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Interview with Sri Guru Yogi Matsyendranath Maharaj

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I received the name from the Guru. My Guru, Sri Mithileshnath Maharaj and Sri Devnath Maharaj, decided that the name was appropriate for me. In our tradition it is usual to get the two most important dikshas from two different teachers. Some of my Guru-bhaies initially were amazed at my name, because Matsyendranath was a teacher of Gorakshanath, which is Ishta-deva of many nathas in India. However, in the traditions of Natha-yogis they give preference to Gorakshanath as the founder of the tradition. Despite the fact that the name is not easy, my Guru decided that it was entitled to be and gave this name to me at Diksha (initiation), and he took me as a disciple. For all initiations the name wasn’t changed. In India, Matsyendranath is known as the founder of the Tantric tradition on one hand, but on the other hand as the founder of yoga. He is the patron of Nepal, in Kathmandu two temples were built in his honor, but at this time Tantric system, coming from Matsyendranath, has not practically been saved or, more correctly, it has found another form, different from which the followers of Gorakshanath go after (in the tradition of Gorakshanath hatha yoga is mainly practiced).

The Great Guru of Kashmir Shaivism, Abhinava Gupta, and others teachers of Shakti-cults took over much from MahaYogi Matsyendranath. Of course, my level is not the same like of that Matsyendranath, which was more than a millennium ago; however my Teachers, considering my interest in tantra and horoscope information, decided that the name was just right for me. There is a lot of different information about the history of Gorakshanath and Matsyendranath. Much, of course, it needs explanation, for example how the practice of Tantra had the influence on hatha-yoga, how they are interconnected. I believe that it is necessary to know for the person practicing hatha-yoga, so I plan giving a lecture on this theme.

Why India?

I started my spiritual search not in India; it was in the Soviet Union before its collapse, at that time people just started to talk openly about yoga. It was not enough information about yoga for me from the available books in Russia. Then there was no such an abundance of schools and teachers as it is now. Many practiced in secret, someone later wallowed in their mystical speculation, and someone relied on the available information of Teachers, known on the West, while others went to India. I think every yogi in Russia more or less, one way or another, got in touch with all three alternatives. And I went to India in hopes of finding nathas. My experience in communication with yoga-masters of other spiritual and mystical systems of various countries (most of the time I live in South Korea, and traveled almost the whole of Southeastern Asia) made it possible to see how diverse methods of working with the body and mind were. But India is close to me because of its spiritual systems that are very ancient and has been continuously improving. Theoretically they all cannot be studied in one life, not to mention all the other doctrines existing in the world. In India I had to choose, I realized that you need to choose one thing and dig deep in this direction, practice, acquire experience. Perhaps, the last is most valuable, that's why Gorakshanath talked about the advantages of experience. To all other I need to say the most important thing: it is the tradition of Gorakshanath, on the one hand, that allows to see the various mystical systems of Hinduism very well, that have got the close connection, through the work with one's own body and mind, on the other hand - yogic Gorakshanath's Order was out of Hinduism, if I may say so. Any person could be accepted in Nathas, who deeply understood the essence of their teaching, regardless of the caste system and many other social and religious restrictions that still exist in India. Of course, there are restrictions in yoga too, but they are related to the sadhana. In fact, yoga accepts all philosophies, and the fact that we worship the Teachers and the main Guru and founder, Gorakshanath, who is considered to be the manifestation of Shiva, there is the meaning and very big advantage in this. In the East the respect for the teacher plays an important role in the practice, regardless of doctrine. Gorakshanath is the patron of yogis. The task of Guru is not to attach the disciple to him or to somebody or something, but to help to find himself, to explore his possibilities, that were given from above. And it does not matter what you believe in: in the dogmas of the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Taoist. The main thing is to make you become more perfect in general, living in harmony with the universe. Nath tradition consists of 12 main branches in which there are several branches associated with Muslim, Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishnavism, etc. Yoga of Nathas does not deny any religious doctrine, but does not claim that every nath must believe only in some particular religion or some system of yoga, and there is the great amount of such. It's hard to believe, but it's true. Several of my disciples, that saw Nathas, were extremely surprised by the fact that this category of sadhus in spite of the fact they lived in India, did not look like Hindus neither in outward nor in inward appearance or in thought. Even after becoming the sannyasi, and finally selecting this tradition, I do not feel confined from other religions and mystical systems, on the contrary, it is easier to understand and accept them, without fanaticism, their experience, in turn, allows me to understand the tradition of Nathas better.

How did you find the Nathas?

