Interiorized Fire Rituals in India and in Tibet
Bentor, Yael, The Journal of the American Oriental Society
The term "interiorization of ritual" bears a multitude of meanings. It may pertain to a mental performance of the ritual; to the replacement of the ritual with a continuous process of life, such as breathing or eating; to a particular way of life, such as renunciation; to an actual performance with an inner interpretation; to the replacement of the external ritual with an internal one, and so forth (following Bodewitz). This paper analyzes different forms of the interiorized ritual par excellence--the fire ritual--as it has existed in Tibetan culture, against the background of Indian precedents. Among the practices discussed here are inner heat (tapas and gtum-mo), breathing (prana) and the subtle body (risa-lung), sexual yoga, food yoga, mental fire offerings and the fire offering of enlightened wisdom. The paper concludes with an examination of the interrelationships of the various interiorized fire offerings as they are seen in Tibetan writings. Since most major Tibetan practices are presented in this con text in terms of the fire ritual, this examination elucidates the relative status of these practices from a theoretical point of view. It also sheds light on how diverse and autonomous practices come to be synthesized into a unified path to enlightenment.
IN DIGHANIKAYA 1.5 THE BUDDHA 15 said to have declared that the optimal form of fire sacrifice is the Buddhist path to the attainment of nirvana.  In a typical heuristic strategy frequently encountered in Indian Buddhist texts, the Buddhist path is contrasted to non-Buddhist brahmanical practices in order to emphasize the superiority of the former. This is yet another facet of an ongoing inter-religious dialogue, however one-sided it may at times appear to be, between Buddhism and Brahmanism in India.  The presentation of new practices as higher or truer forms of older ones is, however, more commonly not an inter- but rather an intra-religious phenomenon. In spite of the profound alternations affecting vedic religion as it evolved into Brahmanism and what falls generally under the rubric of "Hinduism," the post-vedic traditions often continued to communicate the new by employing the old vedic terms. The Vedas and their rituals lent an orthodox and canonical justification to a wide number of innovations (B. Smith 1989: 202-16). The special status of vedic rituals in India is well demonstrated by the fact that even the heterodox traditions  at times found it advantageous to claim some sort of relationship with vedic practices, as occurs, for example, in our passage from the Dighanikaya. Fire rituals, in particular, seem to have been so popular in ancient India that the heterodox traditions could hardly afford to ignore them. This would explain how, over the course of time, and despite the positions taken in early Buddhist scriptures such as the Dighanikaya, the fire rituals of vedic origin were nevertheless eventually appropriated by Buddhism as one of many different means that might be employed on the path to nirvana--a phenomenon not unique to fire rituals. In an attempt to underline superiority of a certain practice, it was contrasted with another popular ritual, which in some way resembled it. Thanks to this resemblance the contrasted practices eventually merged together. This is common within the Bud dhist religion, and even more so in Tibetan Buddhism, with its strong tendencies toward synthesis.  Words of the Buddha that strongly criticized or rejected brahmanical practices were subsequently taken as charters for buddhicized forms of those very practices.
