by Dr. T. N. Ganapathy, Ph D
Director of the Tamil Siddha Yoga Research Project
The following article, the second in a series, is excerpted from our forthcoming book, "The Yoga of Tamil Siddha Boganathar" by Dr. T.N. Ganapathy. In the previous article, the basic difficulty, the term "Siddha" itself, was discussed. The present article discusses other difficulties involved in studying the works of the Siddhas.
The main problem in the study of the Tamil Siddhas is the absence of reliable editions of the Tamil Siddha poetry. There are still thousands of unpublished manuscript texts of Siddha poetry. To add to our difficulty we have a large number of cheap prints going under the name of Siddha poetry. Even with the available editions, there are numerous variations, corruption, and interpolations. One of the chief difficulties is the continuing process of corruption and interpolation in the Siddha texts. Later editions have a tendency to tamper with the original works. Even if one is a great scholar he has no freedom or license to alter even a single letter of the original Tamil Siddha poems.
There are only a limited number of works and articles on the Tamil Siddhas, with little value to the researcher. They do not provide adequate material for a basic understanding of the Siddhas in their true perspective. All along there has been only a fragmentary and superficial study of the Tamil Siddhas and a brusque way of the presentation of their philosophy by some of them. Since Siddha poems express experiences, which have been lived through, it is difficult to comprehend them fully.
The views of the Tamil Siddhas are couched in a poetic form and belong to a sphere between philosophy and poetry. In Tamil Siddha poetry we find a medley of views not crystallized into well-defined doctrines. Further the literature under the common name "The Writings of the Tamil Siddhas" spans many centuries. These things make it impossible to explain the teachings of the Tamil Siddhas in terms of one historical line or metaphysical doctrine. Any attempt to do so commits the logical error of reductionism.
The basic source of the Tamil Siddha poetry and philosophy is in the spoken language of the people. What we have as Siddha poetry today has been handed over from generation to generation in the form of "oral transmission". In Tamil literature such an oral transmission is called vaymoli or eludakkilavi. This explains why in Siddha poetry there is looseness in construction, noticeable repetitions, inconsistent verses, and difference in emphasis on the same subject dealt with in various places. To facilitate oral transmission the Tamil Siddhas used only the common words spoken by ordinary people–unpolished, crude, offensive, indecent and colloquial expressions. This use of the common speech of the people produces a powerful effect whenever we read Siddha poetry, even though there is no trace of conscious poetic calculation in the songs of the Tamil Siddhas.
Although the Siddha poems are in the common language of the people, the meaning of the poems operates at two levels - one the exoteric and the linguistic and the other esoteric and the symbolical. The esoteric meaning is explained only to and understood only by the tested and the worthy. This paradox of language is the special difficulty, which a researcher meets in understanding and deciphering Siddha thought. Due to a lack of systematic and coordinated study, some of the writers, after a superficial reading, have highlighted the overtly negative features of the Siddha poems. This is a highly one- sided interpretation. People have fallen prey to this one-sidedness, which is always an evil due to misrepresentations and misreadings of Siddha poetry by vested interests. Patanjaliar Suttiram-50 regrets that without going deep into the verses, people have interpreted the Siddhas poems according to their own imagination. A serious and sincere researcher has to steer clear through such misreading of Siddha poetry. Our extreme inadequate sources of the knowledge of the Siddhas and their poetry should not give us freedom, or shall we say license, in elucidating their doctrines or making hasty judgements. As yogi Ramaiah says: " We, human, with our pigeon intellects, cannot sit in judgement over the cosmic consciousness of the Siddhas." In the midst of such uncertainty and meagerness of decisive material it is necessary to present the question with a proper regard to the available data and avoid hasty conclusions or statements on insufficient basis. Since Siddha philosophy drew upon any source that was available to it, such as the folk lore of Tamilnadu, the Tantras, the Vedas, the mysticism of the age, the Buddhist rebellion against rituals, etc. one who wants to understand it has to take all these factors into consideration.
The symbolic and secret language used by the Siddhas, called sandhya — bhasa or sunya sambashanai, has been one of the causes of deep mistrust of their doctrines by the other classical systems of philosophy and religions in India. People who opposed the Siddha doctrines have highlighted only the seemingly obscene and obscure elements of language used by the Siddhas and have not gone deep into their purport. The homology between the bliss enjoyed by the sadhaka at the supreme state and the enjoyment in sexual union is a common feature found in all mystical expressions; and the Siddha language is not an exception to this.(46) The seeming vulgarity of the Siddha poems, their esoteric teachings, their intentionally obscure language and symbolism–all have contributed to a lack of coordinated approach to the sources and their philosophy till this day.