While living in India and talking with the locals, I knew where to look for them. Having found them, I also realized that I did not really know anything about nathas, and all that all sorts of neo-nathas on the West and simply different esoteric people had taught, was just called so. I had to review a lot of things, as to yoga in general, despite the fact that I had already had the experience in the practice of asanas and pranayamas, I started to perceive them differently. At first despite the good attitude toward me, my brothers did not really want to talk about superior themes with me. During the stay in the Mandir I was going through the verification step of the commitment to school. At first I was practicing layman, temporarily staying at the temple. Guru Ji made a great exception for me, having allowed me to stay in the temple, although the sannyasi of different schools can not stay there longer than 3 days. After several months, he gave me diksha, after that I became a monk. Over time, I finally became one of them in "the group of sadhu" and Guru made me the mentor in a small temple of Balya town. Initially Guru told me that I would become a sannyasi-darshani in 40 years, but year ago he told me that I was ready. On the advice of my Teacher, I was given a sannyasa from the Guru Devnath Maharaj. Now my full name is Yogi Matsyendranath Maharaj. "Yogi" and "Nath" is the prefix to the name of someone who belongs to our school, and Maharaj is the one who accepted the sannyasi tradition.

Why is this tradition?

Because practically all traditional schools of yoga in one or other degree borrowed a lot from nathas, the followers of Gorakshanath. Siddhanta (doctrine) of nathas is turned specifically to yoga; it gives the understanding of what is Pinda (body), and how to work with it. Worldview of the doctrine is associated with hatha-yoga, which I have not met in other traditions to such an extent. In many traditional religious schools yoga and its practices were more like superficial element of that school in the whole. There are also modern schools of yoga, they keep to Vaishnava or Vedanta philosophy, but only formally, externally they practically teach only the practice of yoga. As for Gorakshanath, the kaya-sadhana is considered to be not only as some kind of school's instrument, but it is associated with major worldview of nathas, which is important for me. I don't consider yoga to be just the morning exercises, for this I could have chosen the simple work with the body, and there are a lot of them. Yoga is much more than the therapeutic exercise.

What is the difference between this tradition from the well-known ones (Jois, Iyengar)?

Iyengar, P. Joyce and perhaps Krishnamacharya too - their schools present the synthesis of techniques, which they borrowed and formed up from the texts of the subsequent teachers like Svatmarama, Gheranda, and only on the certain extent, because you will not find in these texts what Iyengar or Joyce teach. Their yoga is oriented to the West. I do not want to say that there is nothing of value there; these teachers have done a lot for the modern world of yoga. One can list many other modern schools, the main problem is that they break yoga to styles, and it forms the rigid notion about practice in the human minds, which is very different from natha's yoga. The situation of the man who wants to practice hatha-yoga is similar to the story of the centipede, which was asked about how it managed to synchronize the work of every leg. As a result, lost in thoughts over the matter, it was unable to walk. Now we also don't know what Krishnamacharya himself practiced, because each of his students teach his own style and considers it to be the most correct, and the styles are totally different. Moreover, nathas are not limited only by work with the body, there is also the mantra-yoga, tantric sadhanas, and neither Iyengar nor Pattabhi Jois teach this. It would be better to call their system of yoga a semi-traditional system. At one time Gorakshanath also borrowed a lot from the various traditional schools. But nathas did not really tend to keep pace with the time without relying on the experience of other earlier traditions; as a result the system does not contain the splitting on the mystical part of tradition and on the application, which should be taught to westerners. This and that are important. I teach the style, which I have mastered in Gorakshanath Mandir, it includes sukshma-vyayama, it differs from the one that Dhirendra Brahmachari described. Only after mastering the vyayama, when the body has no blocks, and the energy flows freely, we work with asanas. At my lessons, from the beginning I try to give the understanding of what the asana and pranayama are, their main spiritual aspects, only after that the person can begin the practice. I explain the basic interpretation of the asanas from earlier texts in our school, such as "Siddha-Siddhanta-paddhati", "Goraksha-vachana-sangraha", "Viveka-Martanda" and others. Of course, a lot depends on practice, but from the very beginning you need to know what is the correct asana in hatha-yoga, and only after that you can get much more benefits from those practices that are described in later texts. I'm not going to oppose myself and my teaching to Iyengar or to someone of the modern masters; it is not right among nathas. All of these styles (Iyengar, P. Joyce, Swami Shivananda, Dhirendra Brahmacharya, Yogi Bhajans, etc.) are accepted by us. Nath-tradition is not style, it is something deeper. Not the form is important, but its fullness.

Who is your Guru? And how did you find him, how could you understand that he was the one for you?

My Guru is Mithleshnatha Maharaj, I met him in Gorakhpur. This town is located in the north of India, and is named in honor of Gorakshanath, which is considered to be an Avatar of Shiva by nathas. I did not choose the Guru - it happened naturally. When I stayed in the temple, where I attended classes and practiced sukshma-vyayama, asanas, etc., sadhu came into my room. I did not know then that he was Guru and about his mystical powers. He didn't tell me anything about yoga, unlike all those people who went to morning classes. He just told me, how to make the asana in the best way in the morning after waking up, and that after washing you do not need to talk with anyone, but immediately start mantra. He told me the outwardly simple things that worked instantly when I started to do them. From the beginning as I met with the Guru, I felt that there was another reality beside me, which no one could have given me before. The similar condition had come to me before periodically, when I experimented with different practices, but here it happened spontaneously. I asked the Master: "Who are you?" He replied: "Guru". And without controlling myself, mechanically, I asked: "Would I become the nath-disciple?" to which he calmly replied: "Yes." Later, we performed puja in the temple with the brothers-monks, where I was the assistant, and in the evening we gathered in the room of Guru, conversing on various subjects. The teacher knew all my thoughts, beside him I did not need any outward practice of yoga to gain the mystical experience, I learned a lot, just talking to him. He always answered so simply and briefly, and at the same time precisely and exhaustively, that I was surprised how he could pass so much knowledge in a short time to my feeble intellect? Guru is great expert in the tantras; he explained many nuances of the tradition. During all that time a lot happened with me, that it was difficult to believe on the level of just mind; what is written about siddhas in the literature is not fiction. Guru himself is quite modest, he often said that he was not Guru and that Guru in the tradition was only one - Gorakshanath, but for me it is one essence.

What place in the practice is given to hatha that is working with the body?

In Goraksha-vachana-sangraha Gorakshanath says that all bodies were created from Bindu. Bindu is what combines Shiva-tattva and Shakti-tattva, Ha and Tha. The point symbolizes not only the perfect integrity, but also the identity of the human body with the universal body. Our human body is not something separate from spirit. In hatha-yoga we gain integrity of our entire physical being and gradually we inspire our body, we can say that we show ourselves as spiritual being in physical body. By working with the body, we understand that the spirit is not a fairy tale described in the books and not confused speculations of philosophers. Spirit is real and we get to know it by our experience. In Sanskrit, the word "Pinda" is translated not only as a synonym for the word "kaya" or "deha” (body), but also as a "ball". That is the ball is similar to the point "bindu" or "brahmanda" (Universe). The ball is a sphere that is balanced. Let’s consider the sign of Yin-Yang, it forms a circle, the two parts are in complete harmony. Ha-Tha is the same. The body is sphere. Having completely balanced body you get the integrity of hatha-yoga, the correct practice of methods of hatha-yoga leads to this integrity, and wrong one has the opposite effect. Working with the body is the base, the foundation, without which man cannot understand correctly what the meditation is. When the body is one piece like the sphere, your mind becomes like a mirror which reflects all phenomena in pure form. That is how my guru taught me and I teach it too. My Guru told me that working with the body you gained the correct view of all spiritual systems. So hatha-yoga and practice of improving your own physical being will have the impact on the spiritual vision. What is the body? Let's look at it from the perspective of Tantra, the body is the Atma, and nathas believe that Atman is not something distant from us and the abstract, but exactly the physical body. Atma, Shiva and Shakti are the three main tattvas. Shakti is shown in Sukshma-sharira (subtle body), Shiva in the Karana-sharira (causal body), and Shakti (Ha) in Shiva (Tha).

Body is the binding tattva between Shiva and Shakti, which is their union - "Yoga" or "Yamala", as tantras say. The body is sacred, there is all perfection in the body, through the body you become perfect in hatha-yoga, and through the hatha-yoga you obtain the state of perfect equilibrium "samarasya".

What are the plans to promote the tradition, if any?

The first thing I plan to do is to introduce the tradition of Gorakshanath to as many people as possible. To find like-minded people interested in the development of this tradition in the CIS and abroad. At the moment, those who practice yoga generally know about such teachers as Svatmarama, Gheranda by their popular texts, but just some people know about what Gorakshanath taught, although he has no less importance in the world of yoga. From my point of view, what he did for the world does not have less value than the great deeds of Jesus Christ and Buddha. He gave us hatha-yoga, which we all practice; he has given, let it be, the insignificant but very noticeable impact on the entire world. Perhaps the name of Gorakshanath and his doctrine are still little-known for many, because the tradition is mystical and aims at one’s own transformation, but not to improve any social phenomena. Nathas were not the active preachers in their essence, their teaching is directed at those who want to change themselves and reveal the highest qualities of body and soul. Therefore, until recently, it was very little known about Nathas in the West. I try to fill this gap, as far as I can. Fortunately, I have some students in different countries, who help me with the development of tradition. We have published several major texts of NathaSampradaya and produce the magazine "Adesh", where we talk about the traditional practices of yoga and related systems. I think many practitioners will be useful to read these materials. And, of course, we try to put as many interesting and adequate information about tradition in the Internet on our websites and social networks; invite well-known Nath-teachers, organize seminars and workshops. I'm glad that there are people who help me in this, and I hope they will be more over time.