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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.
The first question asked by the King:
King then asked second question:
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:
The Fifth question:
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.
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:
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.
“Brahmanda is in the Pindanda” ~ The macrocosm is in the microcosm.
Readers are requested to study further on the following topics/websites.
- 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.