At the time Buddhism adapted them,  Hindu fire rituals already included not only external rituals in which libations were poured into a fire, but also internalized forms of these rituals. In presenting their new practices in terms of the vedic sacrifice, the renunciation movements characterized the classical vedic ritualists by the word devayajin, 'sacrificer[s] to the gods', while calling their own practitioners atmayajin, 'sacrificer[s] to one's self'.  Later Hindu schools developed the inner fire ritual still further, calling their own practices 'inner sacrifice', while occasionally condemning the outwardly performed rituals outright, as in this example from the Linga Purana:
The aspirant who seeks salvation shall perform the nonviolent sacrifice. One shall meditate on the fire stationed in the heart and perform the sacrifice Dhyanayajna (meditation). After realizing Siva stationed in the body of all living beings, the lord of universe, he shall devoutly perform the sacrifice by Pranayama perpetually. He who performs the external Homa becomes a frog in the rock. (1973, II: 713)
Fire rituals by their very nature are particularly susceptible to a diversity of interpretations. External fire may be explicitly or implicitly related to external phenomena such as light, heat, cooking, home, incubation, ripening, growth, fertility, purification, and so forth. When internalized, fire is akin to the heat of the living body, life, vitality, energy, digestion, anger (and related strong emotions--hatred, jealousy, etc.), sexual desire and excitation, procreation, purification, ecstatic insights, yogic or ascetic practices, etc.  As Northrop Frye says in his introduction to Bachelard's The Psychoanalysis of Fire:
To the imagination, fire is not a separable datum of experience: it is already linked by analogy and identity with a dozen other aspects of experience. Its heat is analogous to the internal heat we feel as warm-blooded animals; its sparks are analogous to seeds, the units of life; its flickering movement is analogous to vitality; its flames are phallic symbols, providing a further analogy to the sexual act, as the ambiguity of the word "consummation" indicates; its transforming power is analogous to purgation. These links of analogy are so adhesive that they spread all over the universe. (Bachelard 1964: ii)
A common thread that runs through most of these properties, whether external or internal, is the fire's transformative power, and this power would seem to lie at the very foundation of its ritual usages. Our concern here is mostly with the interiorization of fire, a subject of great fascination throughout human history, one that crosscuts many cultural boundaries. As Bachelard states with a degree of poetic fervor necessary to do the subject justice:
Light plays upon and laughs over the surface of things, but only heat penetrates.... This need to penetrate, to go to the interior of things, to the interior of beings, is one attraction of the intuition of inner heat. (1964: 40)
Or, as Knipe explains:
It is precisely the fact that fire can be reduced to heat, and that heat can be seen as the final property of life (like breath), that allows for the pervasiveness of such schema as the interiorization of fire. (1975: 37)
The vedic fire ritual with its hearth, funnel, ladle, oblations, deities, and so forth has received diverse interpretations in different historical epochs and contexts to accord with then-prevailing theories,  but it is very frequently instrumental in accomplishing the highest goals postulated by those theories. While Hinduism may dress later practices in the terms of vedic rituals, thereby rendering them canonical and orthodox, Tibetan Buddhism stands in no need of vedic authority. The continuous employment of internalized fire rituals in Tibet appears to be part of a general process of interiorization that took place in both Hinduism and Buddhism, especially in their systems of Yoga and Tantra. The transformative power of the fire is especially significant in tantric ritual, where the attainment of an inner transformation is the prime objective.
Even though the interiorization of vedic rituals has been extensively discussed by such scholars as Eliade, Varenne, Biardeau and Malamoud, and Heesterman, it is essential to bear in mind that at times these writers refer to different forms of interiorized rituals.  The term "interiorization" may pertain to a mental performance of the ritual, to the replacement of the ritual with a continuous process of life such as breathing or eating, to a particular way of life such as renunciation, to an actual performance with an inner interpretation, to the replacement of the external ritual with an internal one, and so forth. In the following discussion the various processes of interiorization will be analyzed in accordance with Tibetan categories. While it may seem to be a suspect procedure to employ a schema based on later Tibetan notions, we hope to show that doing so provides us with important analytical tools in our search for ritual-historical insights in this important area. The following is my own summary o f classifications of inner fire rituals as found in various Tibetan writings. 
1. Fire offerings based on the inner heat (gtum-mo) and the subtle body (composed of nadi, cakra, and prana) as part of the Perfection Process.
2. Fire offerings of great bliss performed together with a consort (visualized or real), as in the third initiation.
3. Food ritual (bhojanavidhi), in which food is offered to the deities residing at one's heart.
4. Mental fire offerings.
5. Fire offerings of the Great Enlightened Wisdom which destroy ignorance, burn the klesas and consume dichotomies.
Each of these categories will be discussed separately, first by presenting some well-known vedic and upanisadic examples, and then, the Tibetan forms.
1. Fire Offerings of Breathing, Inner Heat, and the Subtle Body 
In the upanisads one of the most widespread forms of interiorization of the vedic sacrifice considers life itself--together with the physiological functions that maintain it--as an unceasing sacrifice. Both breathing and the consumption of daily meals are regarded as permanent fire sacrifices. The origins of such interiorization may be found, in the classical vedic world, among the traveling brahmins who temporarily find themselves far from their sacred fires. The brahmins transform the sacred fire into their breath, and when the sacred fire is needed their breath may then be used to sacralize any fire for the ritual.  The brahmana texts expanded the idea of the traveling brahmin, teaching that the agnihotra is, in fact, breathing or life. As long as one breathes, the agnihotra is being performed.  According to Baudhayana srauta Sutra 29.5, a brahmin who is physically unable to perform the external agnihotra, after transferring the fire into himself, consumes the two agnihotra oblations himself, with the usual ritual.  Such methods of expiation, of only incidental importance to the classical vedic ritual, became central in upanisadic thought, where they were interpreted as a continuous and uninterrupted inner agnihotra in accordance with the theories then current, which emphasized internal processes.  Other brahmanical texts explicitly identify the sacred fires of the srauta rituals with the three or five breaths. 
