By An Anonymous Nath Panthi Of The Twentieth Century
Beloved Ones, the Spirit of the Nath Panth is quite different from that of all the sects of the world.
The origin of the Nath Pantha
[This section in brackets is by the editor, Swami Nirmalananda Giri
A young man was wandering in the mountains somewhere in India–most likely in the Western Himalayas. He had seen no one else for a very long time, but one day he heard the faint sound of a human voice. Following it, he saw from a distance some people seated together near a river. Slipping into the water, he began swimming toward them. All along the river on that side thick reeds were growing so he was not seen as he stealthily made his way closer.
Soon he began to understand what was being said. Fascinated by the speaker’s words he came as close as he dared and for a long time remained absorbed in the amazing things being spoken. For the science of yoga was being expounded by a master to his disciples. Then he heard the master say: “There is a ‘fish’ in the reeds over there, listening to everything I am saying. Why doesn’t he come out and join us?” He did as suggested and became a resident of the master’s ashram and learned both philosophy and Soham yoga.
After diligent practice of Soham meditation for quite some time, the master, known as Adiniath, asked him to return to the plains and teach that yoga to whomever would listen. He was given a new name, Matsyendranath. (Matsyendra means Indra Among Fish and Nath means Master. Indra is king of the gods.) We have no knowledge of what the master’s name was. Matsyendranath and his disciples only referred to him as Adi Nath–Original/First Master. Some believe Adi Nath was Shiva himself manifested to teach yoga, or perhaps the Bhagavan Sanatkumara about whom the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says: “To such a one who has his stains wiped away, Bhagavan Sanatkumara shows the further shore of darkness” (7.26.2).
Matsyendra wandered throughout India, teaching those who were awakened enough to desire and comprehend the yogic path. One day in his wanderings he came to a house where the owner’s wife gave him something to eat and a request: that he would bless her to have a child. In response he blessed her and gave her some ashes from a sacred fire, telling her to swallow them. Then he left. The woman followed his instructions and soon conceived and gave birth to a male child. Several years later Matsyendra came there again and saw the little boy outside the house. He told him to bring his mother, and when she came he asked if she remembered him, which she did. Pointing to the boy, he said: “That is my child. I have come for him.” The woman agreed and Matsyendra left with the boy, whom he named Gorakhsha, Protector/Guardian of Light.
Goraksha in time became the monk Gorakshanath (usually called Gorakhnath), the greatest yogi in India’s recorded history. In every part of India there are stories told of his living in those areas. He also lived in Nepal, Tibet, Ladakh, and Bhutan. There are shrines and temples to him in all those countries, both Hindu and Buddhist. His major temple is in Gorakhpur, the birthplace of Paramhansa yogananda, whose younger brother, Sananda, was originally named Goraksha. Considering all the lore about him, Gorakhnath must have lived at least two or three hundred years, and there are many who claim that he has never left his body but is living right now in the Himalayas.
Gorakhnath had many disciples, a large number of them attaining enlightenment. They were the first members of the Nath Yogi Sampradaya, which in time numbered in its ranks the great sage Patanjali, founder of the yoga Philosophy (Yoga Darshan) and author of the Yoga Sutras, and Jesus of Nazareth (Sri Ishanath). For many centuries the majority of monks in India were Nath Yogis, but in the nineteenth century there was a sharp decline in their numbers, which continues today. However, there are several groups of “Nath Panthis” that follow the philosophy and yoga of Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath, and therefore are involved with the Soham mantra as the heart of their sadhana.]
The origin of this Nath Pantha can be traced to Adinath who instructed Matsyendranath in the path of Self-realization. At the time of Sri Matsyendranath all power in religious and social matters was centered in the hands of the followers of the Vedic religion. Sanatanis, who were followers of the ritualistic form of the Vedic religion (karmakhanda), were to be seen everywhere. Temples and maths (monasteries) were entirely under the control of their followers. They used to proclaim that they alone were fit to be the recipients of the highest knowledge and some of them were highly respected in society, as royal preceptorship and religious leadership was centered in them. The distinctions between men and men and between men and women were very keenly observed. The caste system was very rigid. Only a sannyasin (a monk) was considered worthy of receiving spiritual knowledge. Hence knowledge regarding God fell to the lot of extremely few persons. Shudras, the members of the laborer, servant caste, and those outside the caste system were not allowed to enter the temples. A woman was considered as unworthy of being the recipient of spiritual knowledge.
All religion was considered to be centered in the strict performance of different kinds of rituals. Baths, japa and auterities were the order of the day. The cult of hatha yoga sprang from this tendency and ordinary people looked with great awe upon hatha yogis, as they were supposed to possess the power to reduce anyone to ashes by cursing him. This hatha yoga sect gave rise to various minor cults affording great opportunities to hypocritical self-centered individuals to enrich themselves. The Shakta and Bhairava Sects began to flourish.
The early history of the Nath Panth Sampradaya as well as the later one is shrouded in mystery and therefore definite information regarding the luminaries (important personages) of this Sect and other particulars is lacking. Still we get here and there a few glimpses which throw a flood of light on the glory, grandeur, superiority, nobility and utility of the Nath Sect.
There are two notable instances.
1) Adi Shankaracharya, the great exponent of Advaita Vedanta.
2) Jnanadev [Jnaneshwar], the premier poet-saint and prophet of Maharashtra and the author of two most important works:
(1) Bhavarthadeepika, the unique and rare commentary on the Bhagavad Gita.
(2) Amritanubhava, an independent philosophical work of great merit, a ripe and mature product of this Nath Sampradaya. In his epilogue to the Jnaneshwari or Bhavarthadeepika, he gives the early history or origin of this Sampradaya.
The later successors of this Sect are not known and we cannot therefore trace an unbroken line down to this day, since it is the way of the Nath Pantha to work in obscurity, outside public knowledge.
The present times may properly be described as the age of progress or the age of determination of truth. New discoveries are being made in every science. What is new today becomes antiquated tomorrow and the human intellect is trying to break all previous records and soar into regions of knowledge hitherto unknown. Modern intellectuals have as it were taken a vow to find out that one principle theat underlies all different sciences and their branches. Books like The Great Design assure us that there is a thread knitting together all sciences.
A thinker might say that all these are haphazard efforts to discover the one basic underlying Principle which is true, beautiful and beneficial, and it is a question how far human intellect alone can proceed in this quest and whether it will ever be able to find out that one underlying Principle, knowledge of which would bring certain peace and happiness to all human beings.
Our Aryan culture, however, looks at this question from a unique standpoint of its own. Our prophets and seers say that human intellect alone will never be able to solve the riddle of the universe. The A.B.C. of this science can only be learned in the school of internal intuition and the knowledge or realization of the human spirit. The rise of Self-knowledge will dispel the darkness of Maya or illusion and the path leading to the highest truth will become distinctly visible. On this path peace and happiness are waiting to give a hearty welcome to the human spirit.
Cast a glance at all the philosophical books in the world and you will find that it is only the philosophical and spiritual books of India that boldly call upon spiritual aspirants to come to them, and proclaim that they will show them the path leading to peace and happiness. This is the call of the Nath Pantha to all human spirits and the real power and greatness of this association lies in this.
The figure of Sri Matsyendranath stands out with a unique magnificence and greatness against the background of these social conditions. Sri Matsyendranath, through the power of his great personality, dispelled the dense clouds of ignorance and superstition. The divine luster on his face and his persuasive and sweet speech attracted the hearts of all. There were no restrictions in approaching him. Everyone who approached him was absolutely sure that Sri Matsyendranath would show him the path to everlasting joy and happiness. What a shock was this to the Sanatanis, the followers of the path of rituals! Their temples and Maths began to be less and less frequented.
The first doctrine that was preached by Sri Matsyendranath was this: Everyone, whether a man or a woman and of whatever caste, had a birth-right to obtain knowledge regarding God. There was only one condition and that was that his prajna (power of understanding) must be ripened. He used to preach that anyone who understood the instability of all worldly things and who therefore was convinced that realization of God was the only means of acquiring happiness, was one whose prajna could be said to have been ripened. He used to proclaim loudly to all spiritual aspirants, “Oh ye restless human souls, come to me. I will give into your hands the key to everlasting happiness and will fix the seal of eternal joy on your hearts.”
The great Nath did not give learned lectures on Vedanta, nor did he ask people to read any religious books. The spiritual power of Sri Matsyendranath was very great. He understood the minds of his disciples and gave impetus to their wills by his own spiritual power and placed them on the path to Light. And then in course of time they attained Self-realization and were submerged in the ocean of joy.
Sri Gorakhnath and his successors
Sri Gorakhnath was the foremost of the disciples of Sri Matsyendranath. Hundreds of anecdotes have been told regarding this pair of guru and disciple. Sri Gorakhnath instructed a peasant who later on became well known as Adbanganath. Sri Gorakhnath instructed also Gahininath, who in his turn became the guru of Sri Nivrittinath, the guru and elder brother of the great Saint of Maharashtra, Sri Jnaneshwar. This was how the Nath Pantha became rooted in Maharashtra and spread its branches in different parts of it. Nivritti, Jnaneshwar, Eknath and other shining lights of the panth spread their beneficent effulgence all over the land of Maharashtra and made it blessed. The mind loses itself in contemplation of the wide-spread influence of this pantha and the far-reaching results achieved by it. It may be considered as a sign of the special divine grace vouchsafed to Maharashtra that its land has been blessed with the sacred imprints of the feet of such great saints and yogis.
Such is the greatness and power of the Nath Pantha. It gave rise to a succession of great personalities to guide humanity in achieving the highest goal of life and in attaining the highest bliss. This tradition of great personalities will be carried on in future to the end of time and pilgrims on the spiritual path will continue to be guided by the cheerful rays of these shining lights. Blessed indeed are they who get instruction from such sadgurus.