Some years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the London Museum and see the statue of the ancient god Mithra slaying the bull. Let us study the significance of this artifact.
Before the advent of Christianity, Mithraism was quite a popular religion. But it couldn’t stand against the tidal wave of Christianity, which was so powerful that it swept away several small religions within just a few hundred years after Christ.
The word Mithra comes from mi (to bind), and tra (to cause to). In other words, “to cause to bind” or to be bound in friendship. That is, to see God as a friend and to be able to understand and rise into the higher emotion of friendliness.
Quite advanced in its ideas, Mithraism saw the Guru not as a master, but as a friend. And not simply within the context of ‘I am a friend’, but in the manner of ‘I am in a state of friendliness where all beings are friends’. In this very high state, one is free of all forms of negativity and violence.
The most famous artifact of the Mithran age is the Mithran Bull, wherein the god Mithra slays the bull by stabbing it with his sword, while his other hand closes the bull’s nostrils. Mithra is looking up toward the Sun God. One foot is bent on the back of the bull and the other is holding down his hoof. A serpent and a dog are reaching up and a scorpion is biting into the bull’s testicles.
There are numerous messages to be found in this tableau. The bull symbolizes sex energy. In India, it is called Vrishabh, and the male testes are called vrushan. We also say that Krishna came from the Vrishni tribe. That is, the one who had transformed his sex energy. In yoga, we call it the rising of the Kundalini. Thus, the bull represents sex energy, and the stabbing of the bull is the killing of the lower desires and passions.
Mithra is holding the bull’s nostrils—this signifies the importance of breathing techniques and pranayama in making the kundalini rise. When the breathing is paused, that state in yoga is called Kumbhaka, and it forces the kundalini up the Sushumna.
Both the dog and serpent are drinking the blood flowing from the wound. The serpent represents both desire and time. For without desire, there would be no time. So, for the kundalini to rise, time must be conquered, and in that moment of achieving a higher state of consciousness, we glimpse a state where we are free of time.
The dog, meanwhile, is a symbol of faith and friendliness. That is to say, there is faith in the teaching and we can only rise if we are free from any emotions of violence. We then rise to a plane of friendliness. It also symbolizes the patience needed to rise in yoga and the need to be protected from the lower.
A scorpion is eating the testes, and it represents the bottom of the evolutionary scale. This state holds all our negative emotions, especially jealousy. The god Mithra has risen above his negative emotions, freeing his sex energy from desire. The scorpion has a dangerous poison, and all our lower emotions are poison that lead us into a state of sleep or identification.
Mithra’s left knee is pressing down on the back of the bull, near the wound, to push the blood out. This symbolizes the power of sacrifice. The giving of blood is the ceremony of sacrifice and renunciation. To come to this state, he has had to pass through a long journey of joyful sacrifice.
Mithra’s right leg is on the hoof. This represents the ultimate, he wants the transformation to be total. That is, the totality of sex energy should rise as the energy of kundalini.
Finally, Mithra is looking up at the Sun. He is showing that his inner pranas have risen to the level of the solar prana that brings life, vividness, and creativity in the solar system. The Sun is responsible for all creation in the circle of the solar system. Its energy circulates in the planets and creates life on earth. The soul enters the body riding on the prana of the Sun. And it is the Sun that enlightens the five elements. Mithra is telling us that by transforming his base energies, his consciousness and intelligence have risen to a very high level.
In India we call the Bull Nandi: he one who has Ananda or ecstasy. His energy is overflowing and he is in a state of ultimate joy.