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YOGA-In Indian Scriptures, Kashmir Shaivism and Lal Ded Vakh

By Prof. M.L. Koul


Yoga is the metaphor of Indian spirituality. It has a history as old as the Himalayan mountain ramparts guarding the civilisational frontiers of India. The statue of a yogi in dhyan mudra as a rare find from the archaeological sites of Mohenjo-daro (now in Pakistan) sufficiently testifies to Yoga as an ancient practice of the ancients. The broad ouever of Indian scriptures from vedas to the epics, to the philosophical Geeta, to the Puranas and all streams of literary works are pregnant with copious references and details that surely establish the enormous antiquity of yoga. Patanjali, a rishi of the highest order, wrote an elaborate treatise on yoga delineating its semantics and mundane and supra-mundane ideals. Patanjali Yoga is ‘more an enunciation of esoteric practices for self-realisation than a frame-work of coherent philosophy’. During its evolutionary process yoga got appended to the Sankhya thought for philosophical anchorage. Being essentially a spiritual discipline all schools of thought accepted it for practical realisation of their purported philosophical goals.

Philologically, yoga as a word owes its origin to the root 'yuj' which means to unite, to join or to hyphenate. Panini, a brilliant grammarian of India, traces the word yoga to 'yuj samadhav', to 'yuj yoge', to 'yuj samyame'. The consensus among the Indian rishis is that yoga implies to unite, to yoke or to hyphenate the individual soul with that of the universal or macro-cosmic soul.

Patanjali, the systematiser of yoga as a spiritual discipline, defines it as suppression of the mind's activities and proclivities (yogash cha chitta-vrati nirodah). It is also called samadhi yoga (yogah samadhi). Lord Krishna, decked as Yogeshvar Krishna, defines yoga  as the fortified capacity of a seeker to keep his poise in face of wordly successes and failures, triumphs and set-backs, favourable and unfavourable events, achievements and losses. Such a temper of firm stability and equilibrium gained as a result of assiduous practice (abhyas) is featured in the Bhagvatgeeta as 'sama yoga'

Yogastha kuru karmani sangam tyakhtva dhananjai!

siddhi-assidhayo samo bhutva samtvam yoga uchyate !!

'yogah karmasoo kovashalam' (Geeta chap. v) defines the entire gamut of human activities performed without a trace of attachment (moha) as yoga.

The renowned sage of modern times, Sri Aurbindo, explains yoga as ‘not only the realisation of God, but an entire consecration and change of the inner and outer life till it is fit to manifest a divine consciousness and become a part of divine work' (lights on yoga).

Yoga is a comprehensive name for all shades of spiritual practices that were/are acted out by seekers at various hermitages presided over by rishis (seers). This is how different treatises on yoga have given varied classifications of yoga. The seminal work on yoga, called yoga-karika, makes a mention of 'eight limbs of yoga' (ashtang yoga). Yoga-sutra of Rishi Dattatreya and yog-raj upanishad, specifically ennumerate mantra-yoga, laya yoga, hatha yoga and raj yoga as four limbs of yoga. The Bhagvatgita mentions dhyan yoga, karma yoga, sankhya yoga and sanyas yoga thereby adding new spiritual practices to the corpus of yoga.

Patanjali's sutra underlining 'eight limbs of yoga' states- 'yam-niyam-asan-pranayam-pratyahar-dharna-dhyan-samadhayo ashtav angani'. Yam means to remove one's mind and other senses from disturbing thoughts. Niyam is to bind oneself to the rules of shauch (purity), santosh (contentment), tap (meditation), sva-adhyai (self-study), Ishvar-prenidhan (devotion of God). Asan means a comfortable seat that a seeker should have while setting himself to dhyan/dharna/samadhi. Pranayam is to control one's breathing process. Pretyahar is to withdraw one's senses from the outer world. Dharna is to fix one's mind on an icon or a part of one's body to increment concentration. Dhyan is self-absorbtion and Samadhi is meditation for God-realisation.

The practices and spiritual goals as conceived and systematised by Patanjali rishi have served as salient guide-lines to all seekers through generations. The yogic body (astral body) from muladhar to sahasrar has had wide acceptance across the board of spiritualists or God-seekers. The ascent from muladhar to sahasrar has remained as the spiritual evolution for a seeker subscribing to any hue of spiritual philosophy. Consensus has been broad. Changes if any have been neglegible and minimal.

Yet, yoga as a subject of theory and practice has undergone gradual evolution without getting mired in the pools and puddles of stagnation. Its idea and idiom have been growing and expanding in scope and application. Many sages, thinkers and practitioners have re-oriented the theme of yoga and re-defined its goals and ideals for widening its range and scope. The tantrics subscribing to a novel pole of theory and practice have considerably enriched the archive of yoga by raising mantra yoga, laya yoga & kundalini yoga to a surmounting pedestal. They opened up new vistas in the realms of yoga  for spiritual discernment and self-realisation.

