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Matsyendra Samhita, Ascribed to Matsyenranatha: Part I.

Edited by DEBABRATA SENSHARMA. The Asiatic Society, Bibliotheca Indica, no. 138. Calcutta: THE ASIATIC SOCIETY, 1994. Pp. xii + 65 + 138 (in Devanagari numbering). Rs 150 (cloth).

Debabrata Sensharma, for decades Professor of Sanskrit at Kurukshetra University and a leading authority on the Trika philosophical system - the different saivadvaita schools also known, since J. C. Chatterji (1914), under the collective name of Kashmir Shivaism - found the manuscript copy of the Matsyendranatha Samhita (MSam) in the course of his search for unpublished Saiva and Sakta Tantric manuscripts in several British libraries. He found it in the library of the Wellcome Institute of History of Medicine - which, even though it has a large collection of manuscripts, had not been well investigated by scholars of Saivism in Britain or on the Continent.

The MSam was listed in the handlist of Sanskrit manuscripts written by V. Raghavan. As Sensharma explains in the preface, this important Tantric text dealing with yogic practices of the Kaula school, one of the Trika schools, remained in the Institute unknown and unnoticed, as its name does not appear in any published catalogue of Sanskrit manuscripts, or in any work on the history of Sanskrit literature.

In this review we are assuming that the Kaula and Kula schools are synonymous. On the contrary, Abhinavagupta distinguishes between the Kula (or Sakta), and Kaula schools in his Paratrisikavivarana (PTV) (see Singh 1988).

In his book Sensharma has added an exhaustive introduction - several chapters in length - to the first 20 patala (out of 55) of the text, which are transcribed, numbered in Devanagari (pp. 1-138), and edited. He plans to publish the remaining work in two or more parts. The introduction includes sections on the origin and development of the Kaula school; the authorship of the text; the date of Matsyendranatha; legends related to Matsyendranatha's life; and his works and his contribution to Kaula tradition. This edition is based on a unique manuscript which Sensharma ascribes to A.D. 1858. There are three other incomplete manuscripts bearing the same title as this text, written in Bengali and preserved by the National Archives in Kathmandu. However, these are totally different texts (cf. Bagchi 1934, 1ff.).

The MSam is mostly written in verses, mainly anustubh but also upajati, indravajra, arya, etc. It is complete, but full of lacunae and gaps. The author has edited the text in an open fashion, used his "wits for corrections" and resorts "to heavy dose[s] of emendation" (p. vi). He had to leave the text in corrupt form in many places. The name of the original author of the text is not given, but the colophon at the end (pat. 55) says it was originally composed by Matsyendranatha, who heard it from Siva himself; Matsyendra, who was illiterate, then sang it to Colendranatha, a Cola king, who gave it to the people on earth to obtain siddhi or spiritual perfection. In MSam I: 9 the way Matsyendranatha listened to the dialogue between Siva and Parvati while in the belly of a big fish is described in detail (and this explains his name as Lord of the Lords of Fish).

Sensharma, who was a pupil of M. M. Gopinath Kaviraj, resorts, without professing it, to an ideal parampara of illustrious Bengali predecessors such as P. Ch. Bagchi and S. Das Gupta. His book is a blend of the Western scholarly tradition and the Indian religious tradition. On p. 26 Sensharma writes that Matsyendranatha, almost certainly the author of this Samhita, "therefore probably flourished in the 5th or 6th cent. A.D. and lived for 400 years or so in the physical body and taught Yoga to Goraksatha in the 10th cent. A.D." In this way, Sensharma explains the gap occurring between the supposed date of the teacher Matsyendranatha and his pupil, the famous teacher and propagator of the Natha cult Goraksanatha (or Gorakhnath), who probably lived in the tenth century. The Buddhist Nagarjuna and Carpati were both contemporaries of Matsyendranatha (see G. Tucci 1930).

Matseyndranatha, the first teacher of the almost legendary Natha or Siddha movement, which Shahidullah (1928), also basing himself on Chinese and Tibetan texts, dates to A.D. 673, is one of the most influential figures of the Asian Middle Ages. One link between the Trika and the Siddha spiritual paths is the great teacher Mahamahesvara Vasugupta, the founder of the Spanda school. According to one sampradaya, as described by Ksemaraja in his Sivasutravimarsini (p. 1ff.), Vasugupta was a siddha pupil of Goraksanatha - the famous pupil of Matsyendranatha. Vasugupta refused Siddha teachings such as those of the Tantric Buddhist Nagabodhi, who taught inferior doctrines.(1) He was deeply devoted to Siva and his heart was purified by the true tradition of the various siddha and yogini devoted to Paramesvara.

