Three-quarters of the speech

In India, Brāhman is the ultimate enigma, – of which the Upaniṣads sparingly reveal some secret teachings.

The word Upaniṣad means several things: the mystery underlying all things; a secret, mysterious, mystical doctrine; the writings relating to Brāhmaṇas, (whose purpose is to expose the secret meaning of the Vedas); the source of the philosophy of Vedānta and Sāṃkhya.

Ṡaṅkara provides a more relaxed explanation of this complicated name: « By adding upa (approach), and ni (deposit) to the SAD root, the meaning is « dissolution » (viṡaraṇa); we have a movement (approach or reach/gati) and a untying (avasādana)… Upaniṣad is the knowledge that has as its object the knowable (vedyavastu). Knowledge is called Upaniṣad by association with its purpose. »

The root SAD, which is the heart of the word, alone has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to sit down (during a sacrifice); to observe carefully; to faint, to collapse from despair, distress, despair, perish; to afflict, ruin, destroy. « 

SAD : Resonances of the attitude of the officiant who makes the sacrifice, and the most extreme feelings of the one who despairs, or the one who destroys.

The search for knowledge is not a long, quiet river. Dissolution, untying, distress, despair, destruction, accompany it.

Apart from Upaniṣad, there are many other secrets, for example in Brahmanic singing, where the issue is « what is secret » (guhā). There are also some in speech: « Speech is measured between four quarters as known to Brāhmanes who have intelligence; three hidden are motionless; humans speak a quarter of the speech.  » (Ṛg Veda I.164.45)

For each word, three out of four parts remain hidden, motionless. Who hears them?

La puissance de l’Inhumain — et l’idée du suicide en Dieu

Bien qu’ils appartiennent à des planètes fort éloignées, Paul Valéry et Franz Kafka ont au moins un point commun. L’un et l’autre ont eu l’honneur d’une célébration de leurs anniversaires respectifs par Walter Benjamini.

Pourquoi Benjamin a-t-il souhaité rapprocher en un hommage symbolique deux écrivains aussi différents?

Il a été sensible, je crois, au fait qu’ils ont tous les deux cherché à formuler dans leur œuvre une « théologie négative ».

Chez Valéry, cette théologie de la négation s’incarne dans la figure de Monsieur Teste.

Benjamin explique : « Monsieur Teste est une personnification de l’intellect qui rappelle beaucoup le Dieu dont traite la théologie négative de Nicolas de Cues. Tout ce qu’on peut supposer savoir de Teste débouche sur la négation. »ii

Kafka, quant à lui, « n’a pas toujours échappé aux tentations du mysticisme »iii selon Benjamin, qui cite à ce sujet Soma Morgenstern : « Il règne chez Kafka, comme chez tous les fondateurs de religion, une atmosphère villageoise. »iv

Phrase bizarre et volontairement provocatrice, que Benjamin rejette immédiatement, après l’avoir citée : « Kafka aussi écrivait des paraboles, mais il n’était pas un fondateur de religion. »v

Kafka n’était donc pas un Moïse ou un Jésus.

Mais était-il au moins un petit peu prophète, ou pourrait-il passer pour l’apôtre gyrovague d’une religion tenue obscure, travaillant les âmes modernes dans les profondeurs ?

Peut-on suivre Willy Haas qui a décidé de lire l’ensemble de l’œuvre de Kafka à travers un prisme théologique ? « Dans son grand roman Le Château, Kafka a représenté la puissance supérieure, le règne de la grâce ; dans son roman Le Procès, qui n’est pas moins grand, il a représenté la puissance inférieure, le règne du jugement et de la damnation. Dans un troisième roman, L’Amérique, il a essayé de représenter, selon une stricte égalisation, la terre entre ces deux puissances […] la destinée terrestre et ses difficiles exigences. »vi

Kafka, peintre des trois mondes, le supérieur, l’inférieur et celui de l’entre-deux ?

L’opinion de W. Haas semble aussi « intenable » aux yeux de Benjamin. Il s’irrite lorsque Haas précise: « Kafka procède […] de Kierkegaard comme de Pascal, on peut bien l’appeler le seul descendant légitime de ces deux penseurs. On retrouve chez tous trois le même thème religieux de base, cruel et inflexible : l’homme a toujours tort devant Dieu. »vii

Kafka, judéo-janséniste ?

Non, dit Benjamin, gardien courroucé du Temple kafkaïen. Mais il ne précise cependant pas en quoi l’interprétation de Haas serait fautive.

Serait-ce que l’homme a toujours tort, mais pas nécessairement « devant Dieu » ? Alors devant qui ? Lui-même ?

Ou serait-ce que l’homme n’a pas toujours « tort », et donc qu’il a parfois raison, devant quelque comte Ouestouestviii que ce soit ?

Ou bien serait-ce qu’il n’ a en réalité ni tort ni raison, et que Dieu lui-même n’a ni torts ni raisons à son égard, parce qu’Il est déjà mort, ou bien alors indifférent, ou encore absent ?

On ne saurait dire. Walter Benjamin ne livre pas la réponse définitive, l’interprétation officielle de ce que pensait Kafka sur ces difficiles questions. Benjamin se contente, pour éclairer ce qu’il lui semble être la position kafkaïenne, de s’appuyer sur un « fragment de conversation » rapporté par Max Brod :

« Je me rappelle un entretien avec Kafka où nous étions partis de l’Europe actuelle et du déclin de l’humanité. ‘Nous sommes, disait-il, des pensées nihilistes, des idées de suicide, qui naissent dans l’esprit de Dieu’. Ce mot me fit aussitôt penser à la conception du monde des gnostiques. Mais il protesta : ‘Non, notre monde est simplement un acte de mauvaise humeur de la part de Dieu, un mauvais jour.’ Je répondis : ‘Ainsi en dehors de cette forme sous laquelle le monde nous apparaît, il y aurait de l’espoir ?’ Il sourit : ‘Oh ! Assez d’espoir, une quantité infinie d’espoir – mais pas pour nous.’ »ix

Dieu aurait-il donc des pensées suicidaires, par exemple comme Stefan Zweig à Pétropolis, vingt ans plus tard, en 1942 ? Mais à la différence de Zweig, Dieu ne semble pas s’être effectivement « suicidé », ou s’il l’a un peu fait, c’est seulement par procuration, par notre entremise en quelque sorte.

Il y a aussi à prendre en considération une autre interprétation, dont nous avons déjà un peu traitée dans ce Blog : Dieu pourrait ne s’être que seulement « contracté », ainsi que le formule la Kabbale d’Isaac Luria (concept de tsimtsoum), ou encore « évidé » Lui-même, selon l’expression de Paul (concept de kénose).

Kafka, paulinien et lourianique ?

Puisque nous en sommes réduits à l’exégèse imaginaire d’un écrivain qui n’était pas un « fondateur de religion », pouvons-nous supputer la probabilité que chaque mot tombé de la bouche de Franz Kafka compte réellement comme parole révélée, que toutes les tournures qu’il a choisies sont innocentes, et même que ce qu’il ne dit pas a peut-être plus de poids réel que ce qu’il semble dire ?

Notons que Kafka ne dit pas que les idées de suicide ou les pensées nihilistes naissant « dans l’esprit de Dieu » s’appliquent en fait à Lui-même. Ces idées naissent peut-être dans Son esprit, mais ensuite elles vivent de leur propre vie. Et cette vie ce sont les hommes qui la vivent, ce sont les hommes qui l’incarnent, ce sont les hommes qui sont (substantiellement) les pensées nihilistes ou les idées suicidaires de Dieu. Quand Dieu pense, ses idées se mettent ensuite à vivre sans Lui, et ce sont les hommes qui vivent de la vie de ces idées de néant et de mort, que Dieu a pu aussi une fois contempler, dans leurs ‘commencements’ (bereshit).

Des idées de mort, d’annihilation, d’auto-anéantissement, lorsqu’elles sont pensées par Dieu, « vivent » aussi absolument que des idées de vie éternelle, de gloire et de salut, – et cela malgré la contradiction ou l’oxymore que comporte l’idée abstraite d’une mort qui « vit » en tant qu’idée incarnée dans des hommes réels.

Pensées par Dieu, ces idées de mort et de néant vivent et prennent une forme humaine pour se perpétuer et s’auto-engendrer.

Cette interprétation de Kafka par lui-même, telle que rapportée par Max Brod, est-elle « tenable », ou du moins pas aussi « intenable » que celle de Willy Haas à propos de sa supposée « théologie » ? Peut-être. Mais il faut continuer l’enquête et les requêtes.

Comme dans les longues tirades auto-réflexives d’un K. converti à la métaphysique immanente du Château, on pourrait continuer encore et encore le questionnement.

Même si cela risque d’être hérétique aux yeux de Benjamin !

Peut-être que Max Brod n’a pas rapporté avec toute la précision souhaitable les expressions exactes employées par Kafka ?

Ou peut-être Kafka n’a-t-il pas mesuré lui-même toute la portée des mots qu’ils prononçait dans l’intimité d’un tête-à-tête avec son ami, sans se douter qu’un siècle plus tard nous serions nombreux à les commenter et à les interpréter, comme les pensées profondes d’un Kabbaliste ou d’un éminent juriste du Droit canon?

Je ne sais pas si je suis moi-même une sorte d’« idée », « pensée » par Dieu, une idée « suicidaire ou nihiliste », et si mon existence même est due à quelque mauvaise humeur divine.

Si je l’étais, je ne peux que constater, à la façon de Descartes, que cette « idée » ne me semble pas particulièrement nette, vibrante, brillant de mille feux en moi, bien qu’elle soit censée avoir germé dans l’esprit de Dieu même.

Je ne peux que constater que mon esprit, et les idées qu’il fait vivre, appartiennent encore au monde de l’obscur, du crépuscule, et non au monde de la nuit noire.

C’est en ce sens que je dois me séparer nettement de Paul Valéry, qui prophétisait quant à lui :

« Voici venir le Crépuscule du Vague et s’apprêter le règne de l’Inhumain qui naîtra de la netteté, de la rigueur et de la pureté dans les choses humaines. »x

Valéry associe (nettement) la netteté, la rigueur et la pureté à « l’Inhumain », – mais aussi par la magie logique de sa métaphore, à la Nuit.

J’imagine aussi que « l’Inhumain » est pour Valéry un autre nom de Dieu ?

Pour nous en convaincre, l’on peut se rapporter à un autre passage de Tel Quel, dans lequel Valéry avoue :

« Notre insuffisance d’esprit est précisément le domaine des puissances du hasard, des dieux et du destin. Si nous avions réponse à tout – j’entends réponse exacte – ces puissances n’existeraient pas. »xi

Du côté de l’insuffisance d’esprit, du côté du Vague et du crépusculaire, nous avons donc « les puissances du hasard, des dieux et du destin », c’est-à-dire à peu près tout ce qui forme la substance originaire du monde, pour des gens comme moi.

Mais du côté de l’ « exact », de la « netteté », de la « rigueur » et de la « pureté », nous avons « l’Inhumain », qui va désormais « régner dans les choses humaines », pour des gens comme Valéry.

Adieu aux dieux donc, ils appartenaient au soir couchant, que la langue latine appelle proprement « l’Occident » (et que la langue arabe appelle « Maghreb »).

S’ouvre maintenant la Nuit, où régnera l’Inhumain.

Merci Kafka, pour nous avoir donné à voir l’idée du Néant naître en Dieu et vivre en l’Homme.

Merci Valéry, pour nous avoir donné à voir la voie de l’Inhumain dans la Nuit qui s’annonce.

iWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. Pour son soixantième anniversaire ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, p. 322-329 , et « Franz Kafka. Pour le dixième anniversaire de sa mort ». Ibid. p. 410-453

iiWalter Benjamin. « Paul Valéry. Pour son soixantième anniversaire ». Œuvres complètes t. II, Gallimard, 2000, p. 325

iiiWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. Pour le dixième anniversaire de sa mort ». Ibid. p. 430

ivWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. Pour le dixième anniversaire de sa mort ». Ibid. p. 432

vWalter Benjamin. « Franz Kafka. Pour le dixième anniversaire de sa mort ». Ibid. p. 432-433

viW. Haas. op.cit., p.175, cité par W. Benjamin, in op. cit. p. 435

viiW. Haas. op.cit., p.176, cité par W. Benjamin, in op. cit. p. 436

viiiLe Comte Westwest (traduit ‘Ouestouest’ dans la version fraçaise) est le maître du Château de Kafka.

ixMax Brod. Der Dichter Franz Kafka. Die Neue Rundschau, 1921, p. 213. Cité par W. Benjamin in op. cit. p. 417

xPaul Valéry. Tel Quel. « Rhumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 621

xiPaul Valéry. Tel Quel. « Rhumbs ». Œuvres t. II. Paris, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de La Pléiade. 1960, p. 647

A God hidden in the mud

« You really are a hidden God.  » (Is 45:15)

אָכֵן, אַתָּה אֵל מִסְתַּתֵּר

Vere tu es Deus absconditus.

Isaiah calls out to God by a simple « you », in Hebrew « attah ».

This « you » mocks the cynic, the incredulous. It testifies to the immediate proximity of what is revealed, the certainty of the idea.

But this « you » hides more than it reveals itself.

The adjective « hidden » is said mistatar in Hebrew. Esther of the Book of Esther, bears this name, she is « the hidden one » (מִסְתַּתמִסֵר mistatèr). These words come from the verb סַתָר « to hide, protect, shelter ». This word is often found in the Bible, with a wide range of possible meanings: to cover, conceal, eclipse, bury, wrap, bury, blotch, mask, shut in, shut up, hold, drag, veil.

In the substantive form, three main meanings emerge: 1) What is hidden, secret 2) Envelope, cover, veil 3) Protection, retirement, asylum.

It is revealing, I think, that the meaning of a word that means « veil » can have hidden depths, and refer to other words, just as deep, just as veiled.

The verb tsamtsem, related to the concept of tsimtsum, also means « to veil ».

The God who hides and veils himself is also the God who contracts Himself, and makes Himself silent. It is also the God of kenosis, the God who humbles Himself ( the word humble comes from Latin humus, earth, which also gave homo, man).

What is God hiding in His humiliation? What is He hiding in the humus, in the mud-made man?

Why are souls locked in earthly bodies?

« If the soul were not immortal, man would be the most unhappy of all creatures, » writes Marsile Ficin in his Platonic Theology of the Immortality of the Soul. In this treaty, which dates back to 1482, this argument is only mentioned in passing, as a matter of course. No need to insist, indeed: if one had absolute, irrefutable conviction, apodictic proof of the mortality of the soul, then the feeling of unhappiness of being nothing, the despair of a pitiful WTF, the assured evidence of the absurd, would invade the soul and suffocate it.

Questions about the origin and the end follow one another over the centuries, with strange resonances. There is no need for fine hearing or sharp eyesight. It is enough to visit the remains of sacred traditions, to connect them, and to place them side by side, to consider them together, with sympathy, in what they indicate in common, in what they reveal to be universal.

Marsile Ficin, a humanist and encyclopedic conscience, was interested in the beliefs of the Magi of Persia and Egyptian priests, the certainties of the Hebrew prophets, the visions of the Orphic, the truths of the Pythagorean and Platonician philosophers, the dogmas of the ancient Christian theologians and the revelations of the Brahmins of India.

Let’s look at the big picture, let’s breathe wide. The feeling of mystery is a stronger, more established, more significant anthropological constant than any of the truths hardly conquered by Gnostic and schizophrenic modernity. Among all peoples, the men most remarkable for their love of wisdom have devoted themselves to prayer, notes Porphyry.

For his part, Ficin, probably one of the remarkable men of his time, asked himself questions such as: « Why are souls locked in earthly bodies? »

Ficin proposes six answers to that question:

To be able to know the singular beings.

To unite the particular shapes with the universal shapes.

For the divine ray to be reflected in God.

To make the soul happier (the descent of the soul into the body contributes to the happiness of the soul itself).

For the powers of the soul to act.

So that the world may be embellished and God may be honored.

These answers can be summarized as follows: the soul unites what is a priori separate. The top and bottom. The world and the divine. The same and the other. It needs mediation, and it is itself mediation. It is in the process of becoming, it must increase, grow, mature, rise, to act, even if to do so it must first descend, to the point of becoming tiny like a germ again, remain for a very short time, decrease as much as possible, in order to observe better.

Why does such an infinite God bother with all these little supernumerary souls? Mystery, tsimtsum.

There are some leads, however, some indications, in the vast history of the world, that can be gleaned from the dismemberment of the body of Osiris, the Orphic hymns, the Book of the Dead, some verses from Homer, Virgil and Ovid, the fragments of Nag Hammadi, the cries and songs of the Vedas, the brevity of Heraclitus, the folds of Plato, the lengths of Kabbalah, the words of Christ, the figures of the shamans, – and in many other places…

A Jewish « Kenosis »

How could an Almighty God, creator of the worlds, let himself be put to death by his own creatures? Mystery. To designate this lowering, this humiliation, this annihilation of the divine, Christianity uses the word kenosis, from the Greek verb kenoô, « to empty oneself, to strip oneself, to annihilate oneself ». This word was first used by the Epistle of Paul to the Philippiansi.

But the idea of God’s death is much older. It can be found in the centuries preceding Christianity in quite different forms, it is true, for example among the Greeks with the death of Dionysus killed by the Titans, but also among the Egyptians with the murder of Osiris and his dismemberment by Seth, his own brother.

Among Jews, with the concept of tsimtsum (from the Hebrew צמצום, contraction), there is also this idea of a « God who empties himself ». It is a concept of late appearance since it is due to Isaac Louria in Ari Zal (Safed, 16th century), who uses it to explain a point of Kabbalah :

Before the creation of the worlds, God was everything, everywhere, and nothing was without Him. But when God decided to create the worlds, he had to give them a place so that they could be. God withdrew his original light, or qadoum. In the void thus created, called reshimou (« imprint », from the verb rashama, « write ») a light emanated from God, or néetsal. This emanated light constitutes the olam ha-Atziluth, the world of Emanation. Then are generated the olam haBeryah or world of Creation, the olam haYetzirah or world of Formation and the olam haAssiya or world of Action, – which contains our world. The light emanating from it therefore undergoes several contractions, compressions, or « dissimulations », which are all tsimtsum.

This word comes from the verb צָמַם tsamam, which has a wide spectrum of meaning: « to put an end to, exterminate, silence, annihilate, compress, contract, squeeze, veil, hide, observe closely, define exactly, certify », which is described in Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of Targumim Talmud and Midrashic Literature (1926). From this rich range, the word tsimtsum probably brings out the harmonics.

Here are some of them, taken from a Kabbalah lesson by Baruch Shalom Alevi Ashlag. The reason why the emanated Light cascades through the four created worlds, Atziluth, Beryah, Yatzirah and Assiya, is that the « desire to receive » must at each step be increased accordingly. For there can be no divine creation without an equally divine desire to « receive » this creation.

In the beginning, there is an abundance of Light created, emanating from the divine essence. Correlatively there must be an abundance of desire to receive this light. But this desire to receive cannot appear in the world ex nihilo. Desire is itself created. It is called Kli ְכְּלִי , a word whose primary meaning is: « thing done, thing made ». It is also called, less metaphorically, Guf (« the body »). The Kli must « receive », « lock », « hold » the light in him (as the root verb כָּלַא indicates).

Here, a little aside. The Kli can be said to be a piece of furniture, a vase, a garment, a suit, a ship, an instrument or a weapon. Here again, all the harmonics of these various senses can undoubtedly be applied to make the Kli resonate in its role as a receptacle of light, – in its role as a soul, therefore. Sander and Trenel’s dictionary says that Kli comes from the root verb כֶּלֶה (kalah), a close word to ֶכָּלַא (kala’), already mentioned. The verb kalah offers an interesting spectrum of meaning: to be made, completed, ready; to be resolved; to disappear, to miss, to be consumed, to perish, to languish; to finish; to consume, to exterminate.

Believing that words serve as a memorial to millenary experiences, I would think that all these meanings apply in one way or another to kli in its possible relationship with light.

Divine light, falling into the different worlds, spreads and at the same time contracts, folds, or veils itself, to let the desire to be received by the Kli grow, by this receptacle, this desire, this soul or this « body », this Kli which is at the root of the created creature. The Kli, who was previously part of the Light, must now distinguish himself from it in order to receive it better; he must separate himself from it in order to desire it better. He desires it as Or Hokhma (the Light of Wisdom) or Or Haya (the Light of Life), or Or Hassadim (the Light of Mercy). The Kli is therefore determined according to the degree of expansion of the Light and also according to its degree of exit from it.

Wise men commented on these questions as follows: « There is crying in inner dwellings ».

This means that when the Light arrives in the lower worlds, and it does not find a Kli wishing to receive it, it remains « interior », unrevealed, and then « there is crying ». But when she finds a Kli who desires her, she can reveal herself on the outside, and then « vigour and joy are in His place », and everything becomes visible.

i Ph. 2, 6-9 « Lui, de condition divine, ne retint pas jalousement le rang qui l’égalait à Dieu. Mais il s’anéantit (εκένωσεν) lui-même, prenant condition d’esclave, et devenant semblable aux hommes. S’étant comporté comme un homme, il s’humilia plus encore, obéissant jusqu’à la mort, et à la mort sur une croix !  Aussi Dieu l’a-t-il exalté et lui a-t-il donné le Nom qui est au-dessus de tout nom. »

Devouring the dead God

 

Orpheus, who went down to the underworld, has an amazing resumé. He invented poetry, which is no small thing. He called Apollo « the living eye of Heaven », and « the one who shapes everything in the world ». He also saw with his own eyes the primordial Chaos dominated by Love.

The main sources on Orpheus are two poets, Virgil and Ovid. Referring to some Christian and Neoplatonist authors, he was also recruited to embody a kind of pagan image of the Word.

The name Orpheus, has no recognized etymology but Chantraine believes that it can be linked to the Indo-European *orbho, « separate, remove », hence the Latin orbus, « deprived of ». This refers, of course, to Eurydice.

The myth of Orpheus dates back to before the 6th century BC since a statue of Orpheus playing the lyre was found dating back to 560 BC.

Orpheus gave his name to a mystical current, orphism, known by hymns, and various texts and archaeological inscriptions including the Golden Lamellae. The general idea is that the soul, soiled from the beginning, must undergo a cycle of reincarnations from which only initiation into the mysteries of Orpheus can bring it out. Then she is allowed to join the Gods.

Orphism has never been a socially organized religion. On the contrary, orphism challenged the established order, rejected the values of the Greek cities and their cults. One became orphic by personal choice, after initiation.

Onomacrite was responsible for the writing of the first compilation of poems and orphic hymns. This singular character had been commissioned by Pisistrate, around 525 BC, to prepare the first complete edition of Homer’s poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. He was also a diviner, an initiate in mysteries, who traded in oracles. Herodotus tells us that Greek tyrants, dethroned and refugees at the court of Persia, the Pisistratids, called upon his talents to invent oracles in order to incite Xerxes I to start the second medieval war in 481 B.C.

Religion and politics were in close alliance. The city of Delphi and its Pythia, oracle of Apollo, had also taken the side of the Persians. The battle of Salamis proved them wrong. After the Greek victory, Delphi claimed to have been protected by divine intervention. Herodotus attests it: « As the Barbarians approached the temple of Minerva Pronaea, lightning fell on them; rocky quarters, detaching themselves from the top of the Parnassus and rolling with a horrible noise, crushed a great number of them. At the same time, voices and war cries were heard coming out of the temple of Minerva Pronaea. » i

Aristophanes makes fun of Orphic sects in The Birds. He denounces its charlatanism. Plato and Theophrastus present them as gyrovagal priests, selling cheap purifications to a gullible public.

 

However, the Orphic ideas were conscientiously taken up by neo-Pythagoreans and Neo-Platonists.

The main myth of orphism is the killing of Dionysus by the Titans, who cut him into pieces and then devoured him. Furious, Zeus struck down the latter, and from their ashes were born humans.

Men therefore have a double ancestry. They descend from the Titans, but also from the Gods, through the flesh of devoured Dionysus, also being part of the ashes from which humans are derived. There is an analogy, if not obvious at all, with Christian communion.

Christ was put to death, and his followers share his flesh and blood in memory of him.

Let’s go back to the Dionysian myth.

Persephone, Dionysus-Zagreus’ mother, never forgave the murder and devouring of her son. She then condemned man to wander unceasingly, from incarnation to incarnation. How could offspring from the ashes, from the corpses of the Titans, these eaters of God, be allowed to enter the divine world?

The gold or bone slides found in various tombs indicate that the Orphic and Pythagorean sects gave the initiates hope of deliverance upon their arrival in the afterlife. But on one condition, not to go the wrong way. If one turns left, it’s the fatal mistake. One falls into the spring of Lethe, which plunges the soul into oblivion. If you turn right, it’s the right choice. You find the source of the goddess Mnemosyne who reminds souls of their memory and reminds them of their divine origin.

The golden slice that the deceased initiate takes with him to his grave is a kind of reminder:

« You will find a spring to the left of Hades’ house,

and near her, standing up, a white cypress tree:

from this source, stay away from it.

You will find a second source, the cold water that flows

of Lake Mnemosyne; in front of them stand guards.

Say: « I am the son of the Earth and the Starry Sky;

my race is heavenly, and you know that too…

I am dried up from thirst and I will perish: give me therefore

quickly the cold water that flows from Lake Memory.

And they themselves will give you something to drink from the divine source;

and from that moment on, among the other heroes, you will rule.

And from that moment on, with the other heroes, you will be sovereign. » ii

iHérodotus, VIII, 35-38

iiLamelles d’or orphiques. Instructions pour le voyage d’outre-tombe des initiés grecs, lamelle de Pétélia ( 5th century BC), Ed. by Giovanni Pugliese Carratelli, Les Belles Lettres, 2003, p. 61.

Sunk by the Sweetness

 

The Book of the Dead is a must for anyone interested in the « mysteries » of death.

Its chapter 125 is entitled: « To enter the truth room and separate man from his sins so that he may see the face of the gods.  » There is an invocation addressed to the forty-two « assessors » of Osiris, who represent so many names of God.

It is important to memorize them, and to assimilate their meaning. The soul of the deceased, of any deceased, whether pharaoh, scribe or slave, rich or poor, virtuous or sinner, young or old, is presented after death to the assembly of the gods. To be saved, she must declare before them that she wants to « take possession » of her names, including this one: « I am the Osiris N., growing under the flowers of the fig tree.»

There are many other names that the « Osiris N. » must know in order to be admitted to the divine dwelling.

The late N. adopts the divine name, Osiris, and proudly claims it before all the gods of the Egyptian Pantheon.

Osiris N. is not an alias, acquired once and for all, affixing a face closed by death. It is the new name of a soul, now placed before the Gods, under the flowers of the fig tree, to continue to grow forever.

This religion does not believe in the end, but in the restarting of growth.

Osiris N. has many names, and the God Osiris himself has many more, myriads of them. In chapter 17 of the Soutimès funeral papyrus we find several of the names given to him such as: « Amen-ran-f », « Mysterious is his person », or even « Nef-u-f-m-set », « His breath is of fire ».

Great is the ancient Egyptian civilization. It would take a long anabasis to go back to its original sources, to relive the vision that made it possible and kept it alive for over 5000 years.

But a katabasis can be just as successful. Close to us, Pierre Reverdy, in his book Le chant des morts (The Song of the Dead), has written a few verses, which are neither Vedic, nor Egyptian, nor avestic, nor Chaldean, nor Jewish, nor Christian. But which could bring these traditions into a sort of harmony, it seems to me.

I only remember one, – I wish it could be a sign of a possible common source of inspiration:

« Of those naked faces sunk by the sweetness. »

 

The Veil of Death

Deep mysteries are made of successive veils. Their unveiling never offers a complete revelation. It is a long process – that is a veil in itself.

In his diary on 26-27 November 1906, Tolstoy describes his daughter Macha’s death, which just happened: « Macha died earlier today. Strange thing. I felt neither frightened nor afraid, nor aware that something exceptional was being done (…) I watched her all the time she was dying: with astonishing tranquility. For me – she was a being who unveils herself before my own unveiling. I was following this unveiling, and it was joyful for me. But this unveiling has ceased in the domain that is accessible to me (life), that is, this unveiling has ceased to be visible to me; but what was being unveiled is that. »

The unveiling of death begins in life. Its signs still belong to life, until this singular unveiling is no longer visible to those who do not die, to those who remain in the unveiling of life.

Their lives veil their death. And death continues to reveal what cannot be revealed to those who do not die.

This is what can sometimes be revealed at the death of a loved one, that there is an unveiling of death, which continues in death. Tolstoy attests to this. Capital information, but imponderable. There may be reason to doubt such a fragile testimony, based on tenuous clues. Yet I believe that Tolstoy is a precious, sensitive and credible witness.

The death of those we love is not of the visible order. But it waved, it showed a possible path. Nine months before Macha’s death in February 1906, Tolstoy had already noted: « What is the matter before me? The most important: a good death », and also: « You grow up to death ».

Growing in this way is certainly a metamorphosis, a movement. A movement towards what? On 31 December 1906, Tolstoy replied: « Movement is the awareness of our divine character. »

This movement towards death can be brief or long, sharp or languid, confused or sustained. Only the tempo varies, not the end.

As a man who seems to have experienced the essence of death, Tolstoy notes this strange formula, not without a whiff à la Newton: « The value of life is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from death. »

Fatal attraction of bodies by the dark star. A black hole in the vicinity of which thought is accelerating. Plato said that death is for the soul the deliverance of the body. It remains to meditate on the speed, acceleration and gravity of this deliverance.

The Vedic Skandalon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our plastic essence

India’s characteristic is « evanescence, » wrote Hegel. This image may surprise us if we confront it with the contemporary Indian reality. But Hegel was aiming for something else: to capture the spirit of India’s ancient religion.

Between transience, brevity and immateriality, evanescence is a terminal transformation, a final metamorphosis. Within the world, at the heart of reality itself, the evanescent form becomes subliminal, gradually impalpable. It constantly dissolves until it disappears completely. In this way it is likely to serve as a visible metaphor for invisible transcendence. Hence the idea of India.

Evanescence challenges matter, its weight, its durability. It escapes any assimilation, any seizure. In short, it is the exact opposite of what happens in any vital process. In the life of nature as in the life of the spirit, the essential thing is assimilation, the transformation of what comes from the outside into something internal, the ingestion of the other into the same. What is evanescent cannot be ingested, assimilated, by life, since it is nothingness that primarily absorbs it, engulfs it.

Evanescence is intended to be total, complete. But for a long time, from the « vanished » thing, there is still a small remnant, which no longer offers enough material for assimilation, and which resists nothingness. The evanescent weakly signals that something has happened, that something has almost completely disappeared, and continues to wave, in the form of a shadow, echo, effluvium, or some imperceptible nuance affecting the background of the set.

By refusing to resist its disappearance, evanescence gives hope for reversibility. It retains a potential for regeneration, reactivation.

Under certain conditions, the evanescent can indeed regain form, return to the world, return to life.

Evanescence is an eminently plastic metaphor. Everything dissolves and everything takes on a new form.

This is why we may be tempted to compare it to another metaphor, that of « genetic plasticity », which often serves as an image for the fundamental plasticity of life.

The implementation of the genetic program is not a linear process. RNAi (i for « interfering ») has the property of « interfering » with protein coding. We must abandon the notion of a « genetic program » that is too mechanical, too determined.

Even more surprisingly, it is now necessary to recognize the possible reversibility associated with the program. Already adult cells can continue to be transformed, de-differentiated, deprogrammed and reprogrammed into new stem cells to obtain either totipotent cells (embryonic cells), multipotent cells (adult cells from the same tissue) or pluripotent cells (adult cells from other tissues).

Until recently, this plasticity of life was unsuspected. The consequences are staggering. We can awaken the sleeping potential of adult cells, reprogram them to behave like totipotent cells. Stem cells can be made by diverting olfactory bulb cells to fight Parkinson’s disease, in order to regenerate the areas of the brain affected by the disease.

The « plastic » possibilities of these genetic interference mechanisms are infinite.

Just over 25,000 genes in the human genome code for proteins. They represent only 2% of the genome. But there are also thousands of genetic sequences encoding RNAi whose function is to regulate the expression of these 25,000 genes encoding proteins. It can be assumed that these genetic sequences can themselves be regulated by similar mechanisms. And so on and so forth.

The genome is therefore not a « program », stable, determined in the cybernetic sense of the term. It is eminently mobile, plastic, metamorphic. It has all kinds of means to reprogram itself, and therefore to modify its coding action, means and ends, according to the conditions encountered. The metaphor of the « programme » is not suitable to account for this complexity, which escapes determinisms, and which never ceases to leave all their place to contingency, fortune, hazards, without however being durably dominated by them.

It is as if a higher intelligence or a deep instinct, apparently unconscious, constantly took full advantage of the chance thus systematically produced, and thereby constantly shaped the new means of survival, and perhaps even the new ends of life.

The metaphors of totipotency, pluripotency and multipotency refer to the concept of « intermediate » (in Greek: metaxu), in the sense given to it by Plato in the Banquet. The genome is a kind of metaxu, capable of all metamorphoses. It contains, hidden in the entangled regulatory cycles, a potential for variation that never ceases to apply to itself, varying the conditions of variation of the variation, transforming the conditions of transformation of the conditions of transformation, to infinity.

We can only describe from the outside, and very approximately, this phenomenal stacking, and seek to observe through experience some of its actual possibilities. But we are unable to grasp its deep essence.

Is it already a little better to try to grasp this essence than to call it a « mystery », for want of a better word?