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III.4. Vedic Yoga, the Oldest Form of Yoga


Part III.4

Vedic Yoga, the Oldest Form of Yoga


������ Yoga in various forms is popular throughout the world today. However, few Yoga teachers, much less Yoga students, understand the Vedic roots of Yoga. They are rarely aware of Yoga�s integral relationship with Hindu culture, which it pervades on all levels including music, dance, medicine, astrology and spirituality. Yoga is the inner technology that goes along with Vedic wisdom, which is the inner knowledge that enables us to understand the conscious universe and utilize its forces for ultimate well-being and liberation.


 ����� Yoga is a comprehensive set of spiritual practices designed to enable us to realize the greater universe of consciousness that is our true nature. The term Yoga means to unite, coordinate, harmonize, work, or transform. It refers to the linking all aspects of our being, from the physical body to our highest intelligence, with the true or universal Self. This process occurs in different forms and stages relative to the condition of the individual and variations of time, place and culture. Vedic knowledge is that knowledge of the Divine or higher Self that the practice of Yoga is seeking to realize. Veda is spiritual wisdom and Yoga is its application. Yoga has developed over many thousands of years and evolved into many branches and types, making it easy to lose sight of its origins. Today Yoga has been reduced, particularly in the West, to its physical or asana side, and little of the greater Yoga tradition is seriously studied. Even in India the Vedic basis of the tradition is seldom given proper attention.


Yet as we move into a new planetary age, the older spiritual traditions are beginning to resurface in the collective mind. As we move forward we must comprehend our origins and reclaim our ancient spiritual heritage. The Vedas contain the keys to the perennial wisdom of humanity. The Vedas proclaim that we are all children of light, the progeny of the great seers (Maharshis), who have wandered far. In order for us to evolve in consciousness we must revitalize the seeds of higher evolution that the ancient sages planted within us millennia ago. The revival of the Vedas is crucial to the emergence of a new spiritual global culture.


Various scholars and yogis have aimed at researching and rediscovering the original Vedic Yoga. Ganapati Muni, the chief disciple of the great South Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, did notable work in this respect. So did Ganapati's disciple, Daivarata Vaishvamitra, whom Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once brought to the West and called a great modern Rishi. The Vedic Yoga was central to the work of the great modern seer-poet Sri Aurobindo, who based his integral Yoga on a Vedic model, and Kapali Shastri, an important disciple not only of Aurobindo but also of Ganapati Muni. Several other modern Vedic teachers have contributed to the revival of Vedic knowledge including Swami Dayananda Sarasvati of the Arya Samaj, Swami Gangeshwarananda and Pandit Satvalekar. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has been its most notable popularizer in recent years, promoting the idea of Vedic science, including Ayurveda and Jyotish worldwide.


Vedic Yoga


Vedic Yoga is the oldest form of Yoga dating back to the Rigveda, which is perhaps the oldest book in the world and the legacy of the ancient Sarasvati civilization of India. The original Vedic Yoga was envisioned by numerous Vedic seers of the Angirasa and Bhrigu families, of which the most important are the seven great seers Vasishta, Vamadeva, Bharadvaja, Gritsamada, Vishvamitra, Kanwa and Atri, the main seers of the Rig Vedic hymns. Through the vision of the Rishis, the Vedas set forth the main possible spiritual paths for humanity. The Vedas contain a comprehensive key to cosmic evolution as well as to human spiritual unfoldment, unlocking all the laws of the universe.


Vedic language employs powerful mantras to set forth this teaching with several levels of meaning and application. In this regard, the Vedic language has a depth and dimension that modern languages, products of the outer mind and ego, cannot approach. Vedic mantras reflect the blueprint of cosmic intelligence through which all that exists can be comprehended in pure consciousness. Vedic mantras contain the prototypes of all knowledge and the keys to all powers of creation. Yet to understand and use them correctly requires a special insight. Vedic mantras cannot be grasped by the ordinary intellect, which is why academic renderings of the Vedas are almost useless and breed many distortions.


Three Types of Vedic Yoga


The basic Vedic Yoga is threefold, reflecting the tripartite universe, and has several important correspondences:








Mantra Yoga







Agni/ Brahma


Waking State

Prana Yoga






Antariksha or the Waters, Apas



Deep Sleep

Dhyana Yoga


Manas/ Buddhi

Sama Veda




Sun/ Vishnu




Mantra Yoga involves developing Mantra Shakti, the power of mantra, through which the mantra becomes alive as a tool of transformation in the mind. From this arises Mantra Sphota, mantric insight, through which the inner meaning of the mantra can be grasped, linking us up with Divine laws. This allows us to understand all forms in the universe as manifestations of the Divine Word, the creative vibration OM. This mantric force sets in motion all other inner energies, not only on an inner level but can also provide mastery over all the forces of nature.


Prana Yoga involves developing Prana or Vidyut Shakti (lightning or electrical force), and Pranic insight (lightning perception). This allows us to work with our vital energy as a manifestation of the energy of consciousness. Mantra becomes Prana, as Prana (breath) itself is unmanifest sound. This Prana provides the impetus and vitality for inner transformations.


Dhyana Yoga, or the Yoga of meditation, involves developing Buddhi or awakened intelligence, called Dhi in the Vedas, and its power of truth perception. It allows us to understand the universe and the human being as unfoldments of Cosmic Intelligence. This higher intelligence arises through the energization of speech and Prana and brings an extraordinary transformative power into the deepest level of the mind. In Dhyana Yoga the light of truth floods the mind and we come to know the unitary nature of all reality.


