The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a medieval scripture written in 1350. The Nath Yogi Swatmarama is the author. The meaning of the title is interesting to consider if one wishes to begin to understand the book’s content.
Pradipika means “light” or “to illuminate”, ha means “sun”, tha means “moon” and yoga or yug means to “join”. So the title suggests: light on how to join the sun and the moon, or another way we could say this would be: The low-down on how to go beyond all limitations posed by living in a mundane reality where Nature and Spirit are kept separate. When viewed from this perspective, hatha yoga is a tantric practice as it attempts to bring about a harmony between the two energies of life: the pranic and the mental. This pair can also be described as the shakti, or female, cool current which travels through the ida nadi, and the mind, or male, hot current which travels through the pingala nadi. When their union takes place in the central channel (sushumna nadi) it is the union of body and mind, and this is the awakening of higher consciousness.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, along with the Gheranda-Samhita (1650), is one of the most detailed manuals describing the techniques of Hatha Yoga. Contrary to the popular belief in our present era that defines Hatha Yoga as “easy yoga”, Hatha Yoga is anything but easy. It is certainly not for the faint of heart or those lacking will power. Hatha Yoga is the yoga that is attained through forceful means with difficult physical kriyas and cleansing, purifying actions as a beginning practice. In past eras it has been defined as the yoga system, which ties the practitioner to a stake until he/she is well cooked. Its practice demands complete mastery of the physical and mental body, rendering the body and mind capable of withstanding prolonged ecstatic states of union with the infinite. Samadhi, or the enlightened state, is not just a mental experience; it is a psychokinetic or whole-body/mind event, involving every fiber, cell and tissue.
All of the methods of practice described in the text are means to attain Self-realization and so be freed of ego identification and the limitations of avidya (mistaken identity). The intention underlying the strenuous Hatha Yoga practices must be enlightenment for the sake of the Cosmic Self. If this elevated intention is not present, the practices could be binding as they bring about the attainment of supernatural powers, which in the body of one who has not developed humility and compassion, can result in arrogance, narcissism and egocentricity.
The text is composed of four chapters. The first chapter deals with Asana; Chapter Two with Shatkarma and Pranayama; Chapter Three: mudra and bandha, and Chapter Four: Samadhi. In Chapter One there are guidelines for sadhana as well as how to perform various asanas and suggestions for food restrictions that may aid in the practice of meditation. Chapter Two deals mainly with techniques (the shat (six) karmas) for cleansing the physical body, breathing exercises which purify the pranic body through breath retention (kumbak), and various practices to balance the doshas and release blocked energy. Chapter Three concentrates on the use of mudras (gestures) and bandhas (locks), contrivances for awakening kundalini and directing energy toward enlightenment. Chapter Four describes and gives further techniques for the attainment of perfection in the form of hearing. According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Samadhi comes when there is development of a sound body and a sound mind; the yogi’s attainment of perfection is in the form of the unstruck sound-the nadam. Practically speaking, yoga is attained when one is able to hear God; the absolute as the pranava, the nadam.
To truly hear is to truly know.
Excerpts from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
(verse translations by Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Bihar School of Yoga, Mungar, India 1998 ed.):
Chapter 1: Asana
“Overeating, exertion, talkativeness, adhering to rules, being in the company of common people and unsteadiness (wavering mind) are the six causes which destroy yoga.” I:15
“Enthusiasm, perseverance, discrimination, unshakable faith, courage, avoiding the company of common people, are the six causes which bring success in yoga.” I:16
“Paschimottanasana is the best among asanas. By this asana the pranic currents rise through sushmna, the digestive fire increases, the abdomen becomes flat, and the practitioner becomes free from dis-eases.” I:29
Chapter 2: Shatkarma and Pranayama
“When the nadis are purified there are external symptoms. Success is definite when the body becomes thin and glows.” II:19
“Closing the mouth, inhale with control and concentration through ida and pingala, so that the breath is felt from the throat to the heart and produces a sonorous sound.” II:51
“Perfection of hatha yoga is achieved when there is leanness of the body, tranquil countenance, manifestation of the inner sound, clear eyes, diseaselessness, control of bindu (semen/ova), active digestive fire and purification of nadis.” II:78
Chapter 3: Mudra and Bandha
“Therefore the knower of yoga conquers death by preserving the bindu (semen). Release of the semen means death; conservation of seman is life.” III:88 “She is verily a yogini who conserves her rajas by contracting and raising it. She knows past, present and future and becomes fixed in khechari.” (ie consciousness moves into the higher realm) III:102
“The bindu and that rajas in one’s own body unite through the union by practice of vajroli, thus bestowing all perfections or siddhis.” III:101
“The yogi who moves the shakti regularly, enjoys perfection or siddhi. He easily conquers time and death. What more is there to say?” III:120
Chapter 4: Samadhi
“When the mind ceases to be fickle and is united by fixing it in nada, it becomes immobile like a wingless bird.” IV:92
“One who desires complete dominion of yoga should thus explore the nada with an attentive mind and abandon all thoughts.” IV:93