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The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is an important and frequently referenced Indian text on various Hindu spiritual techniques, and is cited by Crowley on the A.'.A.'. student required reading list. It is organized into short sections of a few sentences which are then gathered into four chapters. There is some use of hyperbolic and rhetorical statements but also much focus on practical matters.
The text deals mostly with physical techniques, hence (as the title indicates) it relates to Hatha Yoga or yoga involving exercises of the physical body. These practices are said to properly be the basis of Raja Yoga. That is to say that Hatha Yoga as described by this text is not aimed to achieve physical health for its own sake, but as the foundation of a broader religious aspiration.
"No success in Raja Yoga without Hatha Yoga, and no success in Hatha Yoga without Raja Yoga. One should, therefore, practice both of these well, till complete success is gained." (II, 76)
The physical body is an essential component of the greater psycho-spiritual unity of the human being. It should therefore be used in a manner that focuses it towards attainment. Hatha Yoga is this method of focusing for the body, just as Bhakti Yoga is the method for the emotions and Jnana Yoga, the intellect.
The text says that the practitioner should keep her knowledge of Hatha Yoga secret, "for it becomes potent by concealing, and impotent by exposing" (I, 11).
The yogi is also instructed to practice in a context free of distractions and under the instruction of a guru. The physical exercises of yoga are definitely best learned if directly demonstrated by a qualified teacher. Also, if Hatha Yoga is practiced as more than a type of exercise -- that is to say as a spiritual system -- having a competent spiritual director becomes a relevant option. A guru in the Indian sense is more than this, however. An Indian style guru is a manifestation of God, and is treated as such in the traditional Hindu protocols. It does not seem mandatory to have this arrangement, but it is part of the classical system and is almost inescapably present in the traditional texts.
The text then describes various classical yoga asanas. It says these should be "practiced for gaining steady posture, health and lightness of body" (I, 19). Also, they develop discipline and concentration, as well as having other concrete effects on the energy dynamics of the subtle body. Some of them are said to posses the ability to awaken Kundalini, the mysterious subtle energy of the spine. This subtle energy, or prana, is also distributed throughout the body in channels called nadis. The word "prana" is the same word in Sanskrit for the breath, with which it is equated, but this is not a reductive comparison. Prana is not merely air taken into and out of the body, but it does include ranges of phenomena associated with breath.
The various asanas are then described as coordinated with various breathing exercises (pranayama) as well as types of concentration. Retention of the breath in pranayama is called Khumbhaka and is also discussed in the text. Breathing through alternate nostrils is presented as a primary method. Pranayama is connected with concentration, in that steady breathing will calm and focus the mind. Also, pranayama is said to cleanse or purify the nadis. When these are cleared the prana will flow freely in the central spinal channel or sushumna allowing Kundalini to rise. The mind is said to become steady when this occurs. Another sign that the nadis are being purified is that various subjective sounds such as bells may be heard. Quivering and perspiration can also occur.
There may be hindrance in Hatha Yoga from excess fat or phlegm in the body. To clear the body of these, six kriyas are recommended. Those who do not suffer from this excess are instructed not to perform them. These kriyas are various uncomfortable fakir tricks involving various orifices, and are very advanced.
The third chapter further describes ten "mudras" or additional physical practices. Mostly these are another series of combinations of asanas and pranayama to arouse Kundalini. Also certain of these mudras are concerned with an alternative method of turning the tongue backwards to stop and or catch a flow of astral nectar down the spine. Doing this is said to produce immortality. There is also the vajroli mudra in which semen is retained during ejaculation so as to avoid depleting the man's stock of life force or bindu. There is an exactly analogous Taoist practice. Other mudras involve mixing ashes with the sexual fluids that remain after vajroli practice and spreading them on the body.
Finally in section IV, the text describes under the heading "samadhi" the spiritual attainments resulting from the practices outlined. "As salt being dissolved in water becomes one with it, so when atman and mind become one, it is called samadhi" (IV, 5). This is further said to result when the prana is stilled upon entering the central spinal sushumna. This stilling within the sushumna is compared to the way a snake stiffens straight when killed. The Tibetans describe this stilling of the prana within the central chamber as a process of dissolving of the prana. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that the yogi in samadhi is free of karma and the effects of death, and that ecstasy is experienced in this state.
Much of the material discussed in this text involves rarefied states of consciousness achieved by rigorous practice of advanced physical techniques, and so it is difficult to intelligently discuss or critique it without undertaking its outlined practices. The necessity for practice is repeatedly stressed by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. "Success comes to him who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on yoga, one can never get success" (I, 67). Crowley's diaries reproduced in The Temple of Solomon the King demonstrate extensive sincere practice by him in India and Sri Lanka of the techniques of the Pradipika. One wonders how many self proclaimed Thelemic Masters can demonstrate the same in their records.
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