THE SYMBOLISM IN "YAGNA"

by P. R. VENKATARAMA IYER, F.T.S..

originally published under the title of "YAGNA"
in THE THEOSOPHIST, April, 1890.

and reprinted in “Theosophical Siftings” - Volume -6- of 1893 -1894

"A symbol is ever, to him "who has eyes for it, some dimmer or clearer revelation of the God-like. Through all these glimmers something of a divine idea." — Carlyle.

"The proofs brought forward in corroboration of the old teaching are scattered widely throughout the old scriptures of ancient civilisation. The Puranas, the Zend Avesta and the old classics are full of them; but no one has ever gone to the trouble of collecting and collating together those facts. The reason for this is, that all such events were recorded symbolically; and that the best scholars, the most acute minds, among our Aryanists and Egyptologists, have been too often darkened by one or another preconception; still oftener, by one-sided views of the secret meaning. Yet, even a parable is a spoken symbol; a fiction or a fable as some think; an allegorical representation, we say, of life realities, events and facts. And as a moral was ever drawn from a parable, that moral being an active truth and fact in human life, so an historical real event was deduced — by those versed in hieratic sciences — from certain emblems and symbols recorded in the ancient archives of the temples. The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols; it was never expressed in so many words. All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge revealed and acquired of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parables." — The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I., P 307 [Page 13]

ALL the Christian and Brahmo Missionaries charge the Hindu with being guilty of the grossest crime of offering sacrifice of sheep in "Yagna'' — a ceremony which every Brahmin is necessarily required to perform if he wants Nirvana, or Moksha. — Mr. Ramachandra Bose in his "Hindoo Philosophy Popularly Explained", translates the word "Yagna" as meaning animal sacrifices, and hence concludes that such sacrifices were imperatively demanded in ancient times. The highest philosophical meaning which "Yagna" as a spiritual symbol conveyed at the doors of selfish orthodox Brahmins who, instead of catching the esoteric meaning of the noblest symbol which man has ever conceived, and can conceive of, do actually kill or sacrifice sheep in these days, leaning all the while for support on Vedas which never sanctioned this brutal and irrational observance. It is the dead letter interpretation consequent on the loss of the esoteric key of the archaic symbols and the literal action of the orthodox Brahmins that have supplied our adversaries with the weapons of criticism and attack upon this noblest symbol of Yagna. Why do such Brahmins find fault with Mahomedans and others for their killing, of sheep and oxen in Kurubani and other religious ceremonies ? If the Brahmin would cite as his authority for the sacrifice of sheep, his Vedas, the Mahomedan would show his Koran and the Christian his Bible as authority for meat-eating. We must judge others as we would be judged by, and if the Brahmins will claim their Vedas alone as the direct revelation of God to hide their many [Page 14] practices and observances revolting to the spirit of philosophy and true advancement, I cannot understand why Christians and Mahomedans cannot claim their Bible and the Koran also to justify the innumerable atrocious crimes they have committed in the name of religion.

True reconciliation of religious observances and differences lies in their esoteric explanation and meaning, but not in the dogmatic assertion and belief of the orthodox communities. The Hindoo who shudders at the sight of a sheep being butchered, must have the same sympathetic feeling when he hears the bleating voice of the woolly mother when brought before the sacrificial altar, and if he would plead necessity, "the tyrant's plea", and the ordinance of God as grounds for his brutal conduct, I may boldly assert, without fear of contradiction, that the Vedas never enjoined the literal killing of sheep, but pointed out so many observances of esoteric symbols having close connection with the working of the soul in the inner plane as aiding its progress towards the goal of Nirvana. The saying that "even the devil quotes the Bible", is applicable only to this class of Brahmans who, by their dogmatic assertions and want of esoteric knowledge, supplemented by priestcraft, have deprived the brightest intellects of Aryavartha of thought and reason, and have made India to run headlong into stupid and irreconcilable theories and practices and thus to run amuck through the noble aggregation of archaic spiritual symbols, which has resulted in splitting the sons of Rishis into so many orthodox conflicting sections.

