I met Leonard Orr in June 1994 and was introduced to rebirthing, spiritual practices, physical immortality, mantra, and Babaji, all of which continue to be keystones in my ongoing spiritual journey. I’ve always been a very disciplined person, but these tools and concepts gave me what I felt was a deeper purpose.
I seemed to understand inherently that the conscious use of earth, air, water, fire, mantra, prayer, and high-quality thoughts profoundly opened and healed my mind-body-soul. Previously, I had been doing the practices my whole life–taking long baths, deep breathing, camping with fire, thinking healing thoughts, and praying to God–but until I met Leonard, they were without a context or conscious awareness. Leonard gave me structure, context, and a way to bring the practices together for their deep, efficient, and interactive power.
At that time, now almost 24 years ago, the main lesson for me was just do the practices. The practices themselves are transformative. Just do them.
With Leonard’s relaxed, non-judgmental style, and his philosophy of laziness, I felt like I could put my critical mind on silent mode, not worry about doing it “right”, not think about what I was “supposed to accomplish”, and let go of trying to “achieve” something. Not that I knew, anyway, what I was trying to achieve. This beginning has served me well as I have grown in doing the practices.
Interacting with the practices consciously means that there is a greater level of awareness and understanding that I bring to my practices. But this also means more involvement of my mind, which can lead to a higher volume–both in quantity and decibel level–of my critical, judgmental, or fearful thoughts about doing it “right”, “succeeding”, or “achieving”.
The first principle of doing the practices is: just do the practices. Set the mind aside and just do the practices. I return to this principle again and again as my practices develop. In this article, I’ll show you how this applies regarding a practice of fire.
I began doing fire that summer in 1994, the Leonard Orr way. I sat with fire. I slept with fire. At first I did these weekly, then daily. This continued for about 6 months. There was no goal, nothing to do other than be with the fire.
One thing that Leonard used to say was let the fire teach you of itself. In other words, the fire has qualities that you cannot understand from your own point of view. You must allow the fire to be what it is, to affect you in all of your bodies; just listen and feel and release and allow.
Leonard would mention fire ceremonies in passing, so I knew such a thing as ceremonies existed, but I felt like it was nonchalant, without great import or impact. I was focused on just doing fire the Leonard Orr way.
I found that fire worked, exactly as Leonard describes. After sitting or sleeping with fire, I felt lighter, lifted, loved. There was one night that is etched in my memory. I slept with fire but was half-conscious the entire night, as I felt the fire loving me. It enveloped me, interlacing with my energies, loving me in Peace, loving me in Beauty, loving me in Love. I woke up with new life, in every sense.
When my time with Leonard came to an end, my fire practice dwindled then died. I didn’t live in places that had a fireplace, I didn’t have access to outdoor fire pits, and sleeping with candles was either too dangerous or just plain impractical.
But I wasn’t concerned– I was keeping up with my other practices of bathing, breathing, fasting, and mantra. These would have to do, though I did miss fire. There were times when I could feel heaviness in my body/aura that I knew the fire could just burn away, but as I said, I didn’t have the facilities to do fire. I would light candles as much as I could. I didn’t have the mental motivation to figure out doing more than that.
Now, after almost 24 years of doing the practices, I am convinced the practices lead me. They nudge me. They call to me. Sometimes when I am being particularly belligerent, they shout at me and shove me, always for my benefit, always for cleansing or healing, always for deeper connection with My Soul, with God.
After 23 years of near-absence, fire called to me.
It was late summer of 2016 and somehow, for some reason, I found information on the Agni Hotra ceremony, the brief ceremony done at sunrise and sunset. Immediately I was possessed and obsessed. This was the answer! A way to do fire that only required a small copper vessel, some dung, and a small amount of time! This I could do and make time for in my busy life. I purchased the materials online, downloaded the sunrise-sunset times for my location, wrote out and listened to the mantras. I was ready!
There is something about innocent zeal and naivety that is very powerful, I have found. The first Agni Hotra ceremony I did, I was so innocent and naïve! I had no clue what I was doing, but I was just so happy to be doing it! The energetic power of that ceremony was palpable. I could feel the fire in those brief moments at Sunrise healing the space around me, infusing the birds, the trees, the Earth, the air, in my entire neighborhood.
