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Kundalini Yoga, Spiritual Alchemy,
& the Mysteries of the Breath
in Bhogar's 7000
by Layne Little
Back to Bhogar main page.
"Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousnessas
we call it, is but one special type of consciousness whilst
all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there
lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different."
This work is a translation of the first eighty verses of the writings of the seventeenth century alchemist-poet Bhogar. Written in Tamil, an ancient language still spoken in the south of India, these eighty verses deal specifically with the Yogic science of re-attuning the flow and distribution of subtle energy in the body.
The flow and distribution of this energy is thought to directly affect consciousness in the most crucial of ways. It is the balance and flow of breath in the two nostrils which guides the energy through the body. Breath and the movement of subtle energy is said to directly affect how we think and feel.
Any objective observation of the breath as we go about our day reveals that the mind and it's functioning is mirrored in the quality of our breathing process. When we are relaxed and in a calm state of mind, our breathing is slow and even. Breath flows gently into our body and, on a purely physiological level, muscular tension is released with each exhalation. If we are nervous or experiencing stress, our breath is shallow and rapid, often disjointed, flowing in and out in a rather haphazard fashion.
If our mental and emotional state so profoundly affects how we breath, one can in turn wonder if how we breathe also affects our state of mind and how we feel. Perhaps, it affects not only how we feel but also how we perceive the world, both our outer and our inner life.
The Yogic science, it's practices and philosophy, is centered largely upon altering consciousness and psychological fine-tuning through the conscious control of our breathing process. This was also Bhogar's intention when he composed the eighty-two verses presented in this work. He has distilled the essence of Kundalini Yoga into a kind of guided meditation that presents the tradition's set of symbols, sequentially structured for visualization, interwoven with technical advice on regulating the breath.
The key to applying the Siddhar teachings presented in this work begins with a process of objective and unwavering observation of the breath and it's direct relationship to the whole human organism. This practice of objective observation is essential in cultivating the meditative awareness needed to discern the subtle movement of the breath. In order for meditation to truly take place, the subject must identify with the breathing process rather than the mind's erratic wanderings. This allows the practitioner to observe the mind and it's movements without being drawn back into the compulsive identification with thought.
At the initial outset of this practice one inevitably forgets the objective observation of thought, breath, and body again and again, but tradition encourages the practitioner to simply take note of the momentary loss of mindfulness and with persistence and patience return to being conscious of breath. Breath then becomes the anchor of mindful awareness.
Once mindful awareness is established, the meditator widens that sphere of awareness to include thought, emotion, bodily sensation and sound. Here again, the goal is to simply observe phenomena, our mind and bodies response to that stimuli without identifying with that response.
Although Bhogar's work deals specifically with using the breath and various meditation practices to initiate a transformation in consciousness, he seems to have made the assumption that his readers have achieved a certain level of proficiency in the more fundamental of yogic disciplines. This is perhaps a bit of an understatement, in that he does have a tendency to present his system concealed within the language of an adept and, at times, he makes no accommodations for even the practitioners from other schools of Yoga.
Works such as this were encoded in the secret languages of the varying schools to preserve the tradition without revealing the inner mysteries to the uninitiated. After researching other works from Bhogar's school of Siddha Siddhanta as well as works from various Tantric Yoga schools, I have presented in the commentary some of the more common and recurring usages of Bhogar's obscure language and what is inferred by the same in the Kundalini Yoga and meditation practices of the Siddha Siddhanta & Saiva Siddhanta schools.
Bhogar, like other Yogis of the various Yoga schools that have grown from tantric roots, employed a language of symbol, myth, and allegory to speak of the transmutation of subtle energy which leads to the transformation of consciousness.
The complex network of pathways (nadis) through which the subtle energy moves, is clearly defined. These pathways, 72,000 in number, are distributed throughout the etheric body double, running parallel to the Central Nervous System. Their location and function are usually presented in a fairly straight-forward way. Being closely aligned to the physical body makes them not as abstract as the six nerve plexus' known as chakras.
The term chakra (literally "wheel") refers to six centers of consciousness that run upwards along the spine at specific points where the nadis cluster together. These nadi-clusters form jump-points where the frequency of this energy (called "Shakti") vibrates on new and higher levels.
As the spine's vibratory frequency is quickened, neuron transmissions reach peak output and brain activity is heightened. The senses are also heightened, pushing thought through new neural pathways, opening up unexplored avenues of perception.
