Ch. 3, v.4, Haṭhayogapradīpika, suṣumnā, (central channel), ‘cremation ground’, etc.
“The ‘central channel’, the ‘path of emptiness’, the ‘aperture of Brahma’, the ‘great path’, the ‘cremation ground’, ‘Śambhu’s consort’ and the ‘middle way’: these are synonymous terms.”
सुषुम्ना शून्यपदवी ब्रह्मरन्ध्रं महापथः ।
श्मशानं शाम्भवी मध्यमार्गश्चेत्येकवाचकाः ॥ ४ ॥
suṣumnā śūnyapadavī brahmarandhraṁ mahāpathaḥ |
śmaśānaṁ śāmbhavī madhyamārgaścetyekavācakāḥ || 4 ||
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.nathas.org/en
The various terms of Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.4 are synonyms; they are also elucidations of one of the primary terms of HYP 3.3, śūnyapadavī, ‘the path of emptiness’.
At the outset, the text identifies the ‘path of emptiness’ (śūnyapadavī) with the suṣumnā which is experienced along the spinal column but cannot be reduced to an anatomical feature. It is more subtle. It is the centre, the point of balance between opposites, and the place of paradox. For that reason it is placed next to śūnyapadavī, indicating the close identity of the terms.
brahmarandhraṁ ‘aperture of Brahma’
The term brahmarandhraṁ in yogic anatomy refers to the crown of the head, the fontanelle in babies. It is experienced as the place where the energy, rising from the base of the spine, joins with the deity.
The word brahma can refer to the ultimate reality, or to the bliss, which pertains to the highest reality.
The term brahmarandhraṁ is used here by extension to refer to the whole of śūnyapadavī
mahāpathaḥ the ‘great path’,
This further emphasizes the phrase ‘it is the principal path’ (rājapathāyate) mentioned in Haṭhayogapradīpika 3.3.
śmaśānaṁ, the ‘cremation ground’.
This is a particularly significant synonym, for the cremation ground is not just a place where the bodies are reduced to ash. In the tradition, especially the tantric tradition, it is a place of horror, a place of fear and danger, of horror and aversion, wheter the ghouls and the fearsome yoginīs gather to feast on flesh. It is where the jackals howl, a place of darkness and the stench of death. It is the place where the tantric will come to meditate while seated on corpses, where the aghorī comes to feast on flesh and excrement. It is the abode of Kālī where she copulates with the inert Śiva.
It is also a place of power, for the legend has it that Bhairava / Śiva, after being accused of the heinous murder of a Brahmin comes to expiate his supposed guilt, and to acquire power there by mingling with horror and impurity.
Kashmir Shaivism takes this ancient view of the cremation ground and adapts it for the householder who need not go to the trouble of visiting the cremation ground at night but, in the quiet of his home, achieve the same and indeed more powerful effects. By performing the Kaula rituals in the home, the householder will find that his ego is destroyed.
The cremation ground and its fires have another meaning. Oblation into the fire (homa) is a most ancient practice in Hinduism, where the ghee and incense and other offerings are put in the fire, which consumes them and by its flames and its rising air takes these offerings to the highest gods. The corpses are likewise offered in sacrifice; the cremation is a religious act of profound significance.
The ashes from the fire are considered to be most pure, for they symbolize the absolute, which absorbs all limited things into itself. If the emanation of the world is a ‘cooling’, the reabsorption of the world is a ‘burning’.
The houholder, by being consumed in the fire of consciousness, reaches that unlimited transcendent realm.
This process is, however, is not easy, for it means ‘burning up’ the ego and all limited aspects of oneself, which the human being is loath to do. The ego is the primary ‘stain’ and is most tenacious and constantly reappears under new guises.
The ‘path of emptiness’ means emptying oneself of everything, even of oneself. The prāṇa requires this and will bring it about. The prāṇa is fire and will consume all that is, forming for itself a pathway that is completely free of any obstacles.
This teaching, which is central to the Haṭhayogapradīpika, brings into the light aspects of the Christian tradition, especially of the Catholic tradition that are too easily forgotten.
The churches, many of them, are of great beauty, with soaring arches, fine sculptures and exquisite works of art. They are places of splendour where the music and the chants lift the soul to heaven.
As a consequence it is too easily forgotten that the church building is essentially and most significantly a place of horror, of distress and pain, for at the very heart of the church hangs a crucifix with the figure of Jesus in torment, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified, humiliated, mocked and betrayed. The church is essentially Calvary itself, the execution ground of Jerusalem. The Romans made a point of crucifying criminals at the gateways of cities to warn the inhabitants that the same would happen to them if they defied the might of Rome.
“… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, … 3 He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering* and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces* he was despised, and we held him of no account. (Isaiah 53.2-3)
The principal item of furniture is the altar, which symbolises the tomb where Christ is laid. Indeed relics of saints, that is parts of their body, are normally placed in the stone of a Catholic altar. It is here, on this altar, on this tomb, at this place of execution, that the priest celebrates the Mass where the participants eat of the flesh of Christ and drink his blood.
Thus the church is a place of horror but also of beauty, for it is out of love and truth that Jesus takes on his sacrifice.
He shows thereby that it is of the nature of God to want to be brought to the lowest depth; for in this way all is loved: the rough and the smooth, the good and the bad, the weak and this strong, the living and the dead. Here is greatest power.
This greatest power is shown in the fact of the empty tomb. Although the fire burns with great heat, it does not burn completely, for ashes are left. After all it is only a material fire. But the fire of love burns completely, such that the person of Christ, in every aspect, is fully consumed, and there is no trace left. The tomb is completely empty, the grave cloths attesting to this fact. He is the ‘whole burn offering’, the holocaust. He is entirely consumed in love and raised to the highest heaven.
The tantric will seek the same, to rise above all contrasts, or rather to be immersed in all contrasts and to reconcile them.
There is a tendency in modern tantra to seek only the pleasant and the beautiful, and to ignore horror and disgust, the elimination the ego and the indifference to contraries.
Yogī Matsyendranath and Fr John
The act of meeting someone involves an experience of śmaśānaṁ for it requires clarity of sight, transcendence of categories, loss of fear, vulnerability. That is why the meeting of Yogī and myself, for instance, occurs in the ‘cremation ground’. If we view each other from the limitations of our categories of the mind we cannot see each other truly. We can meet only in complete freedom. Mutual presence is a fire and it is it occurs in the void. All meeting occurs in the cremation ground.
This ashram will become a true cremation ground when it is truly interfaith.
śāmbhavī ‘Śambhu’s consort’
The word is significant, for it emphasizes the erotic element, which forms part of this experience. The fire of the prāṇa burns strongly in the space, which is made for it. The opening of the path evokes the fire and allows it to rise.
The relationship of fire and void is erotic by nature, indeed is the perfect erotic experience, of which the ordinary forms are a lesser manifestation or a preparation.
The term śāmbhavī also emphasizes the erotic character of the rituals of cremation ground nt he tantric rites.
madhyamārgaṁ ‘middle way’
It is the point where left and right, outer and inner, upper and lower, all the contraries, meet. It emphasizes the difference from the two contrasting channels, iḍā and piṅgalā.