A GREAT GOD HAS BEEN RELEASED: A Commentary
By Patricia R Heidt, PhD
This article was first published in Sapthagiri, May 2007
A GREAT GOD HAS BEEN RELEASED: the Atris
1. Agni by the fuel heaped by the peoples has awakened toward the coming Dawn as towards the sun-cow coming; like the waters spouting up for wide flowing, his flames move toward the heavens
2. The Priest of the offering awoke for sacrifice to the gods, Agni stood up high in the dawn and perfect-minded; the gathered force of him was seen reddening when he was entirely kindled; a great god has been released out of the darkness.
3. When so he has put forth the tongue of his multitude, pure is the activity of Agni with the pure herd of his rays; then is the goddess discerning yoked to her works in a growing plenty; she upward straining, he high-uplifted, he feeds on her with his flaming activities.
4. Towards Agni move the minsds of the seekers after the Godhead, as their eyes move in the Surya, when the two unlike Dawns bring him forth, he is born a white steed of being in the van of the days.
5. He is born full of delight at the head of the days helpful in the helpful gods, active in those that take their joy; in each of our homes establishing his seven ecstasies. Agni, Priest of the offering, takes seat in his might for the sacrifice.
6. Mighty for sacrifice Agni of the offerings takes his seat in the lap of the Mother, in that rapturous middle world, young and a seer, seated in many homes of his dwelling, full of the Truth, upholding our actions and therefore kindled in the mid-spaces.
7. Verily, it is this Agni, the illumined seer who perfects us in the lower activities, the master of offering, that they adore with obeisances and submission; who stretched out the double firmament by the force of the Truth, him they strengthen (or brighten) with the rich droppings, the eternal master of substance.
8. Strong ever, he grows stronger housed in his own seat in us, and home, our guest auspicious to us; master bull with the thousand horses of thy flame, strong with that Strength, O Agni, by thy might thou art in front of all others.
9. At once, O Agni, thou passest beyond all others in him to whom thou makest thyself manifest in thy splendid beauty, adorable and full of body and widely luminous, the beloved guest of the human peoples.
10. To thee, O vigorous Agni, the continents bring their oblation from near and bring from afar; perceive the perfected mind in one most happy, for wide and mighty is the blessed peace of thee, O Agni.
11. O luminous Agni, mount today thy perfect and luminous chariot with the masters of the sacrifice, thou knowest those paths, bring then hither through the wide mid- world the gods to eat of our offerings.
12. Utterance have we given to the word of our delight for the seer who hath understanding, for the lord who is mighty; firm in the light one by submission to him reaches in Agni a fixity, even as in heaven, so here golden bright and vast expanding. (1)
Some years ago I wrote about my early understanding of growing into the Gnostic Circle (2). The study of cosmic harmonies as given me by my teacher, Thea, became the way I experienced the world and the unfolding events of my daily life at Aeon Centre of Cosmology in South India. More recently, I see that the Gnostic Circle, the path for initiates of the New Way, is the same journey in consciousness which the Vedic Rishis took in their pursuit of knowledge and truth. Both sing the harmony of the spheres, both hold the secret of the birth of the Transcendent Divine One as the Imminent, the hidden Agni of our daily sacrifice; and both give us the direction and purpose of mankind’s evolutionary journey, rooted in time, on our planet Earth.
All the Vedic hymns hold this knowledge in their inspired language and symbols, but I found it especially in the first hymn to Agni, written by the Atris. In these twelve suktas the four stages of the journey unfold as the fires are kindled and reddened, releasing Agni from the lower planes of consciousness (darkness/blackness) to emerge as the golden bright and widely luminous One, ‘the beloved guest of the human peoples’. In addition to the theme of the hymn, it is the Rishi’s use of colours which suggests to me this relationship with the Gnostic Circle.
As we journey toward the Sun, we seek to release Agni, hidden within us; to experience the fullness and unity of consciousness which comes when the soul replaces the ego as the focal point of our lives. Thea describes the process in terms of Gnostic Time, the stages which unfold based on the Earth’s relationship or movement around this Divine Orb. In her cosmology the path opens with Cosmic Sunrise; it is dawn, the colour is orange-red; the movement jumps to Cosmic Midnight (or the fall) with the colour black. Entry into Cosmic Sunset, the third quarter, is golden yellow. When the Ideal is found and becomes a lived experience in the last quarter, the colour is expressed as luminous white, with the sun directly overhead and casting no shadows; it is Cosmic Midday (3).
