The Mystic Fire
Veda is fundamentally a record of experiences of intuition and revelation. These experiences are varied, and they belong to various stages of development and exploration. The Veda records not only the experiences of the poets who have composed the hymns of the Veda, but also the experiences of the ancestors (pitarah, poorvajanah). Veda thus describes the knowledge contained in the pre-Vedic tradition as also the Vedic tradition proper.
Among the four Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda), the Rig Veda is pre-eminent. According to one tradition, Atharva Veda was a later addition. The Rig Veda consists of 10 Mandalas (parts) and each Mandala consists of a number of Suktas, and each one of the Suktas consists of a group of verses.
The largest number of hymns are addressed and related to Agni, the mystic fire. This fact is significant, and it provides the central key to the treasure of the Vedic knowledge. Agni, like many other Vedic terms, has many meanings. It means fire, it means aspiration, force of consciousness, an urge, mounting and burning askesis. As we study the Veda deeply, we find that Agni is not only a principle of physical fire, but it stands much more constantly and thoroughly for the psychological principle of Will-Force. The Vedic poets make it abundantly clear that they regard the whole universe vibrant with a secret Will-Force, of which physical fire is only one outer manifestation, which can be used as a symbol in-an attempt to bring the physical mind nearer to a sense and feeling for something that is deeply and profoundly present and dynamic in the universe.
Agni, according to the Vedic knowledge, is also the force of evolution, which pushes always forward, and breaks the tenebrous layers of Inconscience (tamas) and Matter (annam) and delivers the pulsating Life-Force. It is that which causes growth, and which increases the power, and which forges and welds relations among vegetations plants and herbs, and which pushes forward the
greater forces of. Intelligence, which forms and builds complex organizations in which Mind can be lodged and made to vibrate effectively so as to make the material form not only conscious but even self-conscious. Agni is in itself a conscious will that acts as intermediary between the physical world (bhoor) and the intermediate worlds (bhoovar) and the higher world (swar). Agni is described also as the messenger, who has a free access to all, and can communicate the intended message to any destination.
The Vedic seers have discovered that Agni is not only an impersonal force of will or aspiration, it is also a being, a God, who presides over all the psychological activities that relate to will, force, action, energizing. Agni can be contacted, he can be approached, he can be invited, he can be made active within us and within the universe. The Veda describes through its hymns not only the nature of Agni, but provides the exact vibratory sounds by which a dynamic contact with God Agni can be established. For, according to the Vedic poets, a sound or a certain secret set of vibrations tunes exactly with the vibrations which are appropriate to the vibrations of invisible psychological forces and entities. The Veda provides these secret sets of vibrations. The very hymns, their sounds, their specific measures are themselves these secret sets of vibrations. They are the mantras, the inevitable rhythmic expressions bearing the vibratory sounds packed with forces of realizations. These mantras invoke the deity and give the knowledge by which one can submit in admiration and devotion to the deity.
Mantras are thus not only expressions of knowledge, but they are also vehicles of devotion. They are also vibratory forces of dynamism and action. They contain the secret methods of art of action. Thus, the mantras are a wide synthesis of Jnana Yoga, the Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Mantra Yoga.
Agni symbolizes also the inner and true soul or our psychic being. We find in the Veda several references to this symbolism. The Rig Veda speaks of 'the boy suppressed in secret cavern'. (V.2.1). There is also in the Rig Veda this cryptic description, 'The son of heaven by the body of the earth' (III.25.1). There are some other descriptions also: 'He is there in middle of his house' (1.70.2). 'He is as if life and the breath of our existence, he is as if our eternal child' (1.66.1). He is 'the shining king who was hidden from us' (1.23.14). In the following verse, the Rig Veda brings out more
clearly its secret knowledge of the nature and function of the psychic being symbolized by Agni:
Oh Agni, when Thou Art well borne by us Thou becomest the supreme growth and expansion of our being, all glory and beauty are in Thy desirable hue and Thy perfect vision. Oh Vastness, Thou art a multitude of riches spread out on every side. (Rig Veda, 11.1.12.)