The historical material that we gather from the pages of Kashmir history affirm that Kashmiri Pandits as Buddhist monks fertilised the spiritual swathes of Tibet, Japan and China through the theme and idiom of yoga. They played an admirable role in weaving the spiritual fabric of Central Asian countries, again, through the praxes of yoga. Smarting under pain and anguish of non-acceptance and persecution at their native abodes the semitised sufis of various hues who entered Kashmir and other parts of India as sappers and miners of Islam highlighted their so-called sufi temper through the same corpus of yogic practices which the Kashmir Pandit monks had effortfully introduced in these countries through inter-active sessions and debates. Even in modern times yoga continues to be a paramount hall-mark of the spiritual heritage of India. It has caught attention of large numbers of men and women beyond the margins of India. Our sages and gurus are more than generous in providing spiritual succour and fare to those who are spiritually hungry.

Yoga in Kashmir Shaivism

As per Kashmir Shaivism, Shiva assumes the form of a man, an individual self, through His intrinisc attribute of absolute freedom (svatantrya). For this, He harnesses His own in-built potency which is Maya. In Shankar Vedant Maya as a category of thought is an independent pole which overtly rivals the sovereignity of Brahman. But, contrary to this, in Kashmir Shaivism, Maya is Shiva's own potency through which He sportively veils Himself to create difference (maya vibhedkarini). Shiva is jiva and jiva is Shiva is a cliched statement in Kashmir Shaivism. Through the sportive act of veiling Himself Shiva assumes a limitation without losing His absolute lordship and transcendence. A Jiva, an individual self, has cramping limitations which reduce his universal authorship (sarva-kartritava), omni-science (sarva-jnatritava), all-satisfaction of universal consciousness (purntava), eternity (nityatava) & freedom and Universality (niyati). In Shaiva lexicon a limited individual is pasu because he is encased and shackled by five sheaths called kanchukas.

A Jiva, individual self, has a gross body consisting of panch-bhutas, earth fire, water, air and sky. For the maintenance of his whole body pran-Shakti permeates it. A Jiva has also a psychic frame called antakaran that consists of mann, buddhi and ahankar. The existing and living Jiva as a conditioned and limited being is required to realise or cognise his original condition of Shiva and that forms the value. To actualise the value a Jiva, individual self, has to tread upon and work out a spiritual trajectory under the spiritual guidance of a sat-guru. The Shaiva Yoga as a corpus of esoteric practices defines the trajectory for self-realisation which in Shaiva terminology is self-recognition (pretibijjna).

In the realms of Kashmir Shaivism the regimen of esoteric practices has been named as yoga, but has deliberately been qualified as 'Shaiva-Yoga'. The practices which form the warp and woof of Shaiva-Yoga are mostly drawn from the non-dual Tantras like Malini-Vijay, Netra, Vijnan Bhairav and Shiva-Sutra. The Patanjali Yoga that broadly rotates round externally-oriented practices lacks in the critical potential to lead an inquisitive seeker far on the highway of self-cognition (pretibijjna). The very definition of yoga as suppression of natural human instincts and other  in-born urges is not acceptable to the theory and practice of Shaivism. As Kashmir Shaivism is affirmative in its essential world-view it could not, in any way legitimise the practices that somehow violated the very spirit and soul of it. A Jiva, individual self, is accepted as he intrisically is. Nothing is thought of which has to be forcibly thrust upon an aspirant. Kashmir Shaivism, by and large, is a pravarti marg which is for sublimation and gratification of all that which defines an essential man. Bhukhti and Mukhti hyphenate the worldly and spiritual destination charted out by Kashmir Shaivism. The existing world and spirituality of sorts, in its approach and premise, have been reconciled and co-related.

Utpaldev, a scintillating genius of Kashmir Shaivism, defines Shaiva-Yoga as a new and easy-to-practise path (Sughat esh margo navah). His definition is based on the assertion that Shaiva-Yoga can serve common-place house-holders more than a life-negating monk. It is also an easy path because yam, niyam and pretyahar are presumed optional in the process of achieving spiritual destination. Shaiva Yoga is even hesitant to accept the status and fruitfulness of Samadhi-Yoga as its well-defined parameters evaluate it as 'a superior-type of dream-less state of sleep' (sushupti).

Contrary to Patanjali Yoga, Shaiva-Yoga directly shoots at the distant stars. It prompts a seeker to commence his spiritual journey with the highest practice which in Shaiva-Yoga is anupaya, a path-less path. It is called anupaya because it does not delineate a trajectory to recognise one's innate nature of Shiva. In case a seeker does not succeed by directly taking to anupaya, he can take a re-course to a low-grade practice for gradual ascent by stages.