The real work of sacrifice begins in the chamber of the soul, and philosophy is the handmaid that awaits upon us. The ceremonies and observances which are performed and attended to only externally, are entirely useless and have no meaning whatever unless they indicate, or are attended by, an internal process of purification in the chamber of soul. When once the internal process takes place, the esoteric meaning of the symbols becomes easily understood. Not being able to understand the meaning of symbols, people have dragged them down to minister to their own crooked notions, and have consequently split themselves into so many sects owing to their wordy wars and difference of opinion (possible only in the external or exoteric plane) — a fact which proves that those classes or sects who pretend to teach how to attain divine knowledge, have really lost the internal vital power, and what is left in them is nothing but the external forms founded by priests to serve their own selfish ends. The communities of different religionists who pretend to solve the divine symbols by the supposed philosophical dissertations or ritualistic observances, such as "Yagna", without the necessary action and esoteric understanding, do really deserve contempt as poisoning the moral and the spiritual atmosphere of this world. [Page 15]

Sacrifice in the esoteric plane is not the special privilege of any one nation and country. All those, irrespective of caste, creed and colour, who enter into the temple of spiritual truth, and sacrifice at the altar of "Self knowledge" their prejudices, selfishness, Ahankara and other baneful dispositions, will receive the stamp of divinity which will be a passport to the realm of eternity. "Wisdom crieth in the streets", and even then sectarians have wilfully shut their ears and allowed truth and knowledge to pass away from them, and use symbols and forms whose meaning they do not know. It is truly remarked by the sages that "man lives in a world of symbols whose meaning is not yet understood by many. Perfect knowledge of God, of nature and of man, are the three lights upon the altar of truth, illuminating the sanctuary of the temple of wisdom". It is the duty of every right-minded man to point out the symbols containing natural verities and make others perceive the truths themselves which are "synthesised" in the symbols by removing the moss by which they were concealed, and restoring them to life. "The day is fast approaching when the living spirit within these symbols will be generally known and the sacred mysteries revealed", and we have the following assurances foretelling the advent of the "Theosophical Society" as the pioneer for the work from the mouth of a Rosicrucian in 1806.

"In this present epoch, which has just begun, will the light appear. Things hidden for ages will become known, veils will be removed, and the truth that exists in and beyond the form will be revealed; humanity as a whole will come nearer to God. We cannot tell you now why this is to take place in this century: we can only say that there is a time and a place for everything, and all things in the universe are regulated by a divine law of order and harmony."

Further: — "In studying the hoary texts of Indian philosophy certain important points must not be lost sight of. In the first place we have to remember that words begin gradually to change their meaning, and hence in determining the meaning of certain passages, we have to keep in mind the age of those passages and see what particular significance might have been attached in those times to certain words". The meaning of the symbol under discussion was universally understood at the time when it was introduced, and it must be taken in its true and intended sense according to the age and the intellects that introduced it. "Whoever has studied the law of cycles and of progress, has probably noticed that generally there are three stages of progress and deterioration.

"At first the esoteric significance of the idea for a time remains intact. Then comes the era of exoteric warfare. People gradually begin to lose sight of the primitive idea, and fight for its shell of external rites and ceremonies. And lastly comes the age of blank negation. Ritualism often [Page 16] degenerating into sensualism, drives a thinking mind to deny the efficacy of every and anything. But this again ushers in the era of intellectual enquiry which finally brings society back to the recognition of esoteric truth. Thus cycles run their rounds, and each nation, following after its predecessors, has sprung up, thrived, and sunk finally into insignificance. Each had its day of glory, its rise and fall. And if the law of the survival of the fittest be applied to all the nations, the only one that can stand the test is India. She has seen the rise and fall of many peoples, but herself standing yet erect amid their ruins, however worn out she may look." — (The Theosophist, Vol. IV 96-7.)

It is therefore highly advisable that intellectual people should study the theory of cycles and then take into consideration the wandering of the orthodox Brahmins far away from the main source, and should unite together to solve the hidden meaning of the symbolical problem, instead of depreciating a thing from its exoteric aspect and jumping to erroneous conclusions as Mr. Bose has done, and of running into utter negation at the disgusting sight of the awkward position of the orthodox Brahmins, who by their ignorance of esoteric and scientific principles, have degraded both the philosophy and themselves in the sight of the members of their own fold and others; but thanks to the innate goodness of Providence, Theosophy has now come in proper time to save society and philosophy from this inevitable fate, with the assurance that

"Knowledge dwells,
In heads replete with thoughts of other men,
Wisdom in minds attentive to their own."

If, notwithstanding the dictates of common sense, the true spirit of occult philosophy, the universal unerring law of nature, and the knowledge in the possession of living adepts, it would be contended that the Vedas teach and forcibly enjoin literal sheep sacrifice, away with it, for it must really call forth feelings of abhorrence from every esoteric student, as it once called forth the reprobation of Lord Buddha: —

"Then, craving leave, he spake
Of life, which all can take and none can give.
'Life, which all creatures love and strive to keep,
Wonderful, dear and pleasant unto each,
Even to the meanest; yea, a boon to all
Where pity is, for pity makes the world
Soft to the weak and noble for the strong,
Unto the dumb lips of his flock he lent
Sad pleading words, showing how man, who prays
For mercy to the gods, is merciless
Being as God to those; albeit all life
Is linked and kin, and what we slay have given
Meek tribute of the milk and wool, and set
Fast trust upon the hands which murder them.
Also he spoke of what the holy books
Do surely teach, how that at death some sink
To bird and beast, and these rise up to man.
In wanderings of the spark which grows purged flame.
So were the sacrifice new sin, if so,
The fated passage of a soul be stayed.
Nor, spake he, shall one wash his spirit clean .
By blood, nor gladden gods, being good, with blood,
Nor bribe them, being evil, nay, nor lay
Upon the brow of innocent bound beasts
One hair's weight of that answer all must give.
For all things done amiss or wrongfully.
Alone, for each himself, reckoning with that,
The fixed arithmic of the universe,
Which meteth good for good, and ill for ill,
Measure for measure, unto deeds, words and thoughts,
Watchful, aware, implacable, unmoved ;
Making all futures, fruits of all the past."

(Light of Asia.)

[Page 17] Well, then, if the exoteric meaning is cried down, what is the esoteric rationale ? The ever unknowable and incognizable karana alone, the causeless cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart — invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save "through the still small voice" of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their souls, [ “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are . . . . but enter into they inner chamber, and having shut thy door pray to thy father which is in secret”. (Mathew vi) “Our father is within us” “in secret” our 7th principle in the “inner chamber” of our soul perception. The kingdom of heaven and of God “is within us”, says Jesus, not outside. Why are Christians so absolutely blind to the self-evident meaning of the words of wisdom they delight in mechanically repeating?] making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the universal spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the presence. The Secret Doctrine, Vol. I., p. 280.)

The occultists claim that there are seven senses in man as in nature, as there are seven states of consciousness, and are corroborated in the same work, chapter VII (Anugita). The Brahmana speaks in it "of the institution of the seven sacrificial priests (Hotris). He says, "The nose and the eyes, and the tongue and the skin, and the ear as the fifth (or smell, sight, taste, touch, and hearing), mind and understanding, are the seven sacrificial priests separately stationed". (Ibid, Vol. I., page 96.)

In my humble knowledge gained from the study of Sanscrit and Tamil Occult works, the different Yagams or sacrifices are so many stages of the purification of mind and soul of the aspirant after Brahma Gnanam towards his progress to the final beatitude of Nirvana. All the sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas may be brought under the following broad classification —

1. Pasu — Medham.
2. Sena — Yagam.
3. Raja — Sooyam.
4. Aswa — Medham.
5. Nara — Medham.

[Page 18] The first: — Pasu in Sanscrit means an "animal" and "Meedah" killing, and the compound word means the "killing of the animal". Though man is of Parabrahmic essence, yet owing to his connection with Mayavicupadhi, he has forgotten his original source and identity with it, and is

"Fixed like a plant to its peculiar spot,
To draw nutrition, propagate and rot."

The first sacrifice therefore means the killing of animal passions or ego in man by the powers of Vivoka or right discrimination. Again, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that the original meaning of the word "Yagna" is entirely consonant with its etymological signification. The word is derived from the root "Yaja", to worship, and means divine worship by the sacrifice of animal passions. The noblest worship that is required of an aspirant after Brahma Gnanam, or knowing one's own self, is the rooting out or sacrificing his animalism which is allegorically and technically known as "the animal" in man. It is not, therefore, a difficult position to see clearly how the philosophical and sublimest idea of the sacrifice of one's own lower animal nature became in course of time so much corrupted as to be made to yield the meaning of literal animal sacrifice itself. The first sacrifice means the separation of the animal nature from the divine essence, and is the first step in the career of an aspirant after complete Brahma Gnanam.

The second is Senayagam: — Senam in Sanscrit means a vulture, and the compound term means the killing of vulture. The Vedas say that if this sacrifice is performed, our enemies will be destroyed, and the Brahmins taking this to mean the advocacy of sorcery in the exoteric sense, do not seem to practise it, though in the esoteric plane, it is essentially incumbent upon everybody, if an ardent aspirant after real knowledge and its practical realization. He must really practise sorcery to exterminate his internal enemies, i.e., passions, karma, krodha, etc.. In the first stage the aspirant separates his divine portion from his animal self, and sees that divinity alone is his true nature. This alone is not sufficient. The mind of man is always hunting after shadows and animal appetites like vultures which go in search of dead bodies to the longest distances, even though the best food may be available in their vicinity. Hence in this stage the aspirant should make his mind always bent in the practical pursuit of higher natures and potentialities by killing the vulture-like affinity of the mind in the pursuit of the basest inclinations and natures, even though it (the mind) knows that there is a better and divine nature for it to pursue. Hence the process is known allegorically as "the sacrifice of the vulture".

