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Sun Yoga: The Ancient Path to Enlightenment

by Bob Johnson

The Hindu religion is a vast ocean of religious thought. It developed long before the dawn of history and comprises in its multi-coloured texture an endless variety of design and pattern. Hinduism progressed from animism to Nature worship, from powers of Nature in the abstract to personified and concretized natural forms, from gods and goddesses to the one Supreme God, from formal understanding to formless realization.
     Heliolatry, the worship of Helios or the Sun, was a common practice in ancient civilizations. Sol or Sun has ever been an object of great veneration for humanity and has been adored and worshiped throughout history. The Greeks and Romans built temples to Apollo or Phoebus, as they termed the Sun-god in their own time. In all their temples, the image or representation of the Sun-god occupied an important place in their hierarchy. There is a famous Sun-temple in Konark, in South India, and in the historic town of Mooltan, or the land of the Sun, in the North. In addition, Jog-maya or Jot-maya temples can be found scattered across the entire Indian subcontinent.
     The second branch of the Aryans which turned eastward into the Indo-Gangetic plain also referred lovingly to Aditya, and we have hymns in the Vedas addressed to Hiranyagarbha, Savitar and Usha, all of which stand for the One life-sustaining power, the Sun. The masters of the Vedic age were admirers of the purifying and healing attributes of the Sun-god, and so it is no wonder that we see many hymns in Vedic literature deifying the sun.
     In Book I, 113, we have a hymn to Dawn and in it occur, inter alia, the following lines:

The light is come, amid all light the fairest; born is
the brilliant, far-extending brightness.
Night, sent away for Savitar's uprising, hath yielded
up a birthplace, for the morning...
Arise! the breath, the life, again hath reached us:
darkness hath passed away, and light approcheth.
She for the sun hath left a path to travel; we have
arrived where men prolong existence.

     All this could be taken on the literal plane as little more than nature-worship, an adoration of the sun, understandable among a people dependent upon agriculture for their existence; however, ancient Indian literature has an elusive quality. It seems to teach us at one level, and, when we have adjusted ourselves to it, it suddenly shifts us to another. Whoever can follow its subtleties finds in it a richness rarely to be met elsewhere. There is a multiplicity of meanings, ranging from the physical to the cosmic and the spiritual, and from the literal to the symbolic and esoteric, which challenge us at multiple levels of experience and offer us worthwhile rewards. Thus, when we begin studying these frequent references to the sun, we begin to see that the 'sun' referred to is not always the center of our physical universe.
     In the Isha Upanishad, we are told:

The door of the True One is covered with a golden
Open that, O Pushan, that we may see the nature of
Absolute Truth

     After considering such statements, when we read of Brahman, or the Supreme One, as being Jyotisvat, full of light, and Prakashvat, endowed with splendor, we begin to discover in such terms an esoteric significance that we earlier overlooked. This comes to a head when we read Gayatri, the tenth mantra of the sixteenth sutra in the third mandala of the Rig Veda:

Chanting the sacred syllable 'Aum'
rise above the three regions,
And turn thy attention to the All-Absorbing Sun
Accepting its influence be thou absorbed in the Sun,
And it shall in its own likeness make thee All-Luminous.

     This mantra is considered the most sacred, the mool mantra among Vedic texts, and it is taught for recitation from an early age. Here, the inner spiritual meaning of the 'sun' becomes abundantly clear. The object of veneration is not that which provides us with light in the outside world, but rather it is a principle that transcends the three planes of existence (the physical, astral, and causal) and is the source of inner illumination. This principle is referred to as 'Aum', a term whose three letters suggest the three phases of human experience: 'A' referring to the waking state (jagrat), 'U' the dream state (swapna) and 'M' the deep sleep state (sushupti). Ultimate reality includes all three planes and the three phases of human experience, yet it goes beyond them. The silence that follows each recitation of the word 'Aum' suggests the state of Turiya or Absolute Being, which is the indescribable source and end of everything. It is the Brahman, the All-transcending One, whose prime attribute is effulgence, but who is even beyond this effulgence. Hence the mantra in its original Rig Veda form has another line added to it, which is given out only to sanyasins and chosen disciples: Paro Raj-asal Savad Aum (He who transcends the efflugence is this 'Aum').
     The Gayatri not only clarifies the routine implications of the various references to the sun which are abundant in the Vedas, but it also highlights another recurring theme in Hindu thought, the question of mantras and their place in Indian religious practice. The mantras, or verbal formulae, in Sanskrit verse or prose are classified into two types: those that are meant simply for recitation and need not be understood, and those that are divine invocations, whose import must be known in order to enable the devotee to keep his attention focused on the divine object. The various mantras each have their individual benefits. There are those whose mastery gives one contact with magical powers of the lower order (tamsic); there are others that bestow strength and courage and power (rajsic); and finally those whose sole object is spiritual upliftment (satvic). Among the last, the Gayatri is the most venerated.
     Thus, the Absolute One is not only inner effulgence but also beyond it. The Gayatri recommends that while concentrating on the divine word 'Aum' we fix our attention upon the inner Sun, while in the Chandogya Upanishad, we are told that Naad, or the divine music, springs from the Universal Sun (of Brahmand), a secret that was given by Angris Rishi to Krishna. It was this mystic insight found in the srutis, the scriptures revealed through inner hearing, that led to the development of what came to be called the Sphota-vada, or the philosophy of 'sound'. The teachers of this path preached that the Absolute was wordless, imageless, indescribable and unconditioned. The primary manifestation of the Lord is Sphota (sound), radiant with iridescent light and vibrating with indescribable music. To transcend the relative world in our meditation, we must ride the chariot of Sphota (the music of the spheres) to the eternal and unchanging world of Brahman (God). 

For a free manuscript of all of Bob's articles and a free tape of the Gayatri mantra, please send $8.95 for shipping charges to:  Jeanne Milliman, P.O. Box 6094, Ann Arbor, MI 48106


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