Yajňa Rite & Inner Yajňa

Let us understand yajňa by studying the epithets ascribed to it in more than one thousand verses. It is a fundamental mistake to regard yajňa merely as a ritual or rite. Veda describes yajňa as journey, as climbing a hill, as a battle and also as worship or rite. The worship or rite is not that done by a human being. Agni the deva is called upon to perform the rite; Agni is requested to do all the functions associated with the various priests. Agni is called upon to worship on behalf of the rişhi not only the devās but also the human beings who have attained perfection (1.45.1).

According to the Rig Vedic mystics, a human being performs an action only because of the assistance s/he gets from the devās RV (5.4.10). As a matter of fact, the contribution of the human to each action is nominal. Even great poets like the Vedic poets obtained inspiration from superior planes and their main contribution is in transcribing the revealed verses in appropriate metres. Yajňa is any activity which recognises the collaboration between the deva and the human. Yajňa is not a mere rite or ritual. A rişhi is conscious of the Divine’s Hand in the performance of all activities. The later scripture Bhagavad Gīta specifically mentions the different yajňās by name like yajňa of obtaining material objects, yajňa of obtaining knowledge, yajňa involving self-study and so on. The sages are also conscious of the role of the deva, especially of Agni, so that they request him to perform the yajňa (or the activity) on their behalf.

Let us discuss the various epithets assigned to yajňa beginning with adhvara, journey. Adhvara is derived from adhva path and ra to move. Ritualists regard this word as a synonym for rite since one of the principal priests in the rite is called adhvaryu. The function of the priest is to direct the rite and this function is in tune with the meaning assigned to adhvara. What is this journey? Every action in our life is a step in our journey towards realising the goal, namely bliss, an all-sided perfection of not only the physical body, but the vital and mental bodies, not only an individual perfection but perfection of the entire society. Veda uses the imagery of voyage for yajňa. Just as merchants go in their boats to distant countries and bring valuable treasures from these countries, a person who does yajňa reaches different states of consciousness, gets priceless experiences and brings them back to the ordinary living conditions and thus makes the human life Divine.

The yajňa is also climbing from one peak to another, from one degree of perfection to another, (1.10.2). It is explicitly stated that we are not consciously aware of the entire journey. We can know only of what can be done at that stage. Whenever help is needed in this climb, the devās again manifest and help us along.

Yajňa is also a battle. We have mentioned only helpful powers of the nature, the devās. There are also the powers that hinder our journey towards perfection. These powers are called dasyus, the thieves or destroyersVŗtra and Vāla being prominent among them. These dasyus impede our progress. They are called ayajvānaĥ, people who do not recognise the principle of collaboration or yajňa. They foster in human beings, who come under their influence, qualities like jealousy, greed etc. The human collaborators call upon the devās to battle these adversaries. Hence yajňa is also a battle.

Yajňa is a rite or ritual too, which is a symbolic physical representation of the various steps involved in collaboration. The ritual begins with the invocation of Agni by lighting the physical fire. The dry fuel samit is fed to the fire as representing all the qualities which are not necessary or not appropriate. The fire is nourished by the ghee which symbolises mental clarity. The Soma herb which stands for the bliss released in all actions is also offered to Agni as well as rice and grains. These are some of the steps in the famous Soma rite.

Every rite has four priests namely hotŗ, adhvaryu, udgātŗ and brahma, whose names indicate their functions. Hotŗ is the deva who calls all the other devās to come and participate in the divine activity yajňa. Adhvaryu lays down the various steps in the successful performance of the yajňaUdgātŗ is the deva who chants the prescribed mantrās in the appropriate metres at requisite times. In RV there is no mention of the four faced creator-god of that name, Brahma. In the Veda brahma always stands for the mantra, the potent Word. Brahma is the priest who presides over the entire yajňa and makes sure that everything is performed in the correct manner. In the RV, it is the deva Agni who performs all these functions in the psychological yajňa, the collaborative and co-creative actions of the devās and the humans.

The goal of the inner yajňa is perfection of all our faculties, those of the physical body, those connected with our life energy such as passions, emotions, attitudes, ideals, etc, and those connected with the mental domain such as intelligence, analytical ability, intuition, discrimination between Truth and Falsehood, etc.

Yajňa is a collaborative effort between the Gods, the cosmic powers and human being. Each God is associated with a particular psychological faculty, Agni with the power of Divine Will, Indra with the Divine Mind and actions, Soma with Delight, Uşha with the initial Dawn of spiritual ideas, etc.

Gods are eager to extend their help to aspiring human beings. If we invoke a particular deity with faith with an appropriate hymn of Rig Veda fully knowing its deeper meaning then that deity is sure to respond to the call. If the aspirant’s body is able to bear the power, the deity will plant a seed of his power and this seed will grow continuously. Sometimes the aspirant feels no effect. For instance, a student who has no mental aptitude will not feel any effect if he recites with faith the famous gāyatrī mantra invoking intelligence from Savitŗ. In this case the body of the aspirant, physical or mental, is not able to bear the power that Savitŗ wants to give, and hence Savitŗ will keep quiet.

The preparation and maturing of the body can be done by an inner yajňa. The Taittirīya Samhitā has several inner yajňas like darshapūrņamāsau, agnişhţoma etc., which are in the first kāņda. Once one of these yajnās is done the body can bear the power which the deity can pour down. These inner yajňas involve the use of the ŗk mantrās, yajus mantrās or sāma mantrās.

Another type of yajňa is the harmonisation of all the faculties. We will give some details of each of these two type of Yajnās from the Taittirīya Samhitā.

In the inner yajňa, all the actions are done in the subtle body of the yajamāna, i.e., the yajamāna is not the outward-acting human being, but the soul. There is no need for any external or material offerings mentioned above. Recall the brāhmaņa passage, “yajňo vai vişhņu”, i.e., yajňa is Vişhņu, or, yajňa pervades everything. Also yajňa is done by yajňa,

“yajnena yajňam ayajanta”,

[TS (3.5.11), RV (10.90.16)]

The subtle body of the yajamāna has the fire-altar vedi along with the fire. Yajamāna himself is also the pashu.

Aitareya Brāhmaņa (11.11) emphasises that yajňa is essentially a mental act; all the chants and physical acts that are involved must really be transformed into thoughts and resolves, for all speech and action are founded on thought. “manasā vai yajňas tāyate manasā kriyate”; tāyatemana means to extend the range of mind (vistāryate) according to Sāyaņa.

TS itself gives details about how the inner yajňa should be conducted. The different prapāţhakās of TS give different ways of performing the inner yajňa. I will choose the darshapūrņamāsau yajňa in the first prapāţhaka of the first kāņda, TS (1.1). It has fourteen anuvākās. It is done on every full moon and new moon day.

The first anuvāka begins with the mantra işhe-tvā-ūrjetvā (you for impulsion and you for abounding force). It is addressed by the yajamāna to the universal prāņa energy deity, vāyu. The whole anuvāka of eight short mantrās, ŗk and yajus, is a call for assembling all the knowledge needed for the inner yajňa. pashu stands for the ray of knowledge derived from the root pash, to see.

The inner yajňa is performed by the cosmic powers or deities Indra, Agni etc. They begin with the proclamation ‘yajňasya ghoshadasi’. The Gods are prayed to take their seats on the seats fashioned by mantra, manunā kŗta [TS (1.1.2)]. It is crafted by the intrinsic law of each entity, the self-law, svadhā, ‘that which bears it.’

Recall that according to TS (1.7.4), yajňa itself is the supreme deity, Vişhņu. In the third anuvāka there is a prayer for the yajňa for the manifestation of delight, one of the chief aims for performing the yajňa. The delight coming from Soma is described as (madhumattama), supremely honeyed, spread with Truth (ŗtāvari).

The next several anuvākās deal with preparing the body, both the physical and subtle, for the performance of yajňa. Interestingly enough, simple yajňas are called as pāka yajňa in the brāhmaņa passages, i.e., yajňa which matures (pāka) the body. Our petty emotions, passions, feelings and adverse forces like kāma (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), mada (arrogance) and mātsarya (jealousy) prepare a thick veil or covering over our inner soul and prevent its light from reaching the outer body; in ignorance the body does stupid things. This covering is like the husk of the rice grain or paddy (vr¤hi); which should be removed.

The anuvāka 4 is a prayer for the two principal cosmic powers of this yajňa, Agni and Soma. Agni is the Divine will and seer (kavi), Soma is the lord of the Divine Delight which upholds everything.

Anuvāka 5 deals with the purification of the physical body so that the cosmic powers can enter, grow in the body and manifest their powers as a child grows in the womb. The purifying agency is dhūrva which is the incense in the ritual. The prayer here “dhūrasi……” in TS (1.1.4) is recited even today in all religious festivals when the incense stick is lighted. It offers protection against the hostiles who do not like the humans to enjoy (arātiyata). It ends with a prayer to Agni to protect it. The covering has to be removed by force of will invoking Agni and the force of mind invoking Indra.

In the next step, the entire body has to be integrated and firmed up. It is viewed as a support, skambha, to the heaven [TS (1.1.6)]. By the force of inward breath (prāņa) and outward breath (apāna), the primal life-energy prāņa is made to reach all the organs of both the gross and subtle bodies in us. Note that breath or outside air is not prāņa.

Next step (anuvāka 9) is the recognition of the fire inside supported by knowledge, the inner fire-altar (vedi). It is the power of will and uses the body which has been firmed up for further work. Its first step is to mature the body for further work (anuvāka 10).

Next, the role of the Gods as world- builders is recognized (anuvāka 12). By world we mean the manifestation of powers and its activities. For example, giving is an important activity. It involves acquisition of the required felicities or resources like knowledge, love, wealth, etc. Then there is the problem of finding the appropriate person to receive the knowledge or felicities or riches. Then there is the mode of transferring of the gift, i.e., teaching, etc. All these different but related activities constitute the world of giving. Obviously it is a vast structure where it takes years, even decades, to make even small progress, let alone perfection. We feel we are praying for the benefit of all, all of whom we may not even know.

Finally there is the consciousness of some progress in our spiritual body. We feel consciously the grace from above which floods the body. We feel the aura of protection (ava) which supports us (bhŗta)For the ritualists, avabhŗta is the concluding shower of water on the yajamāna. The inner yajňa ends with the adoration of the deities with the Rig Vedic mantrās which always occur in the last anuvāka.

(agnichayana with bird-shaped altar (shyenachit))

First of all we should become conscious of each and every part of our body, their functions and the relationship of each part to others. For example, become aware of the outer eye which sees, the associated inner organ of the eye which records the image seen and the part of the mind which interprets the meaning of the image and files it accordingly, and if necessary it activates the other parts of mind like the manas to take specific action. Then we firm up the operations by invoking the control of prāņa, prāņāyāma, whose outer forms are the breathing exercises. Then the collectivity of the body, subtle and gross, is a vehicle of knowledge vedi, which later became known as the fire-altar.

The cosmic power symbolised by the fire carries the collectivity or ensemble to the world of Light, suvar or svar, offers each part to the appropriate God who perfects it. Agni returns with the perfected ensemble. This is the journey of yajňa mentioned in hundreds of Rig Vedic verses. adhvara is the journey or pilgrim journey. svar is not really outside of us. It is within, it is the sahasradala, the thousand-petalled centre of the tantrics. Of course one such attempt will not give us the complete perfection. We need several more.

