Gherand Samhita-Overview

Gherand Samhita which means Gherand’s collection is a revered yogic text. It was recorded as a conversation between Chanda Kapila and Gherand in which Chanda Kapila asked Gherand to impart him knowledge about the physical discipline of Yoga that would lead to knowledge of the tattvaas (truth). Gherand responds by saying that there are no fetters like those of illusion, no strength like that which comes from the discipline of yoga, no friend better than knowledge and no enemy greater than ego. Just as by learning the alphabet, one can read, similarly by practicing yoga one can obtain knowledge of the truth.

Below is a brief summary of the Gherand Samhita based on translations by Srisa Chandra Vasu and mild reference to the translations by James Allison and Brian Dana Akers. I did not go into the depth of describing most of the processes described in the text as some of them are complicated and should be approached with extreme caution, under the guidance of an experienced guru. I have described the different pranayams and the 3 forms of meditation as mentioned in the text. I have listed the 32 asanas (poses) mentioned in the Gherand Samhita. A description of these asanas in conformance with the practices today can be found online. I will address some of the more practical asanas and mudras in a later article.

Gherand touches upon the subject of karma and rebirth. One’s karmas cause a person to be reborn and once reborn the person gets caught up in karmas again, so it is a cycle or a wheel that never ends. One feeds the other. One perpetuates the other. He says that the body should be purified and strengthened and the exercises that lead to this purification and strengthening can be put in the following seven categories:

1. Purificatory- through the shat karmas or six steps

2. Strengthening-through regular practice of asanas/poses

3. Steadying-accomplished through mudras

4. Calming-through pratyahar

5. Lightness of body-through pranayam

6. Perception-through meditation

7. Solitude or isolation-accomplished through Samadhi

1. Purificatory-accomplished by following the shat karmas which are:

a. Dhauti which is of 4 types

i. Antardhauti (internal cleansing)

1. vatasara(wind purification)

2. varisura (water purification)

3. Vahnisara (fire purification)

4. Bahiskrita

ii. Dantadhauti (teeth cleaning) which is purification of

1. teeth

2. root of the tongue

3. both ears

4. frontal sinuses

iii. Hridayadhauti (heart cleaning) by using

1. stick

2. vomiting

3. cloth

iv. Mulashodhana (rectal cleaning)

b. Basti which is of 2 types:

i. Jala basti (wet) done in water

ii. Sukshuma basti (dry) done on land

c. Neti

d. Laukiki

e. Trataka-cures all eye disease and clairvoyance is induced

f. Kapalbhati which is of 3 types which destroys all disorders related to phlegm (kapha)

i. Vat krama (alternate nostril breathing without force and without kumbhaka).

ii. Vyut karma (drawing in water through the nostrils and expelling it through the mouth

iii. Sheet karma (drinking water through the mouth and expelling through the nostrils)

2. Strengthening-through regular practice of asanas/poses. Shiva described 840,000 asanas as many as there are species of living beings. Out of this 84 are the best and of these 32 have been found most useful for mankind. Those 32 asanas are:

1) Siddhasana or Perfect Pose

2) Padmasana or Lotus Pose

3) Bhadrasan or Happy Pose

4) Muktam or Free Pose

5) Vajram or Adamant Pose

6) Swastika or Prosperous Pose

7) Singham or Lion Pose

8 ) Gomukh or Cow mouth Pose

9) Vira or Hero Pose

10) Dhanur or Bow Pose

11) Mritasan, or Shavasan or Corpse Pose

12) Guptam or Hidden Pose

13) Matsyam or Fish Pose

14) Matsendra or King of Fish Psoe

15) Goraksha

16) Paschimottan or Forward Bend Pose

17) Uttkatam

18) Sankatam or Dangerous Pose

19) Mayuram or Peacock Pose

20) Kukkutam

21) Kurma or Tortoise Pose

22) Uttana Manduka

23) Uttan Kurmakam

24) Vriksha or Tree Pose

25) Manduka or Frog Pose

26) Garuda or Eagle Pose

27) Vrisham or Bull Pose

28) Shalabh or Locust Pose

29) Makara or Crocodile Pose

30) Ushtram or Camel Pose

31) Bhujangam or Snake Pose

32) Yoga

3. Steadying-accomplished through mudras

Through the practice of these mudras, the yogi can accomplish victory over death, decay, old age, diseases. The mudras described in the Gherand Samhita are:

1) Mahamudra 2) Nabho mudra 3) Uddiyana Bandha 4) Jalandhar Bandha 5) Mula Bandha 6) Maha Bandha 7) Mahabheda 8 ) Khechari Mudra 9)Viparitkarni 10) Yoni Mudra 11) Vajroni Mudra 12) Shakti chalani 13) Tadagi (tank) Mudra 14) Manduki Mudra 15) Shambhavi Mudra 16) Panchadharan or five dharanas (see below) 22)Ashwini 23) Pasini 24) Kaki 25) Bhujangini

The five dharana mudras are mudras through which a yogi can accomplish anything. He can travel between realms and through space, and can travel at the speed of mind.

1) Parthivi-earthy

2) Ambhasi-watery

3) Vayavi-aerial

4) Agney-fire

5) Akashi-sky/ethereal

4. Calming-through pratyahar or dharana or restraining of the mind

a. One should bring their restless mind/thoughts under control whenever it wanders off and gets distracted by material sense objects. Mind follows sight. SO bring the mind under your control.Whether it is praise or criticism by others, good speech or bad speech, good smells or odors, tastes etc, one should constantly practice withdrawal of the mind from distracting thoughts and bring it under his control.

5. Lightness of body– accomplished through pranayam through the practice of which, one becomes god like

a. The requirements for success at pranayam are an appropriate space, appropriate time, moderate food, and purification of nadis.

b. In order to achieve success in pranayam, one should not practice in a foreign land (as in a far off land he may lose faith), in a forest as there is danger for one’s safety, in a city as curious people will cause distraction

c. Pranayam should be practiced in a hut, free from insects, in a secluded place

d. Pranayam should not be commenced in summer (May, June), rainy (Jul, Aug), winter (Nov, Dec), frigid cold (Jan, Feb) as one will contract disease. A beginner should begin his practice in Spring (Mar, Apr) or fall (Sept, Oct) as one attains success with this and also does not contract any illness

e. A yogi should eat moderately (mit-ahar) to attain success and avoid illness.

f. Foods allowed are rice, mung beans, urhad, chick peas, barley, wheat, cucumber, eggplant, yam, sago, radish, jackfruit, plantains, figs, foods that are pure, cooling and sweet.

g. the five greens leaves i.e. holy basil (tulsi), amaranth leaf, parvar leaf, lamb’s quarters and brahmi should be revered by the yogi. Food should be consumed to occupy 50% of the stomach. Another for ¼ of water and the other ¼ should be kept empty.

h. Bitter, acidic, salty and roasted foods should be avoided. Excess of leafy green vegetables, masur beans, pumpkins, onions, hing (asafetida) etc. should be avoided. Very hot, stale and hard to digest food should be avoided a swell as food that is too cooling or exciting.

i. Fresh butter, ghee milk, sugar, date, cardamoms, nutmeg, dates, rose apple, pomegranate, sweet juice and nourishing, easily digestible and cooling foods should be consumed by a yogi.

j. Early morning baths (before sunrise), fasting should be avoided as they harm the body. A yogi can remain without food for 3 hours. In the beginning a meal of milk and ghee twice a day at noon and in the evening is recommended.

k. He should sit on a seat made of kusa grass or tiger skin or antelope skin and face east or north with a calm disposition and practice nadi shuddhi (purification of nadis or energy channels in the astral body) prior to commencing pranayam.

