THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES
(1) Reverence to Siva the Lord of Yoga, who taught [his wife] Parvati hatha wisdom as the first step to the pinnacle of raja yoga.
It is a good practice to evoke a divine power before beginning serious work. We may call it Siva (the Benevolent) or God or Ganesa (gana == legions; isa = master), to whom in fact the yogi author has dedicated his work.
(2) Having thus solemnly saluted his master. Yogi Svatmarama now presents hatha vidya [vidya = wisdom] solely and exclusively for the attainment of raja yoga.
Now it can begin–and it begins with an admonition. The classical commentary, at times so tediously wordy, here has an important message: “solely for the attainment of raja yoga” indicates two delimitations. The lower level indicates that hatha yoga is not being taught for its own sake, for the achievement of physical fitness and worldly power, but is a method to prepare the student for the rigors of raja yoga.
The upper delimitation needs a little more elucidation. As we will soon and often hear, the real goal of a yogi is to become a siddha. A siddha, a person in possession of siddhis, has developed powers that can readily be called supernatural. There are eight siddhis, the highest of which is nirvana, the great liberation.
If in India, even with great masters, one so seldom has a chance to witness the miracles that these siddhas have the powers to perform, it is simply because a siddha who does not want to get the reputation of a black magician will keep his powers carefully concealed and refuse to use them for worldly purposes. If he does misuse a siddhi, the misused siddhi strikes back at him and causes him some kind of unpleasantness, usually of a physical nature.
One does not necessarily have to believe such things. You may put this down to the fabulous imagination of the East, and say so. The yogi does not resent your doubts, and they will not in any way impede the objective study of the wisdom of yoga. In fact, the text gives warning against striving primarily for powers: “solely for the attainment of raja yoga.”
The deeper purpose of the siddhis is something else. Through the developing forces the student recognizes what stage of evolution he has reached. Certain phenomena will tell him that he should change his way of practice, and if after due practice these phenomena do not occur, he surely has made a mistake. The siddhis are signposts on his way to the final goal, liberation. To be a siddha means to be in possession of all the characteristics of the final yoga goal.
“Siddhis,” my guru told me, “are not the aim of our work. We want to become siddhas in order to enjoy the realization and perfection of a siddha, not to gain worldly position or evade responsibilities.” And since he himself is a siddha, this sentence clearly indicates what is defined as the upper delimitation. Yoga is not for braggarts or egocentrics, nor is it for those who merely want to add method to their physical training.
(3) For those who wander in the darkness of conflicting creeds [and philosophies], unable to reach to the heights of raja yoga [self-knowledge and cosmic consciousness] the merciful Yogi Svatmarama has lit the torch of hatha wisdom.
Raja yoga, the royal yoga1 is a goal that many strive to reach without even being aware of it, without having the slightest inkling of yoga. What else is Faust aspiring to but perfect self-knowledge and cosmic consciousness, to “know that force which holds the universe together, to see creative power and the seed”?
For the student of Indian wisdom this reference to Faust presents an especially interesting parallel. Goethe speaks here of creative power and of seed, in Sanskrit shakti and bindu, two of the most important terms in tantra yoga, as we will see later on. At the time of Goethe these teachings had not yet reached the West, and it speaks for his universal genius that he recognized their supreme importance.
(4-9) Gorafksha and Matsyendra were masters of hatha vidya, and by their grace Yogi Svatmarama learned it. Siva, Matsyendra, Shabara, Anandabhairava, Chaurangi, and many other great siddhas who have conquered time are still roaming through this world.
A daring statement: after the enumeration of 33 masters of hatha vidya who have illuminated the ages, to claim that they are still roaming through the world, for “they have conquered time.”
We have already spoken of the siddhis, and here it is specifically stated that these masters were siddhas. They reached what so many covet, “eternal youth.” Many are the tales of yogis who are said to be several hundred years old and look like youths, but it is useless to discuss this kind of doubtful rumor. A wandering
1. The translation of the term “raja yoga” as “royal yoga” is exoteric. Esoterically it is “the yoga of radiating light,” for “raja” can also mean “to shine.” Thus we have an allusion to the “inner light,” which is dealt with in the fourth part of this work.
yogi has no birth certificate, and it seems strange that one can state that he is exactly 250 years old, while his younger colleagues do not know whether they are 10, 20,30, or 40 years old. Besides, a hundred years more or less is important only to us. To a yogi who lives alone in the woods time is of no concern. True, I did meet some yoga masters who looked younger than their grown sons, and this alone seems quite a desirable goal. And it is also true what is stated above: that these yoga roasters had conquered time. That is, they were no longer subject to the laws of time; they were roasters of this strange unfathomable mystery, “time.”