It is in describing these chakras, situated at the axis of the etheric body, that Yogis and Mystics have had difficulty in describing their subtle and enigmatic nature. Long ago they discovered symbolism as the most effective tool for conveying their insights and experiences as to how the Kundalini Shakti is awakened and caused to propel the human awareness up the spine and through the six chakra houses. This journey of consciousness culminates in the Sahasrara, the thousand petalled lotus that crowns the top of the head. Sahasrara is the seventh and final step of the journey, the fabled "un-chakra", where every possible level of consciousness is simultaneously perceived and one is said to perceive the universe from all vantage points at once, fully identified with every aspect of creation.
Contemplation of the symbol, applying the symbolic language to every aspect of life, opens up roads that penetrate into the subtle inner realms. Breath then becomes the vehicle of the undefiled and crystalline awareness that transverses the secret inner terrain, mounting upwards to the blossoming lotus of super-consciousness: Sahasrara.
In all languages there have been poets and mystics who have practiced an alchemy of words. Poets who have transformed the baseness of a functional system of communication into an expression infinitely more vast; one that strives to enrich humanity in some essential way, breathing new life into human existence.
The Tamil poets have had the added advantage of using a language medium that is perhaps not as heavily encumbered as the rest; where the quality of sound and the impact of meaning seem to share a common ground as far as function is concerned.
Aesthetics and application need not be relegated to opposing ends of the spectrum of necessity. Words are meant to convey both feeling and meaning. Need we set the human heart and mind in opposition of one another when language is adopted as the vehicle of our expression? Poets in all ages, throughout the world, have defied man's tendency to cut asunder the union of heart and mind, and have instead celebrated this marriage as an invaluable asset in reconciling the incongruities of life.
The whole of the Tamil language is the poet's ally. It was born vibrant and malleable, ever ready to be shaped into rhyme or reason. It simply waits for the expelled breath. A breath that is filled with a great passion for life: be it the sighing of heart or the winds of thought.
Even the most dry and linear idea, when voiced with the Tamil tongue, is enlivened by this expelled breath. The sound produced has shape: fine curves & subtle contours, texture & color.
The beauty of Tamil does not rely on any trivial meaning which the mind might attach to it. The richness of the sound imbues the words with a life of their own, independent of any meaning that our concepts strive to convey. There is an inherent sweetness to the Tamil tongue; and to the Tamil people themselves, "Life" (birth, growth, love, work, death; the struggle of it all) has a sweetness all it's own.
"Like moonlight and the sky,
like the warrior and his sharp sword,
like the beautiful blossom and it's fragrance,
like the crocodile-shaped lute and it's music,
like the eye and it's lustre,
so is my sweet Tamil and I."
"If a stranger asked me, what was the name of my tribe,
an inexpressible joy would arise in my heart.
'I am a Dravidian,' I'd say, and my tongue would be all honey,
and my pride and glory would reach the skies."
The origins of these people and their language have been lost in some distant past; only legends remain... a handful of obscure memories. One of which speaks of how the Tamil language came to be...
There were seven great Seers, and one would suppose that they are still around, beyond the realm of form, watching the cogs of time spin round and round. One of them was named Agastya. He knew the secret of language: that all things are vibrating; that the name and its corresponding form are closer than we think.
Agastya paid a visit, long long ago, to the Sanskrit College at Benares, but he being a wandering hermit, clad in rags, humble-hearted, and having the pompous airs and assumptions of the scholar conspicuously absent, he was, needless to say, rejected outright. Distraught and forsaken, he returned to his little hut feeling very sad and terribly alone in the world. There he sought solace by praying to Chandraswami to teach him a language that was even sweeter than the sacred Sanskrit.
All of a sudden his house became fragrant. The God spoke softly, "Look in the corner". Agastya rushed to the corner of his house, and in a nook in the wall he found a small package. He unwrapped it and therein found a stack of Cadjan volumes.
His eyes darted over the inscribed words and he dropped to his knees shouting, "Tamil! Tamil!" ("Sweetness! Sweetness!"). The God taught Agastya the language of sweetness which he brought to the south and taught to the Dravidian people.
Thousands of years later the Siddhar alchemist Bhogar sat at a small shrine on the top of Palani Hill in the colonial days of 17th century Tamil Nadu. They say he had come to Tamil Country from China and crafted the icon of the Murugan of Palani Hill out of nine arsenics. Water poured in worship over that Murugan is credited with mysterious healing properties. He is said to have attained perfection through yoga, discovering all the universe hidden in the depths of consciousness. With a mind immersed in silent meditation, he related, in flowing verse, how the ensuing serenity he enjoyed became the gate to life's mysteries.
"Having become calm...
I perceived the accompanying experience.
I have composed 7000."
Seven-thousand verses poured forth gracefully from a foreigner's hand. A foreigner who rejected much of grammar's laws; letting sound run wild in places, letting Tamil's sweetness speak for itself of Life's secrets.
