The Śiva Samhitā Pt.1
The Śiva Samhitā is a practical and esoteric text which seeks to map out the mysterious inner pathways of subtle energy flowing through the body. The text consists of 517 verses divided over five chapters and, according to the mythology, it was enunciated by Śiva to his wife Pārvatī, who later commemorated it to others. As it often happens in India, giving a text a divine origin may establish authenticity for later generations, but modern scholarship has determined the text to been written sometime between the 17th - 18th century, probably in the city of Vāranāsi. A close examination of the text reveals that it borrows certain features from the Hatha Yoga Pradīpika (HYP) and has even usurped some of the verses on wholesale. While this may indicate that both texts belong to the same Sampradāya (lineage), the Śiva Samhitā seems to be a more elaborate expansion on the subtle workings on Prāna in the body. This is quite problematic because we may suspect that any of these esoteric experiences be presupposed by proper practical applications to engage in, yet on this later theme the text is secretive and urges us to find the guidance of a proper Guru.
Before a general walkthrough of the text is given, here follows a brief overview of the five chapters:
1. Laya Yoga - the science of gradual involution and absorption in the Paramātman (Infinite Spirit).
2. The Knowledge of Tattvas - An esoteric overview of the subtle energy channels and nerve centers operating within the body. An explanation of the location and purpose of Kundalinī, followed by an articulation of the place and purpose of the Vaiśvānara fire, the fire that digests food and support the body with life force. Finally the indweller, the Jīvātma that resides in this sacred abode called the body.
3. The Yoga Systems and its practices - An explanation of the ten Vāyus/Prānas that operates within the body and their respective responsibilities. The importance of a Guru. Who is suited for the practice of yoga? Minor Prānayāma exercises, nerve purifications, the four stages of development they involve and finally the Siddhis, the perfections that come with it. Only four āsanas are mentioned.
4. Mudras - How to gradually awaken the Kundalinī. Practices to seal the subtle energies from within with various locking-mechanisms that are supposed to channel the Prāda and move it into the central pathway (the Susumnā ) and bring about the gradual realization of ones innermost nature of spirit.
5. Rāja Yoga - The highest bliss that awaits the genuine practitioner. General enjoyments and obstacles to watch out for that may disrupt the practitioner in his/her greater immersion in yoga. Practices of Pratyāhāra and Dhārana (sense withdrawal and concentration respectively) on the inner cakras (energy centers) that are located along the spine through which the Kundalinī energy will move in its process of exploring the hidden mysteries from within. Finally, the exalted states that awaits the Jīva in its process to shed the subtle layers of karma that obstructs its true nature and prevents it from realizing its inherent state of bliss.
When a text is composed in Sanskrit, it is quite common to state the purpose for which it is written and then offer some benedictory verses for the presiding deity. In the opening verse of the Śiva Samhitā we are thus told that, "The Jñāna alone is eternal, it is without beginning or end; there exists no other real substance." (ŚS 1.1) The prime focus of this text is thus to awaken this "Jñāna" within the reader and to make them realize their true essence, rather than wallow in a sea of confusion. In the following verse there is no benediction, but rather the assurance that the text was uttered by Śiva himself who declared the science of Yoga for the emancipation of his devotees and to put an end to much of the confusion coming from the disparate views leading to false knowledge. The text is thus probably composed to solidify the views of a particular school and to articulate their main tenants in reference to others.
There are of course many paths being taught leading to the emancipation of the soul but, as the text conveys, "most of them are confusing and thus people become bewildered (ŚS 1.8). Most texts seeking a greater integration of spirit and an articulation and awakening to that essence will be naturally quite obscure unless some practical experience is available for verification. There is indeed great discrepancy among the philosophical schools of the Indian tradition to what the point of transcendence really involves and how to free up the mind from much of its conditioning rather than be trapped in its own dogma. This text proposes Yoga as the superior method of the seeker of truth, because it awakens a practical experience within the seeker and seeks to connect him/her to a center of bliss and the union of the Individual Self and Cosmic self, where man is able to realize what he truly is.
The Vedas are the fountainhead of all Indian Philosophy and they may be divided into two parts: The Karma Kanda and the Jñāna Kanda. The first part investigates the legacy of sacrifices and rituals, why these have to be performed and how it affects the life of those that engage in them. Here, in the early part of the Vedas, we see a rigorous focus on action, Karma to be engaged with. Knowledge is here secondary to the many Injunctions and Prohibitions (Vidhis and Niśedas) laid down in the sacred texts that are expected to be followed at any cost for the elevation of man and prevention of degeneration. The fruits of all these activities may be threefold: heaven, hell, or this earth in between.
In the second portion of the Veda, the Jñāna Kanda, the question arises whether the results one receives from all ones activities, karma, (i.e. merit or demerit) will ever be exhausted, remain permanent, or continue to change like everything else in nature. A favor towards the later is articulated and hence a focus on Jñāna, pure knowledge, is the main pursuit of this school. There is a great diversity among the various schools of Vedanta, defining what actually happens to the Jīva (soul) in the state of liberation and the various stages it may go through in the process, but the main focus of the Upanishads (the mystical treatises of the Veda), all proclaim that the Brahma and Ātma (God and Self) is what is to be seen, heard, contemplated, and studied until the highest form of Knowledge arises.
