rise to heaven or descend into hell not to let himself be “possessed” by his assisting spirits, by demons or the souls of the dead; the shaman’s ideal is to master these spirits, not to let himself be “occupied” by them.
Ascent to Heaven. Mystical Flight
[EM1 328] But the idea that saints, yogins, and magicians can fly is to be found everywhere in India. For rising into the air, flying like a bird, traversing immense distances in a flash, and vanishing are among the magical powers that Buddhism and Hinduism confer on arhats and magicians. The miraculous lake, Anavatapta, could be reached only by those who possessed the supernatural power of flight; Buddha and the Buddhist saints journeyed there in the twinkling of an eye, just as, in Hindu legends, the rishis soared through the air to the divine and mysterious northern land named Shvetadvipa. These are, of course, “pure lands,” located in a mystical space that is at once paradisal and of the nature of an “inner space” accessible only to the initiate. Anavatapta, Shvetadvipa, or the other Buddhist paradises are only so many modalities of being, attainable by virtue of Yoga, of asceticism, or of contemplation. But we must emphasize the identity between the expression given to such experiences and the archaic symbolism of ascent and flight, so prevalent in shamanism.
Buddhist texts speak of four magical powers of translation (gamana), the first being ability to fly like a bird. In his list of siddhis obtainable by yogins, Patanjali cites the power to fly through the air (laghiman). [Yoga-sutras, 111, 45] It is always by the “power of yoga” that, in the Mahabharata, the sage Narada soars into the air and reaches the summit of Mount Meru (the “center of the world”); from there, far away in the Ocean of Milk, he sees Shvetadvipa. [Mahabharata, Xll, 335, 2 ff.] For “with such a (yogic) body, the yogin goes where he will.” [Mahabharata, XII, 317, 6.] But another tradition recorded in the Mahabharata already makes a distinction between true mystical ascent which cannot be said to [EM1 329] be always “concrete” and magical flight, which is only an illusion: “We too can fly to the heavens and manifest ourselves under various forms, but through illusion” (mayaya). [Mahabharata, V, 160. 55ff.]
We see in what direction Yoga and the other Indian techniques of meditation elaborated the ecstatic experiences and magical prowesses that belonged to an immemorial spiritual heritage.
[EM1 329] Ascent to heaven and magical flight carry an extremely complex symbolism relating especially to the human soul and intelligence. “Flight” sometimes stands for intelligence, comprehension of hidden things or of metaphysical truths. “Intelligence (manas) is the swiftest of birds,” says the Rig-Veda (VI, 9, 5). And the Pancavimsha Brahmana ( XIV, I, I 3 ) declares: “He who understands has wings." We know that among many peoples the soul is conceived of as a bird. Magical flight assumes the value of an “escape from the body" that is, it translates ecstasy, the liberation of the soul, into plastic terms. But while the majority of human beings are changed into birds only at the moment of death, when they forsake [EM1 330] their bodies and fly into the air, shamans, sorcerers, and ecstatics of all kinds realize “emergence from the body" in this world and as often as they wish. This myth of the bird-soul contains in germ a whole metaphysics of man’s spiritual autonomy and freedom.
“Magical Heat" “Inner Light"
Let us pass on to another group of shamanic techniques, the “mastery of fire” and “magical heat.” Shamans and sorcerers are everywhere reputed to be masters of fire. They swallow burning coals, they touch red-hot iron, they walk on flames. During their seances, the Siberian shamans “heat themselves” to such a point that they strike their bodies with knives and are not hurt, run themselves through with swords, swallow embers, etc. Now, many yogin-fakirs exhibit similar feats. The likeness between yogins and shamans is still more patent in the case of “magical heat.” One of the initiatory ordeals peculiar to shamanism involves precisely the ability to resist extreme cold.
[EM1 331] Now, certain Indo-Tibetan initiatory ordeals consist precisely in judging a candidate’s degree of preparation by his ability to dry a large number of wet sheets applied, one after the other, to his n‰ked body during a snowy winter night. In Tibetan, this “psychic heat” is called gtum-mö (pronounced toumo). “Sheets are dipped in the icy water. Each man wraps himself in one of them and must dry it on his body. As soon as the sheet has become dry, it is again dipped in the water and placed on the novice’s body to be dried as before. The operation goes on in that way until daybreak. Then he who has dried the largest number of sheets is acknowledged the winner of the competition.” [Alexandra David-Neel, With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet, pp.227 f.]