For us time is inseparable from the clock, but no one has ever succeeded in really defining time. It is impossible–because time does not exist outside of our own minds. As our consciousness, so our time: long as eternity the hour of danger; short and fleeting the hour of happiness. So when we say that a yogi has conquered time it means that he has conquered his (relative) consciousness.
(10) [Therefore] hatha yoga is a refuge for all those who are scorched by the three fires. To those who practice yoga, hatha yoga is like the tortoise that supports the world.
These three fires are well known to us; they are the fire of self-created suffering; the fire of suffering through higher powers; and the fire of suffering that is caused by other beings.
Nobody can eliminate from this world the influences that create such sufferings. What we can and should do is to prepare the physical-mental-spiritual soil in such a way that the seed of impressions cannot sprout into suffering.
Sufferings are unfulfilled desires. The realization of these desires depends not only on ourselves, but is subject primarily to external influences. If I want something, I have to try to reach it.
For this I am dependent on my own power as against the opposing forces. And we always desire something, even if it is the desire for the happiness of a desireless state.
Now we are on the track of our idea: to be desirelessly happy means to want nothing, to have no needs, to be happy with oneself and the given conditions. But yoga does not mean to learn self-satisfaction. Rather, it means to strive for such a state of perfection that some day it will be our nature to be desirelessly happy–and to have good reason for it.
This is by no means a state of apathy, devoid of the dynamics of natural activities. On the contrary, our endeavors will no longer be whipped by passions toward a goal where, with open eyes, we uselessly invest our most precious forces in senseless intoxication. We will learn to evaluate our wishes, to know our own forces as well as the opposing powers. And if we have to renounce, we will then do so with clear understanding, not with a painful sensation of loss.
As to the symbolism of the tortoise, this is a meaningful legend which we will encounter later and which will accompany us throughout the whole book.
(11) A yogi who is desirous of developing siddhis should keep the hatha yoga strictly secret, for only then will he have success. All his efforts will be in vain if he reveals everything without discrimination.
Physical exercises are nothing shameful, and they are fun; but practiced on a highway they become insanity. “When you pray, go into a room by yourself.” Or, more drastically: “Do not cast pearls before swine.”
(12) The student of hatha yoga should practice in a solitary place, in a temple or a hermitage, an arrow shot away from rocks, water, and fire. The land should be fertile and well governed.
Here we have the first great problem, larger perhaps than that of the siddhis: to find a quiet spot, undisturbed and safe. Predatory animals, earthquakes, and floods: those were the problems at that time. Today’s problems are professional, financial, political, which constantly drag the practitioner back into the stream of social life.
However, it is not entirely impossible to create a hermitage under modern conditions. Perhaps there is a quiet attic, away from the attractions of movies, radio, television, where we can meet our neglected and ignored own selves.
(13) The hermitage should have a small door and no windows. It should be level with the ground and have no holes in the wall. [It should be] neither too high nor too long, and clean and free from insects. It should be laid daily with cow dung. Outside there should be a raised platform with an elevated seat and a water tank. The whole should be surrounded by a wall. These are the characteristics of a yoga hermitage as described by the siddhas, the masters of hatha yoga.
Do not despair! I have seen many hemitages that conformed in only a few points to the ideal. Some had holes in the walls and most of them were lacking the cow dung. But all of them were clean. We should not be too dependent on external conditions, helpful though they may be. If I so will, my hermitage has neither doors or windows. And when I am distracted, my restless mind will penetrate the thickest walls. If the hermitage is not ideal, a little extra effort must be made. The goal of yoga is by no means dependent on cow dung.
(14) Seated in such a place, the yogi should free his mind from all distracting thoughts and practice yoga as instructed by his guru.
Our keenest weapon, and often our only salvation, is our thought power. If your thought is open, so is the chance of success; if it is slow and limited, you will be left behind in the great race for success. Not only is right thought essential, but also the capacity to think of several things simultaneously. Many Western men with executive ulcers could write reams about this.
