Gātram tadā mamalatāh pariveshtayanti karne yadā viracayanti khagāśca nīdān ||
When will I obtain that dissolution of the mind, unbroken? That perfection of samadhi in the hollows of the peak of the blessed mountain? When creeping vines will surround my whole body, and then birds make [their] home in my ear!
May this mind [of mine] be diffused in deepest Samadhi, or [focused] on the pair[s] of full breasts of those women with [lovely] black eyes like [those of] the spotted antelope. May it progress towards stupidity, or towards the conclusions drawn by the most wise. Weaknesses and [desirable] qualities generated from the mind cannot touch me! I am glorious, magnificent, and everywhere, at all times…
Śloka 28 has a lot going on. There’s another personal plea, a triple entendre, a double entendre, and an enduring mythological image that has recently resurfaced in a global pop culture phenomenon. Aho!
The śloka begins with a third and final direct appeal for the arrival of samadhi, only this time Adi Śankaracarya uses a turn of phrase that could be read not one, not two, but three ways. This compound word in the locative case (where/when), śrīśailaśrngakuhareshu, breaks down like so: śri (blessed) + śaila (mountain) + śrnga (crest or peak) + kuhara (cave, hollows). There is a place called Śriśailam in Andhra Pradesh in the Southeast of India that has a very old, very holy temple devoted to Śiva. So Adi Śankaracarya could be wondering if the samadhi will happen in that actual temple. Also, according to TKV Desikachar, the term śrīśailaśrngakuhareshu means “crown of the ornamental gate,” a fixture that all Indian temples have. And finally, the word kuhara can also refer to one’s ears. And thus the peak of the holy mountain can also be read as none other than the head itself, which of course has five caves: the ears, the nostrils, and the mouth.
The image of a Yogi being so rapt in meditation for so long that he or she begins to melt back into nature is a relatively common one. This motif is a poetic way of saying that while the body may fade and melt away, the Self remains. There is a famous fable about a Yogi who had been meditating next to a tree for so long that an anthill was built all the way up to his top of his torso, and then later all the way up to his chin. When told he has four more lives to live before attaining liberation he has a temper tantrum and has to start back over from scratch! Instead of an anthill, Adi Śankaracarya uses the image of being swallowed and wrapped up by creeping vines. Anybody who as watched or read Game of Thrones will be familiar with this image as well. One of the lead characters seeks out a sort of nature god called the Three-Eyed Raven and finds him in a cave, an old man (played by the legendary Max von Sydow) growing into a tree.
A final layer of meaning: the word for creeping vines, latā, can also refer to slender or graceful arms, and it can also refer to a slender, graceful woman! What gives? What about brahmacarya? Here are two ways one could look at it. If you think in terms of advaita then perhaps this melding into a woman’s arms could be a final sloughing off of the duality of gender. Another way to see it is as an erotic union with God. There is precedent in Hinduism, as young Krsnha took the Gopis (cowgirls) as lovers, and among them Radha was his favorite. We also have it in the West as well. The first, best example I can think of is the Baroque sculptor Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa. Check it out with Google images if you’re unfamiliar. She’s pretty plainly in the throes of an orgasm. Nice. In all seriousness, though, sexual energy directed exclusively to God is conducive to liberation, and therefore acceptable. This is what vajroli mudra is all about. Vajroli mudra is the technique brought up in an earlier commentary in which one’s semen, instead of being ejaculated out, is drawn back in and transmuted into prāna.
In the final śloka Adi Śankaracarya offers two sets of poles and proclaims that, like a good advaitin, he is beyond them. The first pole, deepest Samadhi (good!) is contrasted with an otherwise quite lovely description of female beauty (bad!). Some old-time misogyny is at play here, unfortunately. The second set is less problematic, obviously, because stupidity and wisdom are more universal opposites. I translated the final statement perhaps a bit floridly but I feel it is in the same spirit as other works by Adi Śankaracarya. The refrain of the Nirvanashatkam, for example, says “[mine is] the form of the bliss of pure consciousness— I am God, I am God.”
This concludes, for now, my translation and commentary on the Yoga Tarāvāli. I thank you all for reading and am looking forward to writing about other topics in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!!