Vrtra! The adversary to spiritual growth!
(a perspective on Vedic Yoga)
by Yogi Harinam Baba Prem Tom Beal
Yogi Harinam Baba Prem Tom Beal
Vrtra! The adversary to spiritual spiritual growth!
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The Vedas are the most important spiritual works that remain of our ancient ancestors. They provide great insight into the hidden powers of the mind, and more importantly they provide insight into the true essence of the self. This understanding of the self was achieved not through modern technological innovation, but by tapping the hidden power within each of us. Modern scholars dismiss the Vedas as poetry and rambling stories from a frightened ancient people. Could this be true? Or is there a deeper essence to the Vedas that has been overlooked by western scholars. Upon careful examination of the Vedas one can clearly see a rich symbolic language that illustrates the human spiritual essence. This requires an examination and understanding of the culture, social structure, beliefs, geographic location, symbolic language and grammar.
Within the Vedas is an important story relating to Indra and Vrtra. In later Hinduism Indra is little more than a Deity of the rains or storms. While Indra and his thunderbolt can be associated with storms, in Vedic times Indra was considered the God of gods. While this may have little relevance to the western reader, Indra can be brought into light for the western mind. Indra is our true essence or being. Some might use the term soul, or the power of the soul.
Vrtra is often referred to as the adversary of Indra. Vrtra is also referred to as the dragon or serpent, which holds back the waters. These waters are released when Indra slays Vrtra. Again this can have little relevance to the western reader, however Vrtra can be easily brought into light for the western mind. To understand Vrtra one must first look to the root that forms the word: Vr.
Vr literally means, "to cover". Vr is also a name for Indra. In the Vedic system, Vrtra is a shadow of Indra; and some consider him the brother of Indra. So does this literally mean that Indra has slain his brother? Is this an earlier version of the Cain and Able story recorded in the Bible? Most likely it is not. Vrtra is a reflection of Indra. This reflection covers and obscures our view of the true reality of nature. Just as a mountain can be reflected in a lake, the lake cannot be the mountain but only a reflection of it, a reflection (within the lake) that is easily disturbed. So what is this reflection that appears so pure and perfect?
This reflection would be called Vrtra, and Vrtra is a reference to the ego. More correctly it is the concealing power of Vrtra. This power of Vrtra is referred to as "Avarana Shakti". Avarana Shakti can literally mean "the power to hinder in time and space." Vrtra is the root power of the ego, and has the power to hinder our spiritual growth in the field of time and space, but not the power to hinder our true power or essence (Indra). It would be correct to call it the root power of the ego. Vrtra later appears in Hindu philosophy as avidya (ignorance). It would also be correct to say that Vrtra is the power of maya in the world.
References to Indra slaying the serpent and releasing the waters is a teaching of spiritual realization. The cover of avidya (ignorance) being removed opening us to awareness of our true nature. This is the journey of humankind. Each individual consciously or unconsciously is traveling this path. This was clearly understood by the great rshi's of the Vedic period. Their great gift to future generations was recorded in the Vedas and has been preserved for over 8500 years. While some scholars could argue that Indras slaying of the serpent can also be a reference to awakening the kundalini energy. This should not be seen as a conflict with the underlining essence of Indra and Vrtra. It is more of an extension or other aspect of the universal truth presented with Indra and Vrtra. It would also be correct to say that Vrtra is the kundalini in a dormant (tamasic) state. Vrtra is the inertia that keeps the kundalini from rising up the sushumna.
From the standpoint of chakras Vrtra manifests as the lower manifestation of the manipura (3rd or navel) chakra. Actually the lower functions of the first three chakras are the playground of Vrtra. In our society it has been taught, at times, that the mind is ruled by the manipura chakra. Actually the mind should be ruled by the Anahata chakra (4th or heart center). Once the mind activities are ruled or governed by the anahata chakra, the higher function of manipura chakra is activated opening the power of iccha shakti (the power of the will, desire, and love). Iccha shakti should manifest through the power of third chakra but directed by the higher functions of the anahata chakra. Indras journey of slaying Vrtra really begins with meditation on the heart chakra. More correctly on the spiritual heart chakra located within the field of the anahata chakra. One could also perform meditation on a flame within the heart muscle. The flame should be the size of the thumb.
