In the 11th century, probably somewhere in
Gujarat, a Shaiva ascetic wrote a short pithy text, of little over 100 slokas,
called the Amanaska Yoga. This was a period in the history of Hinduism
when Shaivism was flourishing and asceticism becoming institutionalized due to
large-scale patronage from a cross-section of Indian kings (an instance of
which we have documented here). In this institutional setting, a number of texts
were being written mentioning remarkably new techniques of mind-body-breath
practices, collectively called yoga. These early yoga texts were being produced
within different ascetic lineages, which explains the difference in practices
between them. These practices would later be reconciled by Svātmarāma in his
canonical 15th-century text, Haṭhayogapradīpika.
Though the practices of these texts differ, the goal is the
same: to achieve liberation or, in some instances, to achieve siddhis (powers).
It seems that the different traditions of early yoga were in competitive
tension with each other, each attempting to prove that their method is the
quickest or the easiest means of reaching liberation. Amanaska Yoga was
one such early text that taught the method of achieving the state of no-mind (a-mana),
calling its method Rājayoga, the king of all yoga. The text is divided into two
parts—the first part, it seems, was appended later, while the second part is
the older of the two. Below, we will describe and summarize this very important
text and its role in the evolution of various yogic practices.
This short text is a dialogue between Shiva and the sage
Vāmadeva, in which Shiva reveals the knowledge of Rājayoga to Vāmadeva for the
benefit of mankind. Rājayoga is defined as a state of no-mind (and hence the
name a-manaska) that is equivalent to the state of liberation (samādhi).
Unlike the sequential eight limbs of Patañjali yoga, this text only focuses on
the last limb, samādhi. The goal of the practice is to reach a state of
detachment in which the mind is completely extinguished from the stains of
thought constructs or mental impressions.
To achieve this state of no-mind, it teaches a practice
called the śāmbhavi mudra. The description of the practice is very
short, as the text claims that this secretive practice can only be taught and
practiced through the guidance and blessings of a living guru. In śāmbhavi mudra,
the yogi fixes his gaze outwards about one hand distance away, with his eyes
half-closed, half-open, while directing his mind at some internal focal point
which may be at the back of the head, top of the head, between the eyebrows or
any other place advised by the guru. The regular practice of gazing outside but
focusing inside results in complete cessation of mental fluctuations, and a
state where the mind ceases to exist—a state of pure awareness. This is the
highest state of yogic bliss according to Amanaska Yoga.
Detailing the practice further, Amanaska states that,
before beginning, the yogi should find a quiet place and position himself in a
comfortable erect posture. He should make the body tranquil by gently focusing
his awareness throughout the body from head to toe, with a steady and tranquil
mind (susthira citta). Forsaking all worries and completely
dispassionate towards all sense stimuli, he should practice the śāmbhavi mudra.
In this practice, the text claims, there is no effort. If the mind wants to run
somewhere, the practitioner should let it run—any effort to control the mind
will only agitate it further. Whenever there is effort, there is cognition of
“I” ness, and no meditation is successful in this state of duality. The text
claims that with regular practice the mind, after wandering around, will
eventually come back to the internal focal point.
Elaborating, Amanaska says that breath and mind are
connected just like milk and water (the link between breath and mind was first
mentioned in the 7th century BCE text Chāndogya Upaniṣad 6.8.2).
If the breath is active in the body, the mind will always fluctuate, and a
fluctuating mind is not conducive to reach the higher states of meditation. If
the mind can be controlled, then the breath can automatically be controlled and
vice versa. In contrast to most haṭhayoga texts, which focus on controlling the
breath to achieve higher states of awareness, Amanaska focuses on
controlling the mind and states this will eventually lead to the complete control
(and cessation) of breath. Therefore, the state of no-mind is also a state
where the yogi can get absolute control over his breath because liberation is
not possible without immobilizing the breath. Precisely how the cessation of
breath occurs during the practice, and for how long, is not mentioned in the
Amanaska criticizes other practices such as prāṇayāma,
asceticism (tapas), consumption of elixir, reading of scriptures etc. as
ways of reaching the state of liberation. It says that with the regular practice of
śāmbhavi mudra under the guidance of a guru, the yogi reaches a state
free from intention (saṇkalp) and action. In this liberated state, the
yogi has destroyed all the meritorious and unmeritorious karma. Any new action
performed by the yogi does not bind him, he is free from the taints (vāsanas)
of karma. The liberated yogin remains in a state of complete bliss,
dispassionate towards sense-objects, detached, and in a state of no-mind which
is natural, pure, and unchanging. In short, he is liberated while living (jivanmukta),
free from the circle of life and death.
Amanaska yoga calls its yoga Rājayoga, which, according
to the text, is not only a method of yoga but also the name for the highest
state of liberation. The idea that Rājayoga is the highest state of yogic
liberation, first articulated in Amanaska yoga, became the dominant
theme in later yogic literature. There are multiple yoga texts which teach different
kinds of yoga—haṭhayoga, mantrayoga and layayoga—but claim that these yogas are
to be practiced to reach the state of Rājayoga. For example, in the canonical Haṭhayogapradīpika
2.76, the author Svātmarāma claims that haṭhayoga is necessary to gain success
in rājayoga. Even Swami Vivekananda called his system of Patañjali aṣṭāṅgayoga
a form of Rājayoga. Be that as it may, Amanaska yoga is the earliest
text to use the term Rājayoga and expound the important yogic technique of śāmbhavi
mudra—a secret revelation of Shiva that is now openly taught in multiple
meditation and yoga schools across India.
(For readers interested in reading this text, there are two
editions of Amanaska yoga available: one in Hindi translation published
by Gorakhnath Mandir, Gorakhpur and the other with English translation by the
Lonavala Yoga Institute).