l. The air element cannot flow through nadis that are cloggd with impurities. One needs to purify these energy channels prior to performing pranayam

m. Purification of nadis is of 2 types-samanu and nirmanu. Samanu is done with a beej mantra and nirmanu is done in conjunction with dhauti cleansing practices (the dhauti has already been mentioned above).

n. The yogi should sit in Padmasan and after completing the rituals towards his guru begin purifying his nadis.

o. Nadi shuddhi is done by inhaling and mentally chanting the beej mantra for air which is ‘yung’for 16 counts, retaining the breath for 64 counts of the mantra and exhaling for 32 counts. Do the same starting with inhalation from right nostril and mentally chanting the beej mantra for the fire element which is ‘rung’ in the same ratio as above. Then focus the gaze on the tip of nose and visualizing the reflection of the moon inhale while mentally chanting ‘thum’ 16 times, retain 64 times chanting ‘vam’ and exhale 32 times chanting ‘lam’ while also visualizing the the nectar from the moon is flowing into the nadis. This helps purify the nadis and prepares one to begin practice of pranayam.

p. Kumbhakas or breath retention is of 8 types: sahita, surya bheda, ujjayi, sheetali, bhastrika, bhramari, murcha and kevali. Sahita kumbhaka is of 2 type-sagarbha (performed with repetition of beej mantra) and nirgarbha (without mantra repetition).

q. In sahita kumbhaka, the best ratio is puraka or inhalation 20 secs, kubhaka or retention for 80 seconds and rechaka or exhalation for 40 seconds. The moderate ratio is 16:64:32 and the beginner ratio is 12:48:32

r. Success in the practice of the beginner pranayam results in profuse sweating of the body, the moderate one results in quivering (in the area of the spinal cord), and the best one results in levitation.

s. Practice of pranayam results in calmness of mind, cure of diseases, awakening of mental faculties, awakening of kundalini, levitation, and attainment of bliss.

t. Suryabheda pranayam consists of inhalation through the right nostril, as per one’s capacity, followed by retention until perspiration comes forth from the tips of the nails and roots of the hair while doing jalandhar bandha, and smooth exhalation through left nostril. This kumbhaka destroys decay, death and increases the bodily fire. It helps awaken kundalini.

u. For ujjayi pranayam one should draw in air through both nostrils and hold it in the mouth and also draw in air from the chest and throat and hold it in the mouth followed by Jalandhar bandha and breath retention for as long as possible. Ujjayi helps one get rid of all sickness and disease, decreptitude and death. A different version is given in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika according to which the yogi should keep the mouth closed and inhale through both nostrils while constricting the throat muscles so that a hissing sound is produced, hold the breath (perform kumbhaka) and exhale through ida (left nostril). This Ujjayi can be done walking or standing. It destroys all diseases of the throat, increases digestive fire and destroys diseases of the nadis.

v. For shitali pranayam, stick the tongue out and inhale through the lips and tongue and into the stomach, retain for a while and then exhale through both nostrils. This is great for indigestion, phlegm and bile related disorders and promotes bliss.

w. Bhastrika kumbhaka involves quick inspiration and expiration though the nostrils twenty times and at the end perform kumbhaka. This destroys all disease and keeps illness away. The yogi should practice this 3 times a day.

x. Bhramari pranayam should be practiced past midnight so no animal sounds are audible. The yogi should inhale and retain breath while closing the ears with his hands. He will hear various sounds in his right ear. The first sound being that of crickets followed by lute, thunder, drum, beetle, bells, gongs, trumpets, mridanga (drums) etc. Last sound heard is that of anahat, which arises from the heart. With successin bhramari one gets Samadhi (union with cosmic consciousness).

y. Murcha is done by retaining breath and focusing the attention in the space between the two eyebrows. This brings happiness and bliss.

