According to both popular and scholarly consensus, the Nath Siddhas were among the first religious groups in medieval North India to use instead of Sanskrit, vernacular language(s) in order to express and transmit their ideas and mode of practice.
This might also be becouse Sanskrit implies and presupposes a distinct culture and intellectual complexity that is irrelevant for the purpose of control of the body and the attainment of occult powers, which is the main objective of the yogis.
But also, instead of the elitism related to sanskritic culture, the Nath Siddhas developed an elitism of the esoteric discourse.
This said, Indian tradition in general ascribes a paramount importance to the power of word. The case of mantras is well known as is the wide range of their employment in Vedic, sacerdotal, domestic and tantric ritual.
Initiation into the Order of the Nath Siddhas entails the transmission of a mantra to the Yogi, in fact possession of a mantra translates into knowledge and power. The power that a possessor of mantra wields over others has its source in the element of elitism and secrecy: not everybody knows the mantra, not everybody knows how to use it.
Sociologically speaking, the power of a mantrika depends also on the belief that other people have in his or her power. Mantras are believed to encapsulate in their phonetic form the essence of associated gods and goddesses. Similarly, mantras are correlated to the cakras in he subtle body of the yogi(plus the number of petals, the presiding deities with their Saktis, words, tunes, and colours for each of the cakras). Thus mantras microcosmically correspond with the cakras, and macrocosmically with the gods and goddesses, whose nature they encapsulate in the phonetic form. In this way, they mediate between physical and transcendental levels of reality, serving as a bridge between human, imaginal, and divine spheres. As the ontological ground of phenomenal manifestation, they are co-equal with the ultimate reality, and for that reason they may be understood as exemplars of the living nature. They have the power to transmute an ordinary human being into immortal adept.
The concept of the word or sabad associated with the Nath Siddhas was also influential in the (Sikh) Sant movement of the and especially to Kabir and Guru Nanak, who reconceptualized it creatively in order to suit their respective spiritual visions. (W. H. McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, 1968, 191-4.)
Mcleod explains that the word [sabad] refers to the mystical 'sound' which is 'heard' at the climax of the hatha-yoga technique. The anahad sabad is, according to such theories, a 'soundless sound', a mystical vibration audible only to the adept who has succeeded in awakening the kundalini.
An interesting question at this point is, in what manner does the understanding of the sabad differ between Gorakhnath, Kabir, and Guru Niinak? As McLeod has argued, Kabir's understanding of the 'Word' is more mystical, whereas Nanak, while similarly acknowledging the importance of inward revelation, has in mind a more comprehensive engagement with the divine order (hukam). (McLeod, Gurii Nanak, 191-4, and 199-203.)
It is safe to assume, therefore, that what sets apart the Nath yogis is similarly not the content nor value of the mystical experience associated with the realization of the sabad but the path that leads to its achievement. For the Naths, the realization of the sabad certainly does depend on the practice of yoga associated with the corporeal regime of exercises, which is dependent on the work with the cakras and the subtle, occult energies of the body. The yogic work starts with, and depends upon, the body but it does not end there, for the body is valuable as a link within the chain of significations that ultimately leads to the metaphysical realms and divine encounters. The body as a microcosm - established as a self sufficient and complete field of spiritual attention and endeavor.
For Guru Nanak this is not sufficient, nor acceptable, because it does away with the larger issue of social and communal responsibility and welfare. It follows that there is a difference: the Naths, as a celibate order of yogis, do disentangle themselves from the concerns of the organized society. And whereby the yogi householders, of course, represent a different category.
The difference between a Gorakhnath and a Kablr, for example, also lies in the approach to the issue of agency in the context of spiritual quest. In the case of Kablr, the Word is an arrow shot by the divine guru that pierces the heart of the man suddenly and unexpectedly. The agency is on the side of the guru; the human subject can only wait, passively and patiently, for the experience. Whereas with Gorakhnath the agency is on the side of human subject, which is in conformity with the general trend of the occult, and more specifically with the active attitude that is typical of magic.