We give the quotation TS (4.1.10). It is also in Shukla Yajur Veda VS (12.4).

TS (4.1.10):

“You are a bird of golden wings (suparņa) capable of going up (ut) (to the higher realms) and modelling it (māna). Your head is threefold (trivŗtta) (worlds of matter, life and mind); your eye is gāyatra (all the hymns which have the power of saving). Your wings are the bŗhat and rathāntara Sāma hymns; your soul is the stoma (ŗk mantrās); your organs are the rhythms or metres (chhandas); your name is yajus; Sāma hymns of Vāmadeva are your body; your tail is the works done as yajňa and those which are not yajňa, i.e., those to be avoided (yajňayajniyam), your hooves are the masters of knowledge (dhişhņiyā). You, the suparņa and garutman, go to heaven (divah) and return (pata) from the world of Light (svar).”

The next anuvāka TS (4.1.11) gives the benefit of harmonisation. It contains several famous mantrās including (i) Gāyatri mantra and (ii) Sarasvatī mantra.

The gāyatrī mantra addressed to Savitŗ is same as RV (3.62.10).

“On the excellent splendour of the Lord Savitŗ, we meditate;
May he activate (prachodayāt) our intelligence.”

The mantra [TS (1.4.11)] is same as RV (1.3.10) addressed to Sarasvati, the Goddess of speech and inspiration.

“She, who is the impeller of auspicious truths
And the awakener of all happy thoughts,
May that Sarasvati uphold the yajňa.”

Our body is in a position to accept the powers to be bestowed by Savitŗ and Sarasvati.

It has been stated that all that is external is symbolic of the internal. Therefore the outer sacrifice yajňa also becomes the symbol of inner sacrifice yajňa. We shall first state the symbolic significance of the sacrifice and then enquire into the nature of the many worlds, the character and functions of the Gods etc., according to the established system of symbolism. The main features of the sacrifice yajňa are four: the yajamāna, the person who performs the ritual; ritviks, the officiating priests; the offering of wealth; and the fruits of the sacrifice. Of these, the yajamāna is the individual living soul with personality engaged in the sacrifice. The ritviks carry out the sacrificial functions in the right place at the right time and help the yajamāna throughout from the beginning to the end of the sacrifice. The word for the performer of rituals or worshipper, yashţāraĥ, gives a clue to the inner meaning of ritvik via its constituent parts namely yaj, those who worship ŗtu, in due reason.

  • Hotŗ Priest
  • Adhvaryu Priest
  • Udgāta Priest
  • Brahma Priest

Hotŗ Priest: Summoner
There are four orders or groups of these ritviks in the soma yāga (worship) viz., hotŗ, adhvaryu, udgāta, and brahma. Each of these groups has four ritviks and hence they all total to sixteen. As there is no use here for this detail regarding them (the officiating priests) we shall proceed to elucidate the function of the main ritviks in the inner sense by mentioning the significance of the terms applied to them.

The hotŗ group is the first of the four. The hota recites the riks. He accomplishes the summoning of the Gods by means of the riks. Hence the hota is the same as summoner, āhvāta. By uttering the riks which manifest the divine Word, he brings to proximity the presence of the Gods. The import is clear in the inner sacrifice. Such a hota (summoner) is no human priest, but the Divine (priest). The brāhmaņa books consider the divine being himself to be the real priest, purohita, placed in front. The yājňikās speak of the three worlds, Earth, Sky and Heaven, as the supporters in front, and of Agni, Vāyu and Āditya as the purohitās (priests) placed in front. So do the followers of aitareya school hold: “He who knows the three purohitās and three purodhās (those who are placed and those who place in front), that brāhmaņa is the purohita”, (aitareya brāhmaņa 8.27). The purport being that, only he, who realizes that the function of the purohita is really of the Gods, is fit to be a purohita. Incidentally this serves also just to illustrate the fact that such profound truths are scattered here and there in ritualistic texts like the brāhmaņa books; that is why Agni is lauded as ‘the divine ritvik, hota in the front’ in the first rik of the Rigveda (1.1.1) of which madhuchchhandas is the Seer. And it is this Agni who is sung hundreds of times in the Veda as the messenger of the Gods, the Immortal in the mortals.

Adhvaryu Priest: Adhvara Means Journey

The second is the adhvaryu, taking his stand on the Yajurveda. He sees to the performance of the yajňa by means of the yajus, leads the other ritviks in accordance with the manual of yajňa and it is on him, the active and chief functionary, that the entire performance of sacrifice rests. He too is God, mātarishvan-vāyu, who as the life-breath of the world makes all activities possible. The inner significance is easy to follow. It bears on the deity of all of our vital or prāņic energy, Life-God, Vāyu, the adhvaryu, who executes in the inner sacrifice all actions favourable to the activity of the Gods. Though the word adhvara has come to mean sacrifice, yajňa, yet in the veda it is described as journey or pilgrimage based on the meaning of its component parts – adhvānam rāti, gives the path. And the diligent adhvaryu is he who desires or takes to such an adhvara, journey. Among all the Gods in the form of ritviks, it is he who carries out all the actions in the journey signified by the term adhvara.

Udgāta Priest

The udgāta delights the Gods by chanting the sāman mantrās, mantrās from the Sāmaveda samhita. In the inner sense, he is God Āditya who reverberates with his chant of music, the lofty song, udgīta pleasing to all the Gods. He averts the many dangers, harms and lapses from the yajamāna, makes him self-restored and leads him on to Immortality, Truth, ānanda.