Such an interiorization of fire is related as well to the notion of tapas,  inner heat, which, like breath, means life. The practice of tapas, attested already in the Rgveda, ideally accompanied every vedic sacrifice, and contributed to its accomplishment. Tapas is accumulated through different practices, and these practices on their part serve to increase the practitioner's inner heat. This fruitful notion of tapas was adapted by various religious systems in India (see Knipe 1975; Kaelber 1989: 85). Also, the yogin was assimilated to the tapasvin of the vedic sacrifice (Eliade 1969: 108-9). Though the upanisadic passages that considered breathing a form of internal offering did not refer to controlled breathing (pranayama),  but were concerned with the unconscious and continuous form of breathing, already the Vedas had mentioned breath control as one means of accumulating tapas.  Some of the major upanisads, including the Maitri Upanisad (6.18-26), also prescribed the yoga of breath control. Th is conceptualization of human physiology in sacrificial terms received a special interpretative twist in the systems of Yoga and Tantra. All these concepts of breathing (prana) as an interiorized fire ritual, of inner heat (tapas) and of controlling the breath (pranayama) were combined together in the yoga of the subtle body, the first among the inner fire rituals which concern us here. 
The yoga of the subtle body  especially emphasizes inner experiences of nonduality as the basis for liberation. It is precisely because the human body is such an important source of suffering, according to general Buddhist theories, that it serves in the Tantra as an instrument and a location for overcoming suffering. It is intriguing to note the strong resemblance between the Indian concept of the subtle body and the system of internal conduits splitting into right and left channels as described by Plato, in Timaeus 77c-e (see McEvilley 1993). It is also of significance that even though described in terms similar to those of the yoga of Patanjali, the Tibetan yoga of the subtle body, like the yoga of the Maitri Upanisad (see Zigmund-Cerbu 1963; Wayman 1977: 164), consists of six limbs (sadangayoga), in distinction to the eight-limbed yoga of Patanjali, While the names of the yogic limbs in both the eight-limbed and six-limbed systems are similar, the interpretations they receive, particularly in the con text of the yoga of the subtle body, set the six-limbed system apart from the yoga of Patanjali.
During this six-limbed practice (of which various descriptions are available ) inner heat (glum-mo) is generated in the navel (or in the junction of the central channel with the ro-ma and rkyang-ma below the navel) and blazes up through the central channel. As a result the bodhicitta, the white drop located at the head's center, melts and meets with the red drop, the glum-mo fire. The practice culminates in the realization of supreme nondual enlightened wisdom. Tapas, which in pre-tantric practices was regarded as a potency, becomes here the inner heat of gtum-mo, which is again a potency enabling the goal of this particular practice. The simple notion of "breath" (prana) had by this time evolved into a complex system of channels of which the subtle body is made.
How does the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition present the yoga of the subtle body in terms of the fire ritual? The Sri-Vajrakika Tantra (Dpal Rdo-rje-mkha'-'gro, Toh. 370, Tog Palace 336), an important scriptural source often cited in subsequent presentations, explains:
The fire wood of the skandha and so forth should be burnt in the fire of Enlightened Wisdom which blazes from the navel mandala and is blown by the wind of karma. The Brahma-fire abides at the waist; the rkyangma is the ladle; the ro-ma is the head of the funnel; the handle, below the precious vajra, is up until the end of one's vajra; the skull is the vessel for the oblations. All the substances should be burnt. These are successively the implements of the unexcelled fire offerings. So it is explained to you, O Devi. (Tog Palace, …
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Publication information: Article title: Interiorized Fire Rituals in India and in Tibet. Contributors: Bentor, Yael - Author. Journal title: The Journal of the American Oriental Society. Volume: 120. Issue: 4 Publication date: October-December 2000. Page number: 594. © 1999 American Oriental Society. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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