क – The God Whose Name Was « Who? »

« Vedic sacrifice »

More than two millennia before the times of Melchisedechi and Abraham, other wandering and pious men were already singing the hymns of Ṛg Veda. Passing them on faithfully, generation after generation, they celebrated through hymns and prayers, the mysteries of a Supreme God, a Lord creator of worlds, of all creatures, of all lives.

Intelligence of the divine did just not begin in Ur in Chaldea, nor sacred wisdom in Salem.

Some sort of intelligence and wisdom probably reigned, more than five thousand years ago, among chosen, attentive, dedicated spirits. These men left as a legacy the hymns they sang, in precise and chiselled phrases, evoking the salient mysteries that already assailed them:

Of the Creator of all things, what can be said? What is His name?

What is the primary source of « Being »? How to name the primordial « Sun », from which the entire Cosmos emerged?

Who is really the Lord imposing His lordship on all beings, – and on the ‘Being’ itself ?

And what does this pronoun, Who, really mean in this context?

What is the role of Man, his true part in this mystery at play?

A Vedic hymn, famous among all, summarizes and condenses all these difficult questions into one single one, both limpid and obscure.

It is Hymn X, 121 of Ṛg Veda, often titled « To the Unknown God ».

In the English translation by Ralph T.H. Griffith, this Hymn is entitled « Ka ».ii Ka, in Sanskrit, means «who ? »

This Hymn is dedicated to the God whom the Veda literally calls « Who? »

Griffith translates the exclamation recurring nine times throughout this ten-verses Hymn as follows :

« What God shall we adore with our oblation ? »

But from the point of view of Sanskrit grammar, it is perfectly possible to personify this interrogative pronoun, Ka (Who?) as the very name of the Unknown God.

Hence this possible translation :

To the God ‘Who?’

1. In the beginning appeared the Golden Germ.

As soon as he was born, he became the Lord of Being,

The support of Earth and this Heaven.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

2. He, who gives life force and endurance,

He, whose commandments are laws for the Gods,

He, whose shadow is Immortal Life, – and Death.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

3. ‘Who?iii – in His greatness appeared, the only sovereign

Of everything that lives, breathes and sleeps,

He, the Lord of Man and all four-membered creatures.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

4. To Him belongs by right, by His own power,

The snow-covered mountains, the flows of the world and the sea.

His arms embrace the four quarters of the sky.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

5. ‘Who?’ holds the Mighty Heavens and the Earth in safety,

He formed the light, and above it the vast vault of Heaven.

‘Who?’ measured the ether of the intermediate worlds.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

6. Towards Him, trembling, forces crushed,

Subjected to his glory, raise their eyes.

Through Him, the sun of dawn projects its light.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

7. When came the mighty waters, carrying

The Universal Germ from which Fire springs,

The One Spirit of God was born to be.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

8. This Unit, which, in its power, watched over the Waters,

Pregnant with the life forces engendering the Sacrifice,

She is the God of Gods, and there is nothing on Her side.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

9. O Father of the Earth, ruling by immutable laws,

O Heavenly Father, we ask You to keep us,

O Father of the ample and divine Waters!

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

10. O Lord of creaturesiv, Father of all things,

You alone penetrate all that is born,

This sacrifice that we offer you, we desire it,

Give it to us, and may we become lords of oblation!


What is this divine Germ (Hiraṇyagarbha , or ‘Golden Germ’, in Sanskrit), mentioned in verses 1, 7 and 8?

One does not know, but one can sense it. The Divine is not the result of a creation, nor of an evolution, or of a becoming, as if it was not, – then was. The Veda here attempts a breakthrough in the understanding of the very nature of the divinity, through the image of the ‘germ’, the image of pure life.

The idea of a ‘God’ is only valid from the creature’s point of view. The idea of ‘God’ appears best through its relation to the idea of ‘creature’. For Himself, God is not ‘God’, – He must be, in His own eyes, something completely different, which has nothing to do with the pathos of creation and the creature.

One can make the same remark about « Being ». The « Being » appears only when the beings appear. God creates the beings and the Being at the same time. He Himself is beyond Being, since it is through Him that Being comes to « be ». And before the beings, before the Being itself, it seems that a divine, mysterious life obviously ‘lived’. Not that it ‘was’, since the Being was not yet, but it ‘lived’, hidden, and then ‘was born’. But from what womb? From what prior, primordial, primal uterus? We do not know. We only know that, in an abyssmal mystery (and not in time or space), an even deeper mystery, a sui generis mystery, grew, in this very depth, which was then to come to being, but without the Mystery itself being revealed by this growth and by this outcoming of being.

The place of origin of the mystery is not known, but the Veda calls it ‘Golden Germ’ (hiraṇyagarbha). This metaphor of a ‘Germ’ implies (logically?) some primal ovary and womb, and some desire, some life older than all life, and older than the Being itself.

Life came from this Living One, in Whom, by Whom and from Whom, it was given to the Being ; it was then given to be, and it was given thereby to beings, to all beings.

This mysterious process, which the word ‘Germ’ evokes, is also called ‘Sacrifice’, a word that appears in verse 8: Yajña (यज्ञ). Why « sacrifice » ? Because the divine Seed dies to Herself, She sacrifices Herself, so that out of Her own Life, life, all lives, may be born.

The Veda also says : May God be born to Himself, through His sacrifice…

What a strange thing to say!

By being born, God becomes ‘God’, He becomes the Lord of Being, for the Being, and the Lord of beings. Hymn 121 takes here its mystical flight, and celebrates a God who is the Father of creatures, and who is also always transcendent to the Being, to the world and to his own ‘divinity’ (inasmuch as this divinity allows itself to be seen in its Creation, and allows itself to be grasped in the Unity that it founds).

But who is this God who is so transcendent? Who is this God who hides, behind the appearance of the Origin, below or beyond the very Beginning?

There is no better noun, one might think, than this interrogative pronoun: ‘Who?’.

Ka. क.

This pronoun in the form of a question, this ‘Who?’ , this Ka, does not call for an answer. Rather, it calls for another question, which Man addresses to himself: To whom? To whom must Man, seized by the unheard-of depth of the mystery, in turn offer his own sacrifice?

A haunting litany: « What God shall we adore with our oblation ? » 

It is not that the name of this God is strictly speaking unknown. Verse 10 uses the expression Prajāpati , ‘Lord of creatures’. It is found in other texts, for example in this passage from Taittirīya Saṁhitā :

« Indra, the latest addition to Prajāpati, was named ‘Lord of the Gods’ by his Father, but they did not accept him. Indra asked her Father to give her the splendor that is in the sun, so that she could be ‘Lord of the Gods’. Prajāpati answered her:

– If I give it to you, then who will I be?

– You will be what You say, who? (ka).

And since then, it was His name. »v

But these two names, Prajāpati and Ka, refer only to something related to creatures, referring either to their Creator, or simply to their ignorance or perplexity.

These names say nothing about the essence of God. This essence is undoubtedly above all intelligibility, and above all essence.

Ka, ‘who?’, in the original Sanskrit text, is actually used in the singular dative form of the pronoun, kasmai (to whom?).

One cannot ask the question ‘who?’ with regard to ‘God’, but only to ‘whom’? One cannot seek to question His essence, but only to try to distinguish Him among all the other possible objects of worship.

God is mentally unknowable. Except perhaps in that we know that a part of His essence is ‘sacrifice’. But we still know nothing of the essence of His ‘sacrifice’. One may only ‘participate’ in it, more or less actively.

One may try to better understand the essence of one’s own sacrifice, one’s own ‘oblation’, if one is ready to pay the price it demands. Indeed, one is both subject and object of one’s oblation. In the same way, God is both subject and object of His sacrifice. One can then try to understand, by anagogy, the essence of His sacrifice through the essence of one’s own oblation.

This precisely is what Raimundo Panikkar describes as the essential ‘Vedic experience’. It is certainly not the personal experience of those Vedic priests and prophets who were chanting their hymns two thousand years before Abraham met Melchisedek, but it could be at least a certain experience of the sacred, of which we ‘modern’ or ‘post-modern’ could still feel the breath and the burning.


iמַלְכֵּי-צֶדֶק , (malkî-ṣedeq) : ‘King of Salem’ and ‘Priest of the Most High (El-Elyôn)’.

iiRalph T.H. Griffith. The Hymns of the Rig Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publihers. Delhi, 2004, p.628

iiiIn the original Sanskit: , Ka ? « To Whom ? »

iv Prajāpati :  » Lord of creatures « . This expression, so often quoted in the later texts of the Atharva Veda and Brāhmaṇa, is never used in the Ṛg Veda, except in this one place (RV X,121,10). It may therefore have been interpolated later. Or, – more likely in my opinion, it represents here, effectively and spontaneously, the first historically recorded appearance (in the oldest religious tradition in the world that has formally come down to us), or the ‘birth’ of the concept of ‘Lord of Creation’, ‘Lord of creatures’, – Prajāpati .

vTB II, 2, 10, 1-2 quoted by Raimundo Panikkar, The Vedic Experience. Mantramañjarī. Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1977, p.69

Des « Grands Dieux », et de l’Être qui ne veut pas se faire appeler l’Un

« Kabirim »

Les Dieux Cabires (en grec Κάϐειρο, Kábeiroi), ou « Grands Dieux », (Μεγάλοι Θέοι, Megáloi Théoi), ont été célébrés dans la haute antiquité, bien avant qu’Hésiode ne formule sa théogonie. Aussi nommés les Telchines, les Corybantes, les Dactyles, leur culte était pratiqué dans diverses parties de la Grèce, en Crète, en Phénicie, en Phrygie et dans le reste de l’Asie mineure, et jusqu’en Égypte. On retrouve les Cabires en Perse, sous le nom de Gabirim.

Le nom cabire est indubitablement d’origine sémitique. Le consensus général est de faire remonter ce mot à l’adjectif hébreu (et phénicien) כַּבִּיר kabîr, « grand, puissant », qui est notamment utilisé pour qualifier Dieu dans le livre de Job.

Dieu y est appelé « juste et puissant », צַדִּיק כַּבִּיר , tsadiq kabîri, et peu après, ce Dieu kabîr, « puissant », brise les « puissants », כַּבִּירִים , kabîrimii. dont on ne sait si ce sont des hommes ou des dieux auxquels Job fait allusion.

En Job encore, kabîr est employé de deux manières pour célébrer le « Dieu grand », אֵל כַּבִּיר, El-kabîr, et mais aussi le Dieu « grand par la force de l’esprit », כַּבִּיר, כֹּחַ לֵב , kabîr koḥ lev.iii

On trouve le mot en assyrien: kabâru, « être grand, puissant », et en arabe: كَبُرَ , kabura, « être grand (par la taille ou le rang) » et كَبِرً, kabîr « grand, noble (moralement) ».

Hercule, le héros grand et fort, était aussi un dieu, et il était compté parmi les Cabires, non parce qu’il était ‘fort’ mais parce qu’il était ‘grand’, étant associé avec les puissances telluriques, et qu’il était considéré comme le créateur des sources d’eau chaude, et le dispensateur de la santé en tant qu’allié d’Esculape.

En Égypte, Hercule était nommé Gigon, et surnommé « le danseur » ou le « dieu de la table », ce qui renvoie à d’autres divinités antiques que l’on retrouve en Phénicie, en Phrygie et sur l’île de Samothrace. Comme maître des danses, Hercule-Gigon était le dieu régissant les chœurs des Corybantes et des Dactyles.iv

Hérodote décrit les Cabires ou « Grands Dieux » égyptiens, qui sont célébrés à Memphis, dans le temple de Phtha, et placés sous l’autorité de celui-ci, puisqu’il était leur « père ». Phtha était le Dieu originaire, primordial. Il était en essence l’éternel souffle de vie, celui qui anime toute chose, fonde et soutient le monde . Il avait engendré les Grands Dieux, et, par leur intermédiaire, le cosmos tout entier et toutes les créatures.

Les Phéniciens considéraient que les Cabires étaient les fils de Sydyk, l’équivalent de Phtha.

Ce furent sans doute les Phéniciens qui exportèrent en Grèce le culte des Cabires, comme ils le firent à Carthage.

Le philosophe F.W.J von Schelling, dans son livre Über die Gottheiten von Samothrace (1815), fait remonter l’origine des Cabires exclusivement à des sources sémitiques, hébraïques et phéniciennesv. Il propose aussi une autre étymologie du nom Cabire, en l’attribuant à la racine hébraïque חבר, ḥabar, qui a pour premier sens « unir, associer, lier » , d’où l’adjectif pluriel חָבֵרִים, ḥabirim, « les associés », — mais cette racine a aussi, par extension, le sens de « nouer un nœud magique, jeter un charme, un sortilège » (« to tie a magic knot, a spell, charm »)vi.

Ces acceptions peuvent parfaitement s’accorder et donnent de nouvelles harmoniques au sens du nom Cabire.

Les deux idées connotées par la racine abar, celle de lien et d’association d’une part, et celle de magie et de sortilège d’autre part, sont en quelque sorte structurellement liées, si j’ose dire, dans le contexte des langues sémitiques.

Mais l’interprétation de la nature profonde de ce « lien », du point de vue religieux, a donné lieu à de profondes divergences .

Dans les religions de l’antiquité, en Phrygie, en Phénicie, puis en Crète, en Grèce, et à Samothrace, l’interprétation donnée est entièrement positive.

En revanche, cette idée de « lien » ou d' »association » a une connotation négative du point de vue d’un strict monothéisme, et particulièrement comme on vient de le voir, dans le judaïsme, où le Dieu kabîr brise les kabîrim. Plus tard, dans l’islam, l’idée d’association sera aussi vue négativement, comme portant atteinte à l’idée radicale de l’unité divine. En témoigne le Coran qui qualifie les chrétiens du terme d' »associateurs », parce qu’ils « associent » au Dieu unique les deux autres figures de la Trinité, le Fils et le Saint Esprit, une « association » qui mérite la mort selon le Coranvii.

Mais d’un autre point de vue, moins rigide, moins polémique, l’idée d' »association » permet d’unir conceptuellement une multiplicité pour en faire une unité ou une entité supérieure. Une expression de l’Ancien Testament (ḥaverim) l’illustre bien: כְּאִישׁ אֶחָד, חֲבֵרִים , k-ich éḥad ḥaverim, « unis comme un seul homme’viii.

Par analogie, l’association de divinités de rang inférieur, ou l’existence même d’un plérôme divin, pourraient être comprises comme leur subsomption par une unité divine suprême, ce qui est, d’une certaine manière, une façon d’établir un lien philosophique entre monothéisme et polythéisme.

Schelling remarque aussi que l’expression חֹבֵר, חָבֶר , ḥover ḥaver, employé dans le 5ème Livre de Moïseix, se traduit mot-à-mot: « associant l’association » ou « liant le lien », ce qui est un euphémisme pour signifier « ceux qui emploient des charmes, ou des sortilèges », ou « les enchanteurs ». On retrouve ce sens connoté négativement chez Isaïe, dans l’expression « tes incantations » ou « tes sortilèges », חֲבָרַיִךְ ḥavarikax.

Bien que cette théorie de Schelling sur le sens du mot « cabire » ait été critiquée par nombre de savants du 19ème siècle (comme Karl Otfried Müller, Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker, Friedrich Creuzer), il me paraît intéressant d’en suivre les implications théoriques et théologiques.

On peut en effet y trouver argument quant à la permanence d’un archétype fondamental, au sein des plérômes des panthéismes sémites et grecs, à savoir celui de l’archétype d’une trinité divine. Cet archétype trinitaire sera d’ailleurs repris un siècle après Schelling par Georges Dumézil, qui l’élargira encore, avec le succès que l’on sait, au monde indo-européen dans son ensemble.

Schelling estime que les trois Cabires (ou « Grands Dieux ») de Samothrace, Axiéros, Axiokersa et Axiokersos, forment une sorte de trinité panthéiste.

C’est à Hérodote que l’on doit d’avoir connaissance de ces noms secrets, qui faisaient partie du culte à mystères de Samothrace, ainsi que des indications sur l’initiation que l’on y recevait.xi Toujours selon lui, ce sont les Pélasges qui introduisirent la pratique des orgies sacrées à Samothrace.xii

Que signifie ces trois noms, Axiéros, Axiokersa et Axiokersos?

Axiéros viendrait selon Schelling d’un mot phénicien signifiant initialement pauvreté, mais aussi le désir de sortir de cet état, qui en résulte. La divinité primordiale est fondamentalement « pauvre », c’est-à-dire réduite à elle-même, isolée dans sa solitude originelle, et elle est donc prise du « désir » de croître, de s’engendrer elle-même. Par son désir même, elle engendre l’amour, et par là la Création qui en est le fruit.

L’étymologie proposée par Schelling me paraît philosophiquement stimulante, mais sur le plan strictement étymologique, elle est à tout le moins, peu fondée.

Si l’on analyse Axiéros comme le mot grec qu’il semble être, on voit d’emblée qu’il est composé des mots axios, « digne de » et éros, « amour ». Axiéros signifie alors simplement « Digne d’amour ».

Par ailleurs, Axiéros correspond, du point de vue mythologique, à la « Grande Mère » anatolienne, à la Cybèle de Phrygie et à la Déesse Mère du Mont Ida (Troie). La divinité primordiale de Samothrace, Axiéros, est d’essence féminine, et donc potentiellement maternelle. Son nom grec « Digne d’amour », est une indication quant à ce désir immanent d’amour, et partant, à cette aspiration à la mise au monde (du monde) .

L’un des premiers Français à avoir étudié, au début du 19ème siècle, la philosophie idéaliste allemande, et celle de Schelling en particulier, Joseph Willm, a proposé un commentaire qui offre une piste supplémentaire: Axiéros « est la nuit primitive, non la nuit ennemie de la lumière, mais qui l’attend et y aspire. »xiii

Allant dans ce sens, j’ajouterai que la nuit primitive, la Déesse primordiale, qui est Femme mais pas encore Mère, désire la Lumière, tout comme le désir aspire à l’amour. Dans le divin, le désir engendre par lui-même le moyen de le combler, et ce moyen, qui est aussi un résultat, est l’engendrement, — la création (en l’occurrence la création du monde).

Dans le nom Axiokersa on trouve, toujours selon Schelling, la racine kersa qui signifie « magie » dans les langues araméennes, et qui a formé plus tard le nom de la déesse Cérès. Axiokersa symbolise la matière, c’est-à-dire la matrice dans laquelle viendra s’incarner le désir divin (de maternité).

Axiokersos qui symbolise enfin le troisième degré dans cette progression cosmogonique, dans cette émergence de la Création, est simplement le nom masculin correspondant à Axiokersa, les deux formant donc un couple.

On voit que les trois Cabires sont composés de deux principes féminins et d’un principe masculin. Ces « Grands Dieux » sont majoritairement des « Grandes Déesses », — ce qui nous incite à nous rappeler que, bien plus à l’est, à Sumer, et bien plus originairement encore, le principe divin primordial était aussi féminin, tel qu’incarné par Inanna. Voir à ce sujet mes articles: Inanna et Dumuzi, la fin de leur sacré mariage et Inanna: La descente dans l’Enfer, la mort et la résurrection.

Les trois Cabires de Samothrace symbolisent indubitablement une triple gradation de l’instanciation (ou de l’incarnation) du divin dans le monde réel.

Ils correspondent par ailleurs, ce n’est pas un hasard, aux trois divinités grecques Démèter, Perséphone et Dionysios, qui ont repris l’essentiel de la symbolique des Cabires sous d’autre noms

Il y a encore un quatrième Cabire, Kadmilos, le messager, qui sera appelé plus tard, dans les mondes grecs et latins, des noms de Hermès et de Mercure. S’ajoutant à la trinité initiale, il forme avec elle une quaternion divin, sous forme de deux couples, Axiokersa et Axiokersos, et Axioéros, la « Grande Mère », ou « Mère des dieux », associée à Kadmilos-Hermès.

Ce rôle fécondateur de Kadmilos et Hermès a été rapproché de celui associé au phallus d’Osiris et même au Logos, le Verbe créateur. C.G. Jung écrit dans Aiôn: « C’est pour eux (les Naassènes) le Logos secret (aporrhêtos) et mystique, qui est, de façon caractéristique, mis en parallèle avec le phallus d’Osiris dans le texte suivant: ‘Je deviens ce que je veux et je suis ce que je suis’. En effet celui qui meut toutes choses est lui-même immobile. ‘Celui-là, disent-ils, est seul bon (agathon mononxiv). Un autre synonyme est l’Hermès cyllénien ithyphallique. ‘Ils disent en effet: Hermès est le Logos, l’interprète et le créateur (démiourgos) des choses nées, passées, présentes et à venir.’ C’est pourquoi il est honoré en tant que phallus, car il a ‘une impulsion (hormen) du bas vers le haut comme l’organe viril’. »xv

C.G. Jung a consacré de nombreuses page à la symbolique et à la mythologie des « quaternions », qu’il rapproche de celle des mandalas, et qu’il considère comme des symboles d’unité et de totalité. Il a suggéré que l’on trouvait aussi un tel « quaternion » dans le christianisme, si l’on considère l’ensemble formée par la Trinité, complétée par la « Mère de Dieu », Marie. « Marie viendrait remplir une case laissée vide par la défaite et l’exil des divinités féminines, Isis et Cybèle surtout. »xvi Pour l’historien suisse Philippe Borgeaud, il paraît évident que « le christianisme victorieux finit par asseoir Marie, la Mère de Dieu, sur un trône qui ressemble étonnamment à celui de la Mère des dieux, tout en recherchant, derrière l’image hiératique de la souveraine céleste, les émotions d’une mère aimante et souffrante. »xvii

La série quaternaire de ces Cabires, Axioéros, Axiokersa, Axiokersos et Kadmilos, représente les premières étapes de la Création et du développement de l’univers, telles que conçues par la cosmogonie phénicienne et phrygienne, influençant a posteriori les conceptions des anciennes religions grecques et crétoises, puis romaines.

Tout à fait à l’origine, il y a la Pauvreté, le Besoin, le Désir, la Peine, dont la Divinité primordiale, Axros, incarne l’essence, et qui comprend aussi, de manière immanente, le désir de sortir de cette Pauvreté, de cette Peine, — de sortir de cette Nuit.

La Nuit primordiale (plus tard nommée Cérès ou Démèter, par les Latins et les Grecs) a pour essence le manque, la faim, et donc le désir. La Nuit, ou Axioéros, la « Digne d’amour », la « Grande mère », est la toute première étape dans l’émergence de la Création et du Cosmos.

Ensuite, il y a le commencement de la Nature, qui apparaît dans la lumière de l’Aube, et qui est nommée Axiokersa par les Phéniciens et les Araméens, et sera appelée par les Grecs et les Latins, respectivement, Perséphone et Proserpine.

Enfin Axiokersos paraît au grand Jour de midi, dont tout l’éclat du soleil. Il sera nommé plus tard Dionysios ou Bacchus par les Grecs et les Romains.

Schelling l’appelle le roi du monde des esprits, le roi du monde idéal.

De fait, il s’appuie son interprétation de la mythologie des Cabires sur sa propre philosophie (idéaliste) de la nature, et de la Révélation…

Au-dessus de la Nature (Axiokersa) et du Monde Idéal (Axiokersos), il y a ce qui les unit, Kadmilos, ou Hermès. Il est aussi le Démiurge, le dieu personnel, qui a pour condition l’existence de ces premières divinités, mais qui leur est supérieur, et les subsume.

Schelling lance alors cette thèse provocatrice, mais très éclairante:

« Le monothéisme, proprement dit, qui n’est ni dans l’Ancien Testament, ni dans le Nouveau, et qui est plutôt mahométan que chrétien, est contraire à toute l’antiquité et à la foi de l’humanité, dont le sentiment est exprimé dans ces paroles d’Héraclite, approuvées par Platon: ‘l’Être seul sage ne veut pas être appelé l’Unique, mais Zeus’. »xviii

Dans l’allemand de Schelling, ce célèbre fragment d’Héraclite est traduit ainsi:

Das Eine weise Wesen will nicht das alleinige genannt seyn, den Namen Zeus will es.

« L’Être seul, sage ne veut pas être appelé l’Unique, il veut le nom ‘Zeus’. »

Pourquoi l’Être, seul et sage, ne veut-il pas être appelé l’Unique, mais du nom de Zeus? Avant de répondre, revenons à Héraclite.

Il s’agit ici du fragment 32:

ἓν τὸ σοφὸν μοῦνον λέγεσθαι οὐκ ἐθέλει καὶ ἐθέλει Ζηνὸς ὄνομα.xix

La traduction de Schelling s’oppose, là encore, aux idées reçues.

Les traductions conventionnelles de ce fragment font de l’Un (ἓν) le sujet du verbe vouloir (être appelé) et non son objet, ce qui change complètement le sens:

« L’Un, le Sage, ne veut pas et veut être appelé seulement du nom de Zeus. »xx

Une autre traduction déplace le mot ‘seulement’ et lui donne une valeur adjectivale:

« L’Un, le seul Sage, ne veut pas et veut être appelé du nom de Zeus. »xxi

Ces deux traductions résonnent de façon étrange, me semble-t-il, car elles font passer l’Être, seul et sage, pour un Dieu qui ne sait pas ce qu’il veut…

En revanche, la traduction de Schelling a l’avantage d’opposer radicalement ce que l’Être, seul et sage, veut, et ce qu’il ne veut pas, ce qui me paraît mieux convenir à une entité si haute.

Zeus, au génitif Ζηνὸς, Zenos, dont on a déjà indiqué l’étymologie en sanskrit, est aussi rattaché dans la culture grecque au principe de vie: ζῆν, zên est l’infinitif présent de ζαῶ, zaô, vivre.

Zeus est ici le principe de la vie universelle, selon une étymologie que l’on retrouve chez Eschyle, Euripide, Platon, Chrysippe.

Eschyle: « Le fils à qui nous devons la vie est sans nul doute le fils de Zeus. » (Les Suppliantes, 584)

Euripide: « Car la fille de Zeus doit être immortelle. » (Oreste, 1635)

Platon: « Car il n’y a pas, pour nous comme pour le reste des vivants, d’être qui soit principe du « vivre », zên, à un plus haut degré que le Souverain chef, que le roi de toutes choses,. D’où il résulte que ce Dieu est correctement appelé ‘celui par qui’, di hon, la ‘vie’, zên, appartient toujours aux vivants. Mais ainsi que je le dis, ce nom unique a été scindé en deux, par le Div et le Zeus. » (Cratyle, 396 ab)

Chrysippe: « Le dieu est appelé Zeus parce qu’il est cause de la vie, ζῆν, zên, ou parce qu’il pénètre intimement tout ce qui vit ». (D.L. VII, 147)

La formule assez étrange utilisée par le traducteur du texte de Platon (Léon Robin, dans la version de la Pléiade), « Ce nom unique a été scindé en deux, par le Div et le Zeus« , s’explique par les diverses formes que prend le nom Zeus en grec: Zeus est au nominatif, Dios est au génitif, Dii est le datif, l’accusatif a deux formes Dia ou Zêna; ces variations s’expliquent par l’étymologie, laquelle remonte à une racine sanskrite présentant aussi deux formes très proches: Div etDyauṣ.

Platon joue de la flexion du nom de Zeus pour faire ressortir la multiplicité de ses formes.

