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Yoga in Sriprasnasamhita – A Brief Overview

Abstract

Yoga, as a darśana, is generally misunderstood as having roots in or association solely with śaiva or śākta sampradāyas. However, vaiṣṇava sampradāyas are also intimately linked with yoga. Ācāryas in the vaiṣṇava sampradāyas establish that yoga is one of the several upāyas and cite the vaiṣṇava āgamas as pramāṇa for the same. Of the vaiṣṇava āgamas, the pāñcarātrāgama is considered more important in the śrīsampradāya of Rāmānujācārya due to its universal acceptance of all sādhakas or prospective sādhakas as adhikārīs for nyāsavidyā. The Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā is an āgamagrantha in the pāñcarātrāgama. It speaks of several subjects of importance for any vaiṣṇava presented in the form of a sambhāṣaṇa (dialogue) as seen in itihāsapurāṇa. The third adhyāya in the Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā is dedicated to an exposition on yoga where śrīmahālakṣmī seeks clarity from Śrīmannārāyaṇa on what yoga is. Śrīmannārāyaṇa in turn shares details of a system of yoga along with its aṅgas, a specific method of antaraṅgasādhana, and the ultimate goal of a yogī amongst other concepts. This adhyāya on yoga in the Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā, the author hypothesises, in all probability, forms the basis for the sādhana of many a modern yogī in vaiṣṇava sampradāyas. This paper attempts to present a basic overview of the aforementioned adhyāya in the Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā, a pāñcarātrāgamagrantha.

Introduction

The Śrīsampradāya of Rāmānujācārya sees bhakti and prapatti/śaraṇāgati as the upāyas to attain mokṣa which is the pradhānapuruṣārtha. However, bhakti, which includes yoga as a possible entry point that eventually leads to prapatti, is given the status of an upāya and prapatti/śaraṇāgati is seen as the mukhyopāya. Being difficult to practise and not possible by all, yoga is seen as slow and full of vighnas in comparison with prapatti/śaraṇāgati in terms of helping the sādhaka attain mokṣa by entering Śrīvaikuṇṭha. This is reflected even in the pāñcarātrāgamaśāstra.

Traditionally, according to the ācāryaparamparā of śrīsampradāya, prāmāṇya of pāñcarātrāgamaśāstra was established first by Yāmunācārya, then by Rāmānujācārya himself, and thereafter by Vedāntadeśikācārya and other ācāryas. Hence, pāñcarātrāgamaśāstra is seen as one of the primary sources for the ārādhanakramas of śrīmannārāyaṇa. However, pāñcarātrāgamaśāstra also lists methods of practising yoga and those who cannot practise yoga as an upāya, which is difficult, are advised to pursue mokṣa through bhakti and prapatti upāyas. As a consequence, the subscribers of the Śrīsampradāya do not see yoga as the ultimate upāya in comparison with prapatti/śaraṇāgati due to the ease of practice. However, within the past century, the world has adopted yoga as a primary method for “spirituality” and “health and wellness” either for discovering purpose in life or in order to make a living (udaranimitta). It, hence, becomes necessary for us to understand what śāstras themselves say with regard to yoga in order to construct a more comprehensive picture and understand śrīsampradāya as well as vaiṣṇavasiddhānta in general.

Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā

Amongst pāñcarātrāgamaśāstragranthas is Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā. As seen commonly in śaivatantragranthas where devī Umā asks deva Śiva on different subjects and vice versa in śāktatantragranthas, here in Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā, devī śrī asks deva śrīmannārāyaṇa on different subjects.

Seeking Wisdom

In the third adhyāya of the Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā devī śrī asks deva śrīmannārāyaṇa on yoga and śrīmannārāyaṇa responds to her query in detail[1].

Adjectives and purpose of yoga

I will tell (you) the essence of yoga along with its salient elements. This yoga can cut asunder my māyā which binds all beings. This yoga destroys birth, death, and senescence. It is only by yoga that one may attain that which is called unattainable by other ways, kaivalya, the Ultimate position, the Indescribable, the Omnipresent, the Witness, the Blemishless, the Pure, the Calm, the Transcendent, and Ultimate Brahman. Enemies such as kāma, krodha, etc. bind the Free with the rope in the forms of saṃsāra due to the jīva’s association with guṇas. I narrate now the means to release from that rope. Without yoga, jñāna cannot give mokṣa. Without jñāna, yoga alone cannot help one see the Truth. Therefore, a mumukṣu must practise yoga along with jñāna. In the absence of jñāna there is saṃsāra and in the presence of jñāna alone there is mokṣa.

Object of Yoga

What is the purpose of jñāna? It is to see (experience) the object desired to be known. By the path of yoga learnt directly from a Guru, the intelligent must do yoga by meditating on the form of bhagavān, the form of everything, the formless, one similar to a pure sphaṭika, the four armed Vāsudeva holding śaṅkha, cakra, and gadā, the ocean of ānanda, pure, bereft of negative qualities, yellow-robed, the ultimate cause behind the origin of all devas, slightly smiling, and with eyes like the petal of a lotus. This is called jñāna. Now follows the essence of yoga.

Types/elements of Yoga

Mantrayoga, layayoga, paricaya, and niṣpatti avasthā are known in yogas.

Method of mantrayoga

I will now describe them. Please listen carefully. One must do japa of the mantra along with mātṛkās for twelve years in a clean way. In time the practitioner will obtain jñāna along with siddhis such as aṇimā, etc. The dullard lowest practitioner will pursue this yoga.

Method of layayoga

Layayoga refers to the destruction of the citta and is a crore times more praised. The practitioner while walking, standing, sleeping/dreaming, and eating keeps meditating on the blemishless īśvara. This is only named layayoga. Now listen to the description of haṭhayoga (or haṃsayoga).

Haṭhayoga

Yama, niyama, āsana, prāṇasaṃyama, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, and dhyāna on Hari in the bhrūmadhya are the limbs; mahāmudrā, mahābandha, mahāvedha, khecarī, jālandharabandha, uḍḍiyāṇabandha, and mūlabandha are a few techniques; being united with praṇava for a long time and listening to siddhānta are two methods; and vajrolī, amarolī, and sahajolī are other methods. Listen now to the description of each[2] of these.

Yama

Eating little is fundamentally one important amongst yamas.

Niyama

Ahiṃsā is one important amongst niyamas.

Āsana

Siddhāsana, padmāsana, siṃhāsana, and bhadrāsana are the four āsanas.

Vighnas (antarāyas)

In the first phase of abhyāsa, there are many disturbances such as sloth, boastfulness, counsel of criminal company, etc. Having known these, the intelligent must let go of these disturbances by the effect of accumulated puṇya.

Prāṇāyāma after āsanajaya

One must do prāṇāyāma on their own having attained padmāsana.

Maṭha

One must construct a beautiful maṭha with a small entrance without any cracks. One must exert effort to smear the maṭha well with gomaya or lime plaster and sweep it well with a broom everyday, fumigate it well with fragrances such as guggula, etc. and live in it.

Antaraṅgasādhana begins with nāḍīśuddhi Prāṇāyāma

The intelligent one established in padmāsana sitting there, having a straight body, with a namaskāra, must bow down to the iṣṭadevatā. Then having blocked the right nostril with the thumb of the right hand. The practitioner must inhale slowly through the left nostril. Having filled to the maximum, the practitioner must hold the breath. Then the practitioner must exhale slowly, not quickly, through the right nostril. Again the practitioner must slowly inhale to the abdomen through the right nostril. Having held the breath to the maximum capacity, the practitioner must exhale through the left nostril slowly. One must inhale through that nostril through which was exhaled. One must hold without restriction. Having circumambulated around the knee, neither slowly nor quickly, one must snap the fingers. This is called one mātrā. Having slowly inhaled through the left nostril for 16 mātrās, one must hold the breath next for 64 mātrās. One must exhale again through the right nostril for 32 mātrās. Again having inhaled through the right nostril effortlessly just like before, one must practice slowly upto 80 times four times a day – morning, mid-noon, evening, and midnight the kumbhakas. In this manner, a month of practice leads to the purification of nāḍīs.

(Figure:1 – Credit: dreamstime –  Yoga expanding knowledge like the branches of a tree)

Effects of nāḍīśuddhi

When the purification of nāḍīs is accomplished, then there are external indicators in the body of the yogī. I will tell them now completely. Lightness of weight of the body, shining, increase in digestive agni, slimness of the body and stability of the body are the results of purification of nāḍīs.

Pathyāhāra

The best of yoga practitioners must avoid consuming food that disturbs the process of yoga. These include salty food, food with mustard, sour food, hot food, pungent food, and dry/rough food. Food with gum bled from plants/vegetables (such as asafoetida), fire activity, physical relationship with women, and travel (or fire activity, and travelling all through the day time). Taking bath early in the morning, upavāsa, etc. and physically exhausting activities must be avoided. Consumption of kṣīrānna is praised first and godhūmamudgaśālyanna (rice with wheat, green gram and black cumin) is known to support yoga during the initial days of practice.

Kevalakumbhaka

After that one can engage in the indefinite retention of the breath. Kevalakumbhaka is mastered by the indefinite retention of breath. Exhalation and inhalation cease when kevalakumbhaka is mastered.

Kevalakumbhakasiddhi

There is nothing in the three worlds that is impossible for him after mastering kevalakumbhaka. Firstly, there will be perspiration and the body must be massaged with that sweat. Thereafter, due to excessive retention of the breath in a systematic manner there is increase in kapha in the body of the yogī established in the āsana. Thereafter, due to more practice, there is definitely intense perspiration. That is when there is the experience of drumming and jumping. The yogī in padmāsana then goes to the ground. Thereafter, due to more practice, there is the tyāga of the ground. Even though sitting in padmāsana, the yogī is not bound by the ground. Thereafter there is the capacity for the performance of superhuman activities.

Rejection of showmanship

If one shows these capacities off to others, there is definitely the dissipation of tapas.

Kevalakumbhakasiddhi – contd.

Irrespective of pleasure and pain, one must not go astray. Then follow the decrease in urine and excrement and decreased need for sleep. Thereafter, there are no longer malodorous secretions from the yogī’s body. Thereafter, due to more practice, tremendous strength is born, by which one can control all beings roaming the earth. The yogī can even kill wild carnivorous predators with bare hands.

Dīrghapraṇavasandhāna

One must practise with praṇava that has 3 mātrās (pluta). By this, pāpa is destroyed. Praṇava destroys all obstacles and faults.

Ghaṭāvasthā

By this, in due course, ghaṭāvasthā is attained. Uncontradictory wisdom associated with prāṇa, apāna, manas, buddhi, jīvātmā, and paramātmā are obtained in this state. Now I will tell you the different indicators of the attainment of ghaṭāvasthā.

After ghaṭāvasthāsiddhi – pratyāhāra

One quarter of whatever practice mentioned earlier, we must let go of. The practice must be done only for a yāma in the morning or the evening. Kevalakumbhaka must be practised once a day. The movement of indriyas away from their respective objects by the practice of kevalakumbhaka is called pratyāhāra.

Upāsana of ātmabhāvanā in artha

Whatever is seen, heard, smelt, tasted, and touched must be considered as oneself. From this one attains superhumanity.

Siddhis/vighnas due to Upāsana of ātmabhāvanā in artha

Clairaudience, clairvoyance, travelling afar in an instant, mastery over speech (precognition?), ability to take any form, invisibility, turning iron to gold by smearing it with urine and excrement, and flight in the sky are born when the yogī practices samādhi on the five elements. Then the intelligent yogī must understand that these are obstacles in the path and not real masteries.