z. Kevala Kumbhaka is the retention of breath without inhalation and exhalation. Upon inhalation through both nostrils, the yogi should hold his breath. This kumbhaka should be performed eight times a day, once every 3 hours, or one may do it thrice a day-morning, noon and evening. There is nothing that a yogi cannot accomplish with success in kevala kumbhaka. The breath of each person makes the sound ‘So’ during inhalation and ‘hum’ during exhalation. Sohum or soham is the also called the Ajap (without chanting) Gayatri as every human being constantly performs 21,600 times a day (15 breaths per minute) without being aware of it. The mantra is also called hamsa or hansa. This repetition takes place in three places-in the root chakra, the lotus located in the heart chakra and in ajna chakra ( the third eye- the space where the two nostrils meet). The vibration of sohum matches the natural vibration of our breath. It means, “I am That”. Internal/mental chanting of this mantra (Sooooo with inhalation and hummmmm with exhalation helps one attain stillness and realize their true self).

6. Perception-through meditation

a. Meditation is of 3 types- sthula (gross), jyotirmay (luminous), and suksham (subtle). These meditations will help one directly perceive their true self.

b. Meditation on an image of guru is gross meditation, meditation on the lord as a bright light is called luminous or jyotis meditation and contemplation on Him as a point and kundali force is called suksma or subtle meditation.

c. Gross Meditation:

i. Close your eyes and visualize an ocean of nectar in the heart. In this ocean is an island made of gemstones and the sand of which is made of crushed diamonds and rubies. The island is flanked by kadamba trees that have sweet smelling flowers. There are other flowering trees like malati, mallika jati, champa, parijat, padma, and the fragrance of these flowers is everywhere. In the middle of this garden is the kalpa vriksha (wish fulfilling tree) with 4 main branches that represent the 4 vedas (revered Hindu texts) and numerous flowers and fruits. The sound of bees and cuckoo can be heard. Beneath the tree visualize a platform made of gems and on that platform visualize a throne made of precious gemstones. Seated on this throne visualize your deity. Contemplate on the form, garments, ornaments etc of this deity. This is sthula meditation or gross meditation.

d. Luminous Meditation:

• In the muladhar chakra (root chakra), the kundalini lies in 3and 1/2 coils. Here is a flame that represents the living being (jivatama). Meditate on this luminous flame. Through this meditation a yogi can directly perceive the soul.

• In shambhavi mudra, when the gaze is fixed at luminous ‘OM’, the third eye, between the two eyebrows without blinking subtle meditation is accomplished. Subtle meditation is superior to luminous meditation and luminous meditation is superior to gross meditation.

e. Subtle Meditation:

• This can be achieved by performing Shambhavi mudra without blinking. When through tremendous good fortune, a yogi’s kundalini awakens; she unites with the soul and leaves the body through the eyes. This Suksham or subtle dhyana is difficult to obtain.

7. Solitude or isolation-accomplished through Samadhi Yoga

a. Samadhi Yoga is attainable only by the very fortunate; through the divine grace of the guru, by one who is devoted to his guru, who has confidence in the knowledge and faith is his guru and himself, and whose mind is open to intelligence day by day. Samadhi or mukti (freedom) is attained upon separation of the mind from the body and its union with the supreme soul. “I” am intelligence, existence and bliss.

b. Samadhi is of 6 types:

i. Dhyan Samadhi (meditation samadhi)-accomplished by shambhavi mudra

ii. Nada Samadhi (sound samadhi)-accomplished by bhramari mudra

iii. Rasananda Samadhi (bliss in taste)- accomplished by khechari mudra

iv. Laya Samadhi (absorption)-accomplished by yoni mudra

v. Bhakti Yoga Samadhi-accomplished through contemplation on one’s deity

vi. Raja Yoga Samadhi, Unmani Samadhi, Sahajawastha Samadhi-attained through mano murchha mudra (trance)

Vishnu is in everything. Vishnu is everywhere. Know that the soul is eternal, the highest and is separate form the body. Let one be free from desires and passions, free from attachment to one’s body, family, riches, etc one will attain Samadhi. Upon attainment of Samadhi there is no rebirth (one is freed from the cycle of birth and death).

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