THE VEDIC SACRIFICE
Through his translations, Sri Aurobindo laid to rest the idea that the Rig Vedic hymns were the work of primitive nature worshippers; he revealed to us what he called ‘their secret’. The Vedic Rishis sang their hymns of victory as affirming mantras and underlying the images was a very clear and identifiable ‘mystic doctrine’: the everyday physical world in which we live is but one of many planes of consciousness; we are meant to move upward through the vital and mental realms to reach that highest resting place, the Supramental or Swar. At the heart of the doctrine there is a battle between the forces of light and darkness, between those who advance the evolution of spirit and those who retard it. Using images from the world in which they lived, the seers wrote of the sun rays that were stolen and locked in the caves of the Panis, and which must be found. When we offer our gifts and ‘sacrifice’ to the Gods, we hope to gain their aid in this battle over the powers of ignorance. It is a journey over time, and Agni the ‘path finder’, becomes the white steed moving us toward our goal; his conscious Force purifying and transforming our physical form, our vital passions and our rational impulses, blazing the trail to the summit, the highest delights beyond our limited mind and ego (4).
The Vedic sacrifice was the revolution of the earth around the Sun in twelve stages; and it is during this time that the lost rays of the sun must be found. This is evident in the Rik: ‘…by the truth, through the revolution of the year, they broke Vala. (X.62.2). Again there is the reference to Time in this hymn: ‘Certain eternal worlds are these which have come into being, their doors are shut to you (or opened) by the months and the years; without effort one (world) moves in the other, and it is these that Brahmanaspati has made manifest to knowledge.’ (II, 24.5).
The Gnostic Circle is that same ‘sacrifice’ or movement round the Sun, but now Time or the stages on the evolutionary journey are demarcated and made concrete for the seeker. In this sacred wheel we find the cosmic script which explains and completes the yogic discoveries of Sri Aurobindo. The combination of the twelve zodiacal signs and the nine planets of our solar system joined in this one circle is the key to understanding mankind’s evolution at this particular time in our transition from an animal-mental being to one who is to become a divine person living in a Gnostic society on Earth. Thea describes the Gnostic Circle, or the circle of twelve divided into four quarters, as the same vision that our forefathers called ‘Twashtri’s Bowl’:
‘…Today we speak of the signs of the zodiac and the months they govern or represent; to this we add the science of number-power, the calendar and the various systems of measuring space. We learn from this discussion, however that these designations are no different from the terms used by the Vedic Rishis, and that they too spoke of this one truth. The gods, children of Aditi, were rays of the twelve-rayed Sun and Aditi was this totality. Within those basic twelve rays there are nine planets, and these too are personified in the myths in the form of gods or helpers of the gods.
‘…in the twelve original rays there are three different energy flows, which are also personified, --for example by the Ribhus. These latter whom Sri Aurobindo describes as ‘the artisans of Immortality’, have been called “rays of the Sun”. They are three in number and are clearly connected with movement in the Rig Vedic hymns dedicated to them, for they fashion the steeds of Indra and the car of the Ashwins. “And this bowl of Twashtri new and perfected you made again into four. So establish for us the thrice seven ecstasies, each separately by perfect expressing of them.”(I.20-6.7). These three synonyms of movement are the energy flows that in the zodiac are repeated four times; hence it is said “this bowl of Twashtri…you again made into four” (5).
THE COSMIC JOURNEY – THE FIRST STAGES
In the hymn, A Great God Has Been Released, there are poetic and colourful images to depict the opening movements: awakening, kindling, and reddening give us the sense of Cosmic Sunrise or the beginning of the long journey toward immortality. It is the physical plane – matter has been sufficiently kindled and there is an awakening of the Divine Force, Agni. It is dawn and the priest has begun his early activities for the ritual sacrifice.
The flames of Aries, the first sign of the zodiac, ‘move toward the heavens’; or toward the ideal, toward the highest planes of consciousness. Taurus, an earth sign and Gemini, an air sign, complete this first Triad of Matter. Our physical nature is an essential part of this kindling and awakening; out of matter the seed/Agni bursts forth. Its rigid structure is the essential framework which holds the consciousness tightly bound, waiting for release.
The movement then plunges into Cosmic Midnight, or the realm of the vital consciousness. In sukta 4, the seer presents a new image: ‘...when the two unlike dawns bring him forth’ referring to dawn and darkness. Cancer opens this next triad; it is a water sign, and the blackness is the ‘fall’ or mankind’s darkened state of unconsciousness, our state of separateness as we move toward the Divine as an individualised person. Shrouded in veils, we begin the inner sacrifice; disconnected from the fullness of light, we labour and climb upward toward our goal, carrying within us the memory of that Divine Union.
