Ch. 3, v.1, Haṭhayogapradīpika kuṇḍalinī, serpent, Spirit
“As the serpent upholds the earth, its mountains and woods, so kuṇḍalī is the support of all the tantras.”
स-शैल-वन-धात्रीणां यथाधारो|अहि-नायकः |
सर्वेष्हां योग-तन्त्राणां तथाधारो हि कुण्डली || १ ||
sa-śaila-vana-dhātrīṇāṃ yathādhāro ahi-nāyakaḥ |
sarveṣhāṃ yoga-tantrāṇāṃ tathādhāro hi kuṇḍalī || 1 ||
Rev. Dr John Dupuche, is a Catholic priest, and Yogi Matsyendranath is from the Nath Yoga tradition. Father John and Yogi present teachings from their contrasting traditions, using as their starting point verses from the Haṭha-Yoga-Pradīpika.
“As the serpent upholds the earth and its mountains and woods …”
An ancient myth stands at the background of this verse. Brahma asked the serpent Śesa, who had dedicated himself intensely to spiritual practice, to become the foundation of the world with all its mountains and streams, forests and cities. Accordingly, the whole world is supported on the serpent’s hood and coils.
Herein lies a profound paradox: the coils and hood seem totally unsuited to providing stability. Moreover, the hood of the cobra waves as it prepares to strike and kill. Yet, as the solid base of all reality lies the ever-moving serpent. This paradox is intended.
“kuṇḍalī is the support of all the tantras”
In yoga, the word kuṇḍalinī, from the word ‘ring’, or ‘coil’ (kuṇḍalī), is used as a synonym of ‘serpent’. It is experienced as an energy lying dormant at the basis of all, anatomically at the base of the spine where the spinal column comes in contact with the earth, at the perineum.
This latent energy, when it starts to manifest itself, is experienced as rising up the spinal column, arousing all the centres (cakra). Since these centres are loci of power and knowledge, there is a progressive awakening of all the faculties. This process is described more fully in Haṭhayogapradīpika 3:2.
Accordingly there is a double stage, the potential and the actual; the potential, when the kuṇḍalinī lies dormant, and the actual, when the kuṇḍalinī begins to awaken and becomes fully aroused.
Just as the serpent Śesa is the support of all reality, all texts and methods (tantra) arise from the energy of kuṇḍalinī. Likewise, all methods, when practiced correctly, awaken that energy, which is the purpose of the exercises described in Haṭhayogapradīpika 3. The texts seem clear and stable because they consist of words, but their real foundation is the energy, which cannot be defined, and which is beyond all limitation, mysterious, complex, intricate.
Stability is found, not in sameness, but in change. “All things change” (panta rei) said Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher. The only constant is inconstancy. Like the river, which changes as it flows, this universe and the imaginings of humans, their writings and their actions, all spring from the same moving force that inspires them. Movement is stability. Flux is the only abiding reality. Potentiality is not exhausted by actuality, but each expression of power leads to further possibilities. Each actualization leads to new possibilities, increasingly, exponentially. The journey is the goal.
This idea requires a completely change of mind since we normally seek what is abiding and reliable. Conservation is a universal tendency in nature.
The image of the serpent contains a sinister element: that of the cobra poised to strike and kill, for this energy destroys all our stabilities, all we wished to rely on. The kuṇḍalinī shows its superiority and its power, like that of the gods. It is uncontrollable by mind or will. It is mistress.
It is difficult to submit to kuṇḍalinī’s mastery. We prefer our own fancies and willfulness, and confuse the kuṇḍalinī with our own desires, but the ‘serpent’ is beyond our control and we must submit to its inspiration, for it is blessed by the Divinity and is the wisest of all gurus. The inspiration counts, not one’s self-will.
This involves a completely new perspective, which informs the various mudrās and bandhas described in Haṭhayogapradīpika 3. These are not to be seen as static poses but as stages in a continually flowing activity.
Yogi Matsyendranath and Fr John
Our traditions, the Nath and the Christian, are different, yet both are inspired, as can be seen from their results. The awareness of the Spirit that has inspired one or other tradition leads to awareness of the Spirit in both.
Thus, by becoming aware of the Spirit who moves in Christianity, I become more aware of the Spirit, which moves in the Nath tradition. By means of the Spirit we become aware of the Spirit wherever the Spirit is active. That is why our joint teaching, Yogi’s and mine, is valuable: its differences as well as its similarities enable us both to perceive the depths of the Spirit that lie in each of us.
The Christian dimension
In the Biblical tradition, Genesis 1:2-3 reads:
The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.
There are the ‘formless earth’ and the ‘deep’. In the context of these two voids, the ‘wind from God’ moves, beyond control, indefinable.
Then God says: “Let there be light”. It is as though the Spirit inspires God to create. This same Spirit inspires all the elements of creation, for the glory of God is found in every element. (Rm 1:20) This same imagery is found in Acts 2:1 ff when the sound of a mighty wind is heard, and the Spirit appears as tongues of fire inspiring the disciples to speak in various tongues. Again, the Spirit proceeds from the mouth of the crucified and risen Christ who gives them boundless authority. (Jn 20:22)
The Christian follows this Spirit, who is not a spirit of disorder but the Spirit of constant change. The effects are found in peace and self-control, joy and faith. (Gal 5:22) This faith can move mountains. (Mt 17:20) This faith lies at the base of all activity, since no one can act without an element of self-confidence, believing that what they do is right and worthwhile. Otherwise they must remain indecisive, vacillating, uncertain, unsure, half- hearted, endlessly reworking, doing and undoing at the same time.
We act out of inspiration, which means not being tied to what we do, being fully committed but not being constrained. We are both involved and detached.
The meditator will become aware of the boundless energy that lies dormant in every state and manifests itself in countless ways. The whole world is dancing.