Monday, 1 August 2016

The Role of Herbs in Medieval Yoga

Ascetics preparing and consuming narcotics.
Private Collection, Awadh, Northern India.
Reproduced in J.P. Losty (July 2016, p. 30)
Ascetics and Yogis in Indian Painting: The Mughal and Deccani Tradition

An extract from the forthcoming publication:

Did Āyurveda Influence Medieval Yoga Traditions? Preliminary Remarks on their Shared Terminology, Theory and Praxis. 

by Dr Jason Birch
Generally speaking, the role of herbs in medieval yoga texts is marginal at most. Most yoga texts do not mention them and those that do, mention them only in passing without details of recipes and their specific benefits for yogins. 
Moreover, even in those texts which describe herbal preparations, such as the Khecarīvidyā and the Yuktabhavadeva, the information on herbs appears to be unconnected to the system of yoga practice taught in the same texts. This suggests that the use of herbs was, at most, an inessential supplement for some yogins. In fact, even as Haṭhayoga became more sophisticated in the late medieval period with the integration of more elaborate techniques, metaphysics and doctrines, the Jogapradīpyakā is the only text [...] that explains how the practice of yoga might be combined with taking medicinal herbs for a period of time. The emphasis on attaining liberation in medieval yoga texts may partly explain the paucity of information on herbs, because the use of herbs is mainly advocated for the attainment of Siddhis
As to how herbs might have been combined with the practice of yoga, the most elaborate and compelling account of this is found in the eighteenth-century, Brajbhāṣā Jogapradīpyakā. 
Next, I will describe herbs and explain [them] extraordinarily clearly. Without herbs, one does not obtain Siddhis. Therefore, the yogin should always take herbs. Collect [the herb called] Bhṛṅga along with its root and having dried it, make a powder of it. Take black sesame, Emblic Myrobalan and curd and, having mixed [them] with three sweeteners, one should take the whole [mixture]. It will remove all ailments and diseases, and old age and death will disappear. Jayatarāma will speak of [other] herbs which have these qualities. One who consumes a single leaf of the Nirguḍī [plant] three times every day for a year, this will be the result: one destroys both old age and death. One should seek and obtain the [herbs called] Nirguḍī, Nalanī and Mūṇḍī from the forest in equal quantities. Then, combine them with sugar and ghee and, having taken them for a year, one obtains success. For six months, one should treat sulphur, make equal amounts of sesame and bitter orpiment and, having combined [them] with three sweeteners, make a powder. [By taking this powder,] one obtains the state of youth and immortality. Thus, the [section on] herbs. 
Now, the [yogin’s] manner of living [while undertaking the practice of Khecarī Mudrā]. First, build a solitary hut in a forest or [in the grounds of] a hermitage, where it pleases the mind. For six months, one should steadily practice postures and not talk with any people. One should repeat Mantras day and night, consume rice and water, and avoid salt. One should not eat dry ginger, the [fruit of the] wood-apple tree nor radish. [However,] one can eat a little sweet food. Having done the practice, one should take those herbs which were described previously. When every seventh day, [which is] Sunday, comes, one should cut [the fraenum]; every fortnight, milk [the tongue] and, day and night, churn it with the mind focused. When one does this for six months, one obtains a strong Khecarī [Mudrā]. The tongue grows four finger-breadths [in length] and one obtains two fruits, devotion and liberation. That man who has done what has to be done, washes off the impurities of birth and death. O Jayatarāma, having held one drop [of bindu] in the body, it dissolves in copper, which [then] becomes gold. This is the special quality of Khecarī Mudrā.   

bahuri auṣadi varani sunāu, divya divya prakaṭa kahi gāū |
auṣadi vinā sidhi nahī lahai, tātai jogī avaṣadi nita gahai ||665||
bhṛṅga samūla saṃgraha ānai, tāhi sukāyaru cūraṇa ṭhānai |
kriṣṇatila āmala dadhi levai, madha triya sādhi sakala kau sevai ||666||
dohā – roga vyādhi sab hī kaṭai, jarāmṛtyu miṭi jāya |
jayatarāma avaṣadha bhaṣai, to ye tā guṇa thāya ||667||
caupāī – eka eka nirguḍī pāta, dina prati tīn vera jo ṣāta |
varasa vāra hai aisau hovai, jarāmṛtyu donauṃ so ṣovai ||668||
nirguḍī nalanī arū mūṇḍī, sama kari vana tai lyāvai ḍhuṃḍhī |
bahuri sarkarā ghṛta ju milāve, varasa divasa sādhyā sidhi pāvai ||669||
ṣaṭa māsa gandhaka so dharai, tila karu golocana samakarai |
madhu traya jukti cūrṇa kara ṣāvai, ajara amara padavī so pāvai ||670||
iti auṣadha || 

atha rahana vidhāna |
caupāī - prathama ekānta maṭhī ika ṭhānai, vana graha māhi jahāṃ mani mānai |
ṣaṭa māsa āsana driḍha dharai, prāṇī mātra soṃ bāta na karai ||671||
mantrajāpa nisadina hī ucārai, cāvala peya bhaṣi lūṇa nivārai |
nāgara bela mūli nahi ṣāve, kachuka mīṭho bhojana pāvai ||672||
pūrava avaṣadha varanī joī, sādhana karai tāsa kau soī |
divasa sātavai ravidina āvai, tā tā dina chedana ju karāvai ||673||
pāṣi pāṣi prati dohana karai, mathana aho nisi hī mana dharai |
aisai karata māsa ṣaṭa jāvai, vṛddha khecarī pāvai tavai ||674||
aṅgura cyāri jībha baḍhi āvai, bhakti mukti dou phala pāvai |
kṛtya kṛtya soī nara hoya, janma mṛtya mala ḍārai dhoya ||675||
dohā - garayau ju tāṃvā uparai, būnda eka dhari deha |
jayatarāma so kanaka hoya, khecarī kā guṇa yeha ||676||
iti khecarī ||

Jogapradīpyakā 665 - 76 (Trans. Jason Birch)

666d madha (ms. ba) ] emend. : madhi Ed. 674b vṛddhi (ms. a) ] emend : vṛddhi Ed. I would like to thank Nirājan Kafle for his helpful comments on this passage.

Ascetics consuming sweets and narcotics.
Private Collection, Awadh, Northern India.
Reproduced in J.P. Losty (July 2016, p. 29)
Ascetics and Yogis in Indian Painting: The Mughal and Deccani Tradition