Mais c’est une multiplicité qui ne prend son vrai sens sens que par l’unicité du concept.

Pourquoi donc l’Être, seul et sage, ne veut-il pas être appelé l’Unique, mais du nom de Zeus?

Je propose cette réponse:

L’Être seul, sage ne veut pas être appelé l’Unique, parce que cet Un primordial, cet Unique, représente l’Être, seul dans sa Nuit, sa Nuit originaire.

Il veut être appelé du nom de ‘Zeus’, qui s’oppose à cette Nuit, parce que ce nom signifie originairement, en sanskrit, le « Brillant »xxii.

Zeus est le nom de la Lumière que l’Être sage et seul a voulu projeter sur le monde en sortant de sa Nuit.

Il a voulu sortir de sa Nuit de l’Un pour donner sa Lumière au Tout.


iJob 34,17

iiJob 34,24

iiiJob 36,5

ivFriedrich Creuzer. Religions de l’Antiquité. Traduction de l’allemand par Joseph-Daniel Guigniaut, Livre V ch.2 , Tome 2, 1ère partie, p.283 sq.

vF.W.J. von Schelling, Über die Gottheiten von Samothrace, Stuttgart, 1815, Note 113, p.107 sq.

viCf. William Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, traduit de l’allemand en anglais par Edward Robinson, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1939, p.287

vii(Coran 2 :217) « L’association est plus grave que le meurtre. » (9 : 5) « Après que les mois sacrés expirent, tuez les associateurs (mouchrikina) où que vous les trouviez. Capturez-les, assiégez-les et guettez-les dans toute embuscade. » (72:20) « Dis : ‘Je n’invoque que mon Seigneur et ne Lui associe personne’ ». (4 :171) « Ô gens du livre, n’exagérez pas dans votre religion, et ne dites d’Allah que la vérité. Le messie Jésus, fils de Marie, n’est qu’un messager d’Allah, sa parole qu’il envoya à Marie, et un souffle (de vie) venant de lui. Croyez donc en Allah et en ses messagers. Et ne dites pas « Trois ». Cessez! »

viiiJug. 20,11

ixDt 18,11

xIs. 47, 9.12

xiL’initiation, contrairement à celle des mystères d’Éleusis, était ouverte à tous. Le premier stade de l’initiation aux mystères est la myèsis (μύησις, « initiation »). Le candidat à l’initiation porte le nom de myste (μύστης / mústês). Selon Hérodote, la révélation initiale se fait autour de l’interprétation des images ithyphalliques d’Hermès-Kadmylos. Varron et Diodore rapportent que les symboles révélés à cette occasion évoquaient le Ciel et la Terre. Le second degré de l’initiation s’appelle épopteia (ἐποπτεία, « contemplation »). Elle n’est réalisée que par un petit nombre d’initiés, ce qui laisse penser qu’elle implique des conditions plus difficiles, comme la nécessité de confesser ses « fautes ». On y procède à des rites de lustration et à un sacrifice. Le hiérophante (ἱεροφάντης , « celui qui révèle le sacré »), récite la liturgie, et montre les symboles des mystères. (Source : Wikipédia)

xiiFriedrich Creuzer. Religions de l’antiquité, considérées principalement dans leurs formes symboliques et mythologiques. Traduit de l’allemand par J.D. Guigniaut. Tome II, 1ère partie, Ed. Treuttel et Wurz, Strasbourg, 1829, Livre V, p.288

xiiiJ. Willm. Histoire de la philosophie allemande depuis Kant jusqu’à Hegel. Tome III. Librairie philosophique de Ladrange, Paris, 1847, p.360

xiv« De transmutatione metallorum » dans Theatr. chem. (1602), I, p.574, cité par Jung in op.cit. p.425

xvC.G. Jung, Aiôn. Ettudes sur la phénoménologie du soi. Albin Miche, 2021, p.268-269

xviPhilippe Borgeaud, La Mère des dieux, de Cybèle à la Vierge Marie, Seuil, 1996, p. 9-10.

xviiPhilippe Borgeaud, La Mère des dieux, de Cybèle à la Vierge Marie, Seuil, 1996, p. 173.

xviiiF.W.J. von Schelling, Über die Gottheiten von Samothrace, Stuttgart, 1815, p.29

xixClément d’Alexandrie, Stromates V, 115,1

xxTraduction de Marcel Conche in Héraclite. Fragments. PUF, 1986, p.243

xxiKirk, p.393, cité par M. Conche in op.cit.

xxiiZeus vient du sanskrit Dyauṣ , द्यौष् , qui signifie le « Brillant » et qui est le nom propre de Dyau, le Ciel-Lumière personnifié. Ce mot vient de la racine dyut qui signifie « briller, resplendir, illuminer », et est apparenté à la racine dīv, « briller, resplendir » mais a aussi un sens moral: « jouer, être joyeux ». Le Zeus védique, Dyau, brille, resplendit et joue dans la joie…

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

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.

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: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thot

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

A Cruel Creator?

–Adi Śaṅkara–

Śaṅkara, the very famous Indian scholar of the ninth century AD, wanted to clear the Creator of all the evil in the world. The existence of evil and suffering agitates spirits, encourages questioning and sows doubt about the Lord’s intentions and His very nature, – leading the most skeptical to question the role of the Brahman in Creation.

A first objection to his responsibility points to the lack of any motive strong enough to compel the Brahman to come out of his own bliss and get down to the task of creating the Universe.

« The conscious, supreme Self could not create this Universal Sphere. Why could it not? Because it would lack a motive for this action.»i

Why would the Brahman undertake such an effort? Wouldn’t the Whole of Creation be considerably less than his own Self anyway? The Whole is nothing compared to the Self, to the Brahman. Śaṅkara quotes a famous Upaniṣad in this regard to support his position: « Truly it is not for the sake of the Whole that the Whole is dear, but for the sake of the Self that the Whole is dear.”ii

Why then would the Self consent to divest itself of its beatitude, freed from all desire, to undertake the colossal task of creating a universe? If it had done so, then it would directly contradict the Veda, which describes the Self as « desireless ».

Or would the Brahman have temporarily lost his mind, would a moment of madness have led him astray, during which he would have committed the universe? But then this would also contradict the Veda’s view that the Brahman is omniscient.

Consequently, it is perfectly incongruous to posit that the universe was created by a supremely intelligent or blissful Being.

A second line of criticism is the hypothesis that the Brahman created the Universe simply to ‘pass the time’.

“Creation for Brahman is a mere pastime”iii. His power being infinite, and all his desires being fulfilled, Creation is just one game among others, without any real stakes or consequences, just as a king would indulge in some sports activity, or any other relaxation, without any particular reason, or even as a kind of reflex, automatic activity, such as breathing, which does not require any a priori reason, but simply takes place, without the consciousness taking part in it.

The third objection concerns the existence of evil in the universe, and the cruelty and injustice it would reveal in the Lord, the Brahman.

« Yet the Lord cannot be the cause of the universe.

– Why then?

– Because he would then have been biased and cruel, by procuring extreme happiness for some, such as gods, etc., and extreme misery for others, such as animals, and by reserving a mixed fate for others, including humans. He would have fabricated a world of inequalities, thus manifesting preferences and rejections, in the manner of an ordinary man. This would ruin the nature of the Lord, made of purity, etc., as Revelation and Tradition make it known to us. Moreover, by dispensing pain and death to beings, he would show a ‘cruelty’, a ferocity abhorred even by the dregs of the people.

– To this we answer: No, ‘because it takes into account (merit and demerit)’. If the Lord created this world of inequalities without taking anything into account, he would indeed be guilty of both sins […] but in reality, in composing this unequal creation, he has regard for merit and demerit. Just as Parjanya [god of rain] plays the role of general cause in the production of rice, barley, etc., while the particular potentialities contained in the seeds of these various grains account for their mutual differences, so the Lord is the general cause of gods, men and others (classes of living beings), while the unequal condition between these classes of beings has as its particular causes the acts (previously) performed by each individual soul.”iv

Everyone is responsible for his or her actions, and pays the price or reaps the benefit, age after age, in the cycle of reincarnations.

The Lord is not responsible for evil, it is the creatures who freely indulge in evil deeds, and who, as a result, are reborn endlessly to do more evil.

All this seems quite logical. The Lord created the Whole, but is responsible for nothing.

It is therefore that creatures are essentially, eminently free (and therefore responsible) for what they are, and what they become.

Two sets of questions then arise.

– Who is responsible for the intimate nature of each being? Of their very essence? That is to say, of the faculty of this or that being to act in accordance with the nature of ‘good’ or ‘evil’? Why is one called ‘good’ and the other ‘evil’? If it is not the Lord Creator Himself, who populated the world with good, bad, or intermediate creatures, and thus launched them into the endless cycle of transmigration, who is it?

– What is the purpose of Creation? Why was it created, with its seemingly inevitable procession of suffering and pain? What interests does this immense circus of samsara serve?

The theory of māyā (illusion) is one of the possible answers to these questions, at least it is the answer of Advaita, the »non-duality », as theorized by Śaṅkara.

Advaita says that the Whole has always been the Self itself. But the creatures who are part of the Whole ignore it. They do not know that their own self is the Self. The endless cycle of reincarnations only ends when awakening or liberation makes beings aware of the identity of their self with the Self.

By translating māyā as ‘illusion’, I am picking up a long tradition of translations.

A famous formula uses the word and applies it by extension to the Lord, who would then be an « illusionist ».

« Understand the material nature (prakṛti) as an illusion and the Great Lord (maheśvara) as an illusionist.”v

Despite the almost universal consensus, there is still serious doubt about the meaning of the very notion of māyā.

Alyette Degrâces for instance refuses the very idea of ‘illusion’ and she translates the verse as follows:

« Nature is the power of measurement and the Great Lord is the master of measurement.”vi

And in a note about the Lord « master of the māyā », she develops a tight argument to justify having thus departed from the usual translation of māyā by ‘illusion’.

« This term is impossible to translate, and especially not as an illusionist as it is found in many translations (but not Max Müller’s or the Indian translators). The māyā, witha 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 absorbs 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.”vii

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

By consulting Monier-Williams’ dictionary at māyā, we 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 ṚgVeda that 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 last meanings are all frankly pejorative, and are clearly in contrast with the original meaning of the word, « wisdom », itself based on the etymology of « measure ».

We can then consider that, before the age of ṚgVeda (i.e. more than a millennium before the time of Abraham), there has been a complete reversal of the meaning of the word, changing from « wisdom » to « deception, fraud, illusion ».

These considerations may put us in a position to answer the following question:

Why did the supreme Brahman delegate to the Brahman ‘aparaṃ’ the care of creating a universe so full of evils and illusions?

The reason is that evils and illusions, frauds and deceptions, are there for « wisdom » to live and flourish.

The world of māyā, originally, is not the world of evils and illusions but the world that « wisdom » founded, and that creatures must « measure ».

The Brahman is the master of wisdom.

And creation, the whole creation, therefore the Whole, also has the vocation of appropriating « wisdom ».

A millennium after ṚgVeda, other Scriptures took up the idea again.

« Who put wisdom in the ibis?”viii

« YHVH, through wisdom, founded the earth.”ix

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

It is rather unwise, then, in my opinion, to see in wisdom only an illusion.


iŚaṅkara. Brahmasūtra bhasya, II, 1, 32. Trans. from Sanskrit into English by Swami Gambhirananda, Advaita Ashrama, ed., Calcutta, 1956, p. 360.

iiBṛhadāraṇyaka-Upaniṣad, 2.4.5. My translation in English from the French translation by.Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014

iiiŚaṅkara. Brahmasūtra bhasya, II, 1, 33, translated from Sanskrit into English by Swami Gambhirananda, Ed. Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1956, p. 361.

ivŚaṅkara. Commentary at Brahmasūtra, II, 1, 32-34. Quot. Michel Hulin. Shankara and non-duality. Ed. Bayard. 2001, p.148

vŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.10. My translation in English from the French translation by Michel Hulin. Shankara and non-duality. Ed. Bayard. 2001, p.144

viŚvetāśvatara-Upaniṣad 4.10. My translation in English from the French translation by Alyette Degrâces, Fayard, 2014

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

viiiJob 38.36

ixPr 3.19

xSir 1.4

Bráhman’s Salt and Thirst

–A Salt Mountain–

Why should we seek to become the bráhman, since the Veda states that we already are?

The revealed words, which later, after many centuries of oral tradition, became Scripture, seem to carry within them profound contradictions.

For example, the Veda affirms that, in brâhman, being and thinking are one, absolutely one.

How can there be then, on the one hand, very real and well hidden, the bráhman, absolutely one, being and thought, and on the other hand, in the world, men, who are also thinking, conscious beings, and who think of themselves as individual, finite, separate beings?

Let’s be logical.

Either men are not really bráhman or they arei.

If men are not really bráhman, then what are they, since everything is in bráhman, and everything is bráhman? Are they only an illusion, or even just nothing, a mere nothingness?

If they really are bráhman, then why do they think of themselves as individuals and as separate from it/her? Or even, why do they think of themselves as the only existing and thinking ones, the bráhman her- or itself being in their eyes only an illusion…

Shouldn’t their thought and being be ‘naturally’ united with the thought and being of the bráhman because it/she is absolutely one?

If being and thinking are part of the essence of the bráhman, how is it that thinking beings, conscious beings, can so easily doubt that they are already, in some way, bráhman?

For it is a common observation. The individual soul (jīva) feels a thousand miles away from being bráhman because she is overwhelmed by her obvious narrowness, by her limits. She is suffocated by the consciousness of the determinations (upādhi) that she undergoes, by her incarnation in a body.

If one adopts the path, particularly developed by Śaṅkaraii, of the identity of the self (of man) and of the Self (of bráhman), then one must conclude that these limits, these narrownesses, these determinations are only illusion, they are only « names and forms projected in it by nescience » (avidyāpratyupasthāpita nāma-rūpa).

Nescience is what best defines the human condition. Man, who is supposed to be bráhman, does not even suspect it, and his conscience is in full confusion. All planes (reality, illusion, names, forms) are superimposed. This superposition (adhyāsa) seems innate, natural, consubstantial.

Where does this metaphysical illusion, this confusion come from?

Could it have been deposited in man from the very beginning, by the Creator?

But then, why this deliberate deception, and to what end?

Another hypothesis: if the Creator is not at the origin of this illusion, this confusion, this ignorance, would they come from an even deeper source?

If the Creator is not responsible for them, it is because they are already there, came before Him, and are immanent, and present not only in creation, but also in Him.

What? How could bráhman be in such ignorance, such confusion, even partial? Isn’t It/He/She supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient?

It is however a path of reflection that must necessarily be considered if we want to exempt bráhman from having deliberately created confusion and ignorance in its/her/his Creation…

You have to face the alternative.

« Indeed, either the bráhman would be ‘affected’ by nescience, in the sense that the individual living being is affected, and it/she would then become a kind of super-jīva, the Great Ignorant, the Great Suffering and the Great Transmigrant. Or it/she would not be fooled by its/her own māyā, which it/she would use above all as an instrument to create, abuse and torment souls, which would then be like toys or puppets in its/her hands. »iii

This alternative led, from the 10th century onwards, to the creation of two schools of thought, the « school of Bhāmati » and the « school of Vivaraṇa ». Both are in the tradition of Śaṅkara and advocate respectively the idea that nescience is « rooted in the living individual » (jīvāśritā), or that the notion of nescience is « rooted in bráhman » (brahmāśritā).

Who is the bearer of nescience? Man or bráhman?

In fact we don’t know. Nobody decides. And speculation in this respect seems futile.

A famous formula sums up this vanity: sad-asad-anirvacanīyā, « impossible to determine (अनिर्वचनीय anirvacanīyā), either as existing (sad) or as non-existent (asad)« .

This idea that there is something inexplicable often comes up.

So is the illusion, māyā, real or not?

Answer: « It is neither real nor unreal. Since the world appears, māyā is not unreal. But since māyā is contradicted by the knowledge of the Self, it is not real either.

So what is she? As she cannot be both real and non-real, she is inexplicable, indeterminable, anirvacanīyā. iv

What is inexplicable, we must not stop there. It must be transcended. We must go higher.

If the body, the mind, the life itself are māyā, one must seek liberation (mokṣa), to reach the eternal nature of the Self.

 » ‘The Self (ātman), who is free from evil, free from old age, free from death, free from suffering, free from hunger and thirst, whose desires are reality, whose intentions are reality, – it is He whom one should seek, He whom one should desire to understand. He obtains all the worlds and all the desires, the one who discovers the Self and understands it’, thus spoke Prajāpati. »v

But how do you do it in practice?

It is enough to be perplexed, enough to get lost…

« From this Self we can only say ‘neither… nor…’. It is elusive because it cannot be grasped. »vi

« This Self is neither this nor that. »vii

« Neither… nor…  » neti neti, नेति .

We don’t know what this Self is, but we know that this Self, – we are it.

« This is the Self, This you are. »viii

Famous formula, – one of the « great words », with « I am bráhman » ix.

You are the Self. You are That.

In its context: « It is what is the fine essence (aṇiman), the whole has it as its essence (etad-ātmaka), it is reality, it is the Self (ātman). You are that (tat tvam asi), Ṡvetaku. » x

You are That, and nothing else.

« But if someone worships another deity, thinking, ‘He is one, I am another,’ he doesn’t know. Like cattle, he is for the gods. » xi

This Vedic formula is reminiscent of that of the Psalmist: « Man in his luxury does not understand, he is like dumb cattle. »xii

But the nuance is a bit different. In the psalm, the mutity (of man) stems from his lack of understanding. In the Upaniṣad, the lack of knowledge (of man) leads to mutity (of the gods).

The logic of the absolute identity of the self and the Self leads us to ask the question again, in crude terms: What does the idea of the nescience of bráhman imply?

Could it be that its/her omniscience is fundamentally limited, for example to what has been, and to what is, leaving the space of possibilities wide open?

Could it be that Creation, still in the process of unfolding, has an essential role in the emergence of a future knowledge, not yet happened, not yet known?

Could it be that the great narrative of Cosmogenesis can only be understood by putting it in parallel with the development of a Psychogenesis (of the world)?

From another angle :

Does the Supreme Lord (parameśvara) use māyā as an instrument to unfold the universe, while remaining hidden, in His own order, in His own kingdom?

Or would He be the (sacrificial) « victim » of His own māyā?

Or, yet another hypothesis, would He be the « architect » of a māyā that would cover at the same time man, the world and Himself?

Would He have deliberately planned, as an essential condition of the great cosmo-theandric psychodrama, His own letting go?

In this case, would the determinations, names and forms (upādhi and nāma-rūpa) that are imposed on men and living beings have similar forms for bráhman?

For example, would His ‘clemency’, His ‘rigor’, His ‘intelligence’, His ‘wisdom’, which are all ‘names’ or ‘attributes’ of the supreme divinity (I am quoting here names and attributes which are found in Judaism) be the nāma-rūpa of bráhman?

Names and forms (nāma-rūpa) are supposed to be contained in bráhman like a block of clay that contains the infinity of shapes that the potter can draw from it.

There would therefore be names and forms in the latent state, and names and forms in the manifest state.

But why this radical difference?

In other words, what animates the ‘potter’? Why does he model this particular vase and not another one?

Does he make his choices freely, and just by chance?

And by the way, who is this potter? The bráhman? Or only one of its/her forms (rūpa)?

No. The bráhman created ‘in Herself’, – in Hebrew it sounds like: אַךְ בָּך, akh bakhxiii , the possibility of a Potter, and the power of Clay. Why is this? Because She does not yet know who She will be, nor what She would like to become?

Being « everything », She is infinitely powerful, but in order for acts to emerge from this infinite Power, a seed, a will is still needed. Where would this seed, this will come from?

Every will comes from a desire, which reveals a lack, Schopenhauer taught us.xiv

The bráhman is everything, so what is It/She missing?

The only logical possibility that is left : the bráhman is missing « missing ».

It/She lacks desire.

In fact, one of Its/Her names is akāma, « without desire ».

« In It/Her », there is therefore this lack, this absence of desire, because It/She is fullness, because It/She is already Everything.

But if the bráhman were only akāma, « without desire », then there would be nothing, no act, no will, no world, no man, nothing.

Indeed, we need to understand akāma in another way.

If It/She is a-kāma, « without desire », It/She is also « a- » , « without » (the privative a- in Sanskrit).

If It/She is « a- » or « without », it is because in It/Her there is a lack. A metaphysical lack.

It/She lacks Its/Her own lack.

Lacking of a lack, It/She desires to desire, It/She wishes to desire.

In It/She comes the desire, the will, wherever It/She is a-, wherever It/She is « without », wherever It/She is « not »-this or « not »-that, neti neti.

The bráhman, confronted with the immanent presence, « in It/Her », of that « lack », of that « a- » , is then confronted with the apparent separation of Its/Her being (sat) and Its/Her thought (cit).

In philosophical terms, « thought » finds in front of itself « being », a « being » in its raw state.

This raw being, which is not « thought », which is « unthought » (a-cit), having no or no more internal unity, fragments, dissolves, incarnates itself in an unlimited diversity of bodies.

These fragments of the being of the bráhman are like pieces of a hologram. Each one of them is the Whole, but less well defined, more blurred. But also, coming from the unlimited bráhman, each of them has its own unlimited power.

Thought does not divide, it augments, it multiplies itself, it generates.

Thoughts are alive. They are not like the inert pieces of a broken pot, but like the begotten children of living beings.

On the same question, Śaṅkara proposes yet another idea, that of gambling.

As happens in the life of an idle King, the Supreme Lord was able to create His Creation by play (līlā).

But this metaphor still brings us back to lack. The bráhman is the only reality, but this reality possesses an emptiness, an idleness, – hence some room to play.

It is necessary to reinterpret the essential unity of the bráhman and the living man (jīva), the unity of the Supreme Self and the Incarnate Self. It is the unity resulting from fullness and lack.

The incarnate self acts and suffers. The supreme Self is beyond « evil » and beyond « the other », – beyond any Other, therefore, but It is not beyond its own lack of lack.

The Self is creator, omniscient, omnipotent, in relation to all that was, and all that is, in act. But He is not omnipotent in relation to what is in potency, to all that will be or might be, and to all that will exist only because it is already and will continue to be part of His own lack, and of the desire that this lack will create. This lack, this desire, yet to come, will be like a means for the bráhman to surpass itself/herself, to surpass its/her own infinity.

The bráhman is like « a block of salt is, without interior or exterior, it is only a whole block of flavor (eka rasa). So is this Self (ātman), without interior or exterior, it is only a whole block of knowledge ».xv

It is a new confirmation. The bráhman is here three times « without ». Without interior. Without exterior. Without any taste other than the taste of salt alone.

It is a sad and dry infinity, frankly, deep down, that of an infinite block of salt.

In addition, the infinite thirst that such an infinite block of salt may generate, is obviously still missing here.


iThere may be other assumptions as well. After considering the impossibility of deciding on this first alternative, a third way will have to be considered, the one that man is the potential bráhman but not the actual bráhman. Conversely, the bráhman is also in potency, and in this potency he is man.

iiŚaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Transl. by Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013

iiiMichel Hulin. Śaṅkara and non-duality. Ed. Bayard. Paris, 2001, p.92

ivŚaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings.Transl. by Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p.30

vChāndogya-upaniṣad 8.7.1. Translation in French by Alyette Degrâces (adapted and modified by myself in English) . Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 199

viBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 3.9.26 and 4.5.15. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 275 and p. 298.

viiBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 3.9.26 cited by Śaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Trad. Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p. 39.

viiiChāndogya-upaniṣad 6.8.7 cited by Śaṅkara. The Thousand Teachings. Trad. Anasuya from the edition by A.J. Alston. Ed. Arfuyen. 2013, p. 47.

ixBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 1.4.10

xChāndogya-upaniṣad 8.6.7. Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p. 176

xiBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 1.4.10. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p.233

xiiPs 49:13

xiiiSee the article « Only with you אַךְ בָּך, akh bakh » on Metaxu, Philippe Quéau’s Blog.

xivCf. A. Schopenhauer. The world as will and representation.

xvBṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad 4.5.13. Transl. by Alyette Degrâces. Ed. Fayard. 2014, p.298

Les quatre états de la conscience

« Je dors mais mon cœur veille » (Ct 5,2).

Le Cantique des cantiques a fait couler beaucoup d’encre, et suscité de multiples interprétations.

Parmi elles, beaucoup me chaut (du verbe chaloir) la figure de la Sulamite comme métaphore de la conscience, face à son propre mystère, et face à son Créateur.

« Je dors mais mon cœur veille ». Ani yéchnah, vé libbi ‘er.i

Quand la conscience est assoupie, une autre forme de conscience, — dont nous n’avons pas clairement conscience –, semble veiller encore.

Comment, et pourquoi? Existe-t-il d’autres formes de ‘conscience’ encore, dont nous n’aurions pas conscience, et qui par exemple opéreraient lors du sommeil profond?

Quand notre conscience active est apparemment « endormie », reste en éveil une conscience dans la nuit, qui semble résider dans le « cœur », et qui « veille » sur le sommeil de la conscience du jour. Cette conscience sise dans le « cœur » n’est pas de l’ordre du mental, puisqu’en l’occurrence le mental dort. Relève-t-elle alors de l’intuition, de la psyché, de l’âme, ou de quelque autre entité spirituelle?

Que signifie d’ailleurs le ‘cœur’ (levav, en hébreu, lev en chaldéen), particulièrement dans le contexte biblique?

Le dictionnaire offre une large gamme de sens.ii

A les examiner attentivement, il apparaît clairement que le cœur est lui-même bien plus profond et plus complexe qu’on ne saurait l’exprimer, et que son essence ne saurait être rendue par quelque acception que ce soit. Non seulement une formule singulière ne saurait le définir, mais toutes celles que l’on peut lui attribuer ouvrent incessamment de nouvelles pistes à la recherche.

Si le cœur veille sur la conscience qui sommeille, on peut en induire en principe la possible mise en parallèle de la conscience classique avec d’autres modalités plus cachées et plus diversifiées de conscience. D’autres formes de conscience, plus subtiles, peuvent habiter souterrainement le même moi…

Pour fixer les idées, et entamer le débat, je distinguerai ici cinq formes possibles de conscience.

Mais comme la conscience est un phénomène éminemment complexe, il pourrait y en avoir bien davantage. Des dizaines de niveaux de conscience pourraient être envisagés a priori.

On pourrait même postuler l’hypothèse d’une infinité de niveaux de conscience, si l’on se représente que la conscience divine est infiniment repliée sur elle-même, ou, ce qui revient au même, qu’elle se déplie infiniment elle-même dans l’infini de sa puissance. Dans ses plis, elle cache ce qu’elle fut (en puissance), et dans ses replis elle donne de la lumière à ce qu’elle est en train de devenir (en acte).

Les cinq formes possibles de conscience que j’énonce ici représentent diverses manières de conjuguer conscience et inconscient, ou au contraire de les séparer:

1.Il y a la conscience qui sent, pense, raisonne, cogite, veut, et qu’on appellera ‘conscience consciente’.

2.Il y a la conscience du ‘cœur’, pour reprendre l’image du Cantique des cantiques. Elle semble sub-consciente et elle ne se révèle que lorsque la ‘conscience consciente’ s’assoupit, montrant alors qu’elle veille, sur notre sommeil, nos rêves, et nos aspirations.

