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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy
Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination.

Mahony, William K. (1998)
Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

ISBN:0-7914-3580-6 paperback
0-7914-3579-2 hardcover

Description: Hardcover, xii + 325 pages.

Contents: Preface, pronunciation of Sanskrit words, introduction, 6 chapters, chapter notes, bibliography, index and glossary.

Excerpt(s): Vedic poets thus came to know and express divine truths through a process they describe as a mode of seeing and which is closely and frequently associated with the experience of light. Their very contact with the gods took place through such "vision." Those poets spoke frequently of what they called dhi, a rich word that can be translated as "insight" or "enlightened ability to see hidden truths" or similar phrases that suggest the visionary's ability inwardly to perceive the sublime yet effective forces that direct the movements of the world and hold the universe together. But dhi included more than the passive ability to see the sacred. Through the power of such vision, Vedic poets also fashioned language which, in expressing those truths, allowed them to align themselves with those divine forces. The Vedic "vision" was therefore not only an experience of the gods and goddesses but also a means by which the poet established and sustained contact with the fundamental truths of the universe. (page 74)

The poet was therefore a person who, by means of his or her cultivated insight, had the clearest and most enlivened access to an already existing yet perhaps unformed vision, a vision the contours and powers of which he or she shared with the deities. The poetic process itself was one in which that sublime model became solidified or materialized into distinct and audible physical sounds through a process of imagination. A verse describing insightful visionaries-"they who by means of vision led the origin of speech, or those who by means of the mind spoke forth sacred words"-represents another important Vedic idea, namely, that the powerful imagination precedes not only speech but the mind itself, both of which are directed by that imaginative vision. (page 76)

The fundamental reality the visionary's words expressed-the universal Word itself-was understood to be timeless and infinite. ...

It may be worth remembering at this point that the full title of the Rgveda as a whole is Rgveda-Mantra-Samhita, the "collected mantras of the Rgveda," and that the word mantra, which literally means "an instrument of the mind," refers generally in this context to all the sacred syllables, words, verses, and songs of that collection. Sacred language gave verbal image to the eternal Word itself, which, in turn, revealed itself in those very images. Good poets were said to be able to see the eternal through the purity of their hearts and minds and then to produce their poems. Thus, the mantras they sang in the assembly of seers gave expression to the eternal wisdom, that is, to the preexistent Word itself. ...

The etymological source of the word manas, "mind," returns to the verbal root man-, meaning to "think" or, better (as we will see), to "think in a productive way." In its narrowest sense, manas served as the abode for such intellectual functions as cognition and for sensual awareness. In a hymn to various deities, Atharvan singers listed a number of mental functions that warranted reverence and praise: "Would we pay worship to mind [manas], to thought, to insightful imagination, to intention, to mental prayer, to instruction, to vision." All these different functions are generally subsumed by that of manas; for manas-a capability that was possessed by both deities and humans-was often associated with other related functions of sensual perception of some sort and with the knowledge gained from such awareness. ...

According to Vedic thought, then, the mind is the home of the capability to perceive the world through the senses. The mind also includes the ability to reflect on what has been perceived, and it searches for meaning and significance in the world it has come to know. The mind cognizes, discerns, interprets, and deliberates. That it is the place of inquiry and of the quest for the truth is suggested by one seer's query of his fellow "thoughtful sages to inquire within your minds: where did [the divine Artist] stand when he made all things?" (pages 78-79)

Vedic poets therefore composed or fashioned their thoughtful songs and poetic phrases in their hearts and then sent them off to the deities they praised. "Agni, with our song we bring you a gift fashioned in the heart," a seer proclaimed, while another affirmed that "from my heart I bring forth a fair song to he who drinks the sweet honey, the soma-sprinkled Agni." (page 82)

Filtering and thus purifying what he had found by passing it through his mind, the seer then looked to the heart's wisdom for confirmation of the insights such clarified perceptions brought.

We note here a suggestion of a ritual process of filtration or cleansing. Indeed, we remember that wise seers are said to have "fashioned language with their minds, filtering it like dried grain through a sieve," and that they "traced the path of language through ritual."

The imagery here is reminiscent of the filtering of the juice of the soma plant. ...

The essence of the pressed and clarified soma was known as soma pavamana and described with terms suggesting resplendence, brightness, clarity, and a sparkling and beautiful brilliance. The liquid extract, for example, was a "spring made of gold," whose "swift outpourings flow forth like the rays of the sun." ...

The soma was especially welcomed by the deities in their celestial stations. Drinking that pure and resplendent power of life, the gods gained their own lustrous brilliance. It was from the soma, in fact, that the gods gained their very immortality. The refined soma was amrta: ambrosia, the nectar of the gods, the bright drop of life from which the divine universe gained its vitality and being (pages 84-85)

[footnote] 118. The Sanskrit amrta (a-mrta, "not-dead)) derives from the root mr-, to "decease," from the Indo-European mer-, to "die." The Indo-European root appears also in the Latin stem mort- and thus the English mortal and im-mortal as well as in the Greek a-mbrotos and therefore the English ambrosia. (page 256)

Through the Rgveda we see suggestions that perhaps Vedic seers themselves tasted soma pavamana in which dwelled the god Soma in preparation for the poetic sessions. In a hymn to Soma, the Lord of Visions, a seer noted that "the drop that we have drunk has entered our hearts, an immortal inside mortals." The effect of this elixir on these poets seems to have been similarly stimulating, even rapturous; for those who had inwardly enjoyed its flavor were said to break free from the limitations of the physical body and to enjoy the company of the gods. ... Such transport into the sublime was said not only to bring the poet into an intense personal awareness of and intimate relationship with the divine itself, but also to bring him to a state in which he was free of the mundane concerns of mortal existence and thus to the same immortality enjoyed by the gods.

Given the close association in Vedic thought between light and divinity, it is not surprising that the effect of soma on the poet's mind was typically described with images of intense or brilliant light. We see an example of this ecstatic transport into immortal brilliance in a seer's exhilarated proclamation that

We have drunk the soma!
We have became immortal!
We have attained the light!
We have found the gods! (page 86)

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