The Three Vedas correspond to these three Yogas. The Rigveda, the Veda of mantra, sets forth the basic mantras or seeds of cosmic knowledge on all levels. The Yajur Veda, the Veda of sacrifice, shows their application through ritual, which is both external and internal (yogic), individual and cosmic. The main internal ritual is Pranayama. The Sama Veda, the Veda of unification, shows the realization of the mantras through ecstasy and insight. These three forces operate in our three states of waking, dream and deep sleep, and can transform them into states of Divine waking or perception, Divine dream or creation, and Divine rest or peace. These are the three worlds of Earth, Atmosphere and Heaven, not as external but as internal realities, through which we can grasp all the worlds as formations of our own mind.


Indra and Surya, Shiva and Vishnu


The three main Vedic Deities or Devatas correspond to the three types of light. Agni is fire, which is heat or thermogenic light that burns up all negativity and reformulates our nature on a higher level. It also represents the Atmic light that is hidden in darkness, the Self as the witness of all the movements of the mind. Indra is lightning, which is light energy or electrical force through which we can ascend and move on a higher level of being. It represents the Atmic light of perception that destroys the illusions (Maya) and limitations of ignorance symbolized by Vritra, the serpent or dragon that is Indra�s enemy. Surya is the Sun, which is pure light or magnetic force that draws us into the omnipresent infinite. It is the Atmic light of truth that illuminates Brahman or the supreme reality in the entire universe.


These three Vedic deities are the basis of the three main deities of later Hinduism. Vedic Indra is the prototype of Shiva, who like Indra is a deity of Prana (the life-force), Shakti (power) and transcendence. Vedic Surya becomes Vishnu, who is also a Sun God or form of Surya in the Rigveda. Vedic Agni becomes the basis of Hindu Skanda, born of Agni, the Divine Child1. The two dominant deity orders of Hinduism�the Shaiva and Vaishnava�reflect the Aindra (Indra) and Saura (Surya) lines of the Rigveda, which makes the supreme deity alternatively that of Heaven (Vishnu or Surya) or the Atmosphere (Indra or Shiva).


The Vedic atmosphere sometimes becomes the realm of the Waters that transcend Heaven and Earth, not merely the intermediate world placed between Heaven and Earth.2 The second world becomes linked to the fourth or the realm beyond manifestation. The Atmosphere becomes the all world or the Cosmic Ocean, the ocean of the heart, which spreads Heaven and Earth apart, bringing the infinite into realization. Its deity, Indra or Shiva, as the Supreme will and power becomes the highest deity. This ocean is space and its waves are the worlds. In the space within the heart is contained all the universe and the Supreme Self beyond manifestation. Other times, Heaven or the realm of light is the supreme world and the Atmosphere is below, with Surya or Vishnu, the Sun God as Supreme.3


These two deities also reflect the order of the elements. Shiva or Indra is Vayu or wind, which is the elements of air and ether. These are the two formless elements that transcend the formed elements of earth, water and fire that dominate on Earth and in the manifest world. Air and ether represent the Spirit that transcends the material forms of earth, water and fire. Surya or Vishnu is light that takes the forms of all the elements and is not simply limited to the element of fire. Ultimately, light and energy or Sun and Wind are the same. That is why in the Rigveda the term Atman is applied either to the Sun, Surya, or to the Wind, Vayu.4


The Shaivite and Vaishnava lines, therefore, reflect the atmospheric and heavenly orders and their deities of Wind/lightning and Sun. Such a twofold division of supreme deities was common throughout the ancient world from India to America, where either the Atmospheric God of lightning and wind is supreme (which includes the Jewish Jehovah) or the Heavenly Sun God. The two are ultimately identified as the One Deity, the Supreme Self as either light or energy, consciousness or Prana.


The integral Vedic Yoga combines these three Yogas. It has its special form, which is meditation on the heart, tracing the origins of speech, prana and mind back to the Self in the heart. This is the practice of Self-inquiry. It is not done simply by repeating Who am I? but requires a mantric and meditational control of speech, Prana and mind. It examines all the movements of speech, prana and mind in all states of consciousness as powers of the Atman. It is particularly connected to Agni Vaishvanara, the fire as the universal person, who is also called Kumar, the child, and Guha, the secret space within the heart. This form of Agni, as Ganapati Muni notes, represents the liberated soul (mukta purusha). However, the Vedic Yoga is vast and many sided. We have only outlined a few of its characteristic features here, like trying to reduce the Puranic Hindu pantheon to a few key ideas or formulations.


[1] Aspects of Vedic Agni also appear as Hindu Ganesha (Agni as the priest worshipped first) and Brahma, the Creator who works through the Vedas and the Vedic fire.

2 When Vishnu or Surya is the supreme deity, then heaven is the highest world, and the atmosphere is only the intermediate world. When Shiva or Indra is the supreme deity, then the atmosphere gets connected to the formless realm of air and space beyond heaven and earth (fire and earth).

3 The connection of Shiva/Indra and Prana, with Vishnu/Surya as the Sun explains why Shiva is the predominant deity of Ayurveda that is connected to the life-force, while Vishnu dominates Jyotisha or astrology, connected to the Sun.

4 Prana, similarly, can be identified with either Vayu or Surya.


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