Hatha Yoga Pradipika 13 — The Cow’s Face Asana

Chapter One — Gomukhasana

Continuing from The Good Luck Asana with one more verse.

The first translation and the Titles are from Swami Kripalu’s, Revealing the Secret, a commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

The second translation is from the Pancham Sinh edition.

Things in (parentheses) are from the edition concerned.
My own input amidst verses is in [brackets] and in color when commenting.

For persons using other editions, in this blog we are taking up at 20 in the Kripalu translation, which is 22 in the Sinh translation.

The Cow’s Face Posture

Place the ankle of the right foot under the left buttock and the ankle of the left foot under the right buttock; this posture that resembles the shape of a cow’s face is called the cow’s face posture.

Placing the right ankle on the left side and the left ankle on the right side, makes Gomukhasana, having the appearance of a cow.

Kripalu Commentary — Revealing the Secret

In yogic books, the authors describe one posture per couplet, so, due to the description’s extreme brevity, it remains incomplete. In this posture, only the position of the feet is pointed out; there is no clue as to the position of the hands. Despite being a defect, this is not a defect, because the aspirant knows the rest by means of the technique of yoga or by means of the teacher.

Consider this:  Each asana that has been selected is a teaching concerning sun-moon union (Hatha Yoga).

Gomukhasana, Swami Kripalu

The arousal of the life energy is a technique of yoga [a technique of yoga, not your technique but a technique of yoga itself]; through it, all the purifying actions of yoga occur of their own accord, but it is primarily useful to a brilliant liberation-seeking aspirant of a high class. Just as a poor person cannot maintain an elephant, an ordinary aspirant cannot remain stable in this systematic practice for very long.

“Brilliant”: he or she is liberation-seeking.  “High class”: he or she is surrendered to God and has advanced to a point where an understanding of the meaning can be reached. Others do what is ordinary, i.e., they sit a certain way.

A second point: This is purifying action yoga [kriya yoga]. In it, the revered truth teacher’s awareness of the essence and his guidance are indispensable. This cow’s face posture is the posture that begins [BEGINS] the purifying action in the root-base energy center [muladhara chakra, “root-holder wheel”].

This is the beginning of Hatha Yoga.

The first chapter of The Holy Bhagavad Gita is called “The Yoga of White One’s [Arjuna’s] Despondency”. When the root-base energy center is disposed toward purifying actions, accompanying this, the yoga of despondency begins. This is the first chapter of “The Song of Yoga”.

Bhagavad Gita means God’s Song, The Song of God. Kripau has used the title, “The Song of Yoga” here because the teachings of yoga are being made available to us by overhearing a dialogue between Lord Krishna and his disciple, Arjuna. The Bhagavad Gita consists almost entirely of this dialogue.

How can an ordinary soldier remain standing in the battlefield in which a great virile hero like White One, a great chariot warrior, his bow, Gandiva, the victor of wars, lying abandoned, is about to lose interest in the war?

In other words, if you lose interest and quit because you think you are  standing still (though things are about to get really interesting), how can others on your team be expected to go forward? If you think you are bored now, you are probably about to be really in for it ( i.e, kriya yoga, Real Yoga: sun-moon yoga).

… in the last chapter of The Holy Bhagavad Gita, White One’s [Arjuna] despondency is destroyed, because Revered Dark One [Krishna] was his charioteer. He was both his truth teacher and his adored God. In this battlefield, even if an ordinary soldier were to succeed in understanding a Gita of eighteen hundred thousand chapters (the Bhagavad Gita has eighteen chapters), his unending despondency would not be destroyed; abandoning his weapon, he would flee the battlefield.

At this point in yoga, even if an ordinary “soldier” (practicer of yoga) succeeded in understanding eighteen hundred thousand chapters of a Gita, he would still be unable to dispel his despondency and would quit. So what saved Arjuna from this fate? He put God in the driver’s seat and saw his truth teacher as God in a body serving him as his driver.

If you have taken my Ancient Mystical Writings course, you will remember that the chariot is the body.

The great speaker of The Holy Bhagavad Gita is giving instruction only to a great chariot-warrior sunk in despondency on the battleground, not under a canopy pitched up for narration of stories [for entertainment, moral teaching or inspiration].

The primary purpose of the Bhagavad Gita is to convey teachings to “brilliant, high class soldiers”. 

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go (cow) + mukha (face, facing; mouth, opening, entrance; upper part, head, top, tip or point of anything) + asana (seat, posture, position, disposition or situation).

Depression — The reduction of the level or strength of the energy of the body — not just the feeling the sadness, dejection or depression which may accompany it.  This is the theme of the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, in which the brilliant, high class soldier, our warrior-hero, Arjuna (White One), upon looking over the situation enters this state and throws in the towel (his bow) to quit. In the remainder of the Gita, Lord Krishna (Dark One) straightens him out. By the last chapter Arjuna finally gets it.  

Despondency, depression and dejection are synonyms in three dictionaries that I consulted.

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Jaya Bhagavan,
Durga Ma

Durga Ma’s translation and synopsis of the Bhagavad Gita: The Song of God, the Bhagavad Gita in a Nutshell.

Durga Ma’s New Moon course, Ancient Mystical Writings.


Hatha Yoga Pradipika 11 — Asana, Continued

Chapter One — Primary Asanas

Continuing with one more verse from Hatha Yoga Pradipika — Asana using titles instead of numbers.

The first translation and the Titles are from Swami Kripalu’s, Revealing the Secret, a commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika [HYP].

The second translation is from the Pancham Sinh edition.

Anything in (parentheses) is from the edition concerned.
As always, my own input amidst verses is in [brackets], in color when commenting.

For persons using other editions, in this blog we are taking up at 18 in the Kripalu translation, which is 20 in the Sinh translation.

Remarks of Earlier Teachers

Vasishtha (Most Excellent) and other sages, and Matsyendra Master and other yogis have accepted certain postures. I, too, having accepted certain postures, describe them.

I am going to describe certain asanas which have been adopted by Munis like Vasishtha, etc., and Yogis like Matsyendra, etc.

Kripalu Commentary — Revealing the Secret

For attainment of the Absolute teaching, there is only one means: yoga. Sun-moon yoga is the first part of it. By means of sun-moon yoga, bodily purity occurs. It involves the organs of action. The second part of yoga is royal yoga. By means of it, mental purity occurs. It involves the organs of sense (the organs of knowledge). Vasishtha and other great seers resorted to yoga.

Bodily Purification – Hatha Yoga: Organs of Action
Hands, feet, tongue (speech), sex organs, and anus.

Mental Purification – Raja Yoga: Organs and Faculties of Sense
Organs: Ears, eyes, skin, tongue (taste), and nose.

Faculties: Hearing, seeing, feeling (touch), tasting, and smelling.

I have included the sense faculties in royal yoga (raja yoga), because Swami Kripalu has called the organs of sense, “the organs of knowledge.” This implies that the perception to which he refers is not limited to the actual organs. The faculties (abilities or powers) can operate without the organs by means of imagination, dreams, and thoughts, and do operate without them entirely in meditation. When this occurs in one’s meditation, perception is direct and knowledge is acquired without the use of the corresponding organs.

How can there be any association between sun-moon yoga and Great-Seer Sage Vasishtha? The revered great seer is a knowledge yogi; he has no allegiance to action – why should he take up action worship? “With the fire of knowledge he can make action into ashes!” This is only the reasoning of some learned men; there is not much fact in it. Great-Seer Sage Vasishtha Muni, is a supreme worshipper of the life energy [prana]. The worship of the life energy is called sun-moon yoga. He is the author of the jewel-like book, The Yoga Vasishtha. In many places in it he has explained the importance of the worship of the life energy. In the fourth section, entitled “Peace of Mind”, he has said, “O Delightful One! Even after hundreds of births, this is the practice provided for the worldly condition. Without practice for a long time, how can the worldly condition be broken?” So the knower of the essence, along with abandonment of mental attachments, also tells about the systematic practice of the stabilization of the life energy. It also should be done.

See Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1:12-14 – Sanctuary for discussion on the use of the word, “worship” in Swami Kripalu’s commentary.

Beloved King-Among-Yogis Atmarama says, “In ancient times, Vasishtha and other sages, gave forest-dwelling, unattached, liberation-seeking aspirants knowledge of scripture first, and in the end, giving them instruction in renunciation-of-action yoga, made them pilgrims of yoga.” To presume that these sages were followers of the path of knowledge, and therefore expounded only knowledge yoga, is to make a mistake. They were all-knowing; they knew all paths. They taught devotion yoga to the devotee, action yoga to the yogi, and knowledge yoga to the knower. The reason they expounded knowledge yoga was that their group of students was knowledge-oriented. They usually taught the continued practice of scripture and the continued practice of yoga to inquirers following both paths – the path of engagement and the path of cessation – but they were in different study groups. They also favored certain postures.

It is my opinion that one might as well take up knowledge, action and devotion from the very start since these three personal orientations are ultimately going to merge anyway. At the start, most of us are stronger in one of these orientations, so how would this work?  Contrary to popular teaching methodologies, rather than focusing on trying to improve the weakest orientation, I would recommend that you do what you do best first, and gradually add the others to it. By doing this, you will not become discouraged or disinterested and your weakest orientation will automatically rise in strength due to its association with your naturally strongest orientation.      

Matsyendra Master and others (other yogis who taught) were called teacher yogis. They taught town-dwelling, desirous, ethical-action-seeking aspirants action yoga first, and in the end, instructing them in necessary scriptural knowledge, made them pilgrims of yoga. They too were followers of the path of knowledge. Matsyendra and other yogis were also situated on the level of yoga on which Vasishtha and other sages were situated. The reason they came to expound action yoga was that their group of students was action-oriented; it was of the intermediate class. Alternatively, they gave knowledge of scripture to unattached and learned liberation-seeking aspirants first, and in the end, engaged them in renunciation-of-action yoga. They were truly all-knowing. Seeing the eligibility and class of the aspirant, they would give instruction accordingly.

“Town-dwelling, desirous, ethical-action-seeking aspirants” describes what Swami Kripalu quoted earlier as, “the worldly condition” (though perhaps without the complementary appellations of “ethical” and “aspirant”). If you are attempting yoga sadhana and are bound up in worldly concerns, this is your Good News, your medicine for the cure: action yoga, then, the necessary scriptural knowledge to make you a pilgrim of yoga (walking a path to the shrine of Union). But what is “action yoga”?

Beyond the usual selfless service to the guru, action yoga is Hatha Yoga, sun-moon union, which can only be completely successful with the “necessary scriptural knowledge.” So it’s a sequence: start with action and then go forward well informed. “Unattached and learned liberation-seeking aspirants” would naturally proceed beginning with knowledge of the truth about action leading them to renunciation-of-action yoga (through action, of course). Confused yet?  Well, this is just one of those esoteric places. What can I say!

Now Beloved-Yogi Svatmarama will describe the good luck posture and other postures.

Coming up next time.

Durga Ma

Hatha Yoga Pradipika 12 — The Good Luck Asana

Chapter One — Svastikasana

Continuing with one more verse from Hatha Yoga Pradipika — Asana, Continued using titles instead of numbers.

For persons using other editions, in this blog we are taking up at 19 in the Kripalu translation, which is 21 in the Sinh translation.

The first translation and the Titles are from Swami Kripalu’s, Revealing the Secret, a commentary on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika [HYP].

The second translation is from the Pancham Sinh edition.

Anything in (parentheses) is from the edition concerned.
As always, my own input amidst verses is in [brackets], and in color when commenting.

The Good Luck Posture

When the aspirant, having correctly placed the soles of the two feet between the shanks [the calves] and the thighs, sits, the kings among yogis call it the good luck posture.

Having kept both the hands [feet] under both the thighs, with the body straight, when one sits calmly in this posture, it is called svastikasana.

svastikasana: svastika + asana

svastika – Any lucky or auspicious object; a kind of mystical cross or mark made on persons and things to denote good luck. From sva (personal possessive, one’s own self) + aastika (affirmed reality of existence)

asana – posture, position, seat, dwelling, place, abiding, sitting, stool or chair… 

Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras defines asana thus: “Asana is the pleasant practice of remaining at ease by relaxing all striving and falling effortlessly into union with the Divine.”

You will notice that in this quote there is no mention of anything remotely related to what we Westerners recognize as asana, or Yoga. This can mean only one thing: There is more to the subject of asana than is being said.  

My own simple definition of asana is, “posture, position, disposition, situation.”

What are the features of this asana?
1. The body and spine are straight but relaxed.
2. It comes naturally.

Is there some significance to the feet being inside the thighs, or between the calves and thighs, or under the thighs (depending on the translation)? If you can, try sitting cross-legged “Indian style” and see what you notice.

Kripalu Commentary — Revealing the Secret

This posture is quite suitable for repeated prayer, for meditation, and for the suspension of the life energy [pranayama]. It is closely related to the lotus posture, the mature posture, the stable posture, the hard weapon posture, and other simple postures. In the last level of with-seed equanimity [sabija samadhi] when the dorsal-upward posture tries to make the vital air [the life energy] a traveler on the dorsal path, the good luck posture extends its cooperation.

“…dorsal-upward posture,” “…dorsal path”:
In these terms, Swami Kripalu is referring to the back west path of kundalini-prana. This is a reference to fully awakened kundalini that is up-trended. In the Gospels, there are places in which Jesus is said to turn to face and/or proceed west. This is the same message. It is rare to find anyone in this situation (asana), as this is a very advanced stage of yoga sadhana. This posture cooperates with the “dorsal path”, the dorsal path does not cooperate with the posture.  Swami Kripalu is telling us that one in this position (asana, situation) is in the position (asana) of good fortune.

How can people unacquainted with the word ‘yoga’ be acquainted with the word ‘asana’? Animals, birds, living souls, lower life forms and other living beings that have no acquaintance with any word, use postures favorable to them every day and every moment. The postures which they take are not taken by means of the mental faculty, but by means of the life energy. It is not proper to say that they take postures, rather it is proper to say that these postures occur naturally of their own accord. In the body, those purifying actions not governed by the mental faculty are purifying actions of the life energy. They are called natural purifying actions, innate purifying actions, or nature’s purifying actions.

Suppose I say to you, “Please stand up.”
You stand up.
Then I give you a second instruction, “Please sit.”
You sit.

As you sit down you do not think about which posture you sit in. You give autonomy to your feet. They naturally arrange themselves in a comfortable posture; this is purifying action of the life energy, or natural action.

Any way you sit, any position the body is in, is an asana. It’s that simple. 

Asana is produced by the activity of prana, the life energy. Let’s say that you deliberately direct a posture. Prana is still behind the action, so the posture you take is still about prana, it’s just that you are governing the prana with your mind, your intention, your “mental faculty”. However, when prana is free the situation is reversed: the activities of prana direct the asana and is naturally purifying. This purifying action of free prana is called kriya.

This “good luck posture” that is so natural, is associated not only with spontaneous postures of the body, but with advanced stages of yoga sadhana. And it’s all natural.

Svastikasana, Swami Kripalu

The Good Luck Posture

Look at this picture of svastikasana. Most of us in the West have to think back to childhood to remember a time when we could sit on the floor like this with ease. So translate svastikasana to how you sit now, when you easily and naturally sit in a comfortable, relaxed position with a straight spine. But maybe this only happens when you lie down! Lying down is a asana, too.  Now think about this: How is being easily situated in such a natural posture relevant to good luck and the “dorsal path”?

When someone naturally sits in the good luck posture, he is truly healthy. The good luck posture indicates health. In a similar way, each posture presents a picture of the state of mind at the time it is taken. A person who reads body language can tell the state of mind of any person merely by inspecting the posture.

Here lies the suggestion that if you can naturally assume this posture, you must be in good health. Perhaps the message here has more to do with the spontaneity (“naturally”) of free prana than the posture itself…?

Durga Ma

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