Brahma Priest

The last is brahma. He is the witness of the entire sacrificial ceremony, gives his sanction for the commencement of the ritual, gives the word of assent, OM (O yes) at the appropriate moment and place, moves not from his seat; always silent, he guards the sacrifice to its very end, against every sin of omission or commission, of deficiency or excess of mantra and action in the ritual. Such in brief is the function of the ritvik brahma. The inner sense is obvious; He is the God of the mantrās and in the Veda the mantra is known as brahma. Hence brahmaņaspati is the deity presiding over the mantra. The casual material of all metrical mantra is praņava, known by the syllable OM, the word of assent. That manifests the original Word, which is the source of all mantra. So it is brahmaņaspati the deity who presides over the mantrās of all Deities which depend upon the aforesaid praņava: It is this deity that sanctions in supreme silence the inner yajňa of the yajamāna by a single syllable, at the beginning, at the end, all throughout. This deity, known as Gaņapati in RV itself, is identified in the purāņa with the elephant-faced God, the tusk of the elephant representing the word Om. He is said to remove all the obstacles in the path.

Now the substances or offerings also are to be understood as symbolic. Just as the derivation of the names of ritviks gives us their symbolic meaning of Gods etc., in the inner yajňa, so also substances that are offered to the Gods in the ritual, even things like ghee belonging to the yajamāna are symbolic and they are to be so grasped following the meaning of the component parts of the terms. The term go means both cow and ray of Light. Hence gavya, yield of the cow, stands for the brilliant Light indicating knowledge. Gavya, ghŗta, clarified butter, havis, offering and the like are thus to be taken as offerings to the Gods which intimately belong to the yajamāna. Ghŗta, clarified butter, gharma, heat, ghŗni ray – all these terms are derived from common roots meaning heat, brilliance. Ghŗta is the brilliance of an inner grace. The verb juhoti signifies both   giving and eating. What is given by the yajamāna to the Gods and eaten by Agni, the mouth of the Gods, the first-born, Immortal among the mortals, that is havis, offering, that is havaĥ, invocation. The other substances offered to the Gods are also outwardly symbolic of knowledge, action, happiness and enjoyment along with their means acquired by the yajamāna.

This is to be noted: all that is – macrocosmic or microcosmic – is under the control of the Gods, belongs to the Gods. All that exists in us, separately and intermingled – mind, life, matter (body) including any combination of their elements with their causal material provided by the cosmos and included in it- are under the control of the Gods who are the Cosmic Powers, the functionaries. Hence all that is offered by the yajamāna namely knowledge, skill in works, means of enjoyments etc., is really offered to the Gods, as belonging to them, for no part whatever belongs in fact to the yajamāna, the whole universe itself being the property of the Gods. Thus in the end the yajamāna offers his own self. The brāhmaņa books also speak of the yajamāna, at times, as the yūpa, sacrificial post. Even the animal to be sacrificed is referred to as substitute for the yajamāna. There are passages to be found in the brāhmaņa books which state that the yajamāna redeems his own self by the sacrifice to all the Gods. Thus reads the aitareya brāhmaņa (2.6.3). “The yajamāna is the yūpa or altarHe is the stone or rock. Agni is the womb of the Gods. Born of the offerings made through agni, the womb of the Gods, the yajamāna with the body of gold rises upwards to the world of Heaven”. The kaushītaki brāhmaņa (10.3) states: “He, who sacrifices, attains the mouth of Agni and Soma; sacrificing, on the fasting day, the animal for Agni and Soma, he redeems his self. Thus redeeming himself, free from obligation, he carries on the sacrifice”. Similarly reads the aitareya brāhmaņa: “He, who sacrifices, offers himself to all the Gods; Agni is all the Gods” (2.6.3).

We shall proceed to symbolism behind the system of the worlds. First there are the worlds denoted by the three vyāhŗtis, bhūĥ, bhuvaĥ and svaĥ. Bhūĥ also known as pŗthvi is the earth, bhuvaĥ is the mid-region antarikşha and suvaĥ, otherwise called dyauĥ, is the heaven. Beyond that is the fourth vyāhŗti-the vast world of Light, mahas. And still higher there are three vyāhŗtis, jana, tapas, and satya signifying the three uncreated or typal worlds. Though the veda refers to the seven principles of Existence, the seven principles of Cosmic order, the sevenfold Existence, Consciousness, Force or Consciousness-Force, the seven worlds or guardians of the worlds, the seven hills, seven rivers, seven sisters, seven rays and seven rişhis, still it constantly speaks of the first three worlds denoted by the triple bhūĥ etc., and their Gods. And that is so because the three worlds, earth etc., are what concern us primarily, nearer to us relatively speaking, than the higher worlds. And this triple world is termed as the aparārdha, lower half. That is why more riks are devoted to Agni who is the nearest to us and who presides over the Earth. And most riks laud Indra the Lord of this triple world. Beyond these worlds and their Gods, effulgent in the supreme parārdha, upper half, is Sūrya, Sun – celebrated in the vedās as the One God of all the Gods and of all the worlds; to attain him is all tapas austerity undertaken, all sacrifice offered. Yet riks devoted to this God, Lord Savitŗ, are but few in number. It is only the Gods of our triple world that are the main hosts in the yajňa sacrifice.

