When the [pranic] residue eaten by Kundalini (the awakened she-serpent) has been snatched back by Kevala-Kumbha, then the vital force [prāna], moving through the subtle, posterior passage gets dissolved slowly and gently into the space between Vishnu’s feet
The emptiness of the fluctuation of all the senses is effected by that restraint of the unfettered breath known as Kevala-Kumbha. When this happens some wise yogis experience the dissolution of those vital internal winds [vayus]
We first encountered Kundalini, the she-serpent coiled at the base of the spine, back in śloka 6. When the body has been purified through asana practice, meditation, and general clean living, when the breath has been restrained and the mind calmed, and when all bandhas are correctly engaged then Kundalini may be roused. She hisses and shoots up the spine, seeking her lost love. In this śloka the spine is described as ‘the subtle, posterior passage.” Another word for the one that I chose to translate as subtle is “hidden.” This makes sense, as the spine is both in our backs and generally hidden from view.
Like Kevala-Kumbha and Samadhi, the rising of Kundalini hasn’t happened to me yet, but it’s supposed to be very groovy. Like a trillion hits of ecstasy blowing you up at once. How sweet that must be! However, this śloka reminds us that it is not the terminus of the journey. In fact, it’s more like a trap set on the way because we all know that what goes up, must come down. Or, barring that, what goes up will at the very least level into a permanent and ultimately disappointing plateau. So don’t go chasing highs, spiritual or otherwise because the real goal is to get off the ride altogether. No more yo-yoing between transcendental and mundane states. This is possible (but not necessarily certain) when Kevala-Kumbha happens. In this śloka Adi Śankaracarya builds a bit on the last one as he restates the idea that when the mind has been truly disciplined, nothing else is necessary. As pleasant as Kundalini rising may be, Kevala-Kumbha snatches her sustenance (the residue of prāna as it traverses the spinal column/sushumna nadi), presumably stopping her cold as described in the last śloka. Although prāna is synonymous with life itself, Kevala-Kumbha causes it to dissolve as an offering to God.
Śloka 13 is as straightforward in its message as it is clunky when rendered into English. At the risk of being dismissive, it is more of the same. When Kevala-Kumbha arrives, everything else stops. The breath is the linchpin of all the other systems, including the Mind and the senses. This is also expressed in the famous śloka from the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: “chale vate chalam chittam nischale nischalam bhavet, Yogi sthanutvampanoti tato vayum nirodhayet.” Which is, roughly, “As the breath moves, so does the mind. When still, still. O Yogi, to obtain steadiness [and equanimity], thus restrain the vital winds.” Adi Śankaracarya offers two more points of emphasis. One, not only will the wise Yogis see their prāna dissolve, they will also experience the dissolution of the other four vayus: apana, samana, udana, and vyana as well. And finally, note that he says some wise Yogis will experience this dissolution. How elusive this all is! Like trying to make it to the pros in any endeavor (dance, sport, music, etc.)— even among the very best, it doesn’t happen for everyone. This predicament is sure to bring on a sense of yearning which we will see in later ślokas.
But first, next week’s edition will be another “block,” so to speak, of ślokas which bring the Vedanta flavor of the this work back into focus. Stay tuned!