This post describes the three knots/granthis of mental, vital and physical ignorance that tie our consciousness to the physical world and bind our soul to the superficial personality. When these knots are broken, our consciousness widens and opens to the cosmic mind, vital and physical.
Summary of the Three Granthis (knots):
|brahma||muladhara||the physical mind|
|vishnu||heart||the vital mind|
|rudra||ajna||the mental mind|
Sri Aurobindo explains the triple cord as cited in the Vedas
7. Shunahshepa too was bound to the thousandfold post of sacrifice, him didst thou release and he attained to calm;¹ so do thou take thy seat here in us, O conscious knower, O Priest of the call, and loose from us the cords of our bondage.
Sri Aurobindo, Hymns to the Mystic Fire: Kumar Atreya or Vrisha Jana
Ignorance, this matrix of sin, has in its substantial effect the appearance of a triple cord of limited mind, inefficient life, obscure physical animality, the three ropes with which the Rishi Shunahshepa in the parable was bound as a victim to the sacrificial post. The whole result is a struggling or inert poverty of being; it is the meagreness of a mortal undelight and the insufficiency of a being that collapses at every moment towards death. When Varuna the Mighty comes and sunders this threefold restraint, we are freed towards riches and immortality. Uplifted, the real man arises to his true kingship in the undivided being. The upper cord flies upward releasing the wings of the Soul into superconscient heights; the middle cord parts both ways and all ways, the constrained life breaking out into a happy breadth of existence; the lower cord collapses downward taking with it the alloy of our physical being to disappear and be dissolved in the stuff of the Inconscient. This liberation is the purport of the parable of Shunahshepa and his two great hymns to Varuna.
Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: Varuna
So too when the seer of the house of Atri cries high to Agni, “O Agni, O Priest of the offering, loose from us the cords”, he is using not only a natural, but a richly laden image. He is thinking of the triple cord of mind, nerves and body by which the soul is bound as a victim in the great world-sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Purusha; he is thinking of the force of the divine Will already awakened and at work within him, a fiery and irresistible godhead that shall uplift his oppressed divinity and cleave asunder the cords of its bondage; he is thinking of the might of that growing Strength and inner Flame which receiving all that he has to offer carries it to its own distant and difficult home, to the high-seated Truth, to the Far, to the Secret, to the Supreme. All these associations are lost to us; our minds are obsessed by ideas of a ritual sacrifice and a material cord. We imagine perhaps the son of Atri bound as a victim in an ancient barbaric sacrifice, crying to the god of Fire for a physical deliverance!
A little later the seer sings of the increasing Flame, “Agni shines wide with vast Light and makes all things manifest by his greatness.” What are we to understand? Shall we suppose that the singer released from his bonds, one knows not how, is admiring tranquilly the great blaze of the sacrificial fire which was to have devoured him and wonder at the rapid transitions of the primitive mind? It is only when we discover that the “vast Light” was a fixed phrase in the language of the Mystics for a wide, free and luminous consciousness beyond mind, that we seize the true burden of the Rik. The seer is hymning his release from the triple cord of mind, nerves and body and the uprising of the knowledge and will within him to a plane of consciousness where the real truth of all things transcendent of their apparent truth becomes at length manifest in a vast illumination.
Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: Foreword
If there is any truth in the old legend of Shunahshepa bound as a victim on the altar of sacrifice, it is yet quite certain, as we shall see, that in the Rig-veda the occurrence or the legend is used as a symbol of the human soul bound by the triple cord of sin and released from it by the divine power of Agni, Surya, Varuna.
Sri Aurobindo, The Secret of the Veda: The Angirasa Rishis
The triple cord in the Upanishads
He, verily, who knows that Supreme Brahman becomes himself Brahman; in his lineage none is born who knows not the Brahman. He crosses beyond sorrow, he crosses beyond sin, he is delivered from the knotted cord of the secret heart and becomes immortal.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Mundaka Upanishad
Yea, when all the strings of the heart are rent asunder, even here, in this human birth, then the mortal becomes immortal. This is the whole teaching of the Scriptures.
Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads: Katha Upanishad
Mother Mirra Alfassa
The cords symbolise the limitations of the mind; and there are three of them because there is a physical mind, a vital mind and a mental mind.
The Mother, Some Answers from the Mother: 9 November 1968
The triple cord in Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri
So now his spirit shone out wide, blank, pure:
His wakened mind became an empty slate
On which the Universal and Sole could write.
All that represses our fallen consciousness
Was taken from him like a forgotten load:
A fire that seemed the body of a god
Consumed the limiting figures of the past
And made large room for a new self to live.
Eternity’s contact broke the moulds of sense.
