Chenna-basavanna on Shiva-yoga



In Indian Philosophy the Yoga of contemplation has an important place. Even though Patanjali is recognised as the founder of this system, there is a tradition according to which Hiranyagarbha is the originator of the whole theory of Yoga. This theory of Yoga seems to have grown and developed into a definite shape in the Shaiva environment. We find the influence of yoga in the Upanishads, the agamas, History, Mythology, Poetry and Philosophy. Relics found in the excavations of Mahenjodaro and Harappa furnish evidence for the popularity of Yoga, in pre-historic days. The principles of Yoga are mentioned in the Shaivagama, Purana, Upanishad, Shakta Pancharatragamas and the Bhagavadgita. The Bhagavadgita considers, principally, the Karmayoga, the Jnanayoga and the Bhaktiyoga. It also treats of different kinds of yoga as the titles themselves: how. A detailed exposition of the theory of Yoga is found in the upanishads. As this system developed, there arose various kinds of Yoga. Yogas have been classified as Mantrayoga, Hathayoga, Layayoga, and Rajayoga. Later; Shivayoga, which was found in Shaivite books, was added.



Yoga is one of the four steps in Shivagamas. In them we come across some sub-groups of Shaivism such as Yogashaiva, Jnanashaiva which are complementary to each other.

Paramnesvaratantra mentions two varieties of Yoga; namely, ‘shakara’ (Physical) and ‘nirakara’, corresponding to savikalpa and nirvikalpa (Voluntary and Involuntary). One who practices Yoga has to follow the eight stages (Ashtanga), namely, Bhakti (devotion), Vairagya (detachment), Abhyasa (practice), Dhyana (contemplation), ekantavasa (solitary life), Bhikshatana (wandering to beg), Lingapuja (worship of Linga) and Smarana (memorisation). In Shivagama, Shivasamhita and other books which are inclined towards Shaivism, the phrase Shivayoga often recurs. Here Shivayoga explains the state of union with Shiva. Those who havc attained this status are called Shivayogis. The wife of a Shivayogi was called ‘Shivayogini’. There was no caste difference or untouchability among the Shivayogis. They helped each other and respected each others wife.

Shivagamas mention that there are seven sub-sections Anadishaiva, Adishaiva, Anushaiva, Mahashaiva, Jnanashaiva, Veerashaiva etc. Reference to this is also found in the Vachanas. Besides this, there are another six sub-sections, namely Avantarshaiva, Paravashaiva, Suddhasaiva, Misrashaiva, and Margashaiva. They recognised Shiva as God. Those who followed the path of Veerashaivism had to pass through the early six stages of Shaiva life. For Veerashaivas, both knowledge of and union with Shiva (Jnana and Yoga) were necessary. They thought that life without these two was barren. Shivayoga Pradipika says that in order to excel in their attainment, sound health must be acquired:

Knowledge will come out of Yoga and Yoga will be developed through knowledge. In order to realise both of them, the wise should take care of their health.

The highest aim of the Shivayogis belonging to the age of the agamas was to attain identification with Shiva. They adopted the fivefold means of freeing themselves of the bondage of past life, tapa, karma, japa, dhyana and jnana. Thus they purified themselves interiorly and exteriorly as a preparation for Jnanayoga (union through knowledge), the highest aim in their life. According to their disposition, action, acquisition of knowledge, practices and advancement in spiritual life, the Shivayogis were called avadhuta, sanyasi, yogi, pashupata, shiva, lingi, veera, veerashaiva, mahamaheshvara, yati etc.

