The Shiva Samhita. A Critical Edition

And an English Translation. James Mallinson. Publishers, 2007 (177 pp., $14,99, ISBN 978-0-916466-4-3)


The Shiva Samhita is a core text of Hatha Yoga. There are certainly many translations of the Shiva Samhita, and this is just one of them.  The text consists of a collection of verses composed by an unknown author in a city by the Ganges river in India, around 1300- 1500 AD.  These are verses addressed from Shiva to his divine companion, Parvati.

Eighty-four asanas(yoga postures) are mentioned in the text, although only four of them are written down in detail. It also covers five types of prana, and a range of subjects such as meditation, tantra, mudras, and yogic philosophy.

The translator of the text provides a concise summary of each chapter, and therefore I will not repeat everything here, however, what I would like to do with this review is pull out a few of the quotes that really spoke to me, and provide a short commentary.

Chapter one is titled the Vital Principle.  This chapter is a discussion of the Vital principle, and talks about the non- dual existence of life as this principle of interconnectedness of the universe and one source of creation.  Interestingly in this chapter there is mention of sin as a dualistic way of looking at the world:

People in the world who are thus certain in their knowledge of what is and what is not to be done are freed from their sins, but only end up deluded (p.3)

What I took this to mean is that certainty or the idea that something is good or bad, is an illusion that makes people think they are free from sin but in reality they are just delusional.

Anyhow, this was a bit confusing because soon after that quote I found this one:

Through the power of sin there is sorrow; through the power of good deeds, pleasure (p.7)

The text calls for renouncing the world and then goes on to say that when the yogi renounces both good and bad deeds, (which I took to mean achieving equanimity) they can move on to the next chapter which is the chapter on knowledge.  The author forgot to mention that this may take a lifetime or more to achieve.  What is most interesting about this chapter is the description of the way the elements are created:

From space arises air, from space and air, fire; from space, air, and fire, water; from space, air, fire, and water, earth. (p19)

Chapter two is titled Knowledge and is basically a description of the body as the microcosm of the macrocosm.  There is also a detailed description of the energy channels of the body and the main chakras. I was struck by this quote:

People who are attached to the objects of the senses and seek pleasure from them are prevented from reaching nirvana by words and abide in sin (p.39).

So the text was asking to release this dualistic idea of sin, and yet here it actually employs the same exact word.  This would mean that the objects of the senses, and pleasure are what create sin… Don Miguel Ruiz may object to this notion, and I would have to stand with him on that…but would add one more important note, I would say that the objects of the senses are a DISTRACTION from finding nirvana or Samadhi.

Chapter three is entitled Practice and is a description of the benefits of practice and what the practice is like.  Here the writer includes the importance of honoring one’s guru. The text goes on to describe the power of breath:

 By means of pranayama the lord amongst yogis attains the eight powers, crosses the ocean of sin and merit, and becomes the lord of the three worlds (p.54).

Furthermore, I found it really interesting that the asanas prescribed as the best are the simplest: siddasana, padmasana, pachimotanasana, and svastikasana or sukhasana.

These are meditative postures.

In chapter four, Mudras, aside from and extended discussion on tantra, the text prescribes three mudras to be done four times a day and says that one can conquer death by using them daily.  I will not go into the mudras here but am happy to teach them to you if you schedule a session with me in person or through skype. I may also do a separate video on those!

Chapter five titled, Meditation, speaks of obstacles and types of practitioners, and meditating on various aspects such as the third eye, the throat, and other chakras. This chapter is highly esoteric, and is a detailed description of the process of kundalini rising.

I am surprised this was not one of the readings we had when I did my numerous yoga trainings.  I highly recommend this text to all the yoga shalas, and yoga practitioners.  It is definitely one of those texts that are indispensable for a serious practitioner.

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