The following list is a variety of techniques to begin this journey. The list is not comprehensive but is intended to provide several options for the beginner to intermediate level student. Several of the techniques are best practiced under the guidance of a qualified Vedic or yoga teacher. Some of the techniques are of minor consideration but illustrate that anyone can practice regardless of their physical ability.
Beginning Techniques for your personal (Indra) victory over Vrtra:
- Study of sacred scriptures such as the Vedas, Upanishads, or Vedantic philosophy. There are many excellent systems in India that can fulfill this need. Systems such as Karma or Bhakti yoga are important and serve as an important beginning to this journey.
- Almost any classical yoga system can aid in beginning the journey for Indras victory over Vrtra. In fact this is a major goal in true yoga systems, to strengthen the body, remove toxins and transform the ego. This is especially true of some Tantric systems, which to seek to elevate the ego. Or as Patanjali said so well: the seen perceives the seer.
- A yogic technique known, as flexion of the spine can be beneficial, as well as Bhastrika, often referred to as fire breathing or breath of fire. These techniques can easily be learned from a knowledgeable yoga teacher. They can also be found in several yoga/meditation books. They are contraindicated for pregnancy and various physical limitations. Both of these techniques help to clear the sushumna especially the psychic knots (granths) in the sushumna. In yoga philosophy these psychic knots must be cleared for spiritual realization to take place. In addition they both generate tapas, which is a psychic heat that helps to purify the mind/body field.
- Pranayama exercises. Yogic breathing exercises teach the student to gain control over the mind. This eventually leads in the ability to go beyond mind. As yoga will teach us to go beyond body, pranayama is an important first step in the journey to go beyond the mind.
- Meditation is the most important and powerful tool for slaying Vrtra. It is interesting to note, in western society people meditate to relax, while true meditation cannot occur until one is relaxed. The meditation I am referring to is not relaxation techniques, but deep inquiry into the nature of the self. However relaxation exercises can be an important first step for the beginner.
- Mula Bhanda. The mula bhanda (root lock) is technique used to purify the sushumna (on a physical level the spinal column). It also helps to open the psychic knots of the sushumna. This technique should be practiced under the guidance of a teacher proficient in the practice of chakra locks.
- Meditation on Vedic Deities- This serves to awaken us more to the Mahat (cosmic intelligence), moving our conscious mind beyond the ego. The deities are visualized with different colors and attributes depending on the need of each person.
- Meditating with the thumbs crossed. This is a common posture. Sitting crossed-legged, interlace the fingers with thumbs crossing over each other and resting in the webbing of the opposite hand. For males the right thumb should be crossed over the left. For females the left thumb should be crossed over the right. This adds a polarity aspect to the mudra. This is a minor consideration, but does illustrate that everyone can work on Vrtra.
- Chanting the Sanskrit alphabet, or chanting the vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet. Indra rules the vowels of the Sanskrit alphabet.
- Chanting to Ganesh using the Bija mantra such as Om Gam Om.
- People that are astrologically oriented could use mantras such as Om Hreem Brihaspataye Namah.
- The bija mantra for Maha Maya. In some tantric systems, it is believed that only maha maya can provide a doorway from the covering of illusion (maya). Her bija mantra is Hreem.
- Of course in the Rg Veda 1.10.5 gives insight into how to increase our Indra or ego defeating energy. It says in the first line:
Uktham indraya shamsyam.
Offer praise to Indra [with] hymns [mantra].
There are numerous riks (hymns) to Indra; these are best learned from a qualified Vedic yoga teacher.
- Performance or attendance of Homas, Pujas, or Yajnas. Homas are fire ceremonies as can be yajnas. Pujas can be various internal and external forms of worship. This subject alone can be quite extensive, literally volumes of books have been written on these subjects. It does bring ritual to the practitioner's life, which can have a calming effect on the mind.
Indra and Vrtra are very expansive subjects. Literally a book could be written on them alone. The goal of this article is to introduce the reader to a few of the psychological aspects of Indra and Vrtra and introduce how expansive the techniques in yoga and meditation are for dealing with this subject.
References and Sources used:
The Nighantu and The Nirukta.
Sanskrit/English Dictionary (Apte version)
Dr. David Frawley
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Copyright 2003, Yogi Harinam Baba Prem Tom Beal. All rights reserved.
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