Mathomathis would like to present an article on Purusha Sukta by author Zachary F. Lansdowne Ph.D (who served as President of the Theosophical Society in Boston, has been a frequent contributor to The Esoteric Quarterly. His book The Revelation of Saint John, which provides a verse-by-verse analysis of the entire Revelation, was reviewed in the Fall 2006 issue). The following article is a continuation from the previous article The Purusha Sukta | The Sacrifice of Purusha | 102. Verses 11 through 16 present, for our consideration, some prescriptive models of human evolution.
11. When they divided Purusa, how many ways did they apportion him? What was his mouth? What were his arms? What were his thighs, his feet declared to be? What are the stages of human evolution, and what body parts of the Planetary Logos consist of human beings in those stages?
The first, third, and fourth verses include the idea that the physical body of the Planetary Logos incorporates all human beings living on our planet. This idea is similar to the notion in Christianity that the disciples of Christ form his body. For example, the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ … Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” If we accept that all human beings are incorporated into the physical body of the Planetary Logos, then it seems reasonable to think that a group of similar human beings would form an organ or part within that macrocosmic body. Bailey has a similar notion when she says, “The human atom is a part of a group or center in the body of a heavenly Man, a Planetary Logos.” Here, the term “human atom” signifies a human being who is regarded as a unit within a greater body. Assuming that Purusha (or Purusa) corresponds to the Planetary Logos, the above verse says that the physical body of the Planetary Logos is divided into separate parts. Let us suppose that this division is based on the stages of human evolution because evolution is a major theme in the Purusha Sukta. Similarly, the division of the animal kingdom in the eighth verse is based on the stages of animal evolution. Let us also suppose that all people at the same stage of evolution have a function that is analogous to that of a body part belonging to a human being, so we can say that those people form that same part within the body of the Planetary Logos. Given these suppositions, what body parts of the Planetary Logos consist of human beings in their various stages?
12. His head was the Brahmana [caste], his arms were the Rajanaya [Kshatriya caste], his thighs the Vaisya [caste]; from his feet the Sudra [caste] was born. People polarized in their causal body are like priests and act as the mouth of the Planetary Logos; people polarized in their mental body are like soldiers and act as His arms; people polarized in their emotional body are like merchants and act as His thighs; and people polarized in their physical body are like servants and act as His feet.
The Purusha Sukta is the oldest extant text that mentions the four traditional castes (or classes) of Hindu society, and it is the only hymn in the Rig Veda that mentions them. These four castes are: Brahmins, or priests; Kshatriyas, or warriors; Vaisyas, or merchants; and Sudras, or servants and laborers. Although discrimination based on caste is against the law under the Indian Constitution, caste distinctions based on birth unfortunately continue to play a socially destructive role in India even today. Paramahansa Yogananda, a teacher and writer on Hinduism, states that the caste system known today is quite different from the system that originated in Vedic times: These [four castes] were symbolic designations of the stages of spiritual refinement. They were not intended as social categories. And they were not intended to be hereditary. Things changed as the yugas [cycles of time] descended toward mental darkness. People in the higher castes wanted to make sure their children were accepted as members of their own caste. Thus, ego-identification caused them to freeze the ancient classifications into what is called the “caste system.” Such was not the original intention. In obvious fact, however, the offspring of a brahmin may be a sudra by nature. And a peasant, sometimes, is a real saint. Yogananda regards the four castes as symbols for the stages of spiritual refinement and provides the following interpretation of them:
1. Sudra. “At his lowest level of refinement, man thinks not only of, but with, his physical body. Tradition typifies him as a farm laborer, though that is simplistic.”
2. Vaisya. “When a person begins to use his intellect, he first does so strictly for personal gain, thinking always, ‘What’s in this for me?’ The obvious example of such a person is a greedy merchant.”
3. Kshatriya. “When one develops further in spiritual refinement, he inclines to use his intelligence for the general good rather than only for his own benefit. Such a person is typified as the soldier—not the marauding sort, but one who readily sacrifices his own life, if need be, for the sake of others.”
4. Brahmin. “Finally, when the individual evolves spiritually to the point where he wants only God, he is like idealized images of a priest.”
Bailey describes four polarization of consciousness that are quite similar to Yogananda’s stages:
1. “During this [first] period, the man is polarized in his physical body and is learning to be controlled by his desire body, the body of feeling or of emotion. He has no aspirations save such as pander to the pleasures of the body; he lives for his physical nature and has no thought for aught that may be higher.”
2. “The second period covers a point in development when the polarization is largely in the emotional body and when lower mind desire is being developed … He is capable of a deep love for teachers and guides wiser than himself, of a wild unreasoning devotion for his environing associates, and of an equally wild and unreasoning hatred, for the equilibrium that mind achieves, and the balance that is the result of mental action, is wanting in his makeup.”
3. “Now, on entering the third period, comes the most vital point in the development of the man, that in which mind is developing and the polarizing life shifts to the mental unit … His desires turn upward instead of downward, and become transmuted into aspiration,—at first aspiration towards the things of mind, and later towards that which is more abstract and synthetic.”
4. “It is by meditation, or the reaching from the concrete to the abstract, that the causal consciousness is entered, and man—during this final period—becomes the Higher self and not the Personality … At the close of that period, liberation is complete, and the man is set free.” “Causal consciousness,” mentioned in the last quotation, takes place when the polarization of consciousness shifts from the mental body to the causal body. The concept of the causal body is not in contemporary Western psychology but is in Hinduism. Sri Aurobindo, a Hindu philosopher and teacher, shows that symbols of the causal body are incorporated elsewhere in the Rig Veda and gives this description of causal consciousness: “But this causal body is, as we may say, little developed in the majority of men and to live in it or to ascend to the supramental planes, as distinguished from corresponding sub-planes in the mental being, or still more to dwell consciously upon them is the most difficult thing of all for the human being.”
Next, let us consider how the four castes are allegorically related to the body parts listed in the above verse. The Brahmins, who are the teachers of humanity, act as the mouth of the Planetary Logos, just as the mouth is the organ of speech in the human body. The Kshatriyas, who are the defenders of society, act as His arms, just as the human body uses its arms for self-defense. The Vaisyas, who buy food from farmers and then sell it to the rest of the community, act as His thighs, just as the thighs receive digested food from the stomach and then store it for the rest of the body. The Sudras, who are the servants for the other castes, act as His feet, just as the feet provide support and transportation for the rest of the body.
In conclusion, we consider Bailey’s four polarizations of consciousness to be essentially the same as the four stages described by Yogananda, which in turn are symbolized by the four castes. Moreover, the function of the people in each caste is analogous to that of the associated body part.
13. The moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born; from his mouth both Indra and Agni [fire]; from his breath Vayu [wind] was born.
By being mentally receptive, human beings may grasp the vision of their essential divine nature; they then may build a thought-form of themselves as the ideal person and use the will that comes from their illumination, along with pranayama, to transmit this thoughtform into their lower nature. The above verse can be interpreted on either a macrocosmic or microcosmic scale. On a macrocosmic scale, the verse symbolically depicts the steps of the Planetary Logos in His own creative process. According to the second verse, the Planetary Logos is the prototype for human beings; and so the steps that the Planetary Logos pursues are also steps that human beings could pursue on a microcosmic scale. In what follows, only the microcosmic meaning of those steps is considered, which requires every symbol in the verse to be understood as though it represented some aspect of human life. Aurobindo states, “The [Rig] Veda is a book of esoteric symbols, almost of spiritual formulae, which masks itself as a collection of ritual poems.” Aurobindo did not publish a commentary on the Purusha Sukta but did give commentaries on several other hymns in the Rig Veda. The verse mentions three deities that appear in those other hymns: Indra, Agni, and Vayu. To understand the microcosmic meaning of these Vedic deities, we draw upon Aurobindo’s insights.
Indra is the King of Heaven in Hindu mythology. Several hymns in the Rig Veda describe the battle between Indra, the leader of luminous beings, and Vritra, the leader of ignorant and evil forces. This timeless battle between good and evil, however, has a psychological interpretation because it could be thought of as taking place between the good and evil aspects within every human being. Aurobindo gives the meaning of Indra within this psychological context: “The principle that Indra represents is Mind-Power released from the limits and obscurations of the nervous consciousness. It is this enlightened Intelligence that fashions right or perfect forms of thought or of action not deformed by the nervous impulses, not hampered by the falsehoods of sense.” Agni is the Hindu god of fire. The Rig Veda frequently characterizes Agni with the Sanskrit word kavikratuh, which means “will of the seer.” Because of this characterization, Aurobindo concludes, “Psychologically, then, we may take Agni to be the divine will perfectly inspired by divine Wisdom, and indeed one with it, which is the active or effective power of the Truth-consciousness.” In other words, Agni is the purpose, or intention, that comes from illumined consciousness in which there is no misapprehension or error.
Vayu is the Hindu god of wind. In Sanskrit literature, vayu is used more commonly in the sense of physical wind or air, but is sometimes a synonym for prana, which is a vital, life sustaining force that flows through the human vital body. Pranayama is the practice of controlling prana through controlling one’s breathing, and this practice is said to lead to an increase in vitality in the practitioner. With regard to the Rig Veda, Aurobindo observes, “Vayu on the other hand is always associated with the Prana or Life-Energy that contributes to the system all the ensemble of those nervous activities that in man are the support of the mental energies governed by Indra.” The verse incorporates two other celestial symbols: the moon, “which was born from his mind,” is taken as mental receptivity because, as Blavatsky says, “The moon … shines only by the reflected light of the sun”; and the sun, which was born “from his eye,” is taken as the vision of one’s own divine nature because, as Blavatsky also says, “The Sun is … the symbol of Divinity.”
Bailey gives the essential microcosmic meaning of the verse, describing the steps that a human being could follow to achieve his or her spiritual perfection: “He begins to grasp the vision of the spiritual man, as he is in essence. He realizes the virtues and reactions which that spiritual man would evidence in physical plane life. He builds a thought form of himself as the ideal man, the true server, the perfect master … He creates a pattern in his mind that hews as true as he can make it to the prototype and that serves to model the lower man and force conformity to the ideal. As he perfects his technique, he finds a transmuting, transforming power at work upon the energies that constitute his lower nature until all is subordinated and he becomes in practical manifestation what he is esoterically and essentially.” Bailey also mentions the role of pranayama: “The power and subtlety of the pranayama process lies in the potency of the thought behind the act of breathing and not at all really in the inflation and deflation of the torso.”
14. From his navel arose the air; from his head the heaven evolved; from his feet the earth; the [four] directions from his ear. Thus, they fashioned the worlds. From transmuting emotional sensitivity, human beings become intuitively aware of the spiritual world; from being focused in the head center, they become unified with the spiritual world; from rendering service, they help the material world; from developing inner listening, they receive and can distinguish between mental impressions generated by their own subconscious mind, other human beings, their inner divine voice, and the spiritual kingdom. Thus, they act as a bridge between the spiritual and material worlds. The above verse symbolically depicts certain qualities and powers of the Planetary Logos.
He, however, is the prototype for human beings, so His qualities and powers are within the reach of human beings. The Theosophical Quarterly explains this key notion: “Through what divine dispensations are these marvelous attainments within the reach of every valorous man and woman, disciples and lay disciples of either sex? Here, if our understanding be justly based, is the essence of the whole matter. These graces and spiritual treasures are within our reach because they are the qualities and powers, the very being, of the heavenly Purusha, the Divine Man, the Logos; they are within our reach, because the Heavenly Man, who might have dwelt apart in celestial solitude, submitted instead to sacrifice, offering his life and being, giving that life as the sustenance of many.” Next, consideration is given only to the microcosmic meaning of the verse, which provides a description of potential qualities and powers of human beings and how they could be developed. The first phrase says, “From his navel arose the air.” Bailey cites a quotation (attributed to Annie Besant) saying that “the ‘navel’ represents the solar plexus, perhaps the most important plexus of the sympathetic system,” and considers “air” to be a symbol of “the illumination of the intuition.”
Thus, this phrase suggests that emotional sensitivity, which is centered in the solar plexus, can be transmuted into intuitive awareness. Bailey also speaks of “the transmutation of the astral life into the buddhic consciousness,” where “astral” is a synonym for emotional, and “buddhic” is a synonym for intuitive. The second phrase says, “from his head the heaven evolved,” which depicts a technique of meditation and its effects. Bailey describes the technique using phrases such as the following: “Raise the consciousness to the head center; hold the consciousness at the highest possible point.” Aurobindo describes its effects: “One must open the silent mental consciousness upward to all that is above mind. After a time one feels the consciousness rising upward, and in the end it rises beyond the lid that has so long kept it tied in the body and finds a center above the head where it is liberated into the Infinite. There it begins to come into contact with the universal Self, the Divine Peace, Light, Power, Knowledge, Bliss, to enter into that and become that, to feel the descent of these things into the nature.” Here, “a center above the head” is the head center, or chakra, which is located in the vital body and is just above the top of the head in the dense physical body.
The third phrase says, “from his feet the earth.” As in the twelfth verse, “feet” symbolizes service to other human beings. Bailey writes, “But unless service can be rendered from an intuitive understanding of all the facts in the case, interpreted intelligently, and applied in a spirit of love upon the physical plane, it fails to fulfill its mission adequately.” The service depicted in this phrase is effective because the earlier phrases imply that it is rendered from an intuitive understanding and applied in a spirit of love. The fourth phrase says, “the [four] directions from his ear.” This phrase uses “ear” to symbolize inner hearing and indicates that such hearing could take place in four directions. Bailey also writes about four kinds of mental impressions that can be inwardly heard: “The disciple is taught to be sensitive to ‘impressions’ coming from his own soul and, later, from the Master and the Ashram.
He is taught to interpret these impressions correctly by means of his trained and illumined mind; he learns to distinguish between that which comes from his own subconscious nature, that which is telepathically recorded as coming from the world of thought and from the minds of other men, and that which comes from the world of spiritual being.” Here, “soul” denotes the inner divine voice, and “the Master and the Ashram” represent the spiritual kingdom. The fifth phrase says, “Thus, they fashioned the worlds.” In other words, through fulfilling the earlier phrases, human beings connected the spiritual and material worlds. Bailey speaks of this ability: “Every human being who reaches the goal of light and wisdom automatically has a field of influence that extends both up and down, and that reaches both inwards to the source of light and outwards into the ‘fields of darkness’ … When large numbers of the sons of men can so act, then the human family will enter upon its destined work of planetary service. Its mission is to act as a bridge between the world of spirit and the world of material forms.”