Two Encounters with the ‘Name’ and the ‘Body’ of God.

« Jacob Wrestling with the Angel ». Chagall

During a strange and famous night, Jacob struggled for a long time with a ‘man’, hand to hand, thigh to thigh. Neither winner nor loser. Finally, the ‘man’ struck Jacob in the hollow (kaf) of the hip (yarakh). The hip dislocated.i

In Hebrew, the word kaf has several meanings: « the hollow, the palm of the hand; the sole of the foot; or the concavity of the hip (the ischium, one of the three bones that make up the hipbone) ». These meanings all derive from the verbal root kafaf meaning ‘that which is curved, that which is hollow’. In another vocalization (kef), this word also means ‘rock, cave’.

Jacob’s battle did not end until his adversary, the man, wanted to leave at dawn. But Jacob would not let him go. He said to him: « I will not leave you until you have blessed me »ii .

This was a strange request, addressed to a determined adversary who had been able to hit him in the weakest point, in the hollow of the thigh, dislocating it.
A strange, disjointed dialogue followed.
The man asked Jacob: “What is your name?”
He answered: “Jacob”.
The man replied, « Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed »iii.
Was it against God himself that Jacob had been fighting all night? And had Jacob fought not only against God, but also ‘with men’? And had he decisively defeated all them, divine and human, only at the price of a dislocated hip?

However his apparent success was not complete… His name had indeed been changed for eternity, and he had received eloquent praise, but Jacob was still not blessed, despite his urgent request.
Changing his tactics, he questioned the ‘man’:
« Let me, I pray thee, know thy name. He answered : – Why do you ask my name? And he blessed him there »iv.

‘He blessed him, there’. In Hebrew: Va yebarekh cham.
The word cham means ‘there’; but in a very close vocalization, the word chem means ‘name’.
Jacob asked the man for his ‘name’ (chem), and in response the man blessed him, ‘there’ (cham).

This is literally a ‘metaphor’, – that is to say, a ‘displacement’ of the ‘name’ (chem) to a place, ‘there’ (cham).
And this ‘there’, this ‘place’, was soon to receive a new name (Peni-El), given by Jacob-Israel.

The divine transcendence, which does not reveal its name (chem) here, suggests that Jacob is faced with an absolute non-knowledge, a radical impossibility of hearing the (ineffable) name. This non-knowledge and this transcendent non-saying can nevertheless be grasped, through a metaphor of immanence, through the displacement towards the ‘there’ (cham), but also through a metaphor inscribed in the body, in the hollow (kaf) of the hip and in the ‘displacement’ (the dislocation) that this hollow makes possible.

What a curious encounter, then, that of Jacob with the divine!

Jacob had fought without winning, nor being defeated, but the hollow of his hip was struck, and of this dislocated hip, the children of Israel still keep the memory by a food taboo…
Jacob had asked to be blessed by his adversary, but the latter had only changed his name (chem), – without however blessing him.
Jacob then asked the man for his own name (chem), and the man, as his only answer, finally blessed him, ‘there’ (cham), but still without giving him his name (chem).
Since he did not know this name, which was kept secret, Jacob gave this place, this ‘there’ (cham), the name (chem) of ‘Peni-El‘. « For, he said, I have seen God face to face, and my life (nefech) has been saved. »v
Since he could not hear the proper name of God, Jacob gave a name to this place, using the generic word El, which means ‘god’.
Peni-El, word for word, ‘face of God’.

This was an a posteriori affirmation that the ‘man’ against whom Jacob had fought was in fact God, or at least some living being who had presented him with a ‘face’ of God…
Now, it had long been accepted in the ancient religion of the Hebrews that one cannot see the face of God without dying.
Jacob had struggled ‘against God’ and had seen His face, yet he had not died. His own name had been changed, and he had been blessed, – but the name (of God) had not been revealed to him.
This revelation would be made much later to Moses, but then Moses would not see the ‘face of God’, since he had to take refuge in the ‘hollow’ of another rock, and see only the back of God…

To Jacob and Moses were revealed the Name or the Face, – not the Name and the Face.

Let us add that all this scene took place at night. Then the sun came.
« The sun was beginning to shine on him when he left Peni-El »vi.

This direct reference to the sun (and to the light of day) seems to give the solar star the role of a negator of the night, and of revelation.
It is probably not unrelated either, from the Hebrew point of view, to the ancient Egyptian culture, which is known to have seen in the ‘sun’, as in ‘night’, one of the symbols of the divine.

To understand this implicit reference in its relation to the story of Jacob’s struggle against ‘man’ or against ‘God’, it may be useful to cite a singular episode in the story of Ra, – this solar God who also, strikingly enough, refused to reveal his ineffable name to a tireless questioner, Isis.

The famous Egyptologist, Gaston Maspéro, has described this story in detail, taking as his source the ‘hieratic’ papyri of Turin, dating back to the Ramesside period of the nineteenth and twentieth dynasties, from the end of the fourteenth century to the twelfth century B.C., and thus some two or three centuries before the period corresponding to the generations of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

« Nothing shows this better than the story of Ra. His universe was the outline of ours, for Shu did not yet exist, Nouît continued to rest in the arms of Sibou, and the sky was one with the earth. « vii

By dint of his generosity towards men, the God Ra had kept only one of his powers, his own Name, which his father and mother had given him, which they had revealed to him alone and which he kept hidden in the depths of his chest, for fear that a magician or a sorcerer would seize it.viii
But Ra was getting old, his body was bending, « his mouth was shivering, his drool was running to the ground, and his saliva was dripping on the ground »ix.
It so happened that « Isis, until then a simple woman in the service of Pharaoh, conceived the project of robbing him of his secret ‘in order to possess the world and to make herself a goddess by the name of the august godx. Violence would not have succeeded: weakened as he was by years, no one had enough strength to fight against him successfully. But Isis ‘was a woman who knew more in her malice than millions of men, who was skillful among millions of gods, who was equal to millions of spirits, and who knew everything in heaven or on earth, as much as Ra did’xi. She devised a most ingenious stratagem. If a man or a god was ill, the only way to cure him was to know his true name and to call upon the evil being who was tormenting himxii. Isis resolved to launch a terrible evil against Ra, the cause of which she would conceal from him, and then to offer to heal him and to wrest from him through suffering the mysterious word indispensable to the success of the exorcism. She collected the mud impregnated with the divine slime, and kneaded a sacred snake of it which she buried in the dust of the road. The god, bitten unexpectedly as he left for his daily rounds, uttered a howl: ‘his voice went up to heaven and his Novena, « What is it, what is it? », and his gods, « What is it, what is it? », but he did not find what to answer them, so much his lips were chattering, so much his limbs were trembling, so much the venom was taking on his flesh, as the Nile takes on the ground which it invades. »xiii
He came back to himself however and managed to express what he felt (…): ‘Here, let them bring me the children of the gods with the beneficent words, who know the power of their mouth and whose knowledge reaches the sky!
They came, the children of the gods, each of them with their grimoires. She came, Isis, with her sorcery, her mouth full of life-giving breaths, her recipe for destroying pain, her words that pour life into breathless throats, and she said: ‘What is this, what is this, O father-gods? Is it not that a serpent produces pain in you, that one of your children raises his head against you? Surely he will be overthrown by beneficent incantations and I will force him to retreat at the sight of your rays.’xiv
The Sun, learning the cause of his torments, is frightened (…). Isis offers him her remedy and discreetly asks him for the ineffable name, but he guesses the ruse and tries to get out of it by enumerating his titles. He takes the universe as witness that he is called ‘Khopri in the morning, Ra at noon, Toumou in the evening’. The venom did not flow back, but it still worked and the great god was not relieved.
Then Isis said to Ra: ‘Your name is not stated in what you have recited to me! Tell me and the venom will come out, for the individual lives, let him be charmed in his own name.’ The venom was like fire, it was strong like the burning of the flame, so the Majesty of Ra said: ‘I grant that you search me, O mother Isis, and that my name pass from my breast into your breast.’xv
The almighty name was really hidden in the body of the god, and it could only be extracted by a surgical operation, similar to that which corpses undergo at the beginning of mummification. Isis undertook it, succeeded, drove out the poison, and became a goddess by virtue of the Name. The skill of a simple woman had stripped Ra of his last talisman. »xvi

Let us put in parallel the two stories, that of the fight of Jacob in Genesis and that of the extortion of the ineffable name of Ra by Isis, in the Turin papyrus.
Jacob is a man, intelligent, rich, head of a large family and of a numerous domesticity.
Isis is a simple woman, a servant of the Pharaoh, but very cunning and determined at all costs to reach a divine status.
Jacob fights against a man who is in reality God (or an envoy of God, possessing his ‘face’). He asks him for his blessing and his name, but only obtains the blessing, the change of his own name, without the ineffable name of God (only known under the generic name ‘El’) being revealed to him.
Isis deceives the God (publicly known as Ra, Khopri, or Tumu) by her cunning. This great god shows himself weak and suffering, and he is easily fooled by this woman, Isis. She uses the God’s creative powers without his knowledge, and forms, from a mud impregnated with the divine saliva, a snake that bites the God and inoculates him with a deadly venom. The Sun God is now so weak that he cannot even bear, although he is the Sun of the universe, the ‘fire’ of the venom, ‘burning’ like a ‘flame’…
Jacob « fights » hand to hand with the God-man, who strikes him in the « hollow » of the hip, without ever revealing his Name.
Isis, for her part, « searches » the breast of the God Ra, with his (somewhat forced) agreement, in order to finally extract his (unmentioned) Name, and incorporate it directly into her own breast, which has become divine.

An idea somewhat similar to this search in the ‘breast’, though to some extent reversed, is found in the account of Moses’ encounter with God on Horeb.
« The Lord said to him again, ‘Put your hand in your breast’. He put his hand in his breast and took it out, and it was leprous, white as snow. He said again, ‘Put your hand back into your breast’. And he put his hand in his breast again, and then he took it out, and behold, it had regained its color. « xvii
The similarity is in the search of the ‘breast’. The difference is that Moses searches his own breast, whereas Isis searched the breast of Ra…

Note that in the case of Jacob as in that of Isis, the ineffable name is still not revealed. Jacob only knows the generic name El.
As for Isis, she is given to see the Name transported from the bosom of Ra into her own bosom, divinizing her in the process, but without her publicly revealing the Name itself.

However, it is undeniable that Isis succeeded where Jacob failed. She got to know the Name, in her heart.

There is yet another difference between Isis and Jacob.

Jacob, by his new name, embodied the birth of ‘Israel’.
As for Isis, she became a goddess, and the faithful companion, in life and in death, of the god Osiris. She transcended, when the time came, his dismemberment, and prepared the conditions of his resurrection. She participated in the metaphysical adventure of this murdered, dismembered and resurrected God, whose divided body, cut into pieces, was distributed through the nomes of Egypt, to transmit to them life, strength and eternity.

Today, Isis seems to have no more reality than that which is given to ancient dreams.
And yet, the metaphor of the murdered God (Osiris), whose body was cut up and distributed throughout Egypt and the rest of the world, offers some analogy with the Christian idea of the messianic God, murdered and shared in communion.

Man’s play with metaphors continues to this day…
Who will win, in the end, the transcendence of the ‘name’ (chem), – or the immanence of the ‘there’ (cham)?
The ‘hollowness’ of Jacob’s hip, or the ‘fullness’ of Isis’ breast?

Or should we expect something else, as ineffable as the Name?
Something that would unite together the full and the hollow, the chem and the cham?


iGen 32, 25-26

iiGen 32, 25-26

iiiGen 32, 29

ivGn 32, 30

vGen 32, 31

viGn 32, 32

viiG. Maspéro. Ancient history of the peoples of the Classical East. Hachette Bookstore. Paris, 1895, p. 160

viiiG. Maspéro indicates in a note that the legend of the Sun stripped of its heart by Isis was published in three fragments by Pleyte and Rossi (Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. XXXI, LXXVII, CXXXI-CXXXVIII), without them suspecting its value, which was recognized by Lefébure (Un chapitre de la Chronique solaire, in the Zeitschrift, 1883, p.27-33). In op.cit. p. 162, note 2.

ixPleyte-Rossi, Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. CXXXII, I, 2-3, in op.cit. p. 162, note 3.

xPleyte-Rossi, Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. CXXXII, I, 1-2, in op.cit. p. 162, note 4.

xiPleyte-Rossi, Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. CXXXI, I, 14 – pl. CXXXII, I,1, in op.cit. p. 162, note 5.

xiiOn the power of divine names and the value of knowing their exact names, see G. Maspero, Etudes de mythologie et d’Archéologie Égyptiennes, vol. II, pp. 208 ff.

xiiiPleyte-Rossi, Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. CXXXII, I, 6-8, in op.cit. p. 163, note 1.

xivPleyte-Rossi, The Hieratic Papyrus of Turin, pl. CXXXII, I, 9- pl… CCXXXIII, I,3, in op.cit. p. 163, note 2.

xvPleyte-Rossi, Les Papyrus hiératiques de Turin, pl. CXXXII, I, 10-12, in op.cit. p. 164, note 1.

xviG. Maspéro. Ancient history of the peoples of the Classical East. Hachette Bookstore. Paris, 1895, p. 161-164.

xviiEx 4, 6-7

Erebos, Arab, Europe

« Sunset »

Languages offer many surprises. Their words, their origins and their derivations, as long as one undertakes to follow them in their genesis, show the way to Heaven, – or to Hell.

In Hebrew, the word meaning ‘Arab’ ערב (‘RB) is the exact anagram of the word meaning ‘Hebrew’ עבר (‘BR).
But this word, ערב , which denotes ‘Arab’ in Hebrew, actually has a rich range of meanings that go far beyond this single ethnic designation. Pulling the thread of the ball of yarn, a whole ancient world emerges, covering a very vast territory, both geographical and semantic, from Europe to India via Akkad and Mesopotamia, and simmering a magic of subtle, brilliant and dark relationships.

The word עָרַב (‘arab) is also a verb that basically means ‘to set’ (referring to the sun or moon)i.
This Hebrew word is etymologically related to the ancient Akkadian erēbu, ‘to enter, to descend’, as in the expression erēb shamshi, the ‘sunset’ii.
Ernest Klein’s great etymological dictionary notes the kinship of the Hebrew word עָרַב (‘arab) with the Arabic gharb, غرب (‘west, the place of sunset’), with the Ethiopian ‘areba (‘he descended’), and also notes that the Greek word ‘Europe’ derives from this same etymological basis. The Greek word ‘Ἔρεβος, Érebos , which personifies Hell in mythology, also comes from the same base.
So we have the following etymological equation:

Erebos is certainly a very old word, and its deep origin reveals other surprises, as we shall see.
The god Erebos (Ἔρεϐοϛ) was born from the primordial Chaos, he is the brother and husband of Nyx, the Night, with whom he begat Ether (Heaven) and Hemera (Day), but also Eleos (Pity), Epiphron (Prudence) and Charon, the ferryman of the Underworld.
Hesiod tells us: « Then from the void were born Erebus and the black Night. From the Night came the Aether and the Day, two brothers and sisters whom she had conceived by uniting with Erebus »iii.
Homer tells of Odysseus’ descent into the Underworld and his encounter with the shadows:
« After addressing my prayers and wishes to the crowd of the dead, I take the victims, slit their throats in the pit, where black blood flows; suddenly the souls of the males escape from Erebus ».iv

Odysseus carefully observed the souls of the dead in Erebus: « I spoke in this way; but Ajax did not answer me and fled into Erebus with the crowd of shadows. There, no doubt, in spite of his anger, he would have spoken to me if I had pressed him; but all my desire then was to observe the souls of the other deadv « .
A good connoisseur of Greek myths, Moreau de Jonnès explains: « The third region of the Underworld was Erebus. This term has the meaning of « setting » in Genesis as well as in Homer and must have applied to the whole of the infernal region located in the west of Asia. According to Greek mythology, the part of Hades closest to the world of the living was so called. It is there that the spirits waited for their turn to appear before the court. Erebus, close to the Caucasus, was probably the island of Temruk, where the coffins containing the embalmed dead were first deposited. « vi

The old Greek word erebos (Ἔρεϐοϛ) refers to ‘darkness’, ‘the darkness of the underworld’ according to Pierre Chantraine’s etymological dictionaryvii, which observes that this word was also preserved in Sanskrit, Armenian and Germanic. The equivalent of erebos in Sanskrit is रजस्, rájas, ‘dark region of the air, vapor, dust’. In Armenian it is erek, ‘evening’, in Gotic, riquiz and in Norse rekkr, ‘darkness, twilight’.
Sanskrit dictionaries give the range of meanings of rájas: ‘atmosphere, cloud’ but also ‘passion, instinct, desire’, and this word allows to denote the abstraction of ‘Passion’, of the active essence of power and desire.
If we dig even deeper into the origin of the word , we find that it comes from the word rajanī, which literally means ‘the colored one’, from the verb rañj रञ्ज् ‘to be colored, to become colored’. The word rajanī denotes the color indigo, a powerful dark blue. But the root verb rañj also means ‘to blush, to flame’, like the setting sun, or like the blood of sacrifice, which incidentally is found in the ancient Greek words ῥῆγοϛ and ῥἐζω, carrying the idea of ‘to make a sacrifice’ and ‘to dye’.

Thus we see that the Hebrew word ‘arab actually comes from an ancient Sanskrit word via Akkadian, and has some connection to the blue of the night (which deepens) and the red of the sacrifice, which is ritually performed at sunset, – what the Hebrews actually called ‘the evening burnt offering’.
Indeed, the Hebrew word ערב vocalized עֶרֶב, ‘érèb, means ‘evening’ as in the verse ‘from morning until evening’ (Ex 18:14). It is also the word ‘evening’ in the famous verse ‘There was evening, there was morning’ (Gen 1:5).

