Ghatastha Yoga

From Gheranda Samhita, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Prologue verses 1–2

Ekadaa chandakaapaalirgatvaa gherandakuttiram;
Pranamya vinayaadbhaktyaa gherandam pariprichchhati. (1)

Once King Chandakapali went to the hermitage of Sage Gheranda and, after prostrating before him with due humility and devotion, asked him a question.

Ghatasthayogam yogesha tattvajnaanasya kaaranam;
Idaaneem shrotumichchhaami yogeshvara vada prabho. (2)

O Yogeshwara, god of yoga! I wish to learn ghatastha yoga, which is a means to self-realization. O Yogeshwara! O Lord! Kindly tell me about this.

Sage Gheranda is addressed by the king as Yogeshwara, the god of yoga, thus acknowledging him as the founder of yoga and the teacher of yoga. King Chandakapali then asks Sage Gheranda to explain to him the teachings of ghatastha yoga by which a person can attain self-realization.

Chandakapali was a king. In spite of being a king, he went to Sage Gheranda and asked him the question: “How can yoga, which is based on the body, help us to know the final truth?” Ghatasthayogam yogesha tattvajnaanasya kaaranam. Actually four questions are included here:

First, what is self-realization?
Second, what is ghatastha yoga?
Third, how should this yoga be practised?
Fourth, is it possible to attain knowledge through yoga?

Questions one and two

The first question is: what is self-realization? How can this be understood? Tattwa means reality. Tattwajnana means knowledge of that reality or truth which is behind the human body, mind and soul. How can that be understood? This is the first question of all philosophers. What is the aim and purpose of human life?

While one is alive and while prana is inside the body, life can be enjoyed and in the process of enjoying life the consciousness is externalized. Due to this externalized state, the internal life cannot be controlled and balanced. Tattwajnana means knowledge of the final truth, or atmajnana, knowledge and realization of the self which is responsible for this body and for this universe. Attainment of tattwajnana or atmajnana depicts another state of life which not only provides external experience, but gives the experience of balance, control and harmony between the external and internal life

The second question is: what is ghatastha yoga? Ghata means mud pot or pitcher. When imagining a pot, a form made out of clay appears on the mental screen. Its external form is seen, but what it contains is unknown. Maybe the pitcher is empty, maybe it is filled with water, maybe it is filled with grain. It can contain anything, but there is only knowledge of its external form. Ghatastha yoga is yoga based on the body.

One sees the body, experiences the body and confronts its various diseases. In order to make it happy and contented, purusharthas and karmas, efforts and actions to attain a goal, are performed. When the body feels cold, one wears clothes. When it feels hot, the clothes are removed and the fan is switched on. When the body needs to rest, one sleeps. All these external activities of the body are experienced, but what are the other elements inside the body? No one knows. What are the different energies inside the body? Why does one perform karmas in one’s life? Why does one think? No one knows.

The creation of the body has taken place by a strange coincidence. One may say that coincidence is nature, Brahman or God. What is that energy which has constructed the body, and awakened other energies inside the body? Such questioning shows that when yogic practices based on the body are begun, they have a direct effect on the mind, calming the mental activities. The effect of physical yoga is felt in the mind. Once mental peace is attained, the karmas and samskaras can be performed harmoniously. It is therefore essential to learn about the subtle as well as the physical or gross elements that are responsible for building the body. When both the physical and subtle elements are understood, it can be said that ghatastha yoga is commencing.

Questions three and four

The third question is: how is this yoga to be practised? In fact, how a person should go about the yogic practices is the subject of this whole book.

The fourth question is: what is the result? Is it possible to attain self-realization through yogic practices? Attainment is the result. If yoga is practised, one will definitely benefit from the effects. How much is achieved depends on each person’s capacity to prepare for and undertake their sadhana. Only then can the result be known. However, the rule of nature is that there has to be a result from each karma or action. Waving a hand in the air creates a result, which is secret. If a mosquito lands on the body, a wave of the hand will cause the mosquito to fly away. This is a gross, external result, but it has a subtle result as well, which is the creation of sound. One is unaware of this result. It can be called a subtle effect or secret result that friction is taking place between matter (the hand) and air. A sound is produced, but it is not heard. If the ears were capable of hearing very subtle sounds, perhaps that sound would be heard. Similarly, with yogic practices, subtle or secret results are created which will be experienced, but may not be noticed or understood with one’s current level of wisdom.

Sage Gheranda drew attention to the scientific and critical aspects of yoga by using many metaphors and comparisons, such as calling his system ghatastha yoga.