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Studies in Indian and Comparative Mysticism


[Plotinus (A.D. 203 - 270) Neoplatonism]
[Proclus (A.D. 410 - 485)]
[pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (c. A.D. 500)]
[Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. - A.D. 50)]
[Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150 - 215)]
[Origen (c. A.D. 185 – 254)]
[General conclusions]
[Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta]


[2] If we try to explain what mysticism is, we are immediately faced with the fact that even within its genuine province the word has been used in more than one sense. First, it designates what is described as a direct experience of communion or union with the divine or ultimate reality or at least with what is believed to be its dimension beyond the world of sense perception and rational reflection. Second, it is frequently understood as a theological or metaphysical doctrine, perhaps built around the experiences of a mystic, either by himself or others or both. Of these two components, experience is primary while mystical doctrines, both philosophical and theological, in so far as they can be distinguished from descriptive accounts of mystical experience, are derivative. The third constituent of mysticism is the mystical path, a certain way of life with incorporated spiritual training in contemplation, designed to lead in stages to the realization of the mystical goal. The mystical path may be based purely on a teacher's experience and described as such. More often, however, it is coupled with, or at least described in terms of, metaphysical or religious doctrine.

[5] All modern writers on mysticism include within its range traditions belonging to different times and parts of the world. But its concept has been formed in the context of European civilization which has its roots in ancient Greece, drew substantially from Judaic tradition and was basically Christian before it underwent the process of secularization. [What about Indian mysticism?] It is therefore inevitable that in a paper like this one turns also to history.

The origin of mysticism has to be sought in the mystery cults of prehistoric Greece which survived well into the historical period and penetrated later into Rome. Since they were secret, not much is known about them. But in general one can say that some kind of mystical experience was evoked by rites of initiation into the mysteries and on special occasions various ecstasy-inducing techniques were used such as sacred movements and dances, recitations and enigmatic utterances. There were also enactments of sacred events ('mystery plays'). The application of these techniques was often preceded by periods of fasting and chastity. There are also reports of individuals who achieved 'union with the deity and the god, it was believed, spoke through them, giving prophecies.'

Besides the component of mystical experience and the methods of bringing it about, the mysteries already had their doctrinal element also. Since a fair deal is known about the mystery doctrines, they may not have been as secret as the rites, if they were secret at all. While the initiatory rites and ecstasy-inducing techniques probably relied also on the effect of novelty, surprise and awe, the teachings provided the motivation for joining the mystery movement, for undergoing purifications and perhaps for adopting, temporarily or permanently, a stringent discipline in life. The teachings of mysteries can be described as ethical, eschatological and soteriological. In the atmosphere of life's uncertainties in those rough times and in the face of the gloomy [6] prospects, in the then current Greek religion, of a shadowy Hades after death, the outlook of rich rewards in the afterlife, a favourable lot in future lives on earth and the possibility of final rebirth into immortality represented highly desirable achievements, attracting mentally alert candidates and furthering their experiences of ecstasy during the sacred rites.


The exact state of elaboration of the mystery doctrines is not known, but they influenced philosophers, some of whom were initiated and incorporated mystery doctrines into their teachings. As philosophy was not yet a purely academic discipline they also lived it practically, sometimes together with their disciples in monastic communities. Two pre-Socratics have to be mentioned in this context, Pythagoras, who left Samos for Crotona in southern Italy in 530 B.C., was described by B. Russell as a combination of Einstein and Mrs Eddy. He was probably initiated into Orphic mysteries and it may be worth mentioning that it was suggested that he had come from India, his name being explained as a hellenization of the Sanskrit pitå gurus (= father teacher). {M. Hadas and M. Smith, Heroes and Gods, New York 1965, p. 42.} He was the contemporary of the Buddha and one of his utterances, 'There are men and gods and beings like Pythagoras', suggests that he regarded the expression 'Pythagoras' as a designation for a special category of beings rather than a personal name which is reminiscent of the usage of the term buddha in the texts of both early and Mahayana Buddhism. Several passages in the Buddha's discourses related in the Pali Canon resemble the above statement, In one of them (M 4,36) when a priest who saw unusual signs about the Buddha asked if he was a god, a man, a ghost etc., he answered each time in the negative. To the direct question who, then, he was, he retorted he was a buddha (= an enlightened one). Pythagoras taught metempsychosis as did the Orphics as well as the Buddha and other Indian teachers. The soul fared well or badly in the cycle of lives alternating between the underworld and this world according to its moral merits and state of purity. Eventually salvation could be won by bringing about complete harmony in the purified soul by means of philosophical contemplation in which the perception of harmony in music, in the cosmos and in mathematical relations played an important part. Like the Buddha, and other Indian gurus, Pythagoras founded a community of followers abiding by regulations designed to facilitate a pure and contemplative life.


Empedocles of Agrigentum (c. 483 - 423 B.C.), also an Orphic initiate, apparently knew the teachings of Pythagoras. He regarded himself as a fallen god who had had to go through various incarnations to regain the divine status which he accomplished in his last life. His reported death in the fiery Etna, though more spectacular, would be in keeping with the taste of contemporary Indian saints, and particularly [7] those of Jain persuasion, for death in flames on reaching enlightenment and seeing their life's task accomplished [questionable] (though some preferred starving to death). Empedocles does not seem to have added anything substantially new to what we know of Orphic and Pythagorian teachings, but he still makes an impressive figure. Plato drew from all three mentioned sources.


Although we do not know whether (427 - 347 B.C.) was a practising mystic, there was enough mysticism in his philosophy for it to become the basis of medieval mystical doctrine. To what degree Socrates (469 - 399 B.C.) contributed to it is a long-standing problem, but he may himself have been a practising mystic. He was known to enter into states of deep contemplation, lasting even for hours, in which he completely ceased to communicate with his environment. Plato might have followed his teacher's example, though he would have done it less conspicuously.

The basis of the mystical doctrine which Plato provided was his vision of a hierarchically ordered spiritual universe. The one ultimate reality was the idea of good and below it, proceeding from one to many, are the other subordinate ideas or forms, forces and laws of the ideal world of which the phenomenal world of passing things and events is only a shadowy reflection. Finding it difficult to express his system in precise terms, Plato often resorted to poetical myths. Although his philosophy has endured for centuries with many works written in its spirit or trying to explain it, it is still poetry which even today is best able to convey to us the mystic flavour of Plato's philosophy, like Shelley's famous verse:

The One remains, the many change and pass;
The light of heavens abides, earth's shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity.

Plato's idea of the good as the absolute to which men's souls would aspire and make cognitive approaches in contemplation did not prove sufficiently evocative emotionally for the purpose of mysticism as practice. After all, the mystery cults had always centred their rites and teachings around a god-figure. But Olympic god-figures were becoming outdated and mystery religions needed a more philosophical concept of god. This was provided, paradoxically if not ironically, by Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.), for whom God was a necessary deduction in his process of reasoning. Viewing the world as real, he saw it as consisting of a hierarchy of actual substances which required a 'prime mover' to set and keep the world going. But being pure form, God does [8] not do the moving himself; he is the object of desire of lower substances which move to achieve perfection since God is perfection itself. Psychologically God seems to be something like pure mind and contemplates his own perfection, which may also mean the perfection of all things. Since 'there is something divine in man', man also has the capacity for contemplation and can rise to the supreme act of vision (theoria) akin to God's, if he so chooses, for he is free and may determine his own direction in Iife. It is clear that Aristotle's theoria is far from what we mean by 'theory' today and it is difficult to imagine that he developed his ideas about God purely by reasoning. I think that some measure of mystical practice of contemplation must be assumed in his life. On the other hand, he supplied all the rational arguments for the acceptance of the necessity of God for many people throughout the centuries till the present day and influenced in the same way also the mystical doctrine which enabled mysticism to flourish under dogmatic religious systems. Both Christianity and Islam made use of this opportunity.

Mysticism furthermore profited from the vacuity of Aristotle's idea of God in a far superior way. It enabled advanced mystics to transcend the all too concrete, even human features of the Christian God and allowed them even in the climate of a strict theistic religion to point beyond the limiting idea or a personal God through the method which became known as via negativa. God is beyond the concrete and beyond the finite; any characteristic ascribed to him would be a limitation; he is not this and not that. [There is also a typical Indian philosophy of the negative, even more elaborate. All the above is a bit nonsensical as far as its contribution to ascetic mysticism is concerned.]

[Plotinus (A.D. 203 - 270) Neoplatonism]

A further contribution to mystical teachings came from Stoicism in its concept of an immanent Spirit present both in the world as its soul and in man as a seed of God in his soul, but it was Neoplatonism which became the real foundation of mysticism. Starting as a metaphysical teaching, it became eventually a kind of magic religion, trying to rival Christianity. It failed as religion, but won as philosophy, though translated into Christian terms. The creator of the Neoplatonic system, Plotinus (A.D. 203 - 270) is reported to have traveled far into the East 'to familiarise himself with Indian wisdom'. {25 Karl Jaspers, The Great Philosophers, London 1966 (German ed. 1957), vol. 2, The Original Thinkers, p. 38.} The name of his teacher, Ammonios Sakkas, sounds like a deliberate reversal of the name 'Sakyamuni' (i.e. the sage from the Sakya clan) under which the Buddha was known in India, to begin with outside the circle of his followers and later also in the Mahayana sources.

