The Vedas - Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Knowledge may be regarded as a most fundamental aim of Yoga. Even Hathayoga, which utilises the body as its instruments and aims at its perfection, lays down that the enjoyment of knowledge of our liberated being which brings us into unity or union with the Supreme, is its consummation. A complete mastery of the body and the life and a free and effective use of them established upon a purification of their workings

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge


When and how Yoga began to grow and develop is not known. But when we come to the Veda, the most ancient extant composition of the world, we find in it quite a developed system, self-conscious and self-assured, of human psychology and of the methods and processes by which the psychological operations can be stabilised, recombined and heightened or else newer and higher operations can be generated and made active for their highest possible effectivity. Goals are known and fixed, and the path to reach those goals has been hewed and commonly known among the Rishis. Veda declares that the Path was discovered by the human forefathers pitaro manushyāh.

According to the Veda, the spirits of these great ancestors still assist their offsprings; for the new dawns repeat the old and lean forward in light to join the dawns of the future. Kaņwa, Kutsa, Atri, Kakshīvat, Gotama, Shunahshepa, have become types of certain spiritual victories which tend to be constantly repeated in the human experience. The seven sages, the Āńgirasas, had chanted the word, rent the cave, found the lost herds of light and recovered the hidden sun, and even now they are waiting still and are ready to help us in our struggle for this victory.

The Veda speaks of the Āńgirasas as the seers of Truth, finders and speakers of the word of the Truth and as winners by the power of the Truth, the Right and the Vast (satyam, ritam, brihat). Perhaps the most important discovery that was made by the Āńgirasas (also described as Navagwas and Dashagwas) was that of the turīyam svid, a certain fourth world, a world higher than the three worlds of ordinary experience, the earth, the mid-world and the heaven, prithvī, antariksha and dyauh, the worlds corresponding to our body, life and mind. This fourth world, the supramental world, the swar, was discovered, according to the Vedic legend, as a consequence of the discovery of the seven-headed thought which was born from the Truth. This discovery was made by Ayāsya, the companion of the Navagwas. We are told that Ayāsya became by this discovery universal, embraced the births in all the worlds and manifested a fourth world or fourfold world (turīyam svij janayad vishwa janyah)

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

The Vedic legend of the cow and the Angirasa Rishis is important, since if properly understood, it brings out a deeper secret of the Vedic Yoga. The legend is simple. The cows have been lost and the Angirasa Rishis are in search of those lost cows. The sacrifice is to be performed, and the Āńgirasas have to chant the true word, the mantra. Indra of all the gods is invoked. Indra comes down to help with the thunderbolt in which enter the powers of all the gods. Indra is the hero and fighter, and the battle is waged against certain powers, the Dasyus, Paņis and Vala. Saramā, the heavenly hound, runs forward and finds out the cows in the cave of the Panis. Indra strong with the soma-wine and the Āńgirasas, the Rishis, who are his companions, follow the track. The battle with the adversaries continues for nine months but there is no deliverance from the attacks of the adversaries. Ayāsya joins the company of the Āńgirasas, and during the tenth month, Ayāsya discovers the seven-headed Thought, becomes universalised, and the victory becomes possible. Entry into the cave is effected and strong places of the hill are broken, Paņis are defeated and the liberated herds of cows are driven upward. The hidden light is found, the Dawn is brought to birth, the lost sun is recovered, and the luminous world of swar in which we possess the Truth or the one universal Deva, is disclosed and conquered.

According to the Vedic mystics, there is the inferior truth here of this world mixed as it is with much falsehood and error, anritasya bhureh, and there is a world of home of Truth, sadanam ritasya, of the Truth, the Right, the Vast, where all is truth-conscious, rita-chit. There are many worlds between, but this is the world of the highest Light -- the world of the Sun of Truth, Swar, or the Great Heaven. The Vedic Yoga finds the path to this Great Heaven, the path of Truth, ritasya panthāh. In its search it finds that our life is a battle between the powers of the Light and the powers of Darkness, between the Gods who are the immortals and adversaries of various names, Vritra, ValaPaņis and Dasyus and their Kings. To fight successfully, the Yogi is required to seek the help of the powers and beings of light and to build the way of ascent to the goal.

There are four features of the process of the conquest of Swar which need special attention. The first is the instrumentality of the sacrifice, the second is the discovery and chant of the Word, the third is the offering of the ghrita, and the fourth is the offering and drinking of the Soma-wine.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge


We may note that Vedic sacrifice is symbolic in character, even though it may have also ritualistic significance for the Vedic religion. Just as in the Gītā, — the world yajña, sacrifice, is used in the Veda in a symbolic sense for all action, whether internal or external, that is consecrated to the Gods or to the Supreme. Yajña in the Veda is the action offered as a submission to the Divine Will, Agni; similarly, the Yajamana is the soul or the personality of the doer. Gods are continually spoken of as officiating priests, and this can also be symbolic. The very first mantra of the Rigveda brings this out very clearly when Agni is referred to as purohita, ritwij, and hotā. Yajña and Agni are inalienably related to each other. Yajña is the beginning of Yoga, and there can be no yajña without the kindling of Agni. Hence, the importance attached to Agni is fundamental. Just as yajña is symbolic, even so Agni, too, is symbolic. Etymologically, Agni means mighty, supreme, splendid, forceful, bright, and it is these meanings that we find applicable when we study the various epithets of the Vedic Agni. Discovery of Agni was a momentous achievement of the Vedic seers. Agni is the divine Flame that is ever-pure and burns always purifying all that is offered to it. Agni is the rapturous priest of the sacrifice, the God-will intoxicated with its own delight, the young sage, the sleepless envoy, the ever-wakeful flame in the house, the master of our gated dwelling-place, the beloved guest, the lord in the creature, the seer of the flowing tresses, the divine child, the invincible warrior, the leader on the path. He is the immortal in the mortals amartyeshu amritah, knower of all things that are born, jātavedas, the sustainer of the sacrifice and discerner of its steps.

Agni symbolises also the inner and true soul seated in our hearts. The Rigveda speaks of `the boy suppressed in secret cavern’. There is also this cryptic description, `The son of heaven in the body of the earth’. There are some other descriptions also: `He is there in the middle of his house’. He is as if life and breath of our existence, he is as if our eternal child. He is `the shining King who was hidden from us’. 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 of uniting the light of the heaven and the heat of the matter. It is thus the secret power of spiritual transmutation of the physical.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

It is Agni that is invoked by the initiate at the beginning of the journey of Yoga, the journey of the sacrifice. “Aspire first”, the Veda prescribes to us in effect, “burn within, kindle the Fire daily and for ever”. It is this aspiration that will bring the response from the Gods and from the Supreme and will lead to fulfilment and perfection.

Experience and realisation of Agni can be regarded as a major step in the Vedic Yoga. We may refer in this regard to Vishwamitra’s description of the origin and various stages of the experience of Agni in his profound and majestic mantras contained in the first sukta of the third mandala of the Rigveda. We are told, first, that the gods discovered Agni visible in the Waters, in the Working of the sisters. Evidently, these waters and these sisters cannot be terrestrial and material streams, but they are what Vashishtha calls āpo devīh, āpo divyāh (14), divine waters, and what Vāmadeva calls madhumān ūrmih, ghritasya dhārāh, the sweet intoxicating wave, the streams of clarity or clear intelligence, or what Atri calls ritasya dhārāh, waters of the Truth. They are figured as fostering cows (dhenavah), mares (ashwāh). They are also called sapta vānīh, the seven words of the creative goddess Vāk, — Speech, the expressive power of Aditi. They are thus the seven streams or currents or forms of movement of the one conscious existence. Next, we are told that it is Agni which is secret in the earth’s growths, oshadhīs, and has to be brought out by a pressure of the two araņīs, earth and heaven, body and mind. At a higher stage, Agni rises to the state of vital kinesis, prāņa, and it is here at this vital birth that Mares (ashwāh) move and labour about him. At this level, Agni purifies the nervous life in man pervading it with his pure bright limbs, lifting upward its impulsions and desires, its purified will in works. Consequently, “he wears light as a robe about all the life of the Waters and formed in himself glories vast and without any deficiency.” At the next higher stage, the sevenfold Waters become the pure mental activity, the Mighty Ones of Heaven. They then reveal themselves as the first eternal ever-young energies — separate streams but of one origin, the seven words, sapta vānīh. There is a further ascent. The Force, Agni, rises into the womb of mental clarity where the waters flow as streams of the divine sweetness (sravathe madhūnāam). Then the forms it assumes are universal forms. The result is that the lower members of our being, body and mind are nourished by the descending higher sweetness, and they become harmonised through this nourishing by the bliss. A kind of transformation of the body and the mind takes place.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Then comes the experience or realisation of the Agni that was within our narrow boundaries and which has now been liberated by his entry into the Father of all things, that is, the Lord. Agni enters there with his companion gods and with sevenfold Waters. But even in this liberated state of super-conscience he does not disappear from our conscient existence, na guhā babhūva. Agni finds there the source of the honeyed plenty of the Father of things and pours them out on our life. He bears and becomes the son, the pure kumāra, the pure Male, the One, the soul in man revealed in its universality. The mental and physical consciousness in the human being accept him as its lord and lover; but, though one, he still enjoys the manifold movement of the rivers, the multiple cosmic energies.