This division of the triple world, bhuĥ the Earth, bhuvaĥ the Mid-region and dyauĥ or svaĥ or suvaĥ the Heaven, comes down from the perception of the rişhis. And this outer triple world, it must be noted, is symbolic of its corresponding inner triple in the subtle bodies of the human beings. This world-bhūĥ earth of the physical senses-is the symbol of the plane of the gross physical consciousness in the waking state known as annamaya. dyauĥ, Heaven, is the symbol of the consciousness where is dominant the Pure Mind with an existence of its own, independent of the outer world. In between the Heaven and Earth, the mid-region antarikşha or bhuvaĥ symbolises prāņa, the principle of Life-force pregnant with consciousness linking the physical with the mental consciousness i.e., Matter and Mind, Earth and Heaven. Thus the three worlds, denoted by the triple vyāhŗti of bhūĥ, bhuvaĥ and suvaĥ, are the manifestations of the principles of matter, life and mind in the macrocosm and the microcosm. Such in brief is the statement in essence of the symbolism of the world-order.

A common question posed by the moderns is whether the outer yajňa yields the benefits mentioned by Sāyaņa. We have to recognize that the final result of any action is really the outcome of a variety of forces with various intensities.  One can cite specific instances like the result in a written or oral examination, result of a plan for doubling the sales, recovery from an illness or surgery etc. In each case a variety of forces are involved. For instance, in the case of healing, the faith of the patient, physical condition of the patient, the psychological and technical competence of the physician, the physical facilities and medicines etc., release their own forces which combine in an unknown way to yield the final result.

This applies to yajňa also. The result of the yajňa is the result of the play of forces introduced by the performer yajamāna, the priests, the power of the mantrās and the power of the rite involving various steps, and finally the faith of the persons who are witnessing the rite. Even then the successful performance of a rite yields only one type of force, even though it may be potent. No yajňa even if done correctly can cure a person if he/she persists in the mode of life which lead to the disease. In the same way, Vijayanagar empire in which Sāyaņa was a minister did not achieve much success in battles during the latter part of its life, inspite of the performance of rites which supposedly guarantee victory.

There are several books in English, Kannada, Sanskrit and other languages which recount the instances of healing and other helpful actions performed by spiritually advanced persons i.e., persons who have done tapas by means of blessings alone or by the use of mantrās. Bhavabhūti the famous playwright and Bhartŗhari, the famous grammarian have written extensively on the power of the potent word mantra. Interested persons can refer to the essay entitled, “the Vāk of the Veda and the throb of the tantra” by Sri Kapāli Sāstry in his Collected Works [Vol. 1]. The biography of the famous poet, freedom-fighter and spiritual personality, Vāsişhţha Gaņapati Muni who lived in the twentieth century gives many instances of the help rendered to both individuals and communities placed in difficult circumstances by using mantrās from Rig Veda. Consider for example the releasing of rain. It is accepted in the Hindu tradition that yajňa causes rain; see for instance Bhagavad Gīta (3.14). Kāņda 2 has several brāhmaņa passages dealing with the release of rain. The book by Ārya recounts the experiments in releasing the rain and also stopping the rain by performance of yajňa under specific circumstances; in, the revered H.H. Kanchi Swami explains why the performance of Varuņa japa does not yield the desired result of rain in the neighbourhood.  The book details a simple version of a rite agnihotra to purify the environment used in parts of USA. The purification was also achieved in areas of Eastern Europe which were intensely contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In other words faith and sincerity of the persons chanting the mantra and performing the rite are more important than the mechanically “correct” performance of the yajňa, i.e., the rite and chant should be done in a meditative mood. But the books detailing the rites like the Brāhmaņa books or shrauta sūtra books never mention the necessity of faith and sincerity.

Summing up, the mantra chant can be effective if the following five steps are observed scrupulously:

  1. correct chanting: committing errors in chanting implies that the chanter is not serious about his goals or the efficacy of mantra;
  2. meaning of mantra, i.e., not only the meanings of the words in the mantra, but the meaning of overall appropriateness of the mantra for the occasion;
  3. faith in the mantra and in the directions given by the teacher,
  4. sincerity or transparency, i.e., you feel that you are talking to the cosmic power;

Unselfishness: the performer should pray that all should benefit from the yajňa.

The sophistication of the Vedic thinkers can be seen in their handling of this topic. As Sri Aurobindo states, “the crude conception of sin as a result of natural wickedness of man found no place in the thought of these deep thinkers”. RV has no concept like hell into which all the evil doers are cast. The RV has several words for sin like agha, enam and so on, but does not rigidly divide actions into the two categories of good and evil. The only actions it condemns are, non-giving and the non-recognition of the role of devās or nature in all actions, ayajvanaĥ; “He is in a state of sin who eats alone (10.117.6)”.

The RV recognises the existence of evil forces and the existence of persons who come under their sway. The evil forces are intimately connected with ignorance or unconsciousness achitti (3.18.2, 4.12.4, 4.2.11 and 10.87.11). In Veda, satyam stands for the Truth and ritam stands for the cosmic law of manifestation in accordance with the Truth or Truth to be manifested in an ideal environment. Evil or falsehood is opposed to this cosmic law ritam and opposed to the progress of the human beings towards all-round perfection. Some of the phrases associated with these evil persons are: causing stumbling or calamities, durita, ill-lit house, duroka, those with evil movements, durevaĥ, doers of wickedness, dushkŗt, evil-minded, durmanma, evil in speech, aghashamsa, untrue, asataĥ, full of falsehood, asatyah, unreal, asata, those with no faith, ashraddhan, or bringer of evil, aghāyata, crookedness, vŗjina or hvara as distinguished from the straightness of the followers of the good etc.

Veda states in many places that the influences of evil can be overcome by the force of goodness bhadra, a power bestowed by the devās. Usually the deities Agni or Varuņa are appealed for purification.