In the teachings of Plotinus we again meet Plato's hierarchical structure of being, but it is expressed in a more systematic and conceptually more accurate way, as is to be expected in post-Aristotelian times. At the top is the One or Above-Being, at the bottom matter or non-being. Both are unthinkable, indeterminable, formless, without quality and quantity, but the One is perfect and dynamic, while [9] matter is deficient and passive. Being is a flow from Above-Being to non-being through three descending stages. The first, that of the Spirit, is the intelligible world of pure forms, Ideas or archetypes of things. The second is the stage of the soul - the world-soul and individual souls. The third is the stage of nature, which receives life from the world-soul, and of beings in the world of nature which receive life from individual souls. As in all metaphysical teachings, the reason for the process of emanation from Above-Being to non-being, the One to the many, remains obscure, despite abounding explanations. But reasons for the ascent to be desired are clear. The soul can sometimes look upwards, and seeing the world of spirit realizes its condition as imprisonment in the body and even becomes ashamed of the body. Since the One, frequently also called God by Plotinus, is the centre of the soul, it is possible to find one's way to it in ecstatic unification. According to Porphyry, Plotinus experienced this state four times during his life. Before his death he said to a friend he would try to achieve it for ever.

Although Plotinus was occupied all his life in teaching and writing down his philosophy, it was not for him an end in itself, but the way to the One. Philosophical speculation was prompted and inspired by the One and was therefore the starting point of the journey to it. The starting point of the speculation itself is not arbitrary, but is determined, as Jaspers put it when writing about Plotinus, 'by the experience of our reality'. In the course of speculative thinking based on our experience a process of transcending is initiated so that thought approaches what can be called contemplation of the archetypal or the spiritual. Eventually the mind arrives at contemplation of the One and recognizes it as its origin and this fills it with joy. In this interpretation we can see how the process of formulating a doctrine initiates the mystical path and how the practical steps on, and the completion of, the mystical path in turn inform the doctrine. Doctrine and experience go here hand in hand and since the experience transcends the world of nature and mere speculation, the concepts used for the doctrinal formulations become more and more vacuous and the highest is called by the entirely nondescriptive term 'the One'.

Besides its links to Plato and Aristotle, the mystical system of Plotinus has clear and congenial parallels only in India where the idea of the One beyond being and non-being, from which emanate becoming and further stages of manifested reality by virtue of its inner dynamism, was first expressed in a hymn of the Rig Veda (10,129) before 1000 B.C. The hierarchical structure of the existential planes of the spiritual and material universe appears in different elaborations both in Hindu and Buddhist systems and the One again reappears as the only truly existing reality called brahman in Hindu Vedantism and sunyatå [10] ('emptiness' or 'voidness') in Mahayana Buddhism. Its experience reached in contemplation is described as the unity of being, knowing and bliss by the former and as enlightenment by the latter.

[Proclus (A.D. 410 - 485)]

With Plotinus all that philosophy could do for mysticism had been done, but most (though by no means all) people need religion to start them off and Neoplatonism tried to meet this need, but it did it incongruously and unsuccessfully. However, there was one great successor of Plotinus, namely Proclus (A.D. 410 - 485), important for the transmission of the system to Christianity in a modified form. He described the emanation process from the One to lower planes as proceeding in triads. As in Plotinus, the human soul in Proclus' view always has the choice open to it of withdrawing into its inner sanctuary to find God, who is immanent to it though transcendent to the world. He describes this experience as enthousiasmos, i.e. as being possessed by God, and in the Socratic or Platonic way as a kind of divine madness.

[Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (c. A.D. 500)]

Proclus directly influenced pseudo-Dionysius Areopagita (c. A.D. 500), the father of Christian mysticism.

But before this, mystical tendencies of early Christianity, informed also by the Judaic tradition which in turn drew at that time from Hellenistic sources, developed into what came to be known as 'mystical. theology'. This term originally meant 'direct, secret and incommunicable knowledge of God received in contemplation, as opposed to "natural theology", the knowledge of God obtained through creatures, and "dogmatic theology", the knowledge of God by revelation'. We can, I think, understand mystical theology as mystical experience developed in the context and therefore interpreted in the light of dogmatic theology based on faith in a theistic revelation. Theism can therefore be regarded as its doctrinal admixture.

[Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. - A.D. 50)]

Judaic mysticism goes back to the experiences of the prophets who claimed direct communion with God. [But that was one-way communication, top-down] Psalms and other books of the Old Testament are full of mystical allusions. However, by the time of Christ its stream seems to have dried up and the mystical philosophy of Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. - A.D. 50) used Platonic inspiration to interpret Old Testamental mystical experience and to explain philosophically the process of creation. In it Logos is the mediator between God and man. Logos is the divine power of creation, the idea of ideas, the paradigm and the archetype. Having a double nature, Logos dwells in all single ideas of the ideal world, which is in fact the mind of God who thinks those ideas, as well as in the single things of the perceived world. Although an infinite power of an infinite God, Logos is also a person, an archangel, the first-born son of God and his agent in the world, acting as helper, advocate and intercessor of men. Man is capable of contemplation when leading a quiet 'theoretical' life. Then he can obtain an inner revelation in mystical ecstasy which is higher [11] than Biblical revelation. In this ecstasy human consciousness is darkened and even obliterated by the experience of the proximity of God or even union with him. Philo influenced the developing Christianity and its theology as well as mysticism. He was also, in a way, a predecessor of Plotinus.


Like the prophets of Israel, Christ can be seen as a mystic who expressed his experience of union with the ultimate reality in terms of his unity with God as father. The experience of the presence of God appears to have been a frequent phenomenon in the gatherings of early Christians and it can be classified as mystical, though it was apparently the charismatic influence of the person of Christ which prompted it rather than a doctrine and some special method, prayer being the only preparation for it. St Paul's conversion accompanied by a vision of light is another instance of spontaneous mystical experience under the charismatic influence of Christ's personality. But as the Master became more remote in time, his charisma gradually lost its immediacy and the time came when the Christian doctrine started taking over and getting more elaborate. With it started also the mystical doctrine and with it . more definite forms of contemplation were now needed to bring about the mystical experience. Some individuals with a strong mystical sense followed a solitary ascetic path and founded the tradition of desert hermits.

The forming of mystical theology or the Christian way of mystical experience crystallized in the atmosphere of Neoplatonic religion and Gnostic teachings, but was firmly rooted in the Christian religion whose foundation was faith. The idea of gnosis (= knowledge) was developed in conscious contradistinction to the phenomenon of strong religious faith (pistis). This distinction was not clearly seen before and is even today frequently obscured: believers often insist on having knowledge through faith. But gnosis was understood as real knowledge like that gained by the senses, albeit on a suprasensory level and concerning suprasensory matters. It was also higher than knowledge gained by mere reflection or inference, though reflection was used to formulate Gnostic teachings based on suprasensory cognition. Christian mystical theology accepted much of what was current in Gnosticism, but insisted on its foundation on the faith in Christ as a starting point, its aim being a kind of Christ-experience as the culmination of the mystic path.

[Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150 - 215)]

The Christian mystic path was one of withdrawal from the world, self-conquest and contemplation as defined by Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150 - 215), the oldest-known writer on mystical theology. The conquest of oneself is a way of negation and abstraction of all that is material and personal and first it leads one into inner darkness - this image is an echo from Philo and it was again used by pseudo-Dionysius [12] and reappeared centuries later in St John of the Cross as the dark night of the soul. The experience of darkness, as Clement explains, is in fact a plunging into the 'vastness of Christ' and through it gaining knowledge of God, not as he is, but as he is not. So God cannot be known, not even in contemplation, during this life, but his image is sealed on the soul by the Son. Despite Neoplatonic language and Gnostic reasoning, faith remained the pivot of Clement's approach. Like other patristic authors, he is not regarded as a mystic, but rather as a writer on mystical theology.

[Origen (c. A.D. 185 – 254)]

Origen (c. A.D. 185 - 254), however, was known to be dedicated to contemplation and asceticism and seems to speak from experience of rising to 'one mystical and unspeakable vision' and communion with God. He was also credited with spiritual gifts like prophecy and other by-products of mystical practice. The third century then saw a great flowering of contemplative communities in the wake of St Anthony of Egypt, a great ecstatic.

[General conclusions]

[15] But what general conclusions can we draw from this examination?

First, I think, it is clear that there is nothing specifically European and Christian about mysticism as such. Its beginnings in the twilight of Greek history may point to its even older origin in Indo-European antiquity, [Indian pre-history, especially the Harappan culture which Werner doesn’t deem to know of, strangely enough] which would explain the developed Indo-Aryan mysticism in the Vedas and the fact that traces of mysticism can also be detected in other less-documented areas of Indo-European tradition. But the fact that mystical trends [rather vague terminology] can be found also in different cultures of the Semitic group, to say nothing of the Chinese example, points clearly to the universality of the phenomenon of mysticism. [Well, it isn’t found in southern Africa, Australia, North and South America; so it’s not so universal as Westerners like to think] Of the Semitic traditions the Judaic one contributed substantially [a bit] to the formation of the European form of mysticism, but other traditions had undoubtedly their say as well. Mutual influence can be clearly observed at different times and can be assumed to have been stronger and more far reaching than the available historical evidence for it suggests, particularly between Hellenistic and Oriental, and here chiefly Indian, traditions. Christian mysticism is therefore a direct outcome of a merger between the Judaic and Hellenistic streams [rivulets], with a rivulet [an ocean] coming from India, and enlivened by the mystical dimension in Christ's mission [which in its turn is influenced by Indian traditions through the Essenes] and in the early Christian communities. European mysticism only illustrates the universality of mysticism as a human experience.

Second, we can see that despite doctrinal and terminological differences there is common core to mystical experiences, although room is left for a variety of accompanying phenomena, such as concrete [16] visions or unusual powers, hardly touched upon in this paper. The common core appears to be the experience of union or oneness with the ultimate reality which is beyond any conceptual grasp and is therefore called by conceptually vacuous expressions or by the religious expression 'God' which suggests the idea of an infinite person incorporating all perfections. Some doctrinal and terminological differences are also caused by misjudging the stages of attainment and their different demarcation and assessment. In addition there are problems connected with the types of language used and the reasons, conscious or otherwise, for using a particular type of language.

