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Siddha Research: The Basic Difficulties

By Dr. T. N. Ganapathy, Ph D
Director of the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project

(The following article is excerpted from our forthcoming book, "The Yoga of Tamil Siddha Boganathar" by Dr. Ganapathy)

There are certain basic difficulties, which every writer on Tamil Siddhas has to encounter. The basic difficulties relate to:

1. The definition of the term "Siddha", the classification of the Siddhas and their number;
2. The absence of reliable editions, the poetic form, and the language used by the Siddhas.
3. The number of siddhis and views regarding the siddhis;
4. The use of tantric yoga as the method of the Siddhas;
5. Identification of the Siddhas with the alchemists.
6. The philosophy of the human body and
7. A trustworthy biographical account.

Let us discuss the above basic difficulties in detail.

1. The definition and classification of the Siddhas.

The basic difficulty of a study of the Siddhas begins with the term "Siddha" itself which has several inter-connected and often overlapping meanings without any common accepted usage. It is a Sanskrit term meaning "fulfilled". A Siddha is a "videgdha", "fully boiled", i.e., perfect being. He stands for the Indian ideal of perfection. The Tamils refer to four types of mukti or liberation. They are salokya, the status of living in the world of God, samipya, the status of being nearer to God, sarupya, the status of getting the form of God, and sayujya, the status of being one with the God. The Siddhas are those who have attained the last type of liberation. The first three types of liberation are called padamukti by Tirumular and the last one is called siddhi. Tirumular says that one whose mind is serene and clear like an ocean without waves is a Siddha. In Tamilnadu it is customary among the Siddhas to trace their origin to Siva, who is also called a Siddha.

A Siddha is one who has realized the non-duality of jiva and Siva. He is the one who has realized Siva in himself. He is one who has attained Sivanubhava. Sivanubhava stands for the state of experience where there is non-dualism or oneness between the experiencing jiva and Siva, a jiva-Siva-aikya. There is a Tamil saying "Sittan pokku, Sivan pokku" meaning that a Siddha walks or follows the way of Siva.

A Siddha is a yogin. Saint Tirumular says that those who live in yoga and see the divine power and light through yoga are the Siddhas.8 He is an experimental yogin who attains perfection by the method of self-effort.9 As yogins the Siddhas are said to have the triple control - the control of breath, the control of the seminal fluid, i.e. the control of all passions and the achievements of desirelessness - and the control of mind. A Siddha is one who has succeeded in stabilizing these controls in oneself and maintains equanimity and a sense of equilibrium.

A Siddha is one who has attainted siddhi, a special psychic and supernatural power, which is said to be eightfold in the science of yoga. The eight siddhis are :
(i)anima, the ability to become as minute as an atom;
(ii)mahima, the ability to expand infinitely;
(iii)laghima, levitation or the ability to float through the air;
(iv)garima, the ability to reach every where;
(v)prakamya, freedom of will, or the ability to overcome natural obstacles;
(vi)isitva, the ability to create or control;
(vii)vasitva, domination over the entire creation; and
(viii)kamavasayitva, the gift of wish-fulfilment or the ability of attaining everything desired or to attain the stage of desirelessness.

The term "Siddha" comes from the word "siddhi" which means the experience of Siva. Siddhisvara, God of Siddhis, is a name of Siva. Siddhis indicate whether the practitioners of yoga have attained a stage to reach the ultimate goal, namely, liberation. It is wrong to think that the Siddhas are magicians or uncouth ascetics credited with supernatural powers. They are not atheists or agnostics as is commonly believed. They believe in God, but not a God of this or that religion. For most of them there is a God, a Siva, without any limitation or attributes, Siva is grammatically and philosophically an impersonal conception. The real name for "Siva" is "It" or "Atu" or "Thatness" or "Suchness". A genuine Siddha is beyond atheism and faith (theism) alike.