Gtum-mö is a yogico-tantric exercise well known to the ascetic tradition of India. We have already referred to the intense heat aroused by the awakening of the kundalini.The texts say that psychic heat is obtained both by holding the breath and by transmutation of the se+ual energy, and the experience is always accompanied by luminous phenomena (an important detail, to which we shall have to return). The technique of “producing inner heat” is not a tantric innovation. The Majjhima-nikaya (I, 244) speaks of the “heat” obtained by holding the breath, and other Buddhist texts say that the Buddha is “burning.” The Buddha is “burning” because he practices asceticism, tapas and we have seen that in India tapas is documented from Vedic times, but that the ideology and practices of “magical sweating” and of creation through autothermy were known from the Indo-European period [EM1 332] on; indeed, they belong to an archaic cultural stage, being attested both in primitive cosmologies and in many shamanisms.
There is every reason to believe that the experience of “inner heat” was known to mystics and magicians from the earliest times. Many primitive tribes conceive of magico-religious power as “burning” and express it by terms meaning “heat,” “burn,” “very hot,” etc. This, by the way, is the reason why magicians and sorcerers drink salted or pungently spiced water and eat highly aromatic plants they hope thus to increase their “inner heat.” In modern India the Mohammedans believe that a man in communication with God becomes “burning.” Anyone who performs miracles is termed “boiling.” By extension, all kinds of persons or acts involving a magico-religious power are held to be “burning.”
As we should expect, the sacred power experienced under the form of extreme heat is not obtained only through shamanic or mystical techniques. We have already mentioned some terms from the Indo-European martial vocabulary (furor, ferg, etc. ) that express precisely this “extreme heat” and “rage” that characterize the bodily reception of a sacred force. Like the shaman, the young hero “heats” himself during his initiatory combat. This “rage” and this “heat” are not “profane” or “natural”; they are the syndrome of the appropriation of a sacrality. “Mastery of fire” and “inner heat” are always connected with reaching a particular ecstatic state or, on other cultural levels, with reaching an unconditioned state, a state of perfect spiritual freedom. “Mastery of fire” insensibility to heat and hence the “magical heat” that renders both extreme cold and the temperature of burning coals tolerable is a magico-mystical virtue that, accompanied by other no less extraordinary feats (ascent, magical flight, etc.), tangibly indicates that the shaman has transcended the human condition and already participates in the condition of the “spirits.”
Obviously, the primary experience of magico-religious power expressed in the “rage” of martial initiations or in the “heat” of magicians, shamans, or yogins could be transformed, differentiated, [EM1 333] refined by a later effort toward integration and “sublimation.”
[EM1 333] It remains clear, however, that the “rage” and the “heat” engendered by a violent and excessive increase in power are feared by the majority of mankind; this kind of power, in its “crude” state, is chiefly of interest to magicians and warriors; those who seek confidence and equilibrium in religion resist magical “heat” and “fire.” The term shanti, which in Sanskrit designates tranquillity, peace of soul, absence of passion, relief from suffering, is derived from the root sham, which originally had the meaning of extinguishing the “fire,” the anger, the fever in short, the “heat” engendered by demoniac powers. The Indian of Vedic times felt the danger of magic; he resisted the temptation to excessive power, just as, later, the yogin must overcome the temptation of the “miraculous powers” (siddhi).
We have already observed that, in yogico-tantric exercises, “inner heat” is accompanied by luminous phenomena. In another direction, luminous mystical experiences are attested from the time of the Upanisads, in which the “inner light” (antar jyotih) [EM1 334] defines the very essence of the atman; in some Buddhist techniques of meditation, mystical light of various colors indicates the success of the operation.
