‘Agni-Soma': the yogic model of human behavior for managing self and others
“He who discovers that all this is Agni and Soma,
And does not feel overawed is truly liberated”
--- 12.277.33, Mahabharata
------- © Dr. Satya Prakash Choudhary
Agni-Someeyam: an introduction
The Vedic concept of 'Agni-Soma' forms the most basic foundation for all Vedic knowledge, be it Yoga or Ayurveda or Swara or Tantra . This is the simplest conceptual model that can be used consistently across many fields, ranging from psychology to healing and spirituality to management. Simply translated ‘ Agni ' means ‘fire' and ‘ Soma ' means ‘nectar'. While Western science has tended to reduce complex phenomena into smaller units and go cellular, the ancient Indian approach looked for fundamental systemic principles that are possibly more organizational. In the ultimate sense though Truth is One, the forces of Nature can be classified in a number of ways (two-fold, tri-fold, tetra-fold, pentafold etc). Although there are a variety of forces in the Universe, at the most basic level two principles form the basis of everything.
1. Agni- the fiery principle represented by fire element
2. Soma - the cold principle represented by water element
At a macrocosmic or universal level Agni and Soma are seen as systemic forces or as forces of Nature ( Prakrti ). At a microcosmic or individual level, more specifically at the human behavioral level, they are seen as psychic energies or functions of consciousness. As the most fundamental inner urges or drives, they drive an individual from within and shape the individual's life. The results of these two counterbalancing inner drives have corresponding external manifestations, as concrete, tangible realities. Life is governed by the interplay of these two counterbalancing “life forces”.
Agni is individualistic while Soma is pro-social . Agni is called for when one is operating from an individualistic ‘self-preservative' perspective, while it is Soma that is appropriate from a prosocial ‘species-preservative' perspective. The forces of Agni work towards individuality,
intellectual process, separation and differentiation of self, while the psychic forces of Soma drive towards togetherness, feeling process, emotional bonding and union. Life is a balance between these two opposing forces. Each of the Agni energies is generally balanced by a corresponding Soma energy. One of the most fundamental features of the human condition is the struggle that arises out of the need to strike a balance between two basic urges: the drive toward being an individual, and the drive towards being together with others in relationship. Ideally these two tendencies are to be brought into a fulfilling balance.
Agni is based on a sense of self. It is focused on defending the individual from harm and securing resources necessary for survival. Agni helps in acquiring the resources and protects the same by its territorial and defensive nature. Soma is the complementary opposite of Agni and thus based on a more inclusive sense of self that merges boundaries. Put differently Soma extends our territory by merging boundaries. Soma allows for awareness of our interconnectedness. It is concerned with the welfare and needs of others, which at a systemic level influences the individual's welfare too. Full development of Soma includes the welfare of not only the family system or the species, but of all living beings, of the larger eco-system, of the entire planet. The Vedic/Yogic perspective takes Soma to its heights in envisioning the whole universe as one divine family ( vasudaiva kutumbam ).
Summary of ‘Agni-Soma' functioning
cognition and analysis
differentiation of self
exclusive sense of self
territorial and defensive
feeling and emotion
inclusive sense of self
Agni and Soma are two complementary aspects of consciousness. Yet Soma level of consciousness is somewhat different from Agni-consciousness which is ‘awakened discerning awareness'. On the other hand Soma characterizes an awareness that is ‘diffuse, merging and holding together'. Through the emotional awareness made possible by Soma the blazing current of Agni is altered and its seemingly harsh, intolerant brilliancy is diffused and softened. The razor sharp intellectual functioning and blazing insights provided by Agni alone would render life dry and insensate if not for the cool, sensate and nectarine, functioning of Soma. Ideally the full functioning of Soma brings into awareness unconditional kindliness, openness, compassion and joyful contentment. Thus Soma is yielding, receptive and nurturing and is the complementary opposite (not competing opposite) that counterbalances Agni .
Agni denotes intellectual competence while Soma denotes emotional competence. Agni symbolises who we are while Soma denotes how we relate to others. Soma functioning is not just love and union in the sense of intimate or romantic love, but is also love of beauty, art, music, and good food. Soma functioning awakens a sensate level of functioning as emotions are linked to the input from the senses, including sensuality and pleasures experienced through the senses. Through Soma we experience desire, longing, ecstasy, rapture and sexuality. Soma is the complementary opposite of Agni as Soma cravings are a reflection of needs and wants rather than a need to cognize or analyze something (the need to cognize or analyze is an Agni-based need just like intellectual functioning). In fact, our most powerful desires drive out judgment – try reasoning with anyone in love! Yet Soma energies are not merely the opposite of Agni's. They are not antagonistic. They are polar opposites, complementary opposites that balance each other and complete an experience, in its totality. Together agni and soma denote ideal differentiated play of the self. Yoga emphasizes equilibrium, the golden mean wherein opposites are counterbalanced.