The journey is only in the second stage: Agni ‘…takes his seat in the lap of the Mother, in that rapturous middle world, young and a seer, seated in many homes of his dwelling, full of the Truth, upholding our actions and therefore kindled in the mid-spaces.’ Thea likens the struggle of the soul during its passage through the second triad of the Gnostic Circle (Cancer, Leo and Virgo) to a ‘gestation process’; it begins in the first water sign of Cancer and is completed in Pisces, the last water sign; there is the final dissolving of those separating veils. Humankind, or the mental being, is condemned to this Fall, this separation, and ironically we cling to our uniqueness, this loss of identity from the One. But the message of the Zodiac reveals there are twelve stages in the evolution of consciousness and we move beyond the mental to the supramental being. That is our struggle – to see ourselves as part of the Divine Oneness; to see our individual destiny and the earth’s destiny as one (6).
Virgo, the virgin, is the symbol of the newborn, and we see in this sign a baptism or ritual cleansing of both body and vital passions. Full of delight, as head of our days, Agni works in us: nature ‘upward straining’ and he bending down ‘feeds on her with his flaming activities’. The Seer gives us beautiful insights into the interaction of the Divine with the material and vital worlds and through this purification we make the inner movement to complete the first half of the journey.
The outer rim of the Gnostic circle is composed of the twelve zodiacal signs, each providing a particular rhythm for our journey to the sun. There is also the inner circle of the planets; these nine heavenly bodies are the cosmic forces and powers – the helpful gods – who aid us along the way. During this first half of the journey we enlist the help of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars to guide our way; the remaining planets/Gods will be Agni’s cosmic helpers which move us upward, ensuring that our labours reach that joyful destination. The half way junction, at the bottom of the circle, is the asteroid belt where there is no planetary body. In the path ahead we move toward a wider and more universal consciousness; it is the hidden Agni we seek. The Seer tells us he must be ‘kindled’, a pressure must be exerted so that this golden seed of immortality is released from within us. Here, at the farthermost point from the beginning of the wheel we must not fall into old habits of running away, or use escapes of any sort to diminish our energy.
The earth herself, as well as each individual on the path, goes through this same process again and again in search of this new understanding and knowledge, until at last she finds her purpose in relation to the Divine Sun. Thea writes: ‘It is the story of the evolution of human consciousness, in the context of the entire cosmic manifestation. That is, the hymns describe the Absolute’s process of manifestation in the human evolution, or the Eye of Consciousness in a progressive state of awakening and affirmation. In the tale this “eye” is represented by the Sun. And the field in which the awakening is achieved, the victory secured, is the Earth.’ (7).
COMPLETING THE JOURNEY: OUR HIGHER DESTINY
The cosmology of the Rig Veda and The New Way are the same: it is the cosmic story and it is our own story. And so, with the aid of Agni, who knows the path, and the helpful God, Jupiter, we move with greater awareness toward Cosmic Sunset, toward that quarter of the circle known as the mental realm, to our ‘higher destiny’. In suktas 7 and 8, there are images of Agni, ‘the illumined seer who perfects us in the lower activities’, growing stronger in us as a ‘master bull with the thousand horses of thy flame’.
The third quarter of the Gnostic Circle opens with Libra, a cardinal sign, or creative force; then moves on to Scorpio, a sign of preservation. It ends in Sagittarius where the energy flow is one of dissolution, a letting go. These gunas are now being repeated a third time, and as we immerse ourselves into the rhythm of the Circle, we become attuned more keenly with the universal energy flows of the earth. Each of these sign/symbols imprints their unique rhythm into the journey; Thea likens the zodiac to a cosmic musical score, a ‘libretto whose language is universal’.
The ‘individualized’ mental being whose ego makes him/her separate seeks to use those faculties of reasoning for right action, for the unfolding of the higher mind, which prepares one to see the unity of all creation. The seer asks Agni to work in him, to ‘perceive the perfected mind in one most happy, for wide and mighty is the blessed peace in Thee.’(Sukta 10).
The sign of Scorpio has traditionally been one of ‘death’, but in this new context, it is the place on the path where the seeker strives to let go of the separateness that keeps one in darkness. The void which is presently at the centre of the being is replaced by that fullness of the One – our Divine Purpose; and it is only when enough energy/tapas has been accumulated that this transformation is possible. Here lies the core of the great secret known (and subsequently lost) by the Rig Vedic seers.
Sri Aurobindo’s yoga reversed the spiritual path of seekers, who for millennia used various practices which provided an escape from our physical body and the limitations imposed by our emotional and mental nature. Liberation was attained through transcending our humanness, by seeking release from the wheel of destiny, or by directing energies to a ‘heaven’ above earth. And over the centuries, with this kind of spiritual goal, the earth herself was abandoned for a final destiny somewhere beyond.
