Ch.3, v. 3b. Haṭhayogapradīpika the royal road (rājapatha)
“Emptiness is the pathway for prāṇa (subtle breath). For that reason (tadā) it the principal path (rājapathāyate). Because of it (tadā), the mind does not depend on anything. Likewise (tadā), 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, www.nathas.org/en
The first half line of Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.3 reads “Emptiness is the pathway of prāṇa (subtle breath).” It is followed by three further half lines, each starting with the word tadā, which has a number of meanings: ‘then’, ‘therefore,’ ‘because of it’, ’as a result’. In other words, the rest of the couplet elucidates the significance of the fundamental idea, that ‘Emptiness is the pathway for prāṇa’.
In this session, I would like to emphasise the first consequence: “For that reason it is the principal path” (tadā rājapathāyate).
In the phrase tadā rājapathāyate the claim is being made that the ‘path of emptiness’ (śūnyapadavī) is the principal path. It is a claim of supremacy. While the ‘path of emptiness’ does not deny the value of other paths, itself is the royal (rāja) path. All other paths are subsidiary and preparatory. It is supreme because its effects are the most powerful and most effective, invincible, dominant.
All other paths are particular and therefore limited. Only the void is without limit. Therefore, it surpasses all other paths. It is superior by its very powerlessness. Paradoxically it is all by being nothing. The void need not compete, for no thing can compete with nothing. Everything has its place in the void; there is room for all. It is the path which all yogis should follow.
The word rāja is similar in sound to the word rajas which has a strong feminine connotation. This connotation links up with the word śakti, which can refer to the female partner, and with kuṇḍalinī, that energy which is experienced at the base of the spine, at the depths of one’s being. The kuṇḍalinī arises and can do so only if the path is empty, detached, even-tempered, dispassionate, open and welcoming. But this is a whole new aspect of the void.
The path of emptiness is difficult, however. It means putting aside desires and ambitions, abandoning the ego that clings so tightly; it means leaving all that is familiar, all certainties and securities, comfort zones and preconceptions. The human instinct for self-preservation baulks at such a prospect.
The transience of all things is a problem for human beings. Nothing stands still, all is passing. But in the perspective of the path of emptiness, samsāra ceases to be problem and becomes a value, for we are constantly moving on, going ever forwards into the unknown, into the void. We have turned the sorrow of transience into a value. The path of emptiness saves samsāra.
Emptiness leads to prāṇa. We saw in the first session how we enter the void and discover fire. It is also true that the fire of prāṇa consumes everything, so that nothing is left. The prāṇa produces the void, for it empties the individual of individualism; it relativises all other values, and questions every need. All limitations are burned away; there is nothing but fire and the splendour of light. Fire and void involve each other in the most paradoxical way.
The fire inhabits us. Those who are inspired by the fire gladly go into the void, into the unknown. They move with confidence and a sense of their own worth. They have faith in themselves and their intuition, with humility.
The Royal Road of the Cross
The classical term in Christian spiritual writing is the phrase ‘the royal road of the cross’ which clearly echoes Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.3. All who wish to attain the heights of spiritual development must take that road.
The road is found at the very start of salvation history. Abraham is commanded “Leave your country and your kindred and your father’s house for the land I will show you”. (Genesis 12:1) So he leaves all he has known, and goes into the unknown; he doesn’t know where, he knows only it is a place of blessing for him and all peoples. He leaves all and plunges into the void. It is the journey of faith because he trusts in the One who has command him.
Every spiritual journey is a journey of faith. Even if there are wise teachers to guide us at the start, the disciples will eventually have to trust their own wisdom that has been given to them.
The road of the cross
This same road is found at the climax of salvation history in the person of Jesus Christ. St Paul states in his Letter to the Philippians: “Though he had the nature of God, he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself and became as all humans are.” (Philippians 2:6) He wished to be emptied and to enter the void, to become nothing. Although he has the nature of God he wished to be nothing. In this way he revealed what sort of God is ultimately worthy of worship: namely the God who is humble and self-effacing, without ego, without arrogance, without self-seeking, the servant God. Jesus willingly enters into the ignorance and powerlessness that all human beings experience.
The text goes on: “he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross”. (Philippians 2:8) This is the scandal of Christianity: that God is revealed most fully in the horror and humiliation of the cross, that most terrible of Roman punishments. God is known in emptiness.
The text goes on: “Therefore God has raised him on high.” (Philippians 2:9) It is the remarkable ‘therefore’, which echoes the ‘therefore’ of Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.3. Because Jesus has emptied himself so totally, he is now totally empowered. Jesus has the name above all other names, and all acknowledge him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (cf. Philippians 2:9-11) He has followed an extraordinary path.
All are invited to follow this same royal road of the cross. That is the teaching of Haṭhayogapradīpika, 3.3 as well. Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through [him].” (Gospel of St John 14:6) By this he means that, just as the Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.3 teaches, the only way to the fullness of divinity, the only way to enter the Divine Presence, is to follow the path of emptiness.
This is demonstrated most dramatically when Jesus appears to his disciples after rising from the dead and shows them his hand and his side, with the holes made by the nails and the spear. His hands are open, the wounds are gaping. He has become completely open, in every way imaginable, indeed beyond all imagination. And from his open mouth he breathes the Holy Spirit on his disciples. (Gospel of John 20:22) The void and the fire of the Spirit coincide.