His life at glance
Almost nothing is known of the historical Gorakshanath (also known as Gorakhnath). His personality had been distorted by myth and magical folklore. It seems he was an ascetic yogi who lived sometime around the 9th and 12th century. The details of his life are obscured by the numerous legends.One legend mentioned that Gorakshanath performed Tapas for twelve years, living on air alone and gained tremendous yogic powers and Siddhis. He travelled throughout India as well as foreign countries.While travelling around, he was said to have met with such other religious teachers as Kabir, an Indian mystic and poet, and Nanak, the first Guru and founder of Sikhism (though this is chronologically impossible) and to have popularized the practice of Yoga throughout India.
Gorakshanath is traditionally regarded as the disciple of Matsyendranath, who is in turn understood by Natha yogis (Natha is a popular Indian religious movement combining elements of Shaivism, Buddhism, and Hatha Yoga) as the first human guru in their teaching succession. It is said that the doctrine of yoga was given by Shiva to Gorakshanath's guru, Matsyendranath. The legend of his master is that while he was swallowed by a fish, he overheard that Shiva was teaching the secrets of yoga to Parvati. However his master was discovered by them; and Parvati was angry and cursed him to forget all about the yoga. Gorakshanath disguised himself as a dancing girl and rescued his master from his enchantment through the words of his songs.
The connection between Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath (historically, his master probably preceded him by at least three centuries though) points to an important tradition that Gorakshanath instituted in the esoteric rituals and techniques of tantric practice, diverting its erotic, mystical heritage in the direction of austere Hatha Yoga. Nonetheless, tantric worship involving the use of sexual fluids is taught in several Sanskrit works attributed to Gorakshanath, under the title of GorakhSamhita ("Collections of Gorakh", probably 13th century).The Natha tradition underwent its greatest expansion during the time of Gorakshanath. He produced a number of writings and even today is considered the greatest and the most influential of the Naths. He is also reputed to have written the first books dealing with Laya yoga (or Kundalini yoga) and the raising of the Kundalini-shakti. There are several sites, ashrams and temples in India dedicated to Gorakshanatha.
Establishments and achievements
He established a new synthesis between PasuhupataShaivism, Tantra, and the so-called Teachings of the Siddhas. He was closely linked with Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhism, and is also credited with the authorship of a lost treatise, called Hatha Yoga. His teachings also involve the so-called "Left-Hand path" of Tantra, which involves sexual tantra.
It is said that Gorakshanath and Matsyendranathfounded the sect known as the Natha tradition (or NathSampradaya) or the Goraknathis or the Kanphata Yogis, an order of religious ascetics who stress the practice of Hatha Yoga.Kanphata - from Kan or ear and phata or split, refers to the fact that during the initiation ceremony the ears are split in order to insert enormous earrings. It is believed that this custom affects an important current (nadi) of life at the ear that facilitates the acquisition of certain magical powers. This order still survives today.Hatha Yoga Pradipika by SwatmaramaSwamin (probably 15th century) is based on the Hatha Yoga, and also reproduces a number of stanzas from the GorakshaShataka, material from the GerandaSamhita and also employs Madhyamika Buddhist commentary.
He has been described as the most influential Indian since Shankara. It is believed with what seems considerable truth that Gorakshanath spread the doctrine and practice of yoga throughout India. Salutations to him appear in the Sri-goraksa-sahasra-nama-stotra (hymns of the thousand names of Sri-goraksa), the Kalpa-druma-tanta, and Brahmanda-purana.Kabir, who had few good words for the yogis of his day, praised Gorakshanath as a master who had found union with the Divine, acknowledging his indebtedness to the teachings about the six psycho-spiritual centres (cakra) of the body and the Yoga of sound (shabda-yoga).
Highlights of his teachings
He is called the founder of Hatha yoga, together with his master Matsyendranath, although many of the tenets and practices of this school were in existence long before his time. The Goraksasataka, Hundred Verses of Goraksa (Goraksanatha is a Sanskrit form of Gorakhnath), is a basic Hatha yoga text and describes the six limbs of yoga (which excluded the two limbs of yama, niyama in Patanjali yoga system). The doctrines of Gorakhnath is open to all castes, which helps account for Gorakhnathis being found all over India. Gorakhnathis are not required to only live in a monastery and the Gorahkbodh allows them to live in market places and roads and in the shade of trees. Thus Gorakhnathis can be found in almost any locality and are as widely scattered as any of the ascetic orders.