Similarities and Differences
[EM1 338] As for ritual intoxication by hemp, opium, and other narcotics, it is a practice abundantly attested in the shamanic world as well as among some yogins. We know that Patanjali himself puts simples (aushadhi), together with samadhi, among the means of obtaining the siddhis.[Yoga-sutras, IV, I. 128] “Simples” can mean either ecstasy-inducing narcotics or the “herbs” from which the elixir of longevity was extracted. In any case, hemp and similar drugs produce ecstasy and not the yogic samadhi; these “mystical means” properly belong to the phenomenology of ecstasy ( of which we have had an example in the behavior of the Rig-Vedic muni) ,and they were only reluctantly admitted into the sphere of classic Yoga. Yet the fact that Patanjali himself refers to the magico-ecstatic virtues of simples is both significant and pregnant with consequences; it proves the pressure exercised by the ecstatics, their will to substitute their methods for the disciplines of classic Yoga. And in fact a certain number of Shaktas and members of other ecstatic and orgiastic movements used, and still use, opium and hashish. The majority of these ecstatics are in more or less direct dependence upon Shiva in other words, belong to an aboriginal cultural stratum.
In the sphere of shamanism, strictly speaking, intoxication by drugs (hemp, mushrooms, tobacco, etc. ) seems not to have formed part of the original practice. For, on the one hand, shamanic myths and folklore record a decadence among the shamans of the present day, who have become unable to obtain ecstasy in the fashion of the “great shamans of long ago”; on the other, it has been observed that where shamanism is in decomposition and the trance is simulated, there is also overindulgence in intoxicants and drugs. In the sphere of shamanism itself, however, we must distinguish [EM1 339] between this (probably recent) phenomenon of intoxication for the purpose of “forcing” trance, and the ritual consumption of “burning” substances for the purpose of increasing “inner heat.” Aboriginal India, then, may have known a number of immemorial traditions regarding the means for obtaining “magical heat,” ecstasy, or “divine possession,” and all these traditions may more than once have sought to be accepted into, or even to replace, the yogic disciplines. We find a proof of this in the fact that a considerable number of “yogins” and “fakirs,” while adhering to some particular yogic school and practicing certain exercises (pranayama, etc. ), at the same time continue many ecstatic and orgiastic traditions.
If we now attempt to draw some general conclusions from this brief comparative examination, we must begin by distinguishing three spiritual positions: (1) the ecstasy peculiar to sharnanism; (2) deliverance through samadhi, which is proper to classic Yoga; (3) jivan-mukti, which, almost indistinguishable from “immortality in the body,” is a form peculiar to tantric and alchemistic Yoga, of particular appeal to the “popular” imagination, whose longings it satisfies. After what we have just said, there is no need to dwell upon the structural differences between shamanic ecstasy and yogic enstasis. As a developed spiritual technique (we are not discussing its possible “origins”), Yoga cannot possibly be confused with shamanism or classed among the techniques of ecstasy. The goal of classic Yoga remains perfect autonomy, enstasis, while shamanism is characterized by its desperate effort to attain the “condition of a spirit,” to accomplish ecstatic flight. Nevertheless, there is a definite point where Yoga and shamanism meet. They meet in “emergence from time” and the abolition of history. The shaman’s ecstasy recovers the primordial freedom and bliss of the ages in which, according to the myths, man could ascend to heaven physically and converse with the gods. For its part, Yoga results in the nonconditioned state of samadhi or of sahaja, in the perfect [EM1 340] spontaneity of the jivan-mukta, the man “liberated in this life.” From one point of view, we may say that the jivan-mukta has abolished time and history; his spontaneity in some sort resembles the paradisal existence of the primordial man evoked by the myths. This is as much as to say that the yogin, no less than the shaman, attempts to do away with historical time and to return to a situation that is nonconditioned ( hence paradoxical, impossible to imagine). But while the shaman can obtain this spontaneity only through his ecstasy (when he can “fly”) and only for as long as his ecstasy lasts, the true yogin, he who has gained samadhi and become a jivan-mukta, enjoys this nonconditioned situation continuously that is, he has succeeded in definitively abolishing time and history.