In the next four verses (11-14) of this Sūkta, Vishwamitra describes the highest manifestation of Agni. We are told that he has now reached his own natural seat, where there is the unobstructed Vast and where Truth is born, the shoreless infinite. There are Seven rivers, the sisters, work no longer separated though of one origin as on the earth and in the mortal life, but rather as indivisible companions. Agni is now manifest in many forms of bliss, and the gods or divine powers in man using the mind as an instrument reach him there, unite around him, set him to the great work of the world in this new, mighty and effective birth. They, the outshinings of the vast consciousness, cleave to this divine force, Agni, as its bright lightnings and from him in the superconscient, the shoreless vast, his own home, they draw for man the Immortality.

This and numerous other hymns in the Veda bring out clearly that Agni is the leader of Yoga and that it operates in different parts of our being, the physical, the vital, and the mental to turn them and offer their energies and their activities on the altar of the sacrifice. Sacrifice of what we are and what we have, enables us to rise upwards with the help of the gods that Agni procures (devo devebhir āgamat) right up to Swar, the home of the Truth, where all the Seven streams of the Truth-consciousness, nourish the uplifted being with the Waters of Immortality.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge


But apart from the sacrifice or as an accompaniment of the sacrifice, the Veda speaks of the search for the Word, for the Name, for the Hymn. Yoga aims at realisation, and realisation consists of making real to us what is really real. In our ordinary consciousness, reality is represented to us by sensations, feelings, emotions, ideas, volitions, things, which are fleeting and which are constantly sublated. But if our experiencing consciousness could directly touch the Permanent, the Immortal, if there is some such thing, it is quite possible that the Permanent or Immortal would vibrate in our experiencing consciousness with what may be called ultimate sensations, emotions, ideas, volitions and even, Words which emerge directly from the realised reality or realities. According to the Veda, there is a Truth deeper and higher than the truth of outward existence, a Light greater and higher than the light of human understanding which comes to us by revelation and inspiration, by drishti and shruti, and the word expressive of the light, of the Truth, is formed and expressed. This Word is the inevitable expression of the Truth, and it carries with it the vibration and meaning of the realisation of the Real. Words of this kind are mantras, and once discovered, they can be used, by repetition, to strengthen the power of experience or realisation. Psychologically speaking, mantra stabilises the experience and stabilises the Yogi also in the experience. By the Word, says the Veda, Gods are called and by the power of the Word, Gods answer and come to us. This is the essence of the Mantra Yoga that we find in the Veda.

Mantra is the inspired word, and the agency that brings the inspiration is Saraswatī. The seers of the Veda speaks of Saraswatī as one who impels the Words of Truth and awakens the right thinkings or as one opulent with the thought; Saraswatī is also spoken of as the goddess who makes us conscious of the great Ocean and illumines our thought. Along with Saraswatī is also Mahī or Bhāratī who makes our consciousness vast and there is also Iļā, the goddess that reveals the vision of the Truth.

The hymns of Veda are the Words that have come from the superconscient. Hymns express prayer and God-attraction, praise and God-affirmation, God-attainment and self-expression. By these hymns man can house in himself the Gods, build in the gated house of his being the living image of the deity, grow into divine births, form within himself vast and luminous worlds for his soul to inhabit. The secret potency of the Word is realised when we realise that it is by the Word of the Truth that all-engendering Sūrya creates; by the rhythm of the Word Brahmanaspati evokes the worlds and Twashţri fashions them; finding the all-puissant Word in his intuitive heart, shaping it in his mind the human thinker, the mortal creature can create in himself all the forms, all the states and conditions he desires and, achieving, can conquer for himself all wealth of being and aid his gods to destroy the evil armies; the hosts of his enemies can be slain.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge


To complete the sacrifice, two further operations are needed. These are the offering of ghrita and the offering and drinking of Soma. Ghrita means ghee or clarified butter and this was one of the chief elements of the sacrificial rite, but ghrita could also mean light, from the root ghri to shine, and it is used in this sense in the passages that are relevant to the Vedic Yoga. Thus the horses of Indra, Lord of Heaven, are described as dripping with ghrita, ghritasnu. The thought or the word expressing the thought is compared to ghrita, and there are expressions like dhiyam ghritāchim, which can be rendered as luminous thought or understanding. In one of the hymns, Agni is invoked as priest of the sacrifice to flood the offering with a mind pouring ghrita, ghritaprushā manasā. The yogic meaning refers to the `mind pouring with light’, which is a labour of the clarity of the enlightened or illumined mind. Sometimes the Veda speaks plainly of offering intellect (dhishaņām) as purified ghrita, to the gods, ghritam na pūtam dhishaņām, as in RV III.2.1. Offering of ghrita means, therefore, the tapas by which intellect is purified, sharpened, clarified, illumined, and the subsequent submission of the clarity and illumination to Fire or Agni that can connect us to the Supreme.

The Vedic Rishis sought to establish close connection between thought and its final victorious illuminations, between action and its last supreme all-achieving puissances, and between enjoyment and its highest spiritual ecstasies. These connections are clearly discernible in some of the unveiled passages (like RV.1.3). We have here the luminous but synthetic seed of the later developments of Karma Yoga, Jñāna Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. In these passages the secret of the accomplishments of action, knowledge and joy is hinted at or clearly indicated. Works are energies pressed for result, and the secret of yoga of works is the sacrifice or surrender of our desires and volitions symbolised in the Veda by the Horse, ashwa. Knowledge is the illumination of the activities of thought, understanding and intellect, and the secret of Yoga of knowledge is the sacrifice or surrender of our mental activities by means of intensities of clarities, symbolised in the Veda as ghrita or ghrtasya dhārāh. In the Yoga of Love or Delight, Joy is the ecstatic transmutation of pleasure that is ordinarily manifest in sense-activities. Transmutation is effected by means of intensities of purification, symbolised in the Veda as the pressing of the soma-plant and straining its juice through the strainer of the human system in its activities of purification. Let us refer, as a brief illustration, to RV IX.83, which is addressed to Soma. In this hymn we have an explicit statement of Soma as the divine delight and immortality. The human body is visualised as the strainer, and the hymn declares: “He tastes not that delight who is unripe and whose body has not suffered in the heat of fire” (atapta tanur na tad āmo ashnute). It is further elucidated: “They alone are able to bear that and enjoy it who have been prepared by the flame.”(shritāsa id vahantas tat samāshata). It is when the delight in our members is sifted and strained that it is turned into honey — sweetness (madhunah) which pour into all the members of the human system and flow through all of them completely in their every part (prabhur gātrāņi paryeshi vishwatah). The consequence is that the soma-juices are no longer spilled and lost as in the unbaked jar, but they foster and increase, avanti, mind and body of their purifier, avantyasya pavitāram āshavah. There is also the further consequence: divasprishţham adhi tishthanti chetasā. They rise with him to the highest level or surface of heaven, the luminous world of Swar (where mind capable of intuition, inspiration and revelation is bathed in the splendours of the Truth (ritam). In the concluding verse, Soma is described as the offering, havih, the divine food, as the vast, mahī, and as the divine home sadma daivyam. Soma is then addressed as a victorious king, sunlike in force and glory, sahasra bhrishţih, endowed with thousand burning brilliances. His chariot is described as the sieve of purification, and the concluding phrase gives us the climax of the movement of the purifying Soma. Jayasi shravo brihat. “Thou conquerest the vast knowledge of divine inspiration.”

Consecration in works, concentration in thought, and purification in sensations and emotions — this threefold process appears to be the heart of the methods of the Vedic Yoga. With assured methods, there are in the Veda assured fruits, realisations and accomplishments, to which we may now turn.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge


The Vedic Yoga aims at perfection. And that perfection can and must be attained on all our levels, — (i) in the wideness of earth, prithvī, our physical being and consciousness; (ii) in the full force of prāņa, of vital speed and action and enjoyment and nervous vibration, typified as ashwa, Horse which must be brought forward to up-bear our endeavour; (iii) in the perfect gladness of the heart of emotion, hrit, and a brilliant heat and clarity of the mind, ghrita, throughout our intellectual and psychical being, medhā, dhī, smŗiti; (iv) in the coming of the supramental Light, rita-chit, by the arrival of the Dawn, Ushā, and by the rising of the Sun, Savitri, and by the help form the shining Mother of the herds, go, dhenu, aditi, to transform all our existence. For so comes to us the possession of the Truth, satya, rita, by the Truth one reaches the admirable surge of the Bliss, madhu, soma; and in the Bliss is found the infinite consciousness of absolute being, tridhātu. But before one can reach there and establish oneself in the Truth and Bliss of tridhātu, four conditions have to be fulfilled. First, one has to become wide and universal with the help of Varuņa; next, one has to master the laws of harmony of relationships by the help of Mitra; third, one must have mastery of effort and endurance, and this comes by the help of Aryaman; and, finally, one has to perfect the capacity to enjoy the delights of illumination, inspiration and highest ecstasies of the spirit. This comes by the help of Bhaga.