Must men be like this? Evidently, if they wish to succeed. But what is success? Nothing against success–which, after all, is the foundation of a “happy life.” Success is wealth, wealth is happiness; therefore, success is happiness. A logical conclusion, but somehow it leaves us uneasy. Is the man who has bought success with his health, with the sacrifice of his most precious attribute, really happy ?
There is a different way. One of the most remarkable men of our time, and by no means a pious man, swears by yoga. Every morning Pandit Nehru, the coolest thinker of his country and a maker of world history, stood on his head, and with him 63 members of Congress. Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist, makes no secret about his yoga. And like him many of the most successful men of our day, including medical men who are world famous, find in yoga the purest source of human harmony.
Harmony: the key word, the all-important. There is no objection to the search for success as long as the harmony of life is not disturbed. No need to relinquish any of our plans and principles as long as there is harmony.
How does harmony come about? The very question proves that this fundamental law of life is becoming more and more a myth as we are turned more and more into machines. So let us try to find the yoga way to harmony.
(15) The yoga forces are dissipated by too much eating, heavy physical labor, too much talk, the observances of [ascetic] vows, [promiscuous] company, and a growling stomach [too much fasting].
Here we have the disharmonies of everyday life, and not even the great ones. Not distrust, not rudeness, not lack of consideration, not anger and despair. Just immoderation. And that is bad enough.
The yogi never quite fills his stomach; the executive always does. The yogi is healthy; the executive has ailments. Harmony versus disharmony.
(16) Success depends on a cheerful disposition, perseverance, courage, self-knowledge, unshakable faith in the word of the guru, and the avoidance of all [superfluous] company.
Again the magic word of our time: success. And with it even a formula. Nothing about overtime, or night work, and “you must . . .” Not even a word about thinking.
A cheerful disposition is incompatible with executive ulcers. Perseverance! That sounds promising. But the keynote is harmony, and the perseverance referred to here is not that of the executive’s marathon conference.
But don’t forget that yoga has not yet begun. We are slating here only the minimal prerequisites without which any attempt at practice would be senseless. These preliminary requirements can be fulfilled by anyone, and they will bestow more happiness upon you than you would expect–without exercise, without risk. (Once we really embark upon yoga, however, the evasion of a single requirement can turn nectar into poison.)
Yoga practice, regardless of the system we follow, has a psychological depth effect. One exercise goes in this direction, another in that. Often they have a perplexing similarity; here and there we find a minimal difference which seems inconsequential. The guru, however, watches not so much the exercises in general, but just those little details. The student does not know why and is liable to ridicule such pettiness; but the guru knows our needs better than we do. He knows that each physical action has its psychic-spiritual reflex, just as every psychic-spiritual attitude is manifest in the body.
Western science too is aware of the inseparable interrelation between body, soul, and mind. A bit of iodine, adrenaline, or cortisone will change our whole world view. Our whole life is chemically conditioned. Every thought activates one or the other nerve center which in turn influences some endocrine gland. The gland sends its hormones into the bloodstream, we react, new thoughts arise which in turn again influence a nerve center and create new reactions, combining with other nerve centers. There are many centers, many glands, and countless combinations. And this cycle is only one of the inner processes affected by yoga.
If a certain practice hits something unhealthy (an asana can touch on an organic illness, a deep meditation on some mental suffering), then the result is not as desired; it can even lead to disaster. Quite often nature helps itself. But in very deep meditation (which is hardly ever allowed without initiation) some very powerful phenomena can appear which will frighten the weak into refraining from further investigation. That is why the passage above calls for courage.
One thing is certain: these preliminary chapters are the most important part of the book. He who disregards them should certainly consider yoga dangerous.
(17a) Not to cause suffering to any living being; to speak the truth; not to take what belongs to others; to practice continence; to develop compassion and fortitude; to be merciful to all and honest; to be moderate in eating and pure in heart. These are the first prerequisites of yoga [the yamas]. Self-limitation [tapas, austerities], cheerfulness, religious faith, charity, contemplation, listening to sacred scriptures, modesty, a clean mind, recitation of mantras [japa], and observance of rules, these are the second requirements of yoga [the niyamas].
Thus equipped one can venture to take the first step into the wonderland of one’s own self. You do not have to take all the rules literally, but you have to look at them seriously. Not the word “yoga,” but the power behind it, is decisive. And this power? “Tat tvam asil–Thou art Thati”