The actual practices of these schools of Vedanta are methods for awakening this Higher Knowledge and are done primarily through śravana, manana and nidhidhyāsana, (hearing these textual passages of the Upanishads, contemplating over them and finally actively inquiring into them). However, as is familiar, one may hear beautiful statements and high philosophy, but the problem is of course how we integrate such abstractions into our very lives and make practical sense of them.
The main tenets of the Śiva Samhitā mix elements of Vedānta (the later part of the Veda) with general doctrines of Classical Yoga. It espouses that everything has come out of Caitanya (Consciousness) and that when the individual is able to finally return to this source one is liberated from the transmigration of karma and the chain of life and death. This Caitanya, the inner illuminator of everything that exists is constant and non-changing and not subject to decay or transformation, as are the many particles of Matter. This Consciousness is said to exist equally within and without all objects, but when the respective object of the Jīva (soul) can free itself from patterns of ignorance, a greater clarity shines through from within, which is timeless, all-pervading,, indestructible, and the true essence of existence. This essence is said to be unthinkable, yet simultaneously the very illuminator of thought. When somebody comes to experience that as the true essence, fluctuations of matter and karma will eventually cease. Then, one will find a consistent support from within, that just is, steady and luminous, though one may perceive a world of change.
The Śiva Samhitāis consistent with in articulating that the Jīva (soul) is caught up in the world of Māyā (delusion about what is real) which causes a superimposition on the soul, preventing it from realizing its true nature. However, once a person is free from the distinctions of cast, creed, gender, status, stature, etc. s/he becomes that indivisible intelligence, purity of spirit. The text thus articulates its own soteriology to explain the process whereby the Evolution and Emancipation of man is accounted for according to its identification with the subtle forces of matter. This process is further articulated by the process of Involution and Absorption and explains how the two forces of Viksepa and Āvarana cover the experience of the One, the inmost essence of Spirit and keeps us removed from this. The earlier force is the outgoing force that eventually looses its own identity in the fluctuations of matter. The later force is the inward, discriminative contemplative energy, whose essence is power and happiness. A hierarchy is further given about the evolution of matter from the three gunas into gross matter and then to the point of final transcendence, how to find greater discrimination from the world of matter, transcend the impact of phenomenal existence, and eventually become more absorbed in the infinite presence of spirit.
The first chapter concludes by stating that this body we are given is a mixture of the depository of our own karmas together with those from the Annamayakosa (Gross body) of our father. The body is nothing but the vehicle to experience the sufferings and enjoyments of these past karmas by the Jīva. Ultimately, the texts argues that this body is an abode created by Brahma for the sukha or dukha (pleasure, happiness) of the Jīva to find its own way back to its original essence.
This chapter describes the subtle operating forces of energy that are stored up in various places of our body. The body is equated to a microcosm with a solid Mt. Meru in the middle (the spinal column) surrounded by seven islands or centers of energy. As long as there is life force and life-breath in the body the functions of the inner organs and motor mechanics operate according to conditioning. Once the life force cease, the life breath stops and the body deteriorates back into the elements it came from. The essence of the life force within this microcosm is stored within the Soma/Bindu, situated on top of the spinal column. This soma (nectar of life) faces downwards and its essence rains day and night and supports life until its essence is exhausted.
The Śiva Samhitā states that there are as many as 350,000 pathways of energy in the body. Fourteen are said to be principal being responsible for the gross functioning of the body and mind. Three are more important with Susumnā being the superior one. Idā and Pingalā are polar-opposite forces inter-transversing around the spinal column and the purpose of the yogi is to withdraw the life force from these external pathways and center it into the central axis of the Susumnā channel, the heavenly pathway, the doorway to greater knowledge, bliss, supreme joy and immortality.
At the base of the spinal column, in one of the energy centers, a root support in the form of a four-petal lotus is found. In the midst of this lotus is a triangular yoni, hidden and kept secret in the Tantra literature. Inside of this we find the Kundalinī, a serpent-like lightening energy that is coiled up 3 ½ times around the yoni with its mouth at the base of the Susumnā channel as if guiding its entrance. Most of energy pathways (Nādīs) within the body originate from this point and they are the vehicles of sensations, supporting all the motor functions of the body.
Within the abdominal region burns the Vaiśvānara fire, said to be born from a portion of gods own energy. This fire is what increases the life force, gives strength and nourishment, energy and health and destroys diseases. A wise yogi will thus sacrifice food into this fire everyday according to proper rites received from his guru to keep optimal health and spiritual alertness within the body.
As mentioned earlier, the Jīva is the indweller in this body. In essence, it is all-pervading but is adorned with a garland of endless desires and thus chained to the body by Karma. The Jīva possesses various qualities, all dependent on karma, and whatever it experiences is equally born of karma. While caught up in this life, virtuous acts produce happiness, enjoyment and an attraction towards spirit, whereas wicked acts will produce suffering, misery and a further removal from grace. This body may thus be equated with a laboratory, where the indweller seeks to find its way back to its original source rather than continue in the cycle of transmigration. The practice of yoga might be equated to an alchemical process, where the Jīva seeks to purify its environment so the external body may become an aid in awakening pure consciousness rather than a machine that obliterates it As when we turn to the third chapter we can see how this may be possible.
R. Alexander Medin
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