But the Rig Veda clearly posits this planet and its revolution around the sun is the stage for the evolutionary journey. Time, unfolding in twelve periods, holds the key to the release of that hidden Agni within us. And so, with the speed of Sagittarius, the seeker crosses over the last Cardinal point of the Earth, and enters the final quarter of the journey, the Supramental. Capricorn, the sign opposite Cancer in the Zodiacal wheel opens this triad – we journey into the heart of the mountain, into the core of the earth and through this initiation, the seeker experiences a synthesis of all four planes of consciousness, a sense of unity (8). Agni, the white steed, manifests in all his illumined light and fullness. He is ‘fixed’’ in us; he ‘takes his seat’ in us and the earth, his luminous chariot. It is Cosmic Midday and the seer sings out his delight in the victory, with the ideal being realized, with the sun overhead, ‘golden bright and vastly expanding’ (sukta 12).
MAP OF THE TWELVE MANIFESTATIONS
The earth has another cosmic movement, a wider arc of time, in which she moves in a backward revolution around the Sun (the precession). In the Map of the Evolutionary Ages, Thea gives us the key to the earth’s transformation in these twelve stages (9) (See Attachment). Movement through all the signs of the zodiac three times is one Great Circle, a period of 77,760 years, at the end of which the four sheaths of the earth (the physical, vital, mental and supramental) will have fully matured. She places us on the outer rim of the mental section of this Circle, and calls this time the ‘last three months of the pregnancy’.
Although ostensibly her contemporary revelation, Thea told us she believed the Vedic Seers ‘saw’ the Gnostic Circle and its unfolding through the twelve Ages. They immersed themselves in the deep meaning of the symbols of the zodiac and the planetary bodies; they aligned themselves with these cosmic rhythms and their consciousness became one and the same.
India maintains the link with the Sanatana Dharma through the unbroken line of Avataric descents. In Hindu tradition, the Divine manifests on earth to renew and revitalize the ‘mystical doctrine’ from Age to Age. We live now in the Ninth Manifestation, the Age of Aquarius, and the earth is once again ready for the renewal, for the delivery of the Child. Humankind, or the mental being, is evolving into the Supramental; the Rishi sings, it is time - A Great God Has Been Released! We move toward the Age of Capricorn, when a Divine race of people will live on planet Earth and Agni, that Divine Son of Force, will become the centre of the new being, the ‘beloved guest of the people’.
Myths give us a familiarity with Sri Ram, the masterful King and avatar of the Seventh Age, and Sri Krishna, delightful lover of the Eighth Manifestation. Now, in this critical Ninth Stage of evolution, where the work of the Avatar is far more complex, and the struggle between the forces of knowledge and ignorance are more intense, the Divine descends to earth in a series of special births. They come to introduce an ‘intervention’ or to imprint once again the original cosmic script in the context of a new and evolving world; their sole concern is the preservation of the eternal message, the ‘immortal core’ that lies at the heart of all creation, whereby the Divine offers Him/Herself in an unending process of renewal.
1. The First Hymn to Agni: a hymn of the Morning sacrifice. Translation and Explanation by Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire, Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, l971, pp. 409 – 502.
2. Patricia Heidt, Growing into the Gnostic Circle, Life Positive, vol 7, issue 11, (February 2003).
3. The details of these movements are explored in the next section. Thea (Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet) has presented the relationship between the Rig Veda and the Gnostic Circle in all her seminal works, and along with Sri Aurobindo’s Secret of the Veda, I use these as primary resource material in exploring this hymn to Agni.
4. Sri Aurobindo, Secret of the Veda. Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, Pondicherry, India, 1971.
5. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. The New Way, vol. 2, Aeon Books, USA, 1981, pp. 401- 402.
6. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. The Magical Carousel and, Commentaries, Aeon Books, USA, 1979, p. 20.
7. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. The New Way, volume 3, Aeon Books, India, 2005, p. 254.
8. The Magical Carousel, Ibid. Chapter 10.
9. Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet. The Gnostic Circle, Aeon Books, USA, 1994, p. 19.
10. Sri Aurobindo, born in 1872 took up his yogic work after a highly intense political career in India. He was joined in 1910 by Mirra Richards, whom he subsequently named The Mother. The third in this line, Thea (Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet) took up her work in India in 1971, and she is followed by the fourth, whose work is on a very universal scope throughout the world.
Patricia R Heidt, Ph.D is a resident-student at Aeon Centre of Cosmology in South India.