According to RV, all sin arises from an attachment to narrowness. It is the non-perception of Right and Truth in mind and in the will or it is the inability in the life of energies to follow the path of Truth or sheer inefficiency of the physical being to rise to the greatness of the Divine Law. Varuņa is the master of all oceans, the deva of vastness, vastness in the physical. The pressure exerted by Varuņa to release us from our narrowness can be often painful. There are many verses in which the rişhi pleads with Varuņa not to give him pain. “From poverty of will, we have gone contrary to thee. By ignorance, we have put away thy laws, smite us not (7.89.3,5)”. Varuņa is called upon “to remove Nirriti, the demon of sin and death, liberate us from the sin enah we have committed (1.24.9)”. The same verse suggests that purification is done not by ritual, but prayer and the power of mantra, “May thy gracious thought sumati flow wide and deep, liberate us from the sin we may have committed”. The rişhi prays to Varuņa in (1.24.15) to release him from the three psychological bonds, the bond above (the limitations of mind), the bond middle (the limitations of life-energy and emotion) and the bond below (the limitations posed by the physical body). Rigveda prefers the concrete phrase falsehood to the abstract phrase ignorance in describing evil. It is only by removing the mental and moral infirmities that we secure a foundation in Varuņa‘s wide and deep thought-mindedness. Hence Varuņa is described as directing many physicians (1.24.9).

Varuņa of hallowed understanding,

Holds aloft a mass of life-giving radiance, which streams down;

May these rays sink deep and set within us. (1.24.7)

Similarly purification, pāvaka, occurs more than a hundred times in RV. Again there is no mention of the so- called ritual purification either by means of a bath or by avoiding foods of certain type or other customary actions. Purification is basically psychological.

There is an entire hymn (1.97) of 8 verses dedicated to Agni, the purifier. Each verse here ends with the refrain, “May our sin agham wither in lament”. It is given in several different ways. The first verse states “Agni, by shining your felicities may the sin wither”. Second verse states “we worship thee for obtaining the safe path of progress, for happy field and for felicities. When these powers come to us, sin leaves us automatically”.

Again in (1.23.22), Waters, the Universal Divine energies of Truth and Light, are called to take away whatever sin, betrayal abhidudroha, falsehood anŗtam duritam is present. The next verse declares that “I have become one with the essence of these energies, rasena.”

Veda recognises the cosmic forces of evil and sin typified by the demons and dasyus, the chief of whom are Vŗtra and Vāla, with associates like Shambara and Shushņa. Vŗtra is the demon who holds up the benevolent cosmic energies and prevents them from reaching the humans. The character of Vŗtra is described in (4.19.3).

Indra the lord of Divine Mind wages a battle along with the other devās, kills Vŗtra and allows the cosmic energies denoted as Waters āpah to reach the human. The demon Vāla hides the spiritual  knowledge signified by go, the Vedic cow, in the inner regions of our being indicated by the cave guha. Bŗhaspati, the Lord of the potent Word and Indra destroy Vāla and allow the hidden spiritual knowledge to be accessible to the humans. Suşhņa is the demon who dries up all our subtle energies. The fight with Vŗtra and Vāla are mentioned in numerous verses. The battle takes place in the mid-world antariksha which governs our life energies and emotions, the place where the demons get access to us. Just as Indra fights with Vŗtra and Vāla at the cosmic level, the power of Indra, manifested in us, fights the forces of ignorance and evil within our subtle body.

A careful inspection of the verses dealing with these foes reveals that the foe cannot be the cloud or human beings. In (4.19.3), the psychological nature of the foes is clear by the phrases, “that cannot be known or waked”, abudhyam and “which waketh not to knowledge”, abudhyamānam.

RV has some verses regarding the origin or identity of these demons. (5.12.4) poses the question “O Agni, who are the binders who keep the foundation of falsehood, guardians of the untrue words?” The reply is in the next verse (5.12.5). “They are thy (Agni’s) comrades who have turned away from thee, they who were benignant shivāsah have become ashiva. They speak crooked things to the seer of straightness”.

According to the RV sages, there is no such thing as primordial evil. These demons have a purpose in the vast scheme of this manifestation and when that purpose is over, they are absorbed back into the infinite. RV reiterates again and again that the world is pervaded by the Supreme One implying that even in the evil, there is a core of goodness. The supreme consciousness present in the core of the evil is termed by the phrase “the Sun lying in darkness” in many verses such as (1.117.5), (3.39.5). (3.39.5) states that “Indra with his friends the ten dashagvās found the Truth, even the Sun dwelling in darkness”.

The knowledge so hidden in the darkness can be released as indicated in the poetic phrase “Indra milked the cows from out of the darkness (1.33.10)” or “release the honey covered by rock” (2.24.4).

Freedom is a key idea in RV; all persons whatever their external condition-men, women, married couples, householders, wandering mendicants and so on have a right to tread the paths of immortality. RV does not impose any rigid external prerequisites. RV itself does  not debar anyone from reading or following RV. RV even allows the voice of the skeptic who does not believe in the existence of devās. In RV (8.100.3), a skeptic declares “who is Indra, who has ever seen him”. The rişhi gives a reasonable reply in the next verse RV (8.100.4) without invoking any threat of punishment in this world or the punishment in the life after death.

RV has no conception of a hell into which all its critics are cast. There is no great divide between the so called spiritual life and wordly life as in later times. According to RV, every being, not just the human being, develops according to his/her own self-law svadha. RV does not speak of a Cosmic Controller who controls all beings, himself staying outside of them. Every human being has to become aware of this self-law and follow the path of immortality unique to him/her. In this learning process, the help of the devās is ever there.

Knowledge constitutes the bulk of RV. The range of knowledge contained in it is so vast and so different from more traditional types of knowledge found in the books like purāņās making it very hard to get a comprehensive view of the RV. It reminds one of the proverbial blind person trying to generalise the physical form of an elephant touching only one particular part of the animal like its rope-like trunk, the iron-like tusk, leaf-like ear etc. As a first step, we can group the verses under several categories like cosmology and cosmogony, human beings and psychology, the role of devās like Agni, evil, suffering and conflicts, everyday life, the paths of immortality and so on.