Third, there appears to be a remarkable degree of agreement over the general outlines of the mystic way, while concrete techniques for entering the state of contemplation may be variegated.

If all these factors are taken into account, it seems to me that an identity of purpose and of final realization in the developed mystical traditions of the world can be assumed. One important point still to be considered is that of the ontological contents or otherwise of the ultimate mystical experience. I think that there are two pitfalls here which an historian of religion should avoid. The first is that of creating another mystical doctrine, which nowadays would probably mean adopting and perhaps modifying an existing one. As a good example we can point to the work of W. F. Stace. Using the combined methods of comparative religion and philosophical analysis, he put forth a version of pantheism as the metaphysical doctrine best suited to describe the ontological basis of mystical experience. {W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, London 1961, pp. 240-50.} As such it may have its merits while at the same time being open to various criticisms, but it has no chance of being adopted by a majority let alone all of those concerned with research into mysticism because, as a definite theory, it may limit in certain ways the approach to research.

The second pitfall would consist in accepting a theory from another field of learning, such as science, which would have an even more detrimental effect. (The social sciences have suffered from this mistake.) What I have in mind is scientific positivism, which uses reductionist methods of interpretation. It would make mystical experience into an epiphenomenon of human emotional life which in turn is derived from the biology of the nervous system and it would be denied any possibility of objective reference or ontological validity. There are rival theories in sciences also, and further reduction brings biological forces down to the level of physical forces to which alone is ascribed true reality. (This picture of a mechanistic universe frightens even some scientists back into adopting, sometimes only privately, a traditional religious faith. The more thoughtful ones embark on the study of philosophy or Eastern mysticism.)


The room for manoeuvre between these two pitfalls is very small and the task of working out an acceptable position which would be a methodological help is a formidable one. I would like to formulate a few suggestions outlining the general direction in which a solution could be sought:

  • 1. There is an ontological basis to mystical experience which is also, in various symbolical disguises, the object of religious faith as well as of philosophical quest.
  • 2. Mystical experience is a suprasensory and supraintellectual, i.e. intuitive, apprehension of that ontological reality and it proceeds in stages of approximation, culminating in cognitive experience of being onto logically united with it.
  • 3. Conceptual descriptions of the ultimate mystical experience are inadequate and provide only partial impressions of its ontological basis, never a global view. When guided by an analytical approach they are without contents, suggesting voidness or nothingness, while psychologically the experience has fullness of contents describable in terms of being, knowledge or intelligence and bliss.
  • 4. The dimension of the ultimate reality is beyond the world of external objects and its counterpart, man's sensory apparatus with its coordinating intellect, and is therefore transcendent, while the experience of union with it is reached through the process of inner cognition which gives it the character of immanence.
  • 5. Metaphysical descriptions of the ultimate reality, when informed by an analytical approach, ascribe to it the character of impersonality; when guided by the psychological contents of the ultimate experience of fullness, they suggest a superstructural unit not dissimilar, though vastly superior, to the human personality; in religious terms it becomes the infinite personality of God. The ultimate ontological dimension may therefore unite dichotomies which on the level of intellectual understanding remain contradictory. (This happens to be a feature not altogether unknown to modem science, particularly to subatomic physics.)
  • 6. Since the practical mystical paths as developed by different traditions show a remarkable structural unity, experimental application of mystical techniques should be possible, especially where a high degree of doctrinal neutrality has been achieved as in some forms of Indian Yoga. It is therefore desirable to include this approach along with current methods of research into mysticism.


Although the term mysticism is of Western origin, it has been used in the context of Indian spiritual tradition both by European and Indian authors, often without any attempt to define it. This is perhaps because there is, after all, a certain broad consensus about its meaning among most scholars concerned with religious studies despite the ambiguity of the term as it is frequently exhibited in its popular usage and sometimes also in academic works: we have seen on previous pages how broadly the term is employed for example by Scharfstein.

For the purposes of this survey, however, I shall adhere to the understanding of mysticism as it follows from the results of the investigations in my introductory paper. In particular, I shall look at the mystical dimension in Indian spiritual traditions from the angle of the division of its endeavours and results into the previously discussed three categories of doctrine, experience and path.

Furthermore I regard the threefold division of the mystical progress and experience into the three stages as the path of purification of the heart (via purgativa), the path of illumination of the mind (via illuminativa) and the path of unification of the mystic with the goal of his efforts (via unitiva) as both useful for the purpose of theoretical study and universally valid across the boundaries of cultures and traditions because, on analysis, all the three components can be found in developed mysticism of any religious system.

The usefulness of the threefold division into doctrine, experience and path lies especially in its hermeneutical value: it enables the scholar as someone standing outside a particular mystical tradition or movement to assess its basic nature and find out which of the three elements predominates in it and then formulate his interpretations accordingly. The universal applicability of this threefold division points to another important conclusion, namely that one can assume that all mystical or deeper spiritual systems possess a certain structural correspondence and most likely also an identity of purpose and final goal. [Of course, since all mysticism (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist) stems from the same Indian source]

From the study of various religious systems it further seems to follow that mysticism is the heart of every developed religion lending it the [21] dimension of depth. It is almost always possible to trace the beginning of a religious tradition to mystical experiences of its founder(s). In the course of the subsequent development of a given religious tradition its mystical dimension may go through times when it is at a low ebb, but if it disappears entirely to become only a vestige of the past, the religious tradition in question is in a crisis and may be in danger of perishing entirely.

India offers us an example of religious development whose phases are marked by the emergence of ever-renewed mystical experiences, ever freshly formulated mystical doctrines and periodically reformulated mystical paths. In that respect the Indian religious history provides us with a very vivid and concrete illustration of the above thesis about the universality of mysticism and its overall structural unity across cultural boundaries. [Of course, since all mysticism (Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist) stems from the same Indian source


The earliest highly-developed and well-studied stage of Indian religious development is the Vedic religion and we must, naturally, look for its mystical dimension. The nature of the Vedic mystical dimension has been, however, seriously undervalued. Thus S. N. Dasgupta who produced one of the earliest collections of studies of Hindu mysticism dealt with the Vedic period under the heading 'Sacrificial Mysticism'. {N. Dasgupta, Hindu Mysticism, New York 1927 (repr. 1959), pp. 3-30.} To him mysticism in the Vedas is what surrounds their sacrificial rituals which have a mysterious link to cosmic forces and human events. Correctly performed rituals can manipulate those forces for the advantage of the individual.

If we bear in mind the double meaning of the term mysticism as it was explained at the beginning of the previous paper, then we shall see that S. N. Dasgupta uses it here obviously in its wider sense which of course may include the magic of ritual performances. He may have done so more or less unwittingly without being fully aware of the double meaning of the term. But all subsequent instances of Hindu mysticism he deals with in his book, starting with the peak achievements of the Upanishads, are examples of mysticism in the narrower or proper sense of the word. And so one would have expected him to search in the Vedas at least for some kind of beginnings of what only a few centuries later surfaced as a highly-developed and truly mystical approach.

But S.N. Dasgupta apparently looked upon the Vedas through the eyes of the early European scholarship which undervalued the depth of the Vedic spirituality and saw the Vedas as merely a compendium of sacrificial lore, regarding their more obviously non-ritual and valuable hymns at best as lyrical nature poetry. It is, of course, true that many Vedic hymns have ritualistic links with the sacrifice which was a major or even the central concern of the Brahminic religion in the later Vedic period, but the original inspiration behind the hymns of the RV was of a much deeper nature. [I think Dasgupta is perfectly correct, and that the Vedas are non-mystical in nature; and that mysticism starts with the Upanishads, under the influence of non- or rather pre-Aryan sources: the Harappans] The bulk of [22] them originated before the era of the elaborate ritual practices anyway and although they were later used and sometimes further adapted for ritual, their original purpose was spiritual. [Not so!]

In all high religions the ritualistic and ecclesiastical phase of their history followed the original spiritual beginnings of a movement which formed around or in the wake of a teacher who was a prophetic figure or a spiritually enlightened personality, sometimes regarded as an incarnation of God. Sometimes, as in Judaism, the original spiritual message was transmitted in stages by a series of prophets who claimed . to have been called to carry out their mission directly by God who revealed his will through them. There is no reason why the beginnings of the Vedic religion should be looked upon in a different way and regarded as an outcome of poetic inspiration by natural forces with some primitive and sacrificial magic thrown in and nothing else. The later Hindu tradition has always claimed that the Vedas are a product of divine revelation which was transmitted to their ancestors by ancient seers (rishis). Certain rishis were already in Vedic times legendary ancient figures and were looked upon as 'path-finders' (RV 1,72,2; 1,105,15) who had won immortality and thereby become equal in status and power to gods (RV 10.54,4). They reached the heights of immortality through the development of a special faculty of a visionary or mystical [it wasn’t necessarily mystical, especially since Gonda calls them ‘poets’] and meditative character called dhiti to whose investigation Gonda dedicated a whole book. {Jan Gonda, The Vision of the Vedic Poets, The Hague 1963.} This mystical vision enabled the ancient seers to discover and grasp the substance and meaning of the eternal law (rita, cf. RV 4,23,8) governing the whole of manifested reality as well as its emergence from the unmanifest.

In the process of transmitting this vision of the eternal law to their less spiritually minded contemporaries, the seers produced their message on more than one level. The transmission of a vision is not the vision itself, it is a projection of the original vision into a specific area of human activity and understanding. Besides the poetical, mythological and legendary projections of this vision there was also the area of religious activity which was very close to the heart of archaic man an was capable of exercising a strong influence on his character and behaviour, much more so than words, images and stories. This was ritual action. In performing a rite modeled on mythical or cosmic events Vedlc man was able to take in into himself archetypal patterns of thought and behaviour which reflected the hierarchy of the world order and created in him a sense of belonging and an awareness, however dim, that the cosmic law was also the moral law which told him what was right and wrong and that it further was also the social law which determined his place in the structure of the Aryan society.