A Siddha is a free thinker and a revolutionary who refuses to allow himself to be carried away by any religion or scripture or rituals. One Tamil Siddhas says: "A Siddha is one who has burnt the sastras". This is to be interpreted not in the literal sense but in the sense that for a jnanin, "the Vedas are not Vedas". A Siddha is one who has attained a stage of realization where he is not bound by the injunctions of the sastras, and where he has gone beyond the Vedas. At this stage sastras become irrelevant trifles. There is always a gulf between words and the experience, which they stand for. To seek enlightenment in words and ideas is like expecting the sight of a menu card to reach and satisfy the inner processes of a hungry man. A description can never in itself transmit experience. All the sastras, Vedas, Puranas, and the various religious sects turn humanity into conditioned animals. Truth is felt experience and it cannot be translated fully in any sastra. As a Doha song says: "Looking at the fruit in the tree is not smelling it. Does the disease fly away at the sight of the physician?" The Siddhas seem to be opposed to the scriptures, but their temper is devout. They are "pious rebels" inside the field of religion and as such they are not atheists. Karai Siddhar draws a distinction between a Siddha and a non-Siddha by saying that a Siddha points to the path of the experience whereas a non-Siddha points to the path of scriptures.

A Siddha is one who enjoys perfect bliss even while he is in his physical body. The body is treated by him as the best medium of realizing the truth. Similar to the sacred rivers, temples, mountains, etc., the body is a sacred passage to the ultimate Reality. Sivavakkiyar raises a pertinent question: why should we go out to these places when the threshold is in us. Siddhas know how to preserve the body through light rays ("mani" in Tamil) sound waves ("mantra") and medicine ("marundu" or "ausadha" in Tamil). The technique of the preservation of the body is called kaya sadhana: it is an attempt to attain a perfect body called Siddha deha. In short, one who has obtained the power of dematerializing and spiritualizing the body, and knows how to transmute the corruptible physical into the incorruptible superphysical basis of life is a Siddha. A Siddha attains and possesses an eternal spiritual body called the divya-deha and is one who finally breaks out of the karmic cycle and attains deliverance from time. Using the expression of Mircea Eliade we may say that the Siddhas are those "who understood liberation as the conquest of immortality".

A notable feature that we find among the Tamil Siddhas is the total absence of any local cult of the deity. They are not "henolocotheists", believers in one local God. No genuine Siddha in Tamilnadu including Tirumular, has sung in praise of any local God or deity or personal God. This is a feature that distinguishes Siddhas from other saints, especially Alwars and Nayanmars. We may say that the chief characteristic feature, the differentia, to determine a genuine Siddha from a non-Siddha is to find out whether he/she has sung in praise of any local God or Deity. According to Sivavakkiyar a Siddha does not worship any deity in the temple. As a Baul sings: "the road to the Absolute is blocked by temples, mosques and the teachers. Markendaya Purana says that the knower of yoga should not participate in pilgrimages to the shrines of gods. Pambatticcittar also says that those who have built temples for local Gods and have offered prayers are those who do not get at the feet of the real Lord. Tirumular also refers to Siddhas as those who have not tried the path of any (sectarian) religion. The Tamil Siddhas do not belong to any religion or samayam. "Samayam" in Tamil means "convention", "rule".

The songs of the Siddhas do not show any trace of collective thinking; neither is there any suggestion of preaching; they indicate only the direction. One can discern certain common characteristics among the Siddhas, which make them distinct from the "learned" poets on the one hand and sectarian religious poets on the other. To be a Siddha, sectarian affiliation is irrevelent. Their philosophy is enlightenment as distinct from doctrine; it is not a theoretical and formalist approach to problems. The Tamil Siddhas are not system-builders; their whole technique is to jolt people out of their intellectual ruts and their conventional, barren, morality. They laid before their audience an abrasive, shocking, uncompromising message exhorting them to shed their delusions, pretensions, and empty orthodoxies in favour of an intense, direct, personal confrontation with truth. They are the "untethered", non-conformist, spiritual aspirants, yearning for a direct and natural approach to, and a more intense experience of, the absolute truth. They reject, the value and prestige of the scriptures, which remain the privilege of the few in Hinduism. The Tamil Siddhas may be considered as "scriptureless" or "bookless" or nirgrantha school of Hinduism, as they are detatched from any scriptual authority.

