The Tradition Of Masters
Sivathondan shows the path of clarity of mind and pours forth a stream of poems, the knowledge to disclose that 'twixt Vedanta and Siddhanta no difference is found, and on this Earth to us reveals That which transcends all sound.
AMPRADAYA, MEANING "BESTOWER," "PRESENTER" OR "THEOLOGICAL TRADITION," PROVIDES STRENGTH AND STRUCTURE
to Hinduism. It can be understood in two ways. First, it refers to the oral transmission of traditional teachings, such as a satguru of an established lineage verbally passing on eternal truths to his shishya, like a mother imparting knowledge to her daughter, or a father to his son. During such intimate moments, when deep personal knowledge is transferred, a combination of meaning, experience and realization is conveyed from teacher to pupil through the action of sampradaya. Second, sampradaya refers to a living stream of tradition or theology within Hinduism, and to its founding preceptors. While sampradaya names a living teaching tradition, parampara denotes a succession of satgurus. Through one or more paramparas, a sampradaya is carried forward generation after generation. A sampradaya could be likened to a stream which flows into various tributaries, called paramparas.
Natha means "lord" or "master," a knower of the Self who has mastered the intricacies of his inner bodies and states of mind. Through the millennia, Nathas have been conveyors of esoteric knowledge and wielders of siddhis, powers of the soul. Natha siddhas delve deep into the mind, invoking Siva's grace, controlling the kundalini shakti. They worship with full heart and mind the Lord of lords, Siva, and in yogic contemplation experience identity in His Being.
The Natha Sampradaya is the mystical fountainhead of Saivism. The divine messages of the Eternal Truths and how to succeed on the path to enlightenment are locked within the Natha tradition. All that we know as Saivism today -- Agamic temple worship, fire sacrifice called homa, sannyasa, sadhana, tapas, yoga, tantra and the theology of monistic theism -- has been carried forward by the Himalayan orders of the Natha Sampradaya.
This oldest of Saivite sampradayas existing today consists of two major streams: the Nandinatha Sampradaya and the Adinatha Sampradaya. The Adinatha Sampradaya's earliest known exemplars were Maharishi Adinatha, Matsyendranatha and Gorakshanatha (ca 950), expounder and foremost guru of Siddha Siddhanta Saivism and founder of the well-known order of Kanphata Yogis.
The Nandinatha Sampradaya's earliest known exemplars were Maharishi Nandinatha (ca 200 bce) and his disciples Patanjali (author of the Yoga Sutras) and Sundaranatha (known as Tirumular in South India, whose Tirumantiram comprehensively expounds the path of Saiva Dharma). In recent times this ancient lineage of masters and the Nandinatha Sampradaya continues through the Kailasa Parampara -- the first recent known siddha being the "Rishi from the Himalayas," so named because he descended from those holy mountains. In South India, he initiated Kadaitswami (ca 1810-1875), who in turn initiated Chellappaswami (1840-1915). Chellappan passed the mantle of authority to sage Yogaswami (1872-1964), who in 1949 initiated me, and I have appointed as my first successor Bodhinatha Veylanswami.
In the twenty-first century, the Adinatha and Nandinatha Sampradayas are both vibrant and vital. They share a common ground of theology, principles, sadhanas and many scriptures -- including the Vedas, Agamas and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, though, historical, societal and geographical forces over the past 1,000 years have shaped differences between them. It is important to highlight these differences here because much of what is written or discussed today by scholars about the Nathas refers to the northern Gorakshanatha school and lifestyle, rather than the Tirumular school, which is followed in South India and Sri Lanka. The major differences are:
1. The foremost exposition of the Nandinatha Sampradaya is Tirumular's Tirumantiram (ca 200 bce), while that of the Adinatha Sampradaya is Gorakshanatha's Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati (ca 950 ce).
2. Most texts of the Nandinatha Sampradaya are in the Tamil language, while those of the Adinathas are in Sanskrit.
3. The Nandinatha Sampradaya is most influential in the South of India, while the Adinatha Sampradaya is most prominent in the North of India.
4. The philosophy of the Nandinatha Sampradaya is known as Saiva Siddhanta, while that of the Adinatha Sampradaya is known as Siddha Siddhanta.
Nandinatha Sampradaya's Belief Patterns
The trilogy of Dancing, Living and Merging with Siva embodies the teachings of the ancient Nandinatha Sampradaya. These teachings can be summarized as follows.
