Ecstasy, Equipoise and Eternity
A Vade Mecum and Guide to Shri Mahendranath's Fantastic Kosmic Kingdom of the Alakshya Nathas of Shambhala International
A Dreamtime Dossier for those who want to do their own thing but do it themselves The Palace of both Liberation and Enjoyment
Subtitle: Nathamandalasahajamarga -- which means the Path of Ecstasy of the Nath Circle - which in Europe and the Americas is called "The Arcane and Magickal Order Of the Knights of Shambhala" (The word Knights being a collective for the Lords and Ladies).
Exordium: Between the years 1532 and 1534 A.D., Francois Rabelais, the French novelist and humorist, produced the satirical masterpiece of Gargantua and Pantagruel. The books themselves are fantastic but the real miracle of the author's life was that he was never burnt at the stake. In his very humorous way; and probably with a smile, he did more to rock the power of the church than any other man of his period. He introduced to his public an imanginary Abbey of Thelema, a monastic institution which had inscribed over the entrance doorway the conclusive injunction "Do what thou wilt shall be the only law." This rule, it appears, was piously obeyed by the resident monks and nuns.
Many years later, Sir Francis Dashwood revived the Abbey and its delightful law in the grounds of his country residence not far from London. John Wilkes, a fiery radical parliamentarian, was one of the chief and most active members. This Abbey is now a local tourist attraction.
In more recent history Saint Aleister Crowley, who did so much to revive and reform the Western Occult tradition, in reverence to the Rabelaisian masterpiece, also revived the Thelemic Law and even, for a short period, established an Abbey on an Italian island.
"Do what thou wilt shall be the only law." has always been an injunction which strikes fear and terror in the hearts of the moralists, ministers and mini-minds. Yet millions have practised it and passed by unnoticed. It may be new to those who read this MS but the identical rule of law has been held in the highest respect in India and neighbouring lands for thousands of years. It has been the amoral philosophy of the Nathas, Tantriks and Siddha saints and sadhus. It made possible the Parivrajaka or homeless wanderer saints and eventually to the highest grade of Indian spiritual attainment known as the Avadhoota or emancipated one. Thus Rabelais, Dashwood and Crowley must share the honour of perpetuating what has been such an high ideal in most of Asia.
Now that the Natha tradition has been reborn in Europe and the Americas we must know a little more about the amoral patterns of the Nathas.
The Nathas as a sect and organized body of people came into being as an answer to two separate events. One was the invasion of India by the Muslims and the destruction of holy places and second, which actually occurred much earlier, was the spread of Shankaracharya doctrine of Mayavada, that all and everything was an illusion and only God was Real.
About 1000 A.D. a great teacher came to the fore. He was the son of Minanath, a fisherman and was known as Matsyendranatha. This great saint of humble origin is considered to be the founder of the Nath Order of Sadhus. Actually he gave it substance for Nathas had been known much earlier. He combined the three viewpoints of Siddha, Tantrik and Natha philosophy in a great sweeping revival of the ancient teachings, that although God was one there were also many manifestations of God and these included the world and human beings also.
Though God is One we also live in the dual form of many. Though much of life can be an illusion there are many occasions when pain, suffering and hunger bring us down to reality because they are real also.
But the greatest concept of the Nathas was to free mind and body from Karmas, Kleshas and Konditioning and break forever the chain of rebirth into the world. Thus to end Samsara and free the Spirit of Real Self to its natural condition of peace, freedom and happiness. Matsyendranatha was followed by a brilliant disciple who developed the Natha Order and outshone his Guru. He was Gorakhnath, a weaver who came from a caste of cowboys.
We must be technical, but only for a moment, to examine the Sanskrit terms which are related to the Nathas so that we can translate them into creative thought. A knowledge of the Sanskrit language (now a dead language anyway) is not necessary either for the Concord of Cosmic People nor for the Sanctum of Nathas, known as the AMOOKOS. These are given, not so we can learn Sanskrit words but so that we can understand the meaning and deeper concepts to translate into our own mother tongue and into our own valid patterns of life.
First let us see the Thelemic Law in terms of Hinduism and Sanskrit:
The concluding Sanskrit expression in the Avadhoota Upanishad is Svecchaparo. The term Paro means a mysterious or secret pattern to the action done by one's own Will but with discretion, not making it too obvious or to harm or hurt other people. Yet this is also a typical Nathism as a complete reversal of Vedic Morals and Philosophy
This combined attitude towards people and one's own Will is clearly expressed by Shri Datta in the Avadhoota Upanishad, where he is made to say:
"What I actually wanted to do is exactly what I did.
Thus, the concluding lines of the Upanishads ends with the expression Svecchaparo. Since the Avadhoot who has evolved to the highest level never forgets that all people are not the same as himself he uses some discretion for their sake and also because those acts fit for him may also involve him in worldly conflict.
There are still many Natha orders and numerous sub sects in India today Some of them are still numerically strong, but others, for a variety of reasons, have become tiny exclusive In-groups. Some have degenerated to the level of holy beggars who know and understand nothing but collecting. Most of the higher strata Nathas belonged to the North but in the South West they have evolved into purely devotional cults, worshipping Shri Datta as a benevolent god and not as a far-out exceptional teacher. The original revolt against Vedic Brahminism with its bogus morality are forgotten. Also the basic battle for spiritual life as opposed to civilization, urbanization and religious superstitions has also vanished.
Samsara: What are we getting away from? The ceaseless round of births and death, transmigration but also meaning "worldly life" and the mundane process from birth to death, household or secular life as opposed to spiritual renunciation of the world. Sometimes used to mean "The Ocean of life" or the "Wheel of Rebirths." Samsara is the bondage which binds us to worldly involvement and the worldly involvements perpetuate it. Spiritual life aims at breaking the chain and ending the rebirth process but religions, such as Hindu sects, only promise an escape to heaven. But this is recognized as temporary and when that span of existence has finished Samsara starts again.
Natha: Means Lord, Protector, a Refuge. It becomes Lady by giving the feminine ending Natha but female Natha Sadhvinis have always been rare in India. Usually they occur as Yogini or Devi. In India also Nathas do not marry live in household life or breed children. They do not practice sex abnegation and usually have a female partner. A Western Nath Order would not find it practical to follow the same patterns, as the free wandering life of a saint is not possible and Western Nathas will be householders, married, and even have regular employment for wages. This in no way affects the life of Nathas in India.
Environment, climate and social patterns must be taken into consideration in any transfer of Eastern cults into the West. It is the free spiritual and amoral patterns which most matter and not the external forms. Nor would it be possible for Western Nathas to wander about naked or wearing only a G-string or Longoti. The word Natha is very very ancient and used in former times for any saint or sadhu but after the amalgamation of Siddhas (Magicians - accomplished - attained) and the Tantriks into one order the word came only to be confined to them. The Nathas, East and West, will however do as they will to retain their Order and unity. Natha is related to Nithan (Gothic) and Ginatha (Anglo Saxon).
Three words in Sanskrit express the essence of the Natha Way of Life.
These three words express the attainment of the Avadhoota or an emancipated one. The full expression of "Do what you will." Thus one who becomes a Natha or Nath does not remain content to wear it round their neck like a label or think of it as just something they belong to but try to strive for the higher attainments (Siddhas), practice the rites, ritual and yoga, and teach others the way out of Samsara. We are creating something new for our people and building a new fantastic Kingdom of Shambhala. These will not be done without sincerity, and right forms of activity. Samsara need not be all misery and suffering if we seek and understand the use of the natural joys which it offers us and use them to purify the mind and awaken to immortality.
While it is true the Indian Siddhas, Nathas and Tantrik Yogis renounced the world for the higher attainments and immortality, while they remained in the world they felt it a duty to try and help others onto the same path. But this is not for everyone and it was important so that people obtained some Punya, merit in this life and the future so as to escape from Samsara in only one or two lives. To do this the Nathas encouraged better social organization based on good will and mutual aid and gave new life to the ancient cohesion of the Hindu people by encouraging the rituals, worship and guru grace and also instruction. The rituals must not be neglected and if they had deep meaning to the individual, so much the better.
It is said that the Nath Order in its recent and present Indian form was founded Shri Matsyendranatha. He was the son of Minanath a fisherman. Matsyendranatha's disciple was Gorakhnath. The name means a water bearer or carrier but he was employed as a sweeper. These very names of spiritual leaders were a blow to the Vedic Brahmin caste system.
The Nathas spread rapidly and enjoyed vast public support. The tradition of the Natha with magick powers still persists even in the chaos of today They never at any time gave the impression of puritanical piety They wore varied dress, carried trishules (tridents), fire tongs and huge earrings. They wore the hair long and marked the body, especially the forehead, with ashes. Some were naked; none cared if they were dressed or not. Some wore an orange cloth, some red and (as in the case of my own sub sect) black. I did not like black and only wore it on odd occasions. Few Naths and Yogis followed fixed rules and customs.
There is every reason to believe that the early Naths were associated with the worship of the Mother Goddess, but a bipolar worship in which Shiva played a large part. The physical appearance of most Naths was similar to the accepted ideas of what Shiva looked like. They all accepted the ideal of the Avadhoot and regarded Shri Dattatreya as a cult Guru and even as a guardian spirit. Only later when the Nathas of S.W India developed into bhakti- devotional cults was he elevated to the status of a god. Also, in many of these cases, although Datta was thought of as an avatar or manifestation of Shiva, he later became regarded as an avatar of Vishnu, but this was probably due to some thoughtless acceptance of Vedic influence. The real Nathas of India today still belong to the North. Even the Pagal (Mad) Naths, so called because of their outrageous and erratic behaviour.
History cannot obscure the fact that the rise of the Tantriks, Siddhas and Nathas in India was not only a revolt against puritanical, straight-faced Vedic and Buddhist morals but it placed an even greater emphasis on the fact that spiritual attainments began with the awakening of the insight faculty and had nothing to do with caste, education or social status. This came at a time when real Pagan values were being forgotten and the antisex syndrome was creeping in from Europe and missionaries. Added to this was the Muslim aversion to naked images and sex symbols such as the lingam and yoni.
Most of the great Nathas of the past and present came from the lower strata of society but they were all people who upheld the dignity of their own class even if it were classified as lower. One great Nath came from a caste of snake charmers, a caste which considered it beneath their dignity to beg, in spite of their poverty Fishermen, sweepers and weavers were poor enough but they worked and maintained themselves and their families. As in Europe, all too often, they were better and nobler people than you found in the upper crust.
Yet when they became Nathas they became nobodies, but free and unconditioned. They belonged to nobody and nobody belonged to them. Mostly they wandered. They did not work or marry or breed children. They no longer worked for reward or served others as menials. If they served others it was without obligation or reward. Although a sadhu depends on the alms of the faithful he never asks for anything. Of course in the Indian subcontinent these things are part of the way of life and understood. In nearly thirty years in India and adjoining parts of Asia I have never lacked food, clothing, shelter or medical care. These are needs and not wants. In Europe it would not be possible to do this from scratch. But as life has been adapted in India so Europe and America must make their own patterns.
Artwork is © Jan Bailey, 1995. Translations are © Mike Magee 1995. Questions or comments to [email protected]Home Page