After that first experience my mind got involved and the innocence was gone. Now I knew what I was “supposed” to do, what I was “supposed to affect”. I had to do it “right”. I had to “achieve” and “accomplish” that same level of energetic power each time, now that I knew I could. Right?
The Agni Hotra was a huge leap for me from the Leonard Orr way. It felt like I went from a very relaxed, take-it-as-it-comes relationship with fire and hurled into a rigid structure with so many expectations.
Of course, the rigid structure and expectations were in my mind, not the ceremony. But the ceremony reflected back to me those confining thoughts. The ceremonies became very difficult to do. Very often I could not get the fire lit in time for exactly sunrise or sunset. Sometimes the matches didn’t stay lit. Sometimes the dung I used to light the firewood snuffed itself out. Sometimes I would light the fire and it would just snuff out. Timing is everything in Agni Hotra and I was missing it.
All the while, over the course of weeks, I returned mentally to just do the practice. So I continued. But how could I do the practice when I failed so often at doing the practice? The volume of my self-criticism, failure, inadequate, increased. And the ceremonies became even harder.
I did have some successes getting the fire lit and doing the mantras. But even these felt empty since I was comparing them to that first time. “I must not be doing it right”… and on it went into my mind’s downward spiral of not good-enough-inadequate-self-criticism.
In the meantime, summer had turned to fall; the mornings were dark and cold and my mental motivation receded. I felt disappointed in myself. I knew I wanted to do fire but this was just not working for me. So I stopped. It was better to stop, and quiet those self-effacing thoughts rather than continue with something that brought them to the fore with no resolution.
What I did have, however, out of that experience, was a very solid knowing that I wanted to do fire.
I would find a way.
I’m not sure how I found out about homas, but they seemed like a less-rigid Agni Hotra, also done in a small copper vessel. The next step is a bit of a blur. Somehow once I first discovered homas, I began researching, finding everything I could about them.
The information I found on the internet about homas was mostly written by Hindus, for people intrinsically familiar with that culture. While I am not a stranger to Sanskrit, Sanatan Dharma, or a lot of Hindu concepts, the information felt overwhelming and confusing. There were so many instructions! So many ingredients! So much preparation! So many words and concepts that I was unfamiliar with (I didn’t at that time even know the words “samagri” or “supari”)!
But as I said, I would find a way. I was determined.
Marge sent me the 34-page booklet to do the Haidakhan-style fire ceremony. I read it and felt as overwhelmed and confused as I had with my internet research. I asked Marge for a simplified version, which she wrote up for me. I still felt overwhelmed and confused! I had to do it “right”, right? But I had so many questions. After the Agni Hotra experience I had so many insecurities and self-criticisms. How could I even begin to do a sacred ceremony for, or with, Babaji no less?
So I took a breath and a step back.
I want to do fire. I am committed to doing fire.
Just do the practices. Let the practices lead you.
What do I know?
- Sincerity is important. I know that approaching God open empty and sincerely matter more than ritual forms and structures.
- Babaji has conveyed the value and importance of the Gayatri Mantra, the Mrityunjaya Mantra, and the Shanti Mantra…and I know these mantras.
- Swaha, meaning I offer to you or this belongs to you, is an important aspect of offering to the fire.
- Invoking Ganesh at the beginning is important.
- I want to invoke Kal Bhairav.
- I want to convey, through the fire ceremony, my devotion and commitment to God, reinforcing the mundan ceremony.
- Having the kund face east matters, but I don’t know why
- It’s important to bathe before a fire ceremony.
- The fire should always be lit with dung or incense, and paper should never be used in the fire
- I need to have pictures or statues of divine aspects I’m offering to.
These became the first guidelines for doing the ceremony.
What do I have?
- I have a very small space on my back porch where I can sit with the kund.
- I have dung and wood.
- I have rice, ghee, blessed water, and incense.
- I have appropriate pictures and statues.
I made all of this acceptable for the space, atmosphere, and performance of the ceremony.
What can I do?
I can use what I know and what I have to begin.
And I made a decision. I will begin. I will do the practice to the best of my ability. I will forgive myself for any mistakes. I will approach with sincerity. I will begin, allow the practice to lead me, and I will evolve.
Fortunately, I live in an area with a large Hindu population. So all I had to do was run down to my local Indian grocer to buy a kund, samagri, supari nuts, and camphor.
