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Swatmarama’s Concept of Hatha Yoga

by Dr. Haramohan Mishra
20th March 2012

The author of Hathayogapradipika, Swatmararama belongs to a line of great yogins beginning with Matsyendranatha and Gorakshanatha, who are also the earliest teachers in school of Tantra. As Patanjali’s yoga has philosophical affinity with the Sankhya of Kapila, the hatha yoga expounded by Swatmarama has its conceptual linkage with the Advaita Saivite school, although it is not satisfactorily explored. His thematic and schematic differences with Patanjali are conspicuous, as he takes a non-dualistic stand from the beginning and does not incorporate the scheme of the yogic techniques as expanded in the Yogasutras. Though time and again, he remarks that hatha yoga is only a step for ascending raja yoga, it is clear that it is not the type of raja yoga as explained by Patanjali. He rather uses the word “raja yoga” in a broader sense, which he himself equates with samadhi, unmani, advaita the highest state of attainment in yoga.1 In a strict sense, Swatmarama expounds both hatha yoga and raja yoga in his illustrious work, the first three chapters giving emphasis on hatha practices and the last chapter on raja yoga as it is evidenced from his conception of the identity of both raja yoga and samadhi.

What is conspicuous in the path of hatha yoga which culminates in raja yoga as expounded by Swatmarama and his school is their non-intellectual or non-scholastic orientation. For practice, even for enlightenment, there is no requirement of a highly intellectual mind. What is important is not intellect but concentration. Even a fool can be enlightened, if he adopts yoga with some adaptability and concentration. In the beginning of Hathayogapradipika, he describes the major factors which are conducive to yoga. They include enthusiasm, courage, stability, avoiding people, resolution and tattva jnana which here means knowledge of spiritual truths. It is to be borne in mind that real spiritual knowledge is not an intellectual exercise or scriptural knowledge according to the hatha yogins. Here, it differs from Vedanta where study and understanding of the Vedantic texts are emphasized.

Where from yoga begins? The hatha yogin’s answer seems to be simple and forceful – only from the body and the physical processes of the body. Swatmarama ignores the first two steps of Patanjali viz. yama and niyama, and starts with the physical postures, the asanas. He doesn’t repudiate the efficacy of self control and self purification, but what he means is that with the minimum of these two, one can start with the physical practices, which necessarily leads to a state of spontaneous mastery over the body and the mind. It is obvious even to a beginner that a simple posture like padmasana and a few minutes of pranayama quell the vagaries of the mind, calm down the senses and invigorate and stabilize the body. For this, Swatmarama writes “Mind is the lord of the senses and prana (air) is the lord of mind but laya is the lord of prana.”2

Laya is nothing but de-objectified mindfulness. The simple methods of hatha presuppose neither a strict code of conduct nor a razor-sharp intellect. Overdoses of abstinence and indulgence may prove to be fatal which only can be administered appropriately taking into consideration the state of mind and character of the practitioner. It emphasizes one-pointed practice which alone leads to enlightenment. For this, Swatmarama remarks, “Some are deluded by the agamas, some by the nigamas and others by logic (arguments). They do not know that which gives liberation”. 3

In what context is yoga meaningful? In the widest human-context, with regard to each and every human being who feels tormented and seeks salvation from the ills of life, yoga is indispensable. Irrespective of caste, creed, country and religion, yoga is relevant for all. Even the atheists and the skeptics can take up yoga and be benefited. What is required is a mindset amenable to an inner longing for exploring the priorities and potentials of a meaningful living. This is contextually more significant from the standpoint of the hatha-raja yoga combine as conceived by Swatmarama, since it is amicably free from most of the presuppositions which other forms of yoga require.

The moment we reflect on the course of our life and its experiences, we become aware of the limits and compulsions of life. We are born with some propensities and potentials, some vices and virtues, some likes and dislikes. In course of time, we accumulate in life, some pains and pleasures, love and hatred, and encounter some success and failure which make us helpless spectators. We are ever in a quivering state of mind and are disturbed in the core. Sometimes, we are fully shaken. Our encounter with the objects we experience and the people we come across may sometimes give worries and anguish that make our life unbearable. Even then yoga comes to our rescue. Yoga cures the maladies of both body and the mind; it appropriates our circumstantial difficulties and makes us bear the eventualities that may befall on us. The simple practices of asana and pranayama with some techniques of laya like trataka or sambhavi give tangible effects even in a short time. But for superior experiences, more rigorous practices are required which can only be undertaken under the supervision of an accomplished master. Needless to say that a disease-free body and a stress-free mind are the necessary by-products of yoga but the real fulfillment is the spiritual freedom- coming out of the quagmire of life that binds us to countless births and deaths.


1. Hathayogapradipika,4.3-4, Bihar School of Yoga, 1993
2. ibid, 4.29
3. ibid, 4.40

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