What if the most powerful force for energizing all Yoga practices were as obvious and visible as the Sun? The fact is that it is. The Sun, properly understood not merely as an outer but as an inner energy source, reflects the supreme light of Yoga both in our own hearts and in the world of nature around us.
By David Frawley
If we look at traditional and ancient cultures from throughout world, we discover a strong awareness of the Sun as a spiritual force, and as great symbol and a secret doorway to a higher reality. We note extensive religious, spiritual, yogic, astrological and shamanic traditions that revere the Sun and also seek to understand the wisdom and grace behind its outer form, intuiting through the Sun the supreme force behind all existence.
The Sun is the most visible representation of the deity, the veritable “Face of the the Divine” as the ancient Vedas eloquently state. The Sun is no mere luminous material globe or light in the outer sense, but the source of life, intelligence, love, and consciousness: light in the inner sense as well. Throughout the ancient world, continuing in some areas down to present day, we find a worship of the Sun as part of a greater religion or spiritual path of light, enlightenment and Self-realization. This solar religion or solar dharma generally occurs along with a cult of the sacred Fire and the mystic Moon and other aspects of light, and as part of a worship of nature as a whole and of the cosmic mind.
A religion of the Sun predominated among the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, and Scythians, to name but a few, extending to the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas and Pueblo Indians of the Americas. Ancient Pre-Christian European traditions of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans and Slavs, contain a strong solar symbolisms as well. Even later monotheistic approaches like Judaism, Christianity and Islam contain if not a solar symbolism, at least a symbolism of light. There is also a strong solar symbolism in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Shinto and many other spiritual traditions too numerous to mention quickly. Such spiritual teachings usually link the human being to the Sun and make us into children of the Sun, forms of light on Earth taking birth to fulfill the solar will towards greater light and consciousness. We could say that the natural religion and of our species is that of the Sun.
The Vedic Religion of the Sun and Light
The Vedas, with which classical Yoga is closely connected, are based upon a solar symbolism as a religion of light and of the Sun. The Sun is the supreme deity of the Vedas, the Divine power in Heaven, which functions in the Atmosphere as Lightning and on Earth as Fire, which are the three main manifestations of light in our visible world. The Vedic ritual, which is the main outer Vedic practice, involves making offerings to a sacred fire in order to connect with the beneficent powers of the solar deity. The Veda says that we are all children of the Sun born on Earth to carry forward the Divine light of truth. The Vedas laud the Sun as the source of life, intelligence and consciousness within us and as the very core of our own being, with each soul being a spiritual sun of its own.
There are many forms of the Sun God in Vedic thought, which reflect various aspects of Dharma or cosmic law. Such include Surya(he who revolves and expands), Savitri (the transforming will), Aditya (primal intelligence), Mitra (the Divine Friend), Varuna (the Lord of the cosmic waters), Aryaman (the servant of Dharma), Bhaga (the giver of bliss), Pushan (the nourisher, seer and guide), Vishnu (the pervador), and Twashtri (the cosmic artist). In addition, the Vedas contain an entire group of Sun Gods called Adityas said to be twelve in number. The other main deities of the Veda as Agni (Fire), Soma (Water), Indra (ruling power), all have strong solar aspects. The Vedic mantras themselves are said to dwell in the rays of the Sun. They are said to number 432,000, which is 360 X 1200, reflecting a solar mathematics of the zodiac.
The Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri mantra to Savitri, an important form of the Sun God, is the most important of all Vedic mantras and one of the most commonly used mantras in Yoga practices. The Gayatri mantra is an important tool for drawing in the spiritual energy of the Sun into our minds, hearts and bodies, serving like a solar panel for the inner worlds.
We meditate upon the supreme light of the Divine transforming Sun (Savitri) that he may stimulate our intelligence.
