While gathering information for a conference presentation a few weeks back, I discovered something I thought was interesting about yoga history and would like to share it with you. The oldest text of Hinduism Is the Ṛg Veda,[1] and some of the roots of yoga can be found in it. The Ṛg Veda is a collection of over a thousand hymns of praise mostly to nature gods. The word Ṛg translates as ‘praise.’ These hymns were written by poets called Kavis or Rishis (poets or seers) and fall into several different meter structures. Just as Haiku, for example, has a set number of syllables for each line, these poems fit into a strict complex of metric forms. Most of us have heard or can recite the Gayatri mantra. This well-known mantra, like many hymns from the Ṛg Veda, is composed in the Gayatri meter. The name is the most well-known expression of that meter.
Bhuh Bhuvah Svah
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi
Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat
Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life,
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.
My excitement about the Ṛg Veda came from the use of the word/concept called “Ṛta.” This word is used almost 400 times in the text and is considered by some scholars to be the most profound concept in the text. Ṛta is interpreted as “the transcendent truth of the cosmic and human order”[2] A Ṛg Veda hymn expresses Ṛta when its meter and meaning are perfect.
As I read about Ṛta, I started to think about music and how much of the music I love is not perfect. The lyrics may be perfect except the place where a word strains to rhyme, or rhymes but does not carry the meaning of the song. Many of the songs I love have great music and words but they just don’t fit perfectly. Like having the almost perfect puzzle piece, it fits – but not quite. Then there are songs, like the perfect puzzle piece that are absolute perfection. When we listen to this song something magical happens.
We can use an art museum as another example. . There may be many things we like about the various paintings and we enjoy seeing them. Then we walk around a corner and there before us is a perfect painting. The composition, color, detail size and message all align to create something profound. This is what Ṛta means.
The Ṛg Veda poets strived to write poetry so perfect in its composition and message that something magical happened when they were read. Heaven was Ṛta and the gods spoke in the language of Ṛta. If the poetry was perfect, the gods would come to the place it was spoken[3]
The human body is the temple of God. One who kindles the light of awareness within gets the true light. The sacred flame of your inner shrine is constantly bright. The experience of unity is the fulfillment of human endeavors. The mysteries of life are revealed. -Rg Veda
To be continue next month…

[1] The Sanskrit letter Ṛ is pronounced like the ‘ri’ in Marine.
[2] A perfect mantra (in the Rig Veda) must be so exquisitely rendered that it conforms to rules of poetry. It is empowered by the substantial elements of its truth.
Over and over, the poets remind their audience that the power released from the pronunciation of mantra is due to the fact that the mantra is true. Mantra’s ties to Ṛta, the transcendent truth of the cosmic and human orders, is clear. All the gods who promote the truth will be favorable if invited to the ritual with mantras; and a choice mantra to Agni will necessarily capture the truth (Ṛta) known by and essential to the god of fire. Page 1 -Understanding Mantras- Harvey P. Alper, editor
[3] The gods live in Ṛta. When we enter Ṛta we tap the power of the gods. page 43 -Understanding Mantras- Harvey P. Alper, editor