It was only later in the course of several centuries that Vedic ritual deteriorated into an over-eIaborated system of ceremonial observances of the late Vedic or Brahmana period in which the original vision became buried. We can certainly discern evidence in many Vedic hymns for genuine mystical experiences of the ancient seers which became the basis and starting point of the Vedic religion. It is also sufficiently obvious that for some generations this tradition of mystical approach and cultivation of mystical experiences was kept alive. [Nonsense. Clearly reading into these texts something which isn’t there.] What is more difficult is to establish the existence of a mystical doctrine in Vedic times since that would require the existence also of systematic expositions and interpretations of those mystical experiences in the context of a philosophical or theological world picture expressed in conceptually understandable terms.

However, although the language of the Vedas is poetical, symbolical and mythological and the hymns do not aim at systematic instruction of listeners, they nevertheless do convey a certain sufficiently clear world view if not a systematic doctrine. They allow us to glimpse the Vedic man's picture of an ordered universe with a vast spiritual [metaphysical, rather] dimension behind it. That is expressed repeatedly by Vedic cosmogonic myths of creation - that of the goddess Aditi, mother of all that is, has been and will be (RV 1,89,10), that of the cosmic purusha or the giant cosmic person (RV 10,90), of hiranyagarbha or the cosmic 'golden germ' [egg] (RV 10,121), of skambha, the cosmic pillar or axis mundi (A V 10,7) and that of the Indra-Vritra combat, symbolizing the victory of cosmic creation over the dark demon of stagnation, which is referred to many times throughout the Vedas. This view of the world and its origins was later also expressed in terms almost devoid of mythological imagery in the so-called hymn of creation (RV 10,129) whereby began the process of conceptualization of the Vedic vision of reality which then continued in the Upanishads and eventually produced fully formulated mystical doctrines and philosophical systems. [The Upanishads, that’s a completely different story]

The existence of a path to immortality is quite clearly mentioned in connection with the ancient seers who had found it [??], as quoted above. [??] Once found it must undoubtedly have been handed down and taught in some way by the pathfinder seers to their disciples and this process would certainly have gone on for a number of generations. The actual method can hardly be ascertained from the hymns, but one could say with Aurobindo that it must have been some kind of progressive self-culture and assume with Hauer that it comprised some technique of meditative absorption. A personal discipline and meditational practice have been the pillars of the mystic way in all times and all traditions. [But that came later, with the Upanishads]


When eventually the elaborate structure of brahminic ritualism which grew around and out of the original mystical vision of the ancient seers very nearly stifled all spirituality there came a new eruption of mystical [24] experience which is documented in the Upanishads. The approach to the transcendent through the worship of the gods was largely brushed aside and a direct encounter with the ultimate reality was sought. In the final break-through it amounted to an overwhelming and ll-embracing experience expressed in bold statements such as 'I am brahman' (aham brahmasmi, BU 1,4,10), 'you are that, (tat tvam asi, CU 6,15,3) and 'I am all this' (= this whole universe: aham evedam sarvam, CU 7,25,1). This certainly appears to be "a genuine expression of an experience of unio mystica if ever there was one. It came as a culmination of a search which involved both intellectual questioning and a strong emotional need for security and certainty in face of an uncertain world in which man was the victim of successive deaths. As a result the final experience found a ready expression in what we can classify as the metaphysical gnosticism of the Upanishads. The philosophical search progressed far enough by then to be able to supply adequate and appealing metaphysical terms to the mystic to express himself when his experience overwhelmed him and also to the thinker when he later tried to express his mystical experience in a more systematic and intellectually graspable way.

As is well known [??], this search proceeded first into the cosmic dimension and its inspiration must have been derived from [the Harappans and not] the distant echoes of the Vedic cosmogonical mythology, all pointing in the direction of he original unit as the source of the cosmic diversity. That unity, which was understood to be the source and the directing agency of everything that is, was called by Yäjnavalkya, at a certain stage, 'the imperishable: (akshara, BU 3,8,8-11), but eventually it obtained the name brahman which became universally accepted.

When the line of inquiry turned from the cosmic perspective to the inner dimension of man's own personality, brahman was found again lurking behind all life functions and mental faculties, behind the mind and behind the heart (BU 4,2,1 - 7). And in the course of further search it was eventually discovered to be men's very essence, his inner self (atman, BU 4,2,4,). This was a great discovery which was new to most participants in the dialogues of the older Upanishads. but it was readily accepted. The great unborn atman, the inmost self of man, was identical with brahman, the source and essence of the whole of universe as well as all beings and things. [The Upanishads, therefore, represent the influx of the Harappans’ earlier discovery of the mystical dimension into Vedic religion, thereby changing it to Hinduism. The fact that Harappans knew this already is ‘proven’ by hymn 10,136 of the RV about the ‘longhaired sage’.]

One could argue that this identification was first achieved as a result of a philosophical speculative process which was then translated into contemplative mystical experience, or one can take the opposite view and regard the experience of the unio mystica as primary and as preceding the conceptual understanding which followed only afterwards and led to the brahman-atman doctrine in its familiar formulation. It is, of course, equally possible that the two went [25] together. My impression is that the experience which prompted the three statements quoted above preceded the conceptual elaboration and understanding of the doctrine of unity. In any event, in the early Upanishads we have, for the first time and side by side, both the experience and the doctrine and we have here, also for the first time, a clear formulation of the ontological nature of the final experience of the true knowledge of the ultimate: to know brahman is to be brahman (MuU 3,2,9). True knowledge is here understood as being beyond the senses and the intellect. It is a non-dual, unmediated process of knowing, without the split between object and subject.


The Upanishads are also very keen on transmitting this true and higher knowledge, this non-dual state of being-cum-knowing which is, besides, also the only true bliss (BU 7,23) and making it available to truth seekers. And so we get in them also the first formulation of a path to realization. It is said, however, that it is a difficult path (KaU 1,3,14), because it leads away from the senses and goes inward (KaU 2,1,1). As such it is a path of renunciation and Yoga. The word Yoga appears here for the first time in its fully technical meaning, namely as a systematic training and it already received a more or less clear formulation in some other middle Upanishads beside KaU such as Svetasvatara and Maitri. Further process of the systematization of Yoga as a path to the ultimate mystic goal is obvious in subsequent Yoga Upanishads and the culmination of this endeavour is represented by Patanjali's codification of this path into a system of the eightfold Yoga. Thus all the three ingredients of mysticism emerged out of the Upanishads several centuries earlier than in Europe.

Simultaneously with the development described so far there was another, largely independent process of search going on outside [had been going on earlier as well] the well documented Vedic tradition. Although this independent process has not left behind its own literary sources, there is enough evidence from indirect sources to leave us in little doubt that at the time of the early Upanishads and early Buddhism this outsiders’ stream of spiritual Quest was already very old. This is particularly clear from the Pali Canon of Buddhism. But how far into the past it reaches cannot be ascertained. It is certainly not possible to speculate about its existence at the time of the ancient seers, the ‘path-finders’ and originators of the Vedic lore, who were themselves already legendary when the hymns as known to us were actually being composed. However, at the later Vedic time, before the final redaction of the RV, there is good evidence about non-Vedic accomplished sages [the ones I think of as Harappans, RV 10,136], conspicuous by their nČkedness and long hair, roaming the country and teaching their ‘path of the wind’. They were known as munis and keshins and regarded themselves as immortals who were equally at home in the higher spiritual world and [26] in this world of mortals, celestial beings and sylvan beasts. The next paper is dedicated to the analysis of the hymn of the Long-haired One and his status with respect to mysticism and Yoga. [RV 10,136]

Besides keshins there were other wanderers, some of them of the solitary type, known as vratyas, regarded by Hauer as the original Yogis (Uryogins). The tradition of wandering ascetics, later known as shramanas, outside the Vedic and Brahminic establishment continued for centuries in relative obscurity while ceremonial religion flourished. But It was obviously gradually gaining more recognition and power of attraction for those who became weary of Brahminic sacrificial ritualism and sought some clearer solution of the riddle of existence. As the Vedic tradition preserved the memory of the accomplished rishis of old, so this unorthodox shramana movement harboured memories of enlightened munis of the past. It was not, of course, a unitary movement. It was rather a broad trend manifesting itself in individual truth-seekers and teachers with groups of followers around some of them. [Which remained to this day in the various sadhu sects, whom Werner strangely enough doesn’t seem to know !!!] This trend eventually reached its peak in the great achievement of Buddhism and also of Jainism and other minor schools of Yoga, now mostly forgotten. The memory of two of them has been preserved in the Pali Canon in connection with the Buddha's life story.

Some might object to regarding the Buddhist (and possibly also Jainist) top achievement of nirvana as mystical whilst admitting to the mystical character of jhanic [??] states of mind. But this is only a terminological problem. Maybe it is not correct to speak about unio mystica when describing the attainment of nirvana in early Buddhism since the term originated in the context of theistic theology. But both terms point to the highest achievement of what is seen as the ultimate reality in the two respective systems. In both cases it is also admitted that the designation of the goal - God, nirvana - does not really convey the true nature of the ultimate reality which is felt to be beyond description and, as I already tried to explain elsewhere, beyond the conceptual dichotomy of the personal and impersonal.

If we agree that the goal of mysticism is the final and ultimate truth achieved by direct experience, then the nirvana of Buddhism falls within that heading. When C. A. Keller tried to define mystical writings he arrived at a criterion for them by saying that they are texts 'which discuss the path towards realisation of the ultimate knowledge which each particular religion has to offer and which contain statements about the nature of such knowledge'. F. J. Streng defined the meaning of mysticism as 'an interior illumination of reality that results in ultimate freedom.' Both these definitions include the Buddhist nirvana.

