The middle age of Indian spiritual thought was a truly a remarkable time and can surely be called the beginning of a golden age. This was the dawn of age of Saints (Sant Parampara). These Saints, backed by their own Self-realization, fearlessness, equal vision, compassion and missionary zeal have contributed much more towards guarding and transforming the society than the politicians, governments and monarchs of the last 1000 odd years. They brought in a fresh paradigm that shook the basis of rotting Indian society infected by religious bigotry, strong Brahminical authoritarianism, caste system, gender inequality, oppression of the poor, slavery and spiritual hedonism.
The sole credit of planting the seed of this oak of apostles goes to Guru Gorakhnath. Gorakhnath, through his inner radiance, fullness of heart and unending zeal has managed to leave a mark on Indian spiritual thought and inspire spiritual revolutionaries over last millennia like no other mystic. Gorakhnath and his Natha lineage (Natha Sampradaya) has not only left its mark on Indian society at large but also greatly influenced the spiritual thought, methods and orientations of mystics, saints and spiritual traditions spanning the entire Indian sub-continent. From Kabir to Nanak, Meerabai to Muktabai, Dadu to Dnyanadev and from Baudhas to Jainas, the reach of his thought and depth of his influence on other spiritual traditions of India and the world is awe-inspiring.
Who was Gorakhnath?
Gorakhnath was a leading exponent of the spiritual order of Yogis known as the Natha Yogis. In fact, he is the main propagator and organizer of the order of Yogis that mainly practice Hatha Yoga. No one has yet been able to exactly pin point his place of birth (origin) but stories about his birth in various regions of India not only show his popularity but also demonstrate how his Light has made a home in people’s hearts. Some sources suggest He was born in Nepal, some suggest He was born on the banks of river Godavari, Bengal, Punjab, Nasik, Kutch, Odisha while some scholars mention that Gorakhnath is born in every Yuga (eon) in different places.
Scholars have a slightly better idea about his time though, hence, Gorakhnath is said to have been around during the 11th century A.D and was the primary disciple of Maha Yogi Matsyendranath. He is said to be the incarnation of Lord Shiva. Because of his mystique, charm and spiritual prowess he is traditionally known to be “Jyoti Swarup” or manifestation of “Divine Light” itself.
Even though the origins of Gorakhnath are shrouded in mystery the reference of his birth and work is expressed extensively through stories and narratives in popular local literature like Nathaleelamrut, Navnaath Bhaktisaar and Siddhacharitra of Shripatinath. His name and activities have also been mentioned in the Puranic literature like Skandapurana, Naradapurana, in the Tibetan Tantric list of Siddhas and in mainstream Shaiva Tantric literature like Kaulavalitantra, Shyamarahasya and Sudhakarachandrika. Beyond the popular narratives, most academic scholars believe that Gorakhnath was born in a pious Brahmin family. According to the scholar and researcher Mohan Singh, Gorakhnath was an illegitimate child of Hindu woman. Gorakhnath is described as a handsome youth with awe-inspiring radiance, who was intelligent, well versed in scriptures, creatively brilliant, musically talented, super powerful, morally disciplined, purposefully focused, totally detached from sense pleasures, devoted to his Guru and compassionate towards the wellbeing of others.
Gorakhnath, through his wisdom, compassion and spiritual might managed to bring home the message of inner divinity not just amongst sections of Yogi monks but also into the minds and hearts of the laypeople. He was a powerful organizer and established monasteries and study centers across Indian sub-continent. His reform work spanned across the length and breadth of India, Nepal stretching upto the boundaries of regions that now fall in the vicinity of Afghanistan. His is a living tradition because his teachings have been translated and disseminated through widely available literature, stories, poems, prose, songs and a thriving saint tradition that has kept his message extant in the hearts and minds of Indian people. Sadly enough, vast amount of literary works ascribed to Gorakhnath and his life that are available in Sanskrit, Prakrit and other local Indian languages have hardly been translated in English and that’s why the awareness of Gorakhnath and his work in the West, especially in the main stream modern Yoga culture is minimal.
Gorakhnath through his writings exclaimed his philosophical premise in a well-defined manner. Some of the books that he is said to have authored are, Siddha Siddhanta Paddhati, Mahartha Manjari, Yoga Bija, Yoga Martanda, Goraksha Paddhati and Goraksha Samhita. Gorakhnath may not have actually written these books himself but the books may have been ascribed to him by later authors. Whoever the author may be, it is evident that the philosophical thread is common amongst all these scriptures and in line with the core teachings of the Nathas, especially Gorakhnath himself. Even a brief glance through scriptures like Mahartha Manjari and Amaraughashasana indicates Gorakhanth’s astute scholarship based on personal experience of Self Realization.
Saint Dnyaneshwar, a great Yogi himself describes Gorakhnath with two adjectives, “Yogabjinisarovar” and “Vishayvidhvansekveera”. A close look at these two adjectives can gives us more detail on Gorkahnath’s spiritual work. [Source: Dnyaneshwari chapter 18]
By the 10-11th Century the influence of occult leftist Tantra on Indian spiritual systems reached its helm. Even though this influence was percolating into the fabric of Indian spiritual thought since the 6th Century, by the 11th century it reached its peak. The spiritual fabric was being dominated by diverse sects like Tantric Baudha, Shakta, Kapalika, especially the ones that advocated the Pancha-Makara method of using and indulging in wine, fish, meat and sexual intercourse as a method of spiritual liberation. Yogic principles based on realizing the True-Self by cleansing the mind, sense control, detachment and devotion were replaced by perverse techniques that advocated overt body cultivation, alchemy, black magic, sacrificial killings and sexually hedonistic practices that were far away from the basic Yogic premise of transcending the senses and moving towards the inner Truth. The purity of Vedic injunction was also under attack. One can say that the Indian society at that time was torn between the dogmatic caste system dominated by Brahmins who kept spirituality only for the chosen few and the free for all hedonistic, leftist Tantric cults that advocated sensual extremism and outwardly indulgent practices. Apart from this the influence of Islam due to constant attacks from the West by the Moughals since 9th century had started throwing the social fabric off balance. Bloody wars, forceful conversion, attacks on pilgrimage places, fundamentalism and looting had become a regular occurring.
Against such a background Gorakhnath took it on himself to purify and bring together best of both, Yogic and Tantric systems by weeding out the influence of externally oriented, object-based practices and re-establishing an inwardly directed, experience based spiritual path. This is why, Gorakhnath as a revolutionary mystic is known as “Vishayavidhvansekveera” which means the courageous one who destroyed objectification and “Yogabjiisarovar” means the original source stream of Yoga. Thus, Gorakhnath and his lineage’s contribution to the Indian and global spiritual thought is no less than revolutionary.
1) Excerpts from the treatise “Swanubhavdinkar” of Dinkar Swami who was a disciple of Swami Ramdas of the 17th century. Even though this writing is 500 years post the age that we are talking about yet one can see that even then the left hand Tantric influence was still around.
2) Lilacharitra – Mahim Bhat (Mahanubhav Panth)
3) SiddhaSiddhanta Paddhati and other works of Natha Yogis – Dr. Kalyani Malik.
4) Dnyaneshwari – Sant Dnyaneshwar