This structural difference between the shaman and the yogin is seen particularly in classic Yoga. But we have noted that, alongside the classic form of Yoga, others crystallized very early, using other approaches (for example, bhakti) and pursuing other ends (for example, obtaining a “divine body”). It is because of this proliferation of new yogic forms and this process of coalescence with other mystical techniques that we find ourselves before a third “spiritual position” that which affirms the possibility of prolonging life indefinitely in an “incorruptible body,” created by Hatha Yoga and alchemy in concert. Neither classic Yoga nor, in general, any other leading form of Indian thought pursued immortality. To indefinitely prolonged existence, India preferred liberation and freedom. And yet, as we have just seen, at a particular moment Yoga came to represent for the Indian mind not only the ideal instrument of liberation but also the “secret” that would conquer death. There is but one explanation for this. For part of India, and perhaps for the greater part, Yoga was identified not only with the way of sanctity and liberation but also with magic, particularly with the magical means of vanquishing death. In other words, the mythology of the jivan-mukta satisfied not only the thirst for freedom but also the longing for immortality.
[EM1 341] In short, we observe a continuous process of osmosis and coalescence, which, in the end, radically changed certain fundamental aspects of classic Yoga. Although the latter is neither magic nor shamanism, many magical marvels are accepted among the siddhis and a number of shamanic techniques are successfully homologized with yogic exercises. From all this we can divine the pressure exerted by the immemorial magico-religious substratum that preceded the constitution of Yoga in the strict sense, a pressure that, from a particular moment on, succeeded in sending to the surface, and incorporating into Yoga, certain elements of the extremely ancient, aboriginal spirituality. It may even be that Yoga received and preserved the contribution of long-vanished civilizations, such as that of Mohenjo-daro. For, as we shall soon see, popular Hinduism displays numerous aspects that are to be found in the protohistorical religions and cultures of India.
The Dravidian Heritage, Munda, Proto-Munda
[EM1 348] We shall not here dwell on the linguistic and cultural influences exercised upon the Indo-aryans by the Dravidian peoples. We shall only point out that the essential mark of Hinduism, the devotional cult, puja, is a Dravidian contribution.
[EM1 348] As for mystical devotion, bhakti, it is certainly aboriginal in structure, either Dravidian or pre-Dravidian; in any case, bhakti played a considerable role in Hinduism, purifying it from magical excesses and ritualistic scholasticism. Bhakti was addressed either to God or to the Great Goddess or one of the countless Gramadevatas who represented her. The Gramadevatas are of particular interest to us, since their cult includes elements that are extremely archaic. The entire religious life of southern India is concentrated around these local divinities, manifestations of the Great Goddess. Now, it is precisely this type of cult that has everywhere imposed itself in popular Hinduism; in devotion to the Gramadevatas, India has rediscovered its proper religious vocation. [EM1 349] Among the names of the Great Goddess as she is manifested in these “village divinities,” we shall note Ellamma, Mariyamma, Pidari, Ambika (from a Dravidian root, amma, “mother”). Their icons are everywhere simple stone images of the female organ of generation (yoni). But the Dravidian Great Goddess does not show the sanguinary and orgiastic characteristics of Kali-Durga. Traces of a primordial and androgynous Great God (Kadaval) still subsist, but his role in the cult is of little importance. Among the names of the Dravidian Great God, we shall note that of Yogi, probably introduced after his coalescence with Shiva.
The cult sites of the Gramadevatas are almost always in the vicinity of trees. Incorporated among so many other elements of archaic culture...this detail might denote an ancient, preagricultural stratum of the religion of vegetation.
[EM1 349] ...one of the favorite images of the Gramadevatas is the pot, and sometimes a pot even incarnates the Goddess. [H. Whitehead, The Village Gods of South India, pp. 37 ff., 55, 64, 98-102, etc.] At the yearly festival of the Goddess, a decorated pot is carried around the village in procession.On the occasion of the ceremony of expiation, the entire populace gathers outside the village and a pot (keragam), representing the angry Goddess, is solemnly carried to the center of the village, where it [EM1 350] remains for three days; at the end of that time it is carried out of the village again and broken to pieces.
Now, the symbolism and cultural function of the pot were assimilated by Hinduism. Some post-Vedic ceremonies already included the “pot dance,” which was performed by girls and whose magical meaning of fertility is obvious. But in this example the se+ual symbolism of the pot outweighs its aquatic, marine symbolism, which is the older.
[EM1 353] The excavations undertaken in the Punjab some thirty years ago by Sir John Marshall and his collaborators, and continued by E. Mackay, Vats, and Wheeler, have brought to light a civilization whose high point may be placed between 2500 and 2000 s.c. It has been principally the two citadel-cities, Mohenjo-daro on the Indus and Harappa on the Ravi, an affluent of the Indus, which have revealed the essentials of this protohistorical civilization. What is most striking at first is its uniformity and its stagnation intensive search has brought to light no change, no innovation, in the thousand years of the history of the Harappa civilization. The two citadel-cities were probably the capitals of the “empire.” Their cultural uniformity and continuity are explicable only on the hypothesis of a regime based upon some kind of religious authority. The variety of anthropological types shows an ethnic synthesis already well advanced. The proto-Australoids seem to represent the most numerous and most “primitive” elements, the aborigines; [EM1 354] the “Mediterranean” type is probably of Occidental origin and can be regarded as the conveyor of agricultural civilization ( for the type is found associated with agriculture throughout the Western world); [Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India, p. 146.] finally, two other anthropological types have been identified the Mongoloid and the Alpine.
The plan of the city of Mohenjo-daro shows the importance of a Great Bath that is strangely reminiscent of the “baths” of Hindu temples in our day. The pictographic script, displayed on a large number of seals, has not yet been deciphered; so far, it has only given rise to some fantastic hypotheses. The art, like the entire Harappa culture, is conservative and already “Indian”; one feels a definite foreshadowing of the later artistic style.
But it is especially the religion of the Harappa civilization that is of interest to us. According to Sir John Marshall, it is so characteristically Indian that it can hardly be distinguished from Hinduism. Side by side with the cult of the Great Goddess, and that of a god who can be considered the prototype of Shiva, we find animal worship, phallism, the cult of trees, and of water in other words, all the elements that will later enter into the great Hinduistic synthesis. The cult of the Mother Goddess was particularly prevalent; innumerable figurines have been found, some of them representing almost n‰ked goddesses. The latest types resemble Kali-Durga, of whom they were probably the model. No aryan people has raised a female divinity to the supreme rank that she held in the civilization of Mohenjo-daro and that Kali holds in Hinduism today.
But the most important fact for our investigation is the discovery, at [EM1 355] Mohenjo-daro, of an iconographic type that may be considered the earliest plastic representation of a yogin. Here the Great God himself, in whom the prototype of Shiva has been identified, is represented in the specifically yogic posture. Sir John Marshall describes the figure as follows: “The God, who is three-faced, is seated on a low Indian throne in a typical attitude of Yoga, with legs bent double beneath him, heel to heel, and toes turned downwards.... Over his breast is a triangular pectoral or perhaps a series of necklaces or torques.... The ph..s (urdvamedhra) (is) seemingly exposed, but it is possible that what appears to be the ph..s is in reality the end of the waistband. Crowning his head is a pair of horns meeting in a tall head-dress. To either side of the god are four animals, an elephant and a tiger on his proper right, a rhinoceros and a buffalo on his left. Beneath the throne are two deer standing with heads regardant and horns turned to the center.” One of the most recent writers to express an opinion on the question, Stuart Piggott, writes: “There can be little doubt that we have here the prototype of the great god Shiva as Lord of the Beasts and Prince of Yogis; he may have been conceived as four-faced, and with his four animals looks to the four quarters of the earth. This would indeed recall the symbolical elephant, lion, horse, and bull on the Mauryan column of the third century B.C. at Sarnath. The deer by the god’s throne make another significant link with later religion, and with Sarnath, for, similarly placed, they are the inevitable accompaniment of Buddha in representations of the Deer Park Sermon.” [Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India, p.202]
Representations of other divinities in the asana posture have been found on the seals, too. Finally, a second statue was excavated that in all probability is that of a yogin. Sir John Marshall describes it as follows: “It represents someone seemingly in the pose of a yogi, and it is for this reason that the eyelids are more than half closed and the eyes looking downward to the tip of the nose....” [EM1 356] Probably it is the statue of a priest or may be of a king-priest, since it lacks the horns which would naturally be expected if it were a figure of the deity himself. That it possessed a religious or quasireligious character is suggested by the distinctive trefoil patterning of its robe a motif which in Sumer is reserved for objects of a sacral nature.”
