Nature of Soma
Soma is an enigmatic deva. The Occidentals have treated Soma as nothing but a plant whose creepers, on being squeezed, yield a juice which is intoxicating. There are numerous passages where Soma occurs with the word suta meaning pressed or squeezed. It is said that Indra drinking this juice becomes intoxicated and in his intoxication kills the adversary Vŗtra. There are some references to Indra killing Vŗtra after drinking Soma. The verses on Soma number more than 1,200, including all the verses in the entire ninth mandala consisting of 114 sūktās or 1,108 verses. Reading carefully all the epithets to Soma in these verses gives a completely different picture. Let us begin with what RV has to say about whether the Soma is a herb or not, by quoting the famous verse (10.85.3) in the hymn titled “marriage of Sūryā”
“Laymen or those addicted to rituals may regard Soma as a creeper which is crushed for getting its juice for use in the ritual. But to the wise poets, Soma is not something to be drunk.”
The clue to its deeper meaning is indicated by the common epithet for Soma, vanaspati, the lord ofvana; vana means in Sanskrit both herb and delight. Kena Upanishad (4.6) uses vana in the sense of delight. Soma in the deeper sense is the Lord of Delight, the Delight of Existence. In RV, every aspect of existence has an inherent delight, the idea popularised later in the Taittirīya Upanishad. Every action exerts a pressure on existence; this squeezing, suta, releases the Soma or bliss contained in that aspect of creation. We feel joy in work because of this released delight, Soma.
Here we recognise that action is done primarily by the devās and the humans are only subsidiary players; we should free the released Soma from our claim. This declaration, “this is not mine”, is the way of purifying the Soma, purifying it of our attachment. This purified Soma is offered to the deva, especially Indra, the Lord of Divine Mind. This delight exhilarates Indra who takes steps to destroy the forces of ignorance, like Vŗtra and Vāla, the kill-joys or misers who do not want the supreme knowledge go and the energies āpah (waters) to reach all human beings.
We will quote some verses in RV which bring out the power of Soma. Rigveda speaks of Soma in (9.96) in the vibhūtiyoga style as in Bhagawad Gīta:
“Brahman among devās, leader among the seer-poets,
Sage among the wise, the bull among the animals,
The falcon among vultures, the axe in the woods,
Soma sings over the purifier. (9.96.3)”
“By Soma are ¡dityas strong and by Soma the earth is mighty;
This Soma is placed in the midst of all these Constellations, (Nakshatra). (10.85.2)”
“Soma advances heroic with his swift chariots by the force of subtle thought to the perfected activity of Indra. (9.15.1)”
“You are the ocean, you reveal everything; Under thy law are the five places;
Thou transcends heaven and earth;
Purifier, there are the Lights, there the Sun. (9.86.29)”
“Giving birth to the luminous world of heaven.
Giving birth to the Sun in the Waters.
The Brilliant one Hari clothes himself with the Waters and the Rays. (9.42.1)”
“Giving birth” means manifesting these energies in the human being.
Soma is connected to moon; “”cool moon-rays which cause delight among lovers” is a common phrase.
“Those who are utterly perfected in Works taste the enjoyment of his honey-sweetness. (9.83.4)”
“His swift ecstasies foster the soul that purifies him;
He ascends to the high level of Heaven by the conscious heart.
This is the supreme dappled bull that makes the Dawn to shine out. ” (9.83.3)
We can combine all the different quotes and understand why persons who merely squeeze the Soma herb cannot know this delight. Only the person who has done tapas can release the delight. Delight encompasses everything. Delight makes the Sun shine as the Taittirīya Upanishad declares. Delight is the basis of everything. Soma denotes the delight released from actions or works, Ananda refers to Delight in its entirety.
Soma‘s connection with Knowledge and Light is contained in many hymns.
“Soma, we know thee pre-eminently with our understanding.
