Few yoga books address the superstructure of the yogic system itself. The usual, run-of-the-mill books on yoga are merely descriptions of customs, rites, and beliefs: describing aspects of pranayama, physical postures, mantras, and chakras1. Typical authors describe the features of yoga and the practices of yogis. But, David Gordon White, author of The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions of Medieval India, addresses yoga as ultimately grounded in a body of metaphysical assumptions that date back to the Classical Upanishads2.
The Satapatha Brahmana 220.127.116.11 declares: “This [ritual act] done now is that which the gods did then [in the beginning]”.
Three Hindu elements of sacrifice
Throughout the history of Hindu thought, declares White, there are three elements of sacrifice: fluid, fire, and air, or, rasa, agni, and vayu. Rasa is the liquid oblation of the human body (blood, semen, phlegm) and the divine fluid within the natural Universe. Agni is the sacrificial fire within the human body and of the solar heat of the Sun. Vayu is the breath or wind within the human being and the air throughout the Universe. Air, wind, and breath is always the activating mechanism, or, the main ingredient of the sacrificial rite of the yogin.
The Brahmanic sources assert, writes White, “the sacrifice in all its parts is identical to the universe and all its parts”. There is a three thousand year old Hindu superstructure composed of interpenetrating rituals and belief systems3. A cosmic superstructure is made of human + sacrifice + divine; or, of the microcosm, mesocosm, and macrocosm1. This macrocosm consists of the order of the natural Universe. The mesocosm contains the yogic system that arbitrates between the human being, the microcosm, and the Universe or macrocosm. The system of the microcosm is a miniature macrocosm within the human being.
Macrocosm: the Natural Universe
Mesocosm: the Yogic system, mechanism of sacrifice
Microcosm: the Human Being
Yogic sacrifice and cosmic order
Within this Hindu-yogic notion, only sacrifice can bridge the macrocosmic Universe with the microcosmic human being. A dual system, arbitrated by sacrificial rites, merges the human being with the Universal cosmos. This macrocosm-mesocosm-microcosm concept is fundamental to the yogic system and rituals.
Yogic transformation occurs through the sacrifice, by offering breath (pranayam) and “cooking” rasa by raising it up through the susumna, the invisible medial channel within the subtle yogic spinal column in the human body. This yogic sacrifice is the most important human activity, where men do as the gods do.
The Taittiriya Brahmana 18.104.22.168 states: “Thus did the gods; thus do men.”
In the creation myth of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.7 we read: “He knew, ‘I indeed am this creation, for I created all this.’ Hence he became the creation, and he who knows this lives in this his creation.”
The Vedic sacrificer, argues White, sought to regulate the macrocosm as a way of ensuring cosmic order. In the same way, the yogin claims to be capable of interpenetrating the macrocosm and microcosm to transcend both and to liberate himself altogether from both. White sums up the sacrificial act of the yogin by quoting Vaidyaraj’s Vāmamārg:
“Om, thou the Goddess, resplendent by the oblation of dharma and non-dharma, into the fire of the self, using the mind as sacrificial ladle, along the path of the susumna, I who am engaging in harnessing the sense organs, constantly offer this oblation.”5
In upcoming posts, we will examine the yogic system and rituals of sacrifice.
1 Authors of books about Hinduism typically describe only its features, customs, and beliefs and not its superstructures. See Witzel, Mitchell. Macrocosm, mesocosm, and microcosm: The persistent nature of ‘Hindu’ beliefs and symbolic forms. Harvard University. Web 25 Feb 2015.
2 White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions of Medieval India. University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print. 26
3 ibid 16
4 ibid 15
5 ibid 28