In this sacrifice the conscious being, the lord of the house, is the worshipper, the nature of the being is the consort who shares the dharma of the lord of the house. But who is to be the priest? If it is the being that performs the work of the priest then there is hardly any hope of the sacrifice being well conducted because the being is led by the ego and bound with the triple cord of mind, life and body. Under these conditions if the being becomes the self-appointed vicar, it is the ego which assumes the role of the sacrificer, the Ritwik, and even that of the deity of the sacrifice, and in that case, there is great danger of some untoward happening due to the unlawful performance of the ritual. At first the being wants liberation from its extremely circumscribed condition, and if it wishes to be free from bondage then it has to rely on a power other than its own. Even after the triple cord which binds it to the sacrificial post has been loosened, the knowledge and the power capable of directing the ritual does not appear suddenly nor can they be perfectly acquired so soon. Divine knowledge and divine power are necessary, and it is by the sacrifice alone that they can come and grow perfectly. Even when the being is liberated, full of divine knowledge and divine power, it is the Ishwara and not the worshipper who remains the master, giver of the sanction and enjoyer of the sacrifice. We have to welcome the Divine and install Him on the altar of the sacrifice. Unless the Divine enters the heart of man, manifests and establishes himself there, it is impossible for a human being to attain divinity and immortality. It is also true that before the awakening of the godhead, in order to invoke him the Seers of the Mantra, the Rishis, accept the priesthood on behalf of the sacrificer; Vashishtha and Vishvamitra become vicars of Sudas, Trasadasyu and the son of Bharat. But it is to invite the Divine to accept the place of the priest and the summoner on the altar of the sacrifice that mantras are chanted and offerings made. Unless the Divine awakes in the heart, no one can liberate the being. God is the deliverer: God is the sole priest who can grant the realisation.
When the Divine becomes the vicar, he is then known as Agni, the mystic Fire, and he has the form of fire. The priesthood of Agni is the most auspicious beginning and the best means of performing a successful sacrifice perfect in every detail. That is why the priesthood of Agni was established in the first Rik of the first Sukta of the Rigveda.
Who is this Agni? The root ag means power; one who is powerful is Agni. Again the root ag signifies light or burning, the power which is flooded with the burning light of knowledge, the effective force of knowledge; the possessor of that power is like Agni. The root ag has also the sense of priority and predominance, the force which is the primordial element of the universe, the basic and pre-eminent force among all the manifested universal forces; the possessor of that force is Agni. The root ag also has the meaning ‘nayana’, to lead, to direct; one who is the possessor of the primal, eternal, ancient and sovereign force in the universe and leads it by the appointed path towards the appointed destination, the youth who is the general of the army of God, the guide on the path who by his knowledge and power props various forces of Nature in their different activities and keeps them on the right path, that puissance is Agni. All these virtues of Agni have been mentioned and hymned in hundreds of Suktas of the Veda. The original cause of this universe, hidden in all its development, the most fundamental of all forces and paramount among them, stay of all gods, regulator of all dharmas, guardian of the most profound aim and truth of the universe, this Agni is no one else but the omniscient energising power of the Divine, manifest as force, heat and brilliance. The principle of true Existence in the Truth-Consciousness-Bliss contains in itself the Consciousness. That which is the Consciousness of the Existence is also the Force of the Existence. The Consciousness-Force is the sustaining power of the universe, it is the primary cause and creator, the life and the controller of the universe. When the Consciousness hides her face in the bosom of the Being of pure Existence and with her eyes closed contemplates the form of the pure Existence, the infinite Force becomes hushed; this is the state of dissolution in the tranquil ocean of Ananda. Again when the Consciousness lifts her head, opens her eyes and looks lovingly at the face and the body of the Being of pure Existence, meditates on his infinite names and forms, and dwells on the ravishing Lila created by feigned separation and union, the numberless currents of that Ananda give rise to infinite waves of violent pain and universal delight. This variegated concentration, this trance one-pointed yet multitudinous of the Consciousness-Force, is known as the energising Power. When the Being of pure Existence with a view to create some name and form manifests a certain truth or obtains a particular result, assembles and moves his Consciousness-Force and establishes her on his own state, then Tapas, the energising Force is applied.
We find that the Consciousness-Force has two aspects: Consciousness and Energy, the All-Knowledge and the AllPower; but in reality the two are one. The Knowledge of the Divine is omnipotent and His Power is omniscient. When He conceives light, the birth of light is inevitable because His Knowledge is only the conscious form of His Power. Again in all vibrations of matter, for example, in the dance of an atom or a flash of lightning His Knowledge is involved because His Power is only the dynamism of His Knowledge. Because of our dividing intellect in the Ignorance and the dividing movement of the lower Nature, Knowledge and Power have become separated, unequal, as if fond of quarrelling with each other, exhausted and diminished by discord; or else this simulacrum of dispute is enacted only for the sake of the play. In fact, the All-Knowledge and the All-Power of the Divine are hidden in the minutest act or impulse in the universe; no one has the power to effectuate this act or impulse without the help of that Knowledge and Power or with anything less than them. This All-Knowledge or All-Power works in the same manner in the chanting of the Vedic hymns by the Rishis, in the inauguration of a new cycle by a mighty figure, as in the ravings of an idiot or the agony of a tiny worm which is being assailed. When you and I waste power for want of knowledge, or from a lack of power unsuccessfully apply knowledge, then because the Omniscient and Omnipotent sitting behind the veil rectifies and directs the application of force by His Knowledge and the enjoyment of Knowledge by His Power, that something can still be achieved in this world by such a puny effort. The appointed work is accomplished and the just result obtained. Though it foils the ignorant design and expectation of you and me, by our very failure His secret intention is carried out and that failure brings us a blessing in disguise and produces a little, partial, yet indispensable good in the smallest detail of a noble universal purpose. The evil, the ignorance and the failure are only masks. He realises the good by the evil, the knowledge by the ignorance, the success by the failure and the unforeseen action by the force which remains concealed. The Presence of Agni in the form of Tapas, Energy, makes such an action possible. This inevitable good, indivisible Knowledge and infallible Power reveal the Agni-aspect of the Divine. As the Consciousness and the Force of the Purusha of pure Existence are one, both of them being vibrations of Ananda, so the Knowledge and the Power of Agni, who is the representative of the Divine, are inseparable and both of them are beneficial and auspicious.
The external appearance of the world is different; there falsehood, ignorance, evil and failure are predominant. However, behind the mask which frightens the child, the Mother’s face is hidden. Inconscience, inertia and suffering are only sorcery. That is why in the Veda our normal consciousness is called night. Even the highest development of our intellect is only a moon-lit and star-bedecked play of the divine night. But within the bosom of this night hides her sister Usha carrying the infinity-born light of future Divine Knowledge. Even in the night of earth-consciousness, the force of Agni blazes again and again and with the glow of Usha radiates the light. It is the force of Agni which prepares the hour of the birth of Truth-conscious Usha in this blind world. The Supreme has sent the force of Agni into this world and established it there; remaining concealed in the heart of objects and living beings, Agni regulates all the movements of the universe. In the midst of momentary falsehood, this Agni is the keeper of the eternal Truth; in the inconscient and the inert, Agni is the secret consciousness of the inconscient, the formidable dynamic force of matter. Shrouded in ignorance, Agni is the covert knowledge of the Divine; in the ugliness of sin, Agni is the pristine immaculate purity of the Divine; in the gloomy fog of misery and suffering, Agni is His burning delight of universal enjoyment; clad in soiled rags of weakness and torpor, Agni is his all-bearing, all-accomplishing efficient power of action. If we can once pierce this dark envelope, uncover and kindle this Agni in our hearts, release and direct him upwards, he will bring down Divine Usha into the human consciousness, awaken the inner gods, remove the black sheath of falsehood, ignorance, sorrow and failure and make us immortal and divine in nature. Agni is the first and the supreme living form of the Divine within us. Let us kindle him on the altar of the heart, welcome him as the priest of the sacrifice and in his burning flame of power and knowledge, in his golden and revealing blaze of knowledge, into his all-consuming and purifying blaze of power, offer all our trivial pleasure and pain, all our limited and petty effort and failure, all falsehood and death. Let the old and the untrue be reduced to ashes; then from the heaven-kissing force of Agni will rise as living Savitri the new and the true.
Do not forget that everything is in our heart; Agni is within man; the altar, the offering and the offerer are within and within also the seer, the Word and the deity; the Vedic chant to the Brahman, the anti-divine demons and titans are within; Vritra and the destroyer of Vritra are also within; the battle between the gods and the titans takes place within; Vashishtha, Vishvamitra, Angira, Atri, Bhrigu, Atharva, Sudas, Trasadasyu — these five types of the Aryan seekers of the Brahman and the Dasyus — are also within. The self of man and the universe are one. The near and the far, the ten cardinal points, the two oceans, the seven rivers and the seven worlds are also within him. Our earthly existence is manifested between these two secret oceans. The lower ocean is the concealed infinite consciousness from which, day and night, at each moment, surge up all these emotions and impulses, names and forms, just as the stars and galaxies shine out on the bosom of the goddess Night. In modern language, this is called the Inconscient or the Subconscient, apraketam salilam of the Veda, the subconscient ocean. Though it is subconscient, it is not devoid of consciousness; the transcendent universal is in it, capable of all knowledge, proficient in all action, it diffuses itself in a trance as it were and creates the universe and its movements. Above pervades the secret free infinite consciousness called the Superconscient of which this ‘consciousness-unconsciousness’ is the shadow. There in that world the Existence-Consciousness-Bliss is fully manifested — in sat-loka, the world of true Existence, as infinite Existence; in tapoloka, the world of energy of self-conscience, as infinite Consciousness; in janaloka, the world of creative Delight, as infinite Felicity; and in maharloka, the world of large consciousness, as the vast Truth of the cosmic Self. The intermediate terrestrial consciousness is the Earth mentioned in the Veda. From this earth rises to the skies the climbing mountain of which each plateau is a step in the ascent, one of the seven inner kingdoms. The gods are helpers in our ascent, the titans are enemies who obstruct the path. This mountain climbing is the sacrificial march of the Vedic seeker of the Truth; with the sacrifice, we have to rise to the ocean of light in the supreme ether. Agni is the instrument of this ascent, the leader of the path, the fighter in the battle and the priest of this sacrifice. The Vedic Seer-Poets have established the spiritual knowledge on this fundamental image in the same manner as the Vaishnavas who use the symbol of the enamoured cowherd boys and girls of Vrindavan in their songs on Radha and Krishna. If we remember the significance of this image, the understanding of the truth in the Vedas will then become easy.
(Vividha Rachana, 1955)