Ch. 3, 3a, Emptiness and prāṇa

Ch. 3, 3a, Haṭhayogpradīpika           Emptiness and prāṇa

 “Emptiness is the pathway of prāṇa (subtle breath)[1]. For that reason it is the principal path. Because of it, the mind is free (nirālambaṁ). Likewise, time is cheated [of its effect].”

प्राणस्य शून्यपदवी तदा राजपथायते ।

तदा चित्तं निरालम्बं तदा कालस्य वञ्चनम् ॥ ३ ॥

prāṇasya śūnyapadavī tadā rājapathāyate |

tadā cittaṁ nirālambaṁ tadā kālasya vañcanam || 3 ||

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.

These teachings are also made available by YouTube on http://www.melainterfaith.org and http://www.nathas.org/en

śūnyapadavī

The term śūnyapadavī means ‘the path (padavī) of emptiness (śūnya)’ or ‘the path of the void’. It refers, as Tara Michael in her edition of the Haṭha-Yoga-Pradīpika[2] clearly points out, to the suṣumnā, the ‘central channel’.

In the teaching of yoga, as Yogi Matsyendranath will point out more fully, there are two contrasting channels, iḍā and piṅgalā, which are also called the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ channels or prāṇa and apāna. These are situated on either side of the body. Although translations speak of ‘channels’ or ‘veins’ (nāḍī), iḍā and piṅgalā are not anatomically discernible, as are veins and arteries. Rather, they are paths of influence, channels of energy, fields of force. The vitality of the body is felt but cannot be discerned with measuring instruments. Life’s effects can be seen, but life itself is not measured with rulers and thermometers. The sensations that do occur are the physical expressions of something interior.

The iḍā and piṅgalā, the ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ channels, the prāṇa and apāna refer to all the contrasting elements of being. We are not limited to our bodies, that is to what is just inside our skin. Our bodies relate to the whole universe. We are all, severally, at the centre of the cosmos. All memories, all times past and all times future, are with us in some sense already. The ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ channels are the realm of duality. Yogi Matsyendranath will speak more fully about this.

The suṣumnā, for its part, is not like either iḍā and piṅgalā. Precisely because it is empty it is their meeting point. It is not anatomical. It is subtle; it cannot be seen but it is perceived. It is where the various parts of the body, indeed of existence, are brought into harmony and balance. It is where they become non-dual. It is not really a ‘place’ if this means something that is locatable. It is ‘void’ and therefore can receive all. When the contrasting influences come into balance, the ‘middle path’ (suṣumnā) is ‘opened’, that is it begins to function. There is an energy, a power, a vitality, an experience of something transcendent, a sense of peace and power.

The cross:

Jesus Christ hangs on the cross, his arms outstretched. By this gesture, he opens himself up to the whole world. He knows heaven and earth, joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain. He experiences good and evil, sin and grace. He knows life and death. He is both divine and human. All contraries are found in him. It is though he takes to himself the iā and pigalā, the entire universe, all the dualities, all the contradictions, all the enmities. He wishes to touch all the opposites, to link them all in himself. He is the meeting point where all things come together in balance and reconciliation.

He does not protect himself. He does not shut his arms over his chest as though to shield off some attack. He presents no obstacle. There are no blockages. He is completely vulnerable. He becomes completely open and takes on the path of emptiness. He is the suumnā planted in the heart of the universe and planted in each person.

Meditators likewise welcome all things. They present no blockage, no refusal. They are full of confidence, not afraid, not hiding themselves from reality. They remove the masks. Thus their first act is to be still, open to all, welcoming all, emptied of all obstacles, all resentment, all preconceptions. The mind is open, the heart is open. They take on the path of openness, the path of emptiness.

prāṇa

The word prāa in Sanskrit has multiple meanings. When it is paired with apāna it refers to exteriority, and apāna refers to interiority. When these two are balanced, there comes a great surge of vitality in the suumnā. This surge is also called prāa. It is life, vitality, energy, power. It is experienced as void, autonomous and liberating. It is experienced as rising from the depths and going to the heights, like fire.

If prāa and apāna are symbolised by ‘sun’ and ‘moon’, the prāa which rises in the suumnā is called ‘fire’ (vahni). The ‘fire’ is neither ‘sun’ nor ‘moon’, but involves them both. The ‘fire’ does not reject ‘sun’ or ‘moon’, it is not like them and does not compete. The opposites becomes themselves most fully when they meet in the space which is neither of them. It is the point and purpose of yogic practice.

 The Spirit:

The Gospel of St John tells us that when Jesus dies on the cross, “he handed over his spirit”.[3] The expression [paradidonai to pneuma] is never found elsewhere in Greek to refer to death.[4] What does it mean? He has known complete emptying, complete vulnerability. Therefore from him comes the fullness of life and energy. It is the Spirit. It can be described as ‘fire’, which cannot be contained or controlled. He has “cast fire on the earth”.[5] He baptises with “fire”.[6] From the void comes the fire.

To whom does he hand the Spirit? The small group gathered before him comprise his mother, a small number of other women, and his favourite disciple. In handing over to the Spirit to them, he hands it over to the whole Church, to the whole world, to all times and places.

So too for meditators who have united all things in themselves, who have opened themselves to all reality in all its contradictions: there is an immense rising of the spirit from the depths to fill the whole universe. This vitality beings great joy and peace. It is the fulfilment of all their possibilities.

It happens. It is not of their doing. They do not make it happen; it is not the product of their wills. They receive it gladly as a gift. From their emptiness fire comes that ignites and blesses the whole cosmos. It burns more intensely than the heat of ‘sun’ or ‘moon’. It rises ever upwards. They become a blessing for all people, for all beings. They experience both emptiness and fullness. It is a strange and paradoxical experience.

Practice:

The meditative act is to sit still with an attitude of welcoming. We are “at the still point of the turning world”.[7] We are confident even in trepidation; we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. We open to all, stretching out our arms to reality in all its diversity, ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. We have become ‘empty’. We feel arising in us the great ‘fire’, the Spirit which fills the whole world with blessing.

We entered the VOID and discovered FIRE.

[1] The translation of this difficult phrase is indebted to Swami Muktibodhananda Saraswati, Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Munger, Bihar, India: Bihar School of Yoga, 1985. p. 309.

[2] Tara Michaël, Haṭha-Yoga-Pradīpika. Paris: Fayard, 1974. p. 165.

[3] Jn 19:30.

[4] Swetnam, “Bestowal of the Spirit,” 564.

[5] Gospel of Luke 12:49.

[6] Gospel of Luke 3;16.

[7] Cf. T.S. Eliot., ‘Burnt Norton’, in The Four Quartets.

About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
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