Agni Yoga is a spiritual teaching transmitted by the artist Nicholas Roerich and his wife Helena Roerich from 1920. The followers of Agni Yoga believe that the teaching was given to the Roerich family and their associates by Master Morya, the guru of Helena Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society. In the seventeen volumes of Agni Yoga that have been translated into English from the original Russian, as well as in the letters of Helena Roerich, the Agni Yoga teaching is also referred to as the Teaching of Living Ethics, the Teaching of Life, the Teaching of Light, or simply as "the Teaching."
The Agni Yoga teaching and the letters of Helena Roerich make frequent reference to the cultural activities undertaken by the Roerichs and their followers. The Roerichs were instrumental in the creation of several institutions, including: Cor Ardens ("Flaming Heart") International Art Society (1921); the Master School of United Arts, later the Master Institute (1921); the first Nicholas Roerich Museum (1929), on Riverside Drive and 103rd in Manhattan; Corona Mundi (1921), a sister body supporting East-West artistic dialogue and exhibitions; Alatas (1930?), a publishing imprint; and the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute in Kulu Valley, India (1929).
Knowledge about Vedanta and Buddhism was spreading throughout Europe in the first decade of the 20th century, and a Russian branch of the Theosophical Society was founded in 1908.:108 It is unclear exactly when the Roerichs became members of the TS, but undoubtedly they were able to acquaint themselves with Theosophy and Asian thought in the 1910s if not earlier. During that decade, Nicholas's art took a decidedly visionary turn, and Helena had several powerful spiritual dreams and visions. Again, there is no definite date given for their initial contact with Master Morya, but by 1920 they were receiving the messages that appear at the beginning of Leaves of Morya's Garden (Call). During that same year Frances Grant, and Sina and Maurice Lichtmann joined their circle, which included the Roerichs' two sons, George and Svetoslav. Nettie and Louis Horch joined the following year. Excepting the Roerichs, all of the members of this inner circle were Jewish. In each case, the new participants were carefully sounded out about their spiritual views, then given personal messages from Master Morya. While this "inner work" was open to very few people and carefully separated from the public, cultural projects, the latter were led by members of the inner group. Louis Horch, the major financial backer for the cultural work, became titular head of the Master Institute and later the Roerich Museum. Both Sina Lichtmann and Frances Grant worked on the English translations of the Agni Yoga teachings, and among other duties Sina headed the Agni Yoga Committee.:309
Ruth Abrams Drayer describes the revelatory process in America before the Roerichs left in 1923: "They would sit together and first Nicholas and then later Helena would transmit questions that the students were allowed to ask of Master Morya.... The answers from the Master were written out by Nicholas Roerich on big scrolls of sketching paper.":71 The mode of communication between Master Morya and Helena Roerich was clairaudience, not telepathy, and indications from the Master were recorded in notebooks. Some guidance was intended for the Roerichs alone; this was compiled into separate notebooks by Helena Roerich. Author’s copies of the notebooks kept by Madam Roerich from 1920 to February 1935 are housed in the Roerich Archive of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
While Nicholas, Helena, and George Roerich were traveling on a lengthy expedition to India, Central Asia, and Russia (1924–1928), fissures began developing among their close coworkers in New York. The Horches, influenced by Esther Lichtmann (Maurice's sister), came to believe that the Roerichs' spiritual claims were overblown. A legal battle began in 1935, and in 1937 the Horches won legal control of the Roerich Museum. Along with the collection of Roerich paintings housed there, the notebooks of Helena Roerich passed into their hands.:316–317, 341 The students loyal to the Roerichs managed to regroup, and under the guidance of Helena Roerich they incorporated the Agni Yoga Society as a nonprofit educational institution in 1946, giving legal status to a group that had existed de facto since the teaching was first transmitted in 1920. The Nicholas Roerich Museum was established at its present site in 1949.:136–137 Until her death in 1983, Sina Lichtmann (later Fosdick) headed the operations of the Society and the Museum, although the work of these two institutions continued to be kept separate. Presently, Edgar Lansbury is the President of both institutions, and Daniel Entin is the Executive Director of the Museum.
The political thaw in Russia during the 1980s allowed the Roerich movement, which had long existed underground, to surface. With support from Mikhail and Raisa Gorbachev, a Roerich Centre was created and provided with a palatial headquarters in Moscow.:339–340 Just as George Roerich had donated paintings to museums in Novosibirsk and St. Petersburg, Svetoslav Roerich and his wife, Devika Rani, did the same for the Roerich Centre in Moscow. The Centre is a major force in the movement to spread Agni Yoga and the Roerich's work, but in the former Soviet Union as elsewhere, that movement has tended to be loosely organized. Past and present leaders of independent groups in the USA include, Ralph Harris Houston ("Guru RHH"), Burt Wilson's Academy of Ancient Wisdom in Binghamton, NY (his book "Ancient Wisdom for the 21st Century" covers Agni Yoga) and Joleen Du Bois, founder of Arizona's White Mountain Education Association.
The Agni Yoga Series
The Agni Yoga teaching was given out in the following books:
- Leaves of Morya's Garden I (The Call) (dated 1924, but transmitted from 1920 to 1923, with the Russian original first published in Paris in 1923)
- Leaves of Morya's Garden II (Illumination) (1925, but transmitted from May 1923 to June 1925)
- New Era Community (1926)
- Agni Yoga (1929) (first English edition in two volumes)
- Infinity I (1930)
- Infinity II (1930)
- Hierarchy (1931)
- Heart (1932)
- Fiery World I (1933)
- Fiery World II (1934)
- Fiery World III (1935)
- Aum (1936)
- Brotherhood (1937)
- Supermundane: The Inner Life I (1938)
- Supermundane: The Inner Life II (1939)
- Supermundane: The Inner Life III (1940)
- Supermundane: The Inner Life IV (1941)
(Due to its length, the single-volume Russian Supermundane: The Inner Life has been divided into four volumes in the English translation.)
- "Agni Yoga". www.abc-of-yoga.com. MaxLifestyle International Inc. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
- Decter, Jacqueline (1989). Nicholas Roerich: The Life and Art of a Russian Master. Park Street Press.
- Roerich, Helena (1998). At the Threshold of the New World. Prescott, Arizona: White Mountain Education Association. p. 51.
- Drayer, Ruth Abrams (2005). Nicholas & Helena Roerich: The Spiritual Journey of Two Great Artists & Peacemakers. Quest Books.
- Letters of Helena Roerich II, p. 86, 7 December 1935
- "Amherst Center for Russian Culture". Amherst College.
- "About Agni Yoga". agniyoga.org.
- International Centre of the Roerichs (English/Russian Language, Moscow)
- Agni Yoga Society (USA)
- Agni Yoga Portal: E-texts & Media Library, Forum (Russian language, Donetsk)
- Nicholas Roerich Museum (New York)
- International Roerich Memorial Trust (India)
- The Academy of Ancient Wisdom (California)
- Agni Yoga Web TV: See www.youtube.com under "Agni Yoga Web TV (English Channel)"