In any society, just uttering the word “fire” loudly creates a lot of excitement. Fire is generally perceived as danger – which it is, if you do not handle it properly. Let us look at the elemental dimension of fire or agni – its manifestations, ways to conduct it, and above all, ways to master it. Though among the five elements, fire accounts for the smallest proportion in the composition of the human body, its influence is tremendous. In many ways, fire represents life. One major indicator for whether you are alive or dead is if the fire is still on in you, or if your body has gone cold. Life upon this planet is essentially solar-powered. You know, the Sun is a huge ball of fire that fuels life on this planet. Any machine, while it works, invariably generates heat because fundamentally, fire is the fuel. You may call it electricity, petrol, wood, coal, or whatever else, but essentially, it is fire that lets any machine run, including your body.
In this culture, the element of fire is personified as Agni Deva, a two-faced god who rides on a fiery ram. The two faces are symbolic representations of fire as a life giver and a life taker. Without the fire burning within us, there is no life. But if you do not take care, fire can quickly go out of control and consume everything. When it burns our body, it is called cremation. Another aspect is we are using fire to cook, so that we can consume foods that otherwise may not be edible or palatable for us. There are many dimensions of fire, within and without. Let us look at the three forms of fire that burn within us. One is known as jatharagni. Jathara means stomach or digestive process. Without a little bit of fire in your belly, you cannot digest the food that you eat. Food is functioning as fuel that you need to break down in order to release the energy that you need. If the digestive fire is well-nourished and well-supplied with fuel, it also becomes reproductive fire. Both digestion and reproduction depend on jatharagni.
The second kind of inner fire is called chitagni. It is the dimension of the mind and beyond. Chitta is a dimension of intelligence within you that transcends the limitations of the physical form. Your physical form is an outcome of your genetic and your karmic memory. By contrast, chitta is a dimension of intelligence that is untainted by memory. The fire of intelligence can manifest on many different levels, the first level of manifestation being the intellect. If we look at the different fires within you, only if your digestive fire is going well, the reproductive fire will come into the act. If you are not well-fed, the reproductive instincts will disappear. Similarly, if your chitagni is not reasonably fired, your intellect will become weak and ineffective. However, if your chitagni is fired up, it will manifest itself in the form of intellect – even if you are not in a state to consciously access other dimensions of intelligence.
If your chitagni is burning bright, you will lose interest in food, sexuality, and other matters of the body. It is in this context that what is unfortunately being propagated as renunciation should actually be transcendence. The next dimension of fire is called bhutagni, the elemental fire. If your elemental fire is on, the circus of the body and mind will not make much sense to you. Your interest and focus will shift from the antics of the body and mind to a more fundamental aspect of creation – the source of life. If you take charge of jatharagni, you will have a healthy and robust body. If you take charge of your chitagni, you will have a mind that you can use in many ways. If you take charge of your bhutagni, you will have fundamental mastery over the process of life.
The boundaries of the body are very clear and limited. The boundaries of the mind are larger. For example, if you know something about another part of the world, it is within the boundaries of your mind. As your knowledge expands, your mental boundaries can expand. But if you become conscious of the dimension of bhutagni or the elemental fire, you will be a boundless being, because the play of elements is happening across the entire creation. Beyond this, there is something called sarvagni, because, according to modern science, the physical dimension of existence is less than five percent. That means if you know the entire physical dimension of the universe, you know only five percent of existence. Sarvagni touches the dimension where there are no elements, where there is no creation as you know it, or in other words, where there is no physical nature.
Generally, a yogi who wants to access the nature of life will not interest himself in jatharagni, chitagni, and bhutagni. He will focus only on sarvagni, because this is the ultimate fire – but it is a cool fire. Jatharagni is a very obvious fire. Chitagni is less obvious but very much there. Bhutagni is not so visible at all but very much there. Sarvagni can hardly be felt, but without it, nothing would happen. It is the fundamental and ultimate fire that encompasses all other fires. Fire is the element that is closest to akash or the ether. The akashic or etheric dimension becomes more accessible where there is fire – particularly if certain fuels are used. In South India, we either use ghee or sesame oil for a lamp. If both are not available, then groundnut oil; if that is also not available, then coconut oil. These oil-based fires have a certain quality. They have a comparably higher smoke point than other fuels. That is why, if you look at the edge of the flame – you should not look into the flame – the etheric dimension is more available.
Whenever you want to create a conducive atmosphere, the first thing is to light an oil or ghee lamp. This is so much a part of Indian life. And the fuel for the lamp should be of a certain kind for maximum benefit. Candles generally do not have the same effect, especially when they are made of chemical wax. Essentially, what you are trying to do is make a fire with a material that creates a certain aura around itself, so that akash becomes available. With an oil lamp, you create an akashic field from which you and others in your home can benefit. Especially for children, pregnant women, sick people, and for health in general, it is vital to have an oil lamp burning in your home. Such a fire not only enhances your jatharagni for increased health and robustness of the body, but also the chitagni, and the availability of akash. It is important that the fire of intelligence burns within you. When only the physical fires are burning within you but not the fire of intelligence, life can get miserable and ugly. When there is too much jatharagni and not enough chitagni, people will do the stupidest things.
In this culture, everything of significance in people’s lives happened around fire. Without fire, there was no worship, no marriage, no significant event. Many different manifestations and ways of using fire got established in this culture, including sacrificial fires like homas and havanas. Fire makes akash or the ether more accessible. Of all the elements that we are made of, akash is the one that is most transparent and fluid. The earth in my body and your body is fundamentally the same, but in terms of what your body contains and what mine contains, it is distinctly separate. The water within you and within me is separate – you could say it is kept in different containers right now. But the air that we breathe cannot be separated. It is being exchanged all the time. The fire element of who we are is shared to an even larger extent. The akashic element is absolutely shared. We are all in the same akash. If you enhance the akashic element in any atmosphere, a certain bonding happens between human beings. Around a fire, togetherness and communication are greatly enhanced, because where there is fire, the element of akash becomes dominant.
To sum it up: Although fire only forms a small part of you in terms of quantity, in terms of quality, it is very significant because of its unique nature. Your ability to touch fire is very minimal. At the same time, fire is the element to which you are most sensitive. Fire is a means to set the atmosphere to communicate, to create receptivity, to transcend limitations, and to touch another dimension that you can refer to as the Divine or God or whatever you want to call the source of creation.