There is indication that Yama (control), Niyama (rule), asana (posture), Pranayama (control of breath) were considered as the first steps in Yoga. Dhyana and Samadhi were considered as the later part. Shivasharanas stressed the latter part of the Yoga and incorporated it in the Sat-sthala. We may note that the writers of agamas tried to reach spiritual heights by practising t. he agama dharma in the name of jnana, kriye, charye and yoga. Their knowledge was limited to the concepts of Pashu, Pasha and Pati. Their practices were limited to the sixteen ways. Their aim in life was to attain purity of soul through the worship of Linga and other religious practices. They practised yoga in order to control the mind, as necessary for attaining purity of soul. But, generally speaking, to all the Shaivas and chiefly for the Veerashaivas, Shivayoga was the worship of Shiva. As worship was a religious act, they used to consider also knowledge and contemplation of God and the sciences of God, creation and souls and finally the worship of Linga as the greatest act of worship ever performed by a Shivasharana. Although Shivasharanas borrowed many terms and principles from the agamas, they enriched them with new meanings got through their own inner experience. As they explain, the Pranalingi is the highest stage in Shivayoga, which is one of the ekottarashatasthala. The terms shivayogi, jangama, sharana and shivasharana are used in the same sense in the vachanas as they are used in the agamas.

The term ‘Yoga’ signifies union. The phenomenon of reducing multiplicity to unity is a characteristic of every yoga. In mantrayoga, the mantrayogis combine Vaikharivani and arouse Paravani and lose themselves in hearing it. In Hatayoga, pranavayu and apanavayu are combined, and the Hatayoga gets the strength of Pranayoga. In Layayoga, Nada and Bindu are combined, and the Layayogi does away with Mana and Maruta, achieving a stage beyond the reach of sound. In Rajayoga, the Ida and Pingala nerves are combined, and thus the concentration of vision is achieved. Likewise, in Shivayoga, Shiva and Shakti are combined, and the Shivayogis find an inseparable relation between Shiva and Shakti.

The worship of Linga, which contains in itself shivajnana, shivabhakti, shivadhyana and shivamantra (knowledge of Shiva, devotion to Shiva, contemplation of Shiva, incantation of Shiva and, worship of Shiva) is the best means for Shivayoga. These five parts, bhakti, jnana, dhyana, japa, tapa (devotion, knowledges contemplation, prayer and penance) are all essential for the achievement of Shivayoga, either collectively or individually. Shivayoga mainly depends on worship. Channabasavanna has defined the way of performing Shivayoga in the following manner: “One keeps the Linga on his palm and worships Shiva attentively. He devotes time to Shivapuja, Shivamantra, Shivarpana, Shivashastra and Shivayoga.”

Whether the Linga worshipped is Shtbhvara or Ishta, it is the embodiment of the supreme God, who is formless. Since He has no qualities, He can be best described, only negatively, as ‘Not this, not that (neeti). The Shivasharanas believe that Shiva out of is omnipotence and absolute freedom has created the universe for His own enjoyment.

God, who is the supreme consciousness, has created souls similar to Himself. That is the dignity of the soul which informs human body. Life is the result of the union of soul and body. Along with life there appears mind. According to the experience of the yogis the body is a hindrance to union with God. It is the bodily desires and the faculties of the mind that come in the way. The soul is independent of the body and mind, which depend on the life principle for their existence. Owing to several reasons, the life principle in man is not orderly. It has lost its harmony. Hence the mind, coo, which is its dependent, is fickle like the life principle. Because of the unbalanced state of the life principle and of mind, man’s body has become an abode of vices, such as the eightfold pride, the sevenfold worries, the sixfold enemies, and other desires and lusts which go on multiplying. As a consequence, the soul (atma) forgets its true self, and thinks as a separate entity, which is called Jiva (an individual soul).

Hence, harmony among life, mind and bodily desires should be restored. Once these conditions are given, the right climate is created and the ‘self’ realises itself not as separate from, but as one with, God. This is union of identity.