The Tamil Siddhas belong to a non-conformist, "counter-tradition". What is meant by "counter tradition" is not that "which opposes tradition". But the "tradition which opposes". The Siddhas challenged many of the accepted beliefs and practices of the Hindu society and thought. They denounced idol and ritualistic worship and petitionary prayers as fetters holding back the soul from liberation. Their language was as unconventional as were their lives. This led many people to think that the Tamil Siddhas were Buddhists in disguise, since Buddhism also criticized vehemently the doctrines of the Hindus.

Siddha, sectarian affiliation is rather unnecessary and irrelevant. Yet it is customary to classify Siddhas into the above groups. The Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, a classical text on hatha yoga, contains a list of Maha-Siddhas beginning with Adinatha. Adinatha is the mystical name for Siva. The Siddhas belonging to the school of Adinatha are called Natha Siddhas. They are known as kan-phatta, because they have to pierce the cartileges of their ears and pass a heavy ring, known as darsana, around which by its weight cut longish slits upto their ear lobes. Gautama Buddha was having this mark on him. The Natha Siddhas originated in North India, and their literature contains a number of hatha yogic texts of which the famous are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita. They had the agnomen of Natha added to their proper names. The term "Natha" in its theological sense is restricted to a Saiva preceptor just as the surname of gosain is confined to the teachers of the Vaishnava faith. In this connection it would be interesting to note the view that the term "Natha" is derived from the Prakrit word "Nattha" meaning the nose-string used for controlling an animal. This term probably has been adopted by the Siddhas to refer to one who has controlled his mind through yoga.

The concept of sacrifice is connected with this number, and "eighteen" appears to be the symbolic equivalent of man as sacrifice. According to the Chinese mythology there are eighteen lohans(arhats). From the point of view alchemy eighteen is an important number. In Rasesvara Darsana eighteen modes of elaboration of mercury or eighteen modes of treating quick silver are discussed. In the Ramayana the war took place for eighteen days: and that there are eighteen Agamas, eighteen consonants, etc. There is another view that the number "eighteen" may also refer to the "eighteen" worlds of ordinary human beings - the six sense organs, the objects of the six sense organs and the six forms of consciousness of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. The Siddhas are those who have gone beyond, transcended these eighteen worlds of ordinary men. Hence they are referred to as "eighteen Siddhas" i.e. people who have conquered the "eighteen worlds". In Siddha medicine number "eighteen" has a special place. Macchamunmi says that there are eighteen important herbs. In kundalini yoga "eighteen" is a significant number; kundalini after reaching sahasrara has to cross further through eighteen mahavidyas. That is eighteen energized subtle centres encircling the sahasrara region, finally to unite with Siva, in an act known as maithuna yoga In Sattaimuni Jnanam the Siddha refers to the "eighteen" letters that are part and parcel of valai, i.e. the kundalini sakti. In his work Padinen Siddhar Yogakkovai Parayanappa, Yogi Ramaiah says that the number "eighteen" represents eighteen different aspects of yoga though he has not explained them. He also says that out of the eighty four Siddhas, the most important are eighteen and hence this tradition of yoga is called Padinen Yoga Siddha Tradition. All these internal evidences from Siddha yoga and medicine have been taken to show that "eighteen" in the "eighteen Tamil Siddhas" does not refer to the number of Siddhas (because Siddhas are innumerable) but to the attainments of a Siddha. But it seems to the author that the number "eighteen" refers to the eighteen siddhis. The Siddhas are those who have attained the eighteen siddhis. In short, the numeral "eighteen" is a holy number among the Tamil Siddhas. There is a verse which says that Siddhas know eighteen languages. Here language means siddhi. (to be continued)

Copyright. Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications. December 2001

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