3.Il y a, comme l’enseignent Freud et Jung, chacun à sa manière, un inconscient (personnel) dont on a bien conscience qu’il existe en effet, sans avoir exactement conscience de la profondeur et de la nature de son contenu.

A propos de l’inconscient personnel, la ‘conscience consciente’ et la ‘conscience du cœur’ se forment une conscience sous-jacente, implicite, latente, et peu informée, en fait, de la réalité de l’inconscient cosmique.

4. Il y a dans cet ‘inconscient cosmique’, infini en soi, plusieurs niveaux de profondeurs et d’obscurité. On y trouve par exemple le ça, le Soi, et les archétypes de l’inconscient dit « collectif », auxquels on pourrait ajouter tous les archétypes du vivant non-humain, et même, pourquoi pas les archétypes du non-vivant animé (comme les virus, les prions, ou les particules élémentaires…).

Cet inconscient infini est pour partie ‘conscient’ du Soi. Cette conscience du Soi représente une quatrième forme de conscience.

5. Mais, et c’est là une hypothèse, il y a aussi une part infinie de l’inconscient cosmique qui reste ‘inconsciente’ du Soi.

Notons que ces cinq catégories hybrident de façon spécifique conscience et inconscient. Elles sont seulement indicatives, et elles seraient propres à de nouvelles hybridations, et dépassements, sur d’autres bases, restant à découvrir.

On pourrait d’ailleurs, comme on l’a dit, imaginer que Dieu Lui-même dispose d’une infinité de niveaux de conscience.

Pourquoi parler d’une infinité de niveaux et non pas d’une seule conscience (divine) puisque le Dieu unique est un Dieu Un?

Dans le contexte du judaïsme, pourtant peu suspect de renoncer facilement au principe du Dieu Un, la Cabale juive n’hésite pas à poser dix Sefirot, comme autant d’émanations du Dieu Un, susceptibles de le « représenter » dans le monde ici-bas, d’une manière plus singularisée.

Si le Dieu du monothéisme juif se fait représenter par dix Sefirot, et si la Torah enseigne que le Dieu unique est apparu à Abraham sous la forme de trois « hommes », on pourrait formuler l’idée que, après tout, certaines synthèses supérieures sont peut-être possibles entre monothéisme et polythéisme.

Les théologies de l’Un et du Multiple, de la transcendance ou de l’immanence, sont-elles irréconciliables? En apparence oui.

En réalité, il se pourrait que l’Un ne soit pas réellement « un », comme le disait déjà Damascios, citant Platon: « L’Un, s’Il est, n’est même pas un. »iii

L’Un, qu’il soit platonicien, plotinien ou hébraïque, dans sa pure transcendance, ne peut certes pas être limité par un attribut quantitatif, comme l’idée toute arithmétique de « l’un ». Et s’il n’est pas numériquement « un », c’est que le concept infiniment riche de « l’Un » inclut et intègre nécessairement le multiple dans son unitéiv.

Plutôt que d’employer la formule de « l’Un », Damascios préfère d’ailleurs l’expression grecque ‘panté aporêton, qui peut se traduire comme « l’absolument indicible ». Elle rend compte de l’idée de Platon selon laquelle l’Un est inconnaissable (agnostôn) et indicible (arrêton).v

Si la Divinité est « absolument indicible », peut-être n’est-Elle pas entièrement dicible pour Elle-même, et à Elle-même?

Elle serait donc en partie inconsciente d’Elle-même.

Certes il faudrait alors, provisoirement, renoncer au dogme de l’omniscience divine, et reporter la mise en acte de cette omniscience à quelque fin des Temps, éminemment reculée…

Mais ce dogme est fortement problématique, de toutes façons.

En effet si Dieu était effectivement absolument omniscient et omnipotent, Il aurait alors les moyens de prévenir dès avant la Création l’existence de tout Mal. Ce qu’Il n’a pas fait. C’est donc, soit qu’Il n’est pas Omniscient et Omnipotent, soit qu’Il n’est pas Bon.

Dans les deux cas, il y a place pour un Inconscient divin…

Autrement dit, et par contraste, il se pourrait que dans l’infinité en puissance de la Divinité, il y ait bien, latente, une infinité de niveaux de conscience et d’inconscient.

Mais revenons aux cinq niveaux de conscience que je décrivais un peu plus haut.

Dans la tradition védique, on trouve explicitement énoncés quatre niveaux de conscience, présentés comme les quatre états de l’Ātman, ou du Soi.

La Divinité, une et suprême, que les Upaniṣad appellent le brahman, se présente elle-même ainsi:

« Je suis le Voyant, pur, et par nature, Je ne change pas. Par nature, il n’y a pas d’objet pour Moi, étant l’Infini, complètement plein, de face, à travers, en haut, en bas et dans toutes les directions. Je suis non-né, et Je réside en Moi-même. »vi

Puis la Divinité décrit les trois niveaux de conscience des créatures rationnelles et humaines (éveil, rêve, sommeil profond) et indique qu’ils sont absolument incapables d’entrer en rapport avec Elle-même de manière signifiante.

Elle oppose en fait ces trois niveaux de la conscience humaine à un quatrième niveau de la conscience, qui correspond à la sienne propre, et qu’elle nomme elliptiquement « le Quatrième ».

« Que ce soit dans l’état de sommeil profond, d’éveil ou bien de rêve, aucune perception trompeuse n’apparaît dans ce monde-ci, qui puisse Me concerner. Comme ces trois états de conscience n’ont aucune existence, ni autonome ni dépendante, Je suis toujours le Quatrièmevii, le Voyant et le non-duel. »viii

Ces quatre états de la conscience sont finement explicités par la Māṇḍūkya-Upaniṣad.

« Car le brahman est ce Tout. Le brahman est ce Soi (ātman), et ce Soi a quatre quarts.

L’état de veille, connaissant ce qui est extérieur, ayant sept membres, dix-neuf bouches, faisant l’expérience du grossier, est Vaiśvānara « l’universel »ix — le premier quart.

L’état de rêve, connaissant ce qui est intérieur, ayant sept membres, dix-neuf bouches, faisant l’expérience du subtil, est Taijasa « le lumineux » — deuxième quart.

Lorsque, endormi, on ne désire aucun désir, on ne voit aucun rêve, c’est le sommeil profond. L’état de sommeil profond est un, il est un seul bloc de connaissance car, fait de félicité, il fait l’expérience de la félicité. Il est la bouche de la conscience, il est le connaissant (prājña) — troisième quart.

C’est lui le Seigneur de tout, lui le connaisseur de tout, lui le maître intérieur; il est la matrice de tout, car l’origine et la fin des êtres.

Ni connaissant ce qui est intérieur, ni connaissant ce qui est extérieur, ni connaissant l’un et l’autre ensemble, ni bloc de connaissance, ni connaissant ni non-connaissant, ni visible, ni lié à l’action, insaisissable, indéfinissable, impensable, innommable, essence de la connaissance du Soi unique, ce en quoi le monde se résorbe, tout de paix, bienveillant, non duel — on le considère comme le Quatrième. C’est lui, le Soi qu’il faut discerner. »x

Le « Quatrième » (état de conscience). En sanskrit: turīya. On voit qu’il ne se définit que par une série de négations, mais aussi deux affirmations positives: il est « tout de paix » et « bienveillant ».

Il est intéressant de s’arrêter un instant sur la racine du mot turīya (तुरीय): TṜ (तॄ) dont le sens est « traverser ». Louis Renouxi estime qu’elle révèle l’essence du mot « quatrième » (turīya), qu’il faut comprendre comme « ce qui traverse, ce qui est ou ce qui conduit au-delà ».

On ne peut résister au plaisir de rapprocher cette racine sanskrite TṜ (तॄ) de la racine hébraïque ‘abar (עבר) qui a le même sens: « passer, aller au travers, traverser; aller au-delà, franchir, dépasser », et qui est aussi la racine même du mot « hébreu »…

Comme on a vu, la Sulamite est consciente de deux états, celui de la veille et celui du sommeil, pendant lequel c’est le cœur qui veille.

Mais que se passe-t-il, pourrait-on demander, quand la Sulamite n’est même plus consciente que son cœur veille?

Que se passe-t-il pour elle quand elle entre dans le « sommeil profond »?

Un autre commentaire de Śaṅkara permet de cerner cette notion de sommeil profond, et ce qu’elle implique.

« Lorsque l’on pense: ‘Je n’ai rien vu du tout dans l’état de sommeil profond’, on ne dénie pas sa propre Vision, on nie seulement ses propres notions. »xii

Autrement dit, on ne nie pas sa capacité à voir, qui reste intacte dans le sommeil profond, on constate seulement qu’il n’y a alors rien à voir, du moins apparemment.

En effet on peut arguer qu’il reste à voir dans le sommeil profond qu’il n’y a rien à y voir, et aussi qu’il reste à observer la conscience en train de prendre conscience de sa singulière nature, qui est de continuer d’exister, alors qu’elle est censée n’être plus consciente d’elle-même, ce qui est un paradoxe, admettons-le, pour une « Pure Conscience »…

La Pure Conscience continue d’exister, bien qu’elle n’ait (momentanément) rien à considérer, mais comment prend-elle conscience de sa pure existence, sans avoir le moyen de l’exercer sur quelque réalité « visible »?

« Personne ne voit rien dans l’état de sommeil profond, mais ceci ne veut pas dire que dans le sommeil profond, la Pure Conscience cesse d’exister. C’est seulement parce qu’il n’y a aucun objet visible que rien n’est vu dans le sommeil profond, et non pas parce que la Pure Conscience cesse d’être. C’est grâce à la Pure Conscience que l’on peut dénier alors l’existence d’objets visibles. »xiii

Les Écritures (védiques) affirment « l’existence de la Conscience et son immuabilité, disant que telle personne atteint sa propre ‘illumination’xiv et que ‘il n’y a pas de disparition de la vision pour le voyant, à cause de son indestructibilité’xv, déclarant la périssabilité des notions. Ainsi les Écritures elles-mêmes séparent les notions de l’Éveil. »xvi

La tradition védique, on le voit, a longuement théorisé ces quatre états de la conscience: la veille, le rêve, le sommeil profond, et ce qu’elle appelle le « quatrième » [état], à savoir l’Éveil.

Il y a là une sorte d’échelle de Jacob de la conscience, avec quatre niveaux successifs.

Ceci n’épuise pas le tout du mystère.

On subodore que chacun de ces niveaux de conscience développe en lui-même des profondeurs propres.

Reprenant l’image de la conscience dont la Sulamite nous offre l’image inoubliable, on en vient à imaginer d’autres ordres de complexité encore.

Chaque niveau de conscience possède sa richesse propre, qui est développable horizontalement, en quelque sorte, et pas seulement verticalement, par intrication avec des niveaux supérieurs.

Pour aider à percevoir ces phénomènes d’intrication entre l’horizontal et le vertical, l’hébreu biblique peut fournir de précieuses indications, comme langue mémorielle, au moins autant que le sanskrit, langue sacrée, chacune avec son génie propre.

Partons du mot « veille »,עֵר, ‘er, employé par la Sulamite.

Ce mot vient du verbe hébreu עוּר, ‘iwer, « être éveillé, veiller, se réveiller ». Cette racine verbale possède un autre sens, particulièrement remarquable dans le contexte où nous nous situons: « aveugler, rendre aveugle ».

Tout se passe comme si « être éveillé » équivalait à une sorte de cécité.

Lorsque l’on cherche dans le texte biblique toutes les racines verbales associées d’une façon ou une autre à l’idée de ‘veille’, on en trouve principalement cinq:

עוּר (iwer) « être éveillé, se réveiller »

צפה (tsafah) « voir, regarder, surveiller, épier, observer, espérer »xvii

שָׁקֵד (chaqed) « veiller »xviii

נָצַר (natsar) « garder, veiller avec soin, observer avec fidélité, conserver (la Loi) »xix

שָׁמַר(chamar) »garder, surveiller, protéger ».xx

Ces cinq racines représentent une espèce de spectrographie de la gamme des sortes de conscience que le génie hébraïque porte en lui, et qui peuvent se caractériser selon les thèmes suivants:

S’ÉVEILLER – DORMIR (La conscience dort ou s’éveille).

VOIR – ESPÉRER (La conscience voit, ou bien elle pressent, et si elle ne voit pas, elle espère).

VEILLER – PRÉVENIR (La conscience veille toujours, et elle peut de ce fait annoncer l’avenir au bénéfice de ce qui en elle dort encore).

GARDER – CONSERVER (La conscience conserve la mémoire. On peut ajouter qu’elle « crée » aussi le présent, car « conserver » = « créer » selon la 3ème Méditation métaphysique de Descartesxxi).

SURVEILLER – PROTÉGER (La conscience garde du mal et elle protège).

Philosophiquement, on en déduit ces caractérisations:

La conscience est une figure de la naissance et de la mort.

La conscience est intuition — de la réalité, ou des possibles.

La conscience (prémonitoire) relie l’avenir au présent.

La conscience (inductrice) noue mémoire et création.

La conscience protège l’homme du monde et de lui-même.

Sans la conscience, donc:

Pas de différence entre la vie et la mort; entre la réalité et le possible.

Pas de liens entre l’avenir et le présent; entre la mémoire et l’invention.

Pas de séparation entre l’homme et le monde, l’homme et le mal.

Autrement dit: l’inconscient relie la vie et la mort; la réalité et le possible; il sépare l’avenir du présent; et la création de la mémoire. Il assimile l’homme au monde et au mal.

Plus profondément encore, on voit que dans la conscience, comme dans l’inconscient, il y a à la fois une forme de séparation entre ce qui relève de la ‘séparation’ et ce qui ressort du ‘lien’, et une forme de continuité entre ce qui relève de la ‘séparation’ et ce qui ressort de la ‘continuité’.

Ceci peut être subsumé par l’idée d’intrication, non pas quantique, mais métaphysique.

Autrement dit:

Toute forme de conscience possède une part d’inconscient, et réciproquement.

Ceci s’applique aussi à la conscience divine, et à l’inconscient cosmique.


iCt 5,2 :אֲנִי יְשֵׁנָה, וְלִבִּי עֵר

ii On relève dans le Sander-Trenel les acceptions suivantes: a) Le cœur comme incarnant la vie elle-même. « Vos cœurs vivront dans l’éternité » (Ps. 22,27). b)Le cœur comme siège des sens et des passions (joie, tristesse, confiance, mépris, amertume, colère, dureté), et surtout de l’amour. « (Aime Dieu) de tout ton cœur. » (…be-kal levev-ḥa, Dt 6,5). c) Le cœur comme siège des sentiments moraux. Un cœur ‘pur’, ‘fidèle’, ‘droit’, ‘simple’, ‘profond’, ‘impénétrable’, ‘fier’, ou au ‘contraire’, ‘pervers’, ‘corrompu’, ‘hypocrite’, ‘double’. d) Le cœur comme siège de la volonté et du jugement.

iiiDamascius dit que selon Platon « l’Un s’il est, n’est même pas un; et s’il n’est pas, aucun discours ne lui conviendra, de sorte que de lui il n’y a même aucune négation (apophasis), ni aucun nom, de sorte que l’Un est incomplètement inconnaissable (agnostôn) et indicible (arrêton) ». Damascius Pr. t.1, p.9, 3-8 . Cf. Platon, Parménide 141 e 10-12 , 142 a

ivDe tout ceci on pourrait aussi tirer l’idée que Dieu est un infini en puissance, non un infini en acte (comme le pensait Descartes). Si Dieu était un infini en acte, alors il n’y aurait aucune place en Lui pour du fini (ou du non-infini) ou encore pour de l’être en puissance, puisque tout en Lui serait infini et en acte. La kénose consisterait alors pour Dieu à se vider de son actualité infinie, pour laisser en dehors de Lui une possibilité d’existence à des créatures finies, toujours en puissance de se transformer.

vPlaton, Parménide 141 e 10-12 , 142 a

vi« I am Seeing, pure and by nature changeless. There is by nature no object for me. Beeing the Infinite, completely filled in front, across, up, down, and in every direction, I am unborn, abiding in Myself. » Śaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 10, « Seeing », p.123 §2

viiLe commentaire de Śaṅkara explique ce terme de cette façon: « The ātman in the waking state is called vaiśvānara (Upad I, 17,65), that in the dreaming state taijasa (Upad I,15,24), and that in the state of deep sleep prājña(Upad I, 15,25).These three kinds of ātman are not the true Ātman. The true Ātman transcends all these three, and It is called Turīya (Upad I, 10,4). »

viii« Whether in the state of deep sleep or of waking or of dreaming, no delusive perception appears to pertain to Me in this world. As those [three states] have no existence, self-dependent or other-dependent, I am always the Fourth, the Seeing and the non-dual. » Ibid.§4

ixIl est Vaiśvānara « car il mène diversement tous les êtres (viśnara) à leur bonheur » (MaUB 3)

xMāṇḍūkya- Upaniṣad. 2-7. Trad. du sanskrit par Alyette Degrâces. Les Upaniṣad, Ed. Fayard, 2014, p. 506-508

xi L. Renou. »Sur la notion de Brahman ». in L’Inde fondamentale, 1978, p.86

xiiŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 18, §97, p.182

xiiiŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. Introduction, p.45.

xiv« En vérité, cet Homme, le Puruṣa, a deux états: ce monde-ci et l’autre monde. L’état de rêve, un troisième, en est la jonction. Se tenant dans cet état de jonction, il voit les deux états, ce monde-ci et l’autre monde. Et quelle que soit l’approche par laquelle il advient dans l’autre monde, par cette approche il est entré et il voit l’un et l’autre, les maux et les joies. Quand il rêve, il reprend le matériel de ce monde en son entier, il le détruit par lui-même, il le crée par lui-même. Il rêve par son propre rayonnement, par sa propre lumière. En ce lieu, l’Homme devient sa propre lumière. » Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4,3,9 (Trad. du sanskrit par Alette Degrâces)

xvBṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad 4,3,23. Trad. du sanskrit par Alette Degrâces, in op.cit. p.288

xviŚaṅkara. A Thousand Teachings,traduit du sanskrit en anglais par Sengaku Mayeda. University of Tokyo Press, 1979. I, ch. 18, §98, p.182. J’ai employé ici le mot « Éveil » pour traduire le mot anglais « Awareness » employé par S. Mayeda.

xvii« Les yeux sur les nations, il veille » Ps 66,7

xviii« Voici, je vais veiller sur eux pour leur malheur » Jr 44,27

« Alors le Seigneur a veillé sur ces malheurs » Bar 2,9

« Je répondis, je vois une branche de veilleur » Jr 1,11

« YHVH a veillé à la calamité, il l’a fait venir sur nous » וַיִּשְׁקֹד יְהוָה עַל-הָרָעָה Dan 9,14

« je veille et je suis comme un oiseau seul sur un toit » Ps 102,8

« le gardien veille en vain » Ps 127,1

« je veille contre eux (pour leur faire du mal) » Jr 44,27

 » tous ceux qui veillent pour commettre l’iniquité » Is 29,20

« Tu as bien vu que je veille sur ma parole pour l’accomplir » Jr 1,12

 שָׁקֵד signifie aussi « amandier » (un arbre qui fleurit tôt dans l’année et donc veille à la venue du printemps)

xix « Plus que toute chose veille sur ton cœur » Pr 4,23

« toi qui veilles sur les hommes (notzer ha-adamah) » Job 7,20

« Veille sur ton âme (v-notzer nafchekh) » Pr 24,12

xx« Garde avec soin ton âme (vou-chmor nafchekh méor) » Dt 4,9

« Prenez garde à vos âmes (tichamrou b-nafchoutéikhem) » Jr 17,21

« Veilleur où en est la nuit? veilleur où en est la nuit?

 שֹׁמֵר מַה-מִּלַּיְלָה chomer ma mi-laïlah ? שֹׁמֵר מַה-מִּלֵּיל chomer ma mi-leïl? » Is 21,11

« Tu veillais avec sollicitude sur mon souffle, ( שָׁמְרָה רוּחִי, chamrah rouḥi) » Job 10,12

« Ces jours où Dieu veillait sur moi, (אֱלוֹהַּ יִשְׁמְרֵנִי , Eloha yichmréni)« Job 29,2

xxi« Car tout le temps de ma vie peut être divisé en une infinité de parties, chacune desquelles ne dépend en aucune façon des autres; et ainsi, de ce qu’un peu auparavant j’ai été, il ne s’ensuit pas que je doive maintenant être, si ce n’est qu’en ce moment quelque cause me produise et me crée, pour ainsi dire, derechef, c’est-à-dire me conserve. » Descartes. Méditations métaphysiques. 3ème Méditation. GF Flammarion, 2009, p.134-135

A Voice Cries Out in the Desert

— Henri Meschonnic–

Henri Meschonnici was a formidable polemicist, and even, in this respect, a « serial killer », according to Michel Deguy. Meschonnic proposed « that we leave the word ‘Shoah’ in the dustbin of history. »ii This word was, according to him, « intolerable », it would represent « a pollution of the mind » and would aggravate a « generalized misunderstanding ». For this Hebrew word, which appears thirteen times in the Bible, refers only to thunderstorm, « a natural phenomenon, simply ». « The scandal is first of all to use a word that designates a natural phenomenon to refer to a barbarity that is all human. » Another scandal would be that Claude Lanzmann appropriated the highly publicized use of the word ‘shoah’, while diverting its meaningiii: « The author of the Shoah is Hitler, Lanzmann is the author of Shoah. » iv

Henri Meschonnic also attacked the « idolatry » of the Kabbalah: « Language is no longer anywhere in the Kabbalah. It is only an illusion, a utopia. It is replaced by the letters of the script taken for hieroglyphics of the world. A cosmism. And a theism. Then, paradoxically, one must recognize the sacred, more than the divine. A form of idolatry. »v

In a similar way, he attacked Leon Askenazi (the famous Rabbi ‘Manitou’), for his word games in the Torah, – this « idolatry that passes for thought »vi.

Idolatry. Idolettrism. Quite a sharp point. But, on the other hand, he tempers a little, hinting that this « idolatry » is also a « utopia »: « Kabbalah is a utopia of language. A utopia of the Jew. Since its indefinite and self-referential allegorisation is supposed to have the following effect: ‘A particular link is thus established between the letter yod, the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which represents the ten Sefirot, and the Jewish people, the Yehudimviiviii

What is this « utopia of the Jew »? A fuse formula summarizes it: Hebrew is the « holy language » par excellence (lechon ha-qodech).

We are here in heavy, very heavy stuff. Meschonnic quotes in support the famous medieval cabalist, Aboulafia, and one of his current thurifer, Elliot Wolfson:

« The cabal will be the exclusive property of the Jewish people, (…) the only nation to have real access to the sacred language of creation, revelation and redemption.»ix

For the comparatist, this type of formula (« the only nation to… », the « sacred language of »,…) seems to be an old cliché, to be found in all latitudes, at all times, in most cultures, so much so that exceptionalism seems really not that exceptional…

More than a thousand years before Abraham, and long before the Torah had even begun to be written down, the Vedic tradition already considered Sanskrit as a « perfect » language. Sanskrit holds its name from the word ‘samskṛta‘ , which means « perfect » in Sanskrit). Moreover, the Vedic tradition considered the entire Vedic corpus as pure, divine revelation.

More recently, for hundreds of millions of believers, the Quran, too, is considered « descended » directly from the Divinity into the Arabic language, which is considered by its locutors a « clear » and « perfect » language.

There is, therefore, obviously on this planet, a certain abundance of « perfect languages » and « divine revelations », seemingly indifferent to their putative concurrents.

What should we conclude from this rush? That these revelations, and these languages, contradict and exclude each other? That only one of them is the true one, the only one « chosen »? Or, should we adopt a more diplomatic formulation, that they all contain some truth? Or, to be more pessimistic, should we suppose that they all somehow lack their intended purpose, whose transcendence escapes them?

What strikes one, in these immense religious and intellectual adventures, which often display, in theory and in practice, ambitions of universal scope, is the paradoxically provincial, navel-gazing, somewhat narrow-minded side of their later commentators. There is no shortage of late voices, coming, a few millennia after the founders, to set themselves up as self-proclaimed defenders, arrogating to themselves the monopoly of exception and election.

In the Babel of languages, Hebrew certainly does not escape the shocking statements about its absolute specificity and its intrinsic superiority over all other languages.

« Divine consonants, human vowels, is the high revelation of Hebrew. »x

The « sanctity » of the Hebrew language is contagious. It extends to the people who speak it.

Hence a sharp alternative:

« The truth that Hebrew is the holy language of a holy people, and the untruth that it is the spoken language of a people like all peoples, seem irreconcilable. » xi

Franz Rosenzweig asked a binary question. There is no way out.

On one side a « holy language » and a « holy people », and on the other side « all peoples » and all other languages, immersed in the no-man’s-land of « untruth » (and un-holiness). Faced with this alternative, what is the answer?

The issue deserves attention.

Franz Rosenzweig seems very sure of his fact: he provides some elements of idiosyncratic argumentation, the scathing lesson of which could perhaps also be of interest to speakers of English, German or Latin – and why not, for good measure, Greek, Arabic or Sanskrit?

« To read Hebrew means: to be ready to gather the entire heritage of the language; to read German, English or Latin, one reaps only the harvest given by the furrows of the language of one season: of one generation. »xii

Franz Rosenzweig does not seem to suspect that the few ‘languages of a season’ he quotes are only the most recent, among a large and immemorial ‘harvest’ of other Indo-European languages, much more original, and some of them with sophisticated grammars, and incidentally with a vocabulary twenty times richer than the biblicalxiii lexicon. Among these languages, Avestic and Sanskrit go back to several millennia before our era, and have both served to compose « sacred » texts (respectively the Avesta and the Veda), which testify to very ancient « revelations », certainly older than the revelation « mosaic ».

It may be argued that Avestic and Sanskrit are nowadays only « dead languages », and that the Avesta or Veda no longer irrigate living times, but only celebrate forgotten Gods…

In contrast, it should also be noted, biblical Hebrew has « risen » again with modern Hebrew, while the Torah continues to live on through the people who bear it and the religions that draw inspiration from it.

These are indeed crucial points.

One could however answer that the Veda religion has not completely disappeared from the world consciousness… or from the depths of the collective unconscious. The history of the Spirit has only just begun. The Vedanta, the Upanishads, Baghavad Gîta, – forever under a bushel? The future, the distant future, will tell.

On the other hand, it can also be argued that the « spirit » of Sanskrit is not really dead, but that it is still very much alive today, and that it is constantly regenerating itself in the vast body of Indo-European languages that are spoken throughout the world, and through their own genius.

The « spirit » of Sanskrit. The « spirit » of Indo-European languages…

Is there a « spirit » of languages? And what does it mean?

Franz Rosenzweig asked this question in a lecture on « the spirit of the Hebrew language ».

« What is the spirit of the German language? Does a language have a ‘spirit’? The answer is: only the language has a spirit. As many languages we know, as many times we are a man. Can you ‘know’ more than one language? Our ‘knowledge’ is just as flat as French ‘savoir‘ (knowledge). We live in one language.» xiv

The word ‘knowledge’, – a ‘flat’ word?