“Can we bring order into our body without bringing it first in our life? Without this, can we free ourselves from bondage? The disorderly body is useless. The bondage may be broken only through knowledge,” says Channabasavanna. Without knowledge of self, we cannot be detached from life, without which no one is liberated from the bondage. In order to put order in our body, mind and life, yoga is the proper and sure means. According to yoga, God dwells in the Brahmarandra, which is in man, and from there He governs all man’s action. The same power, when seeking shelter in the human embryo, flows downwards, becomes Maya and dwells in Adhahkundalini, which flowing upwards manifests itself in the self as Bhakti. This transformation is the yogi s goal. In order to get the screen of Maya removed, the Yogi in the initial stages will seek the help of a Guru (guide). The Guru will first show him the symbol of the supreme God, and prepare him for the practice of a rigorous life. The Guru, laying his hand on the disciple’s head, will admonish him and bring out the latent power from the thousand petalled lotus to the head, where the divine intelligence is situated, from there to sentiment, from sentiment to mind, and from mind to the vision, and finally, to the hand. Then he will ask his disciple to receive it as a symbol of his true nature and to fix it in his thoughts, words and deeds. God in the from of Linga will be called Ishtalinga when He rests on the disciple’s palm, Pranalinga when He illumines mind and Bhavalinga when He dwells in his heart. Thus, the disciple will be fit for Shivayoga. This association with Linga will purify the feelings and desires of the body and mind, and thus will the worshipper of Linga be able to recognise God.

The sadhaka of Shivayoga (identification with Shiva) begins his practice with the exercise of the vision. Rajayoga is said to be the basis of this practice. He looks into the mirror of Ishtalinga to realise the true nature of his self. As the surface of the mirror, when dirty, cannot reflect the image clearly, so if the worship of Ishtalinga is defective, self-realisation cannot be experienced. ‘To gaze at Linga is to worship it. Through constant look at Linga the body will be purified’.

When the eyes are fixed
The breath is under control;
If the breath is controlled
The mind comes under control;
If there is concentration
One can conquer the fetters of time,
And there is no trace of illusion.

Channabasavanna suggests the same thing in the following vachana:

To open wide the eyes of him
Who sits e’er clinging to His feet
The Compassionate One
Has wiped the corporal taint that comes
Of ignorance
If you would know the way
This kinship with the Pranalinga came to be
As the Compassionate One
Opened my eyes,
This is the way it was:
O Lord Kudala Channasanga!
Even as my body bared itself
To those great saints who had seen God,
Like eyesight swallowed in the eye,
Like space absorbed in the cosmic egg,
Like water frozen to a pearl,
Like fragrance going back to flower,
My body’s habits have ceased to be!

The Sharana who, wishes to be completely at one with Shiva through the practice of Shivayoga, will always be careful to keep his thoughts, words and deeds free of all uncleanliness. He will try to sublimate his lower tendencies. In all his difficulties he will have recourse to Shiva. He wilt detach himself from all the earthly desires and attach himself to the Supreme God. In Him he will find his happiness. At this stage, his senses, both internal and external, will receive a spiritual dimension. His way of thinking, feeling and doing will be attuned to the Divine will. His body, his total self, will be a fit dwelling for the Almighty, who will henceforth make his abode in the Shivayogi.

The Shivayogi will know at the centre of his
heart that Shiva and he are one.
And that is salvation.
At this juncture, the inward mind blooms At the first rays of the sun
Of divine intelligence residing in the navel;
It rises six inches from the region of the anus, gene and the navel.
He will be glad to see the light of the heart,
Radiating like jewels.

The Shivayoga, according to the Shivasharanas, is different from any other yogas. Channabasavanna explains the effects of Shivayoga according to the Sharanas.

If there is Shivayoga
The attachment to the world ceases;
When the attachment to the world ceases,
It is the yoga of the favour of Linga.
The conjunction of the favour of Linga is
The conjunction of the favour of Jangama.
If there is the conduction of the favour of Jangama,
It is the conjunction of the favour of Prasada.
If it is the conjunction of the favour of Prasada,
It is an agreement in the threefold way.
If it is the conjunction of the threefold agreement,
It is the conjunction of the concentration of mind;
If it is the concentration of the mind,
It is perfect union with
Lord Kudala Channasanga.