The knowledge in RV is integral. It is not divided into several rigid compartments. The knowledge is like a vast net in which each topic is intimately connected to every other topic. Take any verse dealing with one of the topics mentioned above. This verse brings in many other topics also. Similarly every dominant aspect of human personality is intimately connected to the corresponding one in the cosmos. All the realms of mental operations in a man like thinking, intellect, meditation, concentration and so on, are associated with the cosmic world dyu, Heaven. Therefore when a person is thinking, he is in touch with the cosmic world of Heaven. Since all human beings are in touch with the same world, we see here a neat explanation of the phenomenon of simultaneous discoveries by persons in different continents. Again every human action also has a cosmic dimension. In every action we see the dominant contribution of the devās. Thus both devās and humans are collaborators or creators in all activities. Eventually every human being can achieve the perfection natural to a cosmic power deva. This comprehensiveness of knowledge distinguishes RV from all other spiritual books.

Verses like RV (1.10.2) clearly state that the knowledge is infinite like a vast mountain with many peaks and valleys. The acquisition of knowledge by each individual is unique. No two paths are same. As (1.10.2) describes elegantly, we cannot envision all the details in one step. From one peak only certain details are available. We have to go to a higher peak to get more details.

The analogy of knowledge acquisition to mountain climbing appears for the first time in modern times, in books dealing with the theoretical Physics only at the beginning of twentieth century.

Such comprehensiveness of knowledge is possible because the Supreme Divine or God, the One without a Second, pervades all existence, both living and non-living. There are many verses describing the spiritual presence of the transcendent God as well as of the God immanent in all existence. Both RV and the Upanishads use the same word Vaishvānara, the Universal Divine Forces, to describe the immanence of God in all aspects of creation ranging from stone to herbs to man. Again the idea of devās, the distinct powers and personalities of the One, conscious of Truth is described both at an individual level such as AgniIndra and also at the collective level as All-Gods Vishvedevāh.

Rigveda has a wealth of knowledge about human psychology. But like everything else in the Veda, this knowledge is intimately related to the knowledge of cosmology, devās etc. The seers of RV viewed a human being as a symbol of the Supreme Divine. This is the natural meaning of the famous Puruşha hymn (10.90) in RV. It is a grotesque interpretation to claim that this hymn portrays the Supreme Person as having a physical form of the human being, the so called anthropomorphic conception of God. The word puruşha is used in the Veda both for the Supreme Divine as well as for the human. This word literally means a dweller in the city puri or one who pervades everythingEvery human being has a complex inner structure of which the physical body is only one aspect, the other aspects being those beyond the pale of the senses. In modern language used by the tāntriks, every human being is endowed with several bodies which are termed as subtle to distinguish them from the gross physical body. The subtle body is indicated by the word sadana, sadma, yoni, etc., in many verses. Each body is associated with a distinct psychological principle. There is an intimate connection between the subtle bodies associated with a human being and the various worlds of the cosmos of Rigveda. Thus a key idea of the RV is that every human being’s structure mirrors that of the cosmos. This connection between the individual human and the cosmos also affirms the connection between the corresponding bodies of all the different human beings. For instance, the individual mind of each human being is derived from the cosmic mind and thus all the individual human minds are in touch with one another. This feature explains many of the well known facts such as thought-reading, i.e., the reading of one person’s thought by another, the possibility of simultaneous discoveries in the scientific arena and so on.

As mentioned earlier, the structure of human being replicates that of the macrocosm. Each person has several different sheaths or bodies, one corresponding to each principle of consciousness mentioned above. The same names are used for the sheaths also. However, in most humans only the outer three sheaths associated with the worlds of earth, antarikşha and dyau have developed; the fourth sheath termed as mahas in Upanishads is not developed in most humans.

The outermost sheath is the sheath of matter, derived from the world of matter. Next s/he has the sheath of life-energy which deals with ambitions, emotions, higher levels, feelings, both noble and petty, goals, urge to dominate, drives, desires to possess, anger, urge for progression, the power of love, faith, sincerity, humility, aspirations, equality, peace, generosity, goodness, emotion, passion and love. The mental sheath deals with our thoughts, understanding, control of senses, intelligence, reason, intuition, ability to make decisions and implement them, control of the organs of actions like speech, hands, legs etc., and the powers of meditation, contemplation and concentration. Typically in an advanced person the sheath of prāņa or the vital should be under the control of the mind. Often it is the reverse, the vital overpowers the mental and orders the power of reasoning to come up with reasons for doing the action, which may have no support of our secret inner being.

So, when a human is reasoning, he is communing with the mental world. When s/he is involved with emotions like love and the powers of the higher vital s/he is communing with the vital world, antariksha. Those who are deemed intellectual, commune mainly with the vital and mental worlds.

In an ordinary human being, martya or marta, these different bodies are still in a nascent state. All the associated energies are blocked as it were and the symbolic doors of the respective rooms are closed or almost closed. When the doors are at least slightly open, a person, while thinking, will be in touch with the world of dyau; while dealing with life energies is in touch with the mid-world etc.

The key difference between the human being and the Divine is that the cosmic worlds associated with the Divine are perfect. There is a sheath in human being corresponding to every world. But these are in a process of evolution in different stages of development. This is the reason for the distinctness of each human being. Each human being is at a different stage of development. The rişhis of RV reached a sufficiently high stage of development in all the four sheaths. In most human beings even the third or mental sheath is not well developed, leave alone the fourth sheath. All the psychological problems faced by the humans are derived from the fact that these sheaths are not fully developed.

