Yoga Philosophy of Jnaneshvara and Patanjali
by G. K. Pungaliya
President, Institute of Yoga and Allied Research, Pune, India
Two sources of ancient Indian thought are Vedas and Agamas. Even if the ultimate aim of both the systems was to attain liberation, or to experience the ultimate truth, or Brahman or Moksha or Nirvana, their teachings, ideologies and philosophies were different, on a number of basic issues and principles. Vedas and Upanishads presume, as is stated in Mahabharata (1) etc. that the originator of the science of the Yoga is Hiranyagarbha. The tradition of Agamas says that the author of this science of Yoga is Adinatha or Shiva or Shankara. Almost all these Agamas are written in the form of conversation between Parvati and Shankara. Patanjali is following the tradition of Upanishads. The philosophy behind Patanjali Darshana is that Sankhya, the Astanga Yoga which Patanjali propagated was in vogue several centuries before Patanjali (300 BC).
We get references of Astanga Yoga in a number of Upanishads such as Chandogya Upanishad, Sandilya Upanishad etc. Yajnavalkya explains this Yoga Philosophy to Gargi and other disciples exactly on the same lines as Patanjali does. (2) Yajnavalkya further states that this philosophy of Astanga Yoga was being learnt by him from his masters. This is an indication of the fact that the philosophy of Astanga Yoga is very ancient and was already in practice before Patanjali.
Hence, it is quite natural that whatever Patanjali has stated is on the basis of certain principles of Upanishads and the philosophy of Sankhya. Of course, Patanjali has his own contribution to Yoga Sutras. The concept of Ishvara, even if absent in Sankhya Darshana, has been defined by Patanjali as per PYS 1. 240. (3) However, he is having his own interpretation about this concept and it is not according to the established tradition. His Ishvara is not a creator but a person whose sins are destroyed. Patanjali's concept of Ishvara is very near to Jain Darshana. (4)
Jnaneshvara, had altogether a different background. He was initiated as per the tradition of Nath Sampradaya. This philosophy is different from that of Patanjali's Yoga Darshana. The basic principles of Yoga philosophy of Nath Panth, are stated in detail in various books such as Gorakshagita, Goraksha Paddhati, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, Amaraugha Sasana, Amaraugha Prabodha, Mahartha Manjari, Gheranda Samhita, etc., all written in Sanskrit. Hence, the Yoga Philosophy of Jnaneshvara is just like a mirror reflection of the Yoga Philosophy of Nath Panth. From this it is quite obvious that the original sources of philosophy of these two great saint philosophers and seers are quite different. Thus there is bound to be a major difference in their Yoga Systems. In this paper, therefore, I intend to point out certain outstanding differences in their Yoga Philosophies.
In the overall Yoga Philosophy, we find a number of branches, out of which the most popular now-a-days, in India and abroad, is the one which has been advocated by Patanjali and which is known as Astanga Yoga. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are translated in various languages and also a number of commentaries have been written on it. However, there are a number of other Yoga systems such as Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Laya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga etc. Since this paper is intended for only the comparison between the Yoga of Jnaneshvara and Patanjali, I would restrict my scope to the comparison of philosophies of only these two masters.
The basic differences are as under:
1. Patanjali gives the system of Astanga Yoga per his Sutra No. 11. 29 (5) of Yoga Sutras. The Yoga System of Jnaneshvara is based on the principles of Hatha Yoga. Some of the scholars of this system are following Astanga Yoga. However, great Yogis such as Gorakshanath are following the system of Sadanga Yoga which has been stated by him in his book Goraksha Paddhati 1.7. (6) This System avoids Yamaand Niyama. The justification given by those Yogis is that if you obtain mastery in meditation, your whole lifestyle gets changed in such a way, that you automatically start following the Yama and Niyamawhich are the necessary rules and individual rules of conduct respectively. These six aspects of Yoga are:
2. According to the Nath Cult it is most important that the aspirant should purify his body completely. This has been stated in detail in Gheranda Samhita l.10-11-12. (7) This is a total purification of all important and vital organs of the body such as stomach, small intestines, large intestines, nasal passage, food pipe, eyes, ears, throat, etc. After this the cult says that the aspirant is in a position to undertake all the steps of Yoga. In Patanjalis Yoga Sutras this preparation of initial background is not mentioned.