You lead us along the straight path. (1.91.1)”
“You are the master of all-existence satpati. You are the slayer of Vŗtra and the auspicious will in action. (1.91.5)”
“Soma, thou hast generated all the delights Vana, the energies āpah and the Light go;
You have dispelled the darkness with thy Light;
You have extended the vast Mid-world (in man). (1.91.22)”
Soma, Lord of Delight and Immortality (RV 9.83)
1. Wide spread out for thee is the sieve of thy purifying, O Master of the soul; becoming in the creature thou pervadest his members all through. He tastes not that delight who is unripe and whose body has not suffered in the heat of the fire; they alone are able to bear that and enjoy it who have been prepared by the flame.
2. The strainer through which the heat of him is purified is spread out in the seat of Heaven; its threads shine out and stand extended. His swift ecstasies foster the soul that purifies him; he ascend to the high level of Heaven by the conscious heart.
3. This is the supreme dappled Bull that makes the Dawns to shine out, the Male that bears the worlds of the becoming and seeks the plenitude; the Fathers who had the forming knowledge made a form of him by that power of knowledge which is his; strong in vision they set him within as a child to be born.
4. As the Gandharva he guards his true seat; as the supreme and wonderful One he keeps the births of the gods; Lord of the inner setting, by the inner setting he seizes the enemy. Those who are utterly perfected in works taste the enjoyment of his honey-sweetness.
5. Thou in whom is the food, thou art that divine food, thou art the vast, the divine home; wearing heaven as a robe thou encompassest the march of the sacrifice. King with the sieve of thy purifying for thy chariot thou ascendest to the plenitude; with thy thousand burning brilliances thou conquerest the vast knowledge.
It is a marked, an essential feature of the Vedic hymns that, although the Vedic cult was not monotheistic in the modern sense of the word, yet they continually recognise, sometimes quite openly and simply, sometimes in a complex and difficult fashion, always as an underlying thought, that the many godheads whom they invoke are really one Godhead, – One with many names, revealed in many aspects, approaching man in the mask of many divine personalities. Western scholars, puzzled by this religious attitude which presents no difficulty whatever to the Indian mind, have invented, in order to explain it, a theory of Vedic henotheism. The Rishis, they thought, were polytheists, but to each God at the time of worshipping him they gave pre-eminence and even regarded him as in a way the sole deity. This invention of henotheism is the attempt of an alien mentality to understand and account for the Indian idea of one Divine Existence who manifests Himself in many names and forms, each of which is for the worshipper of that name and form the one and supreme Deity. That idea of the Divine, fundamental to the Puranic religions, was already possessed by our Vedic forefathers.
The Veda already contains in the seed the Vedantic conception of the Brahman. It recognises an Unknowable, a timeless Existence, the Supreme which is neither today nor tomorrow, moving in the movement of the Gods, but itself vanishing from the attempt of the mind to seize it (1.170.1). It is spoken of in the neuter as That and often identified with the Immortality, the supreme triple Principle, the vast Bliss to which the human being aspires. The Brahman is the Unmoving, the Oneness of the Gods. “The Unmoving is born as the Vast in the seat of the Cow (Aditi), … the vast, the mightiness of the Gods, the One” (3-55.1). “It is the one Existent to whom the seers give different names, Indra, Matarishwan, Agni” (1.164.46).
This Brahman, the one Existence, thus spoken of impersonally in the neuter, is also conceived as the Deva, the supreme Godhead, the Father of things who appears here as the Son in the human soul. He is the Blissful One to whom the movement of the Gods ascends, manifest as at once the Male and the Female, vrsan, dhenu. Each of the Gods is a manifestation, an aspect, a personality of the one Deva. He can be realised through any of his names and aspects, through Indra, through Agni, through Soma; for each of them being in himself all the Deva and only in his front or aspect to us different from the others contains all the gods in himself.
Thus Agni is hymned as the supreme and universal Deva. “Thou O Agni, art Varuna when thou art born, thou becomest Mitra when thou art perfectly kindled, in thee are all the Gods, O Son of Force, thou art Indra to the mortal who gives the sacrifice. Thou becomest Aryaman when thou bearest the secret name of the Virgins. They make thee to shine with the radiances (the cows,gobhih) as Mitra well-established when thou makest of one mind the Lord of the house and his consort. For the glory of thee, O Rudra, the Maruts brighten by their pressure that which is the brilliant and varied birth of thee. That which is the highest seat of Vişhņu, by that thou protectest the secret Name of the radiances (the cows, gonam). By thy glory, O Deva, the gods attain to right vision and holding in themselves all the multiplicity (of the vast manifestation) taste Immortality. Men set Agni in them as the priest of the sacrifice when desiring (the Immortality) they distribute (to the Gods) the self-expression of the being…. Do thou in thy knowledge extricate the Father and drive away (sin and darkness), he who is borne in us as thy Son, O Child of Force” (5.3). Indra is similarly hymned by Vamadeva and in this eighty-third Sūkta of the ninth Mandala, as in several others, Soma too emerges from his special functions as the supreme Deity.