In course of the process of perfection, we also realise three largest puissances of the supreme Godhead which make possible our development and upward ascension. We realise Brahmanaspati, who creates by the word, by his cry, raveņa, and who brings out all existence and conscious knowledge and movement of life and eventual forms from the darkness of the Inconscient, tamas. We realise Rudra, the violent and Merciful, the Mighty One, who presides over the struggle of life and who lifts forcibly the creation upward, smites all that opposes, scourges all the errs, resists, andheals all that is wounded and suffers and complaints and submits. And we realise Vishnu of the vast pervading motion who holds in his triple stride all the worlds. We realise that it is Vishņu who makes a wide room for the action of Indra, the Giver of Light, in our limited mortality. We also realise that it is by Vishņu and with Vishņu that we rise into his highest seats where we find waiting for us the Friend, the Beloved, the Beatific Godhead. But the seeker can go still further.

Dirghatamas declares: ekam sad, viprā bahudhā vadanti (RV. I.164.46). Reality is one, although the wise call it by various names. Impersonally, it is That, tad, the One Existence, tad ekam. Reality is also described, in terms of personality, as sah. He who is nameless, although he has many names, immeasurable and beyond description, though he holds in himself all descriptions of name and knowledge and all measures of form and substance, force and activity. That wonderful reality is Timeless and immeasurable behind and above all things, Unknowable and not seizable by the studious pursuit of the mind. Says Indra: “It is not now, nor is It tomorrow; who knoweth that which is Supreme and Wonderful? It has motion and action in the consciousness of another, but when It is approached by the thought, It vanishes.”

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

In the process of these realisations there is also the experience of the liberated powers of the mind like wide-winged birds; there happens also to be the experience of the “boy” whom the young mother bears in her self when she is compressed into form but in her vastness gives him birth; and then one sees far off in the field of being one tusked with golden light and pure bright of hue who was shaping the weapons of his war (RV.V.2); and one realises this being, this soul as the uproaring Swan or Falcon that breaks out from a hundred iron walls and wrests from the jealous guardians of Felicity the wine of Soma. And, as in Ribhus, there is confirmation in the Soul of the entire delight of the Beatitude, the thrice-serene ecstasies of the divine Life. (RV.I.20). And one invites Ribhus to the human sacrifice to fashion for man the things of immortality even as they fashioned them for themselves (RV IV.36.6-9).

The Vedic Yoga aims at immortality, which comes by crossing the path to the great heaven, by finding the Day and Swar and vision and the luminous cows. Parāshara Shāktya describes the realisation effected by the fathers, Āńgirasas, in the following verses:

Our fathers broke open the firm and strong places by their words, yea, the Āńgirasas broke open the hill by their cry; they made in us the path to the great heaven; they found the Day and Swar and vision and the luminous Cows.

He elucidates the path as the path to immortality, amritasya gātum, and explains:

They who entered into all things that bear fruit formed a path towards the immortality; earth stood wide for them by the Greatness and by the great Ones, the mother Aditi with her sons came for the upholding.

Vāmadeva also declares the same experience and realisation in the following words:

Vanished the darkness, shaken in its foundation; Heaven shone out; upward rose the light of the divine Dawn; the Sun entered the vast fields beholding the straight things and crooked in mortals. Thereafter, indeed, they awoke and saw utterly; then indeed they held in them the bliss that is enjoyed in heaven. Let all the Gods be in all our homes, let there be the truth for our thought, O Mitra, O Varuņa.

And, in the following verse, Vāmadeva declares:

We have done the work for thee, we have become perfect in works and wide-shining Dawns have taken up their home in the Truth (or, have robed themselves with the Truth), in the fullness of Agni and his manifold delight, in the shining eye of the God in all his brightness.

The Veda looks upon the soul of man as a world full of beings, a kingdom in which armies clash to help or hinder a supreme conquest, the attainment of perfection of works and of immortality. In the Vedic Yoga, the soul of man is a house where gods are guests and which the demons strive to possess; by means of fullness of its energies and wideness of its being, the soul makes a seat of sacrifice spread, arranged and spread, and attains ultimately the eternal Day.

Yoga and Vedic Knowledge

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