An audio recording and a transcript of a talk, followed by a recitation of selections from the Savitri (Book Eleven)
The Mounting Fire from “The Yoga Of Sri Aurobindo” Part 11
The seat of human consciousness, in fact of all consciousness, is the brain—the grey substance filling up the cranium. The brain constitutes man in his essential and characteristic substance and functioning.
I am speaking specially of the physical and material basis of mind and consciousness, for unless this basis is changed there can be no change in the structure of the being, and in the movement of outward life; even the consciousness would not change radically or permanently: a stable transformation can come only when the material stuff has undergone a reversal.
The human brain consists, as physiologists tell us, of three parts: (1) the frontal lobe, (2) the hub behind and (3) further down, a hidden part—they are as we know, the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the Bridge and the Medula. Such is man’s head, the cranium, the lodgings where human mind dwells and from where it moves and controls all man’s dynamic behaviour.
The frontal lobe is the seat of intellect and intelligence: the topmost portion, the crown of the head is usually associated with the still higher functions of mind, tending towards intuition, direct knowledge, luminous vision, etc. The front proper, the forehead that is to say, is the seat of intellect proper, the discursive deductive rational mind. The section of the brain in the hind portion of the cranium is usually associated not with reason or understanding but with vital urges, impulsions, sentiments, passions, desires, etc. : the nervous knots there are the controlling agent of these lower functions of the mind; that is the control room, as it were, for all dynamism, for man’s character and nature. And the part hidden or embedded below houses the infra-impulses: the demands and needs that are inherent mostly in the bodily functions, all the movements that are called forth in the wake of physical existence.
The question, the problem now is, how to change, purify these ranges of the mind or brain: to suffuse the cranium with a new functioning and organisation replacing the old order of the ordinary, more or less animal man.
The usual course followed is to call in the higher reality: the light and its power of organisation, that lie above, above the brain outside the cranium, to invoke the light, the transcendent light and power to descend and penetrate the brain-consciousness and work out there a process of purification and new organisation. This has been done with considerable success. This is the Vedantic way.
But, there is a but, that is to say, a limitation in this line. The higher consciousness is brought down, it descends, but normally it does not penetrate far enough; it penetrates only very partially, slowly, intermittently and in a gradually diminishing strength. The top region receives the light comparatively easily; the middle receives or is touched and influenced with great difficulty and after long travail, but the bottom portion is rarely connected or contacted, only nominally perhaps. In other words, if the higher mind, the intellect and intelligence is somewhat illumined with a new light from above and even if the higher vital comes under its influence in a general way, the lower vital comes hardly in its grasp. And the lowest region, the region of physical or nervous movements for all practical purposes lies outside the influence of the Higher or Transcendent Consciousness; that remains almost undisturbed, unregenerated. To bring down the Higher Light there, behind and below the brain stuff is a task very few have done or even attempted to do.
The Tantriks devised a different way, an about-turn way. Instead of trying to bring down the superior or the supreme consciousness into these lower darknesses, they sought to attack these from below, set a blazing fire below that would shoot up its tongues into those nether regions of the brain or mind. Instead of a force of light from above coming down, a force of fire is rocketed upward and made to strike as it were at the back of the lower masses of the mind. Now where to find this fire, this mounting tongue of a living flame? That is what the Tantras have imaged in the concept of the Kundalini Shakti. There is a force, a mighty energy coiled and concentrated at the base of the spine holding it and supporting at its top, first, the subliminal region of the brain at the bottom, and over it the other two. There is a secret fire at the base of the human system. It is a fire as invoked by the Vedic Rishis: the tantriks view it as a coiled python—the universal nature-power, her massive ingathered creative energy. This energy is forceful and fierce because it is as much creative as it is destructive. That is the poison which the python carries, it is a poison in the ignorant state and unconsciousness, to the ignorant and the unconscious, but to the aspirant and the awakened and the luminous consciousness it begins to work as the immortalising drought—nectar.
The energy at the root of the spine is stored, as it is said, in the muladhara, the root, that is to say, in the root of the very material constitution of the human being. It is the concentrated energy in matter, indeed it is the energy of the mother earth. The Vedic Rishis speak of fire as being a deity of earth, as the Sun or the God of Light is the deity of the heaven. The earth-energy has to be awakened or kindled and it has to move upward and forward, piercing and burning and illumining all the inferior and denser regions of consciousness till it pierces through and enters into the head, and then goes beyond, into the supreme solar light. That is the image given in the Tantras calling it ṣaṭ-chakrabheda.
The inferior parts of the brain are denser and darker than the superior. The lower it is, the denser and darker it becomes. I do not know if physically it is so, but the sensitivity, the vibrations there seem to point to such a direction. So it appears, it is not easy for the Light from above to penetrate, to penetrate to a great depth, to the bottom of the brain. It is not the Light from above but the fire from below, the flaming force of material consciousness that has to do the main or final work. For the light from above is mostly mental or mentalised, the very supreme Light does not descend easily, is not readily available: indeed it is ready and available only at the call of the fire below. Agni is therefore named ‘hota’, one who calls the Divine down here below. It is the God here below that can call down the God above.
But how to awaken this God buried in matter, how is one to kindle this fire that apparently lies extinguished, the Vedic Rishis have a whole ritual of the process. They speak, first of all, of preparing the seat for Agni—barhi: it is the material casing of the body, and then one takes two pieces of the araṇi species of wood or fuel, and rubs them one against the other till the fire leaps out. It refers to an aspiration, a concrete and concentrated aspiration that is breathed into the living cells, this breathing, ādhmātam, is the concretising or embodying of the aspiration: it is the invocation that calls forth sleeping divinity.
The fire in fact is the aspiration in the body, the divine demand in the body and it kindles itself by its own self-pressure. The spreading of the barhi in the Vedic image means also the surrender and submission, the prostration of the bodily being. By namas, by constant obeisance the fire is to be tended; and a ceaseless refuelling has to be done by a ceaseless self-offering of all movements, especially all the automatic reactions of the physical that form the roots of the material existence.
The whole physical being if it is to embody a new life in a new organisation must concentrate at one point within itself and find or found there the Fire, the dynamic Divine Will in its most concrete reality — the body’s self and soul: the yajamāna, the human figure of the Divine here invoking, calling forth the godhead who leads the sacrificial journey through all the worlds and domains to the Supreme Heights.
We have said that fire is a denser and intenser force than light: while the light is likely to stop short or to dispense, the fire is apt to act fiercely and decisively with the denser or more refractory objects of existence, strands that are moved, as I have said, from the central control of the brain. Earth enshrines volcanoes; likewise the cells in the material body may be turned into little volcanoes if the Divine Flame is roused there in the intensive process of aspiration.
Earthly beings as we are, Agni, the earthly Godhead is the Deity we adore, he is the Lord of the Home, gṛhapati. He is the foremost of the gods and he goes in front of us (purohita), Agni’s flame rises towards Surya, the supreme Light, but first he must prepare the passage, burn down and clear the woodlands and marshes that intervene — the growths and formations in the past of the very substance of the being.
Thus, the head, the brain, must be built wholly of fire particles. The cranium will hold, as it were, a golden ball, rounded and fully formed, the golden egg, hiraṇyagarbha, out of which the new physical creation will emerge — something in the manner of the legendary Greek goddess Minerva, whole and entire, complete in arms and panoply out of the head of Father Jupiter.