The Vedic Skandalon

« Mirror neurons » are activated in our brain when we observe particular movements or behaviours in others. They then allow us to actually reproduce them, after having virtually mimicked them in neural networks.

This is the neurobiological basis of a much larger anthropological phenomenon, imitation, – at work within societies, cultures, civilizations, religions. René Girard, who worked on mimetic mechanisms, identified the figure of the scapegoat as essential to the foundation of the first human institutions. The programmed sacrifice of the victim creates the conditions for religious and social identification.

In some of the oldest religions, such as the Vedas, the notions of victim and sacrifice take on such a central value that they reverse their relationship with believers. It is no longer the believer who makes the sacrifice, but the sacrifice that creates the believer, and even the world. It is the sacrifice that creates men, gods and demons. The sacrifice ultimately reveals itself to be the Creator God himself, Prajâpati.

This is one of the highest mysteries of the Veda. Bhagavad Gita devotes its chapter IX to the « Yoga of the Sovereign Mystery of Science ». The text proposes to reveal « sovereign science, the sovereign mystery, the supreme purification graspable by immediate intuition ». Verses 16-18 deliver it, in this form:

« I am the Sacrifice, I am worship, I am the offering to the dead; I am the herb of salvation, I am the sacred anthem; I am the anointing; I am fire; I am the victim.

I am the father of this world, his mother, his husband, his grandfather. I am the doctrine, the purification, the mystical word Om; the Rig, the Sâma, the Yajour.

I am the way, the support, the Lord, the witness, the dwelling, the refuge, the friend. I am birth and destruction; halt; treasure; immortal seed. »

Let us note in passing the rhetorical form consisting of the enumeration, one after the other, of countless divine names. The long series of these names points to the existence of a mystery, which none of these names claim to capture, but which their accumulation attempts to evoke, or at least to symbolize.

In these Vedic verses, God identifies himself successively with the Sacrifice, the fire, the hymn and the victim. In the Veda, God is everything in everything.

This is a far cry from simplistic dichotomies, built on exclusion or inclusion, such as: « The myth is against the victim, while the Bible is for it. »

The word « Veda » means « knowledge ». The association of the idea of knowledge with the religious universe evokes the role of « Gnosis » in the Mediterranean area. But the « knowledge » revealed in the Veda differs fundamentally from the « Gnosis » that Basilides, Valentine or Marcion tried to adapt to the Hellenized world of the first centuries of Christianity. To summarize: the Veda unites, the Gnosis separates.

Gnosis opposes on principle the good god to the bad god. In this, it brings to the world of the gods the unlimited violence that lies in the hearts of men.

The Gnostic idea, although ancient, is still alive. It is even possible to argue that the modern era is fundamentally Gnostic.

In fact, modern times are not very capable of understanding what the Veda sings in these hymns, namely that the victim of sacrifice is God, and that God is the victim.

A ‘crucial’ question, though. A stumbling block for intelligence and character. A Skandalon, the Greeks said, in the Christian context.

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