If one practices Shivayoga, there is no need of any other yoga, prayer or mortification of the flesh. Shivayoga leads one towards perfect union with Shiva. If we scrutinize vachanas, we find there an important place given to mantrayoga. A suggestion is made in Shivayoga Pradipika that certain principles of Rajayoga, such as prayer, abstinence etc., are to some degree helpful in the achievement of Shivayoga. Channabasavanna to says that all the other yogas should lead to Shivayoga, the perfect union with Shiva:

The Mantrayoga, Hathayoga,
Layayoga and Jnanayoga
Should be understood first
And given up gradually,
And one should mainly depend on the Bhaktiyoga
And follow the Rajayoga
That is beyond speech, mind or feeling,
Detached from everything, absolute void,
Formless, and the Highest State.
Those who doubt the perfect union with God,
How do they know about Lord Kudala Channasanga?

For the beginner devotion becomes the first step in the achievement of Shivayoga. The Shivayogi starts his yogic practice with sight. He joins the sun and the moon – the main principles of a Rajayogi – quite easily. Then he unites the mind and the wind-the main principles of Layayogi. The Hatayogi combines oxygen and the apana gas at the anus. Further, he finds that Linga and mantra are not different. Thus he will reach the unity. A Shivayogi, at the ultimate stage, experiences all the five parts of Shivayoga, namely, Shivajnana (knowledge of Shiva), Shivabhakti (devotion to Shiva), Shivadhyana (contemplation of Shiva), Shivavrta (rite for Shiva), Shivachara (worship of Shiva), as he looks at the Ishtalinga. Channabasavanna records that Prabhu saw his self in his Ishtalinga and said “when the band becomes the throne for Linga there should be no gap between Linga and Anga. Thus remembering what Allama Prabhu showed to the world, he fixed his gaze on Linga and thereby gained immense experience and knowledge.

When with the look of the eye and knowledge of the heart
I was speaking to myself,
Honey rained, nectar flowed,
And I was completely absorbed
In the vast ocean of joy, O Lord Kudala Channasanga.

Channabasavanna records his own experience. ‘One should forget the external world completely; one’s heart should be opened wide and thus one should merge completely with the Ishtalinga, which is a heap of light of complete knowledge. This is the mystery of the achievement of Shivayoga’. This is how Sarpabhusanashivayogi speaks of his experience:

One should mix with the bright Ishtalinga
Forgetting the external world,
One should mix with the radiance in hand,
Accompanied by the fragrance of understanding,
And the heart in bloom.

It has been said already that purification of life is given the first place in the practice of yoga. Like other yogas, Shivayoga gives an important place to total purity. ‘If the purpose of the worship of Ishtalinga is to make the body a purified one (Prasadakaya)… the purpose of the worship of Pranalinga is to obtain the life of Linga and not a shining body (Prakashakaya).’ The method of purifying life by the practice of Shivayoga and the result there of are quite unique. One should realise Linga as the outcome of the puriflcation, that is, once the Supreme Being is found one should identify oneself with It. This is the second stage in Shivayoga. That is why Channabasavanna has said, “If one can breathe Linga alone instead of air, that is Shivayoga.” If a man forgets Linga, he becomes a worldly man. The very air in him and around him will be polluted. But by constant practice of Shivayoga he should purify all that impure air. For this different types of air like Prana etc., (of. above) should be placed in Pranalinga and the other ten places. Channabasavanna has very minutely analysed various kinds of air in a number of vachanas, as also the process of achieving this pranalingi stage. If there is control of breath, Prana is Linga and Linga is Prana.

