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The Panchagni Vidya:
The Panchagni Vidya, or the teaching of the five fires, is found in both the Chhandogya Upanishad and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which are two of the major Upanishads in Hindu philosophy.
In the Chhandogya Upanishad (Chapter 5), and in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (Chapter 6, Second Brahman), the story involves King Pravahana Jivala imparting the Panchagni Vidya to Swetaketu. This teaching emphasizes the non-dual nature of reality and the interconnectedness of all beings. The metaphor of the five fires is used to illustrate the profound spiritual truths.
The Upanishads aim to provide deep philosophical insights and spiritual guidance, and the Panchagni Vidya is a prime example of the profound teachings found within these ancient texts.
Swetaketu is asked by King Pravahana Jivala if he has studied the knowledge that leads to the understanding of the One from which all things originate and by knowing which, all things become known. Swetaketu thinks he knows everything; therefore, he answers in the positive. Instead, Pravahana Jivala gives Swetaketu a series of lessons on the self and the interdependence of all beings.
King Pravahana Jivala uses the metaphor of five fires to illustrate his teachings.
He asks Swetaketu to perform a series of rituals involving five fires to demonstrate the oneness of the individual self (Atman) with the universal Self (Brahman). Through this metaphor, he imparts the knowledge that just as different fires arise from the same source (wood), all individual beings arise from the same universal source (Brahman).
The Panchagni Vidya teaches the fundamental principle of Advaita Vedanta, which asserts the non-dual nature of reality, stating that the individual soul (Atman) is ultimately identical to the ultimate reality (Brahman).
Note: The word Vidya in Panchagni Vidya is to be understood as Upasana~ Meditation. Here Vidya does not mean Knowledge.
The Five Fires~ in the Panchagni Vidya are:
- Rain God
The Belief is that the five fires are given the five liquid oblations as follows:
- Faith to Heaven: Soma Raja is generated.
- Soma to Rain god: Rain is generated.
- Rains to Earth: Food is generated.
- Food to Man: Sperm is generated.
- Seminal fluid to Woman: Newborn emanated.
Here is the story of King Pravahana Jaivali and Svetaketu.
Svetaketu was son of sage Uddalaka Aruni also known as Gautama too. Well educated and confident of his knowledge. There was a noble, highly learned king of Panchal, during the late Vedic period named Pravahana Jaivali. Svetaketu went to his court for sharing his knowledge in King’s court. The moment Svetaketu arrived at the court, the king received him with due respect and offered him requisite hospitality, being a Brahmin boy and well versed with Vedas and all branches of learning.
The king asked the boy: ” Are you well educated? Have you studied? Is your education complete? Has your father instructed you?”
The boy replied. “Yes, my education is complete, and I am well-read.” Then the King asked some questions. ” Naturally, you are a well informed and able to answer my questions. You are proficient in every branch of learning.” The boy affirmed. King then asked following five questions.
The first question asked by the King:
“Do you know where people go after they depart from this world? When people die, where do they go? Do you know the answer to this question, my dear boy?”
The boy replied, “I do not know. I am unable to answer.”
King then asked second question:
“Do you know wherefrom people come when they are reborn into this world?” The boy said, ” No, I do not know answer of this also”.
The Third Question:
” Have you any idea of the paths along which the Souls ascends, the paths being known as Devayana and Pitriyana? Do you know the difference between these two paths? Why is one distinct from the other?” The boy said, ” I do not know the answer to this question also.”
The Fourth question:
“Why is it that the yonder world is not filled with people and overflowing? Always, the world is able to contain people and it is never flooded with them. What is the reason for this?” The boy said, ” This also I do not know.”
The Fifth question:
” Do you know what are the five oblations that are offered and how the fifth oblation as liquid becomes a human being?”
“The boy said, this too I do not know.“
Then the King said, ” Why did you say that you are well read and well instructed? King said ” How is it possible that you are not able to answer even these questions. What made you think that you are well educated. What is that your father has taught, and you are not able to answer these?” Listening this from the King, boy realized that his education was incomplete, and his pride vanished. The boy realized for the first time that it was his wrong idea that he knew everything. Feeling disgraced, he returned home and took his father to task for not teaching this Vidya which could have helped him in answering the questions put by the king. But Sage Gautama himself was unaware of the answers. Therefore, sage Gautama went to the king Pravahana to learn the Vidya. King received with due respect and offered him many gifts. But the sage Gautama refused to accept gifts since he was interested only to be enlightened on the discourse which King mentioned to the boy Svetaketu. King then Commanded him, ” Stay for a long time.” Then King said, O Gautama, before you, this Vidya was never gone to Brahmanas: it is for this reason, that among all people, it was only with the Kshatriya.
Great king imparted the knowledge of the Panchagni-Vidya. The King explained five fires:
The First fire is svargaloka (Heaven):
The Sun is the fuel (sacrificial stick) of this Fire. The rays of the Sun are the smoke, while the day is the flame. The moon is the ember (red hot coal~चिंगारी). The stars are the sparks of this fire. When Agnihotra is performed, the jivas become Soma Raja(moon) and enter svargaloka.
The Second fire is Parjanya.
O Gautama! the god of rain is the sacrificial fire; air is its fuel; the cloud is the smoke. Lightning is the flame. The Thunderbolt is the charcoal. The roars of the fire are the sparks. Soma Raja (Jiva) is the oblation in this fire.
The Third fire is the Earth.
For this fire, the year is the sacrificial fire. Akasha (sky) is the smoke. The night is the flame. The directions are the live charcoals. The directions are the sparks. The oblation in this case is rain. When the rains reach the earth, food is grown.
The fourth is man himself.
His speech(vaak) is the sacrificial fire. His prana is smoke. His tongue is the flame. The eyes are the live charcoals, and his ears are the sparks. Here the oblation is food. From that food the seed of man is born.
The fifth fire is Woman.
The interconnection between man and woman is the live charcoal. The small pleasures are the sparks. The oblation is the seed of man and from this does a new-born emanate.
The Jiva which has ascended to the Heavenly world by the virtue of good deeds descends on the exhaustion of that merit to the earth to take up another life, from heaven in the form of rains. There in the earth, the self enters a food grain growing on a plant and then enters the blood of the male who consumes that food grain and that turns into sperm. Finally, when the seminal fluid enters the female womb upon coitus, the Jiva also enters the womb along with it. In the womb it gets embodied.
**Following section describes the conception of Human being using metaphor of Sacrifice (Yajna~ meditation). The fifth offering mentioned here is the seed of man (Semen) that brings about conception at the end.
The Ten months in mother’s womb:
Thus, after the fifth oblation, water becomes Purusha known as Man. The foetus lies within the mother’s womb, covered with membrane, for about nine or ten months, and then it is born. [**This is the answer to the fifth question asked by the King Pravahana]
When a person is born, he lives as long as he is destined to live. Then, when he dies as ordained, he is carried from here to the fire from which he came.
Path of Devayana:
Those who know this (Panchagni vidya), and those who live in the forest, practicing austerities with faith- they go to the path of Devayana(the world of light) From the world of light they go to the world of day; from the world of day to the world of bright fortnight; from the world of bright fortnight to the six months when Sun moves northward [Uttarayana]; from there go to the Sun, from the Sun to the moon; and from the moon to lightning. There someone, not human, receives them and leads them to Brahmaloka. This path is Devayana (path of gods).
On the other hand, those who live in the village and perform acts of public service, charity, and so on, attain the world of smoke. From there they go to the world of the night; from night they go to the world of the dark fortnight; and from the dark fortnight they go to the world of the six months when the Sun moves to the south. This means that they never attain the world of the year.
From the six months of the southern solstice, they go to the world of the ancestors, from there they go to the sky. Then from the sky they go to the moon. This is King Soma. This is the food of the gods. The gods enjoy eating this food.
Living in the world of the moon until the merit (the fruits of his work) is exhausted, he then returns to this world along the same path. First going to the sky, he then goes to air. Having become air, he next becomes smoke. Having become smoke, he then becomes mist. From mist they become a cloud, after which they pour forth as rain. Then they are born as food. To emerge from these is difficult, only if someone or other eats him as food and pours him out as semen can he be reborn.
Those whose conduct on Earth has given pleasure, can hope to enter a pleasant womb; but those whose conduct has been foul can expect to enter a foul and stinking womb.
But those small and continually returning creatures (like flies and worms) are not to be found on either of these two paths: theirs is a third condition, ” Be born and die” That is why the world up there is not filled up, and that is why a man should carefully watch his actions. On this there is the following verse:
This completes the answers to the five questions.
A person who steals gold, or drinks liquor, or goes to bed with his master’s wife, or kills a Brahmin-these four are lost. Also lost is the fifth- one who keeps company with such people.
But he who knows the five fires remains pure even if he is in the company of these people. He who knows this is pure and innocent, and after death he goes to the world of the good and pure.
The Celestial Region, the Atmosphere, the Earth, Man and Woman- These are the five stages of the Fire which becomes the object of meditation known as the Panchagni Vidya.
By the interconnection, combination and harmonious adjustment of the structure of these five levels of manifestation, birth takes place. This symbiology of Birth is applicable for all organisms in the world. This is theory of manifestation. Every event is Universal event, even the birth of a human. Every birth is to be considered in the light of Panchagni Vidya.
The whole point of this description in the context of the Panchagni Vidya is to describe us how the event of Births happens? What are the stages of the descent of the soul into the physical embodiment? It has to be understood through philosophical point of view. The point made out is that higher realms are activated by the consequences produced by our actions, in turn which become causes of our descent.
Two paths are laid before the soul after death. One is Devayana, the Northern path. It is for those who sought Wisdom. The other is Southern Path~ Pitriyana.
A Single autonomous Process:
Universe and its various constituents are only parts of it, internally connected. The whole universal manifestation is a single process, and it is a continuous process. The process of Births and Deaths are to be explained from this point of view, where all phenomenal experiences are part of this single autonomous process and are connected to ultimate cause. There is some law which works in some particular manner on account of which we are compelled to follow this course of repeated cycle of Births and Deaths, known as transmigration.
The whole universe is our father; the entire universe is our mother:
There are various stages of manifestation. How the birth of an individual takes place, how a child is born? For that, the underlying philosophy or science to be understood. What we the common people know that child is born from womb of the mother. That is true. But the process of birth takes place throughout the cosmos. All the governing forces of nature (of the Universe) are active in the production of a single child.
The whole cosmos is behind the scenes. The Universe is the parent of the little baby. That is the ultimate cause. It has connection with cause of all causes (Causal), by a chain of causal connections.
When the secret is known, no one will say, ” It is my son or my daughter.” It is neither yours neither mine. It belongs to that from where it has come.
It has come from the cells of this Universe. It has not come automatically in the seminal essence of the father or the womb of the mother. A system works here with a process since primordial time. It is the quintessence of every particle of the whole of Nature.
That is why we say:
“Brahmanda is in the Pindanda” ~ The macrocosm is in the microcosm.
The Panchagni-Vidya is a meditation [UPASANA], —it is not an outward ritualistic sacrifice; it is a contemplation by the mind in which it harnesses every aspect of its force for the purpose of envisaging the reality.
Existence itself is regulated by the presence of the sun. The sun is the cause of life on earth. But who is the cause of the sun? The sun is also an effect of certain factors, —we may call them astronomical. That vibration is precedent and anterior to what we call the manifestation of even the causal condition of this world. Prior to all this, something else must be there, and prior to that, again, another thing, and so on, so that even our insignificant life in this world, in this physical body, can be said to be completely controlled by factors which are transcendent, beyond the sun and the moon and the stars, and where we go in this manner of tracing our cause back, we cannot know. This is the point driven home into the mind of Gautama by Pravahana Jaivali in the context of the explanation of the Panchagni-Vidya.
There is a mutual dependence between the outer world and the inner world of the individual. Our thoughts influence the atmosphere. We must realize that thoughts are vibrations, and it is nonlocal. These vibrations are not isolated activity inside our brain. The vibrations emanate like an aura to certain distance from the body of a person. The distance depends upon the intensity of the intensity of the aura (good vibes~ harmonious thoughts.) Therefore, cumulative effect of the vibrations produced by all the individuals can bring very good result in that environment in return.
Readers are requested to study further on the following topics/websites.
There is a cycle, as it were, a wheel rotating in the form of give-and-take between the gods in the heaven and the human beings here. We give something and we are given back something. Nature gives us what we give to it in the form of our own deeds in this world. We do not get what we do not deserve, and we cannot get, also, what we have not given actually. What we have given, what we have deserved, what we have parted with in the form of a sacrifice, that is given back to us, with compound interest sometimes, according to the law of Nature. On account of this cyclic activity of Nature, in which the individuals get involved through their actions, there is rainfall. So, we can imagine how rains occur.
- Back to the Truth: 5000 years of ADVAITA by Dennis Waite. **
- THE TEN PRINCIPAL UPANISHADS: Translated by Shree Purohit** Swami and W.B.Yeats
- Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracharya: Translated by Swami Gambhirananda.**
- Commentary of ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami Krishnananda.
- ChAndogya Upanishad: By Swami GuruBhaktananda.
- EIGHT UPANISADS -VOL-1 with commentary of Sankaracharya, Translated by SWAMI GAMBHIRANANDA.
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: by Swami Madhabananda.
- THE TAITTIRIYA UPANISHAD: SHIKSHAVALLI-ANANDAVALLI-BHRIGUVALLI with Sri Shankara’s Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidanandera Saraswati.
- A-U-M Awakening to Reality: By Dennis Waite***
- Panchadasi: Swami Vidyaranya:
- Information available on internet.