Soma is the Lord of the wine of delight, the wine of immortality. Like Agni he is found in the plants, the growths of earth, and in the waters. The Soma-wine used in the external sacrifice is the symbol of this wine of delight. It is pressed out by the pressing-stone (adri, gravan) which has a close symbolic connection with the thunderbolt, the formed electric force of Indra also called adri. The Vedic hymns speak of the luminous thunders of this stone as they speak of the light and sound of Indra’s weapon. Once pressed out as the delight of existence Soma has to be purified through a strainer (pavitra) and through the strainer he streams in his purity into the wine bowl (camu) in which he is brought to the sacrifice, or he is kept in jars (kalasa) for Indra’s drinking. Or, sometimes, the symbol of the bowl or the jar is neglected and Soma is simply described as flowing in a river of delight to the seat of the Gods, to the home of Immortality. That these things are symbols is very clear in most of that hymns of the ninth Mandala which are all devoted to the God Soma. Here, for instance, the physical system of the humar being is imaged as the jar of the Soma-wine and the strainer through which it is purified is said to be spread out in the seat of Heaven, divaspade.
The hymn begins with an imagery which closely follows the physical facts of the purifying of the wine and its pouring into the jar. The strainer or purifying instrument spread out in the seat of Heaven seems to be the mind enlightened by knowledge (cetas); the human system is the jar.Pavitram te vitatam brahmanaspate, the strainer is spread wide for thee, O Master of the soul;prabhur gatrani paryesi visvatah, becoming manifest thou pervadest or goest about the limbs everywhere. Soma is addressed here as Brahmanaspati, a word sometimes applied to other gods, but usually reserved for Brihaspati, Master of the creative Word. Brahman in the Veda is the soul or soul-consciousness emerging from the secret heart of things, but more often the thought, inspired, creative, full of the secret truth, which emerges from that consciousness and becomes thought of the mind, manma. Here, however, it seems to mean the soul itself. Soma, Lord of the Ananda, is the true creator who possesses the soul and brings out of it a divine creation. For him the mind and heart, enlightened, have been formed into a purifying instrument; freed from all narrowness and duality the consciousness in it has been extended widely to receive the full flow of the sense-life and mind-life and turn it into pure delight of the true existence, the divine, the immortal Ananda.
So received, sifted, strained, the Soma-wine of life turned into Ananda comes pouring into all the members of the human system as into a wine-jar and flows through all of them completely in their every part. As the body of a man becomes full of the touch and exultation of strong wine, so all the physical system becomes full of the touch and exultation of this divine Ananda. The words prabhuand vibhu in the Veda are used not in the later sense, “lord”, but in a fixed psychological significance like pracetas and vicetas or like prajnana and vijnana in the later language. “Vibhu” means becoming, or coming into existence pervasively, “Prabhu” becoming, coming into existence in front of the consciousness, at a particular point as a particular object or experience. Soma comes out like the wine dropping from the strainer and then pervading the jar; it emerges into the consciousness concentrated at some particular point, prabhu, or as some particular experience and then pervades the whole being as Ananda, vibhu.
But it is not every human system that can hold, sustain and enjoy the potent and often violent ecstasy of that divine delight. Ataptatanur na tad amo asnute, he who is raw and his body not heated does not taste or enjoy that; srtasa id vahantas tat samasata, only those who have been baked in the fire bear and entirely enjoy that. The wine of the divine Life poured into the system is a strong, overflooding and violent ecstasy; it cannot be held in the system unprepared for it by strong endurance of the utmost fires of life and suffering and experience. The raw earthen vessel not baked to consistency in the fire of the kiln cannot hold the Soma-wine; it breaks and spills the precious liquid. So the physical system of the man who drinks this strong wine of Ananda must by suffering and conquering all the torturing heats of life have been prepared for the secret and fiery heats of the Soma; otherwise his conscious being will not be able to hold it; it will spill and lose it as soon as or even before it is tasted or it will break down mentally and physically under the touch.