Prohibition of showmanship

The accomplished yogī must not show one’s own capabilities to anyone. One must act as an ignorant foolish deaf in the world in order to hide one’s superhuman capabilities. There is no doubt that students will seek help in fulfilling their own selfish needs. If the yogī relents and becomes engrossed in those activities, practice is forgotten. Remembering the lessons of the guru well, the yogī must practise night and day. In this way, ghaṭāvasthā is attained by constant practice. One who does not practise and is engaged in wasteful company cannot attain it. Therefore, one must always practise yoga.

Paricayāvasthā and pañcadhāraṇa

Then is born paricayāvasthā by practice. Then follows the mastery over the five elements[3].

Kleśas in yoga

For one who has begun the journey of yoga, there are undoubtedly many physical and intellectual disturbances.

Mokṣasādhana

When mokṣa is desired, then meditating on Me (śrīmannārāyaṇa). Having brought one’s prāṇa at the top of the head, one must let go through the brahmarandhra. Then having crossed the virajā river, the yogī attains My world (śrīvaikuṇṭha) and attains My form (sārūpya). Then the intelligent one enjoys along with the (nitya-) sūris forever by My darśana.

Discussion

The śrīpraśnasaṃhitā presents a unique case with regard to the practice of yoga in the vaiṣṇava sampradāya. Containing lists of practices and directions on the same, it, however, does not describe all the practices that it ventures to mention by name. What stands out amongst the entire adhyāya is the importance attached to the ācārya prior to the beginning of the practice of yoga clearly indicating samāśrayaṇa and the absorption in śrīmannārāyaṇa indicating the proximity of the lesson to bhakti/prapatti. While samāśrayaṇa and bharannyāsa are both practices which are considered significant steps in the journey of the jīvātmā towards Śrīvaikuṇṭha for śrīvaiṣṇavas, this adhyāya seems to only indicate the former and not the latter. The strong repudiation of showmanship of any siddhi gained from the practice of yoga reflects the sentiments of sāmpradāyika yogīs who see siddhis only as distractions and causes of bandha in turn becoming pratibandhaka to mokṣa. Many of the views presented in this adhyāya are reflected in the lessons of yogācārya śrī. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. However, further study into the grantha is necessary for a more comprehensive understanding on the same.

Conclusion and Future Direction

In the twenty-first century, there is a deluge of yoga teacher training/experiential programs, media content, and academic institutions all over the world seeing an overemphasis on the practice of āsana (read acrobatic physical contortion) as the primary method in “yogā” by skimpily clad women; an assumption of śaiva and śākta sampradāyas being the “sole authentic” traditions of yoga; nirguṇabrahman as the only acceptable object of meditative practices; the funding of academic research on siddhis of different kinds for anādhyātmikaprayojanas; and the mushrooming of yoga “traditions” with any which word prefixed before yoga. This is where Vaiṣṇavācāryas who advocated the traditional approach to yoga such as yogācārya ŚrīTirumalai Krishnamacharya stands out. His practice of yoga is rooted heavily in śrīsampradāya and is based on the śrīpraśnasaṃhitā as a pramāṇa. Students of yoga in the śrīsampradāya or any other Vaiṣṇavasampradāya which accepts the śrīpraśnasaṃhitā as a pramāṇa may have also based their practices on the lessons mentioned therein. However, this overview paper is an attempt to set the ball rolling in the direction of pursuing deep research into the pāñcarātrāgama granthas and śāstra in general for a more detailed understanding of the subject.

Bibliography

  • Padmanabhan, S. (ed) (2006). Śrīpraśnasaṃhitā. Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha, Tirupati.

[1] Only a simplified brief translation of the contents of the chapter on yoga in the text have been presented here.

[2] Mudrā, khecarī, bandha, siddhāntaśravaṇa, vajrolī, amarolī,and sahajolī are not described here.

[3] Not described here due to being beyond the scope of the presentation.

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