3. The next step (in other Yoga systems) is the learning of physical postures. However, after learning all the important postures, the aspirant has to practise the most essential posture viz. Siddhasana or Vajrasana. For all the future Sadhanas this is considered to be the basic and important posture. The detailed description of this posture is given by Jnaneshvara in his sixth chapter of Jnaneshvari and also by a number of books of Nath Cult. They say that this posture is a must for all the aspirants. However, Patanjali says that you can sit in any convenient posture you like. Hence he gives the Sutra "Sthira-sukham asanam."
4. The importance of a Guru or Master is maximum in Nath cult. Their every book or Shastra starts by remembering or bowing with great reverence and respect to the Guru Adinath or Shiva or Shankara. Jnaneshvari also starts like this by saying "Om Namoji Adya." This importance is not given to Guru in Patanjala Yoga Darshana.
5. The Nath cult says that the human body consists of certain most essential centres or vital points and voids (Akasha). (8) Every aspirant has to know and understand these things. They say that one who is not aware of these essential centres is not a Yogi. They are six Chakras, sixteen vital points, two Laksyas (concentration points), five voids, all situated within the human body. Such type of discussion is not found in Patanjala Yoga Darshana.
6. Nath cult says that the human body is just like a beautiful house which is having nine doors. (9) It is formed out of five essential elements and each element is having its own deity. The nine openings are two eyes, two nostrils, two ear holes, mouth, excreta outlet, and sex organ. The deity of Earth is Brahma, of water is Vishnu, of fire is Rudra, of air is Ishvara and of space is Sadashiva. Every aspirant has to understand these things. In Patanjala Sutras we do not find this.
7. The Nath Panth, in their various books as mentioned above, gives a detailed description of the seven chakras, their exact location in the body, their properties and functions etc. Jnaneshvara has not given the description of these chakras for the reason that he wanted to restrict his interpretation to the verses of Bhagavad-Gita. At the base of the spinal cord and at the centre of the line which connects sex organ and the excreta outlet is situated the first chakra which is known as Muladhara Chakra. Slightly above the sex centre and below the naval centre the second chakra is situated which is known as Svadhisthana Chakra. The third is situated near the naval centre and is called Manipura. The fourth one is situated near the heart centre and is known as Anahata Chakra. The fifth is situated at the throat centre and is known as Visuddha Chakra. It must be noted that all these chakras are situated in the Shushumna Nadi which passes through the spinal cord, which again passes through Vertebral Column. These are extremely subtle points and may not be structural and cannot be located by any sophisticated instrument available. These were actually 'observed' and seen by the great Rishis in the stage of Samadhi. Here come the limitations of modern science. The sixth chakra is situated on the forehead and between the centre of the two eyebrows. This is known as Ajna Chakra. The seventh and the last chakra is situated in the centre of the brain in its uppermost portion. Patanjali does not mention any such thing in his Yoga Sutras.
8. According to Nath Cult there are 72.000 nerves in the body of human beings. (10) Out of these ten Nadis are important. Out of these three are most important. They are known as Ida, Pingala and Shushumna. Ida is known as Chandra Nadi and is passing through the left side of the vertebral column. Pingala is known as Surya Nadi and is passing through the right side of the vertebral column. Shushumna Nadi is passing through the spinal cord and is known as Agni Nadi. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras do not mention all this. He does mention a few Nadis like Kurma Nadi. But the detailed description is absent.
9. The concept of Prana has been studied in maximum details in Nath Cult. They say that in the human body there are ten different types of air or Vayus (11), which are known as Prana, Apana, Samana, Udana, Vyana, Naga, Kurma, Krikala, Devadatta and Dhananjaya. Each one is situated in a specific part of the body. Each one is having specific purpose and function in the body. When we take the air inside our body, it gets bifurcated into ten branches. This is just like a stream of water which starts from the Himalayan Mountains and gets bifurcated into several branches and each branch becomes a river and is given a separate name. Present medical science is not in a position to locate these ten different types of airs. However, our ancient Yogis have actually 'seen' these different streams of air inside our body. This type of description is not found in Patanjala Sutras.