1. A thing cannot be Pranalinga unless it reaches the palm through the grace of Guru and Prana through virtuous acts… There cannot be union with the Pranalinga unless the feeling of ‘I’ is destroyed.
2. He who fixes his Prana in the Ishtalinga and becomes one with it is related to Pranalinga.
3. I shall hold my breath so that it does not mingle with Linga.
4. I was happy to see the Pranalinga. It is through the light that shone from the west and by the control of breath that we establish contact with Pranalinga.
5. Those blind people, who do not know the secret of the absolute Void dwelling on the five-pettalled lotus, deal with Pranalinga without loving it.
6. Pranalinga, which is the life of the whole being, merged into Kudalachannasanga.
7. Your sharana will raise the invisible (Sukshma) fire, that dwells in the void of the anus, sexual organ, (base, sex) navel, waist, nostril and the middle of the eyebrows by turning away, and fixing it in the circle of vital limbs. Then he will offer the nectar, which is found in the midst of nine circles, to the Pranalinga, which shines in the centre of the halo of Light and receives prasada.
8. As the sun dispels the external darkness, so God, who is hidden in the Shivayogi, dispels the darkness of his soul.
9. Let me describe the vision of Pranalinga: It was like the jewel swallowed by a fish, like a burning lamp, like a marble pot, like the water in a pearl; like the light hidden in the eyes, like the universe in the immense void.
10. When the body becomes Prasadakaya, every part of the body becomes sacred; when it becomes Pranalinga, it comes nearest to Linga.
11. If he is related to Pranalinga, he will not consider reality as dual in speech and action.
12. If one is a Pranalingi, one should set aside all the joys and sorrows and set his heart on Pranalinga.
13. One is not a Pranalingi unless one is true to Pranalinga.
14. As long as one is afraid, one is not a Pranalingi.
15. One is not a Pranalingi as long as one is a man of wrath.
16. How are they called Pranalingis if their speech does not tally with their action?
17. If he is a Pranalingi, he should not display it outwardly.
18. If he is a Pranalingi, he should be humble.
l9. To a Pranalingi, air is the body and pure mind is the hand.
20. Pranalinga is that which pervades the whole of my body and makes all the members shine like the luminous Being in the sky of the mind.
21. As soon as Pranalinga comes in relation with the Karmas (body, speech and mind) they assume the nature of Linga.

From the above it is clear that, in order to understand God, it is essential that one should be a virtuous man. That is, one should worship Ishtalinga. It is only through Ishtalinga that one will understand the true nature of Pranalinga. One who worships Pranalinga should be free from fear and duplicity. He should keep his prana (vital breath) under control, and make it enter into the life of Linga. He should aspire to become not merely Prasadakaya but Prakasakaya, which is the ultimate aim of a Pranalingi.

Ultimately, what is the nature of Pranalinga and where does it dwell? This question is traditionally answered in the following way. If one’s mind is compared to a bird, his eyes are its legs, his breath in the right and left nostrils (Ida and Pingala and Nadi) are its wings. The yogi through rhythmical breathing will gradually increase the capacity of the invisible fire in the foundation (adhara), umbilical region (svadhishtana), the navel circle (manipuraka), the root of the nose (anahata) and another mystical circle (ajna) and reach it at the highest state. Then he will experience the difference between the soul and the Supreme Being. According to Prabhudeva, the soul (atma) dwelling at the ajna circle between the eyebrows is all-radiant. This radiant soul is Pranalinga. This is known as brightness, paranjyoti (Divine Light).

Between the eyebrows, where Ida and Pingala nerves join, is the dwelling place of Pranalinga.

Rhythmical breathing has an important place in yoga in general and in Shivayoga in particular. The oxygen which we inhale performs different functions through the tenfold vessels. The tenth vessel is susumna, where perfect knowledge abides. It is an art to direct all the air we breathe into the tenth vessel alone. This requires long practice. The air does not pass through the nostrils in the same proportion. Channabasavanna has described graphically the flow of air during the various activities of the human being:

While sitting, the air flows from the nose for two fingers’ length;
While standing, the air flows from the nose for four fingers’ length;
While walking or speaking, the air flows from the nose for eight fingers’ length;
While half-asleep, the air flows from the nose for sixteen fingers’ length;
While in sexual intercourse, the air flows from the nose for thirty-two fingers’ length;
Half of it is inhaled;
When the external is turned inwards, that is the union with Lord Kudalachannasanga.