It is important to note that the knowledge concerning the soul was in later times obscured, and except in the Upanishads and in some rare descriptions of the later philosophical or spiritual records, we have mostly ambiguous, confusing or misleading statements on this subject. Some later philosophies like Buddhism or Illusionism look upon the soul as a conglomeration of tendencies and Karma, which ultimately have to be extinguished. For them there is no reality of the soul-entity. Some others look upon the soul as an entity constituted by desire and other elements mixed with evil, which need to be and which can be purged out by a process of purification leading to the soul-realization. Some others still look upon the soul as a mere static presence or a static witness. They do not consider the soul as a principle of growth or as a leader of evolution. Some philosophers have spoken of the soul as one with the Supreme, others have thought of it as eternally different from the Supreme. There are still others who consider the soul to be inconceivably at once different from and identical with the Supreme. Some philosophers speak of the soul as Jiva meaning individual that is cosmic in nature. Some others speak of the soul as a Chaitya Purusha, meaning the individual that individualizes our existence on the earth. There are thus various views, and often conflicting notions are stated together causing much confusion and obscurity. It is for this reason that it is important to underline the pregnant and cryptic statements that we get in the Veda on this subject and try to understand and experience this luminous knowledge.
Agni also represents in the Veda the warmth and heat which is the basis of supramental transmutation. In fact, the heat released by combustion and other chemical reactions as also by the greater energy liberated by nuclear fusions and fissions is only the physical translation of a fundamental spiritual phenomenon which the Vedic seers know quite well. Agni represents that fundamental
spiritual phenomenon, viz.,the action of the spiritual Fire in Matter. 'Oh Fire', says the Vedic verse, 'other flames are only branches of Thy stock.... Oh Agni, Oh universal Godhead, Thou art the navel knot of the earths and their inhabitants; all men born Thou controllest and supportest like a pillar. . . . Thou art the head of heaven and the navel, of the earth. . . . Thou art the power that moves at work in the two worlds.' (1.59). Again, in another verse, we find the following invocation of Agni in these words: That splendor of Thee, Oh Fire, which is in heaven and in the earth and in the plants and in the waters, and by which Thou hast spread out the wide mid-air is a vivid ocean of light which sees with a Divine scene.' And in the fourth verse of the seventh Sukta of the third Mandala of the Rig Veda, we have this cryptic but deeply significant description of Agni: 'Agni has entered earth and heaven as if they were one.
It is to be noted that the Vedic seers seem to have known that it is Agni that welds the supreme light and matter, and it is, therefore, Agni which can lead by its penetration into the cells of the body ('by entering heaven and the earth as if they are one') to the transformation of body.
It is thus clear that Agni is recognized by the Vedic seers as of fundamental importance in man's journey. Agni is the aspiration, and as such it is the priest (Purohita) that kindles the fire of aspiration and initiates man's journey. Agni is the soul, that which guides from within and illumines the path of the journey. Agni is the all-pervading energy and heat in the earth and in the heaven and it has the secret power of uniting the light of the heaven and the heat of the matter. It is thus the secret power of physical transmutation.
At its highest Agni is not merely the heat or the energy, not merely the soul, not merely a God, it is an aspect of the Supreme God-head itself. Verily, it is one of the sacred Names of the Supreme Divine Himself.
It is this Agni that is invoked by the Vedic seers at the beginning of the journey, and throughout the journey. This is one of the deep secrets of the Vedic knowledge. 'Aspire first', the Veda reveals to us in effect, 'burn within, kindle the Fire daily and for ever. It is this aspiration that will bring the Response from the Supreme and will lead to the fulfillment and perfection.' This is the initial but all- comprehensive message of the Veda.
But what about the journey itself? To this we shall turn next.