The third is Rajasuyayagam, and the exoteric version runs thus. The king wages war with all other kings of the world to establish his undivided and royal [Page 19] supremacy over them, and this forms the chiefest observance in this sacrifice. When once in the second stage the mind has become amenable to, or vehicle of, the higher powers and capabilities, the war is at once waged by the aspirant or the neophyte, against the kings of Kouravas, the passions, ills and woes, and he having thus established his freedom at the overthrow of the kings of the internal enemies, proceeds with the development of superior powers in the psychic plane. But the aspirant is not completely secure, as, for the permanent establishment of his unquestionable reign, he must renew and recruit his forces to guard the kingdom, since the overthrown enemies may again slowly emerge and shake the security of the aspirant. Further the more he rises in the scale of initiation, the higher responsibilities naturally devolve upon him, and he is therefore to be more guarded and proof against dangers, and that work is done in the fourth stage of sacrifice.

The fourth is Aswa-medham, and means the sacrifice of the horse. When the aspirant of divine knowledge scales the steps of the spiritual ladder, the mind must necessarily become completely tamed down as to be made entirely amenable to the influences of the higher powers of nature, and consequently it must be entirely freed from all passions and vrithis. What is required is the slow and sure conservation of energy, as undue and too much expansion of it even for the noblest purposes is attended with the consequent exhaustion and dangers. A horse is left free by the king to wander over all the lands and seas, and if any adversary catches hold or takes possession of it, the emperor is at once to wage war against the unlawful possessor and to vanquish him. The aspirant, whose mind has become a fit charger for the battle, now allows his mind to travel throughout and mingle freely to try whether it actually stands proof against temptations and other internal enemies, and whether complete extirpation of the " animal ego " has been effected, and if there lurks one single desire to drag down the mind, the aspirant, the king of the internal dominion, at once takes arms against it and extirpates it altogether. In this stage, even the germs of internal enemies are completely burnt down and the spirit becomes entirely uncrossed by its adversaries, and hence the sole possessor of the universal spiritual realm. When thus the enemies are no more either in thought, deed or work, the mind of the neophyte — the noble horse — is entirely sacrificed, i.e., loses its separate function and existence and loses itself in or converts itself into the Atma itself, which is allegorically called the killing of the horse.

The fifth is Nara-medham, and means the sacrifice of Nara. Nara is the individuality, and every human being is a "Nara" owing to his detached and isolated existence from the divine fountain. When once in the fourth stage of sacrifice, the aspirant has actually taken complete possession of [Page 20] the spiritual kingdom, without a single enemy even in existence, Narathwam ceases, and Nara is absorbed in Narayana, i.e., the personality is altogether destroyed or the individuality is lost in the totality, or lost in cosmic ideation. He lives neither in the past, nor in the future, but in the eternal.

Thus under the noblest symbol of "Yagna", the different mental sacrifices and the necessary attendant consequences are represented in a most philosophical and practical way. Rama is said to have gone to the abode of "Yama", as a penalty for his having failed to perform Rajasuyam Rama, the initiate — who killed the ten-headed Ravana — the heads being the ten passions and vices enumerated by Manu, which stand in the way of the aspirant, and Ravana being the fountain — and his inexhaustible forces of "Mula Balam", composed of Rakshasas and Asuras — the woes and ills, the passions and allurements, whom an initiate is likely to encounter and must completely root out to regain, or unite with, Seetha, the Sophia, must have necessarily performed this sacrifice also, if he wanted unmolested possession of his spiritual spouse to achieve adeptship, and this single failure even in the case of Rama necessitated enjoyment of Devachan, through Kama Loca, for a corresponding period, and subsequent re-birth in the objective world.

In some Smrithis it is mentioned that Nara-medham and other sacrifices are strictly prohibited in Kali-yuga. The writers knowing that dead letter interpretation would be attached to esoteric versions and thus that a thousand and one crimes would be committed in the name of religion, strictly prohibited them for the profane — as pearls cannot be thrown before the swine, but it was never their idea and wish that these "Yugams" or sacrifices should not be carried on, in the mental plane, as such injunctions are quite against Nature and her inviolable laws, and it is unthinkable that "gnanam" is the monopoly of certain Yugams and their people, as the institution of occult brotherhood and the imparting of occult knowledge to fit recipients are going on even in this material age even as they were in all former Yugams.



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