The Ancient Solar Yoga

By Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri)
From “Vedic Yoga: The Path of the Rishi” (Lotus Press 2014)
For International Yoga Day, the summer solstice, June 21, 2015

What if the most powerful force for energizing all Yoga practices were as obvious and visible as the Sun? The fact is, that it is. The Sun, properly understood is not merely an outer but an inner energy source, reflecting the supreme light of Yoga both in our own hearts and in the world of nature around us.

The Sun is the most powerful influence in nature, responsible for the light through which all life on earth functions, and sustaining the force of gravity through which the earth revolves. The Sun is the ruler of our solar system and all that occurs within it. Yet though we all may welcome the sunlight every day, we seldom consider the spiritual reality of the Sun or honor the sacred presence and higher spirit behind it. We take the sunlight for granted or value it for providing us better health or an alternative energy source!

However, if we look at traditional cultures from throughout world, we discover a strong awareness of the Sun as a spiritual force, and a secret doorway to a higher reality. We note extensive religious, yogic, astrological, and shamanic traditions that revere the Sun in various ways and seek to understand the wisdom and grace behind its outer form, intuiting through the Sun the supreme force behind all existence. The Vedic Yoga is a “Yoga of light,” which is also a “Solar Yoga” or “Yoga of the Sun.” Vedic Dharma is probably our most well-preserved ancient system of the original religion of light and the Sun.

The Sun is the visible representation of the deity, the veritable face of the Gods. The Sun is the great symbol of the Self, spirit or Divine presence in the world (Atman).

The bright face of the Gods has arisen, the eye of Mitra, Varuna, and Agni. He has filled heaven, earth, and the atmosphere, the Sun, the Self (Atman) of all that is stable and moving.

            Kutsa Angirasa, Rigveda I.115.1

The Sun is no mere luminous material globe, but the source of life, intelligence, love, and consciousness – light in the inner sense. We are all rays of the central Sun of consciousness that illumines the entire world. Throughout the ancient world, continuing in some areas down to present day, we find a worship of the Sun as part of a greater religion or spiritual path of light, enlightenment, and Self-realization. This “solar religion” or “solar Dharma” occurs along with an honoring of the sacred Fire, the mystic Moon, and other aspects of light – as part of a worship of nature as a whole and of the cosmic mind behind it.

The Sun is the One God, the Light of lights, the God of gods of the ancient world. This religion of the Sun pervaded the ancient world. It predominated among the Egyptians, Persians, Hindus, and Scythians, to name but a few, extending to the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, and Pueblo Indians of the New World. Ancient Pre-Christian European traditions of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans, and Slavs, contain strong solar symbolisms. Monotheistic approaches like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam contain a symbolism of light. There is a strong solar symbolism in Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Shinto, and many other traditions. Such spiritual teachings of light link the human being to the Sun and regard us as “children of the Sun,” forms of light on earth taking birth to fulfill the solar will towards greater life and consciousness. We could say that the natural religion of our species is the religion of the Sun. Yoga is first taught to humanity by the Sun God in various forms as Vivasvan, Hiranyagarbha, or Savita. The ancient solar religion of humanity reflects its original Yoga tradition.

While scholars downplay the spiritual implications of ancient solar cults, as we begin to understand native traditions, it is becoming clear that there is a mystic meaning behind the ancient worship of light. Earlier humanity was probably more spiritual than our current humanity, owing to its ability to connect with the inner Divine light behind the great illuminating power of the Sun. This ancient path of light beckons us both from the future as well as the past, as the ecological age dawning today requires that we once more honor the sacred and Divine presence in nature, especially in the Sun.

The Vedic Religion of the Sun and Light

The Vedas are based upon a solar symbolism as a religion of light and of the Sun. The Sun is the supreme deity of the Vedas, the Divine power in heaven, which functions in the atmosphere as Lightning, and on earth as Fire, which are the three main manifestations of light in our visible world. The Vedic ritual involves making offerings to a sacred fire in order to connect with the beneficent powers of the solar deity. The Vedas teach that we are children of the Sun born on earth to carry forward the Divine light of truth.

The Vedic Yoga involves resurrecting the Sun out of darkness, which means returning to the Sun of our own true Self that is hidden in the darkness of the material world and the ego-mind. Each one of us is a Sun, a universal light of consciousness, but that solar aspect of our being must be regained through the process of Yoga Sadhana, which is a cultivation of the light within us.

Chanting mantras in the sunlight, particularly along with standing in water and offering the mantras to the solar deity, is one of the most powerful Mantra Yoga practices. It works particularly well with solar mantras like Oṁ, Hrīṁ, or the Gayatri Mantra. Sound is also light and we can use the Sun to energize all mantras. Hrīm is the most important of the bija mantras said to carry the power of the Sun. But the solar energy is the root of all mantras. The Vedic mantras are said to dwell in the rays of the Sun. They number 432,000, which is 360 X 1200, reflecting a solar mathematics of the zodiac.

The Gayatri Mantra

The Gayatri Mantra to Savita, a powerful form of the Sun God, is the most important of all Vedic mantras, and one of the most commonly used mantras in Yoga practices. The Gayatri Mantra is an important tool for drawing the spiritual energy of the Sun into our minds, hearts and bodies, serving like a solar panel drawing in energy for our inner life.

We meditate upon the supreme light of the Divine transforming Sun (Savita) that he may stimulate our intelligence.

                        Gathina Vishvamitra, Rigveda III.62.10

            Savita represents the Divine light of awareness hidden within us that Yoga serves to activate in order to bring about the evolution of our consciousness beyond time and mortality. Here we see the seeds of Yoga explained in terms of a solar symbolism.

There are many Gayatri based hymns in the Vedas, as Gayatri also refers to one of the three main Vedic meters in which more than a hundred hymns are composed. There are two other Gayatris to the Sun God in the Rigveda that are beautiful and powerful, which I have commonly used. This second Gayatri Mantra of Vishvamitra occurs in the Rigveda as the very verse immediately before the more famous Gayatri Mantra. It lauds the Sun as Pushan, the power of perception, which serves to nourish us from within.

Who discerns and sees together all the worlds, may that nourishing Sun (Pushan) be our protector.

            Gathina Vishvamitra, Rigveda III.62.9

The next Gayatri brings in Aditi, the Divine Mother and a seeking of bliss and happiness. Aditi is the great World Mother and all the Sun Gods called Adityas are regarded as her children.

Sinless before the infinite Mother (Aditi), in the impulse of the Divine Solar father (Savita), may we meditate upon all things as beautiful.

            Shyavashva Atreya, Rigveda V.82.6

Vedic rituals, like Agnihotra, are performed at sunrise, noon, and sunset, the main points of solar transformation during the day.  The deity of the Gayatri Mantra, Savita, represents the transformational power inherent in the Sun, not only to change night into day, but also to take us beyond the darkness of the ego into the infinite light of the higher Self. Savita is the deity of Yoga and meditation, who sets the yogic process in motion within us as a manifestation of the Divine Will. Yet we should remember that this Gayatri is only one of many Vedic verses to the Sun that can be used in a similar manner.

The Purusha or Higher Self as the Being in the Sun

Yoga and the Vedas are linked together by the common conception of the Purusha or Atman, the Supreme or Universal Self, which is the goal of classical Yoga and the main subject of the Upanishadic teachings. The Purusha or Atman is identified with the Sun both in Vedic and Yogic thought.  The idea of union with the Sun occurs in several Vedic verses, to quote a few examples below.

I have known that Supreme Person, of the luster of the Sun beyond darkness. Only knowing him can one go beyond death. There is no other path for transformation.

                        Shukla Yajurveda XXXI.18, Shvetashvatara Upanishad III.8

While the solar Purusha is mentioned specifically in the Yajurveda, in the Rigveda it is lauded indirectly through the Vedic Sun Gods.

Arising from the surrounding darkness, seeing the higher light, we have reached the Godhead, the Divine Sun, the supreme light.

 Praskanva Kanva, Rigveda I.50.10

From my father, I have received the wisdom of truth. I was born even as the Sun.

Vatsa Kanva, Rigveda VIII.6.10

The great Upanishadic prayer is to merge into the Solar Self. The famous Isha Upanishad ends with a chant to merge in the solar Self, which also contains the oldest reference to the So’ham mantra. In fact, the great Hamsa or Swan of yogic thought is originally a Vedic Sunbird.

Sun, O nourisher, single seer, controller, power of the Lord of creation, remove your rays and gather up your heat that I may see your most auspicious form. The Purusha (Person) that is within the Sun beyond, He am I!

            Isha Upanishad 16

The Upanishads tell us that the Sun chants Oṁ as it moves in the sky. The Sun is not only the source of light, but also that of sound and mantra. Mantra Yoga is rooted in the worship of the Sun as in the inner light.

Thus indeed that which is the upward chant (udgītha), that is the primal sound (praṇava). That which is the primal sound that is the upward chant. That which is the Sun beyond is the upward chant. He is primal sound. He chants Oṁ as he moves.

                        Chandogya Upanishad I.5.1

The Sun and the Branches of Yoga

Relative to the Yoga of Knowledge, the inner Self or Atman is symbolized as the Sun, ever shining in the hearts of all. After introducing the famous mantra “I am Brahman” (aham Brahmāsmi) or “I am God,” the Upanishads quote a verse from the Rishi Vamadeva in the Rigveda that states, “I was Manu and the Sun.” Relative to the Yoga of Devotion or Bhakti Yoga, the first and main images used in worship were that of the deity in the Sun disc, Surya-Narayana. This is the background of the ancient Vaikhanasa tradition of India, which is still followed in the famous temple of Tirupati in South India, the largest and wealthiest shrine in the country.

A solar symbolism enters into the great trinity of Hindu deities. Brahma, the Creator, has a solar aspect. Vishnu, the preserver, is worshipped as the Sun, particularly as Surya-Narayana, the Sun as the cosmic person who enters into the hearts of all beings. Shiva, the transformer, is honored as the supreme deity behind the Sun, particularly as Rudra, who represents the highest light and color of the Sun. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are identified with the three aspects of solar energy as creating, sustaining, and transforming the universe.

The Solar Yoga and Solar Yogis

Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita states that he taught the original Yoga first to Vivasvan, the Sun God, who passed it on to Manu, the primal human sage, who is called the son of the Sun.  Krishna is traditionally regarded as the Yogavatara or “incarnation of Yoga,” a status that is not afforded to any other human personage. This statement of Krishna refers to the Vedic teaching that we as human beings are descendants of the Sun.

Manu, the son of the Sun, is the first king, law giver and great Yogi in this particular world-age. From him originate both the great solar and lunar dynasties of kings, with Rama and Buddha hailing from the solar side, and Krishna and Arjuna from the lunar side. This statement of Krishna is similar to that of Vamadeva quoted earlier from the Rigveda stating he was Manu and the Sun. Krishna here relates to the royal sages or Rajarshis. There were other priestly sages or Brahmarshis associated to the Sun. Rama is also connected to the Sun.

The traditional founder of Yoga Darshana or the “Yoga system of philosophy” – which the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali represents – is said to be Hiranyagarbha, which means the “Golden Embryo,” and is identified with the Sun. Kapila, the founder of the Samkhya system, is similarly identified with the Sun.  In the Mahabharata, Krishna states: “As my form, carrying the knowledge, eternal and dwelling in the Sun, the teachers of Samkhya, who have discerned what is important, call me Kapila. As the brilliant Hiranyagarbha, who is lauded in the verses of the Vedas, ever worshipped by Yoga, so I am also remembered in the world.”

Yajnavalkya is an important figure in both Vedanta and Yoga. He is the most famous of the Upanishadic sages, to whom most of the Brihadaranayaka, the longest of the ten main classical Upanishads is ascribed. He is said to have received his Vedic mantras directly from the Sun God as Aditya. The Yogi Yajnavalkya, an ancient Yoga text, reflects a strong solar symbolism. It has extensive teachings on Oṁ and the Gayatri Mantra. It states, “The Sun, the Self of the world, is the prana placed in the heart.”

The Sun and Prana

Relative to the practice of Yoga, the Sun as Prana is a key to many pranayama practices. In the Upanishads, the Sun is identified with Prana:

The Self bears himself in two ways, as Prana and as the Sun. Such are his two paths, outer and inner, which revolve by day and by night. The Sun is the outer Self and Prana is the inner Self. The movements of the inner Self (Prana) are measured by those of the outer Self (the Sun).

            Maitrayani Upanishad VI.1-3

Our prana is our inner Sun that marks our inner days and nights that follow a similar course as the outer days and nights.

This Upanishadic idea reflects older Vedic views. Yajnavalkya’s Shatapatha Brahmana states that we have 10,800 breaths by day and night. This equals 720 breaths every 48 minutes (1/30 of a day), which he identifies with the general number of days and nights in a year. It amounts to one breath every four seconds. Our term of 21,600 breaths lasts for a life of 100 years. This means that we can make our lives longer by breathing longer and make our lives shorter by breathing more quickly.

In the yogic view of the subtle body, the right or solar (Pingala) nadi governs fire, heat, and activity at a physiological level. The Sun is present physically as the solar plexus fire in Hatha Yoga, and as the Atman in Raja Yoga. The key to pranayama is to draw in the prana of both the inner and the outer Suns.

The Sun and Meditation

One of the simplest and most important meditation techniques is to meditate upon the Supreme Self or Divine presence as the Sun within the heart, of which the mind and brain is but an outer reflection like the Moon.

Relative to modern Yoga masters from India, Sri Aurobindo taught an integral Yoga of Self transformation through the Supramental light and Shakti, which he lauds under the symbolism of the Sun. Ramana Maharshi, the greatest of the sages or Jnana Yogis, speaks of the heart and the Self as the inner Sun.

In Tantric Yoga as in the Upanishads, the Sun at a deeper level, is identified with the heart. The spiritual fire force of Shakti in the root chakra and the lunar or water force (Soma) of Shiva in the crown chakra unite in order to create it. Agni is the red point, drop or sphere (bindu), and Soma is the white bindu, which unite to create the Sun as the golden bindu.

Forms of the Solar Divinity

The Sun God, which is the god of light, has many forms throughout the universe. All forms of light are forms of the Sun, including all the stars and planets or lights in the sky. In our own body, the solar light has created the head, the brain, and the light of our intelligence, particularly the eyes, and our powers of perception and discrimination. The Sun sustains prana. The Sun is the heart. The Sun is the soul within the heart.

The Sun has heavenly or sky forms as the Sun and the planets that shine by its reflected light. The stars themselves are distant Suns. The Sun is regarded in Vedic thought as the gold or golden light of heaven. Yet there are also earth forms of the Sun or solar energy. There is the sunlight reflected on the ground and rocks or absorbed by the waters. There is the sunlight absorbed by plants, which allows their sap to rise. There is the sunlight absorbed by animals, the solar warmth that allows them to move. We human beings strive to take in the sunlight or to be in the sunlight. This is an unconscious honoring of the solar deity.

The solar force is symbolized by certain animals, notably the horse, and birds like the eagle and falcon. The Sun is the foundation of Dharma or cosmic law, portrayed in Vedic thought by the wheel of Dharma or the svastika. The Sun is the light of law and truth. The Sun has many forms in the individual as prana, the eye, perception, intelligence, discrimination and awareness, but above all as the inner Self or Atman. It is the light of the Sun that is the field of light and energy, the subtle body, behind our physical encasement.

Names of the Sun God

The Sun God has the largest number of names of any of the Vedic deities. These reflect different aspects or powers of light, transformation, or Dharma for which the Sun is the prime motivating power.

  • Sūrya – the one who sets everything in motion; the most common name for the Sun.
  • Savita – the power of inspiration, motivation, and higher evolution, Yoga and meditation.
  • Āditya – the unbounded light and primal intelligence.
  • Mitra – the Divine friend and lord of compassion .
  • Varuṇa – the Divine lord, giver of wideness.
  • Āryaman – the Divine companion, friend, and helper is the third after Mitra and Varuna, and together rule the three higher heavens or rochanas beyond the ordinary three realms of earth, atmosphere, and heaven.
  • Bhaga – the blissful lord, Bhagavan.
  • Puṣan – the nourisher, the seer, the guide of the soul beyond death and darkness.
  • Viṣṇu – the pervader, ruler of the highest heaven.
  • Tvaṣṭaṛ – the maker of forms, associated with the great Goddesses.
  • Hiraṇyagarbha – the golden seed or fetus; the causal body.
  • Indra – Indra as the Supreme Lord is often a name for the Sun or higher light, though more commonly he relates to the atmosphere.
  • Vivasvān – the radiant one, associated with the dawn.
  • Prajāpati – the lord of creatures, more common in later Vedic texts.

Surya Dhi and Surya Yoga

Surya Dhi is the illuminating power of our higher intelligence that reveals all things like the Sun. Surya Yoga is the culmination of the Dhi Yoga, the union with our higher Self that, like the Sun, is pure light.

Seers of the vast illumined seers yoke their intelligences and their mind. The one knower of the ways of wisdom ordains the invocation. Great is the glory of the Divine creative Sun.

Shyavashva Atreya, Rigveda V.81.1, Shvetashvatara Upanishad II.4, Shukla Yajurveda XI.4

Here, yoking is done of the mind, manas, and Dhi, powers of intelligence by the Divine Sun or Atman as Savita. This Vedic Yoga of controlling the mind and buddhi is well evidenced here.

That Lord the ruler of the stable and moving world, who stimulates our intelligence (dhiyam jinvan), we invoke for grace. So that nourishing Sun will give growth to our knowledge, our protector and inviolable guardian for well-being.

            Gotama Rahugana, Rigveda I.89.5

This Sun God is the One Creator and Lord of all the worlds, the Sun of suns, the God of Gods, the Light of lights. The Veda invokes him in various forms, here as the provider of nourishment, Pushan, to stimulate our intelligence and guard over the unfolding of the treasures of the spiritual life. Yet there are various forms of Dhi Yoga connected with the other Vedic forms of the Sun God. There are seven or twelve Sun Gods or Adityas as representing the seven rays of the Sun or the twelve months of the year.

The Sun Gods uphold the stable and moving world. They are the guardians of all the universe. With a profound intelligence (dīrghā dhiyo), guarding their celestial powers, the carriers of truth, they note our debts.

            Gritsamada Shaunaka, Rigveda II.27.4

The very rising of the Sun every day indicates our own deeper light, purity and Self-realization as the Rishi Vasishtha lauds:

When rising today, you declare the truth to Mitra and Varuna that we are sinless, may we abide in the unbounded Godhead, O Aryaman, your beloved singers!

            Maitravaruni Vasishtha, Rigveda VII.60.1