The Yoga of Force: Tantra and Medieval Haṭhayoga Flashcards Preview

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Haṭhayoga facts

Haṭha = force, forceful

Jason Birch on Haṭha (2011)

12th-18th century CE

Building upon earlier yogic and ascetic traditions, and tantra

A new emphasis on the body and bodily techniques used to harness subtle energy

New texts emerge which sought to systematize and promote these yoga teachings and techniques

We are only now in the beginning stages of identifying and translating many of these texts and traditions


Early References to Haṭha in Sanskrit texts

The term haṭhayoga first occurs in Buddhist tantras from the 8th century

haṭhayoga is referred to as a "last-resort" soteriological practice, if the path of mantras does not work

Earliest definition of haṭhayoga: Puṇḍarīka's Vimalaprabhā (11th cent) commentary on the Kālacakratantra

haṭha "forces" energy/breath inwards and upwards or "restrains" it in place


Haṭhayoga's Tantric Buddhist Source Text

Recent findings from the Amṛtasiddhi (early 12th cent) by Mādhavacandra - James Mallinson and Peter Daniel-Szanto

Earliest known text to teach the practice of bodily mudrās: mahāmudrā, mahābandha, and mahāvedha (each seated postures)

With bandhas: throat-lock (kaṇṭhabandha) and root-lock (mūlabandha)

Used to make breath enter central channel and rise upwards

Taught in all subsequent Hathayoga texts


Haṭhayoga Corpus (14 texts with 3 main ones)

Amṛtasiddhi (12th cent)

Datātreyayogaśāstra (13th cent)

Amaraughaprabodha (13th cent)

Gorakṣaśataka (13th cent)

Vivekamārtaṇḍa (13/14th cent)

Khecarīvidyā (13/14th cent)

Yogayājñavalkya (13/14th cent)

Yogabīja (14/15th cent)

1) Śivasaṃhitā (15th cent)

2) Haṭhapradīpikā (15th cent)

Śivayogapradīpikā (15th cent)

Yogacintāmaṇi (17th cent)

3) Gherandasaṃhitā (18th cent)

Haṭhābyāsapaddhati (18th cent)


Mallinson's Theory: 2 Ascetico-yogic Historical Streams

1) Muni ("sages")
Ancient ascetic yoga
Descriptions in the late Upanishads, Epics, Pali Canon, Puranas
Developped from early shramana groups
"orthodox", brahmanical
Vedic ṛṣis/munis like Vasiṣṭha, Yajñavalkya, Hiranyagarbha, etc

Siddha ("adepts")
Tantric yoga
Vajrayana Buddhism
Tantric Śaivism
Kaula, Śri Vidyā, Kubjikā traditions
"heterodox", antinomian
Mahāsiddhas like Matsyendranāth, Gorakhnāth, etc


Ancient Sages (munis)

Largely male, celibates, ascetics

Developped from Śramaṇa traditions

Cultivation of tapas (lit. "heat")

Physical and mental austerities

Forerunners of physical techniques of haṭha, eg: standing on one foot, raising the arms above the head, hanging upside-down

Attainment of boons from deities, supernatural powers (siddhi), immortality, heaven, or "release" (mokṣa) from saṃsāra


Ancient Inversions: Bindu-dhāraṇa

The retention of:
bindu = life-force, semen
rajas = female equiv.

Associated with immortality (amṛta)

Stored in the cranial vault

Practice aimed at reversing and retaining its power

Ancient inversion practice
eg: "Bat-Penance" (Pāli vagguli-vata) = later in Hathayoga: tapkar-āsan


Tantra definition of David White (Tantra in practice, 2000)

Tantra is that Asian body of beliefs and practices which, working from the principle that the universe we experience is nothing other than the concrete manifestation of the divine energy of the godhead that creates and maintains the universe, seeks to ritually appropriate and channel that energy, within the human microcosm, in creative and emancipatory ways"


Tantric yoga

Hundreds of Tantras, Āgamas, Saṃhitā, many have yoga sections (pādas)

Begin 6th century

Tāntrika vs. Vaidika, scriptural authority outside of the Vedas

Tantric Śaivism, Vaiṣṇavism, and Vajrayāna Buddhism

"The Śaiva Age", 6th/12th cent CE (Prof Alexis Sanderson)

Many different schools/streams (see Sanderson 1988 article "Śaivism and the Tantric Traditions")

Mantramārga ("path of mantras")

Dual and non dual systems

Soteriological goals of becoming equal to, union with, or becoming the deity (i.e Śiva)

The diviniation of the yogic/tantric body


The Tantric Body

Tantric visualization/map of the subtle energy body:

Layayoga ("yoga of dissolution“)