A greater force than the earthly held his limbs,
Huge workings bared his undiscovered sheaths,
Strange energies wrought and screened tremendous hands
Unwound the triple cord of mind and freed
The heavenly wideness of a Godhead’s gaze.
As through a dress the wearer’s shape is seen,
There reached through forms to the hidden absolute
A cosmic feeling and transcendent sight.
Increased and heightened were the instruments.
Illusion lost her aggrandising lens;
As from her failing hand the measures fell,
Atomic looked the things that loomed so large.
The little ego’s ring could join no more
Sri Aurobindo in the Synthesis of Yoga
It is possible to cultivate and extend the use of the intuitive mind in proportion as we rely less predominantly upon the reasoning intelligence. We may train our mentality not to seize, as it does now, upon every separate flash of intuitive illumination for its own inferior purposes, not to precipitate our thought at once into a crystallising intellectual action around it; we can train it to think in a stream of successive and connected intuitions, to pour light upon light in a brilliant and triumphant series. We shall succeed in this difficult change in proportion as we purify the interfering intelligence, – if we can reduce in it the element of material thought enslaved to the external appearances of things, the element of vital thought enslaved to the wishes, desires, impulses of the lower nature, the element of intellectual thought enslaved to our preferred, already settled or congenial ideas, conceptions, opinions, fixed operations of intelligence, if, having reduced to a minimum those elements, we can replace them by an intuitive vision and sense of things, an intuitive insight into appearances, an intuitive will, an intuitive ideation. This is hard enough for our consciousness naturally bound by the triple tie of mentality, vitality, corporeality to its own imperfection and ignorance, the upper, middle and lower cord in the Vedic parable of the soul’s bondage, cords of the mixed truth and falsehood of appearances by which Sunahsepa was bound to the post of sacrifice.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga – I: Vijnana or Gnosis
Nolini Kanta Gupta on the triple cord
(Nolini was a disciple of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother Mirra Alfassa)
SUNAHSHEPA, the human creature, says the Vedic Rishi, is bound to the stake with three cords: one on the top, the second in the middle and the third below. Sunahshepa cries out to God Varuna to be freed from the triple bondage. The God is pleased and cuts the topmost cord and throws it upward, he cuts the middle cord and throws it on either side, he cuts the downmost cord and throws it downward. Thus Sunahshepa is freed through the Grace of King Varuna.
The three cords are the three limitations of being and consciousness in the normal human creature.
- There is a wall or barrier up in the mind which shuts out the higher levels of consciousness that are beyond the mind – the worlds of vision and revelation, of the Truth and the Vast.
- The middle knot shuts out the world around and abroad and limits the being to the ego, prevents the individual person from communicating with the Universal Being and Consciousness. It is the well known knot of the heart – hrdayagranthi – the crux and kernel of the egoistic consciousness. It centres the whole being on itself, limits it to itself, does not let it go out of itself to belong to the world-being. It is also the pull that prevents the being from diving down into its true personality, the psychic, and finding its union with the inner Divine. This ego-centred knot has to be cut through and the thread to be scattered into the infinity of the deepest and of the widest being.
- The last barrier at the base of the human consciousness is the hard crust of the physical and the material being. It is closed to the regions behind, the occult sources of all external movements. This too has to be pulled down and thrown into the gulfs of non-existence – primal Prakriti, out of which they are born – so that the subliminal ranges of consciousness emerge and manifest themselves.
God Varuna is invoked because he is the Lord of the Vast Consciousness, he it is that opens out the passage and leads the human being into worlds of the Vast, the Truth – Ritam, Brihat – from mortality to immortality.
In other words, as we know, the mind, the life and the body form the triple cord of the human being and hedge it within the frame of its normal, narrow, uncertain, fumbling existence; and each of these three constituent parts of human nature has to be delivered from its own particular limitations and released into the broader reality.
These gradations are the various statuses of consciousness which the human being assumes in its relation with the world reality. In other words, they are the instruments through which human consciousness comes in contact with the universe. They are as it were windows upon the world through which contact is made and relation established with the objects of experience. But usually in the normal consciousness these windows are made a casement with bars and nets or even blinds over it which narrow and blur and even block the view. They are made into cords, as the Upanishad says, that blind and bind and stifle the consciousness. The cords have to be cut away, thrown out. As windows they have to be thrown wide open, open not merely outward towards the external object or reality but also inwardly to the realities, the worlds that lie within and above and beyond.
[Nolini Kanta Gupta : Vol 4 : Triple cord]
From the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
(2.67) This Bhastrika should be performed plentifully, for it breaks the three knots: Brahma granthi (in the chest), Visnu granthi (in the throat), and Rudra granthi (between the eyebrows) of the body.