1. On the Nature of God: The Nandinatha Sampradaya is a mystical lineage that places great stress on direct and personal experience of God, on seeing God everywhere and in everyone, on knowing God within oneself. This is achieved through nonintellectual spiritual disciplines called sadhana -- a term which in its fullest sense embodies kundalini yoga, profound esoteric practices, intense introspective meditation, and worship. -- through purificatory effort, mind-transforming austerities, egoless service and, most importantly, through the bountiful grace of the living satguru. Following such a path, called sadhana marga, Nathas have come to know God, in ancient days and modern.
Enlightened sages of the Natha Sampradaya teach that God is Siva, the transcendent/immanent Supreme Being. Siva is transcendent as unmanifest Parashiva, the ineffable That which lies beyond time, form and space. Siva is immanent as Satchidananda, the substratum or primal substance and pure consciousness flowing through all form. And Siva is also immanent as Maheshvara, the Primal Soul who performs the five divine actions of creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and revealing. Though Siva is a singular and sacred mystery, Nathas understand Him through these three perfections.
The one central teaching of the Nathas is this: Siva is All, and all is Siva. This potent monism nonetheless acknowledges God's creation of world and souls, not as a dark or dreamlike existence, but as a real, purposeful, necessary and joyous one. However, God alone is Absolute, Eternal and Unchanging Reality. The creation -- or more precisely, emanation -- is relative, temporal and subject to change.
For the Nathas, Vishnu, Brahma and Rudra are not separate Gods existing and acting apart from Lord Siva. They are Siva. Vishnu names His sustaining, perpetuating power. Brahma is His creative power. And Rudra denotes His destructive or absorbing power. Likewise, Shakti is not just a divine consort, as often represented, but is His manifest power. Siva and Shakti are the one unmanifest/manifest Reality.
In addition, Nathas worship the Mahadevas Ganesha and Karttikeya (known as Murugan in the South) and revere all the 330 million Gods of Saivism as separate but inseparable from Siva, believing that they, like all souls, are created by Siva and yet are wholly pervaded by Him. Thus, for the Nathas there are many Gods and there is but one Supreme God, Siva, whose holy names include Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Shakti and more.
Regarding the notion of avatara -- that God takes birth upon the Earth as a savior -- Nathas hold that God Siva does not incarnate to save mankind. He is mankind as well as the perfect and purposeful universe in which mankind matures spiritually. Having created all, consciously knowing all, lovingly guiding all, fully encompassing all, there is no "other" for Siva, no need, therefore, to rectify a process already made perfect by Him.
2. On the Nature of the Soul: Each soul is born of God Siva's Being, is of God, and is eventually absorbed, by Siva's grace, back into Him. The soul's journey through existence is its maturing from a germ or seed state to its fully unfolded innate Divinity. Each soul is, in its innermost essence, Parashiva and Satchidananda, eternal and uncreated. However, the individual soul body is created as an extension of God Siva Himself in the image and likeness of His own Primal Soul form, differing only in its maturity. Over vast periods of time and through countless experiences, the soul body matures through experiencing self-created karmas. Finally, the soul seeks and realizes its identity as Siva. Through grace, "Jiva becomes Siva."
A three-fold bondage or veiling grace, called pasha, both aids and hinders the soul's knowing of its oneness with God Siva. Pasha is comprised of anava, karma and maya. Anava is the individuating veil of duality, source of ignorance which separates the soul from Siva. Maya is the principle of matter. Karma is the cause-and-effect principle governing maya. Experienced subjectively by the soul, it is the result of its own deeds, both "good" and "bad." In the Natha view, the soul is not tarnished or marred by these three bonds, only shrouded or veiled so that it may evolve.
The soul's spiritual progress is along a successive path of charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. This process is as natural and as beautiful as the growth and blossoming of a lotus. By following this path, the soul's identity with Siva can be and will be fully realized when the seeming triple bondage of anava, karma and maya is removed through Siva's Grace.
Moksha -- also called kaivalya, perfect inner freedom -- is the soul's release from samsara, the cycle of birth and death, attained after dynamic and personal yogic realization of Parashiva and resolution of all karmas. Having known the Absolute, there is no fuller realization, no greater knowing, no higher "experience." Even after Self Realization and liberation, the soul body continues to evolve in this and other worlds until it merges with the Primal Soul as a drop of water merges with its source, the ocean.
At its inception, the soul comes forth from Lord Siva as an embryo and progresses through three stages (avastha) of existence: kevala avastha, sakala avastha and shuddha avastha. During kevala avastha, the soul is likened to a seed hidden in the ground or a spark of the Divine hidden in a cloud of unknowing called anava, the primal fetter of individuality, the first aspect of Lord Siva's concealing grace, tirodhana shakti. Sakala avastha, the next stage in the soul's journey, is the period of bodily existence, the cyclic evolution through transmigration from body to body, under the additional powers of maya and karma, the second and third aspects of the Lord's concealing grace.
The journey through sakala avastha is also in three stages. The first is called irul pada, "stage of darkness," where the soul's impetus is toward pasha-jnana, knowledge and experience of the world. The next period is marul pada, "stage of confusion," where the soul begins to take account of its situation and finds itself caught between the world and God, not knowing which way to turn. This is called pashu-jnana, the soul seeking to know its true nature. The last period is arul pada, "stage of grace," when the soul yearns for the grace of God. Now it has begun its true religious evolution with the constant aid of the Lord.
How does arul, grace, set in? During the time of pashu-jnana, the soul comes to find that if he performs good and virtuous deeds, life always seems to take a positive turn. Whereas in negative, unvirtuous acts he slowly becomes lost in a foreboding abyss of confusion. Thus, in faith, he turns toward the good and holy. A balance emerges in his life, called iruvinai oppu. The pleasures and pains in life no longer raise him to the sky, then crash him to the ground. He has found a peaceful center from where life can be lived in refined composure. Not that he has all of a sudden found perfect and final peace, but he has experienced a balanced state and now seeks to attain perfectly to it. Trials still come and go as his karmic patterns ebb and flow.
Whether conscious of it or not, he is bringing the three malas -- anava, karma and maya -- under control. Maya is less and less an enchanting temptress. Karma no longer controls his state of mind, tormenting him through battering experiences. And anava, his self-centered nature, is easing its hold, allowing him to feel a more universal compassion in life. This grows into a state called malaparipakam, the ripening of the malas.
This will allow, at the right moment in his life, arul to set in. This is known as the descent of grace, shaktinipata. The internal descent is recognized as a tremendous yearning for Siva. More and more, he wants to devote himself to all that is spiritual and holy. The outer descent of grace is the appearance of a satguru. There is no question as to who he is, for he sheds the same clear, spiritual vibration as that unknown something the soul feels emanating from his deepest self. It is when the soul has reached malaparipakam that the Lord's tirodhana function, His concealing grace, has accomplished its work and gives way to anugraha, revealing grace, and the descent of grace, shaktinipata, occurs.
The religious path progresses through four stages: charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. In charya the main emphasis is complete refinement of virtuous qualities. Certain simple religious practices are enjoined, but we can go no farther till becoming a living exemplar of virtue. In kriya, temple worship and the awakening of true bhakti occur. In yoga, mystic union with the Lord is sought through disciplined yogic sadhanas under the guru's guidance. The jnana stage begins the shuddha avastha and is the fruit of the previous three stages.
All of this -- the three avasthas; the four margas both as progressive and perpetually upheld stages; the importance of guru, Lingam, sangam and valipadu; the three-fold descent of Siva's grace; and the oneness of God and soul -- distinguishes the Tamil religion from all other Indian traditions. Most important is that Siva is the motivator in this tradition. It is His will that allows the devoted to progress from one avastha to another, one marga into the next, until He, of His own volition, absorbs each soul back into Himself. For each step the soul takes toward Siva, Siva takes nine toward the devotee. Thus, merging with Siva completes the cycle so clearly articulated in Tamil Saivism.
In the shuddha avastha the yogi has attained samadhi and lives with an inner realization that sets him apart from all other men. But the jnana stage is not a relaxing or ending of spiritual endeavor. It is the beginning of even deeper self-transformation. The jnani must now seek what is called sayujya samadhi, perpetual immersion in Satchidananda. Prior to this, he is not yet matured in his realization. He may go into samadhi, but comes out into his "same old self," though, of course, not losing his anchor, which he has set firmly in the Absolute. Now he must infuse his entire being with the spiritual force and power that he has recognized and attained to through samadhi. Slowly the dichotomy between the transcendent Absolute and the external world of form becomes less and less apparent, until he becomes as Siva Himself -- a divine being living in a constant state of sayujya samadhi, transcendent-immanent realization of the Self flowing through all form. He is transformed from what he was into a recognizably different being. This is the joyous sadhana of shuddha avastha, by which the yogi becomes the jnani, a venerable jivanmukta, able to set new patterns of evolution, uplift consciousness and radiate life-changing blessings.
