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‘Agni-Soma’ and the spiritual practices of Yoga: a brief overview

—— © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary

The twofold complementary approach of ‘Agni-Soma’ is applicable to spiritual practices as well. As per the medieval Hindu text ‘ Laghuvasudevamananam’ , the paths of Yoga or the ascent back to the Cosmic can be simply put as gnana and bhakti yogas. These two are the main paths- Gnana yoga & Bhakti yoga .

Gnana yoga (the yoga of knowledge) is associated with strict mental discipline, razor sharp intellect/discrimination, intense meditative practices involving a ‘yogic will’ etc, all aimed at enhancing ‘ awareness ‘. The rigorous practices of Hatha yoga too are a part of the Agni -based approach to spiritual work. The path of Gnana or the path of ‘knowledge’ is the path of isolating, of discerning, till you arrive at only the Self (as in the Upanishadic neti neti’ ). Clearly the modus operandi is that of Agni.

On the other hand the path of Bhakti or ‘devotional love’ is one of dissolving boundaries, one of free mixing, one of togetherness and bhava (feeling/emotion) samadhi . Bhakti yoga doesn’t lay emphasis on strict ascetic practices or knowledge. It emphasizes the emotional process of altruistic love, of devotion, of divine love that brings the final union, all characteristic of Soma .

A similar counterbalancing approach is seen in Buddhist practice too. The agni process emphasizes ‘mindfulness’ practice as preserved in the Vipassana and Zen traditions and the deconstructionist razor sharp intellectualization of the Madhyamika path. Most importantly the emphasis on Prajna is common to all Buddhist schools. Every Buddhist tradition has its Agni equivalent, though they may differ in their method. While different traditions differ in the method of Agni , all Buddhist traditions are nearly unanimous in their method of invoking the Soma process. The soma process is emphasized through the practice of ‘compassion’ shared by all Buddhist traditions.

In fact within the yogic traditions the Buddhist texts have preserved the best expositions of the Soma process as dealt with in ‘brahma vihara bhavana’ or the meditations on the four noble states of mind. There are four ‘brahma viharas’ or noble mental states or attitudes. They are friendliness ( maitri ), compassion ( karuna ), joy ( mudita ) and equanimity ( upeksha ). It is equanimity that makes the other three complete or full. In other words the practitioner wishes for and meditates on unconditional and boundless friendliness, compassionate forgiveness and altruistic joy for all beings in the universe. These four soma or nectar-based practices are covered by Patanjali too in his yoga sutras . But the Hindu commentaries on the yoga sutras are enriched when seen through the light of the Buddhist tradition as the most unconditional and complete practice of the brahma viharas is preserved better in Buddhist texts and practices. Of course most spiritual traditions within Hinduism invoke the energies of Soma through some form of love, be it altruistic or devotional. But the clearest link to the Buddhist ‘brahma viharas’ is seen in Patanjali yoga sutras. As far as the spiritual practices are concerned the complex ‘ Agni-Soma’ construct can be simplified as a complementary set of practices that counterbalance ‘Self-awareness’ and ‘Wisdom’ with ‘Compassion’ and ‘Devotion’.