It is also interesting to note that the power associated with the sabad was also ascribed by Gorakh to the Prophet Muhammad as the practice of concordance:"By the sabad he killed, by the sabad he revived: / Such a pir [teacher] was Muhammad. Again, it is obvious that the power of sabad originates from sources that are inaccessible to those who follow, and exercise authority in, the exoteric religion (such as Islamic judges). The rhetoric of the text claims Muhammad as one of those who have tapped into resources of esoteric spirituality, the fruit of which is the attainment of the sabad, otherwise referred to as the yogic.
This is another confirmation that the system of the Nath yogis is not a religion (in the conventional meaning of the term), for the religion, unlike the esoteric, is assumed to rest on the supremacy of belief and doctrine.
But also the concept of the nad(sound) is given a noticeable place in the poetry of The Sayings of Gorakh. It represents the sign of a successful practice, related to the opening of the cakras and the ascent of kundalini. In the poetry of The Sayings of Gorakh, however, the experience of the nad is primarily associated with the level of the uppermost cakra. It specifies the 'tenth door' - situated at the top of the head - as the spatial location of the 'meeting' between the bindu and the nad. In BGS 135, Gorakhnath associates the experience of the nad with the consummation of the yogic practice, characterized by the ascent of the kundalini to the top of the head.
What Gorakhnath calls 'word,' 'sound,' and 'semen' (sabad, nad, and bindu) are in fact the inner correlatives of these phenomena. The semen (bindu) has to rise up, as does the kundalini, breath (or one of the bodily 'winds'), word (sabat) and sound (nat). And while these phenomena are apparently distinct and separate in their external manifestations, in their inner aspects they tend to become more and more flexible and inter-penetrating. The linguistic terms refer to the esoteric aspects of semen and sound, in the same manner that the phenomenal semen and sound correspond to their esoteric correlates. But even with this qualification the statement remains enigmatic: what is it really that Gorakhniith has in mind?
According to the theory of yoga, sounds arise as a result of union between the bija and the bindu. These two constitutive elements of speech are also related to their divine counterparts: "Bindu denotes Siva and Bija denotes Sakli. Noda evolves from the mutual communion between them. In writing, bindu is represented by a dot, which is also one of the meanings of the term. But bindu is also semen and, especially in yogic usage as we have seen, semen of Siva. In this way, we arrive at the complex situation where Siva as semen represents a constitutive element of the sound that is heard (as 'thundering') by a yogi at the consummation of his practice. But this is not a mere instance of multi-layered connotations of the linguistic term. Bindu means so many things because these things are in an occult manner mutually related and interconnected. In other words, the link that makes possible the interconnection of the semen, word, and sound is the esoteric notion of correspondence. The experiential interpenetration of these phenomena is actualized through the power of imagination. Distinct at the exoteric level of everyday reality, they become mutually interchangeable at the level of the mundus imaginalis, they are one at their spiritual origin.
In addition to the link between semen and sound, we also witness an alchemical theme that is of significant cross-cultural importance. The materia prima, in its 'natural' form represents something ubiquitous, ordinary, and base. One starts from the ordinary 'stone' in order to gain 'the philosopher's stone.' For example in the Gloria Mundi from 1526, we read that the Stone "is familiar to all men, both young and old; it is found in the country, in the village and in the town, in all things created by God; yet it is despised by all. Rich and poor handle it every day. It is cast into the street by servant maids. Children play with it.“ And, the medieval writer Gerhard Dom urges his fellow alchemists with the following precept: "Transform yourself from dead stones into living philosophic stones.“ It is safe to assume that Gorakhniith refers to the apparently ordinary nature of the materia prima when he says "The nad and the bindu are like a dry stone."
What is important to emphasize in this regard is the fact that the transmutation of the 'base' elements of reality into their divine counterparts makes full sense within the model of esotericism. The nod and the bindu correspond to each other just as they correspond to the Great Lord. They are open to transmutations and those who master them are themselves transmuted into the Siddhas (i.e., those 'who have achieved success'). Due to the invisible divine presence and the fact that they are able to change,the nod and the bindu may be understood as specimens of living nature. And the alchemical and yogic work with them is accomplished through the powers of imagination.