3. On the Nature of the World: The Nandinatha Sampradaya understands and perceives the world as a manifest expression of God Siva Himself. He is Creator and creation. While God is eternal and uncreated, the world is relatively real and subject to constant change. That does not mean that the world is illusion, ignorant seeming or nonexistence. It is important to note that maya for the Natha is not understood as the Smartas' classic misapprehension of a rope as a snake. Rather, it is Siva manifest. Seen thusly, the nature of the world is duality. It contains each thing and its opposite, joy and sorrow, love and hate. Therefore, in the Natha view, there is no intrinsic evil. The entire range of human expression -- whether intellectual achievement, social and cultural interaction, creative and psychological states of mind, instinctive desires or lofty yogic cognitions -- is but pure experience, powerful living lessons by which the soul learns, matures and progresses nearer to God. Experience is governed by karma and the divine laws of dharma, softened through God's grace.
This Natha view of maya also differs from the pluralistic Meykandar conception which holds that anava, karma and maya (as well as the soul itself) are separate from God, uncreated and eternally coexistent with Him. Under the pluralistic view, God is not both Creator and creation. Instead, He creates by "fashioning" the world from already existing maya, or matter,. He does not create or destroy maya itself.
In simple summary, it can be said that maya is the classroom, karma is the teacher and anava is the student's ignorance. Maya may be understood as that which is in the process of creation, preservation and destruction. Siva emanates maya and He is the maya He emanates.
4. Paths of Attainment: The Nandinatha path leads naturally and inevitably through charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. Charya is service and living everyday life according to traditional religious principles of conduct in order to purify oneself. Kriya is the regular practice of temple worship, both internal and external, through which understanding, closeness and love for God Siva deepen. As expounded in Patanjali's eight-limbed (ashtanga) yoga, the yoga marga is internalized worship which leads to union with God. It is the regular practice of meditation under the guidance and grace of a satguru through which the realizations of Satchidananda and Parashiva are attained. Jnana is divine wisdom emanating from the maturely enlightened soul. It is immersion of the mind in the blessed realization of God while living out earthly karmas. For these highest spiritual attainments, sadhana, brahmacharya, kundalini yoga and renunciation of the world are required.
These four margas are not distinct approaches to Lord Siva, but progressive stages of a one path. Each builds upon, but does not exclude, the other. Jnana is not an intellectual amassing of knowledge, beliefs and attitudes, but a state attained only after God Realization. The Nandinatha Sampradaya believes in the necessity of the illumined satguru, who alone brings the shishya to face and conquer the lower mind. He is the master who knows the Self and can therefore guide the disciple to the higher Self. The guru is a source of grace that sustains the shishya's personal sadhana as the spiritual forces unfold from within. For Nathas, the repetition of the sacred Panchakshara Mantra, Namah Sivaya, is the key to the awakening of Sivaness within each and every devotee on the path to Lord Siva's holy feet.
5. Scripture and Religious Perspective: The primary scriptural authority of the Nandinatha Sampradaya's Kailasa Parampara derives from the Vedas and Agamas, the Tirumantiram, Tirukural, Natchintanai of Jnanaguru Yogaswami, the Tirumurai and, last but not least, my published teachings, including Loving Ganesha, Dancing with Siva, Living with Siva, Merging with Siva, Lemurian Scrolls, How To Become a Hindu, Saiva Dharma Shastras and the Mathavasi Shastras.
The Natha Sampradaya teaches that Saivism is the oldest religion in the world, the eternal faith or Sanatana Dharma, the precursor of the many-faceted religion now termed "Hinduism." Within Hinduism today, there are four main denominations: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. But since long ago Sanatana Dharma has been none other than Saivism. Though the beliefs of Saivism and of other religions are diverse and different, the devout Saivite respects and encourages all who worship God and tries never to criticize or interfere with anyone's faith or practice. He follows that single most fundamental practice: seeing Siva everywhere and in everyone.