Since people at that time were devoted to Saiva dualism, in order to reestablish the Advaita religion Siva decided to continue the sacred tradition. Willing to help people, he enlightened Vasugupta in a dream, ordering him to ascend a mountain and find the secret teaching engraved on a rock. He ordered Vasugupta to understand it and manifest it to people qualified to receive the divine grace. Vasugupta found the rock with the text of the Sivasutras. This is a revealed text (cf. Garzilli 1995 and 1996), like the MSam. Differently from the MSam, the Sivasutras do not teach any ritual or yogic practices, do not contain mantras, and do not contain descriptions: they hint at a spiritual path in several stages and need commentary to be rationally understood; they need living practice to be understood and experienced from a religious point of view. We could almost say that the MSam is the popular form of the SS - we know that several texts of the Tantric Krama school, a Trika school with sakta tendencies, are in Prakrit (see N. Rastogi 1979, 8 et passim). They are different forms of teachings - and of schools - of the same saivadvaita belief.

The MSam incorporates stories which we can find in the Puranas, such as the motif of Matsyendra in the belly of a big fish. This clearly shows that the text was popular. Another piece of evidence is that, as Sensharma explains (p. 2), the language of the MSam is generally, but not always, correct. As it is a Tantric work, linguistic perfection is not expected: "Tantric works are addressed to the initiates of all kinds, literate, semi-literate and illiterate" (p. 2), and to all castes.

Another link between the Trika system and the Siddha movement are Abhinavagupta and Ksemaraja, both of whom followed various Trika schools. Several times AG mentions Siddhas, of whom Matsyendranatha and Goraksanatha were the most famous. What he means by siddha is a man who belongs to the homonymous movement; a man who has reached spiritual perfection (e.g., PTV, 78, 88, et passim; Tantraloka [TA], I: 233; II: 41, 48; IV: 264-70; XIV: 31-32; XXVIII: 19-20; XXIX: 2-3). KR, who was a pupil and cousin of AG, in his Pratyabhijnahrdaya exposed the svara theory of the Siddha text Vatulanathasutra, as AG did in various works. Therefore, the Siddha movement and the Pratyabhijna school, which is another Trika school, are closely connected.

The Siddha movement and the Krama school, a Trantric school of the Trika, are also closely connected. Vasugupta's contribution to the Krama school has already been mentioned by N. Rastogi (1979, 108-10). AG, in TA IV: 267 says: "The lineage of the Siddhas (siddha-santati) in the various yugas is made by Kurmanatha up to Minanatha." This lineage was praised by Mahesvarananda, one of the most prolific Krama authors, in the Sthiti-krama (N. Rastogi 1979, 87). The view that four yugas comprising the Siddha tradition (siddhaugha) should be accepted, was endorsed by Sivananda II, the great teacher of Mahesvarananda, in his Mahanayaprakasa, VIII: 14-17. Nevertheless, the siddhaugha was not recognized by AG as a Krama phenomenon. According to N. Rastogi (1979, 88), for AG "the Siddha tradition at issue is exclusively a Kula phenomenon." Matseyndranatha is indeed the recognized founder of another Trika school, the Kula, or most probably of one of the Kula schools. Similarly, the Kula and the Krama schools are closely connected (N. Rastogi 1979, 54-56).

The first historical Kula teacher was Sambhunatha, who was one of AG's most revered teachers. He taught at Jalandhara (present Himachal Pradesh). He was a pupil of Somadeva, who was a pupil of Sumati. Sambhunatha taught AG the rituals mentioned in the TA. In TA XXIV: 29-36, AG gives the list of the eighteen Kaula teachers who preceded him. Among them, Macchandanatha, his duti Kunkunamba and the six couples of "sons of performing kings (sadhikararajaputra)" who dwell in the northern region. Macchandanatha is another name for Matsyendranatha, Minanatha, Lu-pa in the Tibetan tradition, etc. (G. Tucci 1930; P. Ch. Bagchi 1934). The various names by which he is known and the legends about him are found throughout India, Kashmir, Nepal, and Tibet. In Nepal he is considered to be an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara and the presiding divinity of the country. Matsyendranatha's pupil Goraksanatha, also as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, Tib. Spyan ras gzigs, is the presiding divinity of Tibet (cf. J. K. Locke 1980). Jayaratha, the great commentator on AG, says that Macchandanatha lived in the pitha of Kamarupa (in Assam). He spread Kaula worship in the north in the Kali era. His six sons and their wives founded six separate traditions (or, as R. Gnoli [1972: 876-80] says, famiglie spirituali) of kaula worship called ovallis. All this has been explained by Sensharma in his introduction. In the Kaulajnananirnaya, Matsyendra is regarded as the founder of the ovalli called Yoginikaula (so P. Ch. Bagchi 1934, introduction). Matsyendra's date is difficult to determine and there are various traditions, most of them described by Sensharma in chapter IV of his introduction. There is the Marathi tradition of Jnanadeva and Bahina Bai, according to which he flourished in about A.D. 1210. On the basis of the Tibetan tradition, according to which Matsyendranatha was the first of the eighty-four siddhas(2) and was called Lui-pa (or Lohitapada), P. Ch. Bagchi dates him to the tenth century. S. Levi, on the other hand, establishes his date in the seventh century on the basis of a Nepalese Buddhist tradition that considers him to be the Avalokitesvara who saved Nepal from total destruction due to famine during the reign of king Narendradeva. Today the statue of Avalokitesvara is still worshipped in Bugama. Using AG's list of Kula teachers and calculating eighteen generations backward we arrive at 450-500 years before AG, who lived in Kashmir in the mid-tenth century. Therefore, on the one hand, the legendary Matsyendranatha is connected to Buddhism, and to the non-Tantric and the Tantric Trika schools of Kashmir, the Spanda, Pratyabhijna, Krama, and Kula. On the other hand, he was the revered guru of Gorakhnath, who was the most famous of the Natha yogins, who restored the hathayoga doctrine, which had been distorted by shamanic and Vajrayanic Tantric rituals (kamalakulisasadhana), to its original form of practice (as in the Machindra Gorasa Bodh attributed to Goraksanatha). The link between the Nathas and the Buddhist Anuttara-tantras and Yoga-tantras, such as the Hevajratantra, is also well attested. Taranatha ascribes the Hevajratantra to the teachings of Kampala and Saroruha, two of the eighty-four Siddha (see P. Filippani-Ronconi 1977-78). The Buddhist carya and dohakosa, in Old Bengali and in Apabhramsa, have also been influenced by the Siddhas (M. Shahidullah 1928). The collection of Caryaviniscaya hymns is said to come from the twenty-two saints whose names are in the famous list of the eighty-four Siddhas.