To live is to react…

The French word ‘savoir’ comes from the Latin sapio, sapere, « to have flavor », and figuratively « to have taste, sense, reason ». This Latin word gave in French the words ‘sapience’, ‘saveur’, ‘sève’, ‘sapide’ (and its antonym ‘insipide’). Its etymological origin goes back to the Sanskrit सबर् sabar, « nectar, sap, milk », from which the words Saft in German, sap inEnglish, sapor in Latin also derive.

There is an irony here, a sort of ‘meta-linguistic’ irony, to note that the words ‘flavor’, ‘taste’, are translated ta’am inHebrew, in the plural te’amim.

Now it just so happens that Henri Meschonnic advocated a close attention to the presence in the biblical language of the signs of cantillation, the טְעָמִים, te’amim, supposed to enlighten the deep meaning of the verses by giving them their true rhythm, their melody. « The word, already used by Rabbi Akiva, of te’amim, (…) is the plural of ta’am, which means the taste, in the gustatory sense, the taste of what one has in the mouth.xv In medieval Hebrew, the word also referred to the ratio. It is of capital importance that this word, which designates the junctions-disjunctions, groupings and ungroupings of discourse, with for each ‘accent’ a melodic line, be a word of the body and the mouth. The mouth is what speaks. »xvi

The irony, then, is that the French word ‘savoir’ (which Rosenzweig found ‘flat’) and the Hebrew word te’amim share the same connotations, associating ‘taste’, ‘flavor’ and ‘ratio’...

We quickly return to provincialism and navel-gazing, as we see. One must resolve to understand, once and for all, that outside of Hebrew, there is no salvation. Literally. The Hebrew language holds the divine in it…

Rosenzweig puts it this way:

« The spirit of the Hebrew language is ‘the spirit of God’. (Es ist Geist Gottes). » xvii

Difficult to make more synthetic and more exclusive.

In search of this ‘spirit’ (of the Hebrew language), and interested in the interpretative power attributed to the te’amim, I looked for some possible examples of reference in Meschonnic’s writings.

He particularly emphasizes a verse from Isaiah, usually translated, for centuries, in the Gospels:

« A voice cries out in the desert: prepare a way for the Lord. « (Is. 40:3)

Meschonnic says of this translation: « It is the ‘Christian way’, as James Kugel says. The identification with John the Baptist in Matthew (3:3), Mark (1:3) and John (1:23) depended on it. »

It is true that there is a discrepancy of interpretation between the passages of the Gospels quoted and what we read in the Jerusalem Bible, which gives the following translation:

« A voice cries out, ‘In the desert, make way for the LORD’. »

So? What is the rigjht reading?

 » A voice cries out in the desert »?

Or: « A voice cries out: ‘in the desert etc.' »?

Meschonnic notes that in the Hebrew original, there is a major disjunctive accent (zaqef qatan) after « a screaming voice » (qol qoré):

« So ‘in the desert’ is related to ‘make way’, not about the preceding verb. I translate: ‘A voice cries out in the desert make way for Adonaï’. This text is liked to the exile in Babylon, and calls for a return to Jerusalem. Its meaning is geographical and historical, according to its rhythm in Hebrew. But when cut after ‘desert’, it becomes the Christian and eschatological call. Quite another theology. It is the rhythm that makes, or undoes, the meaning.»xviii

Meschonnic concludes his development with a shock formula :

« Rhythm is not only the Jew of the sign, it is also the Jew of the Jew, and it shares the utopia of the poem by being the utopia of meaning. »xix

The rhythm, the ta’am, is the « Jew of the Jew ». Difficult to find a formulation less goy, and more irrefutable…

However, the rhythm is not enough.

If we place the same verse (Is 40:3) in the immediate context of the first ten verses of the « second » Isaiah (Is 40:1-10), we suddenly see a rich density of possible meanings, proliferating, allusive, elusive, carried by voices, words, utterances, cries, repetitions, variations, ellipses, obscurities and openings.

A textual criticism, aimed at semantics, syntax, allegories and anagogy, would encourage a multiplication of questions – far beyond what the ta’am ta’am is.

Why is God twice named « our God » (אלֹהֵינוּ Elohei-nou) xxin Is 40:3 and Is 40:8, and twice named « your God » (אֱלֹהֵיכֶם Elohei-khem)xxi in Is 40:1 and Is 40:9?

Is « ours » also « yours », or is it not?

Why is God named ‘YHVH’ five times in Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:3, Isaiah 40:5 (twice), and Isaiah 40:7, but only once ‘YHVH Adonai’ in Isaiah 40:10xxii? In other words, why is God here named six times ‘YHVH’, and once ‘Adonai’?

In what way do the expression « all flesh » כָל-בָּשָׂר khol-bachar, in Is 40:5, and the expression « all flesh » כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר kol-ha-bachar, in Is 40:6, differ? xxiii

Why is the article defined in one case and not in the other?

Could it be that the expression « all flesh will see it » וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר vé-raou khol-bachar, implies a universality (total, inclusive) of the vision of the glory of YHVH, – « all flesh » then meaning « all creatures made of flesh »?

Whereas the expression « all flesh, – grass », כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר kol-ha-bachar ḥatsir, only implies that « everything » in the flesh is like « grass »?

Why do two voices, undefined, come from unnamed mouths (Is 40:3 and Is 40:6), – when the spoken word is from « the mouth of YHVH », כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר, ki pi YHVH dibber (Is 40:5), and « the word of our God »,וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ devar Elohenou, (Is 40:8), are they duly and by name attributed to God?

Why does the first of these two (undefined) voices shout :

« A voice cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the wilderness, make a straight road for our God’. »(Isaiah 40:3)

Why does the second, undefined voice first say: ‘Cry out’, – before saying what to cry out?

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « (Isaiah 40:6)

To whom does « your God » address himself when Isaiah says :

« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

Who is speaking here? Who ‘says’ what ‘your God’ says?

Who exactly is « my people »? Is « my people » the people of ‘your God’ or the people of ‘our God’?

In other words, is « my people » just « grass »? xxiv

Or is it only « the people », which is « grass »?

Last but not least, who is consoling whom, on whose behalf?


iHenri Meschonnic (1932-2009), essayist, linguist, poet, translator.

iiHenri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iii: Henri Meschonnic. « Pour en finir avec le mot « Shoah » », Le Monde, dated February 20-21, 2005. cf. https://www.larevuedesressources.org/pour-en-finir-avec-le-mot-shoah,1193.html

iv Claude Lanzmann writes: « I fought to impose ‘Shoah’ without knowing that I was thus proceeding to a radical act of nomination, since almost immediately the title of the film became, in many languages, the very name of the event in its absolute singularity. The film was immediately eponymous, people everywhere began to say « the Shoah ». The identification between the film and what it represents goes so far that daring people speak of me as « the author of the Shoah, » to which I can only reply: « No, I’m « Shoah », the Shoah is Hitler. » Le Monde, February 26, 2005

vHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.127

viHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.132

viiH. Meschonnic quotes here Elliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, theosophy and theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p.123.

viiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.128

ixElliot R. Wolfson. Abraham Aboulafia cabalist and prophet. Hermeneutics, Theosophy and Theurgy. Trad. J.F. Sené. Ed. de l’Eclat, 1999, p. 57, quoted by H. Meschonnic, op. cit. p. 128.

xRaymond Abelio. In a soul and a body. Gallimard, 1973, p.259. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.137

xiFranz Rosenzweig. New Hebrew ? On the occasion of the translation of Spinoza’s Ethics. Collected Writings III p. 725. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiFranz Rosenzweig. « Neo-Hebrew » in L’écriture, le verbe et autres essais. p.28. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.138

xiiiTo get an idea of this, just compare the Sanskrit-English dictionary by Monier Monier-Williams and the Hebrew-English dictionary by Brown-Driver-Briggs, both considered as references in the study of Sanskrit and Biblical Hebrew.

xivFranz Rosenzweig. « On the Spirit of the Hebrew Language. – es a language have a ‘spirit’ ? The answer is: only the language has spirit. As many languages as one can, so much one can be human. Can one ‘know’ more than one language ? Our ‘can’ is as shallow as the French ‘savoir’. One lives in a language. « Collected Writings III p. 719. Cité par Henri Meschonnic. L’utopie du Juif. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.139-140

xvMeschonnic notes that in Arabic, mat’am means « resaturant ».

xviHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p.147-148

xviiFranz Rosenzweig. « Vom Geist der hebräische Sprache. « Gesammelte Schriften III p. 721. Quoted by Henri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 140

xviiiHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 165

xixHenri Meschonnic. The Utopia of the Jew. Desclée de Brouwer. Paris, 2001, p. 171

xx« A way cries out: ‘In the desert, make way for YHVH; in the steppe, smooth a road for our God. « קוֹל קוֹרֵא–בַבַּמִּדְבָּר, פַּנּוּ דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה; יַשְּׁרוּ, בָּעֲרָבָה, מְסִלָּה, לֵאלֹהֵינוּ (Is 40,3)

« The grass withers, the flower withers, but the word of our God endures forever. « יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר, נָבֵל צִיץ; וּדְבַר-אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם (Is 40,8)

xxi« Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ, עַמִּי–יֹאמַר, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,1)

« Lift up your voice, fear not, say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!' » הָרִימִי, אַל-תִּירָאִי, אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה, הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (Is 40,9)

xxii« הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה (Is 40:10)

xxiii« Then the glory of YHVH will be revealed and all flesh will see it, together, for the mouth of YHVH has spoken. »

וְנִגְלָה, כְּבוֹד יְהוָה; וְרָאוּ כָל-בָּשָׂר יַחְדָּו, כִּי פִּי יְהוָה דִּבֵּר (Is 40,5)

« A voice said, ‘Cry out’, and I said, ‘What shall I cry out?’ – ‘All flesh is grass and all its grace is like the flower of the field. « קוֹל אֹמֵר קְרָא, וְאָמַר מָה אֶקְרָא; כָּל-הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר, וְכָל-חַסְדּוֹ כְּצִיץ הַשָּׂדֶה (Is 40,6)

xxiv« The grass withers, the flower withers, when the breath of YHVH passes over them; yes, the people are grass. »

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ, כִּי רוּחַ יְהוָה נָשְׁבָה בּוֹ; אָכֵן חָצִיר, הָעָם (Is 40,7)

The Irony of the Bráhman

-Friedrich Max Müller-

One day, according to the Bhagavadgītā (भगवद्गीता), the Supreme Lord came down to reveal to a man named Arjuna, the « most secret wisdom », the « secret of secrets », the « purest knowledge », a « knowledge, queen among all sciences ».

In a few decisive words, human reason was then stripped of everything and reduced to begging. Human nature was compared to « dust », but, more inexplicably, it was also promised to a very high destiny, a putative glory, though still infinitely distant, embryonic, potential. Faced with these impassable mysteries, she was invited to scrutinize endlessly her own background, and her own end.

« This entire universe is penetrated by Me, in My unmanifested form. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. At the same time, nothing that is created is in Me. See My supernatural power! I sustain all beings, I am everywhere present, and yet, I remain the very source of all creation.»i

We also learn from Bhagavadgītā that the supreme God may descend in person into this world, taking on human form. « Fools denigrate Me when I come down to this world in human form. They know nothing of My spiritual and absolute nature, nor of My total supremacy.»ii

It is not without interest to recall here that the Hebrew Bible, for its part, repeatedly expressed a strangely similar idea. Thus, three « men », posing as « envoys » of the Lord, came to meet Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre. One of them, called YHVH in the Genesis text, spoke to Abraham face to face.

In the Veda, the supreme God is infinitely high, transcendent, absolute, but He is also tolerant. He recognizes that multiple modes of belief can coexist. There are men for whom God is the supreme, original Person. There are those who prostrate themselves before God with love and devotion. There are those who worship Him as the One, and others who worship Him in Immanence, in His presence among the infinite diversity of beings and things, and there are still others who see Him in the Universal. iii

In the Veda, the supreme God is at once unique, absolute, transcendent, immanent, universal; He is All in all.

« But I am the rite and the sacrifice, the oblation to the ancestors, the grass and the mantra. I am the butter, and the fire, and the offering. Of this universe, I am the father, the mother, the support and the grandfather, I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable OM. I am also the Ṛg, the Sāma and the Yajur. I am the goal, the support, the teacher, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the dearest friend, I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of all things, the place of rest and the eternal seed (…) I am immortality, and death personified. Being and non-being, both are in Me, O Arjuna ». iv

In his third lecturev on Vedanta given in London in 1894, Max Müller recalled that the Supreme Spirit, the bráhman, ( ब्रह्मन्, a name of the neutral gender, with the tonic accent on the verbal root BRAH-, taken to the full degree – ‘guṇa’) said: « Even those who worship idols worship Me », as reported by Bhagavadgītā.

And Müller added that, within the framework of Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman, this supreme principle, must be distinguished from the brahmán (with the tonic accent on the second syllable), who represents a male agent name meaning « Creator ». According to the Vedanta philosophy, the bráhman could even state of himself: « Even those who worship a personal God in the image of an active creator, or a King of kings, worship Me or, at least, think of Me ».

In this view, the brahmán (the Creator) would be, in reality, only a manifestation of the bráhman (the Supreme Principle). The bráhman also seems to hint here, not without a certain irony, that one could perfectly well support the opposite position, and that would not bother Him…

Here again, with the famous opening of the first verse of Genesis: Bereshit bara Elohim (Gen 1:1), Judaism professed an intuition strangely comparable.

This verse could be read, according to some commentators of the Bereshit Rabbah:  » ‘Be-rechit’ created the Elohim«  (i.e.  » ‘In the principle‘ created the Gods »).

Other commentators even proposed to understand: « With the Most Precious, *** created the Gods ».

I note here by means of the three asterisks the ineffability of the Name of the Supreme Principle (unnamed but implied).

Combining these interpretations, one could understand the first verse of Genesis (berechit bara elohim) in this way:

« The Principle, withthe ‘Most Precious’, created the Elohim. »

The Principle is not named but implied.

The particle be- in the expression be-rechit can mean ‘with’.

One of the possible meanings of the word rechit can be ‘primal fruit’ or ‘most precious’.

For the comparatist, these possibilities (however slight) of convergence between traditions as different as Vedic and Hebrew, are sources of endless meditation and tonic inspiration…

One of the greatest commentator on Vedic heritage, Ādi Śaṅkara (आदि शङ्कर ) explained: « When bráhman is defined in the Upanishads only in negative terms, excluding all differences in name and form due to non-science, it is the superior [bráhman]. But when it is defined in terms such as: « the intelligence whose body is spirit and light, distinguished by a special name and form, solely for the purpose of worship » (Chand., III, 14, 2), it is the other, the lower brahmán. » vi

If this is so, Max Müller commented, the text that says that bráhman has no second (Chand., VI, 2, 1) seems to be contradicted.

But, « No, answers Śaṅkara, because all this is only the illusion of name and form caused by non-science. In reality the two brahman are one and the same brahman, oneconceivable, the other inconceivable, one phenomenal, the other absolutely real ». vii

The distinction made by Śaṅkara is clear. But in the Upanishads, the line of demarcation between the bráhman (supreme) and the brahmán (creator) is not always so clear.

When Śaṅkara interprets the many passages of the Upanishads that describe the return of the human soul after death to ‘brahman‘ (without the tonic accent being distinguished), Sankara always interprets it as the inferior brahmán.

Müller explained: « This soul, as Śaṅkara strongly says, ‘becomes Brahman by being Brahman’viii, that is, by knowing him, by knowing what he is and has always been. Put aside the non-science and light bursts forth, and in that light the human self and the divine self shine in their eternal unity. From this point of view of the highest reality, there is no difference between the Supreme Brahman and the individual self or Ātman (Ved. Sutras, I, 4, p. 339). The body, with all the conditions, or upadhis,towhich it is subordinated, may continue for some time, even after the light of knowledge has appeared, but death will come and bring immediate freedom and absolute bliss; while those who, through their good works, are admitted to the heavenly paradise, must wait there until they obtain supreme enlightenment, and are only then restored to their true nature, their true freedom, that is, their true unity with Brahman. » ix

Of the true Brahman, the Upanishads still say of Him: « Verily, friend, this imperishable Being is neither coarse nor fine, neither short nor long, neither red (like fire) nor fluid (like water). He is without shadow, without darkness, without air, without ether, without bonds, without eyes, without eyes, without ears, without speech, without spirit, without light, without breath, without mouth, without measure, He has neither inside nor outside ».

And this series of negations, or rather abstractions, continues until all the petals are stripped off, and only the chalice, the pollen, the inconceivable Brahman, the Self of the world, remains.

« He sees, but is not seen; He hears, but is not heard; He perceives, but is not perceived; moreover, there is in the world only Brahman who sees, hears, perceives, or knows. » x

Since He is the only one to ‘see’, the metaphysical term that would best suit this Being would be ‘light’.

But this does not mean that Brahman is, in itself, « light », but only that the whole light, in all its manifestations, is in Brahman.

This light is notably the Conscious Light, which is another name for knowledge, or consciousness. Müller evokes the Mundaka Upanishad: « ‘It is the light of lights; when it shines, the sun does not shine, nor the moon nor the stars, nor lightning, much less fire. When Brahman shines, everything shines with Him: His light illuminates the world. Conscious light represents, as best as possible, Brahman’s knowledge, and it is known that Thomas Aquinas also called God the intelligent sun (Sol intelligibilis). For, although all purely human attributes are taken away from Brahman, knowledge, though a knowledge without external objects, is left to Him.»xi

The ‘light’ of ‘knowledge’ or ‘wisdom’ seems to be the only anthropomorphic metaphor that almost all religions dare to apply to the Supreme Being as the least inadequate.

In doing so, these religions, such as Vedic, Hebrew, Buddhist or Christian, often forget what the narrow limits of human knowledge or wisdom are, even at their highest level of perfection, and how unworthy of Divinity these metaphors are in reality.

There is indeed in all knowledge as in all human wisdom an essentially passive element.

This ‘passivity’ is perfectly incompatible with the Divinity… At least, in principle.

One cannot help but notice in several religions the idea of a sort of (active) passivity of the supreme Divinity, who takes the initiative to withdraw from being and the world, for the sake of His creature.

Several examples are worth mentioning here, by order of their appearance on world stage.

-The Supreme Creator, Prajāpati, प्रजापति, literally « Father and Lord of creatures », felt « emptied » right after creating all worlds and beings.

-Similarly, the Son of the only God felt his « emptiness » (kenosis, from the Greek kenos, empty, opposing pleos, full) and his « abandonment » by God just before his death.

-In the Jewish Kabbalah, God also consented to His own « contraction » (tsimtsum) in order to leave a little bit of being to His creation.

In this implicit, hidden, subterranean analogy between the passivity of human wisdom and the divine recess, there may be room for a form of tragic, sublime and overwhelming irony.

The paradox is that this analogy and irony, then, would also allow the infinitesimal human ‘wisdom’ to approach in small steps one of the deepest aspects of the mystery.


iBhagavadgītā 9.4-5

iiBhagavadgītā 9.11

iii« Others, who cultivate knowledge, worship Me either as the unique existence, or in the diversity of beings and things, or in My universal form. « Bhagavadgītā 9,15

ivBhagavadgītā 9.16-19

vF. Max Müller. Introduction to the Vedanta philosophy. Three lectures given at the Royal Institute in March 1894. Translated from English by Léon Sorg. Ed. Ernest Leroux, Paris 1899.

viF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39

viiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p.39-40

viiiIt should probably be specified here, thanks to the tonic accents: « The soul becomes Brahman by being Brahman. « But one could also write, it seems to me, by analogy with the ‘procession’ of the divine persons that Christian theology has formalized: « The spirit becomes Brahman by being Brahman. »

ixF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 41

xF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 44

xiF. Max Müller, op. cit. 3rd conference, p. 45

The Essence of Being

It is said that Being is. Apart from being a tautology, nothing is less certain. Rather, one should say that Being is also what is becoming, and therefore what it is not, yet. One could also say that it is, at least partly, what has been, and therefore what it is no longer. We should not, therefore, just say that Being is (strictly speaking).

Being is indeed all that it is in essence, and in potency, including all that it will be and all that it has been.

The essence of Being is not only to be, but to have been, in some ways that may be not fully understood, and also to contain some potentialities that may be revealed sometime in the future. Now, admittedly, ‘being in potency’ or ‘having been’ are not, strictly speaking, ‘being’, but one can however think and say that ‘being in potency’ or ‘having been’ are a certain way of being.

From that I infer that a part of the essence of Being lies in what is ‘thought‘ and ‘said‘ about it. The essence of Being has something to do with thought and words.

One may then expand this idea and state that there is no unspeakable Being, just as there is no Being without essence and existence, and just as there is no abstract Being.

A ‘mere’ Being, a Being that would be absolutely unthinkable, and absolutely unspeakable, is just a play on words, a mental chimera.

A ‘mere’ Being would necessarily refer to some other prior entity that would be ‘before’ it, — an entity that would be also in essence unspeakable and would moreover not be called ‘Being’, because this would be a name, – and there could not be any speakable name, starting with the name ‘Being’, for an entity that would be in essence unspeakable.

Hence, I assume that Being can only be conceived by the word, and with the word. A ‘Being without word’, or ‘before all words’, would not be ‘Being’, but something more original than ‘Being’, an entity without the need for any words (even the word ‘Being’), an entity for which no word exists, for which no word is suitable.

No word can designate what is before or beyond Being. Words can only suit what is, what has been or what will be, — not what is beyond Being.

Being and Wording are therefore linked. Said otherwise, Being and the Word make a couple. They are of the same essence. A reciprocal essence links these two entities. One constitutes a part of the essence of the other. The Word is part of the essence of Being, and Being is part of the essence of the Word.

Is the Word first? No, because if the Word were first, if it were before Being, then it would be before Being is, which is a logical contradiction.

Is Being first? No, for how could it be called ‘Being’ before the Word was? If we can say that Being is, if we can say that the Being is Being, then it implies that the Word is also already present, — in the presence of Being. The presence of the Word would be necessary to say the existence of Being.

As I said, Being and Word are linked to each other, they are and they say together.

From the outset, Being is not just Being, but is to be this whole, this linked, compact couple of Being and Word.

Being is to be from the outset all that is implied in being Being and being Word.

Being is to be from the outset the whole of Being, ‘all’ the essence of Being, all that is Being, all that constitutes it.

Being implies being ‘con-sistent‘ (from the Latin cum-sistere).

Being implies to be ‘co-existent‘ with all that is proper to being.

Being is with itself, it is in the presence of itself, in the presence of everything that constitutes its essence, including the Word that tells this essence.

Being involves Being-With-Oneself and Being-Word. If Being is consistent, and it has to be, it coexists with all that is ‘being’ in itself and all that is « thoughtable » and  »speakable » in it.

The coexistence of Being with the whole of Being and all its parts constitutes the immanent ‘self’ of Being. This immanent ‘self’ resonates with itself. It is this resonance that constitues the Word.

Hence the deepest origin of consciousness.

Hence also the origin of transcendence, which is constituted by the consciousness of immanence.

Being implies the immanence of Being, and immanence implies immanent consciousness, and the consciousness of immanence.

The immanent consciousness and the consciousness of immanence are already potential steps towards transcendent consciousness (in relation to Being).

The fact for Being to be-with-oneself carries in potency the appearance of the consciousness of being, of the awareness of the self by the self.

Being implies a fold of Being upon itself. This fold is an implication-explanation, which is also the beginning of a reflection, to move on to an optical metaphor.

At the beginning of Being, then, is this fold, this reflection, which can also be called ‘spirit’ (in Sanskrit manas), because the spirit is what ‘unfolds’, or what ‘reflects’.

And in this unfolding fold, the Vedic Word (वाच् vāc) was born.

An Ugly Black Sun From Which the Night Radiates

-Victor Hugo-

Victor, thoughtful, once stood near the dolmen of Rozel. A dark and talkative ghost appeared to him. From his mouth of night flowed a powerful, agitated stream, mixing raw and chosen words, where dead trunks and black silt layed. The nyctalope poet was even more loquacious, and his verses sprang, in hurried theories, out of their grassy, wordy bushes.

The images added up, like glasses at the bar:

The immense can be heard. Everything speaks. Everything has consciousness. The tombs are dressed in grass and night. The abyss prays. All lives. The depth is imperfect. Evil is in the universe. Everything goes to the worst, always, without ceasing. The soul chooses. The tree is religious. The pebble is vile, blind, hideous. Matter is evil, – fatal fruit. The incontinent poet rhymes ‘ombre‘ (shadow) with ‘sombre‘ (dark) several times without any shame. And, to compensate, ‘vivant‘ (alive) with ‘en avant‘ (forward).

He had a sad forehead, this great man, this exile with sad sweats, funeral impulses. He bent, this poet, from the weight of the infinite, nothing less, and from the silly light of the gloomy suns.

God is here. Are we so sure? Of course we are! He is not out of anything, by the way. The azure, and the rays, hide His wingspan.

Interpelled in vain, the Spirit continues his way, without wanting to hear Man alone, despising his ‘vile flesh’. The word ‘vile’ returns like an antiphon. The enormous life always continues, it enters the invisible, it ascends to the heavens, it travels ‘millions of leagues’, it reaches even to the ‘radiant toe’ of the ‘archangel sun’ and vanishes in God. Yes ‘in God’! That is, in the depths! Jacob and Cato have already passed through these ladders, with their future of duty, mourning, and exile. They have passed through these precipices and abysses, where the larvae and the mysteries, the vapors and the hydrants, are hurried.

Following them, the seers and angels plunged, towards the winged souls.

But for the banished who remain stuck in the nadir, shipwreck is promised, and the ‘rimless abyss’, full of ‘rain’, opens up.

« Of all that lived rains unceasingly the ashes;

And one sees everything at the bottom, when the eye dares to go down there,

Beyond the life, and the breath and the noise,
An ugly black sun from which the night radiates! »i

The Spirit thunders and threatens. As a prophet, he says: the top goes down, the ideal goes to matter, the spirit falls to the animal, the great crashes into the small, the fire announces the ashes, blindness is born of the seer, and darkness of the flamboyant.

But the rhymes save! ‘Azure’ goes with ‘pure’.

Above is joy, below is filth and evil.

It’s perfectly binary. Structurally binary.

In the infinite, one goes up, – or one falls.

Every being is in balance, and weighs its own weight. For elevation, or fall.

Let man contemplate, then, the cesspool or the temple!

Underneath even the worst of the rough ones, there are still the plants without eyelids, and under the stones, there is chaos.

But, always, the soul must continue to descend, towards the dungeon, the punishment and the scaffold.

Ah! Victor! How your hard and funny verses judge worlds and History!

With a light gesture, you cut down your cleaver, soaked with unbelievable alexandrines!

« Once, without understanding it and with a dazed eye

India has almost glimpsed this metempsychosis. »ii

‘India has almost glimpsed this metempsychosis’. Seriously ???

You Victor, you saw! You Clarified Poet, young Genius of Jersey! You, Seer, you knew, much better than her, this old India, that the bramble becomes a claw, and the cat’s tongue becomes a rose leaf, – to drink the blood of the mouse, in the shadows and the shouts !

Ah, Victor, seeing from your higher heaven, you contemplate the unheard-of spectacle of the lower regions, and you listen to the immense cry of misfortune, the sighs of the pebbles and the desperate.

