The Nectar of Immortality
He taught me about the greatest yogis, and singled out Shiva, Dattatreya, Ravan, Patanjali, and Panini. I found it very curious, even disturbing, that he emphasized that they were also the master grammarians of India.
“There are exactly seventy-two lakhs seventy-two thousand three hundred and eleven (7,272,311) nadis (subtle currents) in the human body. A yogi is someone who can count them all,” Hari Puri explained.
Starting in the mid-1960s, I had devoured everything in English I could get my hands on about nadis, chakras, kundalini, and auras. The books of C. W. Leadbetter of the somnambulant Theosophical Society stand out in my mind. I knew that nadis carried the five pranas, the vital energies (combustion-respiration-digestion, elimination, distribution-circulation, reaction-force, and planning-specialization), through the body. Yogis know how to control these energy flows so that the plexuses of the nadis, called chakras, which are like wheels and their spokes and are described as lotuses, open and this enables the vital force of nature, in the form of the snake goddess Kundalini, to rise upward to merge with pure consciousness, remove all ignorance, and realize the immortality of the soul.
But this was not what Hari Puri was talking about. How do you count nadis?
“First, you must be able to recognize a nadi and know exactly where it is. Then you must be able to distinguish one from another, so you don’t count it twice,” he continued. “A treasure map is not a treasure, even if the map is an authentic one.” He squinted and frowned. “Most are forgeries, anyway. Those maps direct one to marks on the earth indicating some buried thing, marks that point at treasure. But maps approximate and paint a picture of a broken chain of marks, each one’s proximity to another also an approximation that leads us from imaginary place to imaginary place, through space, in a particular sequence.”
“The world, however, is the container of all things, and although all things are not known, they are marked. And they form an unbroken chain. I will show you a way to free yourself from the law of place, and without moving, transcend distance!”
“Even with my eyes closed, even when I’m flying about, when I hear your voice in this hall of the dying, I know you are there, and I even know where you are. Your voice, that sound, marks your presence. Sounds can be marks of things both visible and invisible. Is distant thunder not the mark of an approaching storm? Is a fart not a mark of someone’s poor digestion and an indication of the foul odor to come? Is a child’s laughter not a mark of his bliss?
“Each nadi vibrates at a different speed, and as sound is perceived from vibration, each nadi has its own sound. Counting is not an exercise in ordering. When you count your mantras, using the hundred and eight beads on your rosary of rudrakshas, each is related to the next and all of them are tied together by a sutra, a string, in sequence. In a similar way each sound has a relationship with all other sounds, and the sound of each of the 7,272,311 nadis has a relationship to each and all of the others. The law is a grammar that describes, but does not prescribe, how sounds combine to form the world. Our mundane world is comprised of many languages but there is also a great language, and I’m not speaking of what they call Sanskrit, but a great grammar that reflects the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe. He who knows that grammar is a yogi.
Then he sang to me in his weakening voice:
“This is what I have to teach you. There is little time, so I am giving this to you, now. They are the words of Guru Dattatreya, and now my words. Later your words.
I am the vault of the heavens,
that, in perfect equanimity,
is amrit, the knowledge of immortality.
“There are marks embedded in the sounds you make that are reflected from that ‘vault of the heavens.’ The Yogi knows no difference between his voice and the vault of the heavens and so is able to create, maintain, and destroy the universe. Mind you, destruction of the universe is not a violent act accompanied by fire and explosions, but simply the disappearance of the web of illusion.
“In hatha yoga, the body assumes postures, asanas. No? In a similar way, we make asanas in our mouth, using breath and tongue. The resulting sounds are mantras. Yam-Niyam-Asan!” he said loudly and I silently translated this as “discipline, prescription, and sitting.” “The fourth is, of course, your Pranayam, with which you make sound with the breath.
“It’s not what you do but what you say.” Hari Puri whispered. “What escapes from the mouth can’t be changed or taken back. Your tool of knowledge is language, because its boundaries establish the possibilities of the world.”
“How do I practice this?” I asked, and I had all kinds of other questions but he had already drifted off to sleep. I felt as if he had just entrusted me with a priceless jewel, so I walked over across the street to the dharamsala to preserve this knowledge in the pages of my notebook.