This strong and fiery wine has to be purified and the strainer for its purifying has been spread out wide to receive it in the seat of heaven, tapospavitram vitatam divaspade; its threads or fibres are all of pure light and stand out like rays, Socanto asya tantavo vyasthiran. Through these fibres the wine has to come streaming. The image evidently refers to the purified mental and emotional consciousness, the conscious heart, cetas, whose thoughts and emotions are the threads or fibres. Dyau or Heaven is the pure mental principle not subjected to the reactions of the nerves and the body. In the seat of Heaven, – the pure mental being as distinguished from the vital and physical consciousness, – the thoughts and emotions become pure rays of true perception and happy psychical vibration instead of the troubled and obscured mental, emotional and sensational reactions that we now possess. Instead of being contracted and quivering things defending themselves from pain and excess of the shocks of experience they stand out free, strong and bright, happily extended to receive and turn into divine ecstasy all possible contacts of universal existence. Therefore it is divaspade, in the seat of Heaven, that the Soma-strainer is spread out to receive the Soma.
Thus received and purified these keen and violent juices, these swift and intoxicating powers of the Wine no longer disturb the mind or hurt the body, are no longer spilled and lost but foster and increase, avanti, mind and body of their purifier, avantyasya pavitaram asavah. So increasing him in all delight of his mental, emotional, sensational and physical being they rise with him through the purified and blissful heart to the highest level or surface of heaven, that is, to the luminous world of Swar where the mind capable of intuition, inspiration, revelation is bathed in the splendours of the Truth (rtam), liberated into the infinity of the Vast (brhat). Divasprstham adhi tisthanti cetasa.
So far the Rishi has spoken of Soma in his impersonal manifestation, as the Ananda or delight of divine existence in the human being’s conscious experience. He now turns, as is the habit of the Vedic Rishis, from the divine manifestation to the divine Person and at once Soma appears as the supreme Personality, the high and universal Deva. Arurucad usasah prsnir agriyah, the supreme dappled One, he makes the dawns to shine: uksa bibharti bhuvanani vajayuh, he, the Bull, bears the worlds, seeking the plenitude. The word prsnih, dappled, is used both of the Bull, the supreme Male, and of the Cow, the female Energy; like all words of colour, sveta, sukra, hari, harit, krsna, hiranyaya, in the Veda it is symbolic; colour, varna, has always denoted quality, temperament, etc., in the language of the Mystics. The dappled Bull is the Deva in the variety of his manifestation, many-hued. Soma is that first supreme dappled Bull, generator of the world of the becoming, for from the Ananda, from the all-blissful One they all proceed; delight is the parent of the variety of existences. He is the Bull, uksan, a word which like its synonym vrsan, means diffusing, generating, impregnating, the father of abundance, the Bull, the Male; it is he who fertilizes Force of consciousness, Nature, the Cow, and produces and bears in his stream of abundance the worlds. He makes the Dawns shine out, – the dawns of illumination, mothers of the radiant herds of the Sun; and he seeks the plenitude, that is to say the fullness of being, force, consciousness, the plenty of the godhead which is the condition of the divine delight. In other words it is the Lord of the Ananda who gives us the splendours of the Truth and the plenitudes of the Vast by which we attain to Immortality.
The fathers who discovered the Truth, received his creative knowledge, his Maya, and by that ideal and ideative consciousness of the supreme Divinity they formed an image of Him in man, they established Him in the race as a child unborn, a seed of the godhead in man, a Birth that has to be delivered out of the envelope of the human consciousness. mayavino mamire asya, mayaya, nrcaksasah pitaro garbham a dadhuh. The fathers are the ancient rishis who discovered the Way of the Vedic mystics and are supposed to be still spiritually present presiding over the destinies of the race and, like the gods, working in man for his attainment to Immortality. They are the sages who received the strong divine vision, nrcaksasah, the Truth-vision by which they were able to find the Cows hidden by the Panis and to pass beyond the bounds of the rodasi, the mental and physical consciousness, to the Superconscient, the Vast Truth and the Bliss (I.36.7; TV.I.13-18; IV.2.15-18 etc.).