You see ‘everywhere, everywhere, everywhere’, angels ‘with dead wings’, gloomy larvae, and ragged forests. Punishment seeks darkness, and Babel, when it is overthrown, always flees into the depths of the night. The man for you, O Victor, full of victories, glory and knowledge, is never but a brute drunk with nothingness, who empties the drunken glass of his sleeps, night after night.

But there is a but. When you think twice, man is in prison but his soul remains free. The magi thought that legions of unknown and enslaved souls were constantly trampled underfoot by men who denied them. The ashes in the hearth, or the sepulchre, also claim that a heap of evil sleeps in them.

Man says: No! He prostitutes his mouth to nothingness, while even his dog lying in the night (that sinister constellation) sees God. This is because man is nothing, even if the starry beast is little. He denies, he doubts, in the shadow, the dark and gloomy, the vile and hideous, and he rushes into this abyss, this universal sewer.

Ah! Victor! Why didn’t you crush, with a heavy foot, that immortal worm that was gnawing at your overripe soul?

Alas! Alas! Alas! All is alive! Everything thinks!

Triple complaint, quintuple exclamation. One must cry over all the hideous ugliness of the world.

The spider is filthy, the slug is wet, the aphid is vile, the crab is hideous, the bark beetle is awful (like the sun!), the toad is scary.

But there is still hope at the end!

The underworld will refer to itself as eden. It will be the real day. Beauty will flood the night. The pariah universe will stutter in praise. Mass graves will sing. The mud will palpitate.

The pains will end, – as this poem ends: with the ‘Beginning’!

To Victor, however, I would like to address a short message from beyond time, a brief word from beyond the age, a distant sign from India, who ‘glimpsed’ something that Hugo neither saw nor suspected:

Before the very Beginning, there was neither being nor non-being, and ‘all darkness was enveloped in darkness.’ iii

Wise men commented: the spirit (in Sanskrit: manas) is the one and only thing that can be both existing and non-existent. The spirit exists, they said, only in things, but things, if they have no spirit, then they are non-existentiv.

The seers have long sought wise views on these difficult questions.

They thought, for example, that there was a hidden, deep, obscure link between Being and Non-Being. And they asked themselves: What link? And who could really know anything about it?

They replied ironically: « He certainly knows it – or maybe He Himself doesn’t even know it ! »v


i Victor Hugo. Contemplations. XXVI , « What the Mouth of Shadow Says ».

ii Ibid.

iiiRV X,129.3

ivCf. SB X,5,3, 1-2

v RV X,129.7

Three Beginnings

« Genesis »

The anthropology of the ‘beginning’ is quite rich. A brief review of three traditions, Vedic, Jewish and Christian, here cited in the order of their historical arrival on the world stage, may help to compare their respective myths of ‘beginning’ and understand their implications.

1. The Gospel of John introduced the Greek idea of logos, ‘in the beginning’.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ὁ λόγος.

« In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ». (Jn 1:1)

It is certainly worth digging a little deeper into the meaning of the two words ἀρχῇ (arkhè) and λόγος (logos), given their importance here.

Ἐν ἀρχῇ. En arkhè.

What is the real (deep) meaning of this expression?

Should one translate by « In the beginning »? Or « In the Principle »? Or something else?

The original meaning of the verb arkho, arkhein, commonly used since Homer, is ‘to take the initiative, to begin’. In the active sense, the word means ‘to command’.i With the preverb en-, the verb en-arkhomai means ‘to begin the sacrifice’, and later ‘to exercise magistracy’. The notion of sacrifice is very present in the cloud of meanings associated with this word. Kat-arkho : ‘to begin a sacrifice’. Pros-arkho, ‘to offer a gift’. Ex-arkho means ‘to begin, to sing (a song)’. Hup-arkho, ‘to begin, to be in the beginning’, hence ‘to be fundamental, to exist’, and finally ‘to be’.

Many compounds use as first term the word arkhè, meaning either ‘who starts’ or ‘who commands’. The oldest meaning is ‘who takes the initiative of’. There is the Homeric meaning of arkhé-kakos, ‘who is at the origin of evils’. The derived word arkhosgave rise to the formation of a very large number of compounds (more than 150 have been recordedii), of which Chantraine notes that they all refer to the notion of leading, of command, — and not to the notion of beginning.

The feminine noun arkhe, which is the word used in the Gospel of John, can mean ‘beginning’, but philosophers use it to designate ‘principles’, ‘first elements’ (Anaximander is the first to use it in this sense), or to mean ‘power, sovereignty’.

Chantraine concludes that the meanings of arkhè whicharerelated to the notions of ‘taking the initiative’, of ‘starting’, are the oldest, but that meanings that express the idea of ‘command’ also are very old, since they already appear in Homer. In all the derivations and subsequent compositions, it is the notion of ‘commanding’ that dominates, including in a religious sense: ‘to make the first gesture, to take the initiative (of sacrifice)’.

One may conjecture from all this, that the Johannine expression ‘en arkhèdoes not contain the deep idea of an ‘absolute beginning’. Rather, it may refer to the idea of a (divine) sacrificial initiative or inauguration (of the divine ‘sacrifice’), which presupposes not an absolute, temporal beginning, but rather an intemporal, divine decision, and the pre-existence of a whole background necessary for the conception and execution of this divine, inaugural and atemporal ‘sacrifice’.

Now, what about λόγος, logos ? How to translate this word with the right nuance? Does logos mean here ‘verb’ ? ‘Word’ ? ‘Reason’ ? ‘Speech’ ?

The word logos comes from the Greek verb lego, legein, whose original meaning is ‘to gather, to choose’, at least in the ways Homer uses this word in the Iliad. This value is preserved with the verbal compounds using the preverbs dia– or ek– (dia-legeinor ek-legein,‘to sort, to choose’), epi-legein ‘to choose, to pay attention to’, sul-legeintogather’. Legeinsometimes means ‘to enumerate’ in the Odyssey, and ‘to utter insults’, or ‘to chat, to discourse’ in the Iliad. This is how the use of lego, legein in the sense of ‘to tell, to say’ appeared, a use that competes with other Greek verbs that also have the meaning of ‘to say’: agoreuo, phèmi.

The noun logos is very ancient and can be found in the Iliad and Odyssey with the meaning of ‘speech, word’, and in Ionic and Attic dialects with meanings such as ‘narrative, account, consideration, explanation, reasoning, reason’, – as opposed to ‘reality’ (ergon). Then, much later, logos has come to mean ‘immanent reason’, and in Christian theology, it started to mean the second person of the Trinity, or even God.iii

Usually Jn 1:1 is translated, as we know : ‘In the beginning was the Word’. But if one wants to remain faithful to the most original meaning of these words, en arkhè and logos, one may choose to translate this verse in quite a different way.

I propose (not as a provocation, but for a brain-storming purpose) to tranlate :

« At the principle there was a choice. »

Read: « At the principle » — [of the divine sacrifice] — « there was a [divine] choice ».

Explanation: The divine Entity which proceeded, ‘in the beginning’, did not Itself begin to be at the time of this ‘beginning’. It was necessarily already there, before any being andbefore any beginning, in order toinitiate and make the ‘beginning’ and the ‘being’ possible. The ‘beginning’ is thus only relative, since the divine Entity was and is always before and any beginning and any time, out of time and any beginning.

Also, let’s argue that the expression ‘en arkhe‘ in Jn 1:1 rather refers to the idea and initiative of a ‘primordial sacrifice‘ or a primal ‘initiation’, — of which the Greek language keeps a deep memory in the verb arkhein, whencompounded with the preverb en-: en-arkhomai, ‘to initiate the sacrifice’, a composition very close to the Johannine formula en arkhe.

As for the choice of the word ‘choice‘ to translate logos, it is justified by the long memory of the meanings of the word logos. The word logos only meant ‘word’ at a very late period, and when it finally meant that, this was in competition with other Greek words with the same meaning of ‘to say’, or ‘to speak’, such as phèmi, or agoreuo. as already said.

In reality, the original meaning of the verb lego, legein,is not ‘to speak’ or ‘to say’, but revolves around the ideas of ‘gathering’ and ‘choosing’, which are mental operations prior to any speech. The idea of ‘speaking’ is basically only second, it only comes after the ‘choice’ made by the mind to ‘gather’ [its ideas] and ‘distinguish’ or ‘elect’ them [in order to ‘express’ them].

2. About a thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Hebrew tradition tells yet another story of ‘beginning’, not that of the beginning of a ‘Word’ or a ‘Verb’, but that of a unity coupled with a multiplicity in order to initiate ‘creation’.

The first verse of the Torah (Gen 1:1) reads:

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.

Berechit bara elohim et ha-chamaïm v-et ha-arets.

Usually Gn 1.1 is translated as :

« In the beginning God created heaven and earth ».

The word אֱלֹהִים , elohim, is translated by ‘God’. However, elohim is grammatically a plural (and could be, — grammatically speaking –, translated as  »the Gods »), as the other plural in this verse, ha-chamayim, should be translated bythe heavens’. The fact that the verb bara (created) is in the singular is not a difficulty from this point of view. In the grammar of ancient Semitic languages (to which the grammar of classical Arabic still bears witness today, for it has preserved, more than Hebrew, these ancient grammatical rules) the plurals of non-human animated beings that are subjects of verbs, put these in the 3rd person singular. Elohim is a plural of non-human animated beings, because they are divine.

Another grammatical rule states that when the verb is at the beginning of the sentence, and is followed by the subject, the verb should always be in the singular form, even when the subject is plural.

From these two different grammatical rules, therefore, the verb of which elohim is the subject must be put in the singular (bara).

In other words, the fact that the verb bara is a 3rd person singular does not imply that the subject elohim should grammatically be also a singular.

As for the initial particle, בְּ be, in the expression be-rechit, it has many meanings, including ‘with’, ‘by’, ‘by means of’.

In accordance with several midrachic interpretations found in the Bereshit Rabbah, I propose not to translate be-rechit by ‘in the beginning’, but to suggest quite another translation.

By giving the particle בְּ be- the meaning of ‘with‘ or ‘by, be-rechit may be translatedby: « with [the ‘rechit‘] ».

Again in accordance with several midrachic interpretations, I also suggest giving back to ‘rechitits original meaning of ‘first-fruits‘ (of a harvest), and even giving it in this context not a temporal meaning but a qualitative and superlative one: ‘the most precious‘.

It should be noted, by the way, that these meanings meet well with the idea of ‘sacrifice’ that the Greek word arkhé in theJohannine Gospel contains, as we have just seen.

Hence the proposed translation of Gn 1.1 :

« By [or with] the Most Precious, the Gods [or God] created etc… »

Let us note finally that in this first verse of the Hebrew Bible, there is no mention of ‘speaking’, or ‘saying’ any ‘Verb’ or ‘Word’.

It is only in the 3rd verse of Genesis that God (Elohim) ‘says’ (yomer) something…

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

Va-yomer Elohim yéhi ‘or vé yéhi ‘or.

Literally: « Elohim says ‘let there be light’, and the light is [and will be]. »

Then in the 5th verse, God (Elohim) ‘calls’ (yqra), i.e. God ‘gives names’.

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאוֹר יוֹם

Va-yqra’ Elohim la-‘or yom

« And Elohim called the light ‘day’. »

The actual « word » of God will come only much later. The verb דָּבַר davar ‘to speak’ or the noun דָּבָר davar ‘word’ (as applied to YHVH) only appeared long after the ‘beginning’ had begun:

« All that YHVH has said » (Ex 24:7).

« YHVH has fulfilled his word » (1 Kings 8:20).

« For YHVH has spoken » (Is 1:2).

3. Let us now turn to the Vedic tradition, which dates (in its orally transmitted form) to one or two millennia before the Hebrew tradition.

In the Veda, in contrast to Genesis or the Gospel of John, there is not ‘one’ beginning, but several beginnings, operating at different levels, and featuring various actors …

Here are a few examples:

« O Lord of the Word (‘Bṛhaspati’)! This was the beginning of the Word.  » (RV X, 71,1)

« In the beginning, this universe was neither Being nor Non-Being. In the beginning, indeed, this universe existed and did not exist: only the Spirit was there.

The Spirit was, so to speak, neither existing nor non-existent.

The Spirit, once created, desired to manifest itself.

This Spirit then created the Word. « (SB X 5, 3, 1-2)

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, because hunger is death. She became mental [she became ‘thinking’]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. »(BU 1,2,1).

Perhaps most strikingly, more than two or three millennia before the Gospel of John, the Veda already employed formulas or metaphors such as: the ‘Lord of the Word’ or ‘the beginning of the Word’.

In Sanskrit, the ‘word’ is वाच् Vāc. In the Veda it is metaphorically called ‘the Great’ (bṛhatī), but it also receives many other metaphors or divine names.

The Word of the Veda, Vāc, ‘was’ before any creation, it pre-existed before any being came to be.

The Word is begotten by and in the Absolute – it is not ‘created’.

The Absolute for its part has no name, because He is before the word. Or, because He is the Word. He is the Word itself, or ‘all the Word’.

How then could He be called by any name? A name is never but a single word: it cannot speak thewhole Word’, – all that has been, is and will be Word.

The Absolute is not named. But one can name the Supreme Creator, the Lord of all creatures, which is one of its manifestations, – like the Word, moreover.

The Ṛg Veda gives it the name प्रजापति Prajāpati,: Lord (pati) of Creation (prajā). It also gives itthe name ब्र्हस्पति Bṛhaspati, which means ‘Lord of the Wordiv, Lord (pati) of the Great (bṛhatī )’.

For Vāc is the ‘greatness’ of Prajāpati: « Then Agni turned to Him with open mouth; and He (Prajāpati) was afraid, and his own greatness separated from Him. Now His very greatness is His Word, and this greatness has separated from Him. »v

The Sanskrit word bṛhat, बृहत् means ‘great, high; vast, abundant; strong, powerful; principal’. Its root ब्र्ह bṛha means‘to increase, to grow; to become strong; to spread’.

The Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad comments: « It is also Bṛhaspati: Bṛhatī [‘the great one’] is indeed the Word, and he is its Lord (pati). « vi

The Word is therefore also at the « beginning » in the Veda, but it precedes it, and makes it possible, because the Word is intimately linked to the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Ṛg Veda explains the link between the supreme Creator, the Word, the Spirit, and the Sacrifice, a link that is unraveled and loosened ‘in the beginning’:

« O Lord of the Word! This was the beginning of the Word,

– when the seers began to name everything.

Excellence, the purest, the profoundly hidden

in their hearts, they revealed it through their love.

The Seers shaped the Word by the Spirit,

passing it through a sieve, like wheat being sifted.

Friends recognized the friendship they had for each other,

and a sign of good omen sealed their word.

Through sacrifice, they followed the way of the Word,

and this Word which they found in them, among them,

– they proclaimed it and communicated it to the multitude.

Together, the Seven Singers sing it. »vii

In the Śatapatha brāhmaṇa which is a later scholarly commentary, the Word is presented as the divine entity that created the « Breath of Life »:

« The Word, when he was created, desired to manifest himself, and to become more explicit, more incarnated. He desired a Self. He concentrated fervently. He acquired substance. These were the 36,000 fires of his own Self, made of the Word, and emerging from the Word. (…) With the Word they sang and with the Word they recited. Whatever rite is practiced in the Sacrifice, the sacrificial rite exists by the Word alone, as the utterance of voices, as fires composed of the Word, generated by the Word (…) The Word created the Breath of Life. »viii

In the Bṛhadāraṇyaka-upaniṣad, one of the oldest upaniṣad, the Vedic Word is staged as born of death, or rather of the soul (ātman)of death.

This Word is the prayer or hymn (ṛc), or ritual recitation (arc, of the same root as ṛc). Through the play of assonances, homophonies and metaphors, it is associated with arca, the‘fire’ and ka, the‘water’ (both essential elements of the sacrifice), and also with ka, the ‘joy’ it brings.

« Nothing existed here on earth in the beginning; it was covered by death (mṛtyu), by hunger, for hunger is deathix. She made herself mental [thinking]: ‘May I have a soul (ātman)‘. She engaged in a ritual recitation [bow, a prayer]. While she was in the ritual recitation the water was bornx. She thought] ‘Truly, while engaged in this ritual recitation (arc), the water [or joy] (ka) came’. This is the name and being (arkatva) of the ritual recitation [or fire] (arka). Water [or joy] (ka) really happens to the one who knows the name and being of the virtual recitation [or fire]. »xi

From these quotations, one sees clearly that, in the Vedic tradition, the Word is not « in the beginning », but he is « the beginning ». The beginning of what? — The beginning of Sacrifice.

The Word ‘begins’ to reveal, he ‘initiates’, but he also hides all that he does not reveal.

What is it that he does not reveal? – He does not reveal all the depth, the abyss of the (divine) Sacrifice.

The Word is a ‘place’ where is made possible an encounter between clarity, light, brilliance (joy) and Man. But the Word also makes heard, through his silence, all the immensity of the abyss, the depth of the darkness, the in-finite before any beginnings.


iCf. The Greek Etymological Dictionary of Chantraine

iiBuck-Petersen, Reverse index 686-687

iiiCf. Lampe, Lexicon, Kittel, Theological Words.

ivRV X.71

vSB II, 2,4,4

vi Cf. BU,1,3,30. This Upaniṣad further explains that the Word is embodied in the Vedas in the Vedic hymn (Ṛc), in theformula of sacrifice (yajus) and in the sacred melody (sāman). Bṛhatī is also the name given to the Vedic verse (ṛc) and the name of the Brahman (in the neutral) is given to the sacrificial formula (yajus). As for the melody (sāman) it is ‘Breath-Speech’: « That is why it is also Bṛhaspati (Ṛc). It is also Bhrahmaṇaspati. The Brahman is indeed the Word and he is the lord (pati) of the [Word]. That is why he is also Bhrahmaṇaspati (= Yajus). He is also the melody (sāman). The melody is truly the Word: ‘He is she, (the Word) and he is Ama (the breath). This is for the name and nature of the melody (sāman). Or because he is equal (sama) to a gnat, equal to a mosquito, equal to an elephant, equal to the three worlds, equal to this all, for this reason he is sāman, melody. It obtains the union with the sāman , theresidence in the same world, the one that knows the sāman. »(BU 1,3,20-22)

vii RV X, 71, 1-3.

viii SB X 5, 3, 1-5

ix A. Degrâces thus comments this sentence: « The question of cause is raised here. If nothing is perceived, nothing exists. Śaṅkara is based on the concepts of covering and being covered: ‘What is covered by the cause is the effect, and both exist before creation… But the cause, by destroying the preceding effect, does not destroy itself. And the fact that one effect occurs by destroying another is not in opposition to the fact that the cause exists before the effect that is produced….Manifestation means reaching the realm of perception… Not being perceived does not mean not existing… There are two forms of covering or occultation in relation to the effect… What is destroyed, produced, existing and non-existing depends on the relation to the manifestation or occultation… The effort consists in removing what covers… Death is the golden embryo in the condition of intelligence, hunger is the attribute of what intelligence is… ». (BAUB 1.2) Alyette Degrâces. The Upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222, note n° 974.

x Water plays an essential role in the Vedic sacrifice.

xiBU 1,2,1 (My adaptation in English from a French translation by Alyette Degrâces. The upaniṣad. Fayard, 2014, p.222)

God and Shadow

Modify the article

« Van Gogh. Starry Night »

Billions of suns shimmer in the Night, – and all the gods are silent and shine.

The Night, – the immense abyss sucks it up, breathes this dark shroud of blood, this veil of shadow.

A voice cries out in the dark: « O Abyss, you are the only God. »i

Another voice answers, in an ironic echo: « O unique God, you are Abyss! »

All the suns that I know overflow with shadows, are full of enigmas, pierce the night with irruptions, with intestinal fury, pulverize and volatilize the mysteries.

Their deliriums, their burns, their glimmers, their impulses, fill old divine voids, long already there, pierce black matter, streak with dark mists.

See the divine Athena, wise, simple, sure, solar too, – one comes from afar to pray under the radiance of her aegis, and to recollect (relegere) on the threshold of her altar, on her calm Acropolis.

But her very Soul is only shadow, even if her Intelligence is light.

It is said that the dreams of the wise, the hatreds of the people, the tears, the loves and the gods pass.

I prefer to believe that they slide eternally, into nameless oblivion, an endless drift, but no, they will not pass. On the contrary, they grow, and always multiply. Like God Himself.

This God whom, out of faith or fear, fierce monotheists say they want to « unify » (in words only). They vehemently assign to Him a single attribute, the « one », only the « one », – not the « two », or the « three », or the « π », the pleroma or the infinite.

Those who pronounce His plural, intangible name, Elohim, still read in this plural the « One », the unique, alone, singular « One ».

They also assign the defined article to His name: the Elohim. הָאֱלֹהִים. Ha-Elohimii.

« The » God. In Arabic, too : « Al » Lah. « The » Divinity.

Two grammatical temptations : to ‘unify’ God (as being ‘one’)… and to ‘define’ God (by the article)….

And death is promised, surely, to all others, to those who, they say, « multiply Him, » – in word or thought, by action or omission….

A crucified Muslim, a saint and martyr, at the beginning of the 10th century A.D., famously said:

« Who claims to unify Him, multiplies Him.»iii

He paid with his life for this deep and uncomfortable truth.

Is the God, immensely infinite, so much in need of this din around a ‘unity’ that is tired, but certainly threatened, atomized with clamor (of pride and conquest), crumbled with cries (of hatred and suffering), diluted with harangues (of excommunications and fatwas).

The « One », – image, or even idol, of pure abstraction, worshipping itself, in its solitude.

The. One. The One.

The definite and the indefinite, united in a common embrace, against grammar, logic and meaning, – for if He is « One », if He is only « One », how can one say « the » One, who supposes « an » Other, maybe a less or a more than « one » Other, lurking in His shadow?

Only, perhaps, is the path of negative theology worthwhile here.

Maybe, God is neither one, nor multiple, nor the One, nor the Other, nor defined, nor undefined, but all of that at once.

Only one thing seems to be sure: He is nothing of what they say He is. Nada.

How is it possible to attribute an attribute to Him, if He is unity as such? What blindness! What derision! What pride!

They don’t know what they are doing. They don’t know what they are saying. They don’t think what they think.

But if He is not the One, from a grammatical and ontological viewpoint, what sort of grammar and ontolgy can we use to say what He really is ?

The very idea of the One is not high enough, not wide enough, not deep enough, – for His Présence, His Powers, and His infinite armies (tsebaoth) of shadows, to remain included in it.

To move forward, let’s reflect on the concept of ‘reflection’.

The sun, this unique star (for us), by its infinite images, by its incessant rays, is ‘reflected’ in the slightest of the shadows. Some of these rays even dance within us, with in our souls.

The Veda tradition helps to understand the lesson, adding another perspective.

The God Surya, who is called ‘Sun’, says the Veda, has a face of extreme brilliance, – so extreme that his ‘wife’, the Goddess Saranyu, flees before him because she can no longer face his face.

To keep her escape secret, to hide her absence, she creates a shadow, – a faithful copy of herself – named Chāyā, which she leaves behind, in her place.iv

It should be noted that in Sanskrit Chāyā, छाया, indeed means ‘shadow’. The root of this word is chād, छाद्, ‘to cover, to wrap; to hide, to keep secret’.

The word chāyā is also given by Chantraine’s Dictionary of Greek Etymology as having « a definite kinship » with the Greek word σκιά skia, ‘shadow’, ‘darkness, hidden place’ and also ‘ghost’ (a qualifier designating man’s weakness). Avestic and Persian also have a very similar word, sāya, ‘shadow’. The word skia is found in the Gospel several times, for example:

« This people, sitting in darkness, saw a great light. And upon those who sat in the region and the shadow (skia) of death, the light has risen. »v

The God Surya is deceived by this faithful shadow, which seems to be (in appearance) His own shadow. He, then, unites Himself to her, to Chāyā, to this shadow that is not divine, only human. And He generates with her à son, Manu.vi

Manu, – the ancestor of mankind.

Manu, – the Adam of the Veda, therefore!

According to Genesis, a text that appeared at least a millennium after the hymns of Ṛg Veda were composed (and thus having, one can think, some distance from the most ancient Vedic intuitions), the God (named Elohim) famously said:

נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ

Na’oçéh adam bi-tsalme-nou ki-dimoute-nou

« Let us make Adam in our image (bi-tsalmé-nou) and according to our likeness (ki-demouté-nou)« vii.

Then the text insists, and repeats the word ‘image’ twice more.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ

Vé-bara Elohim et-ha-adam bi-tsalmou, bi-tsélém Elohim bara otou.

Translated literally: « And Elohim created Adam in his image (bi-tsalmou), in the image (bi-tslem) Elohim created him. »viii

Let us note that the third time, this ‘image’ that Elohim uses to create is not the image of anyone, it is only an ‘image’ with which He creates Adam. Perhaps it is not even an image, then, but only a shadow?

This is worth thinking about.

The Hebrew word צֶלֶם tselem, ‘image’, has the primary meaning: ‘shadows, darkness’, as the verse « Yes, man walks in darkness (be-tselem) » (Ps. 39:7) testifies, and as the word צֵל tsel, meaning ‘shadow’, confirms.

The Vedic God generates « Manu », the Man, with the Shade, Chāyā.

The biblical God creates « Adam » as a « shadow ».

Was there an influence of the Vedic myth on the biblical myth of the creation of man? One cannot say. On the other hand, it is obvious that some fundamental archetypes remain, beyond time and cultures, which are properly human, undoubtedly coming from the dark depths, where many shadows indeed reign.

It is not so surprising, in fact, that one of the deepest archetypes attaches precisely the idea of shadow to the deepest nature of man.

Man, a frail shadow, – and image too, or veil, of an abyss within him, without bottom.


iErnest Renan. Memories of childhood and youth. Prayer on the Acropolis. Calmann-Lévy, Paris, 1883, p.72

iiSee Gen 6.2; Ex 1, 17: Ex 20.16; 1Kings 17.18; Job 1.6 and many other examples.

iiiHallâj. The Book of the Word. Translation by Chawki Abdelamir and Philippe Delarbre. Ed. du Rocher, 1996. p.58

ivDoniger, Wendy(1998). « Saranyu/Samjna ». In John Stratton Hawley, Donna Marie Wulff (ed.). Devī: goddesses of India. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 158-60.

vMt 4 ;16

viAccording to a later tradition, that of Mahābhārata.

viiGen 1 :26

viiiGen 1 :27

Burning Hurqalyâ

« Henry Corbin »

In matters of religion, one of the common errors is to want to choose with whom one can talk, and to exclude from one’s field of vision extreme ideologues, stubborn minds, closed mentalities. This is human.

It is incomparably easier to begin detailed debates or circumstantial glosses if there is already an a priori agreement on the substance. This avoids infinite misunderstandings and deadlocked dead ends. Who thinks it possible, indeed, to ever agree, on any point whatsoever, with such and such an ultra tendency of such and such a monotheistic religion?

It’s human, and it’s easier, but, on the other hand, the ultras of all acabits, irreconcilably ‘other’, absolutely ‘foreign’ to any dialectic, remain in the landscape. They continue, and for a long time, to be part of the problem to be solved, even if they don’t seem to be part of the solution. Precisely because they have nothing in common with the proponents of the very idea of ‘dialogue’, they can be interesting to observe, and must be, in every respect, if one considers the long-term destiny of a small Humankind, standing on its dewclaws, on the surface of a drop of mud, lost in the cosmic night.