The Veda distinguishes between the ordinary mortal marta or martya and the wise person, vipra, rişhi or kavi, one who has the vision of entities beyond the range of senses. It tells how one can attain these states of consciousness and other states of mind.

Recall that the goal stated in the Rigveda is the attainment of immortality or perfection in all aspects. This aim is stated in various places such as (9.113). Immortality is not mere freedom from death and living in the aging body for ever. The decay of our physical and mental powers is the characteristic of mortality. The devās help the eager aspirants in attaining the many sided perfection. When the human beings express their aspiration by means of practices like meditation and chanting, the devās reveal themselves and manifest their powers in that human being. They are said to be literally born in the rişhi. Hence the devās are said to be ŗşhikŗt, makers of rişhis (1.31.16). Agni is the god hymned first because he represents the power of aspiration. Even when the outer human being is completely ignorant, Agni puts pressure and makes the human being become aware of the inner body. When the aspirant realises the necessity for understanding the world inside, he intensifies his practices of meditation and chanting. Then the Agni power becomes firmly established. Then Agni himself carries them further. He calls all other devās to come and manifest in the aspirant. In the symbolic language of the deva, Agni himself is called upon to perform the yajňa.

The progress achieved in the humans is indicated in several verses. For illustration, consider the action of ŗbhus, the divine artisans who prepare the subtle bodies of the human beings. One of their actions is indicated by the enigmatic phrase, “They make four bowls out of the One”, (1.20.6). Sri Aurobindo explains the symbolism. In an ordinary human being, our physical, vital and mental aspects are all mixed up. Each aspect wants to act independent of the other. The physical body has its needs. The vital body forces its desires and ambitions on both the physical body and mental body to the harm of the latter. The ŗbhus isolate the warring factions and restore order. Thus they form the physical body, vital body, mental body and the body of light from the amorphous single one, the single bowl.

In the RV, there are seven distinct principles which are referred to by various epithets such as sapta vāņi, seven voices, sapta nadyaĥ, seven rivers, seven rişhis etc. They are the different levels of consciousness. It is worth emphasising that RV has more than forty distinct words occurring in several hundred verses dealing with consciousness. The different grades of consciousness in the ascending order are: matter, life-energy, mind, light and the highest triple of existence-knowledge and bliss. At the level of matter, the “density” of consciousness is least whereas it is highest at the highest triple level. There is a world associated with each principle of consciousness displaying its manifestation. These areThe earth, bhu, bhūmi or pŗthvi, the world governed by material principle, the heaven dyau, the realm of the Divine Mind dealing with all aspects of the mental world. The two together, heaven and earth, are called as rodasi. Between these two worlds is the antariksha or rajas which is the world of all the life-energy, which is the basis of all the plants, animals and the vital aspect of mankind, the realm of emotions, feelings, passions, hopes, fears and love. These three worlds constitute the lower three. The fourth world beyond these three is called svar, the world of Light, the native home of all the devās. It is also referred to as the uru loka or u loka. Beyond this realm is the supreme triple worlds tridhātu in RV, sat-chit-ānanda or existence, consciousness and bliss in Upanishads. Thus the cosmology consists of five worlds or seven worlds depending on whether we treat the supreme triplet as one or three. The RV has so many different concepts connected with the seven (or five) such as seven rişhis, seven potent words, seven rivers or waters etc. It is a mistake to regard these seven rivers as referring exclusively to the seven physical rivers in the north-western Indian sub continent.

There are also subdivisions of these worlds such as the three earths and three heavens etc.

Clearly there is a hierarchy of the worlds in terms of consciousness. The consciousness is at its height in the triple world tridhātu and least in the world of matter. In the highest triplet the Supreme Being, the ONE is in the state of oneness and there is no manifestation. The one becomes the many in the fourth world svar, the beings in this world being the devās. But each deva is conscious of the unity with the ONE. There is no conflict. The multiplicity is intimately tied to the One. In the three lower worlds there is only partial remembrance of their origin from the ONE. It is worth stating that the heaven dyau is not merely a world one goes to after one’s death.

The vedic sages posed the question of perfection in each activity. What is the source of ability of the human being to perform certain activities? Can s/he develop capacities to do actions like singing, painting or composing which s/he may not currently possess?

The vedic sages declare that each deva is a conscious being associated with a particular type of cosmic power. By following certain psychological practices such as aspiration, faith and by chanting the verses, each human being can enter into a conscious relationship with these cosmic forces or devās. The relationship can be very intimate like father, son, friend, spouse and so on. Then the particular deva is pleased to manifest his power in that human being. These powers continue to increase or grow in the human as the corresponding degree of aspiration increases. This idea of the deva manifesting his power in a human is called as the birth of the deva referred to in the RV in hundreds of verses by words like janayan or jagnāna etc. These powers increase in man indicated by the words like vardhayan, ūti. Hence each deva has two births dvijanma in Veda, one at the cosmic level, the other in each human being.

The first to take birth in man is Agni, the leader. There are many verses such as (1.68.4) which declare that he sits inside us and guides us. We should remember that man is primarily a thinker, secondarily a doer. Agni infuses the energy and makes the will strong and makes him/her do the work. All the work is done by Gods. Agni worships on behalf of man. He is prayed to perform yajňa (2.9.4). Agni is the leader of yajňa, the collaborative effort.

Becoming acquainted with these psychological powers may take a long time. Once some degree of mastery is established, then the person embarks onto the second stage. In this stage, s/he enquires whether each psychological power that has come to his attention has a universal fount or source from which the corresponding power in all other humans is derived.

According to the vedic sages, education means getting the knowledge or power directly from the main source. The book is only an instrument.