At Loka Hatha Yoga, our Fire Ceremony marks the mid-day of Spring, and honors Kamadeva. It is a celebration of Vehicles, and friends - and especially spouses.
The Buddha Gotama said that the Agnihotra is the foremost sacrifice (Samyutta Nikaya 111, Majjhima Nikaya 92), and the Gayatri is the foremost song. We combine both these practices today through the context of Kama by studying the Fire Dharma, the Daily Fire Sacrifice, and the Gayatri.
The Gayatri is a kind of song, it is the structure of words - similar to a sonnet, or haiku, or other structures. However, it has become specially associated with one such song in particular: the praise of the Sun's light.
When Brahma first attempted the Fire Sacrifice, he could not complete it because he was not married. He desperately sought the very first being he might find to be his wife, and Gayatri - whose structure of words is used in the Fire Sacrifice - embodied herself to be nearest to Brahma, for she also desired the completion of the sacrifice. The two at that moment developed a pure love, and were married. This mutual desire to complete the sacrifice for the sacrifice's sake, which is expressed in the purest love of Brahma and Gayatri, also expresses the essence of Kama, which Kamadeva espoused.
The mantra, or song, praising the Sun is from the Rig Veda 3.62.10. It makes a play on words, a pun, between the light of the sun, and the enlightenment of the singer. "Let us meditate on enlightenment until we are as luminous as the sun," is one approximation of translation. The Buddha Gotama taught that while enlightenment is only one step in a very long process, it is appropriate to make it the first and foremost goal of practice: with enlightenment, freedom from distress is easier to achieve, as is all that follows. It is for this reason the Gayatri is used at the beginning of the Brahmacharya.
The Daily Fire Sacrifice
There are five fire sacrifices which should be made daily, if one would properly perform the Vedas.
There is the fire that burns from the combustion of fuel in a hearth. Yet the sacrifice made is by the plants - what do we give by cowering beside it? It is the holy work of gathering the fuel that makes our sacrifice - and by doing so we may discover the best fire of all: for, in this work, we will grow warmer through the right exertion of our strength.
Discovery of this second kind of fire permits the discovery of the second kind of fuel: the food we require to exert ourselves is actually a sacrifice made by numerous kinds of beings for our health and maintenance. What do we gain by their sacrifice, to be burned as energy for our work? It is the work itself that makes our sacrifice; the practice of Hatha Yoga permits our learning to take exactly what is required for the maintenance of our body - and discover what is required for the maintenance of our heart. Warming our hearts requires a third kind of fuel, and produces a third kind of fire.
The third kind of fire warms our heart by selfless service to other beings - the effort made to make the sacrifice of our food worthwhile permits us to act entirely selflessly. This Karma Yoga warms our hearts - but is not itself a sacrifice until we facilitate the growth in practice and the sacrifices of other beings as true Brahmans ought to. Karma Yoga permits the discovery of a fourth kind of fuel, a fourth fire: this one burns cold, but emits great light.
When we use our service in a way that allows others to develop the practice of Karma Yoga, we illuminate our minds. This illumination, this enlightenment, is the fourth kind of fire, fueled by Jnana Yoga. Observation of this light allows us to understand the conditions which permit fire: fuel is only one of them. A spark is required, and the fuel must be prepared. We come to understand the conditions in our own life which were prepared for our growth and success, and honor all that came before us: our parents who raised us, our ancestors who raised them, the world of beings who conditioned their success - and our own. In doing so, we kindle a fifth flame with a new kind of fuel when we discover the limitations of our perception and understanding - there are numerous beings which cannot be seen, numerous forces which defy understanding. We gain a trust in logic, and conscience - a fifth kind of fuel.
The fifth fire leads to sacrifice to the beings which we cannot see, and a logical conscience - doing what is right regardless of pain or pleasure, acting wholly in love, for love, out of love of Love, in Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti Yoga is the fifth fire; Bhakti Yoga allows us to understand the Dharma.
Understanding the Dharma we come to study it as often as possible, feeding a sixth fire - we study the Dharma a little at first, then more and more, then daily, then hourly, then constantly. We come to live the Vedas. In living the Vedas, we have performed them. And accomplished the purpose of the Fire Sacrifices.
The Fire Dharma
Gotama was both a husband and a father. His wife was Bhaddakaccana, or Yasodhara, his son was Rahula. Gotama described both a daily fire sacrifice, and also the fire itself, the Dharma of the Fire. Without Yasodhara's help, Gotama might never have achieved the sacrifice.
Gotama said that he could not have achieved enlightenment without his wife. The two shared an intimate path: both shared the same birthday, and on the same day, without telling each other, both matured their practice of Kama to take up the path of Brahmacharya. Both concluded their Brahmacharya successfully - at the same time. In other stories of Vishnu, there is a similar bond and co-practice and co-life between Vishnu and Laxmi: just as the fire burns and purifies what is not fit for sacrifice, Laxmi prepares both for Vishnu, and Vishnu himself. The fire itself may be sacred, but only because of its heat and light.
Gotama described the fire in this way: everything was on fire, burning with desire, aversion, delusion and suffering. He did not speak literally:
What is "everything" is not only the forms and manifestations of reality, but the are the internal and external senses of those forms, the perception of those senses, the consciousness of those perceptions, the understanding of that consciousness, the instinctual response to those understandings. The fire results in manifestations of distress. But the fire can also enlighten: by becoming disenchanted, no longer mystified by the "magic" of the forms, senses, perceptions, consciousness, instinct, etc. dispassion co-arises with logical, or rational, behavior - regardless of pain, pleasure, distress, feeling or any sensation.
One does not extinguish the sacred flame, but instead permits it to burn itself out. This is, too, how we achieve enlightenment. Consume the fuel that feeds the fire, and as Vishnu transforms his enemy Devadatta into his vehicle and friend, use your own desire, aversion, delusion and suffering as the means of success.
As fire can burn and hurt, it can also warm and cook food; our distress can be more properly used.
Celebration of friends and Vehicles
It is therefore appropriate, on the day of the Fire Ceremony, to celebrate our many vehicles and friends in life. And especially our spouses. This is accomplished by describing them, consciously understanding everything about them - in the spirit of love. Praising them, rejoicing in them. Naming them.
Today is a day for Kama, for going forth in Brahmacharya, for understanding our path. Meditating on enlightenment, we understand our path requires us understanding our present struggles not only portend our eventual success, but are the means to it.
The Fire Altar
The fire altar need not be traditional. Here at the Ashram, we use a barbeque: this helps us meditate better on the Fire Dharma, seeing that the fire which burns and hurts can also be hospitable. A barbeque also presents an opportunity to share both dinner and the happy occasion for spouses, to share loving words, and reflect on both the Fire Dharma, and the Vehicles of their lives - to understand their path, and the ultimate success which they will achieve.
Practicing the Gayatri means not only reciting words in a song, but living the Vedas. It is important, especially today, to not neglect Kama (or Artha) when seeking to perfect this Dharma.