Tuesday, March 27, 2012

An Introduction to Khecari Mudra

I want to discuss the highly revered, much misunderstood, and most profound Khecari Mudra.

Khecari means to "move in space". To fully understand this mudra we have to know which nadis, which senses are connected to space since this mudra involves the subtlest of all the 5 traditional elements.

The space element corresponds traditionally to the matrix that holds and gives rise to sound, and thus deals with the action organ of speech (the tongue) and also the knowledge organ of hearing (the ear). Most traditional hatha texts only focus on the work with the tongue but if we limit ourselves to just this organ we only have half the equation necessary for the fullness of this profound mudra.

Traditionally in the hatha yoga, one is required to take a long process of cutting or severing the frenum of the tongue in order to drive it back into the region of space in the throat. Other practices are described, including using mantra. I have not met one practitioner yet who has been fully initiated into this practice in a way that has been passed down through lineage. One senior teacher even told me once that Krishnamacarya reviled this practice, thinking it obscene.

There are other traditions than the hatha that discuss the Khecari Mudra, including the Shaivite tradtitions of Kashmir. These traditions hold the mudra as something much more akin to an internal gesture, more along the lines of the mudras I have been discussing in this blog. I am fascinated by the range of practices here. Khecari is also one of the 10 Devis that is associated with the Dasa Mudras of Sri Vidya.

Starting with the hatha tradition, I will begin the discussion of Khecari along these lines, working towards the deeper understanding given in the Shaivite texts.

I personally began to place the tongue back into the cavity of my throat at the age of eight, without cutting the frenum, and have done so for literally dozens to hundreds of times daily since then. It is a quite natural process for me. My tantra Guru did the same from about the same age. I have taught a handful of people this technique without the severing of the frenum. I seriously question the cutting process, considering it violent. Maybe we should sever the muscle tendons to bend our bodies forward more easily? The rationals I have heard in justification of the cutting fail to impress or move me.

That being said, the movement of the tongue backward on its own will not bring anything by itself. If this was the case, I would have had many profound experiences from an early age. There is more that is required.

What does it mean to take the tongue backwards? When we look at the tongue it is an interesting organ from the perspective of classical Samkhya. It is both a knowledge organ of taste as well as an action organ of speech. No other organ covers both action and knowledge like the tongue. For the purposes of khecari mudra however we have to concentrate on its speech aspect.

Bhagalamukhi is one of the 10 forms of Devi. She is a powerful weapon. She takes the tongue and pulls it, striking the practitioner, rendering him or her mute. She is the form of Devi who holds our speech and reverses it, driving it in. When we perform Khecari mudra, much more than taking the tongue inside the throat, we must drive the entire sense of speech backward and up. We have to go to the very root of speech, name, and sound inside of ourselves. This function exists at a very deep root level.

In the Sri Cakra, the bindu evolves first into the three (the inner triangle). From there the Vag Devatas are born, the 8 triangles, the 8 devis who rule sound and speech itself.  These first 3 avaranas or levels of the yantra are, according to my Guru, the yantra of Bala Tripurasundari herself. They are the child form of Devi. Why the child? Because the Devi is young here. In other words, this expression is at one of the earliest stages of creation's expression. "In the beginning was the Word..."

This gives us a clue that this mudra goes back, goes deep, to a very root level of our created being. When we drive the tongue back, we are really going back far, to a level before name, before sound, before speech. This needs to be understood far much more than just driving the tongue backwards, especially by violent means.

The other aspect of Khecari that I have never seen talked about, is the work with the ears. Like Shambhavi Mudra which uses the eyes, the Khecari uses the ears. In fact, the process of working with the ears can be learned from the practice of the eyes in Shambhavi. The eyes can readily inform the ears with this work and help to introduce one to Khecari. The orientation is different but the internal gesture is the same.

Khecari is powerful. When we move into space, boundaries become vague and even lost. One possible anchor for the beginner here is to focus on the inner sound. I'll talk more on this in a later post. The space element at its fullest also completely annihilates structure, structure that gives rise to conditioning, good and bad. Name and form hold our structure, and with the power of mudra, these elements become ethereal like ghosts.

In the beginning, with this work, the beginners should focus on the ears, the expanse and vastness that opens up in the "focus" and "space" around sound. Go back, back before the construct of sound. Go into the womb that gives rise to and supports name and sound.

If you feel so inclined, direct the tongue back daily, even constantly. It will go back eventually on its own. One tip here is to direct it to the soft palate and not the uvula. The soft palate itself will soften over time by the focusing of attention there. Then eventually it will push up under the uvula. Tongue milking exercises can help to loosen the stiff tongue.

More later on this powerful mudra (much more).