10. When we breathe in there is a subtle sound which is known as 'So' and when we breathe out there is a subtle sound which is known as 'Ham'. (12) Everyone can experience this with slight practice. This sound of 'Soham' is continuously going on with every breathing. In a period of one day, that is twenty-four hours, we take 21.600 breathings. That means this type of sound which is known as Mantra, is being continued in our body for that many number of times (21.600). If the aspirant observes this mentally and consciously, this becomes a great Sadhana. This Sadhana is being given very great importance in the Nath Cult. This is not found in Patanjala Yoga Sutras (PYS).
11. The most important aspect of the Yoga Sadhana of Jnaneshvara is the activation of the Kundalini Shakti. This is a Tantric Sadhana of the Nath Cult. Jnaneshvara has given a detailed account of this process in his sixth chapter. This is a practical application of the philosophy of Nath Panth. They say that the whole universe is created out of the energy of Shiva or Mahashiva or Adinatha. They call it Shakti or cosmic energy. This energy is occupying the whole universe. The smallest portion of this energy is known as Kundalini, and the energy which is present in the entire universe is known as Maha Kundalini. This energy is present in human beings in potential form (Supta Shakti). The Yogis who have experienced this energy, say that this is like a serpent and is situated at the end of the Shushumna Nadi in a coiled form, in three and a half coils, position. This also is in line with their philosophy which says "Bramhandi te Pindi". This means that whatever exists in the universe also exists in the human being in the subtle form. Nath Cult and their great masters like Gorakshanath have devised various ways and means to activate this energy. Saint Jnaneshvara has described one method of activating this energy. This method has been stated in almost all the books of Hatha Yoga and Natha Panth and some Upanishads. The detailed description is available in the sixth chapter of Jnaneshvari. This energy can also be activated by Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. That is why we find in Jnaneshvari all these systems of Upasana.
The ultimate stage of realisation or Moksha as per this colt is the union of Shakti with Shiva. Hence the aspirant initiated in this cult has to activate this energy and allow this energy to go through all the six chakras gradually. The place of Shiva is considered to be in the last chakra which is known as Sahasrara. In the ultimate stage, Sadhaka has to transfer this energy to this last chakra. This is supposed to be the point of union of Shakti with Shiva. One who is successful in this process, is supposed to be a great Yogi. A number of spiritual powers known as siddhis are at his disposal in that stage. A number of examples are available in the ancient Shastras about the Yogis, who were successful in obtaining this highest stage. Jnaneshvara had experienced the above union with Shiva and hence he is known as Maha Yogi. In PYS we do not find anything about Kundalini Shakti.
12. In Nath cult there is a great importance of a Gun or Master. He is given the same importance as is given to their ultimate Guru Adinath. That is why Jnaneshvara is giving maximum importance to his Guru Nivrittinath and is mentioning his name in Jnaneshvari at a number of places. Not only that, he gives the entire credit of writing this book to Nivrittinath. Their philosophy says that the aspirant can get the ultimate experience of truth or Shiva only with the continuous guidance of Guru or the Master. We find that every book of Nath Panth starts after bowing to Guru.
13. In this cult we find a mystic and esoteric act of the transfer of spiritual energy from the master to the initiated aspirant and the act is known as Shaktipata. With the tremendous powers of the master, he can activate the Kundalini energy of the disciple. This transfer, he can do by touching a specific part of his body or simply by looking at him. This transfer of energy can be done on the aspirant who is at a great distance from the master. This is a peculiar mystical act. After the transfer of energy, the aspirant experiences a number of supernatural things, a tremendous flow (of liquid) light, etc. However, those scholars who are really anxious, should go through the book Awakening of Kundalini written by Pandit Gopi Krishna, who had undergone all these experiences before about twenty-five years in Kashmir. The concept of Shaktipata is not found in PYS.