These facts can hardly be belittled, and their bearing is immense. Between the protohistorical civilization of the Indus and modern Hinduism there is no solution of continuity. The Great Goddess and the genetic God (Shiva), the cult of vegetation (the pipal tree, so characteristic of Hinduism) and phallism, the holy man in the asana position, perhaps practicing ekagrata then as now, they are in the very foreground. “The links between the Harappa religion and contemporary Hinduism are of course of immense interest, providing as they do some explanation of those many features that cannot be derived from the Aryan traditions brought into India after, or concurrently with, the fall of the Harappa civilization. The old faiths die hard: it is even possible that early historic Hindu society owed more to Harappa than it did to the Sanskrit-speaking invaders.” [Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India, p.203]
Moreover, many of the cultural elements identified at Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are to be found in India today. Thus, for example, the Harappan two-wheeled cart is the same as that used today in Sind, the boats resemble those seen today on the Indus, the technique of pottery seems to be identical with that which can be observed today in Sind villages, and the like is true of architecture, nasal ornaments, the method of applying kohl, the ivory comb, etc. The use of the turban, unknown in the Vedic texts, attested from the Brahmanas on, was popular in Harappa. [Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India, p.269] [EM1 357] There can be disagreement over the details, but it is difficult to doubt the Indian character of the civilization of Mohenjo-daro, whatever its origins may have been. Quite possibly the authors of the civilization borrowed some religious forms from the aboriginal population. We have seen the importance of the proto-Australoid element, which probably composed the lower stratum of society. That element survives to this day in the autochthonous tribes of southern India. It doubtless entered into the Harappan synthesis, as it will later enter into the Hinduist syntheses.
About 2000 B.C., the Indus civilization was in a state of defense; not long afterward, a part of Harappa was burned by invaders coming down from the Northwest. These “barbarians” were not yet the Indo-Europeans, but their invasion was doubtless related to the general movement in the West, in which the Indo-Europeans were involved. [Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India, p.255] Some centuries afterward, these latter put a brutal end to all that remained of the Indus civilization. Not long ago it was still believed that, in their invasion of India, the Indo-aryans had encountered nothing but aboriginal tribes, culturally in the ethnographic stage. These were the Dasyus, whose “forts,” attacked and destroyed by the Indra of the Rig-Veda, were thought to be only humble earthworks. But Wheeler has shown that the famous hymn in the Rig-Veda ( I, 53 ), praising Indra in his conquest of the “forts” of the Dasyus, applies to the solid defenses of the citadel of Harappa or Mohenjo-daro. Whence we may conclude that, in their descent into central India, the Indo-aryans encountered not only aboriginal tribes but also the last survivors of the Indus civilization, to which they gave the deathblow. On the cultural plane, the Harappans were definitely superior to the Indo-Europeans; their urban and industrial civilization could not be compared with the Indo-European “barbarism.” But the Harappans were not warlike (we may even suppose them to have been a sort of industrial and mercantile theocracy); ill-prepared for an attack by a young and aggressive people, they were defeated and annihilated.
[EM1 358] Yet the destruction of the Indus culture could not be final. The collapse of an urban civilization is not equivalent to the simple extinction of its culture, but merely to that culture’s regression to rural, larval, “popular” forms. (This phenomenon was amply demonstrated in Europe during and after the great barbarian invasions.) But before very long the aryanization of the Punjab launched the great movement of synthesis that was one day to become Hinduism. The considerable number of “Harappan” elements found in Hinduism can be explained only by a contact, begun quite early, between the Indo-European conquerors and the representatives of the Indus culture. These representatives were not necessarily the authors of the Indus culture or their direct descendants; they might be tributaries, by dissemination, of certain Harappan cultural forms, which they had preserved in eccentric regions, spared by the first waves of aryanization. This would explain the following apparently strange fact: the cult of the Great Goddess and of Shiva, phallism and tree worship, asceticism and Yoga, etc., appear for the first time in India as the religious expression of a high urban civilization, that of the Indus whereas, in medieval and modern India, these religious elements are characteristic of “popular” cultures. To be sure, from the Harappan period on, there was certainly a synthesis between the spirituality of the Australoid aborigines and that of the “masters,” the authors of the urban civilization. But we must presume that it was not only this synthesis that was preserved, but also the specific and almost exclusive contribution of the “masters” (a contribution related especially to their theocratic conceptions). Otherwise it would be impossible to explain the considerable importance assumed by the Brahmans after the Vedic period. Very probably all these Harappan religious conceptions (which strongly contrast with those of the Indo-Europeans ) were preserved, with inevitable regressions, among the “popular” strata, in the margin of the society and civilization of the new aryan-speaking masters. Very probably it is from there that they welled up, in successive waves, during the later synthesis that ended in the formation of Hinduism.
[EM1 360] From the beginning, Yoga marked the reaction against metaphysical speculation and the excesses of a fossilized ritualism; it represented the same tendency toward the concrete, toward personal experience, that we find again in the popular devotion expressed in puja and bhakti. We always find some form of Yoga whenever the goal is experience of the sacred or the attainment of a perfect self-mastery, which is itself the first step toward magical mastery of the world. It is a fact of considerable significance that the noblest mystical experiences, as well as the most daring magical desires, are realized through yogic technique, or, more precisely, that Yoga can equally well adapt itself to either path. Several hypotheses could account for this. The first would invoke the two spiritual traditions that, after numerous tensions and at the end of a long synthetic effort, ended by forming Hinduism the religious tradition of the aryan-speaking Indo-Europeans and the tradition of the aborigines (the latter, as we have seen, a complex tradition, including Dravidian, Munda, proto-Munda, and Harappan elements ). The Indo-Europeans contributed a patriarchal social structure, a pastoral economy, and the cult of the gods of the sky and the atmosphere in a word, the “religion of the Father.” The pre-aryan aborigines already knew agriculture and urbanism (the Indus civilization) and, in general, adhered to the “religion of the Mother.” Hinduism, as it has existed from the end of the Middle Ages, represents the synthesis of these two traditions, but with a marked predominance of the aboriginal factors; the contribution of the Indo-Europeans underwent a radical Asianization. Hinduism represents the religious victory of the soil.
Although the magical conception of the world is more accentuated among the Indo-Europeans, we may hesitate to make them the source of the magical tendency present in the Yoga complex and to give the entire credit for the mystical tendency to the aborigines. In our view, it seems more in agreement with the facts to find the Indo-European contribution in the considerable importance of ritualism and the speculations to which it gave rise, and to leave to the aborigines the tendency toward the concrete in [EM1 361] religious experience, the need for a mystical devotion to personal or local divinities (Ishtadevata, Gramadevata). In so far as Yoga represents a reaction against ritualism and scholastic speculation, it adheres to the aboriginal tradition and stands against the Indo-European religious heritage. We have, in fact, frequently had occasion to stress the resistance to the various forms of Yoga on the part of orthodox circles that is, of the tributaries of the Indo-European tradition. As we have pointed out, the absence of the Yoga complex from other Indo-European groups confirms the supposition that this technique is a creation of the Asian continent, of the Indian soil. If we are right in connecting the origins of yogic asceticism with the protohistorical religion of the Indus, we may justifiably conclude that in it we have an archaic form of mystical experience that disappeared everywhere else. For to repeat Yoga cannot be classed among the countless varieties of primitive mysticism to which the term shamanism is commonly applied. Yoga is not a technique of ecstasy; on the contrary, it attempts to realize absolute concentration in order to attain enstasis. In the universal history of mysticism, classic Yoga occupies a place of its own, and one that is difficult to define. It represents a living fossil, a modality of archaic spirituality that has survived nowhere else. (The concept “living fossils” has, of course, been profitably employed in various branches of biology among others, in speleology. Certain forms of life that today flourish in caves belong to a fauna long since antiquated. “They are veritable living fossils,” writes Father Racovitza, “and often represent very ancient periods of life Tertiary and even Mesozoic.” Thus, caves preserve an archaic fauna, of the greatest importance to an understanding of the primitive zoomorphic groups that are unfossilizable. It is in this sense that we can speak of certain archaic modalities of spirituality, which have remained in existence down to our day, as living fossils; they are of all the more interest for the history of the human mind because they leave no “documentary” traces, because they are, as we should express it, “unfossilizable.”)