A quick aside: when I went to the store for the kund, I had not decided to perform a mundan ceremony. It had been lingering in the recesses of my mind for several weeks, but I was not actively thinking about it. In the strip mall where the Indian grocer was located, there was also a sari store. I was uncharacteristically drawn in by the colors in the window. I ended up, very uncharacteristically, buying a punjabi. Within a few days, it became clear to me that I would be doing a mundan ceremony, that the Punjabi I bought would be my “ceremonial garment”, and that as I continued to shave my head for the nine months following the ceremony, I would be doing fire ceremonies as part of that commitment. In linear time, the pieces came out of sequence, but they all fell into place in perfect Unity.
I’ve now been doing small fire ceremonies in my copper kund for about 6 months every third day, corresponding to shaving my head. Some of Marge’s words inspire me: “Your personal, close relationship to the fire is important; Talk to the fire and it replies– listen and it speaks.”
As I mentioned all of the information I had read about doing the ceremonies felt overwhelming and confusing. Of course, I had to simplify. Here is the rough outline for how I have simplified, using what I know and what I have.
- build the fire in the kund with sticks and dung and light it with dung, camphor, or incense.
- sprinkle blessed water around the kund, clockwise 3 times, while saying Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha three times for each clockwise circle (so a total of 9 times for the mantra)
- say the Kal Bairav Gayatri Mantra 3 times with “swaha”, offering a supari nut at the end which symbolizes the release of ego
- say the Gayatri Mantra, the Mrityunjaya Mantra, and the Shanti Mantra each three times, ending in swaha and offering rice, ghee, or samagri to the fire with each swaha.
- If the fire seems to be going fairly strongly, though often it is about to go out after the above, I simply say a name-mantra for each god or goddess present, 1 to 3 times each with swaha and offerings
- “Om Babaji Namah, swaha”
- “Om Lakshmayai Namah, swaha”
- “Om Jai, Jesus Christ, Namah, swaha”
- “Om Earth Mother Namah, swaha”
- “Om Kuan Yin Namah swaha”
- Et cetera
- Sometimes I just add prayers from the heart.
- I end with my mundan commitment prayer, three times. “May my life force be a vehicle through which God my enter the world to love and serve all life, swaha”
This has been enough, even though it’s not technically right. There have been tears, many, many Tears, which I also offer to the fire. A lot of my feelings of inadequacy about doing fire have come up and been released and resolved; I only know this, because I don’t really feel it anymore. But I don’t feel transformed either. I can’t say that I know or understand what the fire is doing. What I do know is that my life feels enriched and fulfilled. I have not experienced the power that I felt in that first agni hotra, and I have not felt the love that I felt that night sleeping with fire. So far my experience with the homa is very subtle I just know it’s right, that it’s working, and that I continue to be lead.
I also continue to strive to evolve. I’ve been aware of my shortcomings. My porch is not always cleaned and prepped. I don’t always do the fire at an appropriate time before 11 a.m. Sometimes I disturb the fire to keep it from going out. Sometimes I feel tired and uninvolved, and therefore feel like I’m being disrespectful. Sometimes I forget to honor Ganesh first. Sometimes I feel like I’m not approaching with an open heart and mind. Sometimes I lose count of how many mantras I’ve done, even if I’m only doing three!
But I remember Leonard’s relaxed, non-judgmental style and I let it all go, knowing I will evolve just by doing the practice.
My experience doing the Leonard Orr style, then doing the contrast of that with the agni hotra, prepared me to be more forgiving of my shortcomings. I stand before God as Fire and say basically I’m here. I know I’m not perfect. I know I’m not doing this perfectly. But I’m here, and I want to honor you and serve you as best I can. Just that. Just here. Just now.
I’m currently on the verge of an evolution in my fire practice. Remember I said that the fire ceremony from Marge felt overwhelming and confusing? I looked at it again this past week and I’m happy to report that I understood it. It is no longer something foreign and unmanageable. It is now something that I think I can do.
I am now slowly shifting from my beginner’s fire ceremony that I’ve been doing for the last 6 months to a “more correct”, more detailed ceremony that follows the outline Marge presents.
I’ve just begun. But it’s a new beginning and a beginning that would not have been possible without my beginning 23 years ago, 18 months ago, or six months ago. Just begin. However you can, do the best you can and let the practices lead you.