In a study of the Tamil Siddhas it is important to make a note of the symbolic and secret language used by them. The language of Tamil Siddhas is suggestive and paradoxical. It is called sandhya bhasa or twilight language, which literally means that the ideas may be explained either by the light of day or by the darkness of night. It is also known as sunya sambhasanai or the conversation about the void. Sandhya bhasa has been variously translated as "enigmatic language", "hidden sayings", and "intentional language". This mystical language of the Tamil Siddhas is characterized by deceptive simplicity. The Jnanabodhakam speaks of the dual meaning of the language of the Tamil Siddhas as "the treachery of the Siddhas". It calls that language as a "merciless language" since in it the Siddhas conceive one thing and express another. It warns people not to take the language of the Siddhas at its face value. The essential characteristic feature of the language is its polysemantic nature, its multivalence, and its capacity to express at the same time a number of meanings both at the level of ordinary experience and at the level of transcendence. The suggestive, epigramatic and enigmatic nature of the language itself is mystical in nature, where the highest is clothed in the form of the lowest. The Tamil Siddhas make free use of typology, wordplay, paradox, repetition, and metaphor to convey to the listener the richness of the reality hidden in the visible terms and symbols. The paradoxical expressions and their explanations are accessible only to the initiated. Probably the Siddha poems themselves function as an initiation.
The twilight language of the Siddhas is a language for preaching esoteric, mystical doctrines. Most of the Tamil Siddha songs are written in veiled language, paribhasa. It is a secret language in which the numerals, ordinary words and symbols are deprived of any immediate, naturalistic meaning and endorsed with a much wider and spiritually richer, inner, mystical significance. The use of numerals to denote mystical experiences is a favorite device of the Tamil Siddhas and an authentic pattern of Tirumular, a Tamil Siddha par excellence. Alphabet symbolism is also a common technique that we find in Tamil Siddha poetry. We can safely say that the monosyllables that we find in Tamil Siddha poetry are no longer gibberish. They have a meaning and a message.
The poems of Tirumular abound in technical terms conveying mystical experience. The symbolic, twilight language of the Tamil Siddhas has the advantage of precision, concentration, secrecy, mystery and esoteric significance in that the symbols are objective short cuts to the subjective states of bliss. The symbols, at the hands of the Siddhas, become a form of artistic expression of the inexpressible. The use of the symbolic language is not merely a protection against profaning the sacred by the ignorant, but also suggests that language, however enriched, is incapable of expressing the highest experience of the spirit. Indeed, language is but a broken lamp. In Sufi terminology, any attempt to convey the inner meaning of one’s spiritual experiences in conventional language is like "sending a kiss to the beloved by a messenger". In short, the twilight language of the Siddhas is, in essence, profoundly mystical in nature and contains a "numinous aura" and "existential revelations for the man who deciphers their message". The essential difficulty is that to understand the twilight language requires a total hermeneutic of reading, an awareness, in fact, of the total religious and philosophical structures, which infuse into it. It also requires one to enter deep states of meditation wherein the verse serves as a key, which reveals a higher meaning to the initiate.
According to the Tamil Lexicon "siddhi" means "realization", "success", "attainment", "final liberation." A siddhi is an accomplishment on the psychic plane. Siddhi may also mean mysticism in Tamil. In the Tevaram "siddhi" means "success" in attaining God.(48) The real meaning of the word "siddhi"is best expressed by words as "attainment", or "accomplishment" connected with the super-physical worlds. In Zen Buddhism we come across the term "satori" which may be translated as "enlightenment" which is very near to the Hindu concept of "siddhi". Siddhi amounts to an actual surpassing of the human condition and may be likened to an "ontological mutation". In the words of Mircea Eliade, by attaining siddhi, "one is trying to break down the structures of the "profane" sensibility" to make way for extra sensory perception as well as an unbelievable control over the body." A siddhi, in short, is an effort directed to the "death of the profane man" and a state of consciousness cosmic in structure.
Traditionally siddhis are eight in number known as asta siddhi. Asta Siddhi is of three orders, two siddhis of knowledge (garima and prakamya), three siddhis of power (isitva,vasitva and kamavasayitva) and three siddhis of the body (anima, mahima and laghima). The Hindu thought generally recognises eight siddhis, though occasionally eighteen and twenty-four siddhis are also acknowledged. In the Uddhava Gita twenty-three siddhis are enumerated.(50) The Tirumantiram speaks of sixty-four siddhis. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, sixty-eight siddhis are classified. In Jnanavettiyan-1500 and in Agasthiyar Jnanakaviyam-1000 mention is made of sixty-four siddhis. Verse 337 of Bogar Karpam 300 speaks of eighty-four siddhis. Saint Ramalinga Swamigal also says that there are sixty four siddhis.. In the Yogattava Upanisad we find certain details about siddhis. In Tamil literature a list of the siddhis is to be found in Paranjoti’s Tiruvilaiyadar Puranam, in Tayumanavar’s Tejomayanandam, and in Siddharganam, in Pambatticcittar’s songs, in Saint Ramalingam’s the Tiruvarutpa and Tirumular’s the Tirumantiram. It is said that one who has attainted siddhi "can hear the grass as it grows". Pambatticcittar and Tayumanavar have sung about the unlimited capabilities of the Siddhas. Siddhis emerge due to several causes.
It is unfortunate that siddhis have always been considered more a hindrance to spiritual development than as yogic attainments. Saint Ramalingam, who has discussed the siddhis in detail, refers to the attainment of siddhis as "pichu" or "childish play" (Pillai vilayattu). According to Patanjali siddhis are perfections in the waking state (vyutthana) but represent obstacles in the state of samadhi, and allows them no importance for the attainment of deliverance. Patanjali drew attention not only to the danger of exhibiting siddhis, but to the dangers that they present to the possessor; for the yogin is in danger of yielding to the temptation of magic, of being content to enjoy the siddhis instead of sticking to his spiritual task of obtaining final liberation. Pattinattar calls siddhi as "bitter sugarcane" (kasakkum karumbu) to indicate its dual nature. The desire for attracting popular notice through a display of siddhis shows immaturity. As Pambatticcittar says "those who have attained self realization will not exhibit it and those who have not attained self realization are those who exhibit it." But to the true Siddha, who is a genuine kundalini yogin, these siddhis are of immense value, for they indicate that he is in the process of deconditioning himself from the laws of nature and from karmic determinism forever and breaking down the structures of the profane sensibility. Siddhi expresses the quality of mystic experience attained by the Siddha. The real siddhi consists in inner conversion, an inner world of oneness, an entering into the stream of liberation. What is prohibited is not the attainment of the siddhis but their exhibition to others.
The Tamil Siddhas practised tantra yoga. There was a popular belief that the Tantras discarded asceticism and were an unsavoury mixture of mysticism, occult, pseudo-science, magic and erotica couched in strange and often filthy language.
There has been a strong prejudice against tantra yoga, the method adopted by the Tamil Siddhas. Further the doors of tantric yoga have ever been open to all classes of people, and some of the Siddhas are from the lower strata of society. This led people to hold the view that tantras were meant for the degenerate and the fallen and it was considered to be in vogue among the low class people. To add to all these, the science of healing, to which a number of Tamil Siddhas are devoted, was relegated to the class of avidya or false knowledge. What is the need of medicine when disease is caused by the karma of the past life? According to the karma theory there is a karmic connection between the act done intentionally and its consequent result of suffering from a disease. A human being will suffer from diseases if he does any or many of the following acts. Plucking the tender leaves and cutting the plants without any purpose; taking the living beings out of water and putting them on earth under the sun, disturbing the mobile and crawling creatures out of their normal way of movement, hitting the birds by stones and catapults, having intercourse with a person older than oneself and also with a lady during her period of menstruation, excessive drinking of toddy, taking food at irregular periods, during day or night, excessive indulgence in all things, insulting and showing disrespect to yogins and elders, walking alone in the mid of night and doubting one’s own atmasakti (the power of one’s own self) and the like, all these will lead one to suffer from fever, malaria, giddiness, piles, arthritis, leprosy, diabetes, asthma, ulcer, anemia, jaundice, typhoid, kidney failure, etc. The more heinous acts of karma we do, more and more varieties of diseases will be added on to this list. Therefore one has to suffer these diseases and there is no point in treating the diseases by using medicines. Medicines can neither prevent nor cure diseases caused by karma. This was the argument put forward by the upholders of Vedic knowledge.
In Tamil nadu the Siddhas are identified with the alchemists. The traditional science of alchemy is considered to work not only on the matter under transmutation, but also on the soul. The Tamil Siddhas considered yogic sadhana as a sort of internal spiritual alchemy. Very often people confuse the analogy between the Siddha and the alchemist who is treated as a miracle man or a magician who turns base metals into gold. In Tamil language since the alchemist turns brass(pithalai) into gold (adakkam), he is called Pithalattakaran (a man who turns brass into gold). This word also means a trickester in Tamil. Unfortunately as the Siddha is compared to an alchemist, he got the unsavoury epithet that he is a trickster not to be depended upon i.e. a pithalattakaran. Alchemy is not to be looked up on as merely eulogistic of the metal gold. It stands for the conservation of the body, a means to the highest liberation. In Rasesvara Darsana it is said that mercury can make the body undecaying and immortal. If we analyze further we shall understand the analogy between the alchemist and the Siddha. Just as the alchemist works on base metals and turns them into gold, the Siddha transmutes his psycho-physical life into a free autonomous spirit. In India gold symbolizes immortality. Viewed in the above sense, every Siddha is a spiritual alchemist par excellence and his sadhana is kayasadhana, that is, cultivation of the body or transformation of the body into immortal essence. The yogins call their technique sadhana which is a sort of internal spiritual alchemy. Mircea Eliade has made a comparison between the yogin and the alchemist:
The yogi works on his own physiology. Through ascesis practised on his own body he achieves a refinement of matter exactly comparable with the alchemist who "tortures" metals — that is the expression used — and purifies them in his laboratory. In both cases a state of complete spiritual autonomy is reached in the end, because the spirit is no longer conditioned by psycho-physiology or by the external material world.
Sometimes for the Tamil Siddhas, alchemy was merely an outer cover, husk or seal for something far more profound. It was a code for protection against unwary intruders.
Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 4
Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 3
Tamil Siddha Research Project Part 1
Copyright. Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications. 2002
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