These details are very important for a beginner. Oxygen is very essential for the building up of our bodies. The quantity of air that we inhale should be twice as much as we exhale, if we want to remain strong and healthy. To achieve this proportion, we should acquire control over our breath. This control of breath helps the susumna to open its door which leads to the Supreme Being in us. Channabasavanna gives us a key to open the door of susumna:

Take the posture of Padmasana, straighten the backbone.
Strengthen the heart-lotus and look upwards,
Direct the sense-organs one point alone,
With sun and moon ever in one place;
Hold firm in the hand the Light
And look at its mid-line straight.

The susumna is in the middle of the spine. The posture that is convenient for concentration is to sit straight, so as to bring the base, the chest and the head in a straight line. Then we should concentrate on Ishtalinga in the Lotus of the heart, Pranalinga in between the eyebrows, and Bhavalinga in the thousand wheels which meet in the susumna. Owing to such concentration, there will be a flow of Divine Light, in which we should lose ourselves. As the brilliance of this light spreads, one can clearly see the Pranalinga. The Shivayogi sees nothing but a vast void before realising the Supreme Being in the susumna.

The pot of nectar is broken by the touch of the fire of the Supreme Being which is seen in the path of susumna. The different limbs of the body of a Shivayogi are refreshed by the drop of nectar (amrtabindu) which flows continuously from the cow of Meru-mountain. The body of the Shivayogi will never suffer, as it is rendered immortal by the sprinkling of the nectar, which is pleasant as the moon. Once a yogi drinks this nectar, obtained from the thousand circles, his yoga practice ends. He, however, remains fixed in meditation in the thousand-petalled lotus, and will activate the sikha and the west (pashchima) wheels which are the centres of all strength.

“All light of the nine wheels Takes the shape of Shivalinga.”

This experience of Sarpabhusanashivayogi is explained clearly by Channabasavanna in a good number of vachanas. In his opinion, the Mandara position means the place of a thousand wheels, the sea of sweet water means sikhachakra and merumandir means the western wheel. The Shivayogi has paschimachakra (the western circle) there is anuchakra from where Navachakras (nine circles) spread throughout the body. Channabasavanna calls it Anukundalini (minute circle). Once the Shivayogi reaches this, he feels identified with God. Once he is one with the omnipotent he will do the impossible. He does not abandon this world. He lives in the world without being one of it and yet works for the good of the world. There are various degrees of Shivayoga, according to which the depth of identification with the Supreme Being will differ. The highest degree of identification can be achieved in the western circle (Pashchimachakra). Here the Shivayogi will attain a state where he does not require his body. Channabasavanna gives a description of such a Shivayogi:

In the centre of the body’s universe
There is the tree of the Bhakta with glowing fruit;
In the centre of that fruit there is the seed of Jangama
And the complete soul.
In between the two: right action
Right knowledge and Great knowledge.
The radiant sun, the radiant moon
The radiant fire circle around.

You may describe a Shivayogi as the serious coal-burning eye of the Supreme Being; the harmony of action, devotion and knowledge; the adjustment of the solar, lunar and fire circles; the union of Pingala, Ida and Sushumna; the confluence of the power of the thousand circles and the power between the eyebrows. He is the Bhakta and the Jangama, the Linga and the Anga. He is the worshipper and the worshipped. He is the master and the servant. His body becomes transparent and translucent. Duality ceases to be in the self, identity with the Supreme Self. This, in brief, is Shivayoga as described by Channabasavanna:

The spaceless body’s lost in unity;
The spaceless mind is lost in unity;
The spaceless will is lost in unity;
The void, absorbing void, is now reduced
To void; the very word
Lord Kudala Channasanga too has vanished!


[1] Dr. R. G. Hiremath, M. A., Phd. Vice-Chancellor, “SHRI CHANNABASAVESHVARA, Life and Philosophy”, 1978, Karnatak University, Dharwad