The Sanskrit term Adi-Nath means first or original Lord, and is therefore a synonym for Shiva, Mahadeva, or Maheshvara, and beyond these mental concepts, the Supreme Reality as the originator of all things.
The Adi-Nath Sampradaya was a Sadhu sub-sect of the greater Nath Tradition. Followers of this tradition were given Sannyas Diksha, thus renouncing householder life, and thereafter lived as naked Sadhus.
Origins of the Adi-Nath Sampradaya
In The Yoga Vidya of Immortality, Shri Gurudev Mahendranath wrote,
“One feature, quite indisputable, is that the Nathas did develop monastic life and crowded ashrams which were so favoured by the Buddhists. It is not its best feature although it persisted until very recent times. It was the corruption of monastic life which sowed the seed and gave rise to the Adi-Nathas.”
“The Adi-Natha sub-sect was another which came into being spontaneously. It arose from nothing more than the determination of an unknown Natha to live in a pattern of his own choosing, and not in the monastic life of his day. His name is unknown, but there is still a tradition giving the names of several Natha gurus who had been leading the sect for different periods of history. The names are not important, and nothing is known or remembered about the Nathas themselves.”
“The traditional story of the origin of the Adi-Natha sub-sect, passed on from my own Gurudev who was then the last surviving Adi-Natha, is as follows. We are told that the Nath Avadhoot, the title by which he became known, left his Nath ashram in Maharashtra and traveled slowly north, staying some time on the banks of the Narmada River. Eventually, he traveled further into Gujarat, and lived at Karvkan, which is a very small town of considerable antiquity mentioned in many ancient scriptures.”
“From Karvkan he returned to the Narmada River and lived in a small hut as a naked Avadhoot until the day he died. It was here that, among disciples, he expressed what were only his own views. If they passed down a tradition for others, it was because they were acceptable to them, and not because he introduced them as rules. Rather did he stress and remind his own sadhu disciples that when once one has renounced the world, rules and obligations are also rejected.”
“Seeing too clearly the defects of ashram and monastic life, and the diversion from real purpose which followed through living in communities, the Nath Avadhoot said that sadhus should live alone until they had attained the goal. Their place of residence should only be a cave, hut, ruined building, or empty house, and always away from towns and villages. Thus the Adi-Naths have lived down to the present day.”
“The Nath Avadhoot, founder of the Adi-Naths, passed on his tradition, but it was changed, modified and developed from guru to guru. At all times, it was the living guru who was regarded as the spokesman.”
“The Adi-Naths had much to teach, but though many might respect and applaud their ideals and way of life, few were ready to follow their example. It probably always was a small sect as far as sadhus were concerned, though it might have influenced sections of the population out of all proportion to its size. Its line of succession was based on the guru’s nomination as to who should succeed him.”
“None of the Adi-Nath gurus ever became popular and none ever tried to make propaganda for themselves or the cult. Instead they passed on down through the ages the solid spiritual tradition which still remains the essence of all higher thought and attainment. They taught Truth, already ancient, but presented to the needs and levels of each successive age.”
“The Adi-Nath tradition opposed the formation of new sects and cults. Its very formation was spontaneous, because it repudiated certain aspects of the original Natha Sampradaya, and their separateness was inevitable. They never sponsored or advocated organization or societies, but did recognize that some systems of organization were relative necessities among relative people – but warned that these too were obstacle to the real seeker of the Absolute. They did not advocate ‘good men’ but ‘God men.'”
Termination of the Adi-Nath Sampradaya
The last Sadhu holding authentic guru status in the Adi-Nath Sampradaya was Shri Gurudev Mahendranath, who attained Mahasamadhi in 1991. Though he created, and gave Diksha into, a western householder variant of the Nath Tradition, he intentionally terminated the Adi-Nath Sampradaya by refusing to bestow Sannyas Diksha, an initiation required for succession.
This intent is clear from Shri Gurudev’s writings. In The Magick Path of Tantra, he wrote,
“I had decided not to initiate anyone of Indian origin into the Uttara Kaula or the Adi-Nath Sampradayas. As sannyasi or sadhu, there was the danger that after I had entered Mahasamadhi and was unable to deny, that someone might claim that they had been given Sannyas Diksha, and claim authority as guru by succession.”
Also, in The Phantastikos:
“I myself have been an initiate and the final Guru of the Adi-Naths, one of the many subsects of the Great Natha stream and ancient tradition. With the birth of the International Nath Order, the Indian Adi-Nath sect became defunct, and I myself retired from public life.”
Thus, while the flame of the Natha Tradition was passed to the West, the Sadhu tradition of the Adi-Naths was laid to rest with Shri Gurudev Mahendranath.