The movement of the Natha Yogins still exists today. It has many sub-sects but all honor Matsyendranatha as their originator. Shri Mahendranath Paramahamsa (1911-92), also known as Dadaji, was the twenty-third Adiguru of the modern Adinatha tradition.

Due to the fame of Matsyendra and the importance of the Siddha movement, Sensharma has rendered a precious service by restoring the Matsyendra Samhita to scholarly and religious life. His discovery of the text and his critical edition of it are an important contribution to the study of this semi-legendary teacher, the Siddha movement, the Trika system, Buddhism, and their reciprocal influence and influence on various Asian traditions, such as Islam (see Filippani-Ronconi 1966: xxix-xxxi).

1 Gorakhanatha or his homonym is said to have been a pupil of Nagabodhi. According to another sampradaya, Vasugupta was a pupil of Nagabodhi. The Buddhist prince Nagabhodhi was a pupil of Nagarjuna II, who was the founder of the Tantric Buddhism of the "right-hand" based on the mantra-naya that was brought to China at the beginning of the eighth cent. A.D. by the Singhalese Vajrabodhi, Amoghavajra, Subhakarasimha and that nowadays is continued in the Shingon sect of Japan. On the name Nagabodhi, see J. Nadou, Les Bouddhistes kasmiriens au moyen age [Paris, 1968], 75-83; Tucci 1930.

2 Another tradition recognizes eighty-seven Siddhas. For this information I am indebted to Prof. Benjamin Preciado-Solis (El Colegio de Mexico). He is publishing the eighty-seven drawings of the Siddhas in the International Journal of Tantric Studies, vol. 3, no. 1 (1997) [available electronically].


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Chatterji, J. C. 1914. Kashmir Shaivaism. Kashmir Series of Texts and Studies, no. I (Srinagar), 1.

Filippani-Ronconi, P., tr. 1966. Ummu'l-Kitab: Introduzione Traduzione e Note. Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale.

-----. 1977-78. Testi di Esercitazione Indologica (Naples, unpublished).

Garzilli, E., tr. 1993. The Bhavopahara of Cakrapaninatha: A Sanskrit Hymn to Siva (11th-12th Cent. A.D.). Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale. [Supplement no. 74 to ANNALI 53 (1993), fasc. 1.]

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-----. 1995. "The Unique Position of the Spanda School among the Other Schools of Kashmir Shivaism." International Journal of Tantric Studies, vol. 1, no. 1 [available in electronic format only]. Rpt. in Journal of Indological Society of Southern Africa 4 (December 1996): 43-63.

Gnoli, R. 1972. Luce delle sacre scritture (Tantraloka), 1st ed. (Turin: UTET).

Locke, J. K. 1980. Karunamaya: The Cult of Avalokitesvara-Matsyendranath in the Valley of Nepal. The Research Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University (Kathmandu: Sahayogi Prakashan).

Rastogi, N. 1979. The Krama Tantricism of Kashmir, vol. 1 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass).

Shahidullah, M., ed. 1928. Les Chants mystiques de Kahna et Saraha (Paris: Adrien-Maisonneuve).

Singh, J., ed. 1988. Paratrisikavivarana (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988), 31.

Tucci, G. 1930. "A Sanskrit biography of the Siddhas and Some Questions Connected with Nagarjuna," Animadversiones Indicae, JASB 26.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Garzilli, Enrica
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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