These seven-thousand verses flow in graceful rhyme, a complex echoing of sounds whose meanings convey a flux of images: some humorous or straight forward, brimming with a simple wisdom; others enigmatic, encoded in the secret language of the mystic, haunting if not bizarre.
"My fine fellow,
If you see Nandi,
then you will know alchemy.
"To say even one word
is just noisy useless talk.
"It's like having a chat
with a corpse in the burning ground.
"Only by seeing the light
of the jewelled root
will the golden chain
of the Circle's End
As this preceding verse infers, Bhogar makes little attempt to explain the Siddhar mysteries. His work reads like a narration of his own free-flowing chain of consciousness, as if he embarked upon some journey through the tangled forest of his own subconscious, mapping out the landmarks along the way, as he propelled himself deeper and deeper into the soil of human existence trying to ferret out the very root of consciousness. With each line he digs up another shovelful of the mind's soil, peeling back layer after layer of thought, of ways of perceiving "reality", until he could reveal the essential living root of being.
Bhogar's work is completely spontaneous. Not a slave to order, wonder explodes as verse in the deceptive guise of a child's conspiratorial mid-night whisperings upon waking from a dream. He tells his secrets with gravity, a touch of humor, and a wealth of unrelenting paternal warmth. Bending the laws of grammar, he even rejects being encumbered by the weight that our rigid meanings attribute to words. Discarding reason, he paints in sound and image an ancient uphill path to freedom.
He cast aside logic, dismissing it as empty noise, he sought essence. He makes no pretence that the mind's ceaseless ramblings bear any real fruit. As he so pointedly puts it:
"With words and logic
you get nothing."
Bhogar has made no attempt whatsoever to make his experience of these altered states of consciousness at all intelligible to the common man. Over vast centuries of experimentation with Yogic disciplines and meditation, people like Bhogar have reported their experiences in their own unique way. Oddly enough, there is a staggering consistency to these reports, that, particularly over the last hundred and fifty years, has attracted the attention of western scholars and scientists. Unfortunately though, they have always encountered some inherent difficulty in finding a way to apply the findings of these mystics to the existing models of the objective scientific world.
Bhogar's approach to meditation and Kundalini yoga, as well as his application of mythic images and Hindu ritual are by no means revolutionary. He followed so closely in the footsteps of Saiva Siddhanta's 8th century founder Tirumoolar that one is often amazed at the continuity of teaching and principle preserved and sustained over a period of one thousand years.
Between the 7th-11th century A.D. a strange synthesis of Indian esoteric schools was taking place. Saivite Tantrism, alchemy, magic, Vajrayana Buddhism, and Hatha Yoga began to merge. The Tantric mysteries, drawing together all of the mystic's tools under one roof, made such distinctions obsolete. Function over form became the rule. Mystics were no longer concerned with postulating the nature of the universe, nor with philosophical concepts and the like; they sought only that which produces a tangible effect, only that which transforms consciousness in an unshakable way. Intellectual theories proposing some "empirical truth", and the debates that ensued, lost their predominance and credibility as an emphasis on the purely experiential became the rule.
It is impossible to paint an accurate historical picture of this era of cataclysmic transition in India's philosophical arena. The writings of this period pay no mind and render no aid to chronological accuracy, and scholars, both east and west, endlessly propose a vast and conflicting array of dates for these works.
Not wanting to flog a dead horse, I make no attempt at proposing a way out of this historical maze, but one thing can be said for certain: after centuries that stretch back into pre-history, living secluded on the furthest outskirts of society, yoga came down out of its Himalayan sanctuary and entered the mainstream of Indian thought.
Yoga Comes Down
Sometime in the 8th century (and even this vague date is subject to much dispute) there was a high yogi, said to have reached the very precipice of perfection, who came wandering southward from his home on the holy mountain Kailash in Tibet. Legend has it that his name was Sundarar and that he came to Tamil country in search of his friend and fellow-yogi Agastyar who had taken up residence in the Pothiya Hills. After joining his friend for a time, Sundarar wandered deeper into the south.
One evening just after dusk, on the outskirts of a little village called Tiruvavaduthurai, he came upon a small herd of cows lowing and bellowing mournfully.
As he came nearer he saw that the cows, obviously very upset, were standing round the dead body of a cow-herd. A few hours earlier, Moolan the cow-herd, was stung on the heel by a serpent. His soul had gone to pasture, and his body lay crumpled in the grassy field.
It was getting quite dark and Sundarar, taking pity on the poor cows, shifted his awareness into the body of Moolan. Leaving his original body hidden in the hollow of a log Sundarar brought the much relieved cows home wearing the guise of the cow-herd Moolan.
The new ?Moolan' was no longer your average cow-herd, but a great yogi. You can imagine the consternation of his wife when Moolan refused to return home. In frustration, she called together the village elders who examined Moolan. They found that the little cow-herd had become a saint. They had no recourse but to advise Moolan's wife to let the sage wander as he like.