Idiomatically used in the duel, it means ‘between the two evenings’, that is to say, between the day that ends and the evening that begins, in that very particular time of the day when one no longer distinguishes the limits, in that in-between time when one offers the evening sacrifice.viii
But this word also has, perhaps by a kind of metaphor based on the indistinction of twilight and evening, the meanings of ‘mixture’, ‘association’ and ‘alliance’. Hence the expression in the first Book of Kings, kol-malkhei ha-‘ereb ix, which can be translated word for word as ‘all the allied kings’, or ‘all the kings of Arabia’, or ‘all the kings of the West’, – since the word ‘ereb‘ is so ambiguous.

The Hebrew verb עָרַב (‘arab) has, moreover, a series of meanings, some related to the ideas of mixing or association, others related to the falling of the day, to darkening. Either: ‘to exchange goods, to deal; to be a guarantor; to be gentle, pleasant, good company; to mingle with’ but also ‘to make evening, to make dark’, as in ‘The day fades and the evening approaches’ (Jdg 19:9). This last meaning can have a moral sense: « All joy has faded away » (Is 24:11).

The idea of ‘mixture’, which has been assumed to derive its original intuition from the meeting of day and night, is found in other words attached to the same root עָרַב (‘arab), such as עָרֹב , ‘arob: ‘mixture of evil insects; species of flies’ word used to refer to the fourth plague of Egypt, עֵרֶב , ‘érèb: ‘links of the weft and warp of a cloth; mixture of people of all kinds, association of strangers’, as in the verse that contrasts the ‘mixed’ people and the Israelites: ‘they eliminated from Israel all the mixed ones’, kol-‘erèbx

In the vocalization עֹרֵב, ‘oreb, the same root gives the word ‘raven’, that black, ominous bird that flies away at dusk, or the name of Oreb, a prince of Midian executed on the bank of the Jordan by the people of Ephraimxi.
Feminized into עֲרָבָה, ‘arabah, the word means ‘desert, arid place’, ‘wilderness’, but in the plural (‘arabot) it means the heavens.
Masculinized into עֲרָבִי, ‘arabi, it means ‘arab’…

The word ereb, which is thus found in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Akkadian, and many other languages, originally comes from Sanskrit. Originally, it carries the essential idea of ‘mixture’, and more particularly of the symbolic mixture of two ‘colors’ (night blue and blood red).
From this original intuition it radiates, in Hebrew and Arabic, a whole set of semes, combining the ideas of evening, West, desert, heaven and Hell.
By extension, in Hebrew, it is used to denote the Arab, the fabric, the trade, the pests or the bird of misfortune, — the crow.

Let us add that in Arabic, curiously enough, the spelling of the word عرب, transcribed ‘arab, is very close visually to that of the word غرب, transcribed gharb or ġarb, depending on the dictionaries, as in maghreb or maġreb. The former has the sound laryngeal fricative ع (‘aïn) as its initial and the latter has the sound velar fricative غ (ġaïn) as its initial. The two letters are almost visually identical, and the semantic clouds of the words عرب and غرب may have undergone reciprocal contamination, or at least promoted metaphorical or metonymic shifts.

The word عرب means ‘Arabic‘, but etymologically the root verb عَرَب, ‘araba, has the meaning ‘to eat’, which seems to have no obvious connection with Arabness. In another vocalization عَرِب, ‘ariba, the word means ‘to be cheerful, lively, agile’. In yet another vocalization, عَرُب,’arouba, we have the meaning ‘to be essentially Arab, to be a good-natured Arab, to assimilate to the Arabs of the desert, to go and live in the desert’xii. Finally, in a vocalization enriched with some supplementary letters (عُرُوباءَ, ‘ouroûbâ’a) the word means ‘the 7th heaven’.

The spelling غرب is so close to عرب, that biblical Hebrew seems to confuse them both phonetically, when it transcribes or adapts these two Arabic words into Hebrew. From the semantic point of view, it is the second spelling that carries the basic meaning already found in the Hebrew ‘arab, and which is associated with the ideas of ‘setting’ and ‘evening’.
The verb غرب means ‘to go away, to leave, to move away; to set (sun, moon)’ but also ‘to arrive from abroad’ or ‘to go to the west’. It is with this verb that the name of Morocco is formed, ma-ghrib, literally ‘the place of the sunset’. A whole series of verbs and words based on this root denote the ideas of setting, darkness, west, western, occident, travel, foreign, strange, extraordinary, emigration, end, point, end.

For the Hebrews, ‘arab is the « foreign », the « mixed ». For the Arabs, their own name etymologically assimilates them to the ‘pure Arabic language’. The name ‘Arab’ therefore essentially means in Arabic, either the man of the desert, or (rather tautologically) ‘the one who knows how to handle the Arabic language perfectly’. But with a slight variation, by the passage from عرب to غرب, the same slightly modified word means no longer ‘Arab’, but ‘foreigner’, or even ‘Westerner’. This invites meditation.

From all this, it emerges as has already been said that Ereb, Europe, Arab are of the same origin. Hell, and the West too.
This ‘same origin’, this deeper root, the one that makes all these meanings possible, is still found in Sanskrit, in the word rañj रञ्ज्, which means the ‘mixing’ or ‘blending’ of colors, the blending of night and day, of shadow and light, of indigo and purple.

This fundamental idea of ‘blending’ is transcended, and celebrated, both in the Vedic religion and in the ancient Hebrew religion, by the ‘evening sacrifice’.

The sacrifice is to be made at the time of the ‘blending’ of light and shadow, and perhaps, of the human and the divine.


iErnest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language. The University of Haifa. 1987

iiErnest Klein. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language. The University of Haifa. 1987

iiiHesiod. Theogony. 123-125. Translation by Ph. Brunet, Le Livre de poche, 1999.

ivHomer, Odyssey XI, 37

vHomer, Odyssey XI, 564

viA.C. Moreau de Jonnès. Mythological times. Attempt at historical restitution. Didier’s Academic Bookstore. Paris, 1877, p.125

viiPierre Chantraine, Etymological Dictionary of the Greek Language. Histoire des mots, Klincksieck, Paris, 1977

viiiCf. the Hebrew-French Dictionary by Sander and Trenel (1859) at עֶרֶב.

ix1 Kings 10.15

xNehemiah 13.3

xiJg 7.25

xiiA. de Biberstein Kazimirski. Arab-French Dictionary, Ed. Maisonneuve, Paris 1860

Art Metaxu

Depuis longtemps je songe qu’un art-fusion, un art-metaxu, un art méta-formel, serait de ce temps et d’un autre, peut-être à venir.

Il mêlerait l’ancien des symboles, la noirceur des totems, des yeux de bois dur, cette couleur des blés coupés, en une steppe profuse.

Sa beauté ou l’absence d’icelle serait mue.

Mue par quoi?

Par le souffle rauque des paradigmes perdus.

« Ange aux loups » © Philippe Quéau. 2021

Kafka the Heretic


« The first sign of the beginning of knowledge is the desire to die. »i

Kafka had been searching for a long time for the key that could open the doors to true « knowledge ». At the age of 34, he seemed to have found a key, and it was death, or at least the desire to die.

It was not just any kind of death, or a death that would only continue the torment of living, in another life after death, in another prison.

Nor was it just any knowledge, a knowledge that would be only mental, or bookish, or cabalistic…

Kafka dreamed of a death that leads to freedom, infinite freedom.

He was looking for a single knowledge, the knowledge that finally brings to life, and saves, a knowledge that would be the ultimate, – the decisive encounter with « the master ».

« The master »? Language can only be allusive. Never resign yourself to delivering proper names to the crowd. But one can give some clues anyway, in these times of unbelief and contempt for all forms of faith…

« This life seems unbearable, another, inaccessible. One is no longer ashamed of wanting to die; one asks to leave the old cell that one hates to be transferred to a new cell that one will learn to hate. At the same time, a remnant of faith continues to make you believe that, during the transfer, the master will pass by chance in the corridor, look at the prisoner and say: ‘You won’t put him back in prison, he will come to me. » ii

This excerpt from the Winter Diary 1917-1918 is one of the few « aphorisms » that Kafka copied and numbered a little later, in 1920, which seems to give them special value.

After Kafka’s death, Max Brod gave this set of one hundred and nine aphorisms the somewhat grandiloquent but catchy title of « Meditations on Sin, Suffering, Hope and the True Path ».

The aphorism that we have just quoted is No. 13.

Aphorism No. 6, written five days earlier, is more scathing, but perhaps even more embarrassing for the faithful followers of the « Tradition ».

« The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual. This is why the revolutionary spiritual movements are within their rights in declaring null and void all that precedes them, because nothing has happened yet. » iii

Then all the Law and all the prophets are null and void?

Did nothing « happen » on Mount Moriah or Mount Sinai?

Kafka, – a heretic? A ‘spiritual’ adventurer, a ‘revolutionary’?

We will see in a moment that this is precisely the opinion of a Gershom Scholem about him.

But before opening Kafka’s heresy trial with Scholem, it may be enlightening to quote the brief commentary Kafka accompanies in his aphorism n°6 :

« Human history is the second that passes between two steps taken by a traveler.»iv

After the image of the « master », that of the « traveller »…

This is a very beautiful Name, less grandiose than the « Most High », less mysterious than the Tetragrammaton, less philosophical than « I am » (ehyeh)… Its beauty comes from the idea of eternal exile, of continuous exodus, of perpetual movement…

It is a Name that reduces all human history to a single second, a simple stride. The whole of Humanity is not even founded on firm ground, a sure hold, it is as if it were suspended, fleeting, « between two steps »…

It is a humble and fantastic image.

We come to the obvious: to give up in a second any desire to know the purpose of an endless journey.

Any pretended knowledge on this subject seems derisory to the one who guesses the extent of the gap between the long path of the « traveler », his wide stride, and the unbearable fleetingness of the worlds.

From now on, how can we put up with the arrogance of all those who claim to know?

Among the ‘knowers’, the cabalists play a special role.

The cabal, as we know, has forged a strong reputation since the Middle Ages as a company that explores mystery and works with knowledge.

According to Gershom Scholem, who has studied it in depth, the cabal thinks it holds the keys to knowing the truth:

« The cabalist affirms that there is a tradition of truth, and that it is transmissible. An ironic assertion, since the truth in question is anything but transmissible. It can be known, but it cannot be transmitted, and it is precisely what becomes transmissible in it that no longer contains it – the authentic tradition remains hidden.»v

Scholem does not deny that such and such a cabalist may perhaps « know » the essence of the secret. He only doubts that if he knows it, this essence, he can « transmit » the knowledge to others. In the best of cases he can only transmit its external sign.

Scholem is even more pessimistic when he adds that what can be transmitted from tradition is empty of truth, that what is transmitted « no longer contains it ».

Irony of a cabal that bursts out of hollowed-out splendor. Despair and desolation of a lucid and empty light .

« There is something infinitely distressing in establishing that supreme knowledge is irrelevant, as the first pages of the Zohar teach. »vi

What does the cabal have to do with Kafka?

It so happens that in his « Ten Non-Historical Proposals on the Cabal », Gershom Scholem curiously enlists the writer in the service of the cabal. He believes that Kafka carries (without knowing it) the ‘feeling of the world proper to the cabal’. In return, he grants him a little of the « austere splendor » of the Zohar (not without a pleonasticvii effect):

« The limit between religion and nihilism has found in [Kafka] an impassable expression. That is why his writings, which are the secularized exposition of the cabal’s own (unknown to him) sense of the world, have for many today’s readers something of the austere splendor of the canonical – of the perfect that breaks down. » viii

Kafka, – vacillating ‘between religion and nihilism’?

Kafka, – ‘secularizing’ the cabal, without even having known it?

The mysteries here seem to be embedded, merged!

Isn’t this, by the way, the very essence of tsimtsum? The world as a frenzy of entrenchment, contraction, fusion, opacification.

« The materialist language of the Lurianic Kabbalah, especially in its way of inferring tsimtsum (God’s self-retraction), suggests that perhaps the symbolism that uses such images and formulas could be the same thing. »ix

Through the (oh so materialistic) image of contraction, of shrinkage, the tsimtsum gives to be seen and understood. But the divine self-retraction is embodied with difficulty in this symbolism of narrowness, constraint, contraction. The divine tsimtsum that consents to darkness, to erasure, logically implies another tsimtsum, that of intelligence, and the highlighting of its crushing, its confusion, its incompetence, its humiliation, in front of the mystery of a tsimtsum thatexceeds it.

But at least the image of the tsimtsum has a « materialist » (though non-historical) aura, which in 1934, in the words of a Scholem, could pass for a compliment.

« To understand Kabbalists as mystical materialists of dialectical orientation would be absolutely non-historical, but anything but absurd. » x

The cabal is seen as a mystical enterprise based on a dialectical, non-historical materialism.

It is a vocabulary of the 1930’s, which makes it possible to call « dialectical contradiction » a God fully being becoming « nothingness », or a One God giving birth to multiple emanations (the sefirot)…

« What is the basic meaning of the separation between Eyn Sof and the first Sefira? Precisely that the fullness of being of the hidden God, which remains transcendent to all knowledge (even intuitive knowledge), becomes void in the original act of emanation, when it is converted exclusively to creation. It is this nothingness of God that must necessarily appear to the mystics as the ultimate stage of a ‘becoming nothing’. » xi

These are essential questions that taunt the truly superior minds, those who still have not digested the original Fall, the Sin, and the initial exclusion from Paradise, now lost.

« In Prague, a century before Kafka, Jonas Wehle (…) was the first to ask himself the question (and to answer it in the affirmative) whether, with the expulsion of man, paradise had not lost more than man himself. Was it only a sympathy of souls that, a hundred years later, led Kafka to thoughts that answered that question so profoundly? Perhaps it is because we don’t know what happened to Paradise that he makes all these considerations to explain why Good is ‘in some sense inconsolable’. Considerations that seem to come straight out of a heretical Kabbalah. »xii

Now, Kafka, – a « heretical » Kabbalist ?

Scholem once again presents Kafka as a ‘heretical’ neo-kabbalist, in letters written to Walter Benjamin in 1934, on the occasion of the publication of the essay Benjamin had just written on Kafka in the Jüdische Rundschau...

In this essay, Benjamin denies the theological dimension of Kafka’s works. For him, Kafka makes theater. He is a stranger to the world.

« Kafka wanted to be counted among ordinary men. At every step he came up against the limits of the intelligible: and he willingly made them felt to others. At times, he seems close enough to say, with Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor: ‘Then it is a mystery, incomprehensible to us, and we would have the right to preach to men, to teach them that it is not the free decision of hearts nor love that matters, but the mystery to which they must blindly submit, even against the will of their consciencexiii. Kafka did not always escape the temptations of mysticism. (…) Kafka had a singular ability to forge parables for himself. Yet he never allowed himself to be reduced to the interpretable, and on the contrary, he took every conceivable measure to hinder the interpretation of his texts. One must grope one’s way into it, with prudence, with circumspection, with distrust. (…) Kafka’s world is a great theater. In his eyes man is by nature an actor. (…) Salvation is not a bounty on life, it is the last outcome of a man who, according to Kafka’s formula, ‘his own frontal bone stands in the way’xiv. We find the law of this theater in the midst of Communication at an Academy: « I imitated because I was looking for a way out and for no other reason ».xv (…) Indeed, the man of today lives in his body like K. in the village at the foot of the castle; he escapes from it, he is hostile to it. It can happen that one morning the man wakes up and finds himself transformed into a vermin. The foreign country – his foreign country – has seized him. It is this air there that blows in Kafka, and that is why he was not tempted to found a religion. » xvi

Kafka is therefore not a cabalist. The ‘supernatural’ interpretation of his work does not hold.
« There are two ways of fundamentally misunderstanding Kafka’s writings. One is the naturalistic interpretation, the other the supernatural interpretation; both, the psychoanalytical and the theological readings, miss the point. »xvii

Walter Benjamin clearly disagrees with Willy Haas, who had interpreted Kafka’s entire work « on a theological model », an interpretation summarized by this excerpt: « In his great novel The Castle, [writes Willy Haas], Kafka represented the higher power, the reign of grace; in his no less great novel The Trial, he represented the lower power, the reign of judgment and damnation. In a third novel, America, he tried to represent, according to a strict stylization, the land between these two powers […] earthly destiny and its difficult demands. « xviii

Benjamin also finds Bernhard Rang’s analysis « untenable » when he writes: « Insofar as the Castle can be seen as the seat of grace, K.’s vain attempt and vain efforts mean precisely, from a theological point of view, that man can never, by his will and free will alone, provoke and force God’s grace. Worry and impatience only prevent and disturb the sublime peace of the divine order. »xix

These analyses by Bernhard Rang or Willy Haas try to show that for Kafka, « man is always wrong before God « xx.

However, Benjamin, who fiercely denies the thread of « theological » interpretation, thinks that Kafka has certainly raised many questions about « judgment », « fault », « punishment », but without ever giving them an answer. Kafka never actually identified any of the « primitive powers » that he staged.
For Benjamin, Kafka remained deeply dissatisfied with his work. In fact, he wanted to destroy it, as his will testifies. Benjamin interprets Kafka from this (doctrinal) failure. « Failure is his grandiose attempt to bring literature into the realm of doctrine, and to give it back, as a parable, the modest vigor that seemed to him alone appropriate before reason. « xxi

« It was as if the shame had to survive him. »xxii This sentence, the last one in The Trial, symbolizes for Benjamin the fundamental attitude of Kafka.
It is not a shame that affects him personally, but a shame that extends to his entire world, his entire era, and perhaps all of humanity.
« The time in which Kafka lives does not represent for him any progress compared to the first beginnings. The world in which his novels are set is a swamp. »xxiii

What is this swamp?
That of oblivion.
Benjamin quotes Willy Haas again, this time to praise him for having understood the deep movement of the trial: « The object of this trial, or rather the real hero of this incredible book, is oblivion […] whose main characteristic is to forget himself […] In the figure of the accused, he has become a mute character here. « xxiv

Benjamin adds: « That this ‘mysterious center’ comes from ‘the Jewish religion’ can hardly be contested. Here memory as piety plays a quite mysterious role. One of Jehovah’s qualities – not any, but the most profound of his qualities – is to remember, to have an infallible memory, ‘to the third and fourth generation’, even the ‘hundredth generation’; the holiest act […] of the rite […] consists in erasing the sins from the book of memory’xxv. »

What is forgotten, Benjamin concludes, is mixed with « the forgotten reality of the primitive world »xxvi, and this union produces « ever new fruits. »xxvii

Among these fruits arises, in the light, « the inter-world », that is to say « precisely the fullness of the world which is the only real thing. Every spirit must be concrete, particular, to obtain a place and a right of city. [….] The spiritual, insofar as it still plays a role, is transformed into spirits. The spirits become quite individual individuals, bearing themselves a name and linked in the most particular way to the name of the worshipper […]. Without inconvenience their profusion is added to the profusion of the world […] One is not afraid to increase the crowd of spirits: […] New ones are constantly being added to the old ones, all of them have their own name which distinguishes them from the others. « xxviii

These sentences by Franz Rosenzweig, quoted by Benjamin, actually deal with the Chinese cult of ancestors. But for Kafka, the world of the ancestors goes back to the infinite, and « has its roots in the animal world »xxix.

