100 years of Helena Roerich’s Agni Yoga

By Sudheendra Kulkarni

Since time immemorial, the mighty, mystical Himalayas have been a source of inspiration for spiritual truth-seekers. Among them, in the last century, was an extraordinary Russian couple – Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena Roerich. One, a renowned painter, explorer and peace promoter; the other, evolved in spiritual sadhana. The pull of the Himalayas brought them to Naggar in Kullu valley in Himachal Pradesh, which became their karma bhoomi and tapo bhoomi.

In 1920, Helena, in partnership with her husband and under the guidance of her gurus – including Helena Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society – started a movement called Agni Yoga, which she called the ‘Living Ethics’. She wrote a 14-volume treatise on the subject. Agni, fire, is regarded as sacred in all cultures and faiths around the world because of its power of purification, refinement and illumination. Agni Yoga posits that the ultimate goal of human life – also the path and practice leading to that goal – is ‘Mergence with Divine Fire’. It teaches its practitioners to attain increasingly subtle states of consciousness, and ascend on the path of spiritual evolution from one’s self to cosmic Self.

The best way to know Agni Yoga is that it is the yoga of the heart, which Helena likens to the ‘Temple of Humanity’. It regards the human heart – with its cleansing and redemptive power of love and compassion, devotion and prayer – to be a superior enabler of human evolution than the intellect. Development of energy of the heart, awakening of anahata chakra, requires, first and foremost, ethical self-transformation. Hence, it urges us to get rid of vices like falsity, selfishness, anger, arrogance and violence, which shackle us to a low, gross level of existence. Simultaneously, it exhorts us to cultivate “luminous qualities” that connect us with “far-off higher worlds” – truthfulness, faithfulness to God, mercy, control over one’s emotions, and joyful service of not only others but also all inter-connected forms of life.

“The hygiene of the heart,” Helena writes, “is premised on good deeds for the welfare of humanity. It will act as a trustworthy timepiece that calls one to care about everyone and everything.” Agni Yoga also lays emphasis on creation of beauty, which both Helena and Nicholas described as the ‘Garment of Truth’.

Like in satsang, which is a community of like-minded truth seekers, Agni Yoga emphasises that group striving is more helpful than individual effort because it generates both solidarity and a more powerful common psychic energy. It cautions practitioners to be ready to encounter obstacles, both within oneself and from outside. “Blessed are the obstacles – thanks to them we grow,” Helena writes. “Those walking with the Forces of Light must know that without a tense battle, there is no victory.”

In the past 100 years, Agni Yoga communities have been active in Russia, India and many other parts of the world. However, in their own lifetime, the Roerichs were misunderstood and ostracised in the Soviet Union, which had outlawed the teaching of Agni Yoga. The ban was lifted by Mikhail Gorbachev, the father of glasnost and Perestroika, partly because his wife Raisa was a devoted student of Agni Yoga. Gorbachev called the Roerichs and their two gifted children – Svetoslav, painter, and George, Tibetologist – “One of the cultural pillars of Russia.” They were ambassadors of heart between India and Russia.


DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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