About the Book
Gheranda Samhita is a
classical text describing seven limbs of yoga as taught by Sage Gheranda to his disciple, King Chandakapali.
Sage Gheranda outlines a system which can take the
serious aspirant from purification of the body to the highest states of samadhi and knowledge of the soul.
Distinguishing it from other hatha yoga
systems, Sage Gheranda's seven limbs includes the tattwa dharanas (concentrations on the elements) and the seamless merging of hatha yoga and tantra by
combining mudras, bandhas
and pranayamas with mantra, yantra
and mandala. The natural flow of this potent process
into dhyana and samadhi is
beautifully discussed, bringing the teachings to a sublime conclusion.
The commentary by Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati guides the modern reader through the details of
the practices, many of which are complex, rarely described and cryptically
expressed by the sage. Comprehensive instructions are given for all the
techniques, while subtle understandings and insights into the underlying
philosophy and purpose are presented with beauty and simplicity.
The original Sanskrit verses, with transliteration and translation are
Gheranda Samhita is a text on
practical yoga by Sage Gheranda. In this work he
describes Lord Vishnu: Jale Vishnu thale Vishnu, which means Vishnu is in water and Vishnu is
on land (6: 18). In one or two places Lord Narayana
is also described, implying that the sage adopted Vaishnava
philosophy in his life as well as being an accomplished hatha
yogi. His form of yoga brings out knowledge by beginning with the body and
progressing all the way to the essence of the soul. An outline of practices is
given within this framework.
From the oldest surviving copies of Gheranda Samhita, it can be inferred that as a literary work it
began in the seventeenth century. Of fourteen available manuscripts found in
northern and eastern India and used for critical editions of Gheranda Samhita, the earliest
copy dates back to 1802. As an oral tradition, passed from guru to disciple,
these secret teachings would probably have survived for at least several
centuries before being written down. No one knows where or when Sage Gheranda was born, but his teachings were propagated in the
north-eastern region of India and seem to have been unknown in the south.
The yoga taught in Gheranda Samhita is known as saptanga
yoga, seven limbs of yoga. There is no rule that yoga must have a certain
number of limbs. In other yogic texts ashtanga yoga, eightfold yoga or eight-limbed yoga, is described. In both Hatharatnavali, authored by the great yoga exponent Srinivasa Bhatta, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Yogi Swatmarama, four limbs of yoga are given. In Goraksha Ashtakam, written by
Sage Gorakhnath, shashtanga
yoga, six limbs of yoga, are described.
According to the needs of an age and its society, varying traditions of
yoga come into vogue. Another possible reason for these variances is that in
earlier times it was thought that the practices of yoga were meant only for
saints, sages, great souls, renunciates and those who
were not attached to worldly desires. In that exalted state they may not have
been required to perfect the preliminary yamas,
self-restraints, and niyamas, self-observances, of
yoga. Therefore, yama and niyama
were not included in many of the texts. However, at a later stage sages added
the yamas and niyamas to
the definition of yoga, as with the changing times ordinary people had started
displaying an interest in yoga.
In Gheranda Samhita,
the cleansing practices for the body, called shatkarma,
are discussed first. The main ones are: neti, nasal
cleansing, dhauti, cleansing of the head and the
entire alimentary canal from the mouth to the anus, basti,
cleansing the large intestine, nauli, massaging and
strengthening the abdominal muscles and organs, kapalbhati,
a type of pranayama, and trataka,
a method of concentrating the mind. These are considered to be the six purificatory techniques of hatha
yoga. Sage Gheranda considered these practices for
cleansing the body to be the first dimension of yoga.
ext, asanas are
discussed; Sage Gheranda mainly describes postures
which make the body strong and stable. The aim, after ensuring complete control
over the body, is to attain a stage in which there is no physical discomfort or
In the third dimension Sage Gheranda discusses
twenty- five mudras with which the flow of prana inside the body can be controlled. He believes that prana, energy, produces heat and energy inside the body. In
higher sadhana, when a person sits in an asana for
long durations, the body generates heat; the body temperature only drops if the
is not controlled inside the body, so that the energy is lost. With the practice
of mudras, however, the prana
shakti or energy is
withdrawn inside the body and not allowed to dissipate. Sage Gheranda describes the mudras so
that one can retain the prana inside the body.
After mudras, pratyahara
is described as the fourth dimension. First the body is purified and disorders
removed. Next, stability in asana is achieved. The prana
is then balanced and controlled through mudras. In pratyahara, the senses are controlled and the mind becomes
internalized in a natural way. Sage Gheranda believes
that in the state of pratyahara, when the mind is
becoming internalized and one-pointed, it is easy to awaken the pranas. In that subtle state no effort is required to
awaken the pranas and internalize the mind. After pratyahara, experiences at the subtle level, perception of
the subtle universe, come in a natural way and one is able to awaken the prana.
Sage Gheranda includes pranayama
as the fifth dimension. Generally in the practice of pranayama,
the incoming and outgoing breaths are counted and the duration of inhalation
and exhalation is equalized. Sage Gheranda follows
this tradition, but mantras are used instead of counting. All the pranayama practices mentioned in Gheranda
Samhita are practised with mantra. By including
mantras, Sage Gheranda makes the practice of pranayama more powerful. When the mantra is chanted with
the breath, the effect of its vibrations is felt, increasing concentration and
producing pranic energy. Through the combined effect
of pratyahara and pranayama
one has control of this awakened energy; it does not become uncontrolled.
Thereafter, dhyana, meditation, is included as
the sixth dimension. When the prana is awakened and
the mind is internalized, meditation arises by itself. Sage Gheranda
mentions three types of meditation: bahiranga dhyana, external meditation, antaranga dhyana, inner
meditation, and ekachitta dhyana,
one-pointed meditation. In external meditation there is awareness of the
experiences created by the universe and senses, in inner meditation of the
experiences created in the subtle mental levels, and in one- pointed meditation
inner realization is awakened.
In the seventh dimension, samadhi, deep
meditation, is described, and vital hints are given on how to enter that
Sage Gheranda gives his seven limbs of yoga
another name: ghatastha yoga. Ghatastha
yoga means yoga based on the body. Ghata means sharira, body; it also means pot or pitcher. He has
observed the body in the form of a mud pot, which is given a shape with the
help of matter and contains whatever God has filled it with: senses, mind,
knowledge, wisdom, ego - all of which makes it one's pitcher.
For self-realization, therefore, Sage Gheranda's
ghatastha yoga begins with the body, and through the
medium of the body, by controlling the mental and emotional levels, spiritual
realization is awakened. This is his belief.
One: Prologue & Shatkarma
Three: Mudra and Bandha
to Mudra and Bandha
Highest State of Consciousness
Physiology of Yoga
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