GORᾹKHNĀTH , also known by the Sanskrit form of his name, Gorakṣanātha, was a teacher of haṭhayoga who lived sometime between 900 and 1225 ce. A leading Hindi scholar, Hazariprasad Dwivedi, has observed that "since the time of Śaṅkarācārya there has not been anyone in India as influential or as great" as Gorakṣanātha. There is still no consensus about either his dates or the compositions that may be correctly attributed to him.
Scholars who favor an early date for Gorakhnāth base their claim mainly on indications of an early date for his guru, Matsyendranāth. They focus especially on a reference made by Abhinavagupta (tenth century?), in which he identifies a Matsyendranāth as his own guru. Some sources call Gorakhnāth's guru Mīnanāth (both mina and matsya signify "fish").Most scholars take Matsyendranāth and Mīnanāth to be the same person. Svatmarama's Haṭhayoga-pradīpikā, however, lists Gorakhnāth as the fifth or sixth in spiritual descent from Matsyendra and the direct disciple of Mīna. This lineage would lead one to conclude that Matsyendra and Mīna are different and that Gorakhnāth lived more than a hundred years after Matsyendra. A later date for Gorakhnāth is based on the genealogy of Jñāndev, the author of the Marathi classic Jñāneśvarī, which, according to some manuscripts, was written in the year 1290. Jñāndev claims to be the third in spiritual descent from Gorakhnāth. This would place Gorakhnāth in the early thirteenth century.
No reliable data on the life of Gorakhnāth exist. He is, however, the subject of many fascinating legends, legends that provide an archetypal portrait of a great yogīn and wonder-worker. The majority of these legends originated with the Hindu sect known as the Kānphaṭā Yogīs—also called nāth s and nāth siddha s—who have been the principal proponents of the doctrine and practice of haṭhayoga.
It is said that Gorakhnāth's doctrine was first propounded by the god Śiva. Śiva imparted the doctrine to his wife, Pārvatī, while they were seated in a boat, or castle, floating on the milk ocean. Matsyendranāth changed himself into a fish in order to listen surreptitiously to Śiva's teachings. When the god became aware of this ruse, he uttered a curse foretelling that Matsyendranāth would forget what he had learned. Eventually, Matsyendranāth became ensnared by the charms of the women of the mythical land of Kadalī and forgot the doctrine. His disciple Gorakhnāth disguised himself as one of the dancing girls of Kadalī and broke his guru's enchantment through the words of his songs. Matsyen-dranāth and his disciple then returned to their former practice of austere yogic asceticism.
Gorakhnāth and Matsyendranāth are included among the eighty-four siddha s, who belong as much to Buddhist Sahajiyā tradition as to the Śaiva tradition of the Kānphaṭās. The Kānphaṭās also include them among the so-called nine nāth s. Although the names of some of these nāth s vary from list to list, two of them—Jālandharīpā or Hāḍisiddha, an Untouchable brother-disciple of Matsyendranāth, and Kānhupā, Jālandharīpā's chief disciple—form the principal subjects of a related cycle of legends that recount their relations with King Gopīcānd and his mother, Queen Mayanāmatī. Kānhupā may be identical with Kṛṣṇapāda, the author of several of the Tantric Buddhist songs called caryāpada s.
The texts attributed to Gorakhnāth are all expositions of the practices and mystic doctrines of haṭhayoga. Some are written in Sanskrit and others in Hindi or other languages of North India. Most important are the Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati and the Gorakṣa-śataka in Sanskrit and the Śabadī and Gorakhbodh in old Hindi.
The Gorakṣa-śataka (Hundred verses of Gorakṣa) is one of the basic texts of haṭhayoga and shares many verses with other such texts such as the Haṭhayoga-pradīpikā and Gheraṇḍa-saṃhitā. The Gorakṣa-śataka describes the six (elsewhere eight) "limbs" of yoga— postures (āsana), breath control (prāṇāyāma), sense withdrawal (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), meditation (dhyāna), and illumination (samādhi) —and pays particular attention to certain yogīc practices such as the khecarī mudrā, the muscle contractions called bandha s, and meditations on the seven mystical centers (cakra s).
The Siddhasiddhānta-paddhati is a more extended and theoretical work that gives a somewhat different map of the supraphysical anatomy of the subtle body. It describes nine cakra s, together with sixteen mental supports (ādhāra s), three points of concentration (lakṣya s), and five firmaments (vyoman s). These are all used as points of reference and aids to the attainment of supreme reality, here called the anāman ("nameless"). An elaborate cosmology postulates a series of correspondences between the microcosm of the individual body and the macrocosm of the physical universe. The goddess Śakti is called the support of the body. Anāman is closely related to, or identical with, the union of Śiva and Śakti. When the master yogīn produces this union within his subtle body, the supernatural powers (siddhi s) appear spontaneously. After twelve years of practice the yogīn becomes the equal of Śiva himself.
An excellent study of Gorakhnāth and the Kānphaṭā Yogīs is found in Shashibhusan Dasgupta's Obscure Religious Cults, 3d ed. (Calcutta, 1969). George W. Briggs's earlier work, Gorakhnath and the Kanphaya Yogis (1938; reprint, Delhi, 1973), is full of information but is somewhat disorganized. It contains a translation of a version of the Gorakṣa-śataka. Also valuable, with an excellent bibliography, is Mircea Eliade's Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, 2d ed. (Princeton, N.J., 1969). The Siddhasiddhānta-paddhati has yet to be translated into English, but it is summarized by Kalyani Mallik in her introduction to her collection of Sanskrit texts, Siddha-siddhānta-paddhati and Other Works of the Nātha Yogīs (Poona, 1954). The initial citation is from Hazariprasad Dwivedi's study in Hindi, Nāth-sampradāy (Varanasi, 1966), p. 106.
David N. Lorenzen (1987)
"Gorākhnāth." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 25, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/gorakhnath
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