Soma is the Gandharva, the Lord of the hosts of delight, and guards the true seat of the Deva, the level or plane of the Ananda; gandharva ittha padam asya raksati. He is the Supreme, standing out from all other beings and over them, other than they and wonderful, adbhutah, and as the supreme and transcendent, present in the worlds but exceeding them, he protects in those worlds the births of the gods, pati devanam janimani adbhutah. The “births of the gods” is a common phrase in the Veda by which is meant the manifestation of the divine principles in the cosmos and especially the formation of the godhead in its manifold forms in the human being. In the last verse the Rishi spoke of the Deva as the divine child preparing for birth, involved in the world, in the human consciousness. Here he speaks of Him as the transcendent guarding the world of the Ananda formed in man and the forms of the godhead born in him by the divine knowledge against the attacks of the enemies, the powers of division, the powers of undelight (dvisah, aratih), against the undivine hosts with their formations of a dark and false creative knowledge, Avidya, illusion, (adevir mayah).
For he seizes these invading enemies in the net of the inner consciousness; he is the master of a profounder and truer setting of world-truth and world-experience than that which is formed by the senses and the superficial mind. It is by this inner setting that he seizes the powers of falsehood, obscurity and division and subjects them to the law of truth, light and unity; grbhnati ripum nidhaya nidhapatih. Men therefore protected by the lord of the Ananda governing this inner nature are able to accord their thoughts and, actions with the inner truth and light and are no longer made to stumble by the forces of the outer crookedness; they walk straight, they become entirely perfect in their works and by this truth of inner working and outer action are able to taste the entire sweetness of existence, the honey, the delight that is the food of the soul. sukrttama madhuno bhaksam asata.
Soma manifests here as the offering, the divine food, the wine of delight and immortality, havih, and as the Deva, lord of that divine offering (havismah), above as the vast and divine seat, the superconscient bliss and truth, brhat, from which the wine descends to us. As the wine of delight he flows about and enters into this great march of the sacrifice which is the progress of man from the physical to the superconscient. He enters into it and encompasses it wearing the cloud of the heavenly ether, nabhas, the mental principle, as his robe and veil. havir havismo mahi sadma daivyam, nabho vasanah pari yasi adhvaram. The divine delight comes to us wearing the luminous-cloudy veil of the forms of mental experience.
In that march or sacrificial ascent the all-blissful Deva becomes the King of all our activities, master of our divinised nature and its energies and with the enlightened conscious heart as his chariot ascends into the plenitude of the infinite and immortal state. Like a Sun or a fire, as Surya, as Agni, engirt with a thousand blazing energies he conquers the vast regions of the inspired truth, the superconscient knowledge; raja pavitraratho vajam aruhah, sahasrabhrstir jayasi sravo brhat. The image is that of a victorious king, sunlike in force and glory, conquering a wide territory. It is the immortality that he wins for man in the vast Truth-Consciousness, sravas, upon which is founded the immortal state. It is his own true seat, ittha padam asya, that the God concealed in man conquers ascending out of the darkness and the twilight through the glories of the Dawn into the solar plenitudes.
With this hymn I close this series of selected hymns from the Rigveda. My object has been to show in as brief a compass as possible the real functions of the Vedic gods, the sense of the symbols in which their cult is expressed, the nature of the sacrifice and its goal, explaining by actual examples the secret of the Veda. I have purposely selected a few brief and easy hymns, and avoided those which have a more striking depth, subtlety and complexity of thought and image, – alike those which bear the psychological sense plainly and fully on their surface and those which by their very strangeness and profundity reveal their true character of mystic and sacred poems. It is hoped that these examples will be sufficient to show the reader who cares to study them with an open mind the real sense of this, our earliest and greatest poetry. By other translations of a more general character it will be shown that these ideas are not merely the highest thought of a few rishis, but the pervading sense and teaching of the Rigveda.