For Kafka, beasts are the symbol and receptacle of all that has been forgotten by humans: « One thing is certain: of all Kafka’s creatures, it is the beasts that reflect the most. « xxx

And, « Odradek is the form that things that have been forgotten take. »xxxi
Odradek, this « little hunchback », represents for Kafka, « the primary foundation » that neither « mythical divination » nor « existential theology » provide,xxxii and this foundation is that of the popular genius, « that of the Germans, as well as that of the Jews »xxxiii.

Walter Benjamin then strikes a blow, moving on to a higher order, well beyond religiosities, synagogues and churches: « If Kafka did not pray – which we do not know -, at least he possessed to the highest degree what Malebranche calls ‘the natural prayer of the soul’: the faculty of attention. In which, like the saints in their prayer, he enveloped every creature. « xxxiv

As we said, for Scholem, Kafka was a « heretical cabalist ».
For Benjamin, he was like a « saint », enveloping creatures in his prayers…
In a way, both of them are united in a kind of reserve, and even denigration, towards him.

Scholem wrote to Benjamin: « Kafka’s world is the world of revelation, but from a perspective in which revelation is reduced to its Nothingness (Nichts). »
For him, Kafka presents himself as unable to understand what is incomprehensible about the Law, and the very fact that it is incomprehensible.
Whereas the Cabal displays a calm certainty of being able not only to approach but to ‘understand’ the incomprehensibility of the Law.

Benjamin shares Scholem’s disapproval of Kafka, and goes even further, reproaching him for his lack of ‘wisdom’ and his ‘decline’, which participates in the general ‘decline’ of the tradition: « Kafka’s true genius was (…) to have sacrificed the truth in order to cling to its transmissibility, to its haggadic element. Kafka’s writings (…) do not stand modestly at the feet of doctrine, as the Haggadah stands at the feet of the Halakhah. Although they are apparently submissive, when one least expects it, they strike a violent blow against that submission. This is why, as far as Kafka is concerned, we cannot speak of wisdom. All that remains are the consequences of his decline. « xxxv

Kafka, – a man who lacks wisdom, and in « decline ».
No one is a prophet in his own country.

For my part, I see in Kafka the trace of a dazzling vision, against which the cabal, religion, and this very world, weigh but little.
Not that he really « saw ».
« I have never yet been in this place: one breathes differently, a star, more blinding than the sun, shines beside it. « xxxvi

What is this place? Paradise?
And if he did not « see », what did he « understand »?
Kafka wrote that we were created to live in Paradise, and that Paradise was made to serve us. We have been excluded from it. He also wrote that we are not ‘in a state of sin’ because we have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, but also because we have not yet eaten from the Tree of Life.
The story is not over, it may not even have begun. Despite all the « grand narratives » and their false promises.
« The path is infinite « xxxvii, he asserted.
And perhaps this path is the expulsion itself, both eternal.
« In its main part, the expulsion from Paradise is eternal: thus, it is true that the expulsion from Paradise is definitive, that life in this world is inescapable « xxxviii.

Here, we are certainly very far from the Cabal or dialectical materialism.

But for Kafka, another possibility emerges, fantastically improbable.
The eternity of expulsion « makes it possible that not only can we continually remain in Paradise, but that we are in fact continually there, regardless of whether we know it or not here. « xxxix

What an heresy, indeed!


iFranz Kafka. « Diary », October 25, 1917. Œuvres complètes, t.III, Ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.446.

iiFranz Kafka. « Diary », October 25, 1917. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.446.

iiiFranz Kafka.  » Diary », October 20, 1917. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.442.

ivFranz Kafka.  » Diary », October 20, 1917. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.443.

vGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on Kabbalah. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 249.

viGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on the Kabbalah, III’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 249.

viiThe Hebrew word zohar (זֹהַר) means « radiance, splendor ».

viiiGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on Kabbalah, X’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 256.

ixGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on the Kabbalah, IV’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 251.

xGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on the Kabbalah, IV’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 251.

xiGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on the Kabbalah, V’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 252.

xiiGershom Scholem. Ten Non-Historical Proposals on Kabbalah, X’. To the religious origins of secular Judaism. From mysticism to the Enlightenment. Translated by M. de Launay. Ed. Calmann-Lévy, 2000. p. 255-256.

xiiiF.M. Dostoëvski. The Brothers Karamazov. Book V, chap. 5, Trad. Henri Mongault. Ed. Gallimard. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1952, p. 278.

xivFranz Kafka, Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.493

xvFranz Kafka, Œuvres complètes, t.II, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.517

xviWalter Benjamin. ‘Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.429-433

xviiWalter Benjamin. ‘Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p. 435

xviiiW. Haas, quoted by Walter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.435

xixBernhard Rang « Franz Kafka » Die Schildgenossen, Augsburg. p.176, quoted in Walter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.436

xxWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.436

xxiWalter Benjamin. ‘Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.438

xxiiFranz Kafka. The Trial. Œuvres complètes, t.I, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.466

xxiiiWalter Benjamin. ‘Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.439

xxivW. Haas, quoted by Walter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.441

xxvW. Haas, quoted by Walter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.441

xxviWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.441

xxviiWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.441

xxviiiFranz Rosenzweig, The Star of Redemption, trans. A. Derczanski and J.-L. Schlegel, Paris Le Seuil, 1982, p. 92, quoted by Walter Benjamin. Franz Kafka. On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.442

xxixWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.442

xxxWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.443

xxxiWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.444

xxxiiWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.445

xxxiiiWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.445-446

xxxivWalter Benjamin. Franz Kafka . On the tenth anniversary of his death’. Works, II. Gallimard Folio. Paris, 2000, p.446

xxxvQuoted by David Biale. Gershom Scholem. Cabal and Counter-history. Followed by G. Scholem: « Dix propositions anhistoriques sur la cabale. « Trad. J.M. Mandosio. Ed de l’Éclat. 2001, p.277

xxxviFranz Kafka. « Newspapers « , November 7, 1917. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.447

xxxviiFranz Kafka. « Newspapers « , November 25, 1917, aphorism 39b. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.453.

xxxviiiFranz Kafka. « Newspapers « , December 11, 1917, aphorism 64-65. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.458.

xxxixFranz Kafka. « Newspapers « , December 11, 1917, aphorism 64-65. Œuvres complètes, t.III, ed. Claude David, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Paris 1976, p.458.

L’infinité des choses que l’homme n’entend décidément pas

-Paul Ricœur-

Les « choses », que l’on dit « objectives », se distinguent en tant qu’objets du sujet qui les considère. Par là, elles participent à la consolidation du sujet, elles l’incitent à se considérer lui-même comme « objet » de sa propre considération.

Par leur présence silencieuse, elles indiquent et témoignent que la conscience de ceux qui les considèrent est à l’œuvre.

La conscience qui observe un objet est d’abord regard, visée, perspective. Elle est tournée vers cette chose qui lui est extérieure, et à ce moment elle n’est pas conscience de soi, elle n’est pas tournée vers elle-même, elle n’est pas consciente de sa propre subjectivité.

Mais elle est déjà réflexion, en tant qu’elle constate une division, une scission entre l’objet, pour elle « objectif », et sa propre capacité subjective d’objectivation.

La conscience se réfléchit elle-même en observant l’objet, en prenant conscience qu’elle pose l’objet en face d’elle, se faisant sujet vis-à-vis de lui.

Elle se coupe en deux; d’un côté elle perçoit cette extériorité persistante, objective, inamovible. De l’autre, elle perçoit le fait que sa propre perception a bien lieu, et qu’elle instaure et renforce par cela même l’existence du sujet, ce sujet de la conscience, ce soi qui devient « conscient » de l’objet qu’il objective.

Mais cela ne permet pas encore à la conscience de pénétrer le sens des choses, d’atteindre l’essence de l’objet. Il lui faut progresser bien davantage dans la réflexion.

Le corps, support de la conscience, est muni de plusieurs portes, par lesquelles parviennent les données des sens, continuellement ou intempestivement. Plus ces portes sont grandes ouvertes, plus la conscience s’aperçoit de sa position d’observation, qui est de se mettre quelque peu en retrait, en arrière de ce qui est lui est donné à voir, à entendre, à toucher, à sentir, à goûter.

La conscience, dans ce retrait, prend conscience de sa propre limite, de sa « finitude », si humaine, tout spécialement lorsqu’elle se voit observer le monde à travers la nécessaire médiation du corps.

Pourquoi la conscience de la limite, de la finitude, est-elle liée à celle de la perception?

Parce que toute perception impose ses propres limites a priori.

Pourquoi est-ce que la perception des sens, dont on peut dire qu’elle participe, ô combien, à « l’ouverture » du corps humain sur l’extérieur, est-elle aussi la source d’une « finitude », d’une « limite »?

Parce que toute perception, toute perspective, impose ses cadres, ses schèmes, ses contraintes.

Tout point de vue ouvre une perspective particulière, mais, par là même, se ferme a priori aux autres perspectives. Tout choix (libre) d’un point de vue, renvoie les autres vues dans la nuit.

Le philosophe en conclut que la perception, la réceptivité, les sens en un mot, sont la cause même de la finitude de la condition humaine. Pourquoi? Parce qu’ils nous mettent dans une position passive, celle de recevoir, et non dans une position active, qui serait de créer.

« La finitude originaire consiste dans la perspective ou point de vue; elle affecte notre relation primaire au monde qui est de ‘recevoir’ ses objets et non de les créer (…) elle est un principe d’étroitesse, une fermeture dans l’ouverture, si l’on ose dire. »i

Kantii a généralisé cette idée, en une formule bien frappée. « Est fini un être raisonnable qui ne crée pas les objets de sa représentation, mais les reçoit. »iii

L’être raisonnable est « fini », c’est-à-dire intrinsèquement limité, puisqu’il dépend d’objets extérieurs à lui, pour commencer à exercer son pouvoir de représentation, se comporter de manière rationnelle.

Mais, pourrait-on argumenter, toute perspective, une fois ouverte, n’est-elle pas comme une fenêtre potentiellement, infiniment ouverte sur l’au-delà, dépassant de fait tout horizon, et à ce titre, non limitée?

On répondra que toute perspective est double ou duale. Elles est infinie en tant qu’elle est ouverte, mais limitée en tant qu’elle est contrainte, étrécie.

Dans un monde dominé par des perspectives, on ne perçoit jamais qu’un seule face de l’objet à la fois.

La finitude propre à la réceptivité, au fait de ‘recevoir’, est donc intrinsèquement liée à la notion de point de vue.

Il appartient à l’essence de la perception d’être inadéquate, de rester toujours en deçà de ce qu’il y aurait à percevoir.

La finitude de la réception se laisse voir dans les limites de la perspective. Mais il y a aussi, dans l’ouverture en avant que la perspective laisse entrevoir, une potentielle infinité. S’envolant hors de la cage pré-existante de la perspective, le regard peut s’en aller, du moins en théorie, jusqu’au fond de l’infini, qui ne cesse de s’ouvrir au fur et à mesure que le regard s’affranchit de la perspective initiale.

Mais le philosophe est sceptique, dubitatif, il ne voit que le fini, non l’infini, l’étroit, non le grand large:

« Il est vrai de dire que la finitude de l’homme consiste à recevoir ses objets: en ce sens qu’il appartient à l’essence de la perception d’être inadéquate. (…) Percevoir d’ici est la finitude de percevoir quelque chose. Le point de vue est l’inéluctable étroitesse initiale de mon ouverture au monde. »iv

On préfère une autre voie. Il faut imaginer qu’un « point de vue » initial, aussi étroit soit-il, n’est qu’une porte ouvrant vers un au-delà, dans la vastitude duquel toutes les perspectives, tous les « points de vue », les plus singuliers comme les mieux partagés, ont vocation à perdre leur sens restreint, et finissent inéluctablement par se désincarcérer de tout carcan.

La finitude humaine n’est pas une fatalité. Elle peut décider de s’éprouver elle-même sous la condition d’une « vue-sur » sa propre finitude. Elle peut s’interpréter comme un regard extérieur sur son propre point de vue. Cette « vue-sur », ce regard extérieur sur les conditions de sa capacité à percevoir, sont une façon de transgresser ce que l’on nomme la ‘vision’, la ‘perception’, et la ‘perspective’.

La « vue-sur » s’affranchit de la vision, de la perception, de la perspective, en tant que liées aux sens, parce qu’elle occupe un « point de vue » sur son propre « point de vue », un point de vue surplombant, un « méta-point de vue ».

Tout se passe comme si la conception même de la notion de « point de vue » permettait, par un glissement vers le haut, la possibilité d’un point de vue panoptique, englobant tous les points de vue possibles.

L’accumulation de tous les points de vue singuliers qu’elle se rappelle avoir occupés, fait naître dans la conscience l’idée d’un point de vue abstrait qui serait l’idée ou l’essence idéale du « point de vue ».

Mais l’existence, même putative, d’un tel point de vue idéal, quintessentiel, nie la pertinence de tous les points de vue particuliers.

Elle promeut au contraire la coexistence nécessaite de tous les points de vue concevables, pour en offrir la jouissance, et l’ouverture.

L’homme dispose par essence d’une capacité de juger. Son intelligence, parmi les choix possibles, peut s’estimer capable de dire le vrai et le faux, le bien et le mal, le moyen et le meilleur.

Mais il y a un certain manque de proportion, originaire, entre cette intelligence qui juge (à l’évidence finie) et son désir profond (qui semble infini).

C’est pourquoi il convient de méditer plus avant sur cette pensée de Descartes: « Il y a peut-être une infinité de choses dans le monde dont je n’ai aucune idée en mon entendement. »v


iPaul Ricoeur. Philosophie de la volonté. 2. Finitude et culpabilité. Ed. Points, 2009, p.61

iiCf. la Réfutation de l’idéalisme dans la Critique de la raison pure.(trad. Barni)/Tome I/Théorie élémentaire/P2/PREM DIV./L2/Ch2/S3/4.

« L’idéalisme (j’entends l’idéalisme matériel) est la théorie qui déclare l’existence des objets extérieurs dans l’espace ou douteuse et indémontrable, ou fausse et impossible. La première doctrine est l’idéalisme problématique de Descartes, qui ne tient pour indubitable que cette affirmation empirique (assertio) : je suis ; la seconde est l’idéalisme dogmatique de Berkeley, qui regarde l’espace avec toutes les choses dont il est la condition inséparable comme quelque chose d’impossible en soi, et par conséquent aussi les choses dans l’espace comme de pures fictions. L’idéalisme dogmatique est inévitable quand on fait de l’espace une propriété appartenant aux choses en soi ; car alors il est, avec tout ce dont il est la condition, un non-être. Mais nous avons renversé le principe de cet idéalisme dans l’esthétique transcendantale. L’idéalisme problématique, qui n’affirme rien à cet égard, mais qui seulement allègue notre impuissance à démontrer par l’expérience immédiate une existence en dehors de la nôtre, est rationnel et annonce une façon de penser solide et philosophique, qui ne permet aucun jugement décisif tant qu’une preuve suffisante n’a pas été trouvée. La preuve demandée doit donc établir que nous n’imaginons pas seulement les choses extérieures, mais que nous en avons aussi l’expérience ; et c’est ce que l’on ne peut faire qu’en démontrant que notre expérience intérieure, indubitable pour Descartes, n’est possible elle-même que sous la condition de l’expérience extérieure. »

iiiPaul Ricœur. Philosophie de la volonté. 2. Finitude et culpabilité. Ed. Points, 2009, p.56

ivPaul Ricœur. Philosophie de la volonté. 2. Finitude et culpabilité. Ed. Points, 2009, p.60

vDescartes. Méditations métaphysiques. IVème méditation.

A Brief Anthropology of Sacrifice


The Taittirya Brāhamaṇa thus describes what happened before the beginning of the universe :

« In the beginning, in truth, this universe was nothingness; there was no heaven, no earth, and no atmosphere. The non-being that alone was then made spirit, saying: I want to be! (…) From the non-being the spirit was emitted, the spirit emitted Prajāpati, Prajāpati emitted the beings. » i

The translation of the idea of creation by the word ’emit’ does not take into account the original meanings of the verbal root sṛj सृज्, which is much more colourful: « to let go, to spread, to let flow, to ejaculate; to create, to procreate, to engender, to give birth; to emit, to throw. » ii

In another account of the origins, the spermatic image is even more precise:

« In the beginning, in truth, there was only the Brahman; as the juice of his vigor overflowed, he became Brahma. Brahma meditated silently with the mind; his mind became Prajāpati. » iii

In both cases, the fundamental idea is that creation is the result of a kind of ‘sacrifice’ made by the Supreme Being – that is, a gift emanating from his very essence, from his inner juice. Prajāpati is the divine figure who embodies this original sacrifice, because he is the « Lord (pati) of creatures (prajā) », and has an intermediate nature, partly mortal, partly immortal.

« Prajāpati created the living beings. By his inspirations he created the gods, and by his expirations he created the mortal beings. Above the beings he created Death, to consume them. Now, from Prajāpati, one half was mortal, one half was immortal. With his mortal part he was afraid of death, and being afraid, he became double, clay and water (…) Five parts of his body were mortal, hair, skin, flesh, bones, marrow; and five immortal parts: spirit, speech, breath, sight, hearing. » iv

Prajāpati is the Lord of creatures, the primordial being, both mortal and immortal. He created the universe by his own Sacrifice, sharing his essence with Fire, Breath or the Word.

« That, Prajāpati wanted. Through Agni, He mated with the earth. An egg hatched. He touched it: ‘Let it grow! Let it grow and multiply,’ He said. And the embryo that was inside was created as Vāyu (the Wind) (…) By Vāyu, He mated with the air. An egg hatched. He touched it and said, ‘May you be glorified!’ By this Āditya (the Sun) was created (…) By Āditya he mated with Heaven (…) Having created these worlds, He desired, ‘May I create my own creatures in these worlds!’

By His Spirit (manas) he mated with the Word (vāc). He became pregnant with eight drops. They gave birth to the eight Vasus, which He placed on the earth.

By His Spirit, He mated with the Word. He became pregnant with eleven drops. They gave birth to the eleven Rudras, which He placed in the air.

By His Spirit, He mated with the Word. He became pregnant with twelve drops, which gave birth to the twelve Ādityas, which He placed in the sky.

By His Spirit He mated with the Word. He became pregnant. He created All the Gods and placed them in the place. » v

The Word (vāc) is the companion of Prajāpati. As the Satapatha-Brahamaṇa tells us, He mates with her four times. Another text, Kāṭhaka, presents things in a similar way: « Prajāpati was the universe. Vāc was His companion; He mated with Her. She conceived, separated from Him. She engendered the creatures, and then She returned to Prajāpati »vi.

Vāc is here the Word, which creates and generates. But elsewhere, she is not the divine and indefinite Word, which is the agent of creation, but short and precise words of one or two syllables: « After a year, Prajāpati wanted to speak: He said bhūḥ and the earth was; he said bhuvaḥ and space was, he said svaḥ and heaven was. » vii

These three worlds, earth, space, heaven, correspond to the three categories of sounds : vowels, consonants and spirals.

The process of creation by word then continues in all its logic, division and syllabary pulverization:

« Prajāpati was the entire universe. Vāc wasHis, Vāc was His companion. He considered: This Vāc, I want to emit her, she will be infinitely transformed into everything. He emitted Vāc, shewasgoing to be transformed into everything. She who was at the very top, she grew as the drop of water grows. Prajāpati cut off a third of her, ā, it was the earth (…) He cut off a third of her, ka, and it was the atmosphere (…) He threw up a third of her, ha, andit was heaven (…) He divided Vāc, which was one syllable, into three.  » viii

Words, speeches, syllables are the matrix (and matter) from which the universe and all creatures are generated.

But all this has a price, – the Sacrifice of the Creator.

After having « emitted » all the worlds and all the beings, Prajāpati lost his intrinsic unity, it broke up. « When Prajāpati emitted the creatures, his members broke off. Now Prajāpati, certainly, is the year. His limbs are the two transitions of day and night [i.e. dawn and dusk], the full moon and the new moon, and the beginning of the seasons. ixHe had cast out the creatures, he fell in pieces.x Being nothing more than a heart, he lay there. He cried out: Ah, my life! The waters heard Him; with the agnihotra [the sacrifice of milk] they came to His aid, they brought Him the throne. » xi

Fortunately the gods are there, watching over Him. Agni, Vāyu, Āditya, Candramas recover his scattered limbs, and the pasus bring back the hair, skin, bones, marrow. « Prajāpati, when He had emitted the beings lay exhausted. The gods gathered the juice and vigor of the beings and used it to heal him. » xii

The supreme Creator, Prajāpati, the primordial God sacrificed himself entirely so that the universe, as well as all living creatures, could come to be. His sacrifice empties Prajāpati of all his substance. « When He had created all existing things, Prajāpati felt emptied; he was afraid of death. » xiii

This unique moment in the history of the theogonic representations, however, offers the opportunity to draw a parallel with other religious traditions, and specifically with the Passion of Christ, feeling « sadness and anguish » xiv(« My soul is sad to death »xv), and fear of death. He repeatedly asked God to spare him from his torment, but in the end he had to endure mockery, flogging, torture and crucifixion, right up to the final cry of abandonment by the Father (« My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? »xvi).

The term used by Christian theology to describe this ‘revelation’ of the divine was originally coined by St. Paul. It is ‘kenosis’, from the Greek kenosis, a word that comes from the verb κενόω, ‘to empty’. Another form of emptying of the divine was also conceptualized by Judaism, though later, with the concept of tsimtsum, ‘contraction’ [of the Divine], an idea forged by the Jewish cabal in the Middle Ages.

Although these analogies are worth strongly emphasizing, and would deserve to be the object of a comparative anthropological study, the idea of the Primordial Sacrifice, granted by the One and Supreme Creator, retains all its anteriority, strength and originality.

Prajāpati is not Christ, although it is a disturbing prefiguration of his metaphysical destiny. He is the God Creator of all worlds and all beings. His Sacrifice made possible the creation of the universe, and it continues in the continuation of time, and it is metaphorized in each of the existing beings throughout the world. In every moment of Time, the Supreme God continues to divide himself so that the World continues to be.

Prajāpati thought: « ‘How can I bring all these beings back into my body? How can I again become the body of all these beings? He divided his body into two parts. There were three hundred and sixty bricks on one side and as many on the other. He failed. « xvii

Then he divided it into three parts of two hundred and forty bricks. Another failure. Then into four parts of one hundred and eighty bricks. Fail again. Then into five parts of one hundred and forty-four bricks. Fail again. Then in six parts of one hundred and twenty bricks. Failure.

He did not attempt to divide it into seven. But he divided it into eight parts of ninety bricks. Failure. Then into nine parts of eighty bricks. It failed. Then into ten parts of seventy-two bricks. Failure. He made no attempt to divide it into eleven.

He divided it into twelve parts of sixty bricks. Failure. He did not attempt to divide it into thirteen or fourteen parts. He divided it into fifteen parts of forty-eight bricks. Failure. He divided it into sixteen parts of forty-five bricks. Failure.

He made no attempt to divide it into seventeen parts. He divided it into eighteen parts of forty bricks. Failure. He made no attempt to divide it into nineteen parts. It was divided into twenty parts of thirty-six bricks. Failure.

He did not attempt to be divided into twenty-one, twenty-two, or twenty-three parts. It was divided into twenty-four parts of thirty bricks.

There He stopped at the fifteenth part. And that is why there are fifteen forms of ascending moons and fifteen forms of descending moons. And it is also because He divided Himself into twenty-four parts that there are twenty-four half months.

Nevertheless, with these twenty-four parts of thirty bricks, it had not yet divided sufficiently. So he divided ṚgVeda into twelve thousand verses and he divided the other two Vedas in the same way, respectively eight thousand for the Yajur Veda and four thousand for the Sāma Veda. He further divided the three Weda into ninety times ten thousand eight hundred and eighty syllables.

Then He continued to divide Himself until He became the body of all things and beings, which are composed of meters, vital breaths or deities.

What we will remember is that the initial and continuous Sacrifice of the Supreme Creator reaches the height of primordial reality, and that it is palpable in Time and Space. The Sacrifice is before all beings. The Sacrifice is both theCreator and the Creation. All the phenomena of the universe owe its existence to it, and are the image of it indefinitely repeated. The Sacrifice is infinite, eternal, and it is Man’s task to accomplish it in order to resurrect it and make it live without end.

« The eternity of the Sacrifice is divided into infinitely numerous periods; whoever offers it kills him, and every death raises him up. The supreme Male, the Man par excellence (Puruṣa) dies and is reborn again and again. » xviii

This is why it is also up to man, who is in the image of the primordial Man (Puruṣa), to carry out for his part the « sacrifice » which is in the image of the primordial sacrifice of Prajāpati.

Some two millennia after those ideas were conceptualized in the Veda, Jesus of Galilea incarnated them on Golgotha.


iTaittirya Brāhamaṇa. 2,2,9,10: » asato ‘dhi mano’ sṛjyata, manaḥ Prajāpatim asṛjyata. Prajāpatiḥ prajā asṛjyata. « Quoted by Sylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhamaṇas. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1898, p. 14.

ii The root sṛj is also the etymological origin of the word ‘source’.

iiiSāmavidhāna. I, 1-3

ivSatapatha Brāhamaṇa X,1,3, 1-3 and 4

vSatapatha Brāhamaṇa VI,1,2,1-9

viKāṭhaka 12.5; 27.1 (Ind. Stud. IX,477) quoted by Sylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhamaṇas. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1898, p. 22.

viiSatapatha Brāhamaṇa XI,1,6, 3

viiiTūndya-Māha-Brahmaṇa 20,14,2 cited by Sylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhamaṇas. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1898, p. 23.

ixSatapatha Brāhamaṇa I,6,3,35

xSatapatha Brāhamaṇa VI,1,2,12

xiTaittirya Brāhamaṇa. 2,3,6,1. Quoted by Sylvain Lévi. The Doctrine of Sacrifice in the Brāhamaṇas. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1898, p. 24.

xiiTaittirya Brāhamaṇa. 1,2,6,1. Quoted by Sylvain Lévi. Ibid.

xiiiSatapatha Brāhamaṇa X,4,2,2

xivMt 26.37

xvMt 26, 38

xviMt 27.46

xviiSatapatha Brāhamaṇa X,4,2,4

xviiiSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhamaṇas. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1898, p. 11.

Imagination humaine et imagination divine

-William Blake-

Quand ils sont abattus, visiblement malades, se tenant à l’écart de leurs congénères, les chimpanzés ingurgitent sans les mastiquer certaines plantes (Ficus asperifolia, Ficus exasperata, Aneilema aequinoctiale, Rubia cordifolia) qui semblent avoir un effet salutaire. Richard Wranghami suggéra le premier que la raison était probablement autre que nutritionnelle ou gustative (ces plantes peu appétissantes ont un goût âpre, rugueux). Des études ont en effet confirmé l’hypothèse d’une utilisation « médicinale » par les chimpanzés, pour se débarrasser des nématodes parasites intestinaux.

On a répertorié plus de trente espèces de plantes consommées à des fins similaires par les bonobos, les gorilles et les chimpanzésii. Ces comportements d’auto-médication chez les grands singes africains relèvent d’une science appelée zoopharmacognosie.

Dans un ordre d’idées comparable,Terence Mc Kennaiii avança l’hypothèse que des plantes alcaloïdes, et spécifiquement celles d’entre elles qui possèdent des propriétés hallucinogènes dues à des composés chimiques comme la psilocybine, le diméthyltryptamine (DMT), et l’harmaline, font sans doute aussi partie des régimes alimentaires des grands singes (gibbon, orang-outan, gorille, chimpanzé), de la famille des Hominoïdes, lointains ancêtres des humains.

Parmi ces plantes, les champignons se distinguent comme étant particulièrement « mutagènes » dans l’environnement naturel, et donc capables de tester d’infinies combinaisons de mutations, comme le sont généralement tous les fungi et les moisissures, dont la science moderne ne connaît qu’une toute petite partie des espèces existantes.

Des céréales évoluant en symbiose avec des moisissures ont permis d’élargir les possibilités de ces espèces mutagènes en incitant les espèces animales à les consommer, les attirant par les effets puissants qu’elles peuvent opérer.

Suite à des séries de mutations et d’évolutions s’étendant sur des dizaines de millions d’années, et dont il n’est pas interdit de penser que des croisements génétiques entre règnes végétal et animal les ont favorisées, les Hominoïdes ont engendré successivement les Hominidésiv, les Homininés puis les Hominines, considérés désormais comme les plus récents précurseurs d’Homo sapiens, dont les plus anciens restes retrouvés sont datés de seulement 300.000 ans.

Les composés chimiques hallucinogènes de certaines plantes alcaloïdes, fort répandues de par le monde, ont donc été consommés vraisemblablement pendant de nombreuses générations d’ancêtres d’Homo sapiens puis par Homo sapiens lui-même. Par leurs puissants effets psychoactifs, ils ont pu influencer les capacités réflexives et cognitives des cerveaux des Hominoïdes et des Hominidés, puis des Humains. Ils ont pu faciliter, par cette symbiose alimentaire sur un grand nombre de générations, des mutations favorisant un impact plus efficace encore de ces substances psychoactives, améliorant les performances réactionnelles du cerveau, et ses capacités conceptuelles et imaginatives

Ils ont dans une certaine mesure catalysé l’évolution continuelle du cerveau, puis à un stade ultérieur, ils ont favorisé le développement de l’imagination, inopinément nourrie d’expériences sensorielles et psychiques radicalement différentes de celles de la vie courante. Dans un stade encore ultérieur, le caractère proprement indicible des expériences provoquées par les plantes hallucinogènes a sans doute eu un lien avec l’émergence du langage. L’extase chamanique, le sentiment de dissolution des frontières personnelles et tribales, ont durablement installé au centre de la conscience la perception rémanente du sentiment du mystère.

C’est un fait établi, vérifiable par quiconque en a fait l’expérience, que la psilocybine provoque brutalement une très intense stimulation du système nerveux central, suivie d’un état de conscience et d’éveil sans aucune commune mesure avec ce qui peut être ressenti dans l’état habituel de la conscience humaine.

L’irruption soudaine, fulgurante, d’une expérience totalement autre dans la proto-conscience d’hominidés ou dans la pré-conscience d’homininés, pas ou peu préparées à en comprendre la nature et la puissance, a sans doute fait beaucoup, lorsqu’elle a été répétée pendant des milliers de générations, pour engendrer l’émergence du sentiment du soi, et pour établir une distance symbolique entre le moi et la représentation du moi.

Les composés chimiques à base d’indoles naturels, puissamment hallucinogènes, ont vraisemblablement joué un rôle clé dans l’émergence de la capacité d’auto-réflexion, de la prise de conscience de soi, et de la prise de conscience du fait d’être humain, dont l’une des potentialités est de pouvoir être emporté consciemment jusqu’aux plus hauts sommets de l’extase métaphysique.

Les indoles hallucinogènes se répartissent en quatre groupes, caractérisées par diverses molécules.

1. Certaines molécules ont une structure similaire à celle du LSD. On les trouve par exemple dans l’Ergot de seigle, le Liseron (Gloire du matin, Belle de jour), et l’Ipomée (Volubilis). Assez rares dans la nature, il est nécessaire d’en consommer des doses élevées pour produire des hallucinations.

2. Les molécules de tryptamine (caractéristiques de la psilocine, la psilocybine, et de la N,N-diméthyltryptamine ou DMT) se trouvent dans des légumes et dans des champignons. Mais on trouve aussi de la DMT produite de façon endogène dans le cerveau humain, au niveau de la glande pinéale. Les hallucinations visuelles dues à la DMT sont brèves, intenses, spectaculaires, et peuvent être considéres comme non toxiques à faible dose.

3. Les béta-carbolines, comme l’harmine et l’harmaline, sont importantes pour les pratiques d’ingestion d’hallucinogènes dans le chamanisme parce qu’elles inhibent l’action des enzymes qui pourraient dégrader les molécules de DMT. Elles peuvent être consommées en corrélation avec le DMT pour prolonger et intensifier leur action. Cette combinaison est à la base de l’ayahuasca (ou « yage ») utilisé en Amazonie.

4. Les ibogaïnes de la plante Tabernanthe Iboga, que l’on trouve en Afrique de l’Ouest, sont aphrodisiaques et hallucinogènes. Elles ont une relation structurelle avec les beta-carbolines. L’ibogaïne est aussi une tryptamine, proche de la psilocine et de la psilocybine, psychostimulante et hallucinogène à forte dose. Cette molécule interagit avec des neurotransmetteurs, principalement la sérotonine et le glutamate.

La plupart des animaux, et même certains végétaux, émettent en permanence des phéromones, qui sont des molécules capables d’agir sur des individus de la même espèce. Pour traduire le fait que les molécules d’indoles peuvent être chimiquement actives dans plusieurs espèces, appartenant tant au règne végétal qu’au règne animal, Terence McKenna a forgé le néologisme d’exo-phéromonev. Mais à ce néologisme les scientifiques préfèrent aujourd’hui l’emploi du mot ectomonevi, qui en est en l’équivalent.

Les exo-phéromones ou ectomones se définissent comme des phéromones capables de servir de moyen de communication entre différences espèces.

Dans le contexte de la consommation de plantes hallucinogènes par un grand nombre de générations successives d’hominoïdes, d’hominidés et d’homininés, on peut en déduire que des ‘individus d’une espèce donnée peuvent affecter directement ou indirectement d’autres espèces, au sein de vastes aires biotiques, et même de biomes entiers, par la diffusion d’exo-phéromones ou d’ectomones.

Le fait que ces phéromones soient capables de relier intimement, biochimiquement, des espèces du règne végétal à des espèces spécifiques du règne animal, et d’en affecter le comportement à long terme, d’en faciliter l’évolution, encourage à faire une hypothèses de portée plus générale.

La nature pourrait être comparée à une totalité organique et planétaire qui rend possible la communication de signaux chimiques et moléculaires entre espèces, et en tire parti pour autoréguler son développement, en maximisant la coopération mutuelle, et la coordination des fins poursuivies.

Dans ce cadre très général, on peut considérer que les molécules des plantes hallucinogènes jouent elles aussi un rôle de messagers inter-espèces, dans une symbiose évolutive et comportementale qui a touché particulièrement les primates, mais sans s’y limiter.

De très nombreuses autres espèces d’animaux recherchent activement ce type de substances chimiquement actives, semble-t-il. Au Gabon, les éléphants, et de nombreuses variétés d’oiseaux consomment de l’iboga, tout comme les gorilles, et les humains eux-mêmes… Au Canada, les rennes raffolent de champignons comme l’amanite tue-mouches (Amanita muscaria), qui sont hallucinogènes pour les humains, et qui doivent aussi agir d’une façon analogue sur les cervelles de bovidés, peut-on supputer à partir de leurs comportements…

Le papillon sphinx à tête de mort ne peut vivre sans Datura et sans Atropa belladona. Le puma se shoote au Quinquina gris, les mouflons cherchent leurs doses quotidiennes de lichens psychotropes, les éléphants de l’Afrique subsahélienne exigent leurs noix de marula, les chimpanzés leur nicotine, et les chats cherchent l’extase dans leur herbe-à-chat (Nepeta cataria).

Enfin, on a pu tester l’impact spectaculaire du LSD sur des escargots et des poissons rouges. On en induit que ces derniers ont aussi une capacité latente à sortir de leur condition « naturelle ».vii

La puissance psycho-active de ces hallucinogènes naturels, fort répandus et ayant agi sur d’innombrables individus appartenant à de très nombreuses générations de primates, d’hominidés et d’homininés, a probablement favorisé ou même orienté certaines mutations génétiques, et permis peut-être de surcroît des transferts cumulatifs d’informations génétiques entre espèces différentes, mais proches dans l’arbre évolutif.

Ces évolutions continuelles ont pu favoriser une réactivité toujours plus accrue, plus spécifique, du cerveau des primates à ces molécules, en maximisant toujours davantage la synchronisation des cellules neuronales lors de l’ « extase » neurochimique.

Il y a quelques centaines de milliers d’années, lorsque des individus du genre Homo ont repris à leur compte la consommation de ces plantes hallucinogènes, déjà connues et appréciées depuis des millions d’années par les nombreux primates qui les avaient précédés, ils ont pour leur part ajouté à cette mémoire animale, collective, une contribution décisive. Ils ont fait de la consommation de ces plantes psycho-actives une pratique culturelle, lui ajoutant même une dimension sacrée, en en faisant la raison d’un culte pré-chamanique.

L’ingestion rituelle, codée socialement, d’hallucinogènes puissants, dans des petits groupes tribaux d’Homo, fut certainement facilitée par la présence d’aînés déjà expérimentés, les premiers chamanes, ce qui permettait d’accéder à moindre risque à ces expériences hors du commun, à ces visions intraduisibles dans les mots du langage, et à ces types d’extases absolument inimaginables pour tout non-initié à ces « mystères ».

Le choc psychologique, mental et spirituel, induit par la consommation rituelle de ces hallucinogènes, n’a pas pu ne pas provoquer dans l’esprit de nombreux individus, dans la suite des générations, couvrant des centaines de milliers d’années, des états toujours plus élevés de self-réflexion et une prise de conscience plus aiguë du soi.

Ces états peuvent aller jusqu’à des expériences de sortie du corps, ce qui est le sens premier du mot « extase », et jusqu’à des « visions » d’un ordre plus indicible encore, dont diverses traditions mystiques, plurimillénaires, ont témoigné, n’en donnant d’ailleurs qu’une idée assez approximative, pour quiconque n’a pu en faire l’expérience soi-même.

Car il s’agit là d’une rencontre inoubliable et intraduisible avec l’Autre Transcendantal.

Cet (absolument) Autre a d’abord pu être perçu initialement comme incarnant la Nature, se déployant et se révélant à ces occasions dans sa totalité, dans une synergie reliant tous les vivants. L’Autre se révélait comme la Vie même, la vie vivante d’une nature intelligente, globale, connectée.

Au long des générations successives, cette rencontre avec l’Autre put prendre de nouvelles formes, comme celle de l’union de l’esprit d’un individu particulier avec toutes les mémoires et les savoirs des esprits des générations passées, et avec une vue sur l’anticipation des futurs.

Dans ses rencontres avec l’extase hallucinatoire, l’Homo sapiens de la grotte de Lascaux, cet homme au visage d’oiseau, trouva peut-être une des clés lui ouvrant la question de l’être, lui présentant son mystère, en tant qu’individu, et en tant qu’espèce, dans un compagnonnage avec le bison agonisant, perdant ses entrailles.

De fait, la psilocybine des champignons hallucinogènes a sans doute eu un impact sur l’émergence de la conscience et sur l’apparition de formes de langage chez les pré-humains, les hominidés, les homininés, avant de se développer plus encore les premiers humains.

La puissance nue du choc extatique mettait en relief chez l’initié la nécessité d’une perception de l’aperception, elle exigeait de sa part une plus forte attention à l’attention, un éveil à l’éveil, sous peine de grave accident, en cas de surdose.

Elle l’invitait à de nouvelles associations et connections mentales et imaginatives.

L’impact neurologique des hallucinogènes sur le cerveau met soudainement en évidence, pour la conscience, la différence entre le « soi » et le « non-soi ». En cela cet impact est analogue à ce qui se passe lors d’une brutale réponse immunitaire affectant tout l’organisme.

Dans le système immunitaire, le complexe majeur d’histocompatibilité (CMH), présent chez la plupart des vertébrés, reconnaît aussi le « soi » et le « non-soi ».

Au niveau moléculaire, cette différence s’exprime à travers les protéines de surface. Les molécules de CMH I sont présentes sur toutes les cellules des vertébrés, à l’exception de certains tissus comme la cornée ou les glandes salivaires. Les molécules de CMH II sont présentes sur les cellules présentatrices de l’antigène (lymphocytes B, macrophages, cellules dendritiques et sur les cellules épithéliales thymiques), et jouent un rôle essentiel pour identifier et détruire les intrus (les antigènes).

Tout se passe donc comme si le cerveau, soumis à une dose conséquente de molécules hallucinogènes, réagissait brutalement en mobilisant toutes ses ressources immunitaires pour identifier au plus vite l’ensemble de ces molécules considérées comme des antigènes. Ce faisant, tout le cerveau devient pendant quelques instants capables de prendre « conscience » de l’entièreté de sa propre structure, et de la totalité des molécules « étrangères » venant la modifier.

L’analogie ici proposée entre le système immunitaire et la « prise de conscience » se fonde sur une capacité inhérente à reconnaître et à mémoriser ce qui est le « soi » et ce qui est le « non-soi » (pour provoquer une réaction adaptée).

La capacité du CMH à reconnaître la forme des molécules d’antigènes déclenche une réaction immunitaire globale. De même, l’attention du système neuronal à la réaction neurochimique provoquée dans le cerveau par des molécules d’hallucinogènes s’accompagne d’une augmentation vertigineuse de « conscience », ce qui prélude à la compréhension de sa puissance auto-réflexive, capable de s’augmenter sans cesse d’elle-même, par elle-même, pour se dépasser toujours plus.

Il n’y a sans doute pas de limites à la « quantité » de conscience que l’individu d’une espèce peut produire en lui-même, car la conscience n’est pas a priori figée, elle se nourrit non seulement de tout ce qui la stimule, mais elle se nourrit aussi d’elle-même, de ses propres orages neurochimiques, de ses éclairs imaginatifs et des révélations qui lui sont parfois données.

La conscience est analogue à une source de lumière. Plus la lumière est puissante, plus vaste est le monde qu’elle éclaire. Mais cette lumière n’épuise pas sa propre nuit. Plongeant en elle, la conscience se voit traversée d’éclairs, qui lui en révèle toute la profondeur, ou du moins lui en laisse deviner l’immensité latente. Après avoir connu cet immense embrasement, cette traînée de foudre, et être revenue à son état habituel, elle est ainsi encouragée à relier, à tisser, à nouer, moment après moment, tous les éléments de sa perception du monde , et à les joindre à l’histoire de sa découverte progressive d’elle-même.

La manière d’accomplir cette intégration, ce tissage, d’une façon plus ou moins efficace, créative ou personnelle, détermine la réponse plus ou moins adaptée de l’individu aux défis posés par l’existence en tant que « conscience ».

Habituellement, la « prise de conscience » de tel ou tel état du monde par un individu est le résultat d’un processus de compression et de filtration de données sensorielles, puis de leur intégration.

L’expérience des hallucinogènes sur la conscience se traduit de façon exactement opposée.

Aldous Huxley considérait que la fonction du cerveau, du système nerveux et des organes des sens, est principalement de « réduire » (les informations) plutôt que de les « produire ».

La fonction du cerveau et du système nerveux est de nous protéger d’une surabondance d’information, et de les filtrer pour prévenir la confusion qui résulterait d’une masse de données inutiles, non pertinentes

Elle est de limiter notre perception de ce que nous pouvons percevoir à chaque instant, et de nous laisser accéder seulement à une très petite partie de ces informations, celles qui peuvent être considérées comme essentielles, réellement utiles.

Le résultat de ce filtrage, de cette réduction, est que l’esprit s’incarne en nous de façon singulière, unique, concentrée. Cet esprit singulier, cet esprit à l’œuvre, cet esprit « personnel » est pourtant aussi une incarnation de l’esprit immanent, collectif, de l’espèce.

En première approximation, la priorité de tout animal est de survivre et de se reproduire. Pour assurer la survie biologique de l’espèce, l’esprit de l’individu doit se concentrer sur sa mission première; pour cela il lui faut sans cesse réduire, filtrer et finalement retenir, relier et intégrer les informations essentielles.

Ce faisant, les filtres du cerveau et du système nerveux ne cessent de produire un mince ruisseau de conscience, une quintessence éveillée, qui est la vie même, parce qu’elle permet de rester en vie.

Pour mieux exprimer les contenus de cette conscience réduite, focalisée, singulière, et les partager avec ses congénères, l’homme a inventé des systèmes symboliques, des langages, des grammaires, des philosophies, des représentations du monde.

Tout cet attirail possède des avantages, mais impose aussi ses contraintes, ses limites, ses défauts.

Les symboles, les langages, les grammaires, les philosophies n’offrent, malgré leur richesse relative, que des moyens d’expression limités de la conscience. La conscience n’a ici-bas qu’une vision restreinte, rognée, « pétrifiée » du monde réel.

Dans certaines circonstances, des humains ont pu effectivement établir des contacts avec d’autres mondes possibles, des mondes situés « au-delà » de ce monde, selon ce que de nombreuses traditions spirituelles enseignent.

Les sceptiques et les esprits forts en doutent, naturellement, spécialement dans notre époque matérialiste.

Nous n’en tiendrons pas compte, pour la suite de notre raisonnement, car ces sceptiques n’ont tout simplement pas « vu » ce qu’il y avait à « voir ». Seuls ceux qui ont « vu » peuvent témoigner.

Si ces mondes « au-delà » existent en effet, ils pourraient comprendre une multitude de consciences analogues à la nôtre, ou au contraire, foncièrement d’une autre nature. Toutes ces consciences, quelles qu’elles soient, devraient cependant vivre au sein de ce que l’on pourrait appeler l’Esprit universel, l’Esprit au sens large.

On peut alors conjecturer que l’impact, décrit plus haut, des substances psychoactives sur la conscience de ceux qui les consomment depuis des générations n’a pas été seulement d’ordre physiologique, cognitif ou psychologique. Elles ont pu mettre la conscience en contact avec un sur-monde, un méta-niveau de réalité. En catalysant la mise en résonance simultanée de l’ensemble des neurones du cerveau, elles ont pu libérer tout le potentiel de certaines fonctions très spécifiques du cerveau, rarement mobilisées, mais bien présentes, latentes. Elles ont permis à l’homme d’entrer en contact avec d’autres sphères de conscience, d’autres types de réalité, d’autres manières d’être, transcendant l’univers objectif, matériel, que nous connaissons bien, en apparence.

La conscience gagne un trésor en faisant l’expérience de se dissoudre momentanément dans cet hyperespace illimité, dans cet Autre, dans cette transcendance. Elle y gagne une nouvelle compréhension du sens du soi comme partie vivante du grand tout de la nature, comme atome insécable du Soi universel.

Lorsque l’Homo Sapiens a émergé dans l’aube de son histoire, il y a plusieurs centaines de milliers d’années, il y a eu sans doute un stade décisif où l’évolution de la conscience a bénéficié de la découverte des propriétés puissantes des plantes psychoactives. Cela a été une révélation pour lui, un véritable tempête au plus profond de son esprit, éveillant en lui des sentiments de crainte, de respect, d’admiration, au plus haut degré.

Il a vu en lui-même des visions que nul œil mortel ne peut voir.

Et ces visions ont depuis des millénaires fondé l’essence de toutes les civilisations successives.

Ces visions, dont les transes chamaniques, les cérémonies védiques célébrant la consommation du Soma, les mystères d’Éleusis, les thiases dionysiaques ou les nuits d’initiation au culte de Mithra témoignent, ont toutes un point commun: elles résultent de l’absorption de substances psycho-actives, donnant accès à un sur-monde spirituel.

Certains seront sans doute choqués que la clé ouvrant la voie des mystères les plus élevés des premières religions de l’humanité puisse n’être qu’une (relativement) simple substance chimique agissant sur le cerveau.

Mais les extases vécues lors de ces transes, ces initiations, ces envolées de l’esprit, n’ont rien de « simple ». Ce sont des expériences incroyablement intenses, puissantes, complexes. Elles sont liées à la nature la plus profonde de l’homme, et elles sont capables de changer fondamentalement l’idée qu’il se fait de lui-même.

Mircea Eliade a affirmé que l’extase est l’essence même du chamanisme.

« Dans toute cette zone [la Sibérie et l’Asie centrale] où l’expérience extatique est tenue pour l’expérience religieuse par excellence, le chaman, et lui seul, est le grand maître de l’extase. Une première définition de ce phénomène complexe, et peut-être la moins hasardeuse, sera: chamanisme = technique de l’extase. »viii

Le chaman est un « élu », capable d’abandonner son corps et d’entreprendre des voyages cosmiques  » en esprit  » (en transe).

Le but suprême du chaman est d’abandonner son corps et de s’élever au « ciel » ou de descendre en « enfer » (quel que soit le sens que l’on peut donner à ces métaphores). Le but prioritaire du chaman n’est donc pas de se laisser entraîner dans des manifestations spectaculaires, ou de se laisser « posséder » par des « esprits », des « démons » ou par les âmes des morts, comme on le lit trop souvent dans les études d’anthropologie superficielles, faites par des spécialistes qui n’ont jamais expérimenté eux-mêmes la réalité de ces extases, ni effectué de voyages aux confins de l’innommable et de l’indicible.

Gordon Wasson commente ainsi l’extase chamanique :
« Dans sa transe, le chaman part pour un voyage lointain – le lieu des ancêtres disparus, ou le monde inférieur, ou le lieu où habitent les dieux – et ce pays des merveilles est, à mon avis, précisément celui où les hallucinogènes nous emmènent. Ils sont une passerelle vers l’extase. L’extase en elle-même n’est ni agréable ni désagréable. La félicité ou la panique dans laquelle elle vous plonge est accessoire à l’extase. Lorsque vous êtes en état d’extase, votre âme semble s’extraire de votre corps et s’envoler. Qui contrôle son vol : est-ce vous, votre « subconscient » ou une « puissance supérieure » ? Il fait peut-être nuit noire, mais vous voyez et entendez plus clairement que vous n’avez jamais vu ou entendu auparavant. Vous êtes enfin face à face avec la Vérité ultime : c’est l’impression (ou l’illusion) accablante qui vous saisit. Vous pouvez visiter l’enfer, ou les champs élyséens d’asphodèles, ou le désert de Gobi, ou les plaines arctiques. Vous connaissez l’émerveillement, la félicité et la peur, voire la terreur. Chacun vit l’extase à sa manière, et jamais deux fois de la même façon. L’extase est l’essence même du chamanisme. Le néophyte du grand monde associe les champignons principalement à des visions, mais pour ceux qui connaissent la langue indienne du chaman, les champignons « parlent » à travers le chaman. Le champignon est le Verbe : es habla. Le champignon confère au curandero ce que les Grecs appelaient Logos, le Vac aryen, le Kavya védique, la ‘puissance poétique’, comme le disait Louis Renou. »ix

En affirmant que le sentiment religieux a commencé d’apparaître lorsque les pré-humains et les humains ont expérimenté la puissance psychotrope des alcaloïdes hallucinogènes, Wasson prenait une position hérétique, du moins par rapport au consensus régnant alors parmi les anthropologues et ethnologues s’intéressant à l’origine du fait religieux.

Ainsi Mircea Eliade, qui a écrit une somme sur le chamanisme, considérait que le chamanisme utilisant des « narcotiques » était un chamanisme décadent, tombé dans la « déchéance ». Il estimait que si les chamans ou les initiés ne pouvaient pas atteindre l’extase sans drogues, alors ils avaient perdu le véritable sens de leur culture.

A la fin de son livre sur la transe chamanique, Mircea Eliade qualifie de pratique « aberrante » l’usage de ce qu’il appelle des « narcotiques » dans la transe chamanique.

« Bien que l’idéologie de l’ascension chamanique soit extrêmement cohérente et solidaire des conceptions mythiques que nous venons de passer en revue (« Centre du Monde », rupture des communications, déchéance de l’humanité, etc.) on a rencontré nombre de cas de pratiques chamaniques aberrantes: nous pensons surtout aux moyens rudimentaires et mécaniques d’obtenir la transe (narcotiques, danses jusqu’à épuisement, « possession », etc.). On peut se demander si, en dehors des explications « historiques » qu’on pourrait trouver à ces techniques aberrantes (déchéance à la suite d’influences culturelles extérieures, hybridation, etc.), elles ne peuvent être interprétées également sur une autre plan. On peut se demander, par exemple, si le côté aberrant de la transe chamanique n’est pas dû au fait que le chaman s’efforce d’expérimenter in concreto un symbolisme et une mythologie qui, de par leur nature même ne sont pas « expérimentables » sur le plan « concret »; si, en un mot, le désir d’obtenir à tout prix et par n’importe quel moyen une ascension in concreto, un voyage à la fois mystique et réel, au Ciel, n’a pas abouti aux transes aberrantes que nous avons vues. »x

Eliade oppose les transes du « grand chamanisme », atteintes spontanément, à ce qu’il nomme des « demi-transes » provoquées à l’aide de narcotiques.

« Dans la zone arctique, l’extase chamanique est un phénomène spontané et organique; c’est seulement dans cette zone qu’on peut parler du « grand chamanisme », c’est-à-dire de la cérémonie qui finit dans une transe cataleptique réelle, pendant laquelle l’âme est supposée avoir abandonné le corps et voyager vers les cieux ou les enfers souterrains. Dans les régions subarctiques, le chaman, n’étant plus victime de l’oppression cosmique, n’obtient pas spontanément une transe réelle et se voit forcé de provoquer une demi-transe à l’aide de narcotiques et de mimer dramatiquement de « voyage » de l’âme. »xi

Mais l’utilisation par Eliade du mot « narcotique » – un terme habituellement réservé aux soporifiques – pour décrire ces « demi-transes » chamaniques trahit une réelle erreur de jugement quant à la nature botanique et pharmacologique. des champignons hallucinogènes utilisés dans les zones subarctiques.

Comme on l’a vu, R. Gordon Wasson défend un point de vue précisément contraire : la consommation d’hallucinogènes indique que le chamanisme est authentique et vivant. Et le chamanisme tardif, caractérisé par des rituels élaborés, diverses épreuves d’ « initiation » et l’intervention de pseudo-chamanes aux personnalités pathologiques, est précisément la forme « décadente » du chamanisme originel. C’est alors seulement que le chamanisme a perdu tout sa puissance originaire de communication « concrète » avec le divin, et est en passe de devenir une simple mystification, se donnant pour une « religion ».

Les points de vue respectifs de Mircea Eliade et de R. Gordon Wasson sont parfaitement opposés. Il semble que la vraie différence est qu’Eliade ne sait pas de quoi il parle. Sa culture en la matière est livresque. Il n’a pas expérimenté lui-même l’effet de ces champignons hallucinogènes à la différence de Wasson qui a subi l’initiation chamanique et qui a réalisé dans son propre esprit la nature de l’extase ultime.

Mais il est certain qu’il est très difficile de traiter de la question de l’usage cultuel de ces plantes « sacrées » , dans une époque où la consommation de drogues « dures » domine l’actualité, et quand on constate les dégâts effrayants subis par d’innombrables personnes.

Il reste cependant qu’un accès privilégié, sans pareil, à l’inconscient et au sur-monde, a été facilité depuis des millénaires par l’ingestion rituelle de certaines plantes naturelles.

Cela témoigne, pour quiconque en a fait l’expérience, de notre lien originel, consubstantiel, avec la planète vivante, la planète Terre, mais aussi avec le vaste monde des esprits, ou de l’Esprit.

Dans le monde occidental, l’éloignement de la nature et de l’inconscient s’est accentué il y a environ deux mille ans, avec la suppression progressive des mystères païens et l’avènement du christianisme, qui a supplanté le culte de Mithra et mis fin aux mystères d’Eleusis dans l’Empire romain.

Le monothéisme n’était guère compatible, semble-t-il, avec l’immersion du moi dans les mystères archaïques de l’extase et dans le sentiment de la plénitude visionnaire induites par des plantes.

Mais il est très possible que la prochaine étape de l’évolution humaine doive impliquer non seulement un refus de la culture actuelle, mais aussi un renouveau de certaines intuitions archaïques autour des liens entre la conscience humaine et la nature comme totalité vivante.

La croissance continue de ses capacités réflexives a incité Homo sapiens à prendre toujours davantage conscience de sa conscience, puis à développer et utiliser un langage symbolique pour la partager avec ses congénères.

La prochaine étape de la croissance de la conscience humaine, à l’échelle des prochains millénaires, pourrait fleurir librement dans les paysages illimités de l’imagination, qu’elle surgisse en nous spontanément, ou qu’elle soit stimulée par une maîtrise nouvelle des techniques archaïques de l’extase.

L’enjeu futur sera celui de l’épanouissement de l’être humain par le développement de son « imagination divine », cette imagination dont William Blake fait la matière, la substance même du monde réel et éternel, et qu’il reconnaît aussi comme un don de l’Esprit à l’Homme.

« Je ne connais pas d’autre christianisme ni d’autre Évangile que la liberté du corps et de l’âme à exercer les Arts Divins de l’Imagination: Imagination, le monde réel et éternel dont cet univers végétal n’est qu’une ombre évanescente, et où nous vivrons dans nos corps réels ou imaginaires, lorsque ces corps végétaux et mortels ne seront plus. (…) Dieu est-il Esprit devant être adoré en esprit et en vérité? Les dons de l’Esprit ne sont-ils pas tout pour l’homme? »xii

Exerçant à notre tour notre Imagination, ne découvrons-nous pas que ses créations sont elles aussi comme des exo-phéromones ou des ectomones qui régulent notre relation symbiotique avec l’univers, avec les autres espèce du règne animal et avec les plus nombreuses espèces encore du règne végétal, dont certaines, comme le chanvre, le cannabis ou l’ayahuasca sont justement capables de faire exploser notre imagination et de lui permettre de fusionner avec la Divine Imagination.

Une compréhension plus profonde du rôle de l’imagination humaine comme contrepoint ou dialogue avec le déploiement parallèle de l’Imagination Divine (au sens de William Blake) pourrait être la principale contribution exigée de l’homme, dans ce moment de crise intellectuelle, religieuse et morale.

L’imagination humaine doit jouer sa partition propre dans le processus de l’évolution de l’Univers, bien que nous ne sachions pas d’où il vient, où il va, et quelles sont les fins qu’il est censé poursuivre.

C’est peut-être d’ailleurs à l’imagination humaine de répondre à cette dernière question, ou du moins de contribuer à y répondre, dans une tentative de symbiose cosmothéandriquexiii.

La prochaine grande étape de l’évolution humaine (en tant qu’elle s’intriquera toujours davantage, on le suppose, avec la nature tout entière, avec le cosmos et avec le monde infini des esprits) est sans doute de contribuer de façon plus consciente au développement de l’Imagination Divine, dont William Blake s’est voulu le Prophète, et le Poète.

L’imagination humaine pourrait être considérée comme l’un des songes vivants et incarnés de l’Imagination Divine, l’un des espoirs de sa renaissance, et de son renouvellement.

Un homme nouveau, — comme condition d’un Divin nouveau, par un renouvellement de l’Esprit, c’est-à-dire de l’Imagination?

Pour aller de l’avant, il faudrait assurer la fusion de l’intelligence et de l’imagination humaines, dans leur puissance naturelle et dans leurs extensions artificielles, avec l’ancienne matrice de l’inconscient collectif, la somme totale de la mémoire de toutes les formes de vie, animales et végétales.

Il faudrait aussi tenter de faire revivre (symboliquement) la mémoire accumulée de tous les hominoïdes, les hominidés, les homininés et toutes les générations d’Homo sapiens, depuis que des formes de proto-conscience ont commencé d’éclairer leur être-au-monde pour les uns, et que pour les autres, ils se soient risqués à accéder aux formes de conscience les plus élevées de l’extase archaïque.

Les premiers explorateurs humains qui en firent l’expérience, découvrirent abasourdis, il y a de cela des centaines milliers d’années déjà, que des formes d’intelligence végétale pouvaient faire alliance avec l’imagination humaine. En style moderne, on dirait que les neurotransmetteurs des cerveaux humains furent mis en résonance à l’échelle du cortex par l’action d’indoles venant des alcaloïdes. Par ce procédé neurochimique, aussi bizarre qu’inattendu, mais terriblement efficace, des cerveaux humains ont découvert au fond des grottes, au sommet des monts sacrés, ou dans l’ombre des forêts, qu’une communication bien réelle avec l’Esprit universel était possible, et qu’elle pouvait aller infiniment haut, jusqu’à faire jaillir comme une source éternelle, la vision de l’Autre absolu, et la connaissance de sa transcendance cachée.

Une exploration attentive des possibilités « enthéogènes » des hallucinogènes végétaux a été déjà entreprise par des pionniers comme R. Gordon Wasson.

Mais il reste, pour les générations futures, à chercher à sonder le mystère le plus archaïque et le plus fondamental, à savoir le phénomène inouï de l’émergence première de la conscience. Une relation quasi-symbiotique entre des plantes et des hommes a pu caractériser l’essence des sociétés et des cultes archaïques. Elle permet d’entrevoir comment le mystère numineux a été expérimenté concrètement, réellement, par Homo sapiens, dès l’origine.

Il nous reste surtout, et c’est le plus important pour le lointain avenir, à tirer toutes les conséquences philosophiques, politiques et métaphysiques de la triple alliance entre le monde végétal, Homo sapiens, et les attentes du numineux. Il reste à imaginer toutes les suites à donner à cette alliance, et à la décliner dans ses infinies virtualités.

La fin des Temps ne suffira pas à en épuiser la puissance.


iHerrmann E., Call J., Hernandez M.V., Hare B., Tomasello M. — Humans Have Evolved Specialized Skills of Social Cognition: 2007 The Cultural Intelligence Hypothesis. Science, 2007, 317 (5843) , 1360-1366 DOI: 10.1126/science.1146282

ii’Hladik C.M. Des relations d’attachement essentielles à la vie d’un groupe de chimpanzés. Primates, Nathan, 2010.

iiiTerence McKenna. The Food of the Gods.The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge.A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution. Bantam New Age Books, 1992

ivHominidé : famille des Hominidae qui englobe toutes les formes humaines présentes et passées ainsi que de façon générale, les grands singes actuels et leurs ancêtres, et avant eux par les Hominoïdes Cf. G. Lecointre, H. Le Guyader, La classification phylogénétique du vivant ,cité par Cyril Langlois,

v Terence McKenna a suggéré que certains produits chimiques produits en abondance dans diverses plantes et champignons hallucinogènes , tels que la diméthyltryptamine et la psilocybine, peuvent agir comme des phéromones produites par un règne (le végétal) en attente d’absorption par d’autres règnes animaux (par exemple, les premiers primates ou les hominidés ). De cette façon, une sorte de système phéromonal écologique peut être à l’œuvre parmi les règnes biologiques et écosystèmes qui ont coévolué étroitement pendant de longues périodes de temps.


viiCf. La métaphysique du singe | Metaxu. Le blog de Philippe Quéau

viiiMircea Eliade. Le chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l’extase. Payot, Paris, 1968, p. 22

ixCf. R. Gordon Wasson. Persephone’s Quest. Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. Yale University Press. 1986

xMircea Eliade. Le chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l’extase. Payot, Paris, 1968, p. 384

xiMircea Eliade. Le chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l’extase. Payot, Paris, 1968, p. 37

xiiWilliam Blake. Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion. Ed. A.H. Bullen, London, 1904, p.92. « I know of no other Christianity and of no other Gospel than the liberty both of body & mind to exercise the Divine Arts of Imagination: Imagination, the real & eternal World of which this Vegetable Universe is but a faint shadow, & in which we shall live in our Eternal or Imaginative Bodies, when these Vegetable Mortal Bodies are no more. The Apostles knew of no other Gospel. What were all their spiritual gifts? What is the Divine Spirit? is the Holy Ghost any other than an Intellectual Fountain? What is the Harvest of the Gospel & its Labours? What is that Talent which it is a curse to hide? What are the Treasures of Heaven which we are to lay up for ourselves, are they any other than Mental Studies & Performances? What are all the Gifts of the Gospel, are they not all Mental Gifts? Is God a Spirit who must be worshipped in Spirit & in Truth, and are not the Gifts of the Spirit Every-thing to Man? »

Cité dans sa traduction française par Osbert Burdett. William Blake. Parkstone International. 2009, p.129

xiiiJ’emprunte ce néologisme au travaux de Raimon Panikkar.

More Than Man Can Ever Imagine

There are many kinds of beings, divine, human, natural, artificial, material, without forgetting the beings of reason and language, the ideal, symbolic and modal beings, etc.. From this multiplicity of types of beings, one can conjecture the existence of a rich assortment of possible ontologies. In the crowd of all these beings, man may have a special role. He does not know who he really is, and he knows that he does not; he also knows that he is not only what he knows he is. So there is still a lot of room for research. He becomes more what he is in particular when the question of being in general within him is revealed. He begins to understand his own nature when he understands that it is entirely within this questioning, that of its origin and that of its end.

How does he know all this? Considering the opaque mystery from which he emerges, and the even darker abyss into which death projects him, he draws inductions, builds hypotheses, formulates theories.

This is why it is said that man is a metaphysical animal, more apt than the sea urchin, the fly, the monkey or the angel, to ask himself the question of his specific being, and thus to attack without respite the question of being in general, the ontological question.

It was no small intuition to come to think of the passage from the particular to the general, that is to say, to conceive the abstraction of being, as emanating from the innumerable cohorts of concrete beings.

This intuition establishes a community of essence between all that « is », without setting aside a radical variation between the « levels of being » of the various beings. Some of them bathe in the super-luminous consciousness of their Self, others grope in twilight limbo, and still others crawl endlessly in the night of dead dreams.

Man is a being placed in a world that is also a being, and in the midst of other, different kinds of beings. These different kinds of beings manifest themselves in one way or another, but without ever revealing themselves completely. It is difficult, if not impossible, for man to penetrate the mystery of being in others beings than himself, since he already fails to penetrate this mystery in himself.

His consciousness manifests itself to him, too, and never ceases to reveal itself, always again, without ever being exhausted, by his questioning, except, of course, in death. And there, can we presume that the questions that the consciousness asks finally find an answer, final, complete, terminal? Doesn’t death lead either to a nothingness with no room for questions or answers, or is it only a passage towards a state where the Self continues, in other forms, to ask itself still other questions?

There is in the being of man a mixture of infinity (in potency) and finitude (in act). Forwards, backwards, upwards, downwards, and on all other sides, man is objectively surrounded by the finite, he is ‘confined’. His perspectives are quickly crushed. His ‘self’ is only a point, without dimension, and the unlimited that surrounds it in theory is only a conjecture, a phantasm, a representation without explicit content.

This point, this limit point, is a self without dictable content, but it is the basis of all metaphysics, the most laconic or the most talkative. Without this point, this raft of the being, everything dissolves quickly into a dreamless nothingness. But with it, we can begin to found, paradoxically, an ontology of unveiling. On this point, this single point, can we build worlds, chasms, firmaments, empyreas? We don’t really know, it is the human spirit that works, that weaves on its loom canvases and veils.

Why is the mind inclined to always weave? Because the point of consciousness is essentially naked. It needs linen, wool and words to dress its nudity, which is also solitude.

When man thinks that he is finished, that he is alone, he also thinks that he might not be, in theory.

When he believes in reality, dense and low, he also believes in mirages, ethereal, elevated, which the crowd and its time propagate.

Man is an infinitely finite and ultimately infinite being.

Penetrated by a finitude and solitude that surrounds him on all sides, man turns towards transcendence as a way out. But this does not give him any guarantee, any certainty. It is necessary to continue without assurance the search, a source of anguish, a fountain of worry. Afflictions of not knowing where one is going.

Anxiety is perhaps too strong a word, too dramatic. Faced with nothingness, the strong soul is not moved: if the great hole is an empty place, what does she have to fear, the soul that finds without a blow the blackness and the unconscious in which she has slept in non-existence, before appearing briefly on the scene of a world without meaning.

The alternative is much more stimulating naturally. This is why for thousands and thousands of generations man has continued to ask himself the metaphysical question without worrying about the laziness of the materialists, the sneers of the strong minds.

Anxiety is also called transcendental curiosity.

What can be the nature of a world whose meaning is neither given nor said?

It is the act of looking nothingness in the face that is the first victory of the mind. It is laid bare by its very question. And if he does not hasten to dress his metaphysical nakedness with some hasty veil, if he does not hurry to put an end to this skinning, then he can seize himself as such, naked, skinned, raw, between life and death, without knowing what will prevail.

This non-knowledge, this ignorance, this suffering, one may want to put an end to it. Religions such as Vedic, Buddhist, but also Jewish and Christian, theorize in their own way how to escape from it.

Religions don’t do metaphysics. They propose coded answers, forged over millennia. But every man is newly born: in a completely new way, he in turn asks himself very old questions.

He may adopt the lesson of the ancient masters, but he may also notice their metaphysical vanity, noting that their answers are based on unfounded assertions.

All things considered, a well-born man is worthy of a prophet or a sage of old, if he has intuitions of comparable strength or even visions superior to this or that ancient one.

For all these past geniuses also had to walk a narrow path. They all had to feel the precariousness, the fragility of their certainties.

Their faith has always been in a state of wavering.

Doubt founds man and gives him his irrefutable nobility.

It is this doubt that gives man’s time its eternal varnish. Because its truth is not in what it shows, but in what it hides. Behind the veil of time probably lies the great mystery of all times, – but perhaps there is nothing but the sneers of the disheveled matter.

Ontology of the doubt, ontology of the bet, ontology of the die and the Rubicon, royal and prophetic, which the well-born soul adopts as its only homeland, its only religion, its only metaphysics.

If time is the only real wealth, eminently limited, why do we spend our time wasting it, in nothingness?

It is only if it is not the only wealth, the only reality, that it is reasonable to waste time thinking about it, this time that veils the future, and everything that is above it, or after it.

It is there, in thought, that the well-born man, and reborn, pierces the wall of the presence to oneself. The horizon of time, so low, so blurred, so close, he rolls it up like a canvas, and sets out on his way to the stars.

For the being (of man) is not made of time. Once the tent is taken down, he migrates out of time. He opens, and discovers what is no longer time, what is above and outside of time, a timeless, a meta-time.

There is no more time. Does everything stop then?

No, the flow continues. Other dimensions are emerging. The world with three dimensions of space and one of time is replaced by a world with 17 or 256 dimensions of space and as much time.

The time is no longer temporal, but… gustatory or tactile.

Time is a strong and hollow intuition. It is constantly occupying the mind, and it is an empty form.

And man seeks the full, not the empty.

He has the intuition that only emptiness can come out of emptiness. There is no future in sight in the void. The man full of himself cannot imagine living his own emptiness. He continues to search for more fullness, which fills all the emptiness he experiences.

But does man have a full intuition? One can think so. Fetuses and lovers experience a relative fullness, which leaves unforgettable marks, working tirelessly in the unconscious, and giving hope for other plenitudes to come, less relative, more absolute perhaps.

Reason is of little use in the face of this mystery; it is incapable of discerning any path. It is too embarrassed by its weight of rules and logic.

Intuition here is more flexible, to guess the future and the potency not yet revealed. Less formal, but more founded, – in a sense.

Where does intuition come from? If it has the slightest validity, even if it is only that of a mustard seed, intuition comes from elsewhere, from the beyond and the unthinkable. It is a kind of antenna sensitive to all the noises, all the rumors that reason does not hear.

Of two things one.

Either intuition is actually in contact, in some unspeakable way, with the after-world, the beyond, the universe of the possible, the spheres of the unthinkable, and then the precious drops of meta-temporal elixir that it captures and exudes are more valuable than all the riches of the world.

Either intuition is not in contact with any of this, and then what is it worth? Not even the fabric from which dreams are made, aborted before they fly. And then, decidedly, man is a beast seized with torpor.

We must imagine a world where thought takes the form of pure intuition. Their immediacy, their sharpness is unparalleled. Time is suddenly abolished before the force of these intuitions. A fountain of understanding flows in great waves, it drowns the dazed mind, covers it with revelations, opens new paths, unveils worlds. Far behind intuition, the spirit takes flight, heavily but surely.

The mind is heavy, clayey. Intuition is burning, cherubic. Its light warms the distant ones, that thought, for its part, cools and freezes.

Not that thinking is not useful. It has its utility, at the back, in support, with the train. But not in the front, looking forward.

Above all, intuition has this generous, gushing, crackling character. Source or flare. Each drop, each spark, is the promise of an infinity to come, of which they are the humble and brilliant messengers.

It is a strange phenomenon that intuition, from the moment we see it, is not only for what it suggests, but what it implies. Its « beyond » signs the end of the narrow. It reveals doors opening onto myriads. It unveils worlds where the thin is loaded with thickness. The pollen announces the forest, the smell makes the forgotten Orients shimmer, the grain promises the premises.

Intuition is not a phenomenon. On the contrary, it is more real than the real.

Human knowledge comes from two sources: the ability to receive impressions, and the ability to represent forms. It is by associating these impressions (coming from the world) and these forms (coming from the mind) that the faculty of ‘knowing’ can blossom.

What are these forms that come from the mind, these concepts pre-positioned to interpret impressions?

They do not result from the activity of thought, but from the fullness of intuition. Intuition already inhabits the gaze of the newborn child, and sows its virgin brain.

Intuition reigns supreme in the most crucial, sublime, transcendental moments.

Intuition reveals in a tenuous and tenacious way what we are not yet conscious of being.

By a sparkle of intuition, man, being finite, surrounded on all sides, without vision, without perspective, suddendly discovers that he is infinitely more than he had ever imagined.

The White Mule, the Wild Goose and Infinite Transhumance

A ‘white mule’ (śvata aśvatara) gave its name to the famous Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad. Apart from the alliteration, why such a name?

Was Śvetāśvatara the putative name of the author, thus defined as a lover of equine beauty, or of horseback riding?

Siddheswar Varma and Gambhīrānanda both prefer to understand this name as a metaphor for ‘One whose organs of sense are very pure’i.

Indeed, purity was probably needed to tackle the issues addressed by this Upaniṣad:

« Is Brahman the causeii? Where did we come from? What do we live by? What do we rely on?» iii

The answer to all these questions may be found by considering the One.

The One, – i.e. the Brahman, manifests itself in the world through its attributes and powers (guṇa), which have been given divine names (Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva). These three names symbolize respectively Consciousness (sattva, purity, truth, intelligence), Passion (rájas, strength, desire, action) and Darkness (támas, darkness, ignorance, inertia, or limitation).

The ‘Great Wheel of Brahmaniv gives life to the Whole, in the endless flow of rebirths (saṃsāra).

The individual soul wanders here and there’ in the great Whole. She is like a ‘wild goose’ (haṃsa)v. In search of deliverance, this drifting fowl goes astray when she flies separate from the Self. But when she attaches herself to it, when she tastes its ‘joy’, she attains immortality.

The Whole is a great mixture, of mortals and immortals, of realities and appearances. The goose that flies free in it, without knowing where she is going, is in reality bound, garroted. She thinks she is a conscious subject, but she is a mere self, deaf and blind, unaware of joy, of the Self of the Brahman.

To get on her path, she must find within herself a Trinitarian image of the One, an inner triad, composed of her soul (jīva), her personal lord (Īśvara) and her nature (prakṛti). This triad is both ‘three’ and ‘one’, which is also a familiar image in Christianity, – appearing in John, more than two thousand years after the Veda.

This triadic soul is not just an image, she is already Brahman, she is in Brahman, she is with Brahman. She is the One.

The One governs the Whole, the perishable, the imperishable and the Self. It is by meditating on the One, and uniting with it, that the Self can deliver itself from the famous māyā, the ‘power of measure’ that rules the world.

Māyā originally and etymologically means ‘divine omnipotence’, – a power of creation, knowledge, intelligence, wisdom.

The meaning of māyā as ‘illusion’ is only derived. It takes on this (paradoxically) antonymous meaning of ‘deception’, of ‘mere appearance’, when the self does not recognize the immanent presence of power. When knowledge, intelligence and wisdom are absent, illusion takes their place and occupies the whole field.

Thus māyā can be (truly) understood as power, measure and wisdom, when one sees it at work, or (falsely) as an illusion, when one is blind to her.

It is not the māyā as such that is ‘illusion’. Illusion about the world only comes when the creative power of the māyā is not recognized as such, but one gets caught by the result of her operation.

By her dual nature, by her power of occultation and manifestation, the māyā hides but also reveals the divine principle, the Brahman who is her master and source.

To know the essence of māyā is to know this principle, – Brahman. In order to reach her, it is necessary to untie oneself from all bonds, to leave the path of birth and death, to unite with the supreme and secret Lord, to fulfill His desire, and to dwell in the Self (Ātman).

The māyā may be compared to a netvi. It wraps everything. You can’t escape it. It is the cosmic power of the Lord, in act in the Whole. It is the All.

To finally escape māyā, you have to see her at work, understand her in her essence, make her a companion.

He presents a double face, therefore, a duality of truth and illusion. It is through māyā that one can get to know māyā, and her creator, the Brahman.

This is why it is said that there are two kinds of māyā, one that leads to the divine (vidhyā-māyā) and the other that leads away from it (avidhyā-māyā).

Everything, even the name of the Brahman, is doubly māyā, both illusion and wisdom.

« It is only through māyā that one can conquer the supreme Wisdom, the bliss. How could we have imagined these things without māyā? From it alone come duality and relativity.”vii

The māyā has also been compared to the countless colors produced by the One who is « colorless », as light diffracts in the rainbow.

« The One, the colourless One, by the way of its power produces multiple colors for a hidden purpose.”viii

Nature bears witness, with blue, green, yellow, the brilliance of lightning, the color of the seasons or the oceans. Red, white and black are the color of fire, water and earthix.

« You are the blue-night bee, the green [bird] with yellow eyes, [the clouds] bearing lightning, the seasons, the seas.”x

To see the māyā it is necessary to consider her under both her two aspects, inseparable at the same time.

One day Nārada said to the Lord of the universe: « Lord, show me Your māyā, which makes the impossible possible ».

The Lord agreed and asked him to fetch water. On his way to the river, he met a beautiful young girl by the shore and forgot all about his quest. He fell in love and lost track of time. And he spent his life in a dream, in ‘illusion’, without realizing that he had before his eyes what he had asked the Lord to ‘see’. He saw the māyā at work, but he was not aware of it, without being conscious of it. Only at the end of his days, perhaps he woke up from his dream.

To call māyā « illusion » is to see only the veil, and not what that veil covers.

A completely different line of understanding of the meaning of māyā emerges when one chooses to return it to its original, etymological meaning of « power (yā) of measurement (mā)« .

Everything is māyā, the world, time, wisdom, dreams, action and sacrifice. The divine is also māyā, in its essence, in its power, in its ‘measure’.

« The hymns, sacrifices, rites, observances, past and future, and what the Veda proclaims – out of him, the master of measure has created this All, and in him, the other is enclosed by this power of measure (māyā).

Let it be known that the primordial nature is power of measure (māyā), that the Great Lord is master of measure (māyin). All this world is thus penetrated by the beings that form His members.»xi

In these two essential verses from Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad (4.9 and 4.10) one may note important Sanskrit words :

माया māyā, « the power of measurement » or « illusion »,

महेश्वरम् maheśvaram, « the Great Lord »,

मायिनं māyin, « the master of measurement » or « of illusion »,

प्रकृति prakṛti, « the material or primordial nature ».

There is a real difference in interpretation between the translators who give māyā the meaning of « power of measurement », such as Alyette Degrâces, and those who give it the meaning of « illusion », as Michel Hulin does:

« Understand the material nature (प्रकृति prakṛti) as illusion (माया māyā) and the Great Lord (महेश्वरम् maheśvaram) as illusionist (मायिनं māyin).”xii

The famous Sanskritist Max Müller has chosen not to translate māyā, proposing only in brackets the word ‘Art’ :

« That from which the maker (māyin) sends forth all this – the sacred verses, the offerings, the sacrifice, the panaceas, the past, the future, and all that the Vedas declare – in that the other is bound up through that māyā.

Know then Prakṛiti (nature) is Māyā (Art), and the great Lord the Māyin (maker); the whole world is filled with what are his members.»xiii

In note, Müller comments :

« It’s impossible to find terms that match māyā and māyin. Māyā means ‘fabrication’ or ‘art’, but since any fabrication or creation is only a phenomenon or illusion, as far as the Supreme Self is concerned, māyā also carries the meaning of illusion. Similarly, māyin is the maker, the artist, but also the magician, the juggler. What seems to be meant by this verse is that everything, everything that exists or seems to exist, proceeds from akṣara [the immortal], which corresponds to Brahman, but that the actual creator, or author of all emanations is Īśa, the Lord, who, as creator, acts through māyā or devātmaśakti. It is possible, moreover, that anya, ‘the other’, is used to mean the individual puruṣa.» xiv

Following Max Müller, Alyette Degrâces refuses to use the words ‘illusion’ and ‘illusionist’. About the word māyin she explains, obviously inspired by the position of the German Sanskritist established in Oxford:

« This term is impossible to translate, and especially not as ‘illusionist’ as it is found in many translations (but not Max Müller or the Indian translators). The māyā, with a root MĀ « measure » means « a power of measurement », where measure means knowledge. If the measurement is bad, then we will speak of illusion, but not before. Brahman is here māyin « master of measurement, of this power of measurement », through which the world manifests itself. When the Brahman takes on a relative aspect and creates the world, maintains it or resorbs it, it is defined by attributes, it is said saguṇa, aparaṃ Brahman or the master of measure (māyin) by which the world is deployed and in relation to which the human being must actualize his power of measure in order not to superimpose or confuse the two levels of Brahman, one of which is the support of everything. » xv

Aparaṃ Brahman is the « inferior » (non supreme) Brahman, endowed with « qualities », « virtues » (saguṇa). He is the creative Brahman of the Universe and is distinguished from the supreme Brahman, who is nameless, without quality, without desire.

By consulting Monier-Williams’ dictionary at māyā, one can see that the oldest meanings of the word have nothing to do with the notion of illusion, but refer to the meanings of « wisdom », « supernatural or extraordinary power ».

It is only in the Ṛg Veda, therefore later on, that the other notions appear, that Monier-Williams enumerates in this way : « Illusion, unreality, deception, fraud, trick, sorcery, witchcraft, magic. An unreal or illusory image, phantom, apparition. »

These later meanings are all frankly pejorative, and contrast sharply with the original meanings of the word, « wisdom », « power », based on the etymology of « measure » (MĀ-).

One can consider that there was, before the age of Ṛg Veda, itself already very old (more than a millennium before Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), an almost complete reversal of the meaning of the word māyā, going from « wisdom » to « deception, fraud, illusion ».

These considerations may help to answer a recurring question: « Why was this Creation created at all?”

Why did the Brahman ‘paraṃ’, the supreme Brahman, the supreme ’cause’, delegate to the Brahman ‘aparaṃ’ (the non-supreme Brahman) the care of creating a universe so full of evils and “illusions”?

In fact, māyā originally did not mean “illusion” but « Wisdom » and « Power ».

Then undertanding the universe as full of evils and illusions is still an illusion.

Brahman, as the master of Māyā, is really the master of Wisdom, Power, Measure.

And all Creation, – the Whole, has also vocation to appropriate this Wisdom, this Power, this Measure, this Māyā.

A millennium later, the (Hebrew) Scriptures took up the idea again.

Firstly, Wisdom is at the foundation and origin of the Whole.

« But first of all, wisdom was created.”xvi

Before the Sirach, the Upaniṣad had also described this primordial creation, before nothing was :

« From Him is created the ancient wisdom.”xvii

« This God who does not manifest his own intelligence – in Him I, who desire deliverance, take refuge.”xviii

Then, the (Hebrew) Scriptures staged a kind of delegation of power comparable to the one we have just seen between the paraṃ brahman (the supreme brahman) and the aparaṃ brahman (the non supreme brahman).

In the Scriptures, YHVH plays a role analogous to that of the Brahman and delegates to Wisdom (ḥokhmah) the care of founding the earth:

« YHVH, through wisdom, founded the earth.»xix

Finally, it is interesting to note that the prophet (Job) does not disdain to contemplate (divine) Wisdom at work, immanent, in all creatures.

« Who put wisdom in the ibis?”xx

Job had understood the essence of Māyā, distinguishing it even hiddden under the cover of a swamp bird with black and white plumage. It was certainly not a ‘wild goose’, but the ibis could be advantageously compared to it on the banks of the Nile (or the Jordan River).

Citing the Ibis as an image of wisdom, Job was certainly not unaware that this bird was the symbol of the Egyptian God Thoth, God of Wisdom.

The God Thoth is a strange Egyptian prefiguration of the Creator Word, of which a text found in Edfu relates the birth and announces the mission:

« In the heart of the primordial ocean appeared the emerged land. On it, the Eight came into existence. They made a lotus appear from which Ra, assimilated to Shu, came out. Then came a lotus bud from which emerged a dwarf, a necessary woman, whom Ra saw and desired. From their union was born Thoth who created the world through the Word. » xxi

After this short detour through the ḥokhmah of the Scriptures, and through the Ibis and the Thoth God, figures of wisdom in ancient Egypt, let us return to Vedic wisdom, and its curious and paradoxical alliance with the notion of ignorance, in Brahman itself.

In the Veda, it is the Brahman aparaṃ that creates Wisdom. On the other hand, in the Brahman paraṃ, in Supreme Brahman, there is not only Knowledge, there is also Ignorance.

« In the imperishable (akṣara), in the supreme Brahmanxxii, infinite, where both, knowledge and ignorance, stand hidden, ignorance is perishablexxiii, while knowledge is immortalxxiv. And He who rules over both, knowledge and ignorance, is another.”xxv

How is it that within the Supreme Brahman, can ‘ignorance’ be hidden?

Moreover, how could there be something ‘perishable’ in the very bosom of the ‘imperishable’ (akṣara), in the bosom of the ‘immortal’?

If one wishes to respect the letter and spirit of the Veda, one must resolve to imagine that even the Brahman is not and cannot be ‘omniscient’.

And also that there is something ‘perishable’ in the Brahman.

How to explain it?

One may assume that the Brahman does not yet know ‘at present’ the infinity of which It is the ‘potential’ bearer.

Let us imagine that the Brahman is symbolized by an infinity of points, each of them being charged with an another infinity of points, themselves in potency of infinite potentialities, and so on, let us repeat these recurrences infinitely. And let us imagine that this infinity with the infinitely repeated power of infinite potentialities is moreover not simply arithmetic or geometrical, but that it is very much alive, each ‘point’ being in fact a symbol for a ‘soul’, constantly developing a life of her own.

One can then perhaps conceive that the Brahman, although knowing Itself in potency, does not know Itself absolutely ‘in act’. The Brahman is unconscious of the extent of Its potency.

Its power, its Māyā, is so ‘infinitely infinite’ that even its knowledge, certainly already infinite, has not yet been able to encompass all that there is still to be known, because all that is yet to be and to become simply does not yet exist, and still sleeps in non-knowledge, and in ignorance of what is yet to be born, one day, possibly.

The ‘infinitely infinite’ wisdom of the Brahman, therefore, has not yet been able to take the full measure of the height, depth and breadth of wisdom that the Brahman can possibly attain.

There are infinites that go beyond infinity itself.

One could call these kinds of infinitely infinite, « transfinity », to adapt a word invented by Georg Cantor. Conscious of the theological implications of his work in mathematics, Cantor had even compared the « absolute infinite » to God , the infinity of a class like that of all cardinals or ordinals.

Identifying a set of transfinite” Brahman should therefore not be too inconceivable a priori.

But it is the consequence of the metaphysical interpretation of these stacks of transfinite entities that is potentially the most controversial.

It invites us to consider the existence of a kind of ignorance ‘in act’ at the heart of Brahman.

Another verse accumulates clues in this sense.

It speaks of the Brahman, ‘benevolent’, who ‘makes non-existence’.

« Known by the mind, called incorporeal, He the benevolent one who makes existence and non-existence, He the God who makes creation with His parts – those who know Him have left their bodies.”xxvi

How can a supreme and benevolent God ‘make’ the ‘non-existent’?

What this God ‘makes’ is only done because He amputates certain ‘parts’ of Himself.

It is with this sacrifice, this separation of the divine from the divine, that what would have remained in non-existence can come into existence.

It is because God consents to a certain form of non-existence, in Himself, that the existing can come into existence.

It is interesting to compare the version of A. Degraces with Max Müller’s translation, which brings additional clarity to these obscure lines.

« Those who know him who is to be grasped by the mind, who is not to be called the nest (the body), who makes existence and non-existence, the happy one (Śiva), who also creates the elements, they have left the body.» xxvii

A few comments:

The nest (the body)‘. The Sanskrit word comes from the verb: nīdhā, नीधा, « to deposit, to pose, to place; to hide, to entrust to ». Hence the ideas of ‘nest’, ‘hiding place’, ‘treasure’, implicitly associated with that of ‘body’.

However, Müller notes that Śaṅkara prefers to read here the word anilākhyam, ‘that which is called the wind’, which is prāṇasya prāṇa, the ‘breath of the breath’.

The image is beautiful: it is through the breath, which comes and then leaves the body, that life continues.

Who also creates the elements’. Kalāsargakaram, ‘He who creates the elements. Müller mentions several possible interpretations of this expression.

That of Śaṅkara, which includes: ‘He who creates the sixteen kalās mentioned by the Âtharvaṇikas, beginning with the breath (prāṇa) and ending with the name (nāman). The list of these kalās is, according to Śaṅkarānanda: prāṇa,śraddhā, kha, vāyu, jyotih, ap, pṛthivī, indriya, manaḥ, anna, vīrya, tapah, mantra, karman, kalā, nāman.

Vigñānātman suggests two other explanations, ‘He who creates by means of kalā, [his own power]’, or ‘He who creates the Vedas and other sciences’.

The general idea is that in order to ‘know’ the Immortal, the Brahman, the Benevolent, the creator of existence and non-existence, one must leave the ‘nest’.

We must go into exile.

Abraham and Moses also went into exile.

The last part of Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad refers to the ‘Supreme Lord of Lords’, the ‘Supreme Divinity of Deities’, expressions that are, formally at least, analogous to the names YHVH Elohim and YHVH Tsabaoth, – which appeared among Hebrews more than a thousand years after the Veda was composed.

« He, the supreme Lord of lords, He the supreme God of deities, the supreme Master of masters, He who is beyond, let us find Him as the God, the Lord of the world who is to be praised.” xxviii

Once again, let’s compare with the version of Max Müller :

« Let us know that highest great Lord of lords, the highest deity of deities, the master of masters, the highest above, as God, the Lord of the world, the adorable.» xxix

The first verse can be read:

तमीश्वराणां परमं महेश्वरं

Tam īśvarāṇām paramam Maheśvaram.

‘He, of the lords, – the supreme Lord’.

Who are the ‘lords’ (īśvarāṇām)? Śaṅkara, in its commentary, quotes Death, the Son of the Sun and others (Cf. SUb 6.7).

And above all, who is this ‘He’ (tam)?

A series of qualifiers are listed:

He, the supreme God of gods (devatānām paramam Daivatam).

He, the Master (patīnām) of the Masters, the Master of Prajāpatis, – which are ten in number: Marīci, Atri, Aṅgiras, Pulastya, Pulaka, Kratu, Vasiṣṭa, Pracetas, Bhṛgu, Nārata.

He, who is ‘Higher’ (paramam) ‘than the High’ (parastāt)

He, who is ‘Higher’ than Wisdom (the Māyā).

He, who is the Lord of the worlds (bhuvaneśam)

He, who is worthy of worship (īdyam)

And the litany continues:

He is the Cause (saḥ kāraṇam)xxx.

He, the One God (ekaḥ devaḥ), hidden (gūḍhaḥ) in all beings (sarva-bhūteṣu), the All-pervading One (sarva-vyāpī), He is the inner self of all beings (sarva-bhūta-antarātmā), He is the Watcher of all acts (karma-adhyakṣaḥ), He resides in all beings (sarva-bhūta-adhivāsaḥ), He is the Witness or Seer (in Sanskrit sākṣī), the Knower, the one who gives intelligence (cetā), the unique Absolute (kevalaḥ), the one who is beyond qualities (nirguṇaḥ).

« He is the Eternal among the eternal, the Intelligent among the intelligent, the One who fulfills the desires of many”. xxxi

Once again, we must turn to Max Müller, to detect here another level of meaning, which deserves to be deepened.

Müller: « I have formerly translated this verse, according to the reading nityo ‘nityānām cetanaś cetanānām, the eternal thinker of non-eternal thoughts. This would be a true description of the Highest Self, who, though himself eternal and passive, has to think (jivātman) non-eternal thoughts. I took the first cetanah in the sens of cettā, the second in the sense of cetanam xxxii. The commentators, however, take a different, and it may be, from their point, a more correct view. Śaṅkara says : ‘He is the eternal of the eternals, i.e. as he possesses eternity among living souls (jīvas), these living souls also may claim eternity. Or the eternals may be meant for earth, water, &c. And in the same way, he is the thinker among thinkers.’

Śaṅkarānanda says: ‘He is eternal, imperishable, among eternal, imperishable things, such as the ether, &c. He is thinking among thinkers.’

Vigñānātman says : ‘The Highest Lord is the cause of eternity in eternal things on earth, and the cause of thought in the thinkers on earth.’ But he allows another construction, namely, that he is the eternal thinker of those who on earth are endowed with eternity and thought. In the end all these interpretations come to the same, viz. that there is only one eternal, and only one thinker, from whom all that is (or seems to be) eternal and all that is thought on earth is derived.» xxxiii

One reads in the commentary by Śaṅkara of this verses, translated by Gambhirananda :

« Nityaḥ, ‘the eternal’, nityānām, ‘among the eternal, among the individual souls’ – the idea being that the eternality of these is derived from His eternality; so also, cetanaḥ, the consciousness, cetanānām, among the conscious, the knowers. (…) How is the consciousness of the conscious ? » xxxiv

To this last question, – ‘How is the consciousness of the conscious?’ –, Śaṅkara answers with the following stanza from the Upaniṣad:

“There the sun does not shine, neither do the moon and the stars ; nor do these flashes of lightning shine. How can this fire ? He shining, all these shine; through His lustre all these are variously illumined.”xxxv

The meaning is that Brahman is the light that illuminates all other lights. Their brilliance is caused by the inner light of the Brahman’s self-consciousness, according to Śaṅkaraxxxvi.

Brahman illuminates and shines through all kinds of lights that manifest themselves in the world. From them it is inferred that the ‘consciousness of the conscious’, the consciousness of the Brahman is in essence ‘fulguration’, Brahman is the ‘effulgent’ Self.

Max Müller initially decided to translate the verse SU 6.13 by reading it literally: nityo ‘nityānām cetanaś cetanānām, which he understands as follows: “the eternal thinker of non-eternal thoughts”.

It is indeed a paradoxical idea, opening at once a metaphysical reflection on the very nature of thought and on that of eternity…

However, given the almost unanimous agreement of various historical commentators, which he quotes contrary to his own intuition, Müller seems to renounce, not without some regret, this stimulating translation, and he finally translates, taking over the version from Śaṅkarānanda :

« He is the eternal among the eternals, the thinker among thinkers, who, though one, fulfills the desire of many.»xxxvii

However, I think that Müller’s first intuition is more promising. There is a lot to dig into in the idea of an ‘eternal thinker’ who would think ‘non-eternal thoughts’.

The literally staggering implication of this idea is that non-eternal thoughts of the Eternal would be constitutive of the existence of time itself (by nature non-eternal). They would also be, moreover, the condition of the possibility of the existence of (non-eternal) creations.

These ‘non-eternal’ thoughts and creations would be intrinsically growing, metamorphic, evolutionary, always in genesis, in potency.

Perhaps this would also be the beginning of an intuition of a metaphysics of pity and mercy, a recognition of the grace that God could feel for his Creation, considering its weakness, its fall and its eventual redemption?

In other words, the very fact that the God, the Brahman, could have non-eternal thoughts would be the necessary condition so that, by his renunciation of the absoluteness and eternity of his judgments, non-eternal creatures would be allowed to pass from non-eternity to eternity.

For if the Brahman‘s thoughts were to be eternal in nature, then there would be no way to change a closed world, predetermined from all eternity, and consequently totally lacking in meaning, – and mercy.

We may have an indication to support this view when we read :

« He, who first created Brahmā, who in truth presented him with the Veda, that God who manifests Himself by His own intelligencexxxviii – in Him I, who desire deliverance, seek refuge.” xxxix

This God who manifests Himself through His own intelligence.’

Śaṅkara gives several other interpretations of the original text.

Some read here in Sanskrit ātma-buddhi-prasādam, ‘He who makes the knowledge of the Self favorable’. For, when the Supreme Lord sometimes makes grace of it, the intelligence of the creature acquires valid knowledge about Him, then frees itself from its relative existence, and continues to identify itself with the Brahman.

Others read here ātma-buddhi-prakāśam, ‘He who reveals the knowledge of the Self’.

Yet another interpretation: ātmā (the Self) is Himself the buddhi (Wisdom, Knowledge). The one who reveals Himself as knowledge of the Self is ātma-buddhi-prakāśam. xl

“In Him, desiring deliverance (mumukṣuḥ) I seek (prapadye) refuge (śaraṇam)”: is this not the proven Vedic intuition of the Brahman‘s mercy towards his creature?

As we can see, the Veda was penetrated by the explosive power of several directions of research on the nature of Brahman. But history shows that the explicit development of these researches towards the idea of ‘divine mercy’ was to be more specifically part of the subsequent contribution of other religions, which were still to come, such as Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity.

However, the Veda was already affirming, as the first witness, its own genius. The Brahman: He is the ‘wild goose’. He is the Self, He is the ‘fire that has entered the ocean’, He is the ‘matrix’ and the ‘all-pervading’.

« He is He, the wild goose, the One in the middle of this universe. He is truly the fire that entered the ocean. And only when we know Him do we surpass death. There is no other way to get there.”xli

At the beginning of Upaniṣad we already encountered the image of the ‘wild goose’ (haṃsa)xlii, which applied to the individual soul, wandering here and there’ in the great Whole. Now this goose is more than the soul, more than the Whole, it is the Brahman himself.

And only when we know Him do we surpass death. There is no other way to get there’.

Śaṅkara breaks down each word of the verse, which then reveals its rhythm 3-3 4-3 4 4-3 :

Viditvā, knowing; tam eva, He alone; atiyety, one goes beyond; mṛtyum, from death; na vidyate, there is no; anyaḥ panthāḥ, another way; ayanā, where to go. xliii

The images of the ‘Matrix’ and ‘All-penetrating’ appear in the next two stanzas (SU 6.16 and 6.17):

« He is the creator of All, the connoisseur of All, He is the Self and the matrix, the connoisseur, the creator of time.”xliv

He is the Self and the Matrix‘, ātma-yoniḥ’.

Śaṅkara offers three interpretations of this curious expression: He is its own cause – He is the Self and the matrix (yoni) – He is the matrix (source), of all things.

The Brahman is Yoni, and He is also the All-pervading One.

« He who becomes that [light]xlv, immortal, established as the Lord, the knower, the all-pervading, the protector of this universe, it is He who governs this world forever. There is no other cause for sovereignty.”xlvi

At the beginning and the end of the Upaniṣad of the ‘white mule’, we find thus repeated this image, white and black, of the goose – of the Self – flying in the sky.

The goose flies in a sky that veils.

What does this sky veil? – The end of suffering.

This is what one of the final verses says:

“When men have rolled up the sky like a skin, only then will the suffering end, in case God would not have been recognized.”xlvii

‘When men have rolled up the sky.

Further to the West, at about the same time, the prophet Isaiah used a metaphor similar to the one chosen by Śvetāśvatara :

« The heavens roll up like a book »xlviii.

וְנָגֹלּוּ כַסֵּפֶר הַשָּׁמָיִם

Vé-nagollou kha-sfèr ha-chamaïm.

There is indeed a common point between these two intuitions, the Vedic and the Jewish.

In a completely unorthodox way, I will use Hebrew to explain Sanskrit, and vice versa.

To say ‘to roll up’ the heavens, the Hebrew uses as a metaphor the verb גָּלָה galah, « to discover oneself, to appear; to emigrate, to be exiled”; and in the niphal form, “to be discovered, to be naked, to manifest, to reveal oneself ».

When the heavens are ‘rolled up’, then God can ‘manifest, reveal Himself’. Or on the contrary, He can ‘exile Himself, go away’.

This ambiguity and double meaning of the word, can also be found in this other verse of Isaiah: « The (golden) time [of my life] is broken and departs from me.”xlix

The Jewish man rolls up the scrolls of Torah when he has finished reading it.

The Vedic man winds the scrolls of the heaven when he has finished his life of flying and wandering. That is to say, he rolls up his life, like a shepherd’s ‘tent’, when they decamp.

But this tent can also be ‘ripped off’ (נִסַּע nessa‘), and thrown away (וְנִגְלָה vé-niglah).l

These metaphors were spun by Isaiah:

“I used to say, ‘In the middle of my days I’m leaving, at the gates of Sheol I’ll be kept for the rest of my years’.

I said: ‘I will not see YHVH in the land of the living, I will no longer have a look for anyone among the inhabitants of the world’.

My time [of life] is plucked up, and cast away from me like a shepherd’s tent; like a weaver I have rolled up my life.” li

The Vedic sky, like man’s life, may be compared to a kind of tent.

And the wild goose shows the way.

At the end, one has to roll up the sky and your life, and go on an infinite transhumance.


iŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad with the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Swami Gambhirananda. Ed. Adavaita Ashrama. Kolkata 2009, p. v

iiHere I slightly adapt Alyette Degrâces’ translation of the word karāṇa by adding the article “the”, based on Max Müller’s translation: « Is Brahman the cause? « which, according to Müller, is itself based on the preferences of Śaṅkara. See Max Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 1.1.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.231, note 1. The Huet dictionary gives for karāṇa: ‘reason, cause, motive; origin; principle’. Gambhirananda translates as ‘source’: ‘What is the nature of Brahman, the source? »

iiiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 1.1 Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p.396

ivŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 1.6. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p.397

vŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 1.6. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p.397

viŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 3.1. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 403.

viiThe teaching of Râmakrishna. Trad Jean Herbert. Albin Michel. 2005, p.45

viiiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.1. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 407.

ixSUb 4.5. See Note 1760, Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 407.

xŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.4. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 407.

xiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.9-10. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 408-409.

xiiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.10. Michel Hulin. Shankara and non-duality. Ed. Bayard. 2001, p.144

xiiiMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Upaniṣad. Oxford 1884. Vol XV, p.251, n.1

xivMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.9-10.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.251-252

xvThe Upaniṣad. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.9. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 408, note 1171.

xviSir 1.4

xviiThe Upaniṣad. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.18. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 410.

xviiiThe Upaniṣad. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.18. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 417.

xixPr 3.19

xxJob 38.36

xxiSource Wikipedia:

xxiiBrahman param is what is beyond (para) Brahmā.

xxiiiPerishable: kṣara. Śaṅkara explains in Sub 5.1 that this ‘perishable’ character is the ’cause of existence in the world’ (saṃsṛtikārana). Immortal: akṣara. Śaṅkara explains that this character of immortality is the ’cause of deliverance’ (mokṣahetu).

xxivPerishable: kṣara. Śaṅkara explains in Sub 5.1 that this ‘perishable’ character is the ’cause of existence in the world’ (saṃsṛtikārana). Immortal: akṣara. Śaṅkara explains that this character of immortality is the ’cause of deliverance’ (mokṣahetu).

xxv Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 5.1. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 411

xxviŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 5.14. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 413

xxviiMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.9-10.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.258-259

xxviiiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.7.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 415

xxixMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.7.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.263

xxxŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.9.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 416

xxxiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.13.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 416

xxxiiThese nuances correspond to two declined cases of the noun cetana, respectively, the first to the nominative (thinker) and the second to the genitive plural (of thoughts). The Sanskrit-English Dictionary of Monier Monier-Williams gives for cetana: ‘conscious, intelligent, feeling; an intelligent being; soul, mind; consciousness, understanding, sense, intelligence’. For cetas: ‘splendour; consciousness, intelligence, thinking soul, heart, mind’. In addition, the Sanskrit-French Dictionary of Huet gives for cetana: ‘intelligence, soul; consciousness, sensitivity; understanding, sense, intelligence’. The root is this, ‘to think, reflect, understand; to know, know. The root is this-, ‘thinking, thinking, thinking, understanding; knowing, knowing.’ For cetas: ‘consciousness, mind, heart, wisdom, thinking’.

xxxiiiMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.13.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.264, note 4

xxxivŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad with the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Swami Gambhirananda. Ed. Adavaita Ashrama. Kolkata 2009, SU 6.13, p.193

xxxvŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad with the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Swami Gambhirananda. Ed. Adavaita Ashrama. Kolkata 2009, SU 6.14, p.193. See almost identical stanzas in MuU 2.2.11, KaU 2.2.15, BhG 15.6

xxxviMuUB 2.2.10

xxxviiMax Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.13.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.264

xxxviiiMax Muller traduit :  » I go for refuge to that God who is the light of his own thoughts « . Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.18.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.265

xxxixŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.18.Trad. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 417

xlŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad with the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Swami Gambhirananda. Ed. Adavaita Ashrama. Kolkata 2009, SU 6.18, p.198

xliŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.16. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 417

xliiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 1.6. Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p.397

xliiiŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad with the commentary of Śaṅkarācārya. Swami Gambhirananda. Ed. Adavaita Ashrama. Kolkata 2009, SU 6.15, p.195

xlivŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.16.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 417

xlvŚaṅkara includes here the word tanmayaḥ (‘made of it’) as actually meaning jyotirmaya, ‘made of light’, cf. Sub 6:17.

xlviŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.17.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014, p. 417

xlvii« Only when men shall roll up the sky like a hide, will there be an end of misery, unless God has first been known. ». Max Muller. Sacred Books of The East. Śvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 6.20.Oxford 1884.Vol XV, p.266

xlviiiIs 34.4

xlixIs 38,12

lIs 38,10-12

liIs 38,10-12