Furthermore, in order to gain access to the inner form of the bindu, the physical semen has to be contained within the hermetically closed body of a yogi.
And where in Taoist yoga there is mention of ‘closing the five gates’ (the 5 senses) and the five Lingbao talismans.
Not unrelated to this is also the "citadel of mantras" constructed to protect sleeping initiands from demonic invasion, a practice that is of a piece with a standard preliminary ritual called the "binding of the directions" (digbandhana), by which hostile demonic forces are fenced outside the worship mandala. In fact, the tantrika's ritual techniques for driving away, immobilizing, confusing, and annihilating demonic enemies are legion; and once again we see the importance of the Tantric specialist's role as a defender of inhabited human space. “It is here that the fierce and heavily armed deities pictured at the borders and gates of the Tantric mandalas have their place: they are the protectors of the realm.” (Michel Strickmann, Mantras et mandarins, 1996, p. 41.)
When considering the occult 'as a mode of thought,' language is what stands between the reality of the material plane, exemplified by the human body, and the level of spiritual (intangible) reality. Here, the Nath Siddhas, share a view, also common to Kabir and the Sants, according to which the ultimate reality is nirgun, 'without [describable] qualities.' Just as within the realm of imagination identities are not fixed and rigid, but flexible and interchangeable, so the esoteric language allows for many signifiers to stand for one and same intended signified.
So for example the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, as is well known, metaphorically refer to the inner channels of energy, idai and pingali’; the place between them ,is the confluence of the three, Sarasvati, which metaphorically refers to the main inner channel, the susumnah. The place where these three inner rivers meet is the cakra, often referred to as the 'third eye' and generally associated with the attainment of wisdom. This further explains that the yogi's concentration on cakras and nadis of the subtle body often has as its intended goal the encounter with an inner teacher, who helps the disciple to accomplish major spiritual feats.
Again, according to the vocabulary of the occult, this is possible because there is a correspondence between the body and its subtle aspect that is penneated by metaphysical entities. One of them is the 'true guru,' the veneration of whom is often hidden trom the sight, because he is not externally objectified.
It is customarily asserted that the Nath yogis are Saivites. This attribution seems perfectly natural: Siva is the Lord of yoga and he is the Original Master of the Nath lineage. Gorakhnath is also often understood to be a second Siva, and every yogi, at least in theory, is attempting to achieve the same status.
The relationship between the jogis on the one hand, and Kabir and other nirgun (formless- meaning non-religious- god) bhaktas such as Sants on the other, is complex and inconsistently formulated and maintained. But for this reason it is also problematic to include them under the umbrella of 'Hinduism.'
The god of the Nath Siddhas is conceptualized through a set of ideas that are based on the practice of yoga which is just another way of saying that their spiritual doctrine is occult, if yoga is understood as an esoteric discipline. It thus appears that, as far as the nature of the religious quest of the Nath Siddhas is concerned, occult/esoteric as a conceptual model represent a meaningful category.
Daniel Gold and Ann Grodzins Gold have written that, '''Nathism' has been recognized by some as a separate strand in Indian popular religion, representing, perhaps, an ancient religious tradition alongside Vaishnavism and Shaivism.“ (The Fate of the Householder Nath". History of Religions 24.2, 1984: 113-132.) And the conclusion is that the Naths are the followers of an 'interior religion,' an expression used by Vaudeville to designate spirituality of Kabir. (Vaudeville, Kabir and Interior Religion, p. 196.) In other words, it is justifiable to classify them as an 'esoteric current.'
Like the following sabad states, "The mind is the yogi and the body is the monastery; the five elements are the robe. / Forgiveness is sitting in the six postures. / Wisdom is the ascetic seat and good reason the wooden slippers. / Thinking is the stick.“ ( GBS 48.) Not forgetting that the metaphor of 'burning' , as previously explained, serves the function of fashioning the yogi into a 'cooked,' that is to say, accomplished adept. Or between the return of the bindu to the highest cakra, the obtainment of the elixir, and the experience of gnosis as is esoteric goal.
Case Study Overview: