Exploration of Indian Yoga Psychology

A blog on the Transpersonal Psychology of Indian Yoga and the Spiritual Genius of India (another blog of the same author – http://integralmusings.aurosociety.org)

Psychology of the Gods–M.S. Srinivasan

vedicWe have discussed in our earlier article nature of the Vedic revelation. But the more important part of Vedic spiritual culture is the inner psychological and spiritual discipline or in other words, the Yoga pursued by the Vedic seers. And this Vedic Yoga contains a treasure of psychological insights. But the key to the riddle of Vedic Psychology lies in the symbolism of the Gods. This article examines some of the fundamental psychological conceptions of the Vedic Yoga.


Vedic gods: their psychological significance; the normal psychological faculties of man; indra and agni: the illumined mind and will; the maruts: the storm-troopers of indra; panis: the robbers of the light

Vedic Gods: Their Psychological Significance

The Vedic gods represent in general subjective powers of consciousness and in particular those faculties, powers or states of consciousness beyond the “normal” or ordinary human mind. One of the central intuitions of Vedic psychology—which in a way anticipates the Freudian past as well as the transpersonal future of modem psychology—is that the ordinary conscious mentality is only an intermediary com­municating channel between the subconscient ocean below it and the superconscient ocean above. In a hymn of the Rig Veda, Rishi Vamadeva describes the whole of existence as established above in the seat of the divine Purusha, the Superconscient being and below, in the dark ocean of the subconscient, ananta samudra hrdi anti- rayusi. The Vedic gods are the powers of the superconscient Self in man. The Vedic psychology is primarily the psychology of the working of the gods in man. The Vedic sages are not much interested in the minute analysis of conscious or subconscious mentality of man. For their aim is not to dwell in but to go beyond the conscious or subconscious ranges into the superconscious kingdom of the gods.

The Normal Psychological Faculties of Man

But still the Vedic sages have made a simple and effective classification of the ordinary mentality which we have to know before proceeding to the celestial psycho­logy of the gods. There is a pregnant verse in the Rig Veda which prays to the Maruts hrdatasto manasa dhiya. Thus hrda heart, manas mind, and dhi intelligence are the three distinct psychological faculties of man recognised by the Vedic sages. They correspond to the citta—manas—buddhi of the later development in Indian psycho­logy. They are the faculties of the ordinary human consciousness. The Vedic hrda or heart corresponds somewhat to the concept of citta in Rajayoga; it is not merely the emotional being; it is the first, the most primitive and the mostly subconscious strata of human consciousness. As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“The heart in the Vedic psychology is not restricted to the seat of emotions; it includes all that large tract of spontaneous mentality, nearest to the subconscient in us, out of which rise the sensations, emotions, instincts, impulses and all those intuitions and inspirations that travel through these agencies before they arrive at form in the intelligence. This is the heart’ of the Veda and Vedanta, hrdaya, hrd, or Brahman. There in the present state of mankind the Purusha is supposed to be seated centrally. Nearer to the vastness of the subconscient….” 1

This is especially true of the state of consciousness of the humanity of the Vedic age. The heart of the humanity of the Vedic age was much less conscious and nearer to the subconscious than the heart of the modern man. It was made much more of spontaneous subconscious instincts than of conscious mentalised emotions. The emo­tional being of the Vedic man was probably stationed somewhere near the abdominal centre, the muladhara of the Tantrics and not exactly at the chest centre which is the seat of conscious emotions. From this stuff of subconscious and instinctive mentality of hrda evolves the conscious mentality which is made of two layers: first, the sensational vital mind, manas, which is predominantly the mind of sensations, feel­ings and desires, and second, the thinking and discriminating intelligence buddhi. For the mind in general the Vedic sages used the word mati which includes the whole of mental consciousness, the sensational, emotional and thinking mind. Total illumina­tion of this mental consciousness of man and all its faculties is a part of the Vedic ideal of self-perfection. Again as Sri Aurobindo explains:

“Right thoughts, right sensibilities,—this is the full sense of the word sumati; for the Vedic mati includes not only the thinking, but also the emotional parts of mentality.  Sumati is a light in the thoughts; it is also a bright gladness and kindness in the soul.”2

This is the Vedic classification of the ordinary human consciousness. But as we have said already, the Vedic sages were not interested in a minute analysis of the psychology of the ordinary mind. Their primary interest was in that which is beyond the ordinary mentality, how to enter into this higher consciousness, bring down its powers into the lower mentality and enter into the superconscious kingdom of the Gods.

Indra and Agni: The Illumined Mind and Will

Among the Vedic gods, two gods stand out prominently and are invoked cons­tantly by the Vedic Rishis; they are Indra and Agni. They are the constant inner helpers and companions of the Vedic Rishis in their mystic sacrifice. They are also constantly praised by the Vedic Rishis in their hymns as the path-finders in their inner journey and guides and helpers of humanity as a whole. What is special about these two gods which make them so important to the Vedic Rishis? The reason will become apparent when we examine the psychological significance of these gods in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s Vedic interpretations.

In a cosmic sense Indra is the lord of Swar, Heaven. The Swar or Heaven in the Vedic cosmology is the plane or the world of divine Mind. Thus Indra represents the universal divine Mind. And Agni, in a general cosmic sense represents the universal divine Will, more specifically the will which guides the evolutionary march of Nature from matter to life and from life to mind and from mind to whatever spiritual destiny awaits the future of man. In a psychological sense Indra and Agni represent respec­tively their corresponding self-expressions in the individual human consciousness as the illumined Intelligence and the aspiring Will in man.

Now we can see why the Vedic Rishis gave the highest importance to these two gods. As cosmic godheads, Indra and Agni are the two divine powers who are directly involved in guiding the earth and humanity in its evolutionary march. And in a psychological sense, Indra and Agni represent the two higher faculties which are indispensable for success in the inner spiritual path. For in Yoga it is not the thought and feeling of the ordinary or surface rational and emotional being which can lead the way. It is only the higher and deeper Will of the subliminal being illumined by an intuitive intelligence which can give the right lead and direction in the Yogic path. As Sri Aurobindo points out:

“In reality thought is only a scout and pioneer; it can guide but not command or effectuate. The leader of the journey, the captain of the march, the first and most ancient priest of our sacrifice is the Will. This Will is not the wish of the heart or the demand or preference of the mind to which we often give the name. It is that inmost, dominant and often veiled conscious force of our being and of all being, Tapas, Shakti, Shraddha, that sovereignly determines our orientation and of which the intel­lect and the heart are more or less blind and automatic servants and instruments.”3 Again it is not thought or emotion but Will that ignites the flame of aspiration which burns upwards, keeps it alive and burning, shatters the obstacles and purifies the being by burning away all the dross. The Will is the priest of sacrifice who ignites the sacrificial fire in the altar of our heart. Can there be a more appropriate symbol for this aspiring flame and force of the Will, the inner Fire in man than Agni.

If Agni represents the higher aspiring will Indra represents the higher intuitive intelligence or the illumined mind beyond the intellectual, emotional and sensational mentality. Indra is called the Gopati. The word Go, which means cow, was used consistently by Vedic sages to symbolise inner illumination. Cows in the Vedic symbolism represent the herds of light. Indra is gopati or the lord or of the herds of light which means the lord of inner illumination. As Sri Aurobindo explains the psychological significance of Indra:

“The principle which Indra represents is the Mind-Power released from the limits and obscurations of the nervous consciousness. It is this enlightened Intelli­gence which fashions right or perfect forms of thought or of action not deformed by the nervous impulses, not hampered by the falsehoods of sense. The image presented is that of a cow giving abundantly its yield to the milker of the herds. I he word go means in Sanskrit both a cow and a ray of light. This double sense is used by the Vedic symbolists to suggest a double figure which was to them more than a figure; for light, in their view, is not merely an apt poetic image of thought, but is actually its physical form. Thus, the herds that are milked are the Herds of the Sun,—Surya, God of the revelatory and intuitive mind, or else of Dawn, the Goddess who manifests the solar glory. The Rishi desires from Indra a daily increase of this light of Truth by his fuller activity pouring rays in a rich yield upon the receptive mind.”4

The Maruts: The Storm-troopers of Indra

The other important member of the Vedic celestial family is the Maruts or the wind-gods. The Maruts are the gods of the mind. For wind or air in the ancient tradi­tions represent the principle of mind, as water the vital force and earth the principle of matter. So the Maruts are the powers of the higher illumined intelligence. But unlike Indra who represents more the aspect of light, knowledge and illumination, the Maruts represent the force and energy aspect of the higher mind. They are “energies of the mentality, energies which make for knowledge”’ and “powers of Thought which by the strong and apparently destructive motion of their progress break down that which is established and help to the attainment of new formations.”6 We can say the Maruts are the storm-troopers of Indra. They are described as fierce and violent gods who forcefully break through obstacles in the path. The Maruts symbolise the forceful, energetic, adventurous and courageous thought, the Kshatriya energy in the mind which breaks down mental blocks, demolishes old and established mental formations and has the courage to venture into unexplored vistas of knowledge. The Brahmana, force of knowledge of the Indra will be incomplete without the Kshatriya, energy of the Maruts.

These are the three gods Indra, Agni and Maruts who play an important role in the Yoga of the Vedic Rishis. There are other equally important gods like Surya who represents the supreme Light, the Lord of the supramental world of Truth, Right and the Vast, satyam, ritam and hrhat, the goal of the Vedic Yoga; we name what Sri Aurobindo calls the “solar quartemary” the Varuna, Mitra, Aryaman and Bhaga representing the four spiritual powers or qualities of the Surya; we have also the very frequently hymned goddess of the Dawn Usha representing the dawn of inner illu­mination. These gods have more of a spiritual than a psychological significance; they come into prominence during the later and more advanced stages of the Vedic Yoga. We will come to them a little later. First we have to be clear about the psychological dimensions of the Vedic Yoga before coming to the spiritual.

Panis: The Robbers of the Light

The other significant psychological symbol of the Vedas is the battle between the gods and the demons. This Vedic image like many others was grossly misinterpreted by Western scholars as the war between the gods of the fair-skinned and long-nosed Aryan invaders and the dark-skinned and snub-nosed Dravidians natives. We will not enter into the historical controversy regarding the Aryan invasion theory. But from the psychological point of view the meaning of the symbol is obvious; it is the “inner war without escape” which every spiritual seeker has to fight and conquer to realise the higher aim of life. The image of war in the Vedas is the symbol of this inner war between the evolutionary powers of Light in man and the universe—which aspire and work for truth, strength, harmony, unity and light—and the anti-evolutionary force of Darkness in man and the universe. The terms used by Vedic sages for these dark powers are revealing. They are called by different names like Vala which means coverer, Vritra, tearer, and Panis who are described as miser traffickers and robbers. The names very clearly indicate the method of working of these hostile forces. The gods or the powers of light work by an increasing inner illumination which gradually unveils the undivided unity and wholeness of Truth and creates a progressive har­mony and unification of the divided and conflicting elements in our own being and the universe. The dark powers, Valas, Vritras and Panis, work by the reverse process of covering, dividing and tearing the wholeness and unity of life and being, and stealing the redeeming light of Truth from man.


1.       SABCL. Vol. 10, p. 259.

2.       Ibid., p. 251.

3.       Ibid., Vol. 20, pp. 275-76.

4.       Ibid., Vol. 10, pp. 250-51.

5.       Ibid., p. 257.

6.       Ibid., p. 243.

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This entry was posted on February 22, 2013 by in Vedic Yoga.