In Shaiva-Yoga the guidance of a sat-guru, a perfect soul, is a must. The Shaiva-texts describe a sat-guru as one who initiates, teaches and showers grace (Shaktipat). For the disciple a sat-guru is Shiva Himself. Guru, to Khemraj, is the means to realisation (Shiva-Sutra). A disciple has to be insightful and receptive to what sat-guru teaches him. Sat-guru and disciple are in a relation of identity.

Reason in Shaiva-Yoga is not at all considered as extraneous. Right reason is a real aid in learning and grasping the subtleties of Shaiva-thought. It plays a positive role in cleansing the head and heart of a seeker. Sharp intellect tempers an aspirant for the quest. The world-view that Kashmir Shaivism projects as its essence needs a reason-based comprehension and appreciation.Hence, reason, to Kashmir Shaivism, is a valued asset for a seeker undertaking a spiritual journey.

Scriptures pertaining to the domain of Shaivism and other forms of thought-structures are receptacle of  all the distilled knowledge that has come right from Shiva Himself. As per spand-pradeep 'God reveals Himself through them (scriptures). They are one of the forms in which He, (Shiva) is directly apparent in this world'. The scriptures teach, reveal, delineate and describe what is worth to be sought after. The scriptural knowledge as wisdom has to be translated into experiential knowledge through the Shaiva-praxes.

What is highly significant about Kashmir Shaivism is that it is so inclusive that it does not reject any method and form of spiritual discipline of indigenous origins that helps in the expansion and heighening of consciousness (unmesh) of a seeker. Any method that suits the abilities and psychic-frame of a seeker can be practised to cognise his original status of Shiva. Methods or means are many in number. Their worthiness and usefulness as a tool are determined by the spiritual goals that a seeker pursues. Shaiva-Yoga recognises as many as twenty-four means (upayas). Vijnan-Bhairav is a known compendium of 112 dharnas which can be put into practice for realising the spiritual goal of pretibijjna.

The Shaiva-Yoga has offered 'samavesh' as a new concept that rivals, equals or surpasses 'samadhi' as a supreme practice stipulated in the Patanjali-Yoga. In his voluminous work Tantralok Abhinav Gupta explains that 'samavesh' is mergence of a seeker's consciousness into the consciousness of Shiva wherein he feels that he is omni-present, all-powerful and all-knowing.

Aaveshashcha-svatantrayase sva tad rupa nimajnat !

par tad rupta shamboradhyat shakhtyavibhaginah !!


Again in his commentary on utpaldev's Ishvar-pretibijjna Abhinavagupta describes 'samavesh' as the state of turiya or still a higher state of turiyatit.

In Shaiva-Yoga Shambavopaya is the highest practice. In it all mental activities cease and mind glitters without a stir of thought. The seeker with his mind calmed and stilled turns inwards. Inward light shines and flashes. With regular practice such a state is to be prolonged. It results in going beyond the time-space limitations. The seeker with highly intuitive qualities gets a feel of his Shiva-like powers and ultimately cognises himself as Shiva.

'Svatantry-shakhtimevadhikam pashyan nirvikalpameva  Bhairva samavesham anubhavati (Tantra-Sar-Abhinavgupta) .

Shakhtopaya is the second practice that Shaiva-Yoga prescribes for seekers who do not have the ability to take to sambhavopaya. It is based on a regular practice to imagine oneself as Shiva. It dispels all other thought currents that disturb the mind. The act of imagining oneself as God is called bhavana. The regular practice awakens the pure consciousness of a seeker who starts feeling that he has shiva-like powers and potencies. Shakhtopay is based on the element of Jnan (knowledge). It can be called a technique of auto-suggestion or self-hypnotism.

Anavopaya is the last of the practices. It is better known as kriya-yoga because it is based on meditation and other practices. A seeker focuses on an object, an icon, a picture or a part of his body with the impression that it is Shiva or is permeated by Shiva. It helps in purification of thought known as 'vikalp samskar' . All forms of external rituals are included in anava-yoga. Anava-yoga helps in going over to the next stage of Shakta-Yoga.

Yoga in Lalla Ded Vakhs

The general perception that a lay reader of Lalla Ded Vakhs forms is that she was a yogini of the highest order. Being shaivite to the core she had deeply penetrated the spiritual imagination of Kashmiris as a shaiva-yogini. In his voluminous work 'The Word of Lalla' Sir Richard Temple bafflingly characterises her as Shaiva-Yogini on the basis of contents of her vakhs which he has admirably translated into the idiom of English.