When the yogi went back to the grassy field in search of his body... it had disappeared. The saint disregarded this minor inconvenience as Siva's grace. He went to Chidambaram, Dancing Siva's holy city, and seated himself at the base of a pipal tree. People began to flock there to see the holy man.
Most often he was lost in the trance-like ecstasy of samadhi, but every now and again he would look out at the world and utter a few words about the wonders to be found inside. His words always came out in verse.
"The brinjal seeds were sown
and the bitter gourds grew;
when I dug out the dust,
I found the pumpkin blossoming."
One legend says that only once a year the saint would leave his meditation and speak that one precious verse that the faithful would note down. Tirumantiram, the book that has compiled these utterances, is three-thousand verses long. So the people say that the sage sat under that pipal tree for three-thousand years.
Perhaps this seems a little far-fetched, but it may very well be true from Moolan's (Tirumoolar's) point of view. You see, what the people don't take into account, is the Tirumantiram's description of the Tantric Buddhist concept of Kaalachakra. "Kaalachakra is a system of yoga which stresses that (a) the universe, with all it's objects and localities, is situated in the body and (b) time with all it's varieties (viz., day, night, month and year) exists in the body in its process of the prana vayu (the vital wind). It believes that by pranayama (the controlling of the prana vayu) time could be controlled."
As in this case, problems of interpretation are always evident when one tries to apply one's own sociological conventions and cultural predisposition to the obscure musings of the mystic. Naturally a pursuit of a more scholarly interpretation of mystical poetry is no different.
Understanding Tamil Poetry
In Songs of Experience Norman Cutler discusses the problems that western critics have in applying their western set of literary values to the Tamil Bhakti poetry (from which Bhogar's style ultimately develops): "Because bhakti poetry disrespects and even undermines distinctions, it is subversive to certain hallowed principles favored by many literary critics in the West."
In the West poetry generally takes an array of words and phrases, and through extensive ornamentation weaves them together by relying on their decoration to create a sense of order and unity in the work. The ideas and images find integration by dilution, by dulling the sharp-edge of the words with rhetoric. The stark impact of the idea or image is sacrificed when the author employs his lavish display to convey a sense of cohesiveness to his audience.
The western critic lets some Classical sense of order be the judge of beauty. He can rarely penetrate the gaudy mask of ornamentation and discern what substance is there, the many stark and coarser parts of the skeleton that support a shroud of order.
"The bhakti poet and, even more so, the sectarian interpreters of the saints poems offer a challenge to this way of looking at literature. Unlike many Western critics who find multiplicity underlying the superficial appearance of unity, the commentators find unity underlying a seemingly multiple surface."
Just look at our Bhogar: shooting out in rapid fire, a jumble of images that makes the mind's train jump its tracks and go speeding off into the wilderness of the human psyche. His poetry seems but a barrage of images, terse and sharp, that gather momentum in the stillness and silence that frames them on the page. It is the economy of language that empowers the idea and makes the words resonant. Better still are those chasm-like spaces between words that make an image tower over the clutter of our mind's empty noise. The space between words provides us with an opening through which we can escape the tyranny of the mind.
The Gateway of Earth & Stone
At the top of Palani Hill, near the holy Murugan which Bhogar had crafted from nine arsenics, there is an opening in the Earth; it is a hole in the ground; the mouth of a cave which lies below. Bhogar often lowered himself into the Earth, sat in the cave, accessing Life's hidden secrets. He performed great austerities there, the magnitude of which very few in this modern age can fathom.
There at the opening Bhogar erected a humble shrine to the Great Mother: a few yantras, a couple of five-metal icons baring the form of the Mother and her son Murugan. He worshipped a small emerald lingam there, about ten inches in height. His one and only disciple, Pulipani (perhaps the only one who truly understood the sage), kept him company at the entrance to the underground cavern on the top of Palani Hill.
When Bhogar felt that his outer work was done, he entered the gateway of earth and stone and sat down in the darkness of the cave. Faithful Pulipani heaved a stone slab over the entrance, sealing Bhogar forever in the blackness of his earthen womb.
For thirteen generations Pulipani's descendants have watched over that stone slab that marks the gateway to the underground chamber. Long ago, Bhogar's little shrine was set atop that hallowed spot, and even today, is still worshipped by the vigilant sons of the faithful Pulipani.
They say that Bhogar is seated quietly in meditation even now; alone in the darkness; watching the slow passage of time.
His breath is still. His mind is quiet, his heart unwavering; but through the dense dark matter of his earthly form stabs the vibrant & relentless flame of the Kundalini Shakti. There he waits...