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Fire and Light, Agni and Rudrani

If you google some of the main sightseeing spots worth a visit here in Bali, the result page will certainly suggest a visit to Pura (Luhur) Uluwatu –Uluwatu’s most famous Hindu temple– as a must. This beautiful enclave built on top of rocky cliffs that overlook inaccessible but surfer-filled bays is dedicated to the Rigvedic deity of Rudra or ‘the brilliant one’: the eliminator of evil and usherer of peace. And it is precisely about brilliance and the elimination of ‘evil’ that this entry on the blog wants to briefly speak about.

Burn, Baby, Burn

In Tantric Hatha Yoga and in Vedic thought, the name given to the spiritual fire able to burn through our limitations and ignite inner change is called Agni or Rudrani –Rudrani being in fact a more refined form of awakened Agni. In Ayurveda, Agni is part of the Pitta factor and thus located in the abdominal region where Manipura chakra is said to reside. Agni is, therefore, tantamount to our digestive fire, the fire that allows us to transform all kinds of external input –alimentary, intellectual, sensorial– into something else once it reaches our inside.

So, in many ways, we could even speak of different types, forms, and levels of Agni in our body, mind, and consciousness, but also in nature and the universe at large. For Agni extends to the entire Self as part of the capacity for transformation lying dormant in our heart.

Dis/Embodied Fire

Tantric yogis believe that the universe itself is a massive cosmic fire: a mashup of consciousness, light, and energy in constant transformation in a process only possible thanks to the existence of something akin to a ‘cosmic fire.’ Indeed, some form of fire is always necessary to produce light, much like some form of light is always needed to illuminate the dark. And these two processes, burning through the unnecessary bits to shine a bright light onto what’s hidden is what Yoga is ultimately about.

The cosmos is the origin and roadmap of everything that is –as above so below–, which means that us humans are also something of a manifestation of cosmic Agni in embodied form. Hence, yogis believe that every human being possesses the qualities of inner fire and inner light within themselves by virtue of being but a smaller version of a larger cosmic nature. The only thing often missing to ignite this process of inner transformation is a well-timed spark.

A great deal of the rituals and practices espoused by Tantric Hatha Yoga, then, are dependent on this premise: to experience the radiant luminosity of true reality –pure unfiltered light– and break free of the bond of illusion (or Maya), we must learn to cultivate the type of inner fire necessary to burn through every obstacle and attachment in our way with the intensity of a thousand fires. This is also true for other types of Vedic disciplines, like Ayurveda, where the regulation of Agni is often central to the correction of different types of doshic imbalances.

In other words, we practice yogic asana, mantra, meditation, pranayama, and a myriad purification techniques –aka, we cultivate inner forms of fire and light– to free our minds from their unhealthy bond to false ideas, false desires, and false perception, to burn through the type of base instincts that keep us trapped in a wheel of trauma and suffering, and find our innermost (and fully lit) path.

Rekindling the Fire, Spreading the Light

In a way, then, the inner fire and light that Tantric forms of Yoga speak about are not only beautiful metaphors but very real, very actual forms of self-knowledge through self-discovery. In this regard, Agni can be interpreted as the ability to cultivate and develop true willpower and motivation, as well as the kind of undeterred drive able to spark the flame of our aspirations towards higher forms of truth regardless of how hard the endeavor. For strength of will and motivation are fundamental if we desire to transcend our attachment to rational forms of knowledge and conceptualization and learn to experience the world anew from the vantage point offered by a fully open and receptive inner eye.

This is actually part of the reason Yogis speak of ‘enlightenment’ as one of the goals of Yoga to begin with. For, though it may sound a bit esoteric, in the eyes of Tantric Hatha, each of us is a 'light-being' waiting for the switch of higher perception to go on.

Cultivating Agni

The cultivation of Agni, then, is key in Yoga, and for that, different steps and methods apply. At each step of the way, depending on our nature, context, and life circumstances a different form of Agni cultivation is advised. And so, we burn toxins in the body, balance our doshas, and enhance physical health by cultivating a balanced Jatharagni, digestive fire, by practicing asana, bandha, and pranayama and with the support of Ayurveda.

Similarly, we give fuel to our breath and strength to the mind and the senses by learning to cultivate Pragnagni or ‘life-fire’ –the kind of energy nourishing our mind and sense organs, and best seen to through the mastering of different breathing techniques.

In the same way, we counter negative emotions in the mind, thus aiding in our psychological well being, by controlling the flow of impressions we receive (practicing what yogis call pratyahara) as well as through the practice of continued meditation. And we work on the elimination of our attachment to our egos by learning to practice self-inquiry (vichara), and by getting rid of the fear and insecurity at the root of our thinking through both sustained deep meditation and self-inquiry.

This is the reason why, unlike many other types of Yoga that focus primarily on physicality, Tantric Hatha Yoga always involves physical and metaphysical elements –hence, all of the practices listed above: asana, pranayama, bandha, mantra, and meditation. The underlying assumption is that, once our inner light is properly working on its own, we develop clarity in judgement, tranquility in our emotions, and harmony in our life, and are thus better able to guide others and help light their fire.