What I gather from my diligent study of Lalla Ded Vakhs is that she had first tried her luck with a guru other than Sidda Srikanth. His prescription and spiritual discourses somehow failed to lead her far on the spiritual highway. It was in a vein of sheer dismay that she poured out 'abakh chaan pyom yath razdanay'. Sidda Srikanth whom she calls 'omniscient' subsequently phrased her spiritual evolution through debates and discourses coupled with all grades of shaiva-practices. Her initiation and consecration in the theory and practice of non-dual Shaivism marked her absolute break from hazy spiritual goals and the very manner she conducted herself in normal life and its affairs. 'gora sund vanun ravan tyol pyom'.

The bija-mantra through which Siddha Srikanth initiated her was the vedic symbol oum and Shaiva symbol aham, apparently two divergent bija-mantras, but in a synthesis connoting and denoting the same Reality of Shiva in transcendence and immanence. Lalla sings—

dama dama omkar mann parnovum

panai paran ta panai bozan

suham padas aham golm

teli Lalla ba vachus prakashasthan

Lalla Ded though an instinctive seeker faced a catastrophic crisis in life when her marriage got fractured. As a result, agitation, conflict, despair, anger, anguish and uncertain future must have been the dominant weaves of her mental and psychic frame. She being in critical doldrums could not have direct tryst with the Shaiva path of 'pathless path', anupaya. She could not have begun her spiritual journey even with shambhava-yoga that features the predominance of divine consciousness as a result of stilling and silencing of 'chita'-mind, a pre-requisite for it. Her vakhs affirm and establish that she engaged herself with jap, tap, dhyan, laya and pretyahar as the common place yogic-practices to calm her mind which was deeply agitated and extremelly disturbed. In a good number of vakhs she positively refers to 'abhyas', regular practice of yoga for concentration and chita-samskar (purification of mind), thus enabling herself to go over to other levels of Shakta Yoga and Shambhava Yoga. The intensity of her yoga-practices that steeled her for spiritual elevation is revealed by the vakh:-

mala vondi zolum

jigar (kam) morum

teli lalla nav dram

yeli dala travimas tati

Three dirts, mayiya, karma and anava, are to be consumed and removed in the blazing fire of yoga. Anava mal as such cannot be removed through any form of Yoga. It needs Shiva's unreasoned shaktipat (grace). That is why Lalla Ded says that she surrendered herself in totality to His grace.

Lalla Ded initially was not introduced to the yogic practices. It was her Shiva-guru who introduced such practices to her and over a period of time she came to realise their vital role and efficacy in attaining identity with Shiva. Through practices (abhyas) of controlling her fickle mind and managnig the nerve-plexi Ida, pingla and sushmana and tearing and pulverising the bunch of klesas disturbing the mind she learnt how to jell the alchemy of yoga for spiritual destination of unity with Shiva. Lalla Ded conveys:

Zaniha nadi dal mann ratith

chatith vatith kutith kaleesh

zanha ada asta rasayan gatith

shiva chuya kruth tai chen vopadeesh

Lalla Ded must have undergone sham and dam as very essential practices for making over from anava yoga to other higher levels of yoga. Having steeled herself through vigorous practices she pacified her chita (mind), cleansed it of impurities of distraction, gloom and despair and made over to higher levels of Shakta Yoga and Shambhava Yoga that would ensure her self-cognition. She conveys that Shiva (sahaj) does not need sham and dam for identity with Him. He needs to be accessed and attained through Iccaha which means Iccaha Yoga which is shambhava yoga, sure path to spiritual fulfilment. Lalla says:

sahzas sham dam na gache

yachi pravakh mukti dhar

salilas lavan zan meelith gache

toti chuai dwarlabh sahaz vyachar

The navel-region (nabisthan), technically called kand-pura, is the sun-region where heat glows incessantly. The vital air (prana) rising from navel along pingla nadi is warm when exhaled from nose. The air gets warmed up by the heat glowing at the navel region. Lalla Ded asserts that brahmand is the moon-region at the extreme end of sushmana nadi and is naturally cold. A cold current coming down the sushmana nadi cools the breath carried by Ida during the process of breathing in. Lalla Ded explains the whole process of pranayam in the Vakh as under:-

nabisthans chai prakrath zalvani

hindis tam yati pran vatagat

brahmandas pyath chai nad vohvani

ha-ha tava turun ha-ha tava tot

Lalla Ded is unequivocal in proclaiming that she was born in the world for meditation (tapasya), a known yogic practice of wide acceptance. It was through intense meditation that she attained the divine light of consciouenss (bodh prakash), a state of turiya which is the state of Shiva (Shivahood), She is liberated as liberation while living (jeevan-mukhut) as a perennial state of Shiva-consciousness is beyond the condition of gyrations of life and death. Lalla says:-

samsaras aayas tapsya

bodha prakash lobum shaz

maryam na kanh marna kansi

mara nech lasa nech

Lalla Ded in essence is a Shaiva-Yogini par-excellence. Her varied mystical experiences are, vividly revealed through her prismatic vakhs couched in coherently brilliant language of indigenous origins.

Source: Kashmir Sentinel



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