Perhaps the most universal concept in all systems of spiritual praxis is the sacred flame. The incendiary imagery of the flame is an apt metaphor for an almost unlimited range of themes ranging from the guiding light of inspiration to the metabolic function of digestion. The medical system of Ayurveda cherishes and worships the sacred flame Agni, the ancient primordial cosmic intelligence which lies hidden in matter, subtle to gross, and guides all transformation throughout the universe, from the digestion of food to the perception of light. In the Vedas, the sacred flame Agni is the sacrificial fire as well as the Cosmic messenger which digests the ritual prayers feeding the Devas.
Agni resides in the etheric rays of the Sun, and functions as the ultimate gateway for spiritual transformation and maturation without which mankind is unable to navigate the dark realms of spiritual obscuration and ignorance. Agni manifests in the Yogic “fire” of our spiritual zeal, “tapas”, cultivated and generated by dedication, focus and commitment. Fire, the sacred flame, is ubiquitous and embodied on all levels of the body and cosmos directing and controlling digestion, absorption, assimilation and transformation.
Ayurveda delineates a vast array of activities for the cosmic fire element including digestion and absorption of food / sensory experience, maintenance of somatic thermal regulation, mental clarity, will power and enthusiasm, sense of humor, confidence and contentment and immune system integrity. Ayurveda views the state of the sacred flame of Agni contained within the psycho- corporeal apparatus as foundational for true vitality and offers a unique and specialized diagnostic schema to evaluate the psychosomatic metabolic digestive heat delineating four levels or states of the embodied flame: Manda Agni or slow, Tikshna Agni or sharp / quick, Vishama Agni or irregular, and Sama Agni or balanced.
This classification system outlines the potential states of the sacred flame within the mind and body representing both psychological and corporeal transformative capacity as well as immune function and metabolic efficiency. From a spiritual perspective, these four states become effective tools to evaluate the state of one’s spiritual “flame” and allow a teacher or discriminating individual to determine when one is traveling the pathway to the Soul or an illusory detour of solipsistic confusion.
The “slow” flame:
This is the lack of motivation and perception so common in today’s spiritual dark age. The modern mind takes in more than it can digest so to speak and lacks the fire of mental digestion to effectively discriminate or evaluate in an effective manner. The slow or hypo-functioning mind is unable to think critically and weigh various viewpoints and consequently takes the path of least resistance leading to malaise and spiritual ennui so common in states of depression and apathy. The mental palate of this individual is accustomed to bland mediocrity, choosing simple “flavors” and standardized often fundamentalist paradigms which provide illusory security yet yield no deeper richness nor challenges, a mental and spiritual junk food.
The “sharp” flame:
This is the fanatical obsessive compulsive state of the modern mind which burns in an out of control manner. This is the mind obsessed with goals and the obtainment of items or resources turning anyone and anything, even the earth itself, into a product which can be bought and sold to the highest bidder. This is also the flame which fuels the fanatical fundamentalist paradigms, from Abhrahamic monotheisms to cults of personality which masquerade as radical elitist spiritual saviors. These paradigms often seek to impose their beliefs upon all levels of reality, spiritual to political, and brand anyone outside of their impotent fanaticism as heretical and “evil.”
The “irregular” flame:
This is also common fare for the modern mind, the constantly shifting and changing mind-state which is never grounded or balanced and is always drifting between somnambulistic stupor and fanatical fundamentalism in a seemingly unquenchable state of consumption. This irregular state fluctuates from hypo to hyper-functional and in the process slowly drifts further and further away from any type of foundational course traveling this winding maze of delusion once again in solipsistic stupor.
The “balanced” flame:
This is the ideal state of being which Ayurveda strives to cultivate and stoke in the mind and body in order to create an ideal state of physical, mental and spiritual well being for the individual, community and cosmos. In this dark age of delusion and confusion, this balanced state of the inner sacred flame becomes in many ways the ultimate goal and the only true hope for transformation and survival.
The spiritual aspirant must constantly evaluate the state of his or her inner flame particularly on a mental and spiritual level, and must by all means see all sources of spiritual guidance via the diagnostic lens of Ayurveda. The inner flame must be cultivated and honed to a state of feral adaptability and possess a transformative capacity able to rise and fall as needed always adapting to the unique demands encountered in the modern world. This inner fire is the foundational resource for the Tantric Physicist, the individual who seeks to transform the mind and body into an alchemical environment which can withstand and digest all levels of experience without seeking to escape the world via a transcendent moralistic delusory paradigm.
On the path of Tantra, Agni becomes the guiding light and source of protection and inspiration allowing the esoteric explorer the exquisite joy of immersion of the senses into Maya, the body of the Dark Goddess, without experiencing delusion or destruction. The tantrika is not afraid or threatened by the Dionysian chaotic flux of the cosmos but rather thrives and is nourished by it due to the cultivation of a powerful yet adaptable inner flame.
One can easily see the metaphors of this powerful adaptability within specific systems of martial arts such as Wing Chun whereby the practitioner is able to sense, act, and react spontaneously without fear absorbing and redirecting the force of the attacking opponent. If the practitioner is slow, rigid or over-committed, the chance for error is great and injury will concomitantly ensue. The Tantric Physicist exists within the world in much the same manner allowing his or her life to be a spontaneous dance of absorption and redirection rather than fear and retreat.
This is also why the science of Tantra is seen as a dangerous path as this ability to spontaneous experience life is challenging, non-linear in expression, and requires a highly cultivated spiritual fire of perception which burns spontaneously reacting as needed to the constant Dionysian expression of the cosmos. The medical system of Ayurveda provides extensive protocols for the cultivation of the sacred flame in the body and mind while the esoteric sciences of Tantra and Yoga provide extensive protocols for cultivation of the subtle fire of tapas on all levels of the esoteric body. This is why the meta-system of Tantric Physics and its Esoteric Hinduism can be used in a wide array of primordial contexts or spiritual systems as it teachers the individual to honor and cultivate the inner flame to a state of feral adaptability rather than a dull or obsessive fundamentalist stupor. The physical body is transformed from a “sensuous prison” into an alchemical landscape of endless fertility and Pandaemonic potential.
And this is consequently why it is feared and demonized by systems or individuals existing in an imbalanced state of the inner flame. The Tantric Physicist sees the senses and sensual desires as doorways for transformation which must be opened rather than closed, the physical body as a Dionysian landscape which must be explored and exercised rather than morally sanitized and exorcized. The wilderness of the mind and body, so threatening to the modern conditioned mind as well as to the fundamentalist paradigms, becomes a fecund landscape of inspiration and nourishment.
Just as we need a return to a respect for the natural environment of the Earth so too do we need a return to a primal respect for the Daemonic physical landscape of the body and its hidden sacred fires, fires which guide and protect rather than condition and commodify. This requires fearless individuals and fearless teachers who are willing to journey deep into the dark soil of the Soul and discover the hidden solar pools of Agni which can function as deep sources of inspiration and light in the dark age of the Kali Yuga.
Craig Williams is the author of Tantric Physics Vol I: Cave of the Numinous. He has been a practitioner of Yoga, Ayurveda, Tantra, Jyotish and Vedanta for more than 25 years and has undergraduate degrees in Religious Studies, Philosophy and English Literature and a Master’s Degree in Oriental Medicine. He is also an ordained gnostic Bishop and an adept of Esoteric Voudon.
Craig lives in Austin, Texas where he operates a busy private medical practice specializing in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda (www.AyurvedaAustin.com). He is a licensed Acupuncturist and a Professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.