Vedic rituals, including Agnihotra and the chanting of the Gayatri mantra, occur at sunrise, noon and sunset, the main points of solar transformation throughout the day. The deity of this mantra, Savitri, represents the transformational power inherent in the Sun, not only to change night into day but also to take us beyond the darkness of the ego into the infinite light of the higher Self. Savitri is the deity of Yoga and meditation, who sets that process in motion within us as a manifestation of the Divine Will. Yet we should remember that this Gayatri is only one of hundreds of Vedic verses to the Sun that can be used in a similar manner. It is not at unique in the Vedas.
In the Upanishads there is an interesting section on Yoga that begins with mantras from the Vedas to Savitri.
Yoking first the mind, having extended the intelligence, discerning the light of the Fire, Savitri brought it forth from the Earth.
With a yoked mind, in the impulse of Divine Savitri, may we have the power to move into the realm of light.
Having yoked the Gods by the mind, with the intelligence that reaches the realm of Heaven, creating a vast light, may Savitri direct that for us.
Seers of the vast illumined seer yogically control their minds and their intelligence. The One knower of the ways of wisdom, he ordains the invocations of the gods. Great is the affirmative being of the Divine transforming Sun (Savitri).
Svetasvatara Upanishad II.1-4
Savitri represents the Divine light of awareness hidden within us that Yoga serves to activate in order to bring about the evolution of our consciousness beyond time and mortality. Here we see the seeds of Yoga explained in terms of a solar symbolism.
The Purusha or Higher Self as the Being in the Sun
Yoga and the Vedas are linked together by the common conception of the Purusha or Atman, the Supreme or Universal Self that is the goal of classical Yoga and the main subject of the Upanishadic teachings. The Purusha or Atman is often identified with the Sun both in older Vedic and later Yogic thought.
The Rishi Kutsa’s chant in the Rigveda is the Sun is the Self of the stable and moving world (RV I.114.1). The idea of union with the Sun occurs in several Vedic verses, to quote a few examples below.
Arising from the surrounding darkness, seeing the higher light, we have reached the Godhead, the Divine Sun, the supreme light.
The great Upanishadic prayer is to merge into the Solar Self. The famous Isha Upanishad ends with a chant to merge in the solar Self, which also contains the oldest reference to the So’ham mantra. In fact, the great Hamsa or Swan of yogic thought is originally a Vedic Sunbird.
Sun, O nourisher, single seer, controller, power of the Lord of creation, remove your rays and gather up your heat that I may see your most auspicious form. The Purusha (Person) that is within the Sun, He am I (Yo’ sau Aditye Purusha, so-ham asmi).
Isha Upanishad 16
The Upanishads tell us that the Sun chants OM as it moves in the sky. The Sun is not only the source of light but that of sound and mantra as well. As such Mantra Yoga is also rooted in the worship of the Sun.
Thus indeed that which is the upward chant (udgitha), that is the primal sound (Pranava). That which is the primal sound, that is the upward chant. That which is the Sun (Aditya) beyond is the upward chant. He is primal sound. He chants OM as he moves.
Chandogya Upanishad I.5.1
The Sun and the Branches of Yoga
Relative to the ‘Yoga of Knowledge’ or Jnana Yoga, the inner Self or Atman has always been symbolized as the Sun, ever shining in the hearts of all. After introducing the famous mantra “I am Brahman” (aham brahmasmi) or “I am God,” the Upanishads quote (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad I.IV.10) a verse from the Rishi Vamadeva in the Rigveda which states, “I was Manu and the Sun.”
Relative to the ‘Yoga of Devotion’ or Bhakti Yoga the first and main images used in worship were that of the deity in the Sun disc, Surya-Narayana. This is the background of the ancient Vaikhanasa tradition of India, which is still followed in the famous temple of Tirupati in South India, the largest and wealthiest shrine in the country.
A strong solar symbolism enters into the great trinity of Hindu deities. Brahma, the Creator, has a solar aspect. Vishnu, the preserver, is often worshipped as the Sun, particularly as Surya-Naranaya, the Sun as the cosmic person who enters into the hearts of all beings. Shiva, the transformer, is honored as the supreme deity behind the Sun, particularly as Rudra, who represents the highest, light and color of the Sun. In fact, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are often regarded as the three aspects of solar energy as creating, sustaining and transforming the universe.
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