Sacred traditions or doctrines are known as āmnāya-s and they are the paths to liberation. The significant aspect of āmnāya-s is that they are communicated only through words. This means that āmnāya-s should be known only through a Guru. Commonly known āmnāya-s are five, corresponding to the five faces of Śiva. Knowing and following āmnāya-s are the right path to liberation. Āmnāya means sacred tradition or Tantra.

Lord Śiva has five faces, four faces facing the four cardinals (East, South, West and North) and one face facing upwards. His five faces have been explained differently in this article à Five faces of Śiva. The present article attempts to explain His five faces, as explained in Kulārṇava Tantra, which says that each of His face represents one āmnāya. Thus His face facing east represents Pūrvāmnāya; south represents Dakṣiṇāmnāya; west represents Paścimāmnāya and north represents Uttarāmnāya. These are His four faces facing four cardinal directions. His fifth face is facing upwards (ākāśa) and this is known as Ūrdhvāmnāya. There is one more āmnāya by name Īśāmnāya, which is not commonly known. This face of Śiva looks down. Some texts call sixth āmnāya as Anuttarāmnāya. Anuttara means the Highest, referring to Paramaśiva, who is beyond normal human comprehension. With reference to Śrī Vidyā, those who are initiated into Pañcdaśī mantra use only four āmnāya-s and those who are initiated into Ṣoḍaśī use six āmnāya-s, the additional two being Uttarāmnāya and Anuttarāmnāya.

Pūrvāmnāya represents creation. It also reveals the path of mantra by which He can be attained. Dakṣiṇāmnāya represents sustenance and represents the path of devotion, by which He can be attained. Paścimāmnāya represents destruction (destruction should be taken to mean destruction of dualities, which alone can lead to realization) and represents Law of Karma, by which He can be attained. Uttarāmnāya represents His Grace (anugraha) and represents the path of pure knowledge, by which He can be attained. Ūrdhvāmnāya represents His face facing upwards, which represents Śiva Himself in His Absolute form. This is the direct form of Śiva Himself. This āmnāya is considered to be highly secretive in nature, as it reveals the true form of Śiva. In each of these four faces, He reveals a group of goddesses. Śiva can be realized by worshipping them and reciting their mantras. These goddesses, when worshipped properly reveal Śiva and Śakti. However, for liberation, Śiva’s Grace is important.

For the purpose of liberation, it is enough that any one of these four āmnāya-s are followed with discipline and sincerity. If one happens to know all the four āmnāya-s, he becomes Śiva. But, with regard to Ūrdhvāmnāya, there are restrictions, as this is a direct path to become Śiva Himself. Even thinking about Ūrdhvāmnāya happens only if it is his last birth. This means, practicing Ūrdhvāmnāya is possible only if one’s karmic account is on the verge of extermination; this is a situation where only traces of his or her karmic imprints remain. The only condition is that Ūrdhvāmnāya should be learnt from a Self-realized Guru. Merely getting initiated into Ūrdhvāmnāya by a Guru leads to liberation. The practitioner becomes blessed and the place he lives is showered with prosperity.

Unlike other āmnāya-s Ūrdhvāmnāya does not have any specific goddesses or mantras. The presiding God for Ūrdhvāmnāya is Śiva and the mantra is one’s own breath; observing one’s breathing. The mantra that needs to be recited along with breath is “hamsa”, where ha stands for Śiva and sa stands for Śakti. (The subtle meaning of hamsa is “I am both Śiva and Śakti” where the middle m refers to ‘aham’ or ‘I am’). “hamsa” is not a mantra, it is the subtle sound of breath during exhalation and inhalation. Both Śiva and Śakti join together to form the universe. “hamsa” mantra does not confine itself only Śiva but also includes Śakti. Without Her, creation is not possible for Śiva. Ha is to be synchronised with exhalation and sa is synchronised with inhalation. “hamsa” mantra is also known as paraprāsāda mantra. Para means Supreme; prāsāda contextually means formless Śiva in His full Glory. There is nothing beyond this point. It is also said that this mantra is to be recited 108 times daily. But this recitation should be done synchronizing with one’s breath, as discussed above.

Śiva says, “If one is initiated into this mantra by a Guru, the initiated becomes Me.”

Further reading: The first four āmnāya-s represent four Vedas; Ūrdhvāmnāya represents Upaniṣad-s;Īśāmnāya represents essence of teaching Upaniṣad-s “I am That”. Thus from the six āmnāya-s, all the mantras originate. Each āmnāya is presided over by a Deity and a Ṛṣi (sage).