The Lost Manipūra Practice of Tantric Yoga: Legacy of the Kashmir Shaivas

Dear Friends,

Early in June, I was blessed with a remarkable discovery while visiting the home of my dear Kashmiri friends, Rakesh and Sushma Kaul. It was late on the evening of an annual fire ritual (hāvan) in which the 1000 names of Goddess Rājnī, the ‘Queen’ Shakti of Kashmir, are reverently recited by the surviving community of Kashmir Pandits. Nearly all of the Pandits (short for paṇḍitās, the ‘Learned Ones’), who descend from the illumined Tantric Masters of medieval Kashmir, now live in forced exile from their beloved homeland.

Sadly, most of the Tantric manuscripts which preserved the ancient teachings of these noble people had to be left behind during the tragic, mass exodus of the Pandits from Kashmir in 1990. In 2012, I was blessed to have retrieved hundreds of these sacred works during a sojourn to Srinagar, the ancient capital of the Pandits, in the form of 23,000 manuscript scans.

A Remarkable Discovery

That night, while looking through my archive of these scanned texts, I happened upon a copy of the unpublished Paramārthadvādaśikā, the “Twelve Verses on the Highest [Experience] of Non-Duality” by Shrī Ramyadeva, ‘He who [Personifies] the Enjoyment of God” (translated excerpts of Ramyadeva's writings may be found at the end of this article).

Ramyadeva was a revered Guru of the Kashmir ‘Krama’ lineage (11th century; see excerpt below) to which Abhinavagupta, Kshemarāja, and other well-known Tantric teachers belonged.

In this ecstatic poem, Ramyadeva glorifies the liberating power of the innovative sonic-based science at the heart of Tantric Yoga, as well as the state of enlightenment that this Yoga bestows upon devoted practitioners. This inspiring work only survives due to the diligent effort of generations of Kashmir scribes. These Pandits (“Learned Ones”) painstakingly copied these sacred texts, one generation after another, for nearly 1,000 years.

The manuscript seen here is probably the final copy of Ramyadeva’s 11th century work, made sometime in the early 20th century. What you see in this image is the conclusion of his poem (left page), followed by an incredible gift from the scribe who copied it: a visual instruction on the subtle utterance of the syllable “HRŪṂ,” one of the defining practices of the Kundalinī-based Yoga of the Tantrics, handed down through countless generations (right page).

The left page is the Conclusion of the Paramārthadvādaśikā, “Twelve Verses on the Highest [Experience] of Non-Duality”.

The right page is the visual Instruction on the subtle utterance of “HRŪṂ,” by the last Kashmir Pandit scribe to copy the “Twelve Verses on the Highest [Experience] of Non-Duality;” ca. 1930s.

The script is Shāradā, the ancient script of Sanskrit in Kashmir, now almost completely forgotten.

Two Significant Points of this Discovery

Our scribe’s illustration of HRŪṂ is accompanied by a detailed teaching on the proper sequence of uttering this revered syllable. These instructions are very familiar to me, for they are given in in many Tantric ritual manuals that I have perused, dating from the 11th to the 18th centuries. But NEVER have I seen a visual outline of the written syllable annotated with such painstaking detail.

What is perhaps most significant is the relatively recent date of this scribe’s work. For, prior to this discovery, I have seen no evidence that the particular details of the sonic practice - which had defined Tantric Yoga since  at least the 6th century – were still known as late as the early 20th century.

Our Scribe’s Motivation

Our anonymous Kashmiri scribe was apparently inspired to do his part in preserving a core piece of the ancient science of this sacred Yoga, obliquely referenced in Ramyadeva’s “Twelve Verses on the Highest [Experience] of Non-Duality” which ends the page prior to the illustration of HRŪṂ (top pic, above).
 
In his simple, annotated drawing, our scribe gives us a visual outline of how to engage the 4 contiguous sounds of the syllable HRŪṂ, namely H + R + Ū + Ṃ (“nnngggg…”). This mantra, representing the element of ‘fire’ since at least the 6th or 7th centuries (A.D.), remained critical to the Kundalinī-based Practice of the Tantras, apparently down to the 20th century!

This is an invaluable insight into the pan-tantric Kundalinī-based Yoga, the liberating power of which is celebrated by Ramyadeva in his exquisite poem of 12 verses. This innovative Yoga, since lost to us, essentially defined the 1500+ year Tantric movement.

 Some background on the Science of Manipūra Chakra

By the tenth century, the HRŪṂ syllable became the seed mantra for Manipūra chakra, as I have shown in my recent Patreon webinars. So it remained, until the phonetic spelling of the seed mantras was lost to us via Arthur Avalon’s mistranslations in his ‘Serpent Power,’ published 1000 years ago (in that work, Avalon mistakenly renders the impotent, short vowel ‘A’ as for  all of the chakra seed mantras).

One of the five sonic inflections of the ‘primal’ syllable AUṂ (OṂ), the HRŪṂ syllable was considered the most important of the bīja (‘seed’) mantras applied to the chakras.

 

“Kundalinī and the Science of OṂ.”


This ancient Kundalinī-based Yoga teaching on HRŪṂ, painstakingly preserved by our 20th century scribe, will be unpacked in detail in my upcoming online series, “Kundalinī and the Science of OṂ”. This series, to be announced, will extend thru the fall and will begin the second week of September. 

In order to prepare and teach this series, I am requesting financial help via my Patreon page, a community effort to preserve and revive the original teachings of the Kundalinī-based Yoga universally taught in the Tantras at the heart of my scholarship. 

Join our Patreon community and gain access to monthly webinars (including past webinar recordings), recent articles/posts, practices drawn from this tradition, patrons-only pdf of most recent translations, mp3 audio meditations (with translations of 2 goddess Gayatri Mantras), regular updates on my writing progress, and more. Watch the short video below for more details on Patreon and click here for more information. 


The voice of Ramyadeva (11th century): Translations from an Illumined Master of the (Kashmir) ‘Krama’ Lineage:

“The highest Bhairava (Shiva nature) cannot be transcended; the essence of God is beyond all concepts, and without impressions in the vast abyss of his being; for He (Awakened Consciousness) has completely swallowed the manifest world of every constructive mental ida. Being void of (delimiting) attributes, and what they signify, being free of both the tangible sounds of speech* (see note below) and the range of sound that which transcends these** (see note below), God is without beginning or end, interior or exterior, [the primordial ground] that he constitutes is untouched for us by artificial relationship between the worshipped and the worshipper.
Nonetheless, it does manifest itself as a natural and spontaneous (sahaja) process of [interaction between itself as] worshipped and worshipper, when it takes the form of the various unfolding Shaktis***….these being brought into play as the actively flowing state of primordial energetic agency surges up [within it]. …this teaching  is in harmony  with all the Śaiva scriptures, and is openly taught in such as the Vijnāna Bhairava….I bow to the line of (Krama) Gurus, the sole cause of salvation, the expansive circle of the rays [of enlightenment] that has come from that whose form is beyond perception.”

Description of Ramyadeva, by his commentator:

“Ramyadeva, in whose mind intent on putting an end to the torments of birth and [death] the true secret instructions are radiant, in whom joy of endless vigour has arisen from his practice of the empowerment revealed by the venerable Cremation ground goddesses, which has been passed on to him from the lips of Yogānanda (his guru), the foremost of brahmins"
-Shri Shri Ramyadeva, Master of the Krama lineage of Kālī worship indigineous to Kashmir, 11th century

NOTES:

OM is the the “Unstruck” (anāhata), the “unborn” or omnipresent, eternal resonance of God.

* meaning the range of OM audible to our ears, A, + U + first part of “nnnggg…” from the palate to the skull

** meaning the range of OM beyond ordinary perception, when awareness is lead by following the tangible portion of OM through the skull door before drawing this resonance down into the body.

***sonic powers = personifications of the chakra seed mantras