14. This cult gives a great importance to the practice of certain physical postures known as Mudras. They are useful in meditation and also in the activation of Kundalini energy and the six chakras. Hence every aspirant has to learn these Mudras. The ancient texts say that such Mudras arc twenty-five. Out of these ten are most important. With the practice of Mudras the aspirant is in a position to get rid of any and every disease and can acquire a number of supernatural powers. Because of these multiple advantages, the aspirant is taught these postures and after he achieves this experience, he is taught Pranayama. Mudras arc nowhere mentioned in PYS.
15. There is a difference between the Dhyana-meditation of Patanjali and Jnaneshvara. Patanjali gives the definition of Dhyana as per Sutra No. III.1 and III 2 which are as under. The aspirant has to concentrate on specific or vital part of the body or on some external point. This process is known as Dharana. When the aspirant gets success in the concentration on that particular point, for a sufficiently long time, it becomes a Dhyana. For the concentration on that particular point, the aspirant has to use his mind. However, in Kundalini Yoga, the aspirant has not to use his mind at all. He has to practise Kumbhaka, wherein the function of mind totally stops. Instead of concentrating on any particular point, the aspirant has to activate the Kundalini energy. This is a much superior way. This opinion has been confirmed by Sir John Woodroffe, in his book The Serpent Power on page No. 314 and 315 of the eleventh edition, which the learned scholars and philosophers can refer to any time.
16. Patanjali gives a broad division of Samadhi, which is termed as SamprajnataSamadhi and Asamprajnata Samadhi. However, the stage of Samadhi has been studied in details by the Nath cult and which is followed by Jnaneshvara in toto. Nath cult has categorised Samadhi in six types which are known as I ) Dhyana Yoga Samadhi, 2) Nada Yoga Samadhi, 3) Rasananda Yoga Samadhi, 4) Laya yoga Samadhi, 5) Bhakti Yoga Samadhi, and 6) Raja Yoga Samadhi. How each Samadhi can be experienced is also discussed in details. Scholars and philosophers can refer chapter seven of Gheranda Samhita which gives the entire description.
To conclude, I would like to state that both these systems of Yoga are different. The reason is obvious. Their philosophical base is altogether different. That is why the Yoga of Nath Panth accommodates Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mantra Yoga, and Bhakti Yoga. This Yoga Philosophy is therefore multi-dimensional. Besides the results here are very fast. This has been promised by Gorakshanath in his book. However, it is advisable that the practices of this Yoga should be undertaken under an able and experienced master. To end the paper, I would like to quote the verse No. IV.114 (13) from Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It says that till you are not in a position to activate the Kundalini energy, till you are not in a position to have perfect control over your pranic force, till you are not in a position to clear the path of Shushumna Nadi, all your knowledge is external, futile and full of ego. It is only an exercise of talking and nothing else. Hence he says that this is a process which has to be experienced only.
Jnanesvari by Sakhare Maharaj.
Goraksa-paddhati by Gorakshanath.
Gheranda Samhita - Commentary by Shree Swamiji Maharaj.
Hatha-yoga-Pradipika by Shree Swatmarama Yogi
Patanjala Yoga (Sutra) Pradipa by Swami Omananda Tirtha.
Patanjala Yoga Darsana by K.K. Kolhatkar
Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati by Gorakshanath
Shiva-Samhita - Commentary by Dr. K.R. Joshi
Note: Sri Sri Pungaliya was founder and president of the Institute of Yoga and Allied Research, Pune, India until his mahasamadhi in 1999. Dr. Pungaliya was a very exceptional and talented healer, yoga teacher, scholar, researcher, and organizer who had a natural genius for yoga. He facilitated international Yoga and Philosophy Conferences, most occuring in Pune, India. His many publications are extremely relevant, but very rare to find.
The Institute of Yoga and Allied Research was a tremendous boon to Mahrasthra's yoga community. Its many activities fostered participant's sadhana as well as promoted yoga. Sri Sri Pungaliya has been a shining star and light in my spiritual search. Pranams to him and to the eternal love principle that he so beautifully embodied. Jai Sita Ram!
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Jnaneshvara's Cangadeva Pasasti