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The Meaning of haṭha in Early Haṭhayoga

Birch, Jason (2011) 'The Meaning of haṭha in Early Haṭhayoga.' Journal of the American Oriental Society, 131 (4). pp. 527-554.

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Abstract

This essay was prompted by the question of how Haṭhayoga, literally ‘the Yoga of force’, acquired its name. Many Indian and Western scholars have understood the ‘force’ of Haṭhayoga to refer to the effort required to practice it. Inherent in this understanding is the assumption that Haṭhayoga techniques such as prāṇāyāma (breath control) are strenuous and may even cause pain. Others eschew the notion of force altogether and favor the so-called “esoteric” definition of Haṭhayoga (i.e., the union of the sun (ha) and moon (ṭha) in the body). This essay examines these interpretations in light of definitions of haṭhayoga and the adverbial uses of haṭha (i.e., haṭhāt, haṭhena) in Sanskrit Yoga texts that predate the fifteenth-century Haṭhapradīpikā. Implicit in the question posed above is the historical question of when the term haṭhayoga arose. There is evidence that it was used in Buddhist tantras, while it remained conspicuously absent from Śaiva tantras until late works such as the Rudrayāmalottaratantra. This is surprising given that the Śaiva tantras are replete with much of the terminology of the Haṭhayoga corpus. In the medieval Vedānta and Yoga literature (written after the eleventh century), haṭhayoga first appeared almost always in conjunction with rājayoga, which, as a system of Yoga, was based more on tantric Yoga rather than Pātañjalayoga. The rivalry between Rāja and Haṭhayoga, which was expressed most vehemently in the second chapter of a text known as the Amanaskayoga (eleventh to twelfth century), was based on the contention that Rājayoga was the superior Yoga because its methods were effortless and most efficacious, whereas Haṭhayoga required exertion and was superfluous. However, the rivalry was reconciled by other medieval Yoga texts, such as the Dattātreyayogaśāstra (twelfth to thirteenth century), into a hierarchy of four Yogas (i.e., Mantra, Laya, Haṭha, and Rājayoga), and a few centuries later Svātmārāma dismantled this hierarchy, in his Haṭhapradīpikā, by melding previous Haṭha and Rājayoga systems together and by asserting that Haṭha and Rājayoga are dependent upon one another. By doing so, he created a complete system of Yoga and called it Haṭhayoga.

Item Type: Articles
Keywords: yoga, hatha, raja, india, south asia, haṭha, rāja, meditation, vedānta, vedanta, Buddhism, tantra, śaivism, shaivism, philosophy, history.
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Languages and Cultures > Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia
ISSN: 00030279
Depositing User: Jason Birch
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2016 17:36
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/23237

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