Nevertheless, it is infinitely easier to speak to ‘open’ minds when trying to cross cultural, traditional or religious barriers.

« The conditions of the Christian-Islamic dialogue change completely if the interlocutor is not legal Islam but spiritual Islam, whether it is Sufism or Shî’ite Gnosis. » i

Henry Corbin was an exceptional personality. But he admitted that he did not want to waste his time with the ‘legitarians’. This is understandable. And yet, they are basically the key lock. If world peace and universal understanding are to be achieved, ‘spiritualists’ and ‘legitarians’ must find, whatever the difficulties to be overcome, a common ground…

Dialogue with the ‘other’ begins with mastering the other’s language.

In theory, we should be able to understand all of them, or at least decipher them, particularly these chosen languages, chosen for conveying this or that sacred message.

Sanskrit, for example, should be part of the minimal baggage of any researcher interested in a comparative anthropology of the religious fact through time. It is the oldest and most complex language, which still testifies to the wonders of the human spirit, trying to approach mysteries that are seemingly beyond its reach.

I hasten to add (biblical) Hebrew, which is much simpler, grammatically speaking, but full of a subtle delicacy that can be seen in the play on words, the etymological shifts, the radical drifts, the subliminal evocations, and the breadth of the semantic fields, allowing for the most daring and creative interpretations.

Koranic Arabic is also a necessary acquisition. The Koran is a book with a very ‘literary’ and sophisticated writing that no translation can really render, as it requires immersion in the musicality of classical Arabic, now a dead language. Puns and alliterations abound, as in Hebrew, another Semitic language.

The famous Louis Massignon sought in good faith « how to bring back to a common base the textual study of the two cultures, Arabic and Greco-Latin »ii.

For our part, we would also like to be able to bring the study of Vedic, Egyptian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Zoroastrian and Avestic cultures, at least in theory if not in practice, to a « common base ».

And, still in theory, one should particularly have solid notions of Ancient Egyptian (very useful if one wants to understand the distant foundations of the ancient ‘mosaic’ religion), and Avesta (indispensable to get an idea of the progressive, ‘harmonic’, transitioniii in ancient Iran from Zoroastrianism and Mazdeism to Muslim Shî’ism).

In the absence of these indispensable add-ons, one can minimally rely on a few genius smugglers. Henry Corbin is an incomparable pedagogue of Shî’ite Islam. Who else but him could have allowed the discovery of a concept like the one of Ḥûrqalyâ?

Ḥûrqalyâ is the land of visions, the place where mind and body become one, explains Henry Corbin. « Each one of us, volens nolens, is the author of events in ‘Ḥûrqalyâ‘, whether they abort or bear fruit in its paradise or its hell. We believe we are contemplating the past and the unchanging, as we consume our own future. » iv

His explanation of Ḥûrqalyâ is rather short and somewhat obscure. We would like to know more.

Looking in the famous Kazimirsky dictionaryv, I discovered the meaning of the verbal root حرق (ḥaraqa): « To be burned, to burn. To set on fire, to ignite; to burn with great fire. To burn each other (or to sleep with a woman). To reduce to ashes. »

It is also the word used to designate migrants who ‘burn’ their identity papers.

With different vocalizations of the same verbal root, the semantic spectrum of the resulting nouns widens considerably:

ḥirq « the tallest branch of the male palm tree, which fertilizes the flowers of a female palm tree »;

ḥourq « avarice »;

ḥaraq « fire, flame, burn »;

ḥariq « which loses its hair; which produces violent lightning (cloud); « fire;

ḥourqa « burning heat in the intestines »;

al- ḥâriq « the tooth (of a ferocious beast) »;

ḥâriqa « burning (said to be a very sensual woman in the carnal trade) »;

ḥâroûqa « very sensual woman », or in the plural: »who cuts (swords) »;

ḥirâq « who destroys, who consumes »; « who burns the path, who runs very fast (horse) »;

ḥourrâq « burning firebrand »;

ḥârraqa « vessel to be set on fire ».

You get the idea…

But in the context that interests us here, it is the noun حَرْقً (ḥarq), used by mystics, that we must highlight. It means « the state of burning », that is, an intermediate state between برق (barq), which is only the « lightning of the manifestations of God », and الطمس فى الذات, al-tams fi-l-dhat, « annihilation in the ‘that’, in the divine essence »vi.

The etymology of the word ḥûrqalyâ, shows that it means a state that lies between the lightning flash and the ash or annihilation .

Let us return to the glossary proposed by Corbin.

« A whole region of Hûrqalyâ is populated, post mortem, byour imperatives and our vows, that is to say, by what makes the very meaning of our acts of understanding as well as our behaviors. As well as all the underlying metaphysics is that of an incessant recurrence of Creation (tajaddod), it is not a metaphysics of the Ens or the Esse, but of the Estovii, ofbe !’ in the imperative. But the event is put to the imperative only because it is itself the iterative form of the being for which it is promoted to the reality of event. » viii

We learn here that Creation is a continuous act, a continuous iteration, an imperative to be, a ‘be!’ infinitely repeated, implying a ‘become!’ no less perpetual.

Esto! Or the unceasing burning of the moment, that is to say of the presence (to oneself, or in oneself ?).

Perhaps we can read in these ever-changing, ever-challenging moments « the mystery of the primordial Theophany, of the revelation of the divine Being, who can only reveal himself to himself in another self, but can only recognize himself as other, and recognize this other as himself only because he is God in himself. » ix

Another image, often used in the Psalms, is that of clothing. It is necessary to reach this state where the body is no more than a ‘garment’ that one can freely undress or put on, because it is really the other in oneself that is the true garment of oneself.


iHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.12

ii Louis Massignon. Lettres d’humanité tome II, 1943, p.137

iiiAccording to the expression of H. Corbin. op.cit. p. 111

ivHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.13

vA. de Biberstein Kazimirski. Arab-French dictionary. Volume I. Ed Al Bouraq. Beirut. 2004, pp. 411-412.

vi The mystical meaning of the word tams is precisely the annihilation of the individuality of man’s attributes in the attributes of God. The word dhat means « that » and, in context, the very essence of God.

viiIn Latin: ens = « being », esse = « to be », esto = « Be! »

viiiHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.16

ixHenry Corbin. Heavenly earth and resurrection body. From Mazdean Iran to Shî’ite Iran. Ed. The boat of the sun. Buchet/Chastel. 1960. p.111

Archéologie du Divin et Récits universels

« Le Sôma et le Féminin Sacré »

La religion naturelle de l’humanité est le chamanisme. Depuis des temps immémoriaux, et sur toute la surface de la Terre, en Sibérie, en Amazonie, en Afrique ou en Laponie, des chamanes de toutes ethnies, langues et cultures, ont mis en lumière la puissance latente du numineux dans la conscience d’Homo Sapiens.

Mais c’est au Ṛg Veda (en devanāgarī : ऋग्वेद) que revient d’incarner sous une forme hautement élaborée et conceptualisée une des traditions spirituelles les plus anciennes de l’humanité. Les livres (ou mandalas) du Ṛg Veda ont d’abord été fidèlement transmis par oral depuis le début du 2ème millénaire avant notre ère, dans la langue savante et raffinée du sanskrit, avant d’être enfin fixés par écrit.

Le passé est l’une des puissances de l’avenir. Par sa position ancienne, unique et originaire, dans la suite des spiritualités humaines, le Ṛg Veda éclaire en partie ce que furent les rêves de l’humanité, jadis, — songes qui continuent de hanter aujourd’hui les âmes non-mortes.

De l’étude attentive et comparative de ses versets, il me semble que l’on peut imaginer comment de nouveaux rêves, sans doute nécessaires, émaneront des braises passées, et brûleront d’incandescence l’âme des générations à venir.

Le Ṛg Veda portait déjà des idées métaphysiques de portée universelle, à travers les concepts de Parole, de Pensée, d’Infini, d’Amour, de Sacrifice, et d’Alliance (du Divin et de l’Humain), — et tout cela plusieurs millénaires avant que les monothéismes judaïque et chrétien ne leur donne des formes sinon équivalentes, du moins comparables.

La Parole.

Plus de trois mille ans avant que l’Évangile de Jean ne célèbre la divinité du Verbe (« Au commencement était le Verbe »), la Parole (vāc) était déjà au cœur du Ṛg Veda. Elle y possède une essence divine, et se présente comme une ‘Personne’, non pas celle d’un Messie christique, mais s’incarnant sous les espèces d’une ‘Femme’, aimante. « Plus d’un qui voit n’a pas vu la Parole. Plus d’un qui entend ne l’entend pas. A celui-ci, Elle a ouvert son corps comme à son mari une femme aimante aux riches atours.»iv

La Pensée

Dans le Ṛg Veda, la Pensée (manas) est l’une des hautes métaphores du Divin. D’autres philosophies et religions célébrèrent aussi la Pensée divine, par exemple en tant qu »Intellect’, en tant que ‘Saint-Esprit’ ou encore sous le nom de ‘Binah’ (l’une des sefiroth des Kabbalistes). Mais dans le Ṛg Veda, l’intuition de la Pensée divine possède d’emblée une force originaire, une puissance de création propre au Divin même.

« Celle en qui reposent prières, mélodies et formules, comme les rais au moyeu du char, celle en qui est tissée toute la réflexion des créatures, la Pensée : puisse ce qu’Elle conçoit m’être propice ! »v


Le Ṛg Veda possède l’idée d’un Dieu infini, caché, sur qui l’univers tout entier repose. Ce Dieu a pour nom l’ « Ancien », — ce qui rappelle le nom donné à Dieu par la cabale juive trois mille ans plus tard: l’ « Ancien des jours ».

« Manifeste, il est caché. Antique est son nom. Vaste son concept. Tout cet univers est fondé sur lui. Sur lui repose ce qui se meut et respire. (…) L’Infini est étendu en directions multiples, l’Infini et le fini ont des frontières communes. Le Gardien de la Voûte céleste les parcourt en les séparant, lui qui sait ce qui est passé et ce qui est à venir. (…) Sans désir, sage, immortel, né de soi-même, se rassasiant de sève vitale,, ne souffrant d’aucun manque – il ne craint pas la mort celui qui a reconnu l’Ātman sage, sans vieillesse, toujours jeune. »vi


Dans la Bible hébraïque, le Cantique des Cantiques montre avec un éclat sans pareil que la célébration de l’amour humain peut s’interpréter comme une métaphore vivante et crue de l’amour entre l’âme et Dieu. Cette même idée se trouve déjà dans le Ṛg Veda, qui présente l’amour incandescent de la Divinité et de l’âme humaine.

« Comme la liane tient l’arbre embrassé de part en part, ainsi embrasse-moi, sois mon amante, et ne t’écarte pas de moi ! Comme l’aigle pour s’élancer frappe au sol de ses deux ailes, ainsi je frappe à ton âme, sois mon amante et ne t’écarte point de moi ! Comme le soleil un même jour entoure le ciel et la terre, ainsi j’entoure ton âme. Sois mon amante et ne t’écarte pas de moi ! Désire mon corps, mes pieds, désire mes cuisses ; que tes yeux, tes cheveux, amoureuse, se consument de passion pour moi ! »vii

Cela invite à considérer, me semble-t-il, une question d’ordre anthropologique. La célébration de l’amour comme image de la procession divine dans l’âme humaine, a pu jaillir dans les profondeurs de l’inconscient collectif, dans l’Inde védique, mais aussi dans l’Egypte ancienne, puis dans les Écritures juives et les Prophètes.

Pourquoi, depuis tant de millénaires, une telle convergence des spiritualités originaires?

Le Sacrifice

Dans les temps anciens, les nuits étaient claires. Ce qui frappait l’imagination des hommes, c’était d’abord l’immensité du voile étoilé, la profondeur du cosmos, au-dessus de leurs têtes, mais aussi la complexité des liens qui alliaient ces puissances lumineuses, démesurées et lointaines à leurs chétives et obscures existences.

Bien avant qu’Abraham consente au sacrifice du sang, celui de son fils, remplacé à l’ultime moment par le sang d’un animal innocent, les prêtres védiques sacrifiaient aussi à la divinité, — non par le sang du fils ou du bouc, mais par le lait de la vache.

Dans le sacrifice védique, le beurre fondu (ghṛita) représentait symboliquement le miracle cosmique. Il incarnait l’alliance du soleil, de la nature et de la vie. Le soleil est la source de toute vie dans la nature, il fait pousser l’herbe, laquelle nourrit la vache, qui exsude son suc, le lait, lequel devient ‘beurre’ par l’action de l’homme (qui le baratte). Le beurre, mêlé d’eau pure et de sucs végétaux, et fondant sous l’action de la chaleur, vient couler librement comme sôma sur l’autel du sacrifice. Il s’embrase par le feu sacré, sur la pierre appelée yoni. Cette vive flamme engendre la lumière, et répand une odeur capable de monter aux cieux, concluant symboliquement le cycle. Cérémonie simple et profonde, prenant son origine dans la nuit des temps, et possédant une vision sûre de l’universelle cohésion entre le divin, le cosmos et l’humain.

« De l’océan, la vague de miel a surgi, avec le sôma, elle a revêtu, la forme de l’ambroisie. Voilà le nom secret du Beurre, langue des Dieux, nombril de l’immortel. (…) Disposé en trois parts, les Dieux ont découvert dans la vache le Beurre que les Paṇi avaient caché. Indra engendra une de ces parts, le Soleil la seconde, la troisième on l’a extraite du sage, et préparée par le rite. (…) Elles jaillissent de l’océan de l’Esprit, ces coulées de Beurre cent fois encloses, invisibles à l’ennemi. Je les considère, la verge d’or est en leur milieu. (…) Elles sautent devant Agni, belles et souriantes comme des jeunes femmes au rendez-vous ; les coulées de Beurre caressent les bûches flambantes, le Feu les agrée, satisfait. »i

Il n’est pas inintéressant de noter ici que l’idée d’une sacralité condensée dans le ‘beurre’ a été reprise plus tard en Israël même.

Les Prêtres, les Prophètes et les Rois d’Israël n’ont pas craint de se faire oindre d’une huile sacrée, d’un chrême, concentrant le sens et la puissance. Dans l’huile sainte, l’huile d’onction, convergent aussi, magiquement, le produit du Cosmos, le travail des hommes, et la puissance vivifiante du Dieu.


L’idée d’un lien entre l’homme et le divin vient d’au-delà des âges. Et parmi les métaphores que l’idée du ‘lien’ rendent désirables, il y a celle du ‘cheveu’. C’est d’ailleurs à la fois une métaphore et une métonymie. Les cheveux sont sur la tête, couvrant le cerveau de l’homme, voltigeant au-dessus de ses pensées. Comment ne pas penser qu’ils peuvent adéquatement figurer autant de liens avec la sphère divine?

Cheveux et poils poussent sans cesse, depuis la naissance, et jusque après la mort. Ils accompagnent la transformation en profondeur du corps, pour la vie, l’amour et la génération. La terre féconde, elle-même, se couvre d’une sorte de chevelure quand la moisson s’annonce. Le génie des anciens voyait dans cette image un ‘lien’ réel entre la nature, l’homme et le divin.

Un hymne du Ṛg Veda allie ces trois mondes dans une seule formule : « Fais pousser l’herbe sur ces trois surfaces, ô Indra, la tête du Père, et le champ que voilà, et mon ventre ! Ce Champ là-bas qui est le nôtre, et mon corps que voici, et la tête du Père, rends tout cela poilu ! »ii

Le cheveu, dans le Ṛg Veda, sert aussi à décrire l’action du divin. Il est l’une des métaphores qui permet de le qualifier indirectement. « Le Chevelu porte le Feu, le Chevelu porte le Sôma, le Chevelu porte les mondes. Le Chevelu porte tout ce qu’on voit du ciel. Le Chevelu s’appelle Lumière. »iii

Que conclure du fait qu’il y a plus de cinq millénaires, le Ṛg Veda incarnait déjà une spiritualité de la Parole, de la Pensée, de l’Infini, de l’Amour, du Sacrifice, de l’Alliance?

L’ancienneté de ces archétypes donne à penser qu’une anthropologie de l’esprit et de la conscience, par-delà les cultures et les âges, est plus que jamais nécessaire, et qu’elle ouvre des perspectives éblouissantes.

Une telle anthropologie de la conscience éclairerait d’une lumière spéciale l’essence même de l’âme humaine, sa puissance universelle, et esquisserait l’étendue putative de ses futures métamorphoses.

Dans notre époque étrécie, sans horizon, sans vision, quelle recherche pourrait être plus féconde?

S’appuyant sur une archéologie comparée du rêve humain, cette recherche future pourrait en particulier s’attacher à imaginer de nouveaux Récits, dont la modernité écrasée, blessée, souffre tant de l’absence.

De nouveaux Grands Récits, qui n’oblitéreraient pas les anciens mythes, mais s’attacheraient à mieux déployer leurs harmoniques impensées, inouïes, ouvriraient sans doute des avenues accélérées, et des chemins de traverse, dans le sens d’une Histoire universelle et sans fin, qui reste à accomplir.


igVéda IV,58. Trad. Louis Renou. Hymnes et prières du Véda. 1938

iigVéda VIII,91. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.

iiigVéda X,136. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.

ivgVéda X,71. Trad. Louis Renou. Ibid.


viA.V. X,8. Ibid.

viiA.V. VI,8-9. Ibid.

Double Meanings and Triple Names (The Cases of Veda and the Sheqel ha-Qodesh)

Classical Sanskrit is a language which allows a lot of verbal games (śleṣa), and double entendres. This semantic duplicity is not simply linguistic. It has its source in the Veda itself, which gives it a much deeper meaning.

« The ‘double meaning’ is the most remarkable process of the Vedic style (…) The objective is to veil the expression, to attenuate direct intelligibility, in short to create ambiguity. This is what the presence of so many obscure words contributes to, so many others that are likely to have (sometimes, simultaneously) a friendly side, a hostile side. » i

The vocabulary of Ṛg Veda is full of ambiguous words and puns.

For example, the word arí means « friend; faithful, zealous, pious » but also « greedy, envious; hostile, enemy ». The word jána refers to the men of the tribe or clan, but the derived word jánya means « stranger ».

On the puns side, let us quote śáva which means both « force » and « corpse », and the phonetic proximity invites us to attribute it to God Śiva, giving it these two meanings. A representation of Śiva at the Ethnographic Museum in Berlin shows him lying on his back, blue and dead, and a goddess with a fierce appearance, multiple arms, a ravenous mouth, ecstatic eyes, makes love to him, to gather the divine seed.

Particularly rich in contrary meanings are the words that apply to the sphere of the sacred.

Thus the root vṛj- has two opposite senses. On the one hand, it means « to overthrow » (the wicked), on the other hand « to attract to oneself » (the Divinity) as Louis Renouii notes. Huet’s Sanskrit dictionary proposes two pallets of meanings for this root: « to bend, to twist; to tear out, to pick, to take away, to exclude, to alienate » and « to choose, to select; to reserve for oneself », which we can see that they can be applied in two antagonistic intentions: rejection or appropriation.

The keyword devá plays a central role, but its meaning is particularly ambiguous. Its primary meaning is « brilliant », « being of light », « divine ». But in RV I,32,12, devá designates Vṛta, the « hidden », the god Agni hid himself as « the one who took human form »iii. And in later texts the word devá is clearly used to refer to ‘demons’iv.

This ambiguity is accentuated when it is prefixed like in ādeva or ádeva: « The word ādeva is different: sometimes it is a doublet of ádeva – ‘impious’ – which is even juxtaposed with in RV VI 49:15; sometimes the word means ‘turned towards the gods’. It is significant that two terms of almost opposite meanings have merged into one and the same form. » v

This phonetic ambiguity of the word is not only ‘significant’, but it seems to me that it allows to detect a crypto-theology of the negative God, of the God « hidden » in his own negation…

The ambiguity installed at this level indicates the Vedic propensity to reduce (by phonetic shifts and approximations) the a priori radical gap between God and Non-God.

The closeness and ambiguity of the meanings makes it possible to link, by metonymy, the clear negation of God (ádeva) and what could be described as God’s ‘procession’ towards Himself (ādeva).

The Sanskrit language thus more or less consciously stages the potential reversibility or dialectical equivalence between the word ádeva (« without God » or « Non-God ») and the word ādeva which, on the contrary, underlines the idea of a momentum or movement of God « towards » God, as in this formula of a hymn addressed to Agni: ā devam ādevaṃ, « God turned towards God », or « God devoted to God » (RV VI, 4,1) .

This analysis is confirmed by the very clear case of the notion of Asura, which combines in a single word two extreme opposite meanings, that of « supreme deity » and that of « enemy of the deva« vi.

The ambiguity of the words reflects on the Gods by name. Agni is the very type of the beneficent deity, but he is also evoked as durmati (foolish) in a passage from RV VII, 1,22. Elsewhere he is accused of constant deceit (RV V,19,4). The God Soma plays a prominent role in all Vedic rites of sacrifice, but he is also described as deceitful (RV IX 61,30), and there are several instances of a demonized Soma identified at Vṛtra. vii

What interpretation should be given to these opposing and concurrent meanings?

Louis Renou opts for the magic idea. « The reversibility of acts as well as formulas is a feature of magical thinking. One puts deities into action against deities, a sacrifice against one’s sacrifice, a word against one’s word ». (MS II, 1,7) »viii.

Anything that touches the sacred can be turned upside down, or overturned.

The sacred is at the same time the source of the greatest goods but also of panic terror, by all that it keeps of mortal dread.

If we turn to the specialist in comparative myth analysis that was C. G. Jung, another interpretation emerges, that of the « conjunction of opposites », which is « synonymous with unconsciousness ».

« The conjuctio oppositorum occupied the speculation of the alchemists in the form of the chymic marriage, and also that of the Kabbalists in the image of Tipheret and Malchut, of God and the Shekinah, not to mention the marriage of the Lamb. » ix

Jung also makes the link with the Gnostic conception of a God ‘devoid of consciousness’ (anennoetos theos). The idea of the agnosia of God psychologically means that God is assimilated to the ‘numinosity of the unconscious’, which is reflected in the Vedic philosophy of Ātman and Puruṣa in the East as well as in that of Master Eckhart in the West.

« The idea that the creator god is not conscious, but that perhaps he is dreaming is also found in the literature of India:

Who could probe it, who will say

Where was he born and where did he come from?

The gods came out of him here.

Who says where they come from?

He who produced the creation

Who contemplates it in the very high light of the sky,

Who did or did not do it,

He knows it! – Or does he not know it? » x

Similarly, Master Eckhart’s theology implies « a ‘divinity’ of which no property can be asserted except that of unity and being, it ‘becomes’, it is not yet Lord of oneself, and it represents an absolute coincidence of opposites. But its simple nature is formless of forms, without becoming of becoming, without being of beings. A conjunction of opposites is synonymous with unconsciousness, because consciousness supposes a discrimination as well as a relation between subject and object. The possibility of consciousness ceases where there is not yet ‘another’. » xi

Can we be satisfied with the Gnostic (or Jungian) idea of the unconscious God? Isn’t it a contradiction for Gnosis (which wants to be supremely ‘knowledge’) to take for God an unconscious God?

Jung’s allusion to the Jewish Kabbalah allows me to return to the ambiguities in biblical Hebrew. This ambiguity is particularly evident in the ‘names of God’. God is supposed to be the One par excellence, but in the Torah there are formally ten names of God: Ehyeh, Yah, Eloha, YHVH, El, Elohim, Elohe Israel, Zevahot, Adonai, Chaddai. xii

This multiplicity of names hides in it an additional profusion of meanings deeply hidden in each of them. Moses de Leon, thus comments on the first name mentioned, Ehyeh:

« The first name: Ehyeh (‘I will be’). It is the secret of the proper Name and it is the name of unity, unique among all His names. The secret of this name is that it is the first of the names of the Holy One blessed be He. And in truth, the secret of the first name is hidden and concealed without any unveiling; therefore, it is the secret of ‘I will be’ because it persists in its being in the secret of mysterious depth until the Secret of Wisdom arises, from which there is unfolding of everything. » xiii

A beginning of explanation is perhaps given by the comment of Moses de Leon about the second name :

« The secret of the second name is Yah. A great principle is that Wisdom is the beginning of the name emerging from the secret of Clear Air, and it is he, yes he, who is destined to be revealed according to the secret of ‘For I will be’. They said:  » ‘I will be’ is a name that is not known and revealed, ‘For I will be’. « Although the secret of Yah [YH] is that it is half of the name [the name YHVH], nevertheless it is the fullness of all, in that it is the principle of all existence, the principle of all essences. » xiv

Judaism uncompromisingly affirms the absolute unity of God and ridicules the Christian idea of the ‘divine Trinity’, but it does not, however, refrain from some incursions into this very territory:

« Why should the Sefirot be ten and not three, in accordance with the secret of Unity that lies in three? You have already treated and discussed the secret of Unity and dissected the secret of : YHVH, our God, YHVH’ (Deut 6:4). You have dealt with the secret of His unity, blessed be His name, concerning these three names, as well as the secret of His Holiness according to the riddle of the three holinesses: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ (Is 6:3).

(…) You need to know in the secret of the depths of the question you asked that ‘YHVH, our God, YHVH’ is the secret of three things and how they are one. (…) You will discover it in the secret: ‘Holy, holy, holy’ (Is 6:3) which Jonathan ben Myiel said and translated into Aramaic in this way: ‘Holy in the heavens above, dwelling place of His presence, Holy on earth where He performs His deeds, Holy forever and for all eternity of eternities’. In fact, the procession of holiness takes place in all the worlds according to their descent and their hierarchical position, and yet holiness is one. » xv

The idea of the ‘procession of the three Holies’ is found almost word for word in the pages of the book On the Trinity written by St. Augustine, almost a thousand years before the Sheqel ha-Qodesh of Moses de Leon… But what does it matter! It seems that our time prefers to privilege sharp and radical oppositions rather than to encourage the observation of convergences and similarities.

Let us conclude. The Veda, by its words, shows that the name devá of God can play with its own negation (ádeva), to evoke the « procession » of God « towards God » (ādeva).

A thousand years later, God revealed to Moses His triple name ‘Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh‘. Then, three thousand years after the Ṛg Veda, the Jewish Kabbalah interpreted the mystery of the name Ehyeh, as an ‘I will be’ yet to come – ‘For I will be’. A pungent paradox for radical monotheism, it also affirms the idea of a « procession » of the three « Holinesses » of the One God.

Language, be it Vedic or biblical, far from being a museum of dead words and frozen concepts, has throughout the ages constantly presented the breadth, depth and width of its scope. It charges each word with meanings, sometimes necessarily contrary or contradictory, and then nurtures them with all the power of intention, which is revealed through interpretation.