The archaism of Yoga is confirmed once again by its initiatory [EM1 362] structure. We have called attention to the yogic symbolism of death and rebirth death to the profane human condition, rebirth to a transcendent modality. The yogin undertakes to “reverse” normal behavior completely. He subjects himself to a petrified immobility of body (asana), rhythmical breathing and arrest of breath (pranayama), fixation of the psychomental flux (ekagrata), immobility of thought, the “arrest” and even the “return” of semen. On every level of human experience, he does the opposite of what life demands that he do. Now, the symbolism of the “opposite” indicates both the post-mortem condition and the condition of divinity (we know that “left” on earth corresponds to “right” in the beyond, a vessel broken here below is equivalent to an unbroken vessel in the world of the afterlife and the gods, etc. ). The “reversal” of normal behavior sets the yogin outside of life. But he does not stop halfway death is followed by an initiatory rebirth. The yogin makes for himself a “new body,” just as the neophyte in archaic societies is thought to obtain a new body through initiation.
At first sight the rejection of life demanded by Yoga might appear terrifying, for it implies more than a funerary symbolism it entails experiences that are so many anticipations of death. Does not the arduous and complicated process by which the yogin detaches himself from and finally eliminates all the contents that belong to the psychophysiological levels of human experience recall the process of death? For, in the Indian view, death represents a brutal separation of the Spirit from all psychophysiological experiences. And, looking more closely, we see that the mystery of liberation, the return of the elements (tattva) to prakriti, also signifies an anticipation of death. As we said, certain yogico-tantric exercises are only an “anticipatory visualization” of the decomposition and return of elements in the circuit of nature, a process normally set in motion by death. Many of the experiences of the world beyond death that are described in the Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, are in strange correspondence with yogico-tantric exercises in meditation.
[EM1 363] We know now that this anticipatory death is an initiatory death that is, that it is necessarily followed by a rebirth. It is for the sake of this rebirth to another mode of being that the yogin sacrifices everything that, on the level of profane existence, seems important. It is a sacrifice not only of his “life,” but also of his “personality.” In the perspective of profane existence, the sacrifice is unintelligible. But we know the answer of Indian philosophy: the perspective of profane existence is distorted. And it is so for two reasons: on the one hand, desacralized life is suffering and illusion; on the other, no final problem can be solved in its perspective. Let us recall the answer given by Samkhya-Yoga to the problems concerning the cause and beginning of the pseudo slavery of Spirit in the circuit of matter and life. Samkhya-Yoga answers: they are problems that are insoluble in our present human condition; in other words, they are “mysteries” for any intelligence that has not been liberated (we should say, for any “fallen” intelligence). He who would attain to comprehension of these “mysteries” must raise himself to another mode of being, and, to reach it, he must “die” to this life and sacrifice the “personality” that has issued from temporality, that has been created by history (personality being above all memory of our own history). The ideal of Yoga, the state of jivan-mukti , is to live in an “eternal present,” outside of time. “Liberated in life,” the jivan-mukta no longer possesses a personal consciousness that is, a consciousness nourished on his own history but a witnessing consciousness, which is pure lucidity and spontaneity. We shall not attempt to describe this paradoxical condition; indeed, since it is obtained by “death” to the human condition and rebirth to a transcendent mode of being, it cannot be reduced to our categories. Nevertheless, we will emphasize one fact, whose interest is chiefly historical. Yoga takes over and continues the immemorial symbolism of initiation; in other words, it finds its place in a universal tradition of the religious history of mankind: the tradition that consists in anticipating death in order to ensure rebirth in a sanctified life that is, a life made real by the incorporation of the sacred. But India went particularly far on this [EM1 364] traditional plane. For Yoga, the initiatory rebirth becomes the acquisition of immortality or absolute freedom. It is in the very structure of this paradoxical state, which lies outside of profane existence, that we must seek the explanation for the coexistence of “magic” and “mysticism” in Yoga. Everything depends upon what is meant by freedom.