Q: What is the significance of fire in yoga, and what is its role in our practice?
A: Fire is a living truth—a divine force that resides within everything and everyone. Fire is the link between earth and heaven. It initiates and maintains the process of change in everything that exists. Seated in every cell of our body, fire witnesses our every thought, word, and deed.
Fire is at the core of yoga practice. In the spiritual sense, fire refers to the core of consciousness, the infinite divine energy, which has the capacity to be and to become whatever it wishes. Fire is shakti, the creative energy of the divine. At the level of individual consciousness, fire expresses itself as the indomitable power of will and determination. All forms of change—physical, mental, and spiritual—are totally dependent on fire. It is fire that enables a yogi to cultivate and maintain a radiant body and a brilliant mind. Yoga sadhana is the process of attending the fire within us and cultivating an ever-deepening understanding of the divine nature of fire.
Q: I have been told that a fire ceremony is done to nourish the forces of nature. But as these forces are infinitely more powerful than we are, I am having a hard time understanding how we can nourish them by performing a ceremony.
A: The universe is a web of interconnected energy. Our health and happiness are intertwined with the health and happiness of others. Our inner strength and spiritual wisdom—or lack of it—affect the world around us, and vice versa. We are totally dependent on the forces of nature—soil, water, air, and light. They are constantly supplying us with nourishment. If they are weak, we cannot be healthy. Yet all around us we see evidence that the health and vitality of our planet is declining. The quality of water is so poor that we cannot drink directly from our streams. The oceans are polluted. Our air is contaminated and our soil is depleted.
The scriptures tell us there are rituals that revitalize the forces of nature and uplift the soul. One such scripture is the Bhagavad Gita, which tells us, “All living beings depend on food. The life-sustaining quality of food is dependent on rain. The life-giving capacity of rain is dependent on yajna (fire ritual). The strength of yajna depends on how we perform our actions.”
The fire ritual is a means discovered by the sages of detoxifying and revitalizing the forces of nature. As part of this ritual, we offer ingredients that are detoxifying and nourishing into the fire. Fire transforms them into subtle energy, and the power of mantra carries that subtle energy to the intended realm. The action of fire, the willful determination of the sages, the intelligent energy generated by mantra, and the intention of the person performing the fire ritual—together bring fresh life to the forces of nature.
We have polluted the air through our actions. Air pollution has contaminated the clouds, causing the life force in the clouds to suffocate. As a result, the earth is receiving lifeless rain—rain that has no power to nourish the soil. Thus our vegetation is malnourished, as are all forms of life that depend on vegetation. The energy generated by the fire ritual is like a tonic for the clouds. The revitalized clouds bring nourishing rain; nourishing rain produces healthy plants; healthy plants bring health to those who consume them. Healthy individuals create a healthy society, and a healthy society is a skilled and conscientious steward of the planet.
The yogis tell us all of these results follow when we commit ourselves to the fire ritual. This is not a mere ceremony, but a profound and demanding practice. It requires a thorough understanding of the science of fire, which includes knowledge of how to construct a fire pit, how to arrange the wood properly, how to ignite the fire, and how to invoke and propitiate the benevolent forces of nature. In an authentic fire ritual, the ingredients offered are herbs, grains, solidified sugarcane juice, and ghee. Determining the proper proportion of these ingredients requires extensive knowledge of the properties of various herbs and how to combine them for specific results.
The final factor in an authentic fire ritual is the power of mantra. The mantric forces polarize the subtle energies released from the ingredients offered into the fire. This power, combined with the willful and selfless determination of the practitioner, polarize the energy released from the fire offering to heal and nourish specific aspects of nature. When all of these factors are combined—an understanding of the science of fire (including a properly constructed fire pit and a properly laid fire), ingredients properly prepared, mantra, and the willful determination of the practitioner—they remove the fire ritual from the realm of ceremony and transform it into a potent spiritual practice with the power to nourish life at every level.