By Nithin Sridhar
Guru Poornima Special- Part 3
The Natha (literally “lord”) sampradaya has been one of the most influential lineages of spiritual masters in the history of India. Many of the current spiritual practices including those of laya yoga, hatha yoga etc. can be traced to these masters.
Therefore, the third segment of Guru Poornima series will deal with Gorakshanatha, the second among the nine Natha’s.
His Life: According to modern scholarship, Gorakshanatha lived somewhere between 10th and 11th century. But no definite information is available regarding his birth date, place or life events. He is considered as one of the 84 Siddha Maha-Yogis and as the founder of what later came to be known as Hatha Yoga.
Traditionally, he is considered as one among the nine immortal Nathas, and a manifestation of Lord Shiva.
Accounts about his power and miracles are heard throughout the length and breadth of the country, from Nepal in the north to Maharashtra in the south, and from Punjab in the west to Assam in the east.
According to one such famous account, once, when Matsyendranatha, the teacher of Gorakshanatha, had gone into a land of women called Kadali-vana, he fell into the snares of 1600 women, and he completely forgot about his real nature and the powers he had.
At that time, it was Gorakshanatha, who went there and saved his master by reminding him his true personality. Some accounts, also believe that this whole episode was a play of Matsyendranatha to test Gorakshanatha.
Regarding the birth of Gorakshanatha, various legends have appeared. According to one such account, Lord Shiva had given prasad (food) to a woman to eat, saying she would give birth to a son. Twelve years later, when Matsyendranatha went to the woman to see her son, he was informed that the woman had thrown the prasad upon a dung-hill. Matsyendranatha found a young boy of twelve years, near the place where the dung hill stood.
His Guru: Matsyendranatha is the founder of Kaula tradition and is first among the nine nathas. He is said to have been initiated by Lord Shiva himself who is referred as Adi Natha.
The legend goes that Matsyendranatha was a fisherman. Once, while he was fishing, he was swallowed by a large fish. This fish went near a cave where Lord Shiva was imparting secret teachings of Yoga to Parvati. Matsyendranatha, who was in the belly of the fish, heard those teachings and practiced those austerities for 12 long years, after which he finally came out of the fish’s body. Hence, he is called as Matsyendranatha where matsya refers to fish.
His Philosophy: He was not a philosopher but was a Siddha Yogi, who taught and spread the knowledge of Yoga. The Natha’s believe that in every Yuga, Gorakshanatha appears on earth to teach Yoga.
He considered the Brahman (Transcendent reality) as Shiva and the manifestation as Shakti. And this MahaShakti (great power) being the real inherent power of Brahman.
Hence, Gorakshanatha considered that though Shiva has no movement and is static, he himself, by virtue of his inner Power (nija-shakti) manifests this multiplicity of universes.
He further considers a Siddha yogi, a perfected yogi as one who has realized the identity of Shiva and Shakti.
His Works: Gorakshanatha has been traditionally believed to have authored several Sanskrit treatises on various topics related to Yoga. Some of his works are Goraksha Samhita, Siddha Siddhanta Paddatti, Viveka Maartanda, Yoga Chintamani, Jnanaamrita, Goraksha Gita etc.
His Legacy: He was one of the foremost Yogis who spread the philosophy and practice of Yoga far and wide. The system of Yoga taught by Nathas are not different from Pantanjali Yoga in general principles. But, Gorakshanatha elaborated and enriched the system by adding various forms of Asanas (posture), Pranayaama (breath control), Mudraa (hand gestures), Bandha (body locks), Dhaarana (one pointed concentration), Dhyaana (meditation), Ajapaa (spontaneous repetition of mantra) etc.
He made unique contributions to Naada (primordial sound), which became the basis for Laya Yoga. He dealt in depth on Kundalini and gave detailed descriptions regarding various Chakras.
He is foremost among the teachers of Hatha Yoga and many consider him as its founder. His master had founded the Yogini Kaula tradition and he enriched the tradition as well.
The Nath Sampradaya, carried the legacy of Matsyendranatha and Gorakshanatha forward. They were experts at alchemy and healing.
Many consider Gorakshanatha as the most influential person after Adi Shankaracharya. What Adi Shankaracharya did to Vedanta, Gorakshanatha achieved the same for Yoga. He single-handedly spread Shaivism and Yoga through the length and breadth of India.
Hatha Yoga: A system of Yoga that mainly concentrates on the perfection of physical body and is considered as the first step towards the pinnacle of Raja Yoga.
Laya Yoga: It is same as Kundalini Yoga, where a practitioner awakens his sleeping Kundalini and makes it flow through Chakras.
Kundalini: It is the primal energy (Shakti) that sleeps at the base of the subtle spinal column.
Kaula tradition: The practitioners of a specific school of tantra.
Siddha Yogi: A perfected Yogi, who has attained the ultimate goal.
More in this segment: