Great Symbols Series @ Theosophy Trust


Let fleet-footed coursers bring thee speedily to this our feast, to drink first of the juice we pour, to the first draught of soma juice. . . .
Wake up intelligence, as when a lover wakes his steeping love.
Illumine heaven and earth, make thou the Dawns to shine, for glory make the Dawns to shine.
For thee the radiant Dawns in the far-distant sky broaden their lovely garments forth with wondrous beams.
For thee the nectar-yielding cow pours all rich treasures forth as milk.
The Marut host hast thou engendered from the womb, the Maruts from the womb of heaven.
For thee the pure, bright, quickly flowing
soma-drops, strong in their heightening power, hasten to mix themselves, hasten to the water to be mixed.

Rig Veda CXXXV

 "You have heard, of course, the story of Brahmā's birth from the golden egg of the cosmos, but did you know that hiranyagarbha had seven layers within it and was surrounded by seven layers without?" Two travellers sat in conversation, huddled together on the lee side of a great tree. Having approached from opposite directions, they had sought the mighty arbour as protection from the wind which whipped along the dusty road, driving one forward and the other back. The man addressed turned to his questioner, shaking his head. "No," he said, "I did not know. What are these layers? Are those outside the egg the same as those within?" The first traveller paused before answering. He was not sure that he could express in words what he dimly understood in his mind. "The layers are the coatings surrounding the unborn Brahma. He floats in them and they feed him as he grows within the egg. The ones without are the same in reverse, I think, as though the egg had turned itself inside out and spread its zones through space." "Ah," said the other, "you mean something like what is meant when people say, 'As above, so below'?" "Yes, I believe that is what I mean. The germ of the world is surrounded by fluids with fine membranes separating them, all contained within the thicker membrane that coats the inside of the shell." The other shook his head. "It sounds to me like you are describing an embryo, not a world." "But I am," cried the first traveller, "I am, and there is no difference between the two! That is what is so wonderful about these ancient teachings. I cannot say that I fully understand them, but I can see that they link together the smallest of the small with the greatest of the great.

 "If you think outward from the shell (or whatever you want to call it) of the inside-out egg, you begin with the thicker, more solid membrane and work out through zones that are becoming more ethereal all the time." "But where is the germ? Where is Brahma?" interrupted the listener. "Are you saying that the germ is out there beyond all the zones?" The first traveller paused again and considered. "I know that sounds strange because we say that the germ is everywhere, but if you turn the egg inside out and look at the world from below above, then that is what happens. Out there beyond the layers surrounding this earth is the germ we call the sun. It seems to be out there but its light is everywhere, isn't it?" The second traveller stroked his chin and slowly answered, "Yes, I suppose that is true. But are you speaking about the earth as an egg? Are you saying that it too has layers inside and out? If you are, what about this wind we are sheltering from? Is it a layer swirling around the globe?"

 The questioning and probing continued between the two men long into the night. Around them the wind hissed and moaned, whipping the leaves in a chafing dance above. They spoke of the ancient myths depicting the nature of the cosmos and the zones of sacrifice of which it is composed. They remembered the old saying that Agni, Vayu and Surya are the three occult degrees of fire and that they represent solid, fluidic and solar sacrifice, beginning from the inner earth to its surface and thence to the zones surrounding it, where the reign of Agni ends and that of Vayu begins. Thinking of Vayu, the wind, they tried to understand the nature of fluidic fire and wondered what it had to do with the blast now surrounding them. If this was Vayu's power expressed in Agni's realm, then what was it like in that vast space stretching in layers up to the heavenly sphere of Surya? It is said that all these zones are part of the sacrifice of cosmos, beyond which the immortal fire becomes the offering to the One Source of all. Myth has it that Agni sprang from Purusha's mouth, Surya from his eye, but Vayu sprang forth with his very breath and stirred the whole to life.

 From the heat born of his thought the essence of the three worlds sprang forth. From the essence of earth came fire, from space, wind, from the sky came the sun.

Chandogya Upanishad

 The Rig Veda recognized these three fires, calling that of Agni the Garhapatya, identified with men and earth, that of Vayu the Dakshinagni of the 'fathers' and the atmosphere, and Surya's, associated with the gods, was called Ahavaniya. The 'fathers' of Vayu's realm are the Barhishad Pitris, who work in fluidic fire fashioning the shape of emerging humanity. They are involved in continual re-formation because Vayu is the Wanderer (Vata), the 'one without whom one dies' (Marut), the Cleanser (Pavana). If Agni represents the waking state – the quality of rajas and extension associated with Brahmā – and Surya represents the dream state of the mind – related to cohesion, sattva and Vishnu – Vayu rules the realm of deep sleep and the breath. He embodies forces of disintegration and tamas associated with Shiva. Whereas Agni's power is expressed in action, culminating in the oblation of butter found in Karma Yoga, and Surya's might is that of knowledge, providing the fuel of jnana, Vayu's forceful character is exemplified in the power of will, the act of offering expressing bhakti. Looked at from the standpoint of manifestation, the will of Vayu can be seen as the messenger of the gods, his closeness to the darkness of tamas expressive of his primordial function as an agent of manifestation. He is the whirlwind out of which the voice of the Logos is heard, the fiery wind which is the incandescent cosmic dust that magnetically follows the directing thought of the creative forces. As Vayu himself said, when asked by Uma who he was, "I am Vayu, the breath of the world. This entire creation with its moving and unmoving creatures is woven lengthwise and crosswise upon me. I set the whole world in motion!"

 The fluidic fire of Vayu is the electric fire of life in the manifest world. It is the breath ultimately emanated by the unmanifest Spiritual Sun which radiates forth from a central point to emanate, in turn, new centres of energy. It is the rope or thread of the wind of spirit sustaining and holding life together. It links all together, twisting and coiling in an invisible chain, acting much in the same way as Fohat. But is Vayu the same as Fohat, or are the two entities co-workers, aspects of one force? According to the Vedas, invisible Fire manifests through the most ethereal substance by way of the fluidic fire of Vayu (air), who is then 'invited' to partake of the liquid fire of akasha, which is soma. Thus Vayu becomes the bearer and imbiber of the electrical spark of life who, like Fohat, brings things together, mixes them and separates them in an endless shift, acting as a force of continual adjustment. Vayu is involved in spirit falling into matter, but unlike Indra, with whom he is closely identified, he is not affected by it. He disseminates the seed of intelligence in the world and blows away the useless chaff but does not tarry in the forms of either. In this he acts similarly to Fohat, even while his particular identification with air, akasha and sound distinguishes him from the differentiated Light of the Logos associated with the cosmic maker of knots.

 His voice is heard, his shape is never seen. He is the germ of the World, the Deity's vital spirit, the earliest-born.

Rig Veda

 The Vayu Purana speaks much of cosmology, saying that "the three creations beginning with intelligence are elemental, but the six creations which proceed from the series of which intellect is the first are the work of Brahmā". Elsewhere it asserts that all seven orders of Pitris were the first gods whom Brahma beheld in the eternal spheres, and who are called the gods of gods. This refers to the elemental creation, where the essence of air, or the wind, is considered primary because of its connection with the Great Breath. This sequence was affirmed by Plato, who placed aether and air prior to perceptible intelligence, as well as by the Orphic tradition, wherein it was claimed that Eros-Phanes evolved from the spiritual Egg which had been impregnated by the Ethereal Winds that move in the aether brooding the divine Idea over chaos. The elements that subsequently follow, which the world knows as air, fire, water and earth, are merely material quaternaries completed by the fiery breath of the noumenal Vayu. Cosmically, it can be said that the first fire is the Great Breath, the divine heartbeat of the universe, which spreads out to form akasha, the second fire. This becomes the fire-mist, the watery and ultimately solid third fire. Vayu is the first to partake of the soma of akasha, drinking more than even Indra. He is also the guardian of soma, being swiftest among the gods, more powerful than any other, touching, as he does, the highest heaven.

 In his loftiest expression, Vayu is the breath or will of the Seven Logoi manifested from the three which remain hidden. On a lesser level, Vayu is a transmitting agent of the lower akasha or aether, the wind sweeping down into Agni's sphere encircling the earth. In the world he is considered a gaseous state of matter (air), and as the wind he is seen as merely a powerful physical force. But if one considers the sequence outlined in the Puranic description of pralaya, one will see that Vayu is a giver and destroyer of life, who holds sway over the entire realm between heaven and earth. He shows himself to be crucial even in post-Vedic times, where he is represented as the soma-knot of Shiva's matted hair, from which flows the immortal nectar into the world.

  At the time of an elemental pralaya, the waters of the universe are swallowed by fire, whose rudimentary property causes light and is then seized upon by the wind. Air, accompanied by sound, prevails until it is absorbed by akasha, which pervades as the Word, comprising the host of Dhyan Chohans and consciousness itself. This is absorbed into mahat, and when prakriti becomes pervaded by purusha, the whole is merged and devoured altogether, ushering in a mahapralaya. This wondrous process is echoed in man, inspiring the theory regarding the winds of the body. Here one sees that, in youth, water reigns supreme, but with increasing age the winds predominate, drying up and dissolving life, compelling the soul to a higher state. Vayu is thus, macrocosmically and microcosmically, a key link, a transmitter and messenger between the material and the invisible worlds. He was the god of the earlier races, prior to the incarnation of self-conscious awareness, and the father of Hanuman, embodiment of the antaskarana. He was both nurse to the rudimentary man and active mover of the awakening human soul.

 From the Self, verily space (akasha) arose; from space, wind (Vayu); from wind, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth; from earth, herbs; from herbs, food; from food, man.

Taittiriya Upanishad

 As one of his names indicates, Vayu presides over the Maruts, the powers of will and nervous energy or vital force who act in the intermediate sphere. They can be thought of as powers closely associated with Shiva's Rudras, who break down established patterns and help develop new formations by the strong and apparently destructive motion of their progress. They are the impellers of all thought and speech which battle towards the light of Truth, and they enter into the ten vital centres of all living bodies as the life-energies intermediate between the unconscious physical elements and the intellect. They belonged to the second stage of cosmic evolution, where the intelligent life-principle yet hovered over the inanimate deep, and they act as a bridge to man seeking to reach beyond the elements of his astral nature to the illumination of divine knowledge. Expressing the empowered will of Vayu, the Maruts drive our consciousness upward, moving at the dictates of the great Impeller of Life/dissolving inflexibly limited formulations of truth as they emerge.

 The breath expressed through Vayu moves outward and inward, as breath must do. When that of the Father is upon the web of primordial substance, it expands. When the Mother's breath engulfs it, the web contracts, completing the centrifugal and centripetal movements of the universal life-force which we know as evolution and involution. During manvantara the Breath pulsates, awakening slumbering atoms, and increasingly assumes a circular motion. This is when Deity becomes a whirlwind. This Breath stirs up the incandescent dust, the fiery wind which is Vayu, who then expresses in motion the ideated model of the universe re-created by the Dhyan Chohans, the Breaths acting upon the breath of Vayu's motion. Thus do heat, attraction and repulsion, the three great factors of motion, come into play, producing the condition in which centres of force differentiate into atoms and molecules and become suns – passing gradually into objective gaseous states – and, finally, forms.

 Motion is fundamental to Vayu, being the one unalterable attribute of life itself. It is eternal in the unmanifest and periodical in the manifest, the latter reflected in the seasonal winds that circle the earth's sphere as well as the cycle of inspiration and expiration of a man's life and breath. In the manifest solar system this process involves diffused aether, which receives the heat radiations of the universe, only to be drawn back into the solar mass, triggering the expulsion of previously condensed and thermally exhausted aether. The indrawn aether, in turn, becomes compressed and gives up its heat, only to be driven out again by the sun, who, by its agency, feeds upon the 'sweat' of Mother Space. The great breathing-out creates disturbance – Vayu coursing through the atmosphere of increasing heat, stirring up the vast sea of molecular motion, coursing like the whirlwind, whose voice becomes manifest speech on earth.

 The wind howled around the protecting tree. The two men had raised their voices to be heard, even though sitting very close to one another and wrapped in concentration upon their theme. The insistence of the blast had brought them down to earth, and they sat for a while contemplating the ferocity of the manifested reflection of Vayu in the world. If this force is so powerful here in the realm of effects, what must it be in the realm of causes? It was staggering to contemplate. How could the mind, accustomed to the limitations imposed by forms, imagine an unhampered, unlimited wind? And yet they knew that the truth – as above, so below – must also be mirrored in the notion of as below, so above. There must be some correlation in the phenomena of wind streaming around the earth and the fiery wind of life-energy. Thus they paused but for a time and soon were plunged in conversation once more, discussing the world's seven winds and all that man had come to know of them.

 Whether we wish it or not we are involved in the world's problems, and all the winds of heaven blow through our land.

Walter Lippmann

 They agreed that it was difficult to overestimate the effect of winds upon the earth and realized that the weather at any given place is mainly governed by the prevailing winds. Were they not dramatically experiencing that as they sat in their huddled communion? Climate too is similarly governed by winds which blow most frequently. Wind patterns in one place are closely related to those in others, the whole forming a system ultimately affected by the variance of temperature at different latitudes and the subtle and mysterious effects of solar radiation upon the stratosphere. The whole system describes a circulation of the earth's atmosphere, a circulation the two travellers could not help but liken to the movement of blood in their own bodies. Like the exhaled aether of the sun, blood coursed from their hearts and revitalized all the cells in their bodies with the fiery life-force in the form of oxygen. They wondered how this differed from the wind that dries up life and from the great blasts which ceaselessly wear away at the contours of the earth. Perhaps they are not different. The effects of the wind's friction upon the earth's surface is transmitted through the air by irregular motions of Vayu's fluidic fire. They stimulate the action of re-formation in etheric realms, action which invariably precipitates as new forms in the world. The extent of such exchanges between levels of atmosphere, the earth and the sun loomed in the imaginations of the two men, whose respect for Vayu as mediator, transmitter and messenger had increased with each new turn of their conversation.

 Outward from the earth's surface the temperature generally decreases from sea-level at a rate of about nineteen degrees per mile. Several miles out, at the tropopause, it ceases to fall and settles into the more constant temperature of the stratosphere. Within the tropopause lies the troposphere, extending out five miles from the poles and eleven miles from the equator. The irregularity of this zone results in a dramatic effect upon the earth's climate: at five miles out a sea-level temperature of eighty degrees at the equator would have decreased to minus fifteen degrees, while twenty degrees at sea-level at the poles would have decreased to minus seventy-five degrees. But at ten miles out the picture changes considerably. The same equator sea-level temperature decreases to minus one hundred and ten degrees, while that at the poles remains at minus seventy-five degrees. Pressures resulting from the uneven distribution of cold and warm air, the unevenness of the earth's surface and its axial rotation produce many layers of wind. Jet streams in the tropopause course at over two hundred miles per hour in sixty-mile-wide belts while endless rivers of wind flow in complex patterns beneath them. The earth contributes to their shaping, giving off the sun's heat in convective bubbles that rise into the lower pressures aloft to temper them. Layers of west winds are sandwiched between east winds flowing faster than the earth's rotation at the equator, layers which can even reverse their directions annually. The systems swirl, abetted by scores of subsystems, all contributing to the great layered zones of the globe's atmospheric circulation.

 The thoughts of the travellers swirled as well. They returned to the consideration of the earth as an embryo or an egg with concentric zones within its shell as well as outside it. Finally, one of them ventured, "If everything from the great to the small and from the invisible to the manifest can be understood in terms of analogy and correspondence, we should feel confident in thinking that the earth is like a small universe. But isn't it the case that other planets are as well, and that they all revolve around the same sun, between which and themselves Vayu acts as intermediary?" "Yes," the other responded, "you are right. Certainly the whole of the fertilized egg is depicted in the solar system itself. The wind that streams in the great space between the planets and the sun is surely the same that circles around the source of life in the foetal egg of man as in the Egg of Brahma. My mind leaps to this fact, and I am reminded of the old saying that the sun, moon and Vayu circle around Mount Meru, while the gods sit upon it."

 The question in the response of his companion prompted him to elucidate. "Yes, it seems to me that between manvantaras, when the world is covered in chaos, all the gods withdraw to the umbilical point, which is Meru, and wait. But the sun of spirit remains manifest, floating, as it were, in akasha (soma or the moon). The ideation of the Logos persisting, Vayu, as its moving power, also persists, and the three 'circle' the navel of the next world to come." "You must be speaking about a lesser pralaya, where consciousness remains in its subtle vesture and the breath of the One is not entirely withdrawn." They agreed that this was the case and continued on in their ruminations to consider how the heavenly spark of solar fire is guided through the lightning channels and caduceus curves of Vayu's realm to become earthly fire. From Surya, through Vayu to Agni, and back again, the great breathing-out swirls as a whirlwind in concentric zones, culminating in the chorion of the embryo and finally its outer skin.

 Breathing in and breathing out, this is the regulation of the pranayama of the cosmos. In the Anugita the story is told about Prana nourishing speech. It is pointed out that the higher immovable mind is superior to speech, which is associated with the movable aspect of mind that can express itself only between the prana and apana of the vital wind. It is the vital wind which enables speech to become assimilated with the physical organs of speech and manifest as material sound. Thus, Vayu imbibes the soma of akasha and transmits the Word inherent in it, sparking the expression of Its intelligence in the world. Rather than functioning as Indra, who brings mahat into individualized manasic manifestation by 'falling' into matter, Vayu merely sparks the connection, delivers the message, as it were. He does not become involved in consciousness as Indra must (by his nature). Instead, he connects intelligence to the mental and physical senses, stirring the activity of the brain with his fluidic fire. Thus it is said that this breath or wind (πνευμα, pneuma) is the synthesis of the seven senses as well as of all minor deities and the Army of the Voice. Vayu breathes life into the fires animating these senses and deities, just as oxygen gives life to physical fire or the wind stirs up electricity in the air. Without his presence they would die, without his motion they would never have come into being.

 The 'Breath' of the One Existence is used in its application only to the spiritual aspect of Cosmogony. . . . Otherwise, it is replaced by its equivalent in the material plane – Motion.

The Secret Doctrine

 Absolute perpetual motion is the Breath of the One Existence, the Word spiralling forth from the Logos. In the akashic vastness it has no limit, but vibrates through endless duration. As the lower aspects of this matrix evolve, the Breath becomes more and more periodic, matter more differentiated, and the action of spirit upon it more cyclic and definable. Here, a fully recognizable Vayu emerges, moving initially in these great circles, then in swirls and layers around gathering clusters of ethereal matter. And so the process continues as Vayu scatters and mixes the luminous soma he has imbibed amidst the ever-congealing curds until suns and planets begin to harden, surrounded by winds born of their own revolving motion. These mix with the great flow in outer space which circles through the solar system, carrying back to earth an electric charge freshly culled from more noumenal planes. One can see that this occurs both physically and metaphysically. It is also true that the noumenal plane ought not to be sought in outer space but within space – that is, within matter itself. From a physical perspective one sees the cause of motion to be heat, which itself is traced in a mechanistic way back to some sort of initial explosion. But from an esoteric and metaphysical point of view, motion is engendered by the first flicker of ideation which lies at the base of all duality. It is this which causes the occultist to regard all motion (including life and growth) as an expression of divine intelligence. Thus, Vayu is not merely a tutelary deity of mechanical motion expressed as wind, but rather a god filled with and bearing the imprint of the Logoic design into the world.

 In the physical world man experiences Vayu as the wind and, like the two travellers, learns to shelter himself from too much exposure to it or tries to make use of its power. But on a subtler plane all human beings experience it as prana both within and all about them. The 'lives' making up the astral and the physical world whirl, their motion forced forward by the life-energy of Vayu. But in the end this pranic energy brings death, for the more the body resists it, the more it wears it down. The baby absorbs it, floats upon it, accepts it and sleeps with it. The adult exerts his power to withstand it, constantly trying to face his will, like an unyielding cliff, into the blast. It is wiser to be like the small child and abandon frozen concepts of what one is and what one thinks the world is all about, for Vayu pulsates against us and through us incessantly, until we finally understand the unfettered message that our breath itself could convey. We swim in a sea of prana, and when we die we give rise through it to all the creatures resulting from our disembodiment. Fighting this, one fights both life and death. The position is untenable. It flies against the nature of the very solar system seen and unseen, for the Spiritual Sun itself burns in a sea of prana just as the hydrogen of the physical sun burns in an ocean of oxygen.

 The mental energies of man, governed by Indra, cannot manifest if they are not supported by the nervous energies of prana. Just as one cannot think well in an airless room without oxygen to invigorate the brain, so one needs to harmonize one's existence so that the Maruts at the ten vital centres of one's astrophysical vesture can operate synchronically. This enables the powers of will and nervous energy to become single-pointed and constant, one's speech to become reflective of a central higher purpose, and one's breath to become smooth and calmly in tune with the layers of subtle energy flowing around one as one develops an increasingly strong link with the higher spiritual Self.

 Moving up through the inner zones, through the vesicles surrounding the god within, through the embryonic layers of Vayu, a breath of freedom borne upon the airs of soma's fragrant vastitudes blows through the mind and heart. The sweetness of this wind, the liberation one feels as it sifts away the chaff of limitations and pours through the refined and increasingly porous vestures of one's lower nature, only those who have won the mountain top and joyfully embraced Vayu's message can know. The physical wind may die away, as it had while the two travellers had pursued their talk, but its movement, its inspiration and expiration, never cease. Somehow, in the course of their shared meditations, the two men had come to understand this. They sat quietly now in perfect harmony, feeling the pulsation of life within each other as well as in themselves. Their words had been charged with excitement and discovery, and now that the air was still they felt subdued and at peace, drawing from the profound inner sense of connection they felt with the earth, the atmosphere and the whole solar system. When they stood to go, each on his separate way, they bowed to one another and made the sign of a threaded rope, a bridge between heaven and earth.

Twisting, coiling,
The Word slipped forth into the world.
Falling, weaving,
Melodically lending its fiery breath,
It blasted into the world with a cry.
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold;
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so",
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow-men."
The angel wrote and vanished; the next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed their names whom love of God hath blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Leigh Hunt