Cakras = "lotuses/wheels"

Nādis = "channels" (around 72 000)

Prāna = "life force/breath"

Vāyu = "winds"

Ādhāra = "mental fixations"

The awakening, falling, or rising of:

Kuṇḍalinī-śakti "goddess/serpent power"

Ascends to the crown of the head, nectar of immortality (amṛta) flows throughout the entire body


Nāth Yogīs

Offshoot of Kaula Yoginī Tantra

left-handed "transgressive"

Matsyendranāth (c 9th cent)

Gorakhnāth (c 12th cent)

Many of the Haṭhayoga texts are attributed to Gorakhnāth
eg: Gorakṣaśataka, Vivekamārtaṇḍa, Gorakṣasaṃithā, Yogabīja, Amaraughaprabodha, etc

Nāths today: aka Kaṇphatās (split eared), Gorakhpanthis, Nāth yogīs, etc


A Yogic Merger

Mallinson (2011) posits that in the early Haṭhayoga texts, the later tantric kuṇḍalini-śakti system is "overlaid" onto the earlier bindu/dhāraṇa system

Merger of the Muni and Tantric Siddha streams


Haṭhayoga techniques

Āsana = "postures"

Ṣaṭkarma = "six actions" for cleansing/purifying

Prāṇāyāma = breath extension/control

Kumbhaka = breath retention

Mudrā = bodily seals

Bandha = bodily locks

Nādānusandhāna = concentration on the inner sound

Dhāraṇā = fixation

Dhyāna = meditation/visualiyation

Samādhi = soteriological goal (eg: Rājayoga)



= seat, posture

from sanskrit ās = to sit, lay down, rest

Early textual sources describe āsana as seated postures, for the purpose of meditation, breath control, visualization practices


Āsana in the Yogasūtra

sthira-sukhaṃ āsanam
"posture is firm and comfortable"

Commentary lists 12 āsanas, including: padmāsana, bhadrāsana, svastikāsana, ādi (etc)


Āsana in Haṭhayoga

a new emphasis on the body and bodily techniques used to harness subtle energy (prāṇa, kuṇḍalini)

In HY, āsanas are used for bodily purification and therapeutics, to develop strength, freedom from disease, and vitality

"Āsana is describerd first because it is the first auxiliary of Haṭha. One should perform it, for āsana results in steadiness, freedom from disease, and lightness of body" HP 1.17


Āsanas thaught in HY Texts

Datātreyayogaśāstra (13th cent) - 1

Gorakṣaśataka (13th cent) - 2

Vivekamārtaṇḍa (13/14th cent) - 2

Yogayājñavalkya (13/14th cent) - 8

Vasiṣṭasaṃhitā (15th cent)
- 10

1) Śivasaṃhitā (15th cent) - 4

2) Haṭhapradīpikā (15th cent) - 15

Śivayogapradīpikā (15th cent) - 10

Yogacintāmaṇi (17th cent) - 62

3) Gherandasaṃhitā (18th cent) - 32

Jogapradīpyakā (18th cent) - 84

Haṭhābyāsapaddhati (18th cent) - 112

BKS Iyengar's Yogadīpikā (Light on Yoga) - 200


Goals of Haṭhayoga

Bodily purification, "therapeutics," attainment of power, or ultimately liberation (Samādhi)

bubhukṣus= those desirous of wordly enjoyment (i.e bhoga, siddhi)

mumukṣus = those desirous of liberation

Liberation is equated with Samādhi/Rājayoga

Sometimes envisioned as the union of ātman and pramātman/brahman

Union of Śiva and Śakti (i.e Kuṇḍalini), bodily flooding of amṛta

Unmani, Amanaska - supra-mental state

Jīvanmukti (liberation while lving)


Haṭhayoga and Rājayoga

"I bow to Śri Ādinātha (Śiva) who taught the science of Haṭhayoga, which shines forth as if it were a staircase for one who desires to ascend to the lofty peak of rājayoga" (HP 1.1)

"Those who practice Haṭhayoga alone without Rājayoga, I consider their efforts to be fruitless" (HP 4.79)


Yogic Universalism and Inclusivity

The early Hatha texts emphasis praxis over theory or metaphysics

Generally non-sectarian

Emphasize accessibility

Shift from strict renunciate traditions to include householders

Some references to female practitioners

"Living in a house filled with children and a wife and so forth, internally abandoning attachment, and then seeing the mark of success on the path of Yoga, the householder has fun having mastered my teaching" (Śivasaṃhitā 5.260)


Pan-Indic practice

The inclusivity of Haṭhayoga allows its techniques to be implemented by a variety of groups

Haṭhayoga techniques were adopted by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Muslims, Christians, etc