Of the three constituents of mysticism, experience is the one most emphasized and the path the one most elaborated in early Buddhism. The doctrine on the other hand was kept low. The Buddha avoided doctrinal formulations concerning the final reality as much as possible in order to prevent his followers from resting content with minor achievements on the path in which the absence of the final experience could be substituted by conceptual understanding of the doctrine or by religious faith, a situation which sometimes occurs, in both varieties, in the context of the Hindu systems of doctrine. One can, of course, maintain that there is an implicit doctrine contained also in the Buddha's teachings and there has been no shortage of explicit expositions of what their authors have understood to be the actual doctrine of early Buddhism about the ultimate goal of nirvana. Such attempts are no doubt perfectly legitimate, because there certainly is a definite world-view contained in the Buddha's teachings, although it is not easy to formulate it in a way which would not immediately invite objections from one or another quarter of both the scholarly interpreters of Buddhism and its followers.

The peak achievements of the Upanishadic and Buddhist mysticism were truly elitist, yet they also had popular appeal even though they were out of reach of most people, because of most people's lack of total practical commitment. But the best minds among the earnest truth-seekers of the time were attracted by them, because they appreciated the promise of a relatively speedy realization of the goal. This was made possible by the careful concentration of Buddhism and the various Yoga movements on the elaboration of the path. This feature which is prominent in most schools of Indian mysticism accounts for the unique form of mysticism which only India produced, namely for Yoga. The Buddha's eightfold path and Patanjali's ashtanga yoga are the two most highly systematized techniques of mystical training; and this is what characterizes Yoga most. Systematization of techniques and methods is also an important feature of modem scientific procedures and so one can almost say that Yoga, as a methodical device, is mysticism gone scientific.

Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of ' Buddhist formulations from the Pali Canon and even more so from the Sarvastivada Abhidharma and from Sautrantika. So while containing a complete systematization of Yogic (mystical) experience from initial stages to the highest point of final liberation (kaivalya), the Yoga Sutras are almost as cagey about spelling out a doctrine as early Buddhism. Unlike with Buddhism, however, few attempts have been made to formulate, from within the Yoga Sutras, a specific doctrine which may [28] have been Patanjali's or which may have been held in the various Yoga circles from which he, or the redactors of the Yoga Sutras hiding behind his name, drew their materials. Instead, later commentators like Vyasa interpreted the doctrine that may be implicit in the Yoga Sutras in terms of Sankhya philosophy. They were followed by many modern interpreters, quite unjustifiably, since classical Sankhya was formulated several centuries after Patanjali so that any analysis of the relation between the Sankhya doctrine an the implicit Patanjali's doctrine would have to be preceded by a reconstruction of the likely state of the Sankhya teachings at a time of the composition of the Yoga Sutras.

Despite the highly elitist character of the goal of Yoga and the exclusivity of its methods, its wide appeal continued. What was attractive to many about it was that it was an individual achievement which did not require the mediation of priests with their endless and expensive ceremonies. [That holds true actually for all ascetic mystics.] It usually necessitated just a special relation to a spiritually advanced teacher. In rare instances one could hope to find an accomplished master as one's guide. Such was the reputation of the Buddha with many followers and also of Jina and some other less known spiritual teachers.

In this atmosphere it eventually came to a wide popularization of Yoga which inevitably meant a certain modification of its previous methodical and impersonal approach and of its minimal doctrinal involvement. With popular following there arose the need to satisfy the emotional allegiance people normally have to the transcendent represented as a personal God, in the context of religious observance. This found its natural expression in the theistic type of mysticism which thus opened the gate to some kind of direct experience of the divine for large numbers of people for whom a methodical approach did not mean much and solitary meditation did not appear attractive. Their attitude was one of devotion which could be nourished only on mutuality. And thus appeared on the scene the Bhakti Yoga [this is in fact much older, so one can say, it reappeared in combination with yoga.] which found its early popular exposition in the Bhagavad Gita [this, rather, is karma yoga !!! Not bhakti.] which, however, popularized to some extent also some of the most technical methods of Yoga, making them accessible to a larger number of people, as well as the doctrines of the Upanishads about the unity of the individual and the universal which to the popular mind means man and God.

On the Buddhist side it was the compassion expressed in the Bodhisattva approach which gave the opportunity to masses of followers, previously left out of the immediate liberation scheme of the strict eightfold path, to have an outlet for their emotional need for an all-embracing and assisted path. All this meant that mystical experience, at least in its elementary forms [?? Elementary? Sounds a bit nonsensical], became almost universally available. Obviously, this does not represent a peak in the development of Indian approaches to [29] spirituality, but it did give both Hinduism and Buddhism as religions a certain awareness of the mystical dimension on all levels of worship which is still alive in them to a large degree and which is not easily found in other religions. [Is a bit nonsensical; like most religions Hinduism and Buddhism are mostly bhakti and superstition-‘magic’]

However, there is no escaping the fact that the way of the mystic is an exclusive way. Its true aim is the realization of the ultimate reality which requires detachment from the immediate relative reality and this can never become the prevailing concern of multitudes. Consequently the elitist character of mysticism made itself felt again very quickly. A Bodhisattva may have compassion for all creatures and sacrifice his final liberation for the sake of helping them, but he nevertheless aims at complete enlightenment which includes the perfect skill of an accomplished teacher and spiritual powers which will enable him to pursue his mission. All this points to a mystical experience of the highest order arrived at on an arduous path through several stages (bhumis), involving the development of superhuman perfections (paramitas) which is a very individualistic and elitist achievement.

Thus the eightfold path of a follower of the Buddha was replaced by the Bodhisattva path and the description of the goal was also reformulated. At the same time the doctrinal component of Buddhism grew in the context of Mahayana mysticism more and more until it developed into new and lofty metaphysical systems in which both the impersonal and personalized approaches found full and elaborate expression. On the one hand we have the tri kaya doctrine of layers of reality converging in the dharmakaya and on the other we are faced with the overwhelming hierarchy of cosmic buddhas and bodhisattvas presided over by Adi Buddha. The dichotomy and the inevitable coexistence of the personal and the impersonal in the attempted conceptual and symbolical descriptions of the experience of the ultimate reality again make their unavoidable appearance.

The mystical doctrines of the Mahayana have quite a number of features which were developed in a somewhat similar way and almost simultaneously by European mystical theology based as it was on the Neoplatonic philosophy as transmitted by pseudo-Dionysios Areopagita. It is hardly possible to imagine a better [non-example] example of corresponding [influenced] development in two mystical traditions, although there is [almost certainty] some possibility of earlier Indian influence on the formation of the doctrines of Neoplatonism as was hinted at in the previous paper.

[Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta]

Within the Hindu tradition mysticism as doctrine and experience as well as path reached its new peak in Shankara’s system of Advaita vedanta. The experience of oneness dominated Shankara's thinking and his understanding of older sources, particularly the Upanishads, and it completely determined his doctrinal formulations which largely overshadowed Shankara as practical mystic and teacher of a Yoga path. [30] In his commitment to a specific doctrinal formulation Shankara was dependent on Gaudapada, his teacher's teacher, on Badarayana, the founder of Vedantism, and possibly on an older tradition of Varaha sahodara vritti. It would therefore be difficult to decide whether Shankara's uncompromising monism was an outcome of his experience for which he found confirmation in his predecessors' interpretations of the Upanishads or whether his previous acceptance of monism on philosophical grounds found subsequent support in the overwhelming experience of oneness in samadhi. The Upanishads, of course, contain materials which enabled other schools also to claim their support for their own different interpretations. It has, however, been an undisputed tenet within Shankara's school for centuries that 'this world of diversity is false; reality, myself included, is non-dual brahman; the evidence of it is vedanta [= Upanishads], gurus as well as direct experience'.

I think that we have here an almost inextricable symbiosis of doctrine and experience, but what is important is that Shankara most emphatically insisted on the actual realization of personal experience without which the doctrine means nothing. One has to know the truth directly; all else, including verbal knowledge of the doctrine, is still within the sphere of ignorance. Again: to know brahman is to be brahman. The practical way to this realization is the way of knowledge which became known as Jnana Yoga. Shankara's Yoga path follows in many details the older schemes of Yoga training as known particularly from Patanjali's account, but it also has its own specific techniques of developing the discriminatory faculty of the mind whereby it could sift through its experiences and eliminate from them those which are concerned with transitory, unreal features as compared with those which point to the eternal and real.

The inevitable differences in descriptions of the ultimate and its real nature, well known already from the Upanishads themselves, led quite naturally to the establishment of different schools of Vedantism of which there are at least five. The most important one after Shankara's is Vishish!a Advaita of Ramanuja. In it the previously mentioned popular path of Bhakti received an elaborate doctrinal backing in which a certain relative or qualified status is allowed for individual beings also in the context of ultimate reality which is conceived in personalized terms. Thus Vedantism, like Buddhism, reflects the ineffability of the ultimate experience which does not lend itself to simple descriptions.

That does not mean that clear-cut descriptions are necessarily entirely wrong as opponents in the polemics of rival schools would have us believe; rather it indicates the simpler fact that the ultimate truth is bigger than words and that therefore every logically straightforward and consistent description of its experience must appear to be a simplification. This, in turn, does not mean that such a description is [31] entirely useless, since it does convey a certain idea about the ultimate to the totally inexperienced and may act as an encouragement and motivation for entering the mystic path. A variety of descriptions addresses a variety of minds according to their dispositions.

