Conquering Death

Haṭha yoga texts, such as the Haṭhapradīpikā, often talk about gaining control over or  conquering death. One of the best means recommended for doing this is to control the breath through prāṇāyāma practice, since prāṇa is also the life force. The main words for death derive from the verb mṛ, to die, which gives mṛta and mṛtyu. This is the opposite of amṛta, literally not  dead, or immortal. It is also suggested that other methods, such as viparīta-karaṇī, an upside-down mudrā akin to shoulderstand or headstand can help to prolong life by stopping the loss of bindu or amṛta, the life force or nectar of immortality. One of the other main words for death is kāla, also meaning “time,” so conquering death is beating time as well. Doing this is often linked to the  ultimate goal of attaining oneness with brahman. While these texts give it a more practical spin,  the idea of being free from death to reach this aim has its roots in much older texts like the Katha Upaniṣad, where the main character actually talks to Death, questioning him about how to become free of it, and ultimately doing this through yoga and Self-knowledge. 

yāvad vāyuḥ sthito dehe tāvajjīvanam ucyate | 
maraṇaṃ tasya niṣkrāntis tato vāyum nirodhayet || 

As long as there is breath remaining in the body, 
For that long, there is said to be life. 
Death is the departure of that [breath], 
Therefore, one should control the breath. 

Haṭhapradīpikā 2.3 

yāvad  — as long as (indeclinable)
vāyuḥ  — air, breath (masc. nom. sg.)
sthitaḥ  — remaining,  situated (past passive participle √sthā, masc. nom. sg.)
dehe  — in the body (masc. loc. sg.)
tāvat  — for that long (indeclinable)
jīvanam  — life (neut. nom. sg.)
ucyate  — it is said (passive, 3rd p.  sg. √vac)
maraṇaṃ  — death (neut. nom. sg.)
tasya  — of that (pronoun, masc. gen. sg.)
niṣkrāntiḥ  — departure (fem. nom. sg.)
tataḥ  — therefore (indeclinable)
vāyum  — air, breath (masc. acc. sg.)
nirodhayet  — one should control (optative, 3rd p. sg. nirudh


valitaṃ palitaṃ caiva ṣaṇmāsordhvaṃ na dṛṣyate | 
yāma-mātraṃ tu yo nityam abhyaset sa tu kāla-jit || 

Wrinkles and even grey hair, 
Are not seen after six months. 
However, one who might practice [viparīta-karaṇī, the upside-down pose],
Every day for three hours, surely conquers death.

Haṭhapradīpikā 3.82 

valitaṃ  — wrinkles (neut. nom. sg.)
palitaṃ  — grey hair (neut. nom. sg.)
ca  — and (indeclinable)
eva  — indeed, even (indeclinable)
ṣaṇmāsordhvaṃ  — after six months (tatpuruṣa compound,  neut. acc. sg.)
na  — not (indeclinable)
dṛṣyate  — are seen (passive, 3rd p. sg. √dṛś)
yāma mātraṃ  — three hours (tatpuruṣa compound, neut. acc. sg.)
tu  — however (indeclinable)
yaḥ  — who (pronoun, masc. nom. sg.)
nityam  — every day (indeclinable)
abhyaset  — one might/should  practice (optative, 3rd p. sg. abhyas)
saḥ  — he (pronoun, masc. nom. sg.)
tu  — however, but (indeclinable)
kāla-jit  — conquers death (upapada tatpuruṣa compound, masc. nom. sg.) 


athedānīṃ pravakṣyāmi samādhi-kramam uttamam | 
mṛtyu-ghnaṃ ca sukhopāyaṃ bramānanda-karaṃ param || 

Now, at this moment, I will teach, 
The best method for attaining samādhi. 
It is the destroyer of death, the means to happiness, 
And the best creator of the bliss of brahman. 

Haṭhapradīpikā 4.2 

atha  — now (indeclinable)
idānīṃ  — at this moment (indeclinable)
pravakṣyāmi  — I will  teach/tell (future, 1st p. sg. pravac)
samādhi-kramam  — method for attaining samādhi (tatpuruṣa compound, masc. acc. sg.)
uttamam  — best (masc. acc. sg.)
mṛtyu-ghnam  — destroyer  of death (upapada tatpuruṣa compound; masc. acc. sg.)
ca  — and (indeclinable)
sukhopāyam  —  means to happiness
(tatpuruṣa compound; masc. acc. sg.)
bramānanda-karaṃ  — creator of the  bliss of brahman(tatpuruṣa compound; masc. acc. sg.)
param  — best (masc. acc. sg.) 


mṛtyu-proktām naciketo’tha labdhvā
vidyām etām yoga-vidhiṃ ca kṛtsnam | 
brahma-prāpto virajo ‘bhūd vimṛtyur 
anyo ‘pyevaṃ yo vidadhyātmam eva ||

Then, Naciketas, taught by Death, 
Having received this knowledge and all the rules of yoga, 
Attained brahman, and became free from dust and death, 
Thus, will another, too, having fixed [the mind] on the self, alone.

Kaṭha Upaniṣad 6.18 

mṛtyu-proktām  — taught by death (tatpuruṣa compound, fem. acc. sg.)
naciketaḥ  — Naciketas  (masc. nom. sg.)
atha  — then, now (indeclinable)
labdhvā  — having obtained, received (gerund  √labh)
vidyām  — knowledge (fem. acc. sg.)
etām  — this (fem. acc. sg.)
yoga-vidhiṃ  — rules of  yoga (tatpuruṣa compound, masc. acc. sg.)
ca  — and (indeclinable)
kṛtsnam  — all (masc. acc.  sg.)
brahma-prāptaḥ  — attained brahman (tatpuruṣa compound, masc. nom. sg.)
virajaḥ  — free  from dust (masc. nom. sg.)
abhūd  — became (aorist, 3rd p. sg. √bhū)
vimṛtyuḥ  — free from death  (masc. nom. sg.)
anyaḥ  — other (masc. nom. sg.)
api  — too, also (indeclinable)
evam  — thus  (indeclinable)
yaḥ  — who (pronoun, masc. nom. sg.)
vidadhya  — having fixed, directed,  accomplished (gerund vidhā)
ātmam  — the self (masc. acc. sg.)
eva  — indeed, alone  (indeclinable)