Words hold in reserve all the energy, wisdom and intelligence of those who relentlessly think of them as being the intermediaries of the absolute unthinkable and unspeakable.


iLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.36-37

iiLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §16. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 58

iiiRV I,32,11

ivLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §67. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 103

vLouis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §35. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 77

viSee Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §71. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p. 107

viiExamples cited by Louis Renou. Selected Indian studies. §68. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.104

viii Louis Renou. Choice of Indian studies. §77. EFEO Press. Paris, 1997, p.112

ixC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p. 88

xRV X, 129 Strophes 6 and 7. Quoted by C.G. Jung, Aïon. Translated by Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.211

xiC.G. Jung. Aïon. Trad. Etienne Perrot. M.M. Louzier-Sahler. Albin Michel. 1983, p.212

xiiCf. The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased », in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 278-287.

xiii« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 280.

xiv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. p. 281-282

xv« The Gate of the Ten Names that are not erased, » in Moses de Leon. Sheqel ha-Qodesh. Translated by Charles Mopsik. Verdier. 1996. pp. 290, 292, 294.

La mort et les mots

Souvent les mots ont un double sens presque immédiatement apparent, mais aussi des strates de signification, profondes, cachées.

En sanskrit, la racine यु YU- renvoie à deux espaces sémantiques absolument opposés.  D’un côté, YU- (1) signifie “séparer, éloigner, exclure, protéger de, repousser”. De l’autre, YU- (2) signifie au contraire “ unir, attacher, joindre, lier, attirer, prendre possession de, tenir, adorer, honorer”. Comment expliquer une telle ambivalence, pour une même racine, indépendamment de tout affixes correcteurs?

La radicale divergence des sens ( « séparer » et « unir ») que porte la racine YU- est confirmée par deux racines qui en sont issus, et qui restent d’ailleurs fort proches phonétiquement. YU- (1) est à l’origine de la racine युछ् YUCH-, « partir, quitter, disparaître, errer ». On lui associe le latin juvo.
YU- (2) a produit la racine युज् YUJ-, “joindre, unir, juguler, atteler, harnacher; diriger son esprit, fixer son attention”. YUJ- renvoie au latin jungo.

Une racine, qui semble plus originaire encore, या YĀ-, porte tous les sens associés au mouvement: « aller, marcher, avancer, voyager, s’en aller », mais aussi: « aller vers, entrer, approcher, arriver, atteindre ». On voit que YĀ- couvre la gamme des sens possibles du mouvement, qu’ils soient centrifuges ou centripètes.

Tout se passe comme si le sens vraiment originaire de YĀ- ou de YU- était le fait de se mouvoir, le but de cette motion (partir ou revenir) étant en quelque sorte secondaire. Ainsi l’anglais to go, « aller », ne voit son propre sens précisé que par l’adjonction d’adverbes: to go away, « partir », to go back, « revenir ».

En hébreu, on trouve un cas comparable d’ambivalence, avec סוּר, sour, qui dans une première acception signifie : « s’écarter, se retirer, disparaître ». En voici deux exemples: « Dieu s’est retiré de moi. » (1 Sam. 28.15) « Ils se sont tous écartés de la bonne voie. » (Ps. 14.3) Mais le même verbe signifie aussi : « Quitter un endroit pour s’approcher d’un autre, s’approcher, se tourner vers, venir, entrer ». Par exemple : « Il faut que j’approche et que je voie cette grande vision, et pourquoi le buisson ne se consume point » (Ex. 3.3), « Entre chez moi » (Juges 4.18), « Et le deuil de ceux qui sont étendus voluptueusement approchera » (Amos 6.7).
Quand Moïse  « s’approche » pour mieux voir le buisson ardent, il doit « se détourner » de son chemin. Le verbe porte ces deux sens, celui de l’écart et celui du rapprochement.

Un autre exemple montre toute l’ambiguïté du mot סוּר, sour. Agag, roi d’Amalek, est amené devant Samuel. Agag est gai, joyeux, car il croit avoir échappé à la mort, et il dit : « Certainement, l’amertume de la mort est passée !» (1 Sam. 15.32), traduction la plus courante (Segond, Cahen, Darby). Mais Sander et Trenel traduisent : « L’amertume de la mort approche ». Ces deux traductions en sens contraires portent chacune une part de vérité. Agag avait cru s’en tirer à bon compte. La mort semblait avoir été écartée. Mais l’instant d’après, Samuel le « mit en pièces » : elle était en fait toute proche, imminente.

Ces dualismes, ces ambiguïtés, dans des mots de langues aussi différentes que le sanscrit ou l’hébreu, administrent une leçon large, celée.

Dans un de ses plus célèbres fragments, Héraclite proposait une énigme comparable: 

« La route, montante, descendante, une et même. »
On pourrait résoudre le paradoxe, en l’explicitant, par un mot qui manque: « La route vers la mort, proche ou lointaine, une et même ».

Un autre fragment héraclitéen offre une piste plus oblique:
« Limites de l’âme, tu ne saurais les trouver en poursuivant ton chemin
Si longue que soit la route
Tant est profond le logos qu’elle renferme. »

La proximité ou l’éloignement de la mort n’est pas ce qui importe. Ce n’est pas non plus le chemin suivi, sa longueur, sa montée ou sa descente. Aucune route en réalité ne mène assez loin, car toutes elles restent à la surface du monde.

Quant à la mort, elle se cache sous les mots, tout comme s’y cache le logos.



A Hebrew and English lexicon of the Old Testament, W. Gesenius, trad. E. Robinson. Oxford, 1906.
A Sanskrit-English Dictionary, M. Monier-Williams. Oxford, 1899
Dictionnaire Hébreu-Français, N. Ph. Sander et I. Trenel. Paris, 1859.
Diogène Laërce, Vies, IX, 7
Héritage du Sanskrit. Dictionnaire sanskrit-français, G. Huet, 2011
Hippolyte, Réfutation de toutes les hérésies, IX, 10

Les figures de la conscience dans l’Iliade. 2. Les phrenes.

Le mot φρήν phrēn, au pluriel φρένες phrenes, est féminin, et couvre un vaste champ sémantique. Ce mot, utilisé la plupart du temps dans sa forme plurielle, occupe une place essentielle pour décrire la vie consciente et inconsciente des héros mais aussi de dieux dans l’Iliade.

Où se situaient précisément les phrenes dans le corps?

Curieusement la question faisait déjà débat pour les scholiastes et les interprètes d’Homère dans l’Antiquité, et aujourd’hui encore elle n’est pas définitivement tranchée. On a pu traduire phrenes en français par le mot « diaphragme », cette membrane musclée séparant le thorax de la cavité abdominalei, ou encore par l’expression plus vague d’« entrailles ». Au terme d’un longue discussion anatomique, philologique et historique, Richard Broxton Onians propose de traduire par « poumons ».ii

Les phrenes désignaient primitivement toutes les membranes enveloppant les organes internes (notamment les poumons, le cœur, le foie, et les viscères abdominales). Par métonymie, il finit par signifier ces organes eux-mêmes. Puis, par extension, et d’autres métonymies, il prit en poésie le sens de « cœur », d’« âme » ou d’« esprit ».

La racine de ce mot est ϕραγ, phrag-, « fermer, enfermer, enclore », qui a aussi donné le verbe phrasso « serrer l’un contre l’autre, couvrir, enfermer, se protéger, se défendre ». Cela explique bien, étymologiquement, le caractère générique de l’acception de « membrane », et explique aussi incidemment l’origine du néologisme « diaphragme » forgé par Gérard de Crémone au 12ème siècle, ce qui contribua à partir du Moyen Âge à localiser les phrenes à l’interface du thorax et de l’abdomen.

Mais cette interprétation est aujourd’hui mise en cause, et une lecture attentive des œuvres homériques offre de fortes raisons pour identifier en effet les phrenes aux poumons, et surtout permet de comprendre comment ce mot a pu ensuite être associé aux idées plus immatérielles d’« âme » et d’« esprit ».

L’intuition fondamentale était sans doute, à l’origine, que les idées de clôture, de fermeture, de couverture, associées à la racine phrag-, et convenant à la description de la plèvre des poumons ou du péricarde, permettaient aussi d’expliquer comment l’immatérialité, la ténuité, l’incorporalité foncières de l’âme et de l’esprit pouvaient être encloses dans une enveloppe corporelle.

De même que les phrenes enveloppent les organes internes essentiels, elles peuvent aussi enclore, contenir et retenir l’âme en ce corps. Pour que celle-ci reste à demeure dans le corps, il faut bien qu’elle soit enveloppée de phrenes. A preuve, si celles-ci viennent à être déchirées par l’épée, ou trouées d’un coup de lance, l’âme s’échappe définitivement hors du corps.

Les idées de clôture et d’enveloppe ont sans doute un autre lien, plus profond encore, avec la pensée et la réflexion.

Le verbe phrazo, qui a pour racine ϕραδ phrad-, « parler », est proche phonétiquement du verbe phrasso. Phrazo signifiait primitivement « mettre dans l’esprit » comme s’il s’agissait d’un récipient, d’où les sens dérivés « faire comprendre, expliquer » et « avoir dans l’esprit, penser, réfléchir, méditer ».

Cette proximité phonétique entre phrazo et phrasso justifie implicitement un autre lien, plus obscur, souterrain, et peut-être inconscient, entre phrazo et phrenes, – entre la « compréhension » et la « rumination » des entrailles, entre la « cogitation » et la « digestion ».

De même que le bol alimentaire doit être assimilé par les phrenes pour entretenir la vie du corps, de même il faut longuement agiter ses pensées dans ses phrenes pour qu’y émergent une compréhension, une conscience claire, une volonté.

De ce rapprochement témoignent aussi des expressions comme phrazo eni phresi / meta phresin / thumō : « réfléchir dans ses phrenes / à travers ses phrenes / dans son thumos », phrazo tini kaka / thanaton / oletron : « méditer sur le mal / la mort / la perte (d’un être cher) », ou encore : ton noûn tōn phrenōn (Sophocle) « la pensée de ta phrēn ».

Les phrenes ressemblent à une sorte de marmite où mijotent longtemps les sentiments, se digère l’intellection, jaillit la peur ou bien bouillonne la colère.

Homère emploie l’expression en phresi poieïn / epi phresi tithetai, littéralement « créer ou mettre dans les phrenes», c’est-à-dire « inspirer, suggérer la pensée ».

Chez Homère, le thumos vient s’associer aux phrenes : es phréna thumos agerthê, « après que le sentiment (thumos) fut revenu dans le cœur (phrēn) »iii, ou encore ena phrési thumon ékhontès « avoir le thumos dans ses phrenes » (c’est-à-dire « avoir du courage »).iv

Le Dieu suprême, Zeus lui-même, possède aussi des phrene, qu’il s’agitde tenter d’influencer. Agamemnon cherche conseil auprès de Ménélas pour tenter de changer les phrene de Zeus, car elles sont favorablement tournées vers les sacrifices d’Hector.v

Asius s’efforce de plaider la cause des Grecs, mais « il ne persuada pas la phrēn de Zeus »vi.

D’une manière générale, les phrenes sont plongées dans une obscurité totale, qui enveloppe tout ce qu’elles recèlent.

« Et le héros, l’Atride Agamemnon aux pouvoirs étendus, se leva plein de rage. Ses phrenes noirâtres (φρένες ἀμφιμέλαιναι, littéralement: ‘ses entrailles noires de tous côtés, – ou noires des deux côtés’) s’emplissaient d’une grande fureur, et ses deux yeux semblaient un feu étincelant. »vii

Quant à Automédon, « les profondeurs obscures de ses phrenes (littéralement : φρένας ἀμφὶ μελαίνας, ‘ses entrailles noires des deux côtés’, – extérieurement et intérieurement) sont emplies de force et de vigueur ».viii

L’épithète ἀμφιμέλαιναι (amphimelaïnaï) employée ici a fait l’objet de débat depuis l’antiquité. Plusieurs scholiastes voulaient seulement retenir l’expression φρένες μέλαιναι, interprétant le préfixe ἀμφί comme se référant au participe passé verbal (ἀμφί… πίμπλαντ’). Cependant la plupart des manuscrits présentent ἀμφιμέλαιναι comme un seul mot. Cela justifie que l’on choisisse de lire cet adjectif composé comme signifiant littéralement ‘noir des deux côtés’ ou ‘noir de tous côtés’.

Pindare employa l’expression de phrenes « blancs » (λευκαῖς πιθήσαντα φρασίν), par opposition semble-t-il, aux phrenes « noirs » dans Homère.

Pour certains commentateurs, Homère tira cette métaphore de l’apparence noire de l’eau dans ses profondeurs. Par opposition, l’eau en surface est translucide, claire et « blanche », comme chez Pindare.ix

Mais d’autres commentateurs voient dans la couleur « blanche », non la légèreté de l’eau dans la lumière, mais le signe de l’envie, de la malfaisance ou même de la rage :

« Eschylex parle plus particulièrement de la melaghkhitōn phrēn, ‘à la tunique noire (ou sombre)’, qui convient fort bien au poumon, avec son dehors noir. Le poumon adulte est gris bleuâtre, plus ou moins marbré de noirxi. (…) Pour Pindare et Théognis, c’est la couleur du cœur. Cela ne convient pas au diaphragme. Mais, si les phrenes sont les poumons, qui ont naturellement cette couleur, on peut comprendre que des phrenes mauvaises soient décrites pas Pindare comme leukai, ‘blanches’ – ‘car je sais que Pélias, contre la justice, persuadé par ses blanches phrenes, l’a enlevé par la forcexii’ –, alors qu’on donne pour toute justification : ‘blanc, c’est-à-dire envieux. D’autres comparent à leugaleos, lugros (‘funeste’, ‘malfaisant’) ; et : ‘obéissant à de folles pensées’, clairement lié à lussa, la ‘rage’ (attique lutta, pour lukya). Cet usage pindarique suffit effectivement à confirmer cette explication de lussa, la ‘rage’. Hésychius donne : leukōn prapidōn ; kakōn phrenōn, ‘blanches prapides, mauvaises phrenes’ (Fennell). Le contraste tel qu’il se dessine maintenant, avec la couleur du poumon sain, organe de l’esprit, sera tout simplement analogue à celui de la vieille expression anglaise ‘foie blanc’ (white-livered), qui décrit une condition maladive du siège de la passion. La qualité et la condition des phrenes d’un homme déterminent, ou même ne sont autres que, la qualité et la condition de son esprit. »xiii

L’adjectif μέλαιναι, « noires », peut certes évoquer, au sens propre, « ce qui gît dans les profondeurs », ἐν βάθει κείμεναι. Mais ce qui importe, dans le contexte homérique, c’est que cette noirceur est surtout prise dans un sens figuré : « noirci par la fumée du thumos (c’est-à-dire de la colère) »xiv. Une personne qui est caractérisée par des μέλαιναι φρένες (des « phrenes noires ») est dite σκοτεινός, skoteinos, « sombre » et elle « semblable à la nuit » (νυκτὶ ἐοικώς).

Mais chez Homère, les « phrenes noires » sont vues plutôt positivement, car l’obscurité, la noirceur connotent la profondeur dans la pensée et la réflexion.

Cette profondeur est à l’image de la pensée du Dieu suprême lui-même. Dans les prapides (un autre mot, synonyme de phrenes, et employé trois fois dans l’Iliade à cet effet) du Dieu, se déploient « non seulement les pensées, mais les ruses subtiles qui, tels des animaux poursuivis, courent par le dédale du sombre esprit mystérieux de Zeusxv ».

Zeus peut être frappé « profondément » dans ses phrenespar les paroles de Héra : “Ainsi parla-t-elle, et une douleur aiguë le frappa profondément dans ses phrenes xvi.

Plusieurs vers homériques, dans l’Iliade et dans l’Odyssée établissent un lien entre les profondeurs aquatiques et la penséexvii.

« Mille pensers troublaient mon cœur »xviii dit Ulysse. Le verbe πορφύρω, porphyrō, qui est traduit ici par « troubler », désigne dans son sens littéral, originaire, le mouvement de la houle, et le soulèvement menaçant, bouillonnant, de la mer, à l’approche de la tempête, ce qui peut s’appliquer métaphoriquement à un cœur lourd, s’enfonçant dans le désespoir.

Les sombres cogitations de Nestor sur le champ de bataille sont aussi comparées à l’état de la mer juste avant l’arrivée de la tempête:

« Lorsque le vaste Océan noircit son onde silencieuse, présageant les mouvements rapides des vents sonores, ses flots ne s’inclinent encore d’aucun côté, jusqu’au moment où le souffle de Zeus se précipite avec violence. Ainsi le vieillard reste en suspens, et délibère au fond de son âme. »xix 

Après Homère, le verbe porphyrō perdra cette connotation marine, et, par confusion avec le sens du coquillage porphura, qui a donné le mot ‘pourpre’, prendra divers autres sens : « gonfler, s’empourprer, se teindre en pourpre ».

Il reste que, par l’intermédiaire des phrenes, de Homère à Pindare et d’autres poètes post-homériques, le cœur et l’âme des hommes ont pu prendre métaphoriquement de multiples nuances de noir, de blanc ou de pourpre, ou bien, selon d’autres fils métaphoriques, ont pu se soulever, bouillonner, gonfler, ou tempêter, à l’image de la mer et des éléments déchaînés.

Les phrenes ne sont pas en elles-mêmes à l’origine de ces tempêtes dont l’âme est le sujet.

Ce sont la force, la peur, la fureur, la douleur, l’affliction, le thumos, ouune idée, qui viennent indépendamment envahir les phrenes et les soumettre à leur loi, obéissant à d’obscures instructions divines, ou aux riches harmonies d’une lyre…

Achille, furieux, déclare à Agammemnon que désormais il ne lui obéira plus, et il ajoute : « Ce que maintenant je vais te dire, frappe-le bien dans tes phrenes »xx.

Achille, qui a maintenant arrêté de participer à la guerre, passe son temps reclus dans sa tente, « charmant ses phrenes aux sons d’une lyre mélodieuse, belle, richement décorée ».xxi

Agamemnon couvre ses troupes d’amers reproches : « Il n’y a plus de force et de courage en vos phrenes »xxii.

Agamemnon s’adressant au vénérable Nestor, et reconnaissant d’avoir cédé à sa colère contre Achille en le dépouillant de son butin, la belle Briséis : « Mais, puisque je fus troublé dans mes phrenes, en obéissant à des [sentiments] désastreux (λευγαλέηισι)…. »xxiii.

Eniopée, le compagnon d’Hector, vient d’être blessé à mort : « Une affliction terrible enveloppa [comme d’un épais nuage] (πύκασε) les phrenes d’Hector.»xxiv

Les dieux et les déesses peuvent observer ou influencer directement les phrenes des héros.

La nymphe marine Thétis demande à son fils Achille : « Enfant, pourquoi pleures-tu ? Quelle douleur vient dans tes phrenes ? »xxv

La déesse Athéna, prenant l’apparence de Laodocos, harangue Pandaros, le fils belliqueux de Lycaon, pour le convaincre de tuer Ménélas : « Ainsi parle Athéna ; et elle persuade les phrenes de cet in­sensé. »xxvi

La même Athéna, qui en veut décidément aux Troyens, a trompé l’esprit d’Hector en prenant l’apparence de son compagnon Déiphobe, puis en le faisant disparaître à un moment crucial de son combat contre Achille :

« Hector alors comprit (ἔγνω) ce qui s’était passé (ἧισιν) dans ses phrenes, et il s’écrie…»xxvii

La déesse Héra, épouse de Zeus, donne à Achille l’idée de convoquer le conseil de l’armée. Et simplement, cette idée « Héra aux bras blancs (λευκώλενος) [la] mit sur ses phrenes (ἐπὶ φρεσὶ)  »xxviii.

Les puissants mouvement qui s’emparent de l’âme des héros peuvent affecter simultanément plusieurs parties de leur corps, et saisir à la fois les poumons, la poitrine, le cœur et les entrailles :

Alors que tous les chefs des Grecs dorment tranquillement près de leurs navires, seul Agamemnon veille : « étreint dans sa poitrine (stêtos) et du fond de son cœur (kradié), Agamemnon se lamente, tremblant dans ses phrene»xxix.

Quel rapport les phrenes ont-elles avec la conscience ?

Elles en sont le réceptacle.

Et c’est dans ce réceptacle que s’élaborent des sucs, des sèves, des jus, des liqueurs mais aussi des vapeurs qui incarnent en quelque sorte « la matière de la conscience » pour reprendre le titre du chapitre III du livre de R.B. Onians.

Au terme d’une analyse érudite, il y conclut que « Grecs et les Romains lient la conscience et l’intelligence au jus naturel qui se trouve dans la poitrine, le sang (les liquides étrangers pour la grande majorité contrariant la conscience), et à la vapeur qui s’en exhale, le souffle. »xxx

Le sang et le souffle. Et donc l’âme…

Onians ajoute : « Les peuples germaniques, en particulier les Anglo-Saxons, croyaient, comme les Grecs et les Romains, croyaient que la conscience se situait dans la poitrine. Ils reliaient intimement sawol (soul, « âme ») et sang. Dans les langues germaniques, les mots pour ‘conscience’ qui sont manifestement apparentés à sapere, doivent peut-être s’expliquer de la même manière. (…) Si animus était, de même que thumos, lié au sang, on peut tenir là la matrice de l’idée du sang comme sedes de l’âme»xxxi.

Le sang, siège de l’âme.

Le raisonnement d’Onians s’appuie sur le sens originel du verbe latin sapere, « savoir », qui veut d’abord dire « avoir de la sève, du jus naturel ».

Les mots français « savoir » et « saveur » ont en effet pour origine le latin sapere, « avoir de la saveur ; avoir du savoir ; avoir du sens ; être sage ».

Mais qu’est-ce qui peut expliquer que dans la conscience, fût-elle en partie inconsciente, des Anciens, les idées de saveur, de savoir et de sagesse puissent être ainsi naturellement mêlées ?

La racine indo-européenne commune *sap, qui a donné sap, « sève, jus » en anglais et Saft en allemand, peut servir de guide.

Tant qu’à chercher les origines, autant remonter à celles qui sont les plus anciennement conservées, et qui sont encore disponibles aujourd’hui : les inépuisables ressources du sanskrit.

Cette racine indo-européenne remonte encore plus originairement à la racine sanskrite सु su-, qui signifie à la fois « beau, bon, bien » et « presser, exprimer, pressurer », comme si le jus, le suc extrait d’une plante ou d’un fruit représentait sa bonne et belle essence.

Le mot soma, le jus sacré qui incarne la quintessence du sacrifice védique, est tiré de cette racine.

La racine toute proche सू sū– continue l’idée et la magnifie en exprimant quant à elle l’idée de mise en mouvement, de création, de conception et d’enfantement. Elle a donné d’ailleurs υἱός en grec, son (« fils ») en anglais et Sohn en allemand.

Conclusion provisoire, dans notre investigation :

Les phrenes représentent dans l’Iliade le réceptacle de la conscience. Mais ce récipient ne joue son rôle que par ses sucs essentiels, comme le sang, qui l’animent, et desquels s’exhalent des vapeurs, et qui permettent au souffle de se constituer et de donner sa vie à l’esprit.

On en déduit une multiplicité essentielle de la conscience, inhérente à la volatilité du souffle et de la vapeur ainsi qu’aux bouillonnements propres aux sèves et aux sucs.

En essence, le suc et la saveur, le savoir et la sapience, qui sont autant d’aspects de la conscience, remontent à la racine su du sanskrit, dont l’idée fondamentale (le beau, le bon, le bien) est elle-même étroitement liée à l’idée du sacrifice (au Dieu).


iLe diaphragme est une membrane musculo-tendineuse qui sépare le thorax et la cavité abdominale, qui se connecte au niveau des côtes, des vertèbres et du sternum. Il interagit avec les poumons (son rôle est central pour réguler la respiration), avec aussi avec le cœur, l’œsophage, et les organes abdominaux, l’estomac, le foie, la rate, le pancréas, les reins, le colon.

iiRichard Broxton Onians, Les origines de la pensée européenne, sur le corps, l’esprit, l’âme, le monde, le temps et le destin. Où l’on interprète de façon nouvelle les témoignages des Grecs, des Romains et d’autres peuples apparenté ainsi que quelque croyances fondamentales des juifs et des chrétiens. Traduction de l’anglais par Barbara Cassin, Armelle Debru, Michel Narcy. Seuil, 1999, pp. 42-58

iiiIliade 4,152 ; 22.475 :  ἐς φρένα θυμὸς ἀγέρθη

ivIliade 13,487 : ἕνα φρεσὶ θυμὸν ἔχοντες

vIliade 10,45 :
Ἀργείους καὶ νῆας, ἐπεὶ Διὸς ἐτράπετο φρήν.
Ἑκτορέοις ἄρα μᾶλλον ἐπὶ φρένα θῆχ᾽ ἱεροῖσιν·

viIliade 12,173 : οὐδὲ Διὸς πεῖθε φρένα 

viiIliade 1,103 : μένεος δὲ μέγα φρένες ἀμφιμέλαιναι πίμπλαντ᾽

viiiIliade 17,499 : ἀλκῆς καὶ σθένεος πλῆτο φρένας ἀμφὶ μελαίνας

ixCf. M. N. Kazanskaya. « Black and White : Scolia and Glossographers on the Colour of φρένες ». Indo-European Linguistics and Classical Philology-XVII (Joseph M. Tronsky memorial Conference). Proceedings of the International Conference, St.Perersburg, 24–26 June, 2013. Edited by Nikolai N. Kazansky. St.Perersburg: “Nauka”, 2013.

xPerses, 115

xiPiersol, Human Anatomy, 1907, p.1846.

xiiPythiques IV, 109 sq.

xiiiRichard Broxton Onians,op.cit. pp. 41-42

xivμελανωθεῖσαι τῷ καπνῷ τοῦ θυμοῦ

xvTucker, cité par R. Broxton Onians, op.cit. p.46

xviIliade 19,125. τὸν δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ κατὰ φρένα τύψε βαθεῖαν ὣς φάτο, τὸν δ᾽ ἄχος ὀξὺ κατὰ φρένα τύψε βαθεῖαν·

xviiCf. Iliade 21, 551; Odyssée 4, 427; 4, 572; 10, 309

xviiiOdyssée 4, 427 : πολλὰ δέ οἱ κραδίη πόρφυρε μένοντι. Je reprends ici la traduction de Philippe Jaccotet, Ed. La Découverte, Paris 1982

xixIliade 14, 16-22

xxIliade 1,297 : ἄλλο δέ τοι ἐρέω, σὺ δ᾽ ἐνὶ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῆισι·

xxiIliade 9,186 : τὸν δ᾽ εὗρον φρένα τερπόμενον φόρμιγγι λιγείηι
καλῆι δαιδαλέηι

xxiiIliade 4, 245 : οὐδ᾽ ἄρα τίς σφι μετὰ φρεσὶ γίγνεται ἀλκή·

xxiiiIliade 9,119 : ἀλλ᾽ ἐπεὶ ἀασάμην φρεσὶ λευγαλέηισι πιθήσας

xxivIliade 4,124 : Ἕκτορα δ᾽ αἰνὸν ἄχος πύκασε φρένας ἡνιόχοιο·

xxvIliade 1,362 : τέκνον τί κλαίεις; τί δέ σε φρένας ἵκετο πένθος;

xxviIliade 4,104 : ὣς φάτ᾽ Ἀθηναίη, τῶι δὲ φρένας ἄφρονι πεῖθεν·

xxviiIliade 22,296 : Ἕκτωρ δ᾽ ἔγνω ἧισιν ἐνὶ φρεσὶ φώνησέν τε·

xxviiiIliade 1,55 : τῶι γὰρ ἐπὶ φρεσὶ θῆκε θεὰ λευκώλενος Ἥρη·

xxixIliade 10, 9-10 : ὣς πυκίν᾽ ἐν στήθεσσιν ἀνεστενάχιζ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνων νειόθεν ἐκ κραδίης, τρομέοντο δέ οἱ φρένες ἐντός.

xxxOp.cit. p.85

xxxiOp.cit. p.86

The Original Language

« Gershom Scholem, circa 1970 »

According to Gershom Scholem: « Hebrew is the original language »i. For the sake of a sound debate, one could perhaps argue that Sanskrit, the « perfect » language (according to the Veda), was formed several millennia before Hebrew began to incarnate the word of God. However, such historical and linguistic arguments may have no bearing on the zealots of the « sacred language », the language that God Himself is supposed to have spoken, with His own words, even before the creation of the world.

Where does this supposedly unique status of the Hebrew language come from?

A first explanation can be found in the relationship between the Torah and the name of God. The Torah is, literally, the name of God. Scholem explains: « The Torah is not only made up of the names of God, but forms in its entirety the one great name of God. » In support of this thesis, the opinion of the Kabbalistic cenacle of Gerona is quoted: « The five books of the Torah are the name of the Holy One, blessed be He.» ii

How can this be? Here and there in the Torah, we find various names of God, such as the name Yahveh (YHVH) or the name Ehyeh (« I shall be »). But there are also many other (non divine) names, and many other words, that are perfectly profane in the Torah. The four letters aleph, he, waw and yod (אהוי), which are present in Yahveh (יהוה) and Ehyeh ( אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה) are also the letters that serve in Hebrew as matres lectionis (the « mothers of reading »), and as such, they are spread throughout the text, they structure it, and make it intelligible.

From that consideration, some Kabbalists, such as Abraham Aboulafia, draw the conclusion that the true name of God is neither Yahveh nor Ehyeh. Aboulafia goes so far as to say that the true original name of God is EHWY (אהוי), that is, a name composed of the four fundamental letters, without repetition. « The tetragrammaton of the Torah is thus only an expedient, behind which the true original name is hidden. In each of two four-letter names there are only three of the consonants that make up the original name, the fourth being only a repetition of one of them, namely, he (ה). » iii

It was, without a doubt, a thesis of « unheard-of radicality » to affirm that the name of God does not even appear in the Torah, but only some of his pseudonyms… Moses Cordovero of Safed rose with indignation against this maximalist thesis. Yet a similar idea resurfaces elsewhere, in the Kabbalistic work entitled Temunah. It evokes « the conception of a divine name containing, in a different order these four letters, yod, he, waw, aleph, and which would constitute the true name of God before the creation of the world, for which the usual tetragram was substituted only for the creation of this world.» iv

Not surprisingly, there are many more other ideas on the matter. There is, for example, the idea of the existence of seventy-two divine names formed from the seventy-two consonants contained in each of the three verses of Exodus 14:19-21. « Know that the seventy-two sacred names serve the Merkavah and are united with the essence of the Merkavah. They are like columns of shining light, called in the Bible bne elohim, and all the heavenly host pays homage to them. (…) The divine names are the essence itself, they are the powers of the divinity, and their substance is the substance of the light of life.» v

There are also technical methods « to expand the tetragram, writing the name of each of the consonants that make up the tetragram in full letters so as to obtain four names with numerical values of 45, 52, 63 and 72, respectively ».vi Far from being a simple set of letters and numbers, this is a mechanism that is at the foundation of the worlds. « The Torah is formed in the supreme world, as in this original garment, only from a series of combinations, each of which unites two consonants of the Hebrew alphabet. It is only in the second world that the Torah manifests itself as a series of mystical divine names formed from new combinations of the first elements. It has the same letters, but in a different order than the Torah we know. In the third world the letters appear as angelic beings whose names, or at least their initials, are suggested. It is only in the ultimate world that the Torah becomes visible in the form in which it is transmitted to us.» vii

From all of this, one may be tempted to draw the fundamental idea that Hebrew is indeed the original language, the divine language. « Hence the conventional character of secular languages as opposed to the sacred character of Hebrew. »viii

However, there was the catastrophic episode of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages, which spared none of them – including Hebrew! « But to the sacred language itself have since then mingled profane elements, just as profane languages still contain here and there elements or remnants of the sacred language.» ix

One is always happy to learn, when one has a somewhat universalist sensibility, that « remnants » of the sacred still exist, « here and there », in other languages. To lovers of languages and dictionaries then comes the thankless but promising task of discovering these sacred snags, which are perhaps still hidden in Greek or Arabic, Avestic or Sanskrit, or even Fulani, Wolof and Chinese, who knows?

From a perhaps more polemical point of view, one may wonder whether this is not a kind of idolatry of the letter, — an « idolettry » , then, or a « grapho-latry »…

We may need to go up to a higher level of understanding, to see things from a higher perspective. « Wisdom is contained and gathered in letters, in sefirot and in names, all of which are mutually composed from each other.» x

We need to broaden the vision. These tiny sacred traces present in the languages of the world are like living germs. « All languages derive their origin by corruption from the original sacred language, in which the world of names immediately unfolds, and they all relate to it in a mediated way. As every language has its home in the divine name, it can be brought back to this center.» xi

All languages then have a vocation to return to the divine « center ». Every word and every letter contain, perhaps, by extension, a tiny bit of sacredness…

« Each singular letter of the Kabbalah constitutes a world in itself » xii, Gershom Scholem adds in a note that in the Zohar (1:4b) it is said that every new and authentic word that man utters in the Torah stands before God, who embraces it and sets it with seventy mystical crowns. And this word then expands in its own motion to form a new world, a new heaven and a new earth.

Let’s be a little more generous, and give the goyim a chance. When the poet says, for example, « O million golden birds, O future vigor!  » , is there any chance that these inspired words, though not present in the Torah, will one day appear trembling before God, and that God will deign to grant them one or two mystical crowns? I do not know. But maybe so. In the eyes of Aboulafia himself, « the knowledge that can be attained by following the path of the mysticism of language prevails over that which follows the path of the ten sefirot. xiii

So let’s make a wager that all languages have their own « mystical » way, certainly well hidden.

Scholem concludes: « What will be the dignity of a language from which God has withdrawn? This is the question that must be asked by those who still believe that they perceive, in the immanence of the world, the echo of the creative word that has now disappeared. It is a question that, in our time, can only be answered by poets, who do not share the despair of most mystics with regard to language. One thing connects them to the masters of Kabbalah, even though they reject its theological formulation, which is still too explicit: the belief in language thought as an absolute, however dialectically torn, – the belief in the secret that has become audible in language. » xiv

For my part, I believe that no human language is totally deserted of all creative speech, of all sacred flavor. I believe that poets all over the world may hear the disturbing echoes, may perceive infinitesimal vibrations, guess the celestial chords present in their languages.

Whether they are whispered, spoken, dreamed, revealed, words from all origins only approach the mystery. It is already a lot, but it is still very little.

There is much more to be said about silence than about words.

« It is indeed quite striking in view of the sacramental meaning that speech had in a decisive manner in contemporary paganism, that it does not play any role in the Israelite religion, nor especially in its rite. This silence is so complete that it can only be interpreted as intentional silence. The Israelite priest fulfills all his offices entirely without any words, with the exception of the blessing which he must pronounce aloud [Numbers 6:24]. In none of his ceremonial acts is he prescribed a word that he must pronounce. He makes all sacrifices and performs his duties without uttering a single word »xv.

The opposition thus made by Benno Jacob between « Israelite worship » and « paganism » may be be easily contradicted, for that matter. During the Vedic sacrifice of the soma, the high priest also remains absolutely silent throughout the ceremony, while his acolytes chant, sing, or recite the hymns.

It is true, however, that the Veda is certainly not a « pagan » religion, since more than a millennium before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, Veda was already celebrating the unspeakable unity of the Divine.


iGershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 100.

iiIbid. p.48

iiiAbraham Aboulafia. Gold ha-Sekel. Ms. Munich Heb. 92 Fol.54 a-b. Quoted in Gershom Scholem. The name of God and the Kabbalistic theory of language. Ed. Alia. 2018, p. 71

ivGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 72

vJacob ben Jacob Cohen of Soria (~1260-1270) quoted in op.cit. p.77

viGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p. 88

viiIbid. p.88

viiiIbid. p. 91

ixIbid. p. 91

xNer Elohim. Ms. Munich 10, fol. 164B quoted in op.cit. p. 91

xiIbid. p. 106

xiiSefer ha-Melits. Ms. Munich 285, fol. 10a

xiiiGershom Scholem. Op. cit. p.109

xivIbid. p.115

xvBenno Jacob. In the Name of God. Eine sprachliche und religiongeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Alten und Neuen Testament. Berlin, 1903, p. 64. Quoted in G. Scholem, op.cit. p. 19-20.

The End of Knowledge

« Bhārata Natyam« 

In the Rig-Veda, the name Bhārata ( भारत ) designates the God Agni, and the sacred fire. It is a Sanskrit word of Vedic origin. Its root is bhar, « to carry ». Bhārata etymologically means the « carrier ».

Why is this? Because the fire of the sacrifice « carries » the offerings.

Bhārata is also the name of India in Sanskrit, the name of an emperor and that of the mythical author of famous treatises of the Theater, the Nâtya-shâstra and the Gītālamkāra .

René Daumal, who learned Sanskrit, made a remarkable effort to translate into French the texts of Bhārata, the playwright, using a beautiful and poetic language.

Bhārata tells the story of the birth of Knowledge and the origin of Flavor.

Kings, peoples, prophets, and even the Gods themselves, generally ignore what this Knowledge is all about, and they ignore this Flavor.

They all climb one after the other on the great stage of the world theater to utter some lines of relative brillance. But they speak without this Knowledge, without this Flavor.

The innate art of language is not natural to them. They certainly do not excel at it. They know nothing of the only true poetry.

Where is the essence of true poetry? In the Flavor of Life. In the Sapience of Taste.

Shortly before his death, Daumal gave the Cahiers du Sud a few poems with a Vedic touch:

« Into blind darkness enters

Those who are dedicated to the non-knowledge ;

Into even darker darkness

Those who are content with knowledge. » i

Neither breath, nor sight, nor hearing, nor thought are here of any help. We must get rid of them. We need to reach back to the ancient, to the original. To rise higher, to dive deep to the sources, to look for the Breath of the breath, the Sight of the sight, the Hearing of the hearing, the Thought of the thought.

The wise man will recognize what is meant here. Words are no longer in use. They make speech look weak.

Daumal, however, tried to reach out to us, beyond the lines, with words.

« We say that Knowledge is power and foresight. For the Hindu, it is ‘to become’, and to ‘be transformed’. » ii

Words, he taught, have a literal meaning, derived meanings, and more importantly, suggested meanings. It is the immense, loose and delicate universe of verbal « resonances » (dhvani), « suggestions » (vyanjanâ) and « tastes » (rasanâ).

The Flavor is a « conscious joy », even in pain, it is a knowledge that shines forth from its obviousness, it is the sister of the sacred.

Daumal asserts that « he who is capable of perceiving it, ‘tastes’ it, not as a separate thing, but as his own essence. » iii

Thus the poem becomes analogous to oneself. Its flavor is its own « self », its « essence », its « soul ».

Flavor has three functions: sweetness, which « liquefies the spirit »; ardor, which « sets it ablaze » and exalts it; and evidence, which « illuminates » it.

Daumal even asserts: « All the poems recited and all the songs, without exception, are portions of Vishnu, the Great Being, clothed in sound form »iv.

The poem is nothing but wind, if it does not set the whole world and the soul in motion, by sounds, senses, resonances, gait and loves.

Nothing Greek in this. No quiet light. No sea in the sun, no complicit nature. India is already far away, beyond all nature. In freedom, one might say, at last.

« I have settled in the heart of each being.

By Me, come and go memories and knowledge.

The purpose of all knowledge is I alone who am to know.

I am the author of the End of Knowledge.

I am the one who knows this Knowledge. » v


iLes Cahiers du Sud. Special issue 1941  » Message actuel de l’Inde « . Extract from Brihadâranyaka. IV. 4. 10-21. Translated by René Daumal.

iiBharata. René Daumal. Gallimard. 1970. To approach the Hindu poetic art.



vBhagavad Gîtâ, 15, 15 (transl. Ph. Quéau)

Memory and Manhood

« Kouros d’Anavyssos – (vers -530) »

Some words are like solitary gems, waiting to be re-discovered, in order to reveal some strange resonances. They sometimes indicate constants of the human nature, which travel through passed millennia, vanished empires, linguistic basins, linking together distant cultures and old civilizations.

For example, in English, the words: « medecine, meditate, mediation, moderate, modest, mode », all actually originate from the same Indo-European root MED-, in Sanskrit : मद्. It is a very rich root, which is also reflected in Latin (medicus, meditor, modus) and Greek ( μἠδομαι, medomai: ‘to meditate, think, imagine’ ; μῆδος, mêdos: ‘thought, design’).

What is more surprising is that in its plural form, this latter word reveals a latent, but significant ambiguity. The plural of μῆδος is μἡδεα, médéa, which means « thoughts » but may also mean « human genitals », establishing thereby an unexpected link between two different aspects of human experience.

There is something even more surprising! The ambivalence between « thought » and « genitals » embedded in this Greek word is found almost identically in Arabic and Hebrew, even though these two semitic languages do not belong to the same linguistic and cultural Indo-European sphere as Greek. How can this happen ? Pure coincidence ? Or symptom of a deeper constant of the human mind ?

The primary meaning of the Arabic verb ذَكَرَ , dzakara, is : « to touch, hit or hurt someone in the virile member », and its secondary meanings are : « to remember, to tell », and « to pray, to say one’s prayers ». We also find a similar ambivalence in the nouns that derive from it. For example, ذِكْرً , dzikr, means « reminiscence, remembrance, recollection » and also « invocation, prayer, reading the Koran ». The same root with different vowels,ذَكَرً , dzakar, means « male », and its plural ذُكُورً, dzoukour, is the « male organ ».

In Hebrew, the verb זָכַר, zakhar, means « to think, to remember, to mention », but also, in a derived sense, « to be born male ». The name of the prophet Zechariah takes his name from this verbal root, and means : « The one God remembers ». The noun זַכֶר , zakher, means « remembrance, name » and זָכָר, zakhar, « that which is male, masculine ».

The word zakhar is, for example, used very crudely by Maimonides in the Guide for the Perplexed(Part I, Chapter 6), which deals with « man and woman » (ish and ishâ)i: « The term zakhar v-nekebah was afterwards applied to anything designed and prepared for union with another object » ii Note that the Hebrew word nekebah literally means « hole », and that zakhar v-nekebah thus literally means « the member and the hole ».

I find it extremely astonishing that languages as different as Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic should share such analogies, by creating direct verbal links between the male organ, mind, memory, and even the sacred.

Even more surprisingly, similar analogies and links can be found in Sanskrit !…

The Sanskrit root MED-, मद् is associated with the idea of strength, vigor, energy. It gave words like medas, « fat, marrow, lymph », medin, « vigor, energy », medini, « fertility, earth, soil », medah, « fat-tailed sheep », or medaka « spirituous liquor ».

As for the root MEDH-, मेध् , it gave words such as: medha: « juice, sauce, marrow, sap; essence; sacrificial victim; sacrifice, oblation »; medhā: « intellectual vigor, intelligence; prudence, wisdom »; medhas: « sacrifice »; medhya: « full of sap, vigorous; strong, powerful; fit for sacrifice; pure; intelligent, wise ».

We see in all these meanings the same kind of metonymic thinking at work. Marrow and sacrifice, sap and power, physical strength and mental energy, intelligence and wisdom draw semantic orbs where the vital energy (sap, fat, seed) is, by its abundance, conducive to sacrifice, and rises to signify man’s higher functions.

If we dig deeper the relationship between fat, sex and mind, we find some amazing leads. In fact, the sanskrit root MED- is a strong form of MID-, « getting fat » or MITH- « understanding » and « killing ».

How can « understanding » and « killing » have the same root, the same etymology? MITH- has as first meaning « to unite, to couple » and as derived meanings « to meet, to alternate », and also « to provoke an altercation ».

It seems that the idea of « meeting » is fundamentally twofold: one can meet as a friend or as an enemy, as a couple or as an antagonist, hence the two meanings derived from this very deep, very primeval intuition: that of « understanding » and that of « killing ».

One can go back even further to more originary sources with the root MI- , « to fix in the ground, to found, to build, to plant pillars ». Hence the derived meanings: « to measure, judge, observe » and « to perceive, know, understand ». Thus the word mit means: « pillar, column », and more generally « any erected object ». It is close to mita, « measured, metered; known ».

Let’s summarize. Every « erection » is a « foundation », and a preparation for future « knowledge »; to « erect » is to prepare oneself to « know ». Memory is rooted in the very foundation of one’s being.

For these ancient languages, « to be manly » is to be pegged to one’s own body, and thus rooted in the entire memory of the species, but it also means projecting oneself entirely into the future.


iCuriously enough, the French edition of the Guide des égarés published by Editions Verdier (1979) left entirely over the sentenceAs can be seen on page 39 of the 1979 edition, but it is indeed present in the English translation dating from 1919.

iiMoses Maimonides. The Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by M. Friedländer. Ed. George Routledge & Sons, London, 1919, p.19


« Leshan Giant Buddha« , built during the Tang dynasty (618–907)

At the time of the introduction of Indian Buddhism in China, the scholars of the Chinese Empire, confronted with the arrival of new ‘barbaric words’ (i.e. the sacred names and religious terms inherited from Buddhism) considered it preferable not to translate them. They chose to only transliterate them.

A tentative translation into the Chinese language would have given these terms, it was thought, a down-to-earth, materialistic sound, hardly likely to inspire respect or evoke mystery.

Much later, in the 19th century, a sinologist from Collège de France, Stanislas Julien, developed a method to decipher Sanskrit names as they were (very approximately) transcribed into Chinese, and provided some examples.

« The word Pou-ti-sa-to (Bôdhisattva) translated literally as ‘Intelligent Being’ would have lost its nobility and emphasis; that is why it was left as veiled in its Indian form. The same was done for the sublime names of the Buddha, which, by passing in a vulgar language, could have been exposed to the mockery and sarcasm of the profane.”i

There are words and names that must definitely remain untranslated, not that they are strictly speaking untranslatable, but their eventual translation would go against the interest of their original meaning, threaten their substance, undermine their essence, and harm the extent of their resonance, by associating them – through the specific resources and means of the target language – with semantic and symbolic spaces more likely to deceive, mislead or mystify, than to enlighten, explain or reveal.

Many sacred names of Buddhism, originally conceived and expressed in the precise, subtle, unbound language that is Sanskrit, have thus not been translated into Chinese, but only transcribed, based on uncertain phonetic equivalences, as the sound universe of Chinese seems so far removed from the tones of the Sanskrit language.

The non-translation of these Sanskrit words into Chinese was even theorized in detail by Xuanzang (or Hiouen-Thsang), the Chinese Buddhist monk who was, in the 7th century AD, one of the four great translators of the Buddhist sutra.

« According to the testimony of Hiuen-Thsang (玄奘 ), the words that should not be translated were divided into five classes:

1°) Words that have a mystical meaning such as those of the Toloni (Dharanîs) and charms or magic formulas.

2°) Those that contain a large number of meanings such as Po-Kia-Fan (Bhagavan), « which has six meanings ».

3°) The names of things that do not exist in China, such as the trees Djambou, Bhôdhidrouma, Haritaki.

4°) Words that we keep out of respect for their ancient use, for example the expression Anouttara bôdhi, « superior intelligence ».

5°) Words considered to produce happiness, for example Pan-jo (Prodjna), « Intelligence ». »ii

Far from being seen as a lack of the Chinese language, or a lack of ideas on the part of Chinese translators, the voluntary renunciation to translate seems to me to be a sign of strength and openness. Greek once allowed the Romance languages to duplicate each other, so to speak, by adding to the concrete semantic roots of everyday life the vast resources of a language more apt for speculation; similarly, Chinese has been able to incorporate as it stands some of the highest, abstract concepts ever developed in Sanskrit.

There is a general lesson here.

There are compact, dense, unique words that appeared in a specific culture, generated by the genius of a people. Their translation would, despite efforts, be a radical betrayal.

For example, the Arabic word « Allah » literally means « the god » (al-lah). Note that there are no capital letters in Arabic. There can be no question of translating « Allah » into English by its literal equivalent (« the god »), as it would then lose the special meaning and aura that the sound of the Arabic language gives it. The liquid syllabes that follow one another, the alliterative repetition of the definite article, al, “the”, merging with the word lah, « god », create a block of meaning without equivalent, one might think.

Could, for instance, the famous Koranic formula « Lâ ilaha ilâ Allâh » proclaiming the oneness of God be translated literally in this way: « There is no god but the god »?

If this translation is considered too flat, should we try to translate it by using a capital letter: “There is no god but God” ?

Perhaps. But then what would be particularly original about this Islamic formula? Judaism and Christianity had already formulated the same idea, long before.

But the preservation of the proper name, Allah, may, on the other hand, give it a perfume of novelty.

The Hebrew word יהוה (YHVH) is a cryptic and untranslatable name of God. It offers an undeniable advantage: being literally untranslatable, the question of translation no longer arises. The mystery of the cryptogram is closed by construction, as soon as it appears in its original language. One can only transcribe it later in clumsy alphabets, giving it even more obscure equivalents, like “YHVH”, which is not even a faithful transcription of יהוה, or like “Yahweh”, an imaginary, faulty and somewhat blasphemous transcription (from the Jewish point of view).

But, paradoxically, we come closer, by this observation of impotence, to the original intention. The transcription of the sacred name יהוה in any other language of the world, a language of the goyim, gives it de facto one or more additional, potential layers of depth, yet to be deciphered.

This potential depth added (in spite of itself) by other languages is a universal incentive to navigate through the language archipelagos. It is an invitation to overcome the confusion of Babel, to open to the idiomatic lights of all the languages of the world. We may dream, one day, of being able to understand and speak them all, — through some future, powerful AI.

Some words, such as יהוה, would still be properly untranslatable. But, at least, with the help of AI, we would be able to observe the full spectrum of potential semantic or symbolic “equivalences”, in the context of several thousands of living or dead languages.

I bet that we will then discover some gold nuggets, waiting for us in the collective unconscious.


iMéthode pour déchiffrer et transcrire les noms sanscrits qui se rencontrent dans les livres chinois, à l’aide de règles, d’exercices et d’un répertoire de onze cents caractères chinois idéographiques employés alphabétiquement, inventée et démontrée par M. Stanislas Julien (1861)

iiHoeï-Li and Yen-Thsang. Histoire de la vie de Hiouen-Thsang et de ses voyages dans l’Inde : depuis l’an 629 jusqu’en 645, par, Paris, Benjamin Duprat,‎ 1853 .

The Endless Moves of the Unconscious

All human languages are animated by a secret spirit, an immanent soul. Over the millennia, they have developed within them their own potency, even without the participating knowledge of the fleeting peoples who speak them. In the case of ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Hebrew (biblical), Greek (Homeric), Latin, or Arabic, this spirit, soul, and other powers are still at work, many centuries after their apogee, albeit often in a hidden form. The keen, patient observer can still try to find the breath, the strength, the fire, well in evidence in ancient, famous pages or left buried in neglected works. One may sometimes succeed, unexpectedly, to find pearls, and then contemplate their special aura, their glowing, sui generis energy.

The innumerable speakers of these languages, all of them appearing late and disappearing early in their long history, could be compared to ephemeral insects, foraging briefly in the forest of fragrant, independent and fertile language flowers, before disappearing, some without having produced the slightest verbal honey, others having been able by chance to distill some rare juice, some suave sense, from time to time.

From this follows, quite logically, what must be called the phenomenal independence of languages in relation to the men who speak and think them.

Men often seem to be only parasites of their language. It is the languages that « speak » the people, more than the people speak them. Turgot said: « Languages are not the work of a reason present to itself.”

The uncertain origin and the intrinsic ‘mystery’ of languages go back to the most ancient ages, far beyond the limited horizon that history, anthropology and even linguistics are generally content with.

Languages are some kind of angels of history. They haunt the unconscious of men, and like zealous messengers, they help them to become aware of a profound mystery, that of the manifestation of the spirit in the world and in man.

The essence of a language, its DNA, is its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language, and it structures its spirit, without being able to understand its own genius. Grammatical DNA is not enough to explain the origin of the genius of language. It is also necessary to take the full measure of the slow work of epigenesis, and the sculpture of time.

Semitic languages, to take one example, are organized around verbal roots, which are called « triliters » because they are composed of three radical letters. But in fact, these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect,…) are not really « triliters ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan saidi. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical letters, with the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.

In Hebrew, the biliteral root פר (PR) carries the idea of separation, cut, break. The addition of a third radical letter following פר modifies this primary meaning, and brings like a bouquet of nuances.

Thus, the verbs : פּרד (parada, to divide), פּרה (paraa, to bear fruit), פּרח (paraha, to bloom, to bud, to burst),ּ פּרט (paratha, to break, to divide), פּרך (parakha, to crumble, to pulverize), פּרם (parama, to tear, to unravel), פּרס (paraça, to break, to divide), פּרע (para’a, to detach from, to excel), פּרץ (paratsa, to break, to shatter), פּרק (paraqa, to tear, to fragment), פּרר (parara, to break, to rape, to tear, to divide), פּרשׂ (parassa, to spread, to unfold), פּרשׁ (parasha, to distinguish, to declare).

The two letters פּ et ר also form a word, פּר, par, a substantive meaning: « young bull, sacrificial victim ». There is here, in my view, an unconscious meaning associated with the idea of separation. A very ancient, original, symbolic meaning, is still remembered in the language: the sacrificial victim is the one which is ‘separated’ from the herd, who is ‘set apart’.

There is more…

Hebrew willingly agrees to swap certain letters that are phonetically close. Thus, פּ (P) may be transmuted with other labials, such as בּ (B) or מ (M). After transmutation, the word פּר, ‘par’, is then transformed into בּר, ‘bar’, by substituting בּ for פּ. Now בּר, ‘bar‘, means ‘son’. The Hebrew thus makes it possible to associate with the idea of ‘son’ another idea, phonetically close, that of ‘sacrificial victim’. This may seem counter-intuitive, or, on the contrary, well correlated with certain very ancient customs (the ‘first born son sacrifice’). This adds another level of understanding to what was almost the fate of Isaac, the son of Abraham, whom the God YHVH asked to be sacrificed.

Just as פּ (P) permuted with בּ (B), so the first sacrificial victim (the son, ‘bar‘) permuted with another sacrificial victim (‘par‘), in this case a ram.

The biliteral root בּר, BR, ‘bar‘, gave several verbs. They are: בּרא (bara‘, ‘to create, to form’; ‘to be fat’), בּרה (baraa, ‘to eat’), בּרח (baraha, ‘to pass through, to flee’), בּרך (barakha, ‘to kneel, to bless’), בּרק (baraq, ‘lightning’), בּרר (barara, ‘to purify, to choose’).

The spectrum of these meanings, while opening the mind to other dimensions, broadens the symbolic understanding of the sacrificial context. Thus the verb bara‘, ‘he created’, is used at the beginning of Genesis, