By Swami Harshananda
Śāṇḍilya Upaniṣad is though considered as a minor Upaniṣad and assigned to the Atharvaveda group, it is a fairly large work dealing exhaustively with a complicated subject "yoga". There are three adhyāyas or chapters. Each chapter is divided into khaṇḍas containing mantras, both in prose and in verses. There are 14 khaṇḍas and 147 mantras in all. It can be classified as the following:
- The first adhyāya contains 11 khaṇḍas and 120 mantras is not only the biggest but also occupies almost the whole book.
- The second is the smallest. It has only one khaṇḍa and 6 mantras.
- The third has 2 khaṇḍas and 21 mantras.
- Yama - restraint
- Niyama - observances
- Āsana - posture
- Prāṇāyāma - control of vital currents
- Pratyāhāra - state of withdrawal
- Dhāraṇā - concentration
- Dhyāna - meditation
- Samādhi - total absorption
Yama is of ten kinds. They are:
- Ahinsā - non-injury
- Satya - truth
- Asteya - non-stealing
- Brahmacarya - continence
- Dayā - compassion
- Ārjava - straight forwardness
- Kṣamā - forgiveness
- Dhṛti - steadiness
- Mitāhāra - moderation in eating
- Śauca - cleanliness
Each of these is clearly defined.
This section has 11 mantras. This describes ten kinds of niyamas. They are:
- Tapas - austerity
- Santoṣa - contentment
- Āstikya - faith in the Vedas
- Dāna - giving gifts
- Iśvarapujana - worship of God
- Siddhāntaśravaṇa - listening to the Vedāntic scriptures
- Hr - modesty
- Mati - faith in Vedic rituals
- Japa - repetition of the mantra given by the guru
- Vrata - following the injunctions of the Vedas
It has 15 mantras. Eight kinds of āsanas are delineated here in detail. These āsanas are:
By practicing them properly one can get rid of all the diseases of the body.
It has 14 mantras. This is a highly technical and complicated section giving a lot of information about the following aspects of yogic sādhanas or practices:
- Number and positions of the various nāḍīs in the human body
- The suṣumnānāḍī
- The kuṇḍalinī and its nature as also its movement
- The ten prāṇas and their functions
It has 4 mantras. The qualifications of a person who wants to practice yoga are set forth in the first mantra. Self-control, detachment, devotion to truth, obedience to the parents and the guru are stressed greatly.
There is also a nice description of a place fit for establishing a maṭha suitable to the practice of yoga. Natural beauty and availability of water, fruits, roots and flowers are the deciding factors. The next part deals with the preliminaries connected with prāṇāyāma.
It has 5 mantras. This small section is devoted to prāṇāyāma. The practical method of connecting the three stages of prāṇāyāma viz., recaka, puraka and kumbhaka with the three syllables of praṇava which are akāra, ukāra and makāra. Even meditation and the three aspects of Devī are described here.
It has 52 mantras. This is a long section dealing almost exclusively with various disciplines mentioned in the works on Haṭhayoga. They may be very briefly summarized as follows.
- Cleansing of the suṣumnā nāḍī
- Number and methods of prāṇāyāma
- Rules regarding food during sādhana
- How to attain steadiness of mind through kumbhaka
- Various bandhas and mudras
- Dissolution of mind and kaivalya through yoga including prāṇāyāma
- Siddhis and also attaining good health through, various saiyamas
Khanda 8 & 9
The 8th Khanda has 2 mantras and Khanda 9 has 1 mantra. Five kinds of pratyāhāras and five varieties of dhāraṇās are described here. The pratyāhāras are:
- Withdrawing the mind from the indriyas
- The results of prescribed actions
- All objects and marmasthānas in the body.
The dhāraṇas are:
- Fixing the mind on the inner Self
- Imposing the external sky on the internal sky
- Superimposing the five aspects of Brahman on the five elements like earth, water etc.
Khandas 10 and 11
Both the sections have 1 mantra each. Two kinds of dhyāna saguṇa and nirguṇa are described in the tenth khaṇḍa. The eleventh deals with samādhi or total absorption wherein the unity and identity of the jīva with Paramātman are experienced giving infinite bliss.
- It is without attributes. Hence it cannot be defined.
- It is beyond the comprehension of speech and mind. Whatever exists, is that Pramātman.
- It can be realized through the instructions from a proper guru or spiritual teacher.
This section has 6 mantras. This section opens with a question by Śāṇḍilya to Atharvaṇa as to how Brahman, the one without a second, can become this universe of multiplicity. In reply, the sage Atharvaṇa declares that Brahman has three rupas or forms:
- Niṣkala - without parts
- Sakala - with parts
- Sakala-niṣkala - with and without parts
In its own essential nature, Brahman is consciousness and bliss, action-less, pure, all-pervading, extremely subtle and beyond all the cognition and immortal. This is its niṣkala form. But by using its natural, inscrutable power of māyā which has the three guṇas inherent in it, it becomes Maheśvara. This is its sakala form. However, when Maheśvara wills to create and become many, through jñānamaya-tapas he becomes this universe of names and forms such as the Vedas and Vedic fires, the gods, the living beings, the varṇas and so on. He being in the form of all gods, living beings, existing in their hearts as also beyond, is ‘sakala-niṣkala’.
It has 15 mantras. The highest Truth is called Brahman since it is the greatest. It is also the Atman in everyone since it pervades in everything or includes everything in itself. It is the Brahman/Ātman that is known as Dattātreya since it was born as the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuyā. Then there is a beautiful description of God as Dattātreya. One who meditates on him as ‘I am He’ becomes a knower of Brahman. He becomes liberated from all the sins.
- Khaṇḍas means small sections.
- Aṣṭāṅgayoga means yoga with eight limbs or steps.
- Prāṇas means vital airs.
- Maṭha means hermitage.
- These three Devīs are Gāyatrī, Sāvitrī and Sarasvatī
- Siddhis means supernatural powers.
- Indriyas means senses.
- Marmasthānas means sensitive places.
- Dhāraṇas means the methods of fixing the mind.
- It is Daharākāśa, the space in the region of the heart.
- Dhyāna means meditation.
- Saguṇa means on God with form.
- Nirguṇa means on the ātman.
- Jīva means the individual soul.
- Paramātman means God.
- Maheśvara means the great ruler.
- Jñānamaya-tapas means austerity of knowledge or intense thinking.
- Greatest means bṛhat.
- It is called as āpnoti.
- Atti means eats up.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore