By Yogi Baba Prem Yogacharya, Veda Visharada
Within the greater spectrum of yoga, there are a variety of concepts or teachings that appear under various names and groupings. An example of this broader spectrum of groupings would be the yamas and niyamas commonly found within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yet different combinations and attributes classified as yamas and niyamas are found within a variety of yoga traditions. Relative to this article, we will examine the Nine Gates from one yogic interpretation.
As the name would imply, a gate is a doorway, therefore, it would be correct to say the gates are doorways into the body and mind. Generally, yoga places a great importance upon protecting these doorways into the mind and body. As a doorway, several of these gates allow information and knowledge to enter into the body/mind matrix; yet, they can function as doorways for harmful concepts or energies to enter as well. Or they can be vehicles for powerful energies to be directed toward others. While the gates could be easily viewed from a moralistic standpoint, the purpose of this article is to examine them from a more realistic standpoint, as well as taking an honest examination of a few of the dynamics that are associated with each gate. As a general rule, the eastern view is to let nothing in or out of the gates that harms you or another.
The Nine Gates are:
The sexual organ is a literal opening into the body; therefore, it is subject to potential microbial/viral incursion. For both males and females, the sexual organ is a ‘deep opening’ into the body. The urethra is an opening that extends deep into the physical body for both sexes penetrating through various channels as far as the kidneys. The body has developed elaborate defenses to try and protect these channels from bacterial and viral incursion. Yet, microbes have adapted and can easily be transmitted via sexual activity. For a considerable time in human history, bacteria were more of a concern but recent studies have concluded that viri are an equally serious concern not only pertaining to viral diseases such as HIV, but due the HPV virus being linked to cervical cancer in women. While health concerns are a legitimate rationale for protecting the penal and vaginal openings, there are other compelling reasons for protecting these as well.
Recent studies have discovered that DNA can be transferred between various cells;[i] obviously this is true in the process of impregnation, as pregnancy is a merging of DNA. This fundamental concept has been expanded by some groups who believe sexual activity includes an exchange of DNA between participants, literally suggesting that sexual partners become a small portion of one’s cellular make up. Though still controversial, this theory is supported in some initial studies. In addition to this DNA exchange, there is also an exchange of powerful energies within the astral/physical body during a sexual encounter. While the exchange of DNA is more difficult to clear, the energetic aspect can be cleansed using mantra, yoga and meditation, if one’s skill is sufficient. For the lay person, the cleansing of the astral/physical body energy exchange is difficult without some guidance as to which techniques would be most beneficial for each individual. Therefore, study or consultation with spiritual healers, mystics, yogacharyas or similar skilled teachers can expose one to a variety of techniques that can easily aid in cleansing the energetic exchange that has occurred during sexual activity.
The anus is another doorway that travels deep into the physical body. In fact, the anus is the end of a channel or digestive track that began with the mouth, commonly referred to as the mahavahasrotas in Ayurveda. Ironically, the muscles that form the lips and anus are of a similar nature and consist of a relatively rare type of muscle in the human body. In reality, one could say the anus and mouth is a type sphincter. The anus is subject to the same microbial incursion as the sexual organ, with the anus, rectum and colon not having as elaborate defense system as the vagina and penis. Traveling from the anus up the body to the other end of the digestive track takes one to the mouth.
The mouth has numerous defense mechanisms to protect against microbial incursion, as well as a mucosa lining to protect against microbes, viri and chemicals that might be ingested. The stomach functions as the final barrier to microbial penetration with powerful acids such as hydrochloric acid whose primary function is to kill microbes. The mouth is also an organ of action, in other words we express ourselves to others via the mouth. This can allow harmful energies and thoughts to be projected to others which undoubtedly result in those energies returning to assault the other gates in some form or fashion.
Protecting the gate of the mouth is also important from the standpoint of the foods we eat. The majority of foods each of use consume should be organic when possible with as little processing as possible. This same view would include liquids as well, including water. Much of the water consumed today has become devitalized or filled with trace amounts of chemicals. A beneficial and simple approach for devitalized water is to remineralize it. This can easily be accomplished by taking a mineral or trace mineral tablet and breaking it in half or quarters, taking one-half or quarter with the glass of water. Taking this approach is an excellent way to use the ‘gate of the mouth’ to provide vital nourishment to the body! Maintenance of this gate would involve techniques such as ‘tongue scraping’ to remove toxins/coatings from the tongue; allowing for better taste and therefore, better digestion.
As the mouth is critical in the formation of words, it is wise for one to guard ones speech, as speech is sacred and can unleash powerful forces from a spiritual perspective. In essence, speech can invoke ‘cause and effect’ or karma. Therefore, it is important that one cultivates an awareness of their speech as well as its effects on their own body and mind. Additional consideration should be given to those that are recipients of the words each of us expresses; as the words we express can have damaging or harmful effects on others as well.
Protecting this gate would involve not using speech to harm or project hateful/angry emotions towards others.
The nostrils offer the most direct route to the brain, relative to all the senses, the sense of smell has the most direct impact on the brain due to molecules passing through the olfactory bulb. The olfactory system is a powerful system that can suddenly unlock suppressed memories, traumatic events and even memories of love. The sense of smell is powerfully connected with the muladhara or root chakra to such a degree that we do not digest food as well if we cannot smell it. The sense of smell is so powerful that often we decide on how we feel about an individual based on their smell. Due to this fact, a variety of colognes perfumes and substances have been created in order to project a pleasing aroma to others. Mixed in with this artificial aroma is one’s own body scent, creating a somewhat unique aroma for each individual. Likewise, the sense of smell can warn one of danger or exposure to some toxic chemicals. In a sense smell can warn the mind of food that is unsafe in circumstances such as spoiled meat, or even a dangerous location on occasion where the aroma of strong chemicals might be present. The sense of smell can be elevating to consciousness as a variety of fragrances having a calming effect upon the mind. The sense of smell can increase or decrease the subtle elements within the mind/body, and can even be used to honor and increase devotion with the devas. Likewise they can have a purifying effect within the mind and body. [ed. Note: learn more about this by reading the article ‘Incense’]
The nostrils even contribute to the digestive systems health as this is the beginning of the mucosa lining that travels backwards from the nasal passages and down the throat. This lining helps to trap bacteria and viri as well as lubricate the digestive tract. Using a nasal rinse called neti can be quite beneficial in helping to maintain the health of nasal passage and mucous lining of the nose.
Guarding this gate would include such things as not smoking or breathing in harmful chemicals. The practice of ‘huffing paint’ would be an example of not protecting this paint. But this can extend to inhaling a variety of harmful chemicals. Mesothieloma is a modern day example of violating the need to protect this gate, as companies placed profit and business over individual’s health.
While the ears are an opening into the body, there is slightly less concern about bacterial and viri incursion than with the previously discussed gates; though it is still a possibility, most ears infections are inner ear infections. The ears are a doorway into the brain and mind. It would be correct to say that all sensory input is a gateway for food the mind. The view of sensory information being a food for the mind makes the sensory gates significant and quite important to the overall health of an individual.
Sounds can have a harmonizing effect on the mind. Hearing positive, loving or uplifting speech can have a profound effect on the mind and body. In Indian music, there are specific combinations of sounds that are used to affect the mind at different cycles of the day. As an example specific note combinations and rhythms would be best applied in the morning as they have an energizing and uplifting effect, whereas other combinations would be more conducive to cycle of the mind in the evening increasing calmness and relaxation. We have all experienced this is at various times in our life, as one may notice some songs ‘get you up and moving’ in the morning and others are better winding down at the end of a long day. Other examples would include listening to the radio or MP3 and hearing a song that stirred up strong emotions. Or listening to ‘new age’ music and feeling relaxed. All music and sound expression will have a profound effect on the mind and brain as well. Listening to uplifting words, concepts and musical sound can produce a similar effect upon the mind. Therefore, it is important to recognize all sounds are a type of food for the mind.
Protecting this gate would involve not becoming involved in listening to gossip; the mouth would be involved in not gossiping. Hearing hateful speech would violate this gate.
The eyes are organs that in essence digest light, and as such are associated with fire. The visual sense is a doorway for food for the mind and brain as well. This sense is probably the most significant in our age of video games, computers and gadgets. We are constantly experiencing stimulation through the sense of sight. Often in these computer based activities, the sense of sight and sound are often combined for an even more powerful experience. In ancient India, it was considered wise to not even allow a child to see any act of violence until they had reached a specific age. While this has largely been lost to time, we do see modern attempts to recognize this need through various mechanisms such as the ratings system for movies. Violence, aggression and general ugliness become a food for the mind, as these impressions are repeated, they become stronger. Of course society in general only considers this relative to the most extreme cases where someone literally ‘loses it’ and becomes violent towards society. But in reality, the affect of these impressions remain within the mind of those we consider ‘nice people’. The power of sight is so strong that once we see something written it almost becomes etched in stone. Humanity has and still is developing the skill necessary to resist this powerful impression of sight, therefore, it is important to protect what the eyes see, just as we protect what the ears hear.
The nine-gates are important not only to spirituality but also for a happy and joyous life. Monitoring them as to what enters and what leaves each gate is not a mere morality issue, but requires a deeper understanding of the mind and the foods it consumes. The philosophy of the nine-gates teaches each of us to recognize that all of life is food, and to ask a simple question, ‘What foods do I wish to nourish my mind and body with?’ The philosophy of the nine-gates is a deep rich system, requiring a level of discipline that few even consider, yet it is quite important for each individual. There is little doubt in my mind that practicing this philosophical system alone could transform the world as we currently know it.