Bhrigu: Master of the Vedic Fire Yoga
A Mythic Dialogue
by Georg Feuerstein
“In the olden days, seekers like you would first have to prove themselves before they were taught anything.”
Bhrigu is remembered as the founder of the Bhârgava lineage, which has produced many renowned seers (rishi). According to Hindu tradition, Bhrigu was born from the skin of Brahma, the Creator. He is, moreover, remembered as having officiated at the famous Daksha sacrifice where he was killed by Shiva. Satî, Shiva’s virtuous wife, had been invited but not her divine spouse, and the slight against Shiva caused her great grief, resulting in her sudden death. Understandably, Shiva was angered by this and revenged her death by dispatching the officiating priest, who happened to be Bhrigu. He was reborn from fire at the Brahma sacrifice in a later era. Myth has it that Brahma shed his semen into the sacrificial fire, and Bhrigu was born instantly. He was brought up by Varuna and his wife Carshanî. In this second incarnation, Bhrigu married Pulomâ, with whom h had six children.
Through his incredible tapas, Bhrigu achieved divine powers and did not even fear the great deities Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. In fact, at one time, he kicked Vishnu in the chest to awaken him from sleep. Vishnu apologized for having fallen asleep, saluted the sage, and declared that henceforth he would wear Bhrigu’s footprint on his chest forever. It came to be known as shrî-vatsa.
His tapas included standing stockstill for long periods of time. Termites once covered his entire body with earth. Shiva’s bull accidentally destroyed the termite heap, and Bhrigu angrily chased the bull, which promptly ascended into Shiva’s celestial abode. Bhrigu was in hot pursuit when Shiva appeared before him, granting him a boon. Bhrigu desired the place where he was doing tapas should always be a sacred spot (tîrtha). Shiva granted his wish, and it came to be known as bhrigu-tîrtha. Those who bathe in the river at that sacred spot are cleansed of all their sins and will not be reborn.
Bhrigu was feared for the power of his curses, but he also left behind him an auspicious spiritual legacy—the fire lore.
Georg: Namas te, great Sage!
Bhrigu: Bhadram te. Blessings upon you!
Georg: Do I have your permission to ask you some questions?
Bhrigu: Would I have appeared to you if I were not willing to indulge you? Ask your questions, seeker.
Georg: Thank you. Before I do so, I would like to apologize for my ignorance about the proper way of addressing you. My own culture has forgotten the sacred ways, including how to behave toward elders.
Bhrigu: I know about all that. Just ask your questions. And don’t be longwinded about them either.
Georg: My first question concerns fire . . .
Bhrigu: . . . What kind of fire? What does present-day humanity understand about fire? I suppose, very little. Naciketas, son of Vâjashravasa, still knew the secret of fire. Ah, those days are long gone.
Georg: Would you be willing to tell us the story of Naciketas?
Bhrigu: Haven’t you studied the Taittirîya-Brâhmana and the Katha-Upanishad?
Georg: Somewhat, master, but I thought you might be able to shed more light on that story. A great deal of sacred knowledge has been lost.
Bhrigu: Hmmm. That knowledge was lost because people stopped cultivating the right relationship to fire. You see, fire is everything. Fire is the Divine itself. Fire is the Sun. Fire is lightning. Fire is … Naciketas still knew. He still knew. His father performed a big sacrifice in which many cows were offered. Naciketas, sensitive to the cosmic law, understood that one should always offer only the best part of anything. He looked at the old and emaciated cows that were being offered and questioned the value of his Vâjashravasa’s sacrifice. Thrice he asked his father: “Who will you offer me up to?” He was offering himself as a fit sacrificial offering, so that his father might enjoy the fruit of a proper sacrifice. Thrice Vâjashravasa replied: “To Yama.” Yama is the ruler of the realm of the dead. Naciketas went to Yama, but could not find him. As instructed by his father, he waited for three days without eating. When Yama returned, he asked the youth how long he had been waiting and what he had eaten from the provisions in his home. Inspired by wisdom, Naciketas replied: “I was here for three nights. On the first night I ate your offspring. On the second night, your cattle, and on the third, your good works.” What he meant by this was that he had consumed all the concerns for procreation, possessions, and the hereafter that tie mortals to this realm.
Georg: Could I interrupt you for a moment and ask you what is meant by “good works”?
Bhrigu: You just did. In ancient times, people were concerned with “good works” because they assured them of a good life in the hereafter. This is of course true, but it’s not the whole story. Once the karmic causes leading to a happy state in the hereafter are depleted, one is reborn into this world. The only way to stop this cycle is by attaining liberation. But let me go back to the story of Naciketas. Yama was very impressed with him and offered him three boons. The first boon chosen by the youth was to return home alive. The second was to be given the secret teaching about rendering one’s good works imperishable. The third boon was the still more secret teaching of conquering death. Yama then tempted Naciketas with all kinds of other things, but the youth remained firm, and in the end Yama granted him his desires. This is a traditional story that illustrates that Yoga is a life-and-death matter. One must be willing to give up everything to attain immortality. The ordinary self must die to make room for the splendor of the transcendental Self, the parama-âtman.
Georg: According to the version of this story told in the Katha-Upanishad, Naciketas received his wisdom from the sacrificial fire directly. How are we to understand this?
Bhrigu: Exactly in that way. Fire is a living reality. Don’t think of fire only as what you would call a chemical process. Nothing in this world is quite what it appears to be, least of all fire. You need to look at the world differently. Your eyes don’t see deep enough. To you people, everything is dead matter until you come to plants. I tell you, everything is living and breathing. Even rocks are alive! How could life come out of something that is dead? Everything is filled with prâna, and prâna means “life.” And I say that the essence of prâna is agni, or fire. Fire, life itself, taught Naciketas its own secrets. It showed him the way to immortality. Ah, there was a great fire burning in him! Where are seekers of his quality now? If we want to know something, we must become it. He became fire, and fire taught him.
Georg: I am not sure I understand.
Bhrigu: I know. I know. That’s the whole point. Your mind separates you from that which it seeks to know. You put up intellectual barriers. Remove them, or climb over them, and see what’s really going on.
Georg: How can one remove one’s mental blocks if one is not clear what precisely they are?
Bhrigu: Use the teachings! Immerse yourself in whatever is left of them. Look within yourself. Listen to your inner voice. All knowledge is inside you. It always has been that way and always will be so. That’s how Naciketas found his answers. He became liberated.
Georg: Master, would you please speak more about the fire lore, agni-vidyâ.
Bhrigu: In the olden days, seekers like you would first have to prove themselves before they were taught anything. The fire lore is not merely knowledge but wisdom, and you have to be qualified to receive wisdom from the mouth of a teacher. You would have to be initiated, and initiation wasn’t just handed to someone, as you might give a person a bowl of rice. But I can see, your desire to learn is genuine enough. So I will say a little more about the great fire lore. To understand Agni, the Deity or Principle of Fire, you must know that he has three secret dwelling places. His first and most excellent dwelling place is Heaven itself. There he is called Mâtarishvan, which “He who resides in the Mother,” that is, in the Source of all things. This is none other than the Sun, who is not merely a ball of burning gas, but a spiritual being or principle. It is Agni who, as Kâma or Primordial Desire, is responsible for bringing forth the universe. His second dwelling place is in the kindling used to light the sacrificial fire. There his secret name is Tanûnapât, meaning “He who is his own son.” The old Sanskrit word tanû can mean “small,” “body,” or “oneself.” That is to say, the fiery potency in kindling is a miniature manifestation of the divine Agni. Actually, Agni as the celestial Sun, dwells in every single thing here on Earth. I believe your scientists have discovered the same truth in what you call atomic energy. The third dwelling place of Agni is Vâdava, the maritime fire that, at the end of time, consumes the entire universe in a huge conflagration. This form of Agni is also called Apâm Napât, or Watery Son. The Sun apparently rises from the waters in the East and sets in the waters of the West. This fact of observation conceals a deeper mystery. As a student of India’s liberation teachings, you will know that everything that is outside also is within yourself. So it is also with Vâdava. You can discover that form of Agni in the waters of your own mind, below the threshold of your waking consciousness. In later Yoga, this came to be known as the fiery potency at the base of the spine. I am speaking of course of the “serpent power” or kundalinî-shakti. Once it is awakened it burns its way through the central channel to the top of the head. During this process, it transmutes the elements and begins to fashion for the yogi a new kind of body. In my time, we only hinted at this alchemical Agni, but much later—when the Tantras were written—the sages felt that they should communicate more of the sacred fire lore.
Georg: Revered Sage, according to tradition, you yourself were born from fire. What does this mean?
Bhrigu: Ah, so you have heard that tale? Supposedly, in one of my former incarnations I was killed by Shiva’s wrath at the famous Daksha sacrifice when I had failed to invite him as an honored guest. Then I was reborn in another age at the Brahma sacrifice of Varuna through Brahma’s grace. Legend has it, that Brahma spilled his seed into the fire and I came into being instantaneously. Well, all this is of course symbolic. As humans, we are born from our father’s seed and mother’s womb. As practitioners of the yogic path, we are born through the fire of initiation. Therefore it is fitting to think of Brahma, the Creator, as one’s progenitor rather than one’s human father. The power of initiation comes from him. My divine foster parents were Varuna and Carshanî, who preside over Heaven and Earth respectively. Again, this makes sense when we regard our human life from a spiritual point of view. Our body stands upon the patient back of Earth, who feeds us, and our mind reaches toward the infinity of Heaven, where we find sustenance of a different kind. When we honor Heaven and Earth through our prayers and sacrifices, we are assured of their continued kindness.
Georg: We moderns tend not to think in those terms. . .
Bhrigu: That’s why you are in trouble! You are spitting on Earth—literally and figuratively—and you are thumbing your noses at Heaven. What can you expect?! You think because your spacecraft are able to leave this planet’s orbit and explore the solar system, the ancient wisdom about Heaven is little more than old wives’ tales. You could travel all the way to the stars and not find Heaven. Sitting perfectly still, a yogi can reach Heaven in an instant. Heaven is not located in your familiar space. But it does exist! Earth, too, is not merely this planet. To realize this, you have to develop your inner eye.
Georg: Do you mean the third eye talked about in the Yoga scriptures?
Bhrigu: What else? The eye of wisdom. Your two physical eyes are very untrustworthy when it comes to nonmaterial realities. In fact, they are downright useless for anything outside ordinary space. You need to open the inner eye by means of the inner fire. The outer fire has its good uses. You can warm your food or your hands by it. Or you can light the path ahead of you. But only the inner fire can bring you lasting happiness.
Georg: Master, could you be more specific?
Bhrigu: You must fan the inner fire until it becomes a conflagration consuming everything that you currently think you are—especially the illusion that you are separate from the Creator and from everyone and everything. When all your illusions and delusions are destroyed and you glimpse your immortal nature, then you experience untold happiness.
Georg: How can we fan the inner fire?
Bhrigu: Through careful cultivation of the fire element in all aspects of life.
Georg: At the risk of offending you, Master, would you be willing to explain?
Bhrigu: Hmmm. For one, in order to realize your immortal nature, you must go beyond your present condition. You must go beyond your small self, your egoic personality. That means, you must be willing to change. But change is not possible without the fire element. So, you must find a teacher willing to ignite in you the fire of understanding, which allows you to see the path in front of you very clearly. Then you must keep that fire lit by regularly reflecting on your life and your great ideals, as well as by meditation and the fire sacrifice. As you stoke the fire of your higher aspirations, you will inevitably encounter all kinds of resistances in you. This will create heat in your body and mind. We call it tapas. Ignore the discomfort and simply continue with your practices, just as the Sun continues to shine despite the discomfort of self-combustion. Be fiery!
Georg: Master, you said that we should do fire sacrifices. But how?
Bhrigu: Unless you have the good karma for it, you won’t find a teacher who will instruct you in the traditional ways of agni-vidyâ. So, think for yourself. Use the fire of your creative mind. Light a piece of charcoal and throw some incense on it. That’s a fire sacrifice too, so long as you throw your troubled mind on the charcoal as well. Light a candle before you say prayers for self-purification and blessings. The fire element will carry your prayers to the subtle realms, which have many ears. In your meditation, visualize a nonflickering white flame at the center of your head or in your heart into which you make a libation of all your negative feelings, misconceptions, and doubts. The best sacrifice is tapas, the ardor of spiritual discipline, which makes you glow all over like the Sun.
Georg: This is very helpful, Master.
Bhrigu: Yes, but do it!
© 2000 by Georg Feuerstein