There have been objections to this kind of interpretation of differing mystical doctrines and the consequent claim of a common core in all mystical traditions. S. T. Katz expressed it bluntly saying that mysticism promises 'something for everybody if not everything to everybody'. But that is an ill-founded criticism. The differing interpretations merely express the infinite richness of the ultimate which must be bigger than individual minds which can therefore approach it from a large variety of starting points. Various simplified descriptions of the ultimate goal become wrong only if taken literally and if they are individually believed in to the exclusion of other descriptions. That can happen only when the doctrine, accepted on authority becomes more important than the experience, which means that the mystic path is not really being followed. Then we are in the province of theological or philosophical polemics. These do occur also, of course, among historians of religions if they bring into their inquiry personal preferences or beliefs.

With Mahayana Buddhism and Vedantism Indian spirituality reached its peak, particularly in the elaboration of mystical doctrines. But the whole process of mystical endeavours did not stop there. Although Buddhism eventually disappeared from the Indian scene to flourish elsewhere, Yoga and broader mystical movements as well as doctrinal creativity have continued to live in India till modern times as shown by the lives and work of such personalities as Ramakrishna, Ramana, Aurobindo, Ananda Mayi Ma and others.



In the previous paper I referred to the ancient seers (rishis) as the pathfinders who were reputed to have won immortality and were thus equal to gods. These spiritual giants with profound mystical insights became the founders of Indian spiritual tradition as the originators of the oldest Vedic hymns and were probably also responsible for shaping the moral awareness of the Vedic Aryans and also much of their religious, cultural and social institutions. They were ancient and legendary figures already to the minds of the redactors of the Vedic collections and we cannot say if any hymns can be ascribed directly to their authorship in the form in which they have been preserved in the RV. But much of the contents of the Vedic hymns does go back to very. early times even if many or most of them were given their final form by lesser seers of the younger Vedic period.

The tendency to keep the tradition of seerhood alive was very strong, and active composition of hymns continued for many generations over several centuries. In the process of this poetic creativity old insights and ideas were often incorporated into new hymns while some older hymns were undergoing modifications. Some new hymns did not always find general approval and so the process of adding- new poems to the ancient heritage was eventually stopped by the codification of the RV around 1000 B.C. (It can be assumed, however, that the production of religious poetry went on even afterwards in 'unofficial circles' throughout subsequent centuries. gradually changing its character in the process, and that its last descendants in our time are the melodious' devotional songs.) Some hymns of the RV were used in a shortened form in liturgy and these were then codified as Sama Veda. Yajur Veda is a collection of ritual texts closely connected with the sacrificial cult. The three Vedas were the basis on which the priesthood gradually erected the elaborate structure of the Vedic religion whose overwhelming ritualism virtually obscured the spiritual tradition of seerhood for several centuries until the time of the Upanishadic revival.

But there were also other individuals inclined to pursue mystical experiences without themselves engaging, like the ancient rishis, in attempts to transmit their experiences through mythological poetry and religious leadership. They adopted mystical pursuits as their way of life. Mysticism as a consciously cultivated way of life is known in India as Yoga. It is the purpose of this paper to establish the actual character of these individuals who were active outside the trend of Vedic mythological creativity and the Brahminic religious orthodoxy and therefore little evidence of their existence, practices and achievements has survived. And such evidence as is available in the Vedas themselves is scanty and indirect.

Nevertheless the indirect evidence is strong enough not to allow any doubt about the existence of spiritually highly advanced wanderers: besides several allusions to them in various hymns of the RV we have the hymn of ‘the longhaired one' (keshin, RV 10,136) which is the only hymn in the whole of the Vedas which is fully dedicated to the description of an outsider who does not belong to the brahminic establishment an yet is given a rather sympathetic treatment. He is present as a longhaired wandering renunciate called muni; as distinct from rishis, who possesses extraordinary powers and deep spiritual experiences. The word muni is derived from the root man which means 'to think, to muse, to contemplate, to meditate' all of which is normally done in silence and so the general meaning which the word eventually acquired appears to be 'a silent sage'. The derivative noun mauneya later obtained the meaning 'the vow of silence'. This need not be taken in the full sense of the word, and certainly not in early times, but in the general sense: these sages were silent about the nature of their wisdom, they did not preach it to others and did not use it to influence others in the context of communal life as did rishis. [Muni could also have become (been) something of a title, like in Shakyamuni (for the Buddha) or the later munis among the Udasin sadhus.]

The existence of two different types of religious personages in ancient India has been pointed out before. Rahurkar speaks of them as belonging to two distinct 'cultural strands' and refers to them as rishi-culture and muni-culture. The rishis, according to him, maintained a tradition of prayers and worship while living within the community and 'generally manifested a kind of hieratic attitude'. The munis 'practised yoga, austerities and or orgiastic rites. . . glorified life of renunciation, isolation and wandering mendicancy.’ Wayman also found evidence for two distinct approaches to the spiritual dimension in ancient India and calls them the traditions of 'truth and silence'. He traces them particularly in the older Upanishads, in early Buddhism and in some later literature. The muni of our hymn represents to him the silence tradition as does the 'great muni', the Buddha. That Buddhism belonged originally to the silence tradition can be seen in its notion of pratyekabuddhas (silent buddhas). The Buddha himself, however, [35] 'moved to the other side', the tradition of truth (satya), when he decided to teach. Wayman does not refer to the rishis of the Vedas as representing the truth tradition, but if he had examined the matter he would have found that they fit well into it as those who had seen the truth and expressed it then to others through their hymns and other activities.

The keshin hymn has not been really understood by commentators of brahminic tradition and it has been generally underrated and even greatly misinterpreted over the decades by modern interpreters down to the present day. The only author who, as far as I know, has attempted to bring out the spiritual significance of this hymn in recent times is J. Miller, but even she did not do full justice to it. Yet the strength of experience that seems to lie behind it is such that even in the inadequate interpretations of scholars with entirely different backgrounds there is almost always at least one piece of information, a statement or a conclusion that points to a far deeper meaning of the hymn than the interpreters are willing to admit. Also, if one pieces together their positive or appreciative statements about the hymn, as I shall do later on, one arrives at a highly intriguing picture of a spiritual personage of a very high stature.

When thus preoccupied with the analysis of the hymn and its previous translations and interpretations and then engaged in the attempt to translate it adequately I came to the conclusion that it contained the highest ideas, aspirations and expressions of mystical experience such as one can find in any subsequent Hindu or Buddhist system of spiritual endeavour. But let us first acquaint ourselves with perhaps the latest conventional translation of it from an anthology of Vedic hymns offered to general public and to students of Sanskrit 'who had not had the time to enter upon a study of the Veda'. Its author, W. H. Maurer, seems to be entirely innocent of or ignores a great deal of published research into the hymn and its problems done by those who gave it serious thought and effort:


  • I. The longhaired ascetic bears the fire; the longhaired ascetic bears the toxic drink; the longhaired ascetic bears the two worlds; the longhaired ascetic is everything; the heavenly light to behold! The longhaired ascetic is called this light.
  • 2. The hermits have the wind as their girdle. They wear soiled brown garments. They go along the path of the wind, when the gods have entered them. [36]
  • 3. 'Made ecstatic due to our hermit-state, we have mounted upon the winds. Only our bodies do you mortals perceive!'
  • 4. Through the air he flies, looking down upon all forms. The hermit for every god's benefaction is established as a friend.
  • 5. The wind's horse, Vayu's friend and also one who is impelled by the gods is the hermit. Both oceans he inhabits: the one that is eastern and the western.
  • 6. Going in the path of Apsarases, Gandharvas, beasts, the longhaired ascetic is aware of their intent, a friend most sweet, most exhilarating.
  • 7. Vayu stirred the draught for him, Kunannama ground it, when the longhaired ascetic along with Rudra drank the poison from the goblet.

The history of misinterpretation or superficial translation of this hymn is a long one. Perhaps the first misleading interpretation is that of Yaska (c. 500 B.C.) in his Nirukta (12,26): 'Keshin bears fire, keshin bears water, keshin bears heaven and earth. The word visham is a synonym of water from the verb vish-ma = to purify. . . Keshin is called this sun. With these words the seer describes the sun.’

Belonging to the official or orthodox trend of the brahminic tradition, Yaska was not sensitive to the underlying spiritual meaning of the Vedic hymns, just as many European Sanskritic philologists in the last century and some of this century, and depended on a rather' scholastic' understanding of the Vedic mythology and imagery which is often reflected in his etymologies. With him, as far as I could find out, originated the most unlikely interpretation of the keshin as the sun or the Sun god (Surya), his long hair symbolizing the sun's rays. He was followed by the medieval commentator Sayana who lived in the southern kingdom of Vijayanagara in the fourteenth century A.D. This interpretation was accepted even by some European scholars of the last century who thought that Indian commentators were naturally the best interpreters of their own native tradition. Thus H. H. Wilson translated the whole RV faithfully following Sayana and even M. Bloomfield went along with the interpretation of the keshin as sun and developed ingenious arguments to support it at a time when scholars like Ludwig, Grassmann and Griffith had rejected it.

Griffith did not elaborate on his translation of the hymn, but he added Roth's summary of it in a footnote: 'The hymn shows the [37] conception that by a life of sanctity the Muni can attain to the fellowship of the deities of the air, the Vayu, the Ruqras, the Asparases, and the Gandharvas; and, furnished like them with wonderful powers, can travel along with them on their course. . . The beautiful haired, the longhaired, that is to say, the Muni, who during the time of his austerities does not shave his hair, upholds fire, moisture, heaven, and earth, and resembles the world of light, ideas which the later literature so largely contains.’

This is quite a fair summary, without serious misinterpretations, although a bit superficial and lacking in analysis. What is worth noting, however, is that neither Roth nor Griffith suspected our muni of drug-taking on account of his drinking poison with Rudra and they both accepted that his was a life of sanctity.

The first European interpretation, which has to be carefully considered because it has been very influential, is that of Oldenberg. Although he dedicated to it hardly half a page in his work on the religion of the Vedas, the echo of his views and conjectures resounded through a large number of subsequent interpretations to the present day, often without due acknowledgement and always without any backing by research. This is certainly quite remarkable, because Oldenberg dealt with the hymn almost casually while discussing diksha, a ritual initiation before the sacrificial ceremony, and tapas, the ascetic practice required also during the initiation rites. [Tapas is not only ascetic practice, but also the ‘heat’ produced by it.] It is worthwhile to translate here his whole account of the hymn:

The hymn vividly describes the orgiastic practices of the old Vedic times, still un-ennobled by the thirst for liberation which moved the ascetics of the Buddhist time, still banished into rude forms of medicinemanship (Medizinmännertum). The hymn speaks of 'Ionghaired ecstatics' (keshin, muni), clad in brown dirt, who enter the wind's course, when the gods enter them, who drink poison (ecstacy-producing medicaments?) with Rudra from a cup. 'In drunken rapture we have ascended the carriage of the wind. You mortals can see only our bodies.' . . . The wind's steed, the Storm god's friend, the ecstatic is god-driven. He inhabits both seas, that in the east and the western one. He wanders on the path of the Apsarases, Gandharvas, wild animals.

Although - as is obvious - Oldenberg valued little the phenomenon represented by the keshin, which he even equated with the 'lowest forms of religious life' and called the 'cultivation of ecstatic association with ghosts', he nevertheless recognized the great antiquity of the ecstatic practices in India which, according to him, were not late innovations, but 'must nave played a more significant role in the oldest Vedic times than the limited range of hymnic poetry could reveal'. Oldenberg made no real attempt to analyse the hymn carefully and gain a proper understanding of it. In what can only be classified as a [38] superficial equation he put the ecstatic practices of the medicine-men of primitive tribal societies, known in the nineteenth century from reports of travellers and observations of ethnologists, on the same level as the spiritual practices referred to in the RV which is a sophisticated religious and literary creation of a developed ancient civilization. His failure to see the full significance of the hymn stemmed most likely from the then prevailing (and in some quarters even now surviving) positivistic and evolutionary thinking applied to the study of the history of religion. When looking at the early Indian religiosity from this vantage point he could not but see the clearly expressed Buddhist goal of liberation as the advanced and ennobled stage of religious quest preceded by lower religious forms such as ritual worship and cult which in turn had been preceded by a wild, primitive and orgiastic stage. He could not see that the frequently expressed longing of the Vedic worshipper for immortality was a manifestation of a similar spiritual quest - expressed, of course, in a different idiom from that in the much later Buddhist texts - which, far from being pursued only by ritual means, was the objective of those who were steeped in the rishi-tradition already in very ancient times and also of the movement of the longhaired munis, living lives of renunciation outside the rishi-tradition.

The point to mention in favour of Oldenberg's attitude to the hymn is that he did not regard it as a nature myth, but as an account of an existing phenomenon of some antiquity and importance which the official Brahminic establishment, oriented as it was towards the sacrificial cult approach, kept outside its domain, although it was unable to escape its influence entirely.

Oldenberg's reputation was high and indologists of the next generations accepted many of his views, particularly in areas in which they did not do special research themselves. Thus Hillebrandt, in some respects Oldenberg's opponent, and Arbmann, who produced some original research results in Vedic studies, both depended on Oldenberg's views in their evaluation of our hymn. The same is probably true of Griswold who may have been the first to introduce the drug theory, so casually suggested by Oldenberg, into this country when he referred in connection with the hymn to 'poison-liquids that produce ecstasy' .

Of recent German indologists, J. W. Hauer did more than anyone else to gain general recognition for Yoga as a subject to be taken seriously on the academic level. But his attempt to deduce the origin of Yoga practices from the Vedic cult was misguided and earned him the following remark from the pen of Keith: 'J. W. Hauer (Die Anf. d. Yogapr. in Alt. Ind., pp. 9-65) adduces all available evidence but most of it is obviously without value.' Hauer did not recognize the true nature of the keshin hymn, because his attitude to it was basically the same as Oldenberg's before him. He, too, believed in upward evolution [39] of Indian religiosity and Yoga was to him a product of this evolution. So he regarded the muni as a mere primitive shaman and in his later book went out of his way in order to find traces of developing Yoga procedures in the Vedic ritual observances. Although his observations concerning Vratyas as forerunners of the sannyasi tradition and of Buddhism are probably very near the mark, he did not manage to find the probable link between the ekavratya phenomenon and the wanderer of our hymn and to dissociate him from Oldenberg's casual remarks. Instead, he virtually echoed him without expressing in any way Oldenberg's uncertainty indicated by the question mark. He wrote: 'The keshin reached ecstasy because he drank visham from a cup with Rudra.’ And he believed that visham was some kind of intoxicating drink. He even went further than Oldenberg in calling the keshin a 'Wildekstatiker', but on the other hand he did admit that the keshin had also 'great spiritual intuitions'. Finally he gave the following ambiguous summary of the hymn: 'The hymn vividly describes the experiences of those primitive ecstatics who, elevated above all terrestrial heaviness, arrive at cosmic expanse.

Keith, having so severely criticized Hauer, found the description of the muni in our hymn striking. He recognized that the longhaired wanderer differed entirely from the Brahminic student, because his experiences were not connected either with the sacrifice or with any of the rites ancillary to it or to other ritual procedures. But he quite obviously succumbed to the Oldenberg's tentative suggestion (which he did not care to quote or refer to) when he wrote: '. . . his ecstasy, it seems, is due to a potent draught which, with Rudra, he drinks from a goblet, perhaps a reference to the use of some poison to produce exhilaration or hypnosis.

Eliade, as an historian of religion and explorer of the dimension of the 'sacred', was much more open to Yoga and the spiritual values of Indian culture in general and fought consistently against the image which the nineteenth century created of so-called 'inferior societies' in particular. Yet even he looked at Indian spiritual experience from an evolutionistic standpoint. He started his book with an exposition of Patanjali's Yoga and when he came to consider its prehistory, he was looking for the evidence of elements he knew from the later 'classic' Yoga of Patanjali. He thought that he had found rudiments of it in the Vedas.

In his investigations Eliade made the mistake of not taking into account the different nature of his two sources separated by more than a thousand years of linguistic development. When tackling our hymn he apparently approached it with preconceived ideas, some of them stemming from his earlier preoccupation with Siberian shamanism. The keshjn is to him only an ecstatic who but vaguely resembles the Yogi, [40] 'the chief similarity being his ability to fly through the air - but this siddhi is a magical power that is found everywhere'. The hymn's references to 'the horse of the wind', the poison drunk with Rudra and to 'the gods whom he incarnates' (sic!) point for him 'rather to a shamanizing technique'. He did not analyse the hymn carefully and produced only a hasty, inaccurate and misleading paraphrase of it. Yet he was also struck by it and found the description of the keshin's ecstasy significant. He expressed his appreciative impressions as follows: 'The muni "disappears in spirit"; abandoning his body, he divines the thoughts of others; he inhabits the "two seas". All of these are experiences transcending the sphere of the profane, are states of consciousness cosmic in structure, though they can be realized through other means than ecstasy.' Those other means he referred to are the three last stages of Patanjali's Yoga, namely concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and 'enstasis' (samadhi) which can be deliberately used for acquiring siddhis or 'miraculous powers'. 'Enstasis' is an expression coined by Eliade which he used to distinguish samadhi from the 'lower' technique of ecstasy.

Eliade's arbitrary distinction between the achievement of a Yogi of Patanjali's school of classical Yoga and of a muni of Vedic times is based on his understanding of mauneya (verse 3), i.e. the sage's state of mind or achievement (which Maurer translates clumsily 'hermit-state'), as being a shamanistic ecstasy, and possibly drug-induced at that. It is highly unlikely that Eliade ever saw or tried to read the original of the hymn. All he wrote about it and the inaccurate paraphrase of it point to the use of a translation. He also heavily depended on Hauer who in turn followed the unfounded casual remarks of Oldenberg who had rendered mauneya as 'drunken rapture' (trunkene Verzückung). I have already pointed out above the basic meaning of that expression as associated with contemplation and silent meditation and so the keshin's achievement cannot, with justification, be regarded as different in essence from that of a Yogi of classical times who is steeped in his samadhi. The difference is clearly only terminological as is understandable with the two texts separated by such a long period of time. It is a matter for regret that not even Gonda, the most prolific Vedic researcher of this century, has done anything to clarify our picture of the keshin. He merely repeated the view about 'ecstatic practices' and referred to Oldenberg, Hauer and Eliade. But he did make one significant contribution to the discussion of the phenomenon of keshin when he offered some general comments on the 'world of ecstatic experience'. He confirmed that such figures as represented by the muni of our hymn lived predominantly outside the brahminic culture.

The resounding echo of 0ldenberg's remark alluding to the possibility of drug-induced ecstasy (after which, we have to point out [41] again, he put a question mark!) bounced back, after more than half a century, from as far as India, the homeland of our longhaired sage, with the question mark removed. R. N. Dandekar, now retired from the chair of Sanskrit in the University of Poona, a distinguished scholar with a high international reputation (who had, in his young days, studied in Germany) wrote words which read more or less like a direct translation from Oldenberg. He said that our hymn 'clearly relates to the specific orgiastic cult of the munis' who seemed to him to have 'indulged in a sort of ecstasy-producing medicament'. And he added a conjecture of his own that 'Rudra is represented in this munisukta almost as the leader of that cult'. [He is right about that!]

It is perhaps not surprising if this interpretation, although based originally only on a casual remark of Oldenberg which was never given substance in a serious inquiry by him or anyone else, has found ready acceptance in our time when it was influenced by the hippy subculture often acclaiming superficial mysticism à la Aldous Huxley with LSD connections (which, sadly, has now taken an even worse turn, namely to n‰ked hard-drug abuse, quite free from any mystical pretences) [What has this nonsensical remark to do here?]. In his, in some respects quite thought-provoking book, Staal, in full dependence on Dandekar (and thereby on Oldenberg's question-marked suggestion), unhesitatingly explained our hymn as 'not only the oldest, but one of the most impressive poetic descriptions of mystical experience connected with the effects of a drug'. He gave a very inaccurate translation of the hymn and described it, without having any backing for it in his own or others' serious research, as an indication of the use of various hallucinogens in Vedic times of which soma, as explained by the now generally rejected Wasson's mushroom theory, was one: 'That soma is not the only hallucinogen referred to in the Rgveda is clear from the longhair hymn.’ It is a sad reflection on the level of critical re-examination, or the lack of it, of old clichés, which the remark of Oldenberg's has become, that the drug theory has found common acceptance among teachers of Sanskrit like Maurer. In his comment to verse 2 of his translation, given above, he says: '. . . "toxic drink" refers to some sort of narcotic substance used by the ascetics to induce a trance-like, ecstatic state.' And his observation to verse 7 elaborates: 'This passage. . . is the oldest reference to the Rudra-Shiva cult of traditional Indian civilisation, which has always been characterised by wild, frenzied rites and revelry involving the consumption of intoxicating beverages and hallucinatory drugs.' (Cf. my note 4.) Such sweeping assertions, which lack substantiation and are not backed by references to any research work; are unworthy of an academic.

The common fallacy of all such interpretations of the Rigvedic material is their disregard for the highly symbolical character of the [42] Vedic texts and thereby for the deeper meaning of their mythological background. Their protagonists appear to have always sought only the most obvious and virtually literal explanation which one could be forgiven for calling a kind of (academic) fundamentalism.

A more cautious and less extreme view of our hymn was expressed by Geldner: 'The song describes the trance-state of an ascetic ecstatic . . . Oldenberg (Religion 404) goes too far in stressing the rough features of a wild medicine-man. The muni possesses fully the external signs of the later Yogi and of the god Siva. In this statement he was long before preceded by Ludwig, although he did not quote him. Ludwig, moreover, recognized in the image of Rudra drinking the poison a reference to the myth about the churning of the cosmic ocean and to Shiva drinking the poison halahala which has been separated from the ocean first, to be followed later by the drink of immortality. That is why he suggested that one should see in Rudra a Yogi.

There are other, perhaps less important, interpretations of our hymn like that of Sharma who regards the keshins as the forerunners of the sramanas and as such 'the earliest dissenters from the orthodox religion,’ a view which cannot be upheld and for which there is no evidence. Neither keshins nor sramanas can be held for dissenters from the orthodox religion, because they represented quite a different tradition outside orthodoxy or outside Brahminic culture, as Gonda put it. Turning now to the first comprehensive and serious attempt at a deeper understanding of this remarkable hymn by Miller, I have to say again that bold and imaginative as it is, her interpretation which came quite near to unveiling the true character of the longhaired sage, still failed to do full justice to him, for two reasons.

Firstly, she was too much influenced by Eliade's views and secondly she, too, looked at the hymn with a certain evolutionistic bias - as already the title of her paper, 'Forerunners of Yoga', indicates. Like. others before her she spoke about the 'ecstatic' state of the munis and although she admitted that it 'contains an element of luminosity characteristic of the later Yogi experiences' she found, clearly under the influence of Eliade, also 'some marked similarities between shamanism and the munis' experiences' She judged them apparently by her understanding of the Patanjali's elaborate scheme of the stages of samadhi when she further wrote: 'The munis' experiences cannot even be regarded as simple states of samadhi . . . they still belong to the lowest part of the created cosmos'. She evidently believed that further evolution was necessary to bring our wandering sage of Vedic time from his supposedly primitive mentality to the advanced spirituality of Patanjali's time.

But as in almost everybody else's case, the underlying strength of the hymn's evidence influenced even her to the point where she appears to [43] have become inconsistent with her own statements. She very nearly ascribed to the sage the highest possible development of man's spirituality when she recognized that he possessed 'detachment from life leading to its mastery' and even admitted that he 'is not merely master of the two worlds, mind and matter, but he has penetrated into svar, the spiritual world or level of cognition'. She was further tempted by the view of Bose who interpreted the drinking of poison by the sage in Rudra's company as a symbol of taking, on himself, the world's suffering. This is a suggestion which is not unsound, because in the myth about the churning of the cosmic ocean Shiva drinks the poison in order to save other gods and the whole world from destruction. Yet Miller shrinks back from the temptation of what would appear to be spurious reasons. She must have known about the awareness in the Vedas of the meaning of sacrifice and self-sacrifice for the benefit of the world which is expressed mythologically by the original sacrifice of the purusha in the process of world creation (RV 10,90). Yet she finds Bose's idea as striking 'a slightly dramatic note not quite in keeping with the Indian spirit for whom tragedy has no place. This remark is off the mark, for if a spiritually advanced being undergoes suffering in order to help others, there may be in it a dramatic note, but it is quite in keeping with the Indian spirit - as the myth about churning the cosmic ocean and drinking the poison, or even the story of the Buddha's life before enlightenment and other instances show - but there certainly is no tragedy in it.

The approach to the interpretation of this hymn should be free from prejudice and preconceived ideas and theories about the evolution of religious experiences of mankind. All high religions recognize a transcendental and ultimate source of spirituality (be it called God, atman, Tao, nirvana, the Holy or any other name) which itself does not undergo evolution and can reveal itself or be experienced fully in different times and situations and in different stages of man's mental or intellectual development, without being linked together by any kind of evolutionary process. The expressions and interpretations of such revelations or experiences of course vary according to the idiom current at different times and in different cultures, but they always point to the highest conceivable reality. This is true also of the hymn about the longhaired sage and that is why hardly any of its interpreters surveyed above could avoid expressing it in one way or another, even though in their overall evaluation they more or less belittled the achievement of the sage. So let us now piece together those valid and important observations of individual scholars so far quoted which give him credit for some special feature.

First of all, the hymn obviously portrays a phenomenon of great antiquity, as we are already assured by Oldenberg, despite the fact that [44] the tenth book of the RV is considered to be of relatively late date. No one has ever challenged this point. Secondly, as Keith pointed out, the longhaired sage was not a student of Brahminic tradition, which means that he lived, as Gonda put it, predominantly outside the Brahminic culture, a point also already made by Oldenberg. Thirdly, the longhaired sage impressed some scholars by what is indicated of his saintly life, leading to high spiritual achievements: Roth spoke of a life of sanctity by which the muni could attain to the fellowship of deities; Hauer admitted that he had great spiritual intuitions and, elevated above all terrestrial heaviness, arrived 'at cosmic expanse' (a high evaluation whatever he may have meant by it); Eliade recognized that his experiences transcended the sphere of the profane and were states of consciousness 'cosmic in structure' (yet another instance of a high appraisal whose exact meaning is not quite clear); and Miller credited him with mastery of life and of the 'two worlds of mind and matter' (her interpretation of the two oceans, the eastern and the western) as well as with 'penetrating into the spiritual world of cognition'. Last but not least, Ludwig saw in the longhaired sage a Yogi, Geldner also recognized in him 'all the external signs of Yogis' known from historical times and of the God Shiva worshipped in later Hinduism as Yogapati, the Lord of Yoga and, finally, Bose brought a soteriological element into the process of the interpretation of the hymn by suggesting that his drinking of poison symbolized taking the world's suffering on himself.

With the results of my predecessors in mind I would now proceed to the presentation of my own translation and discussion of the hymn:

  • 1. The longhaired one carries within himself fire [tapas] and poison [soma] and both heaven and earth [ida and pingala, together forming sushumna]. To look at him is like seeing heavenly brightness in its fullness. He is said to be light itself.
  • 2. The sages, girdled with the wind [digambar, n‰ked], are clad in dust of yellow hue [khak, ashes]. They follow the path of the wind when the gods have penetrated [entered] them.
  • 3. 'Uplifted [intoxicated] by our sagehood [mauneya, silence asceticism] we have ascended upon the winds. You mortals see just our bodies.'
  • 4. The sage flies through the inner region, [middle region, air] illuminating all forms below. Given to holy work he is the companion of every god.
  • 5. Being the wind's horse, the Vayu's companion and god-inspired, the sage is at home in both oceans, the eastern and the western. [45]
  • 6. Wandering in the track of celestial beings and sylvan beasts, the longhaired one, knowing their aspiration, is a sweet and most uplifting friend.
  • 7. For him Vayu [the storm-god] churned, even pounded that which is hard to bend, as the longhaired one drank the poison [drug] the cup [gourd-kamandal], together with Rudra.

It may now be clear that the Vedas as religious scriptures are representative of one type of spiritual tradition which spread its message through familiar religious means. The hymn under scrutiny gives evidence of the existence of another ancient type of spiritual tradition which expressed itself in what we can call, using a term which appeared later, the Yogic way of life. This consisted in renouncing worldly life, abstaining from current forms of religious worship and practising a meditative approach to the transcendent. According to the evidence given by the followers of this tradition, this led to the shifting of their consciousness into the dimension of the spiritual which gave them access to a higher kind of knowledge of themselves, of the hidden reality and of other men and beings both superhuman and subhuman. As a result they were friends and helpers of others, possibly even assisting them spiritually by way of some kind of self-sacrifice.

The authorship of this hymn is clearly to be ascribed to someone belonging to the Vedic tradition who reported sympathetically and perhaps even with admiration about the longhaired sage using of course the current mythological an symbolical images of the idiom of later Vedic time. This imagery is not as difficult to understand as it may seem at first glance and it is therefore possible to obtain a fairly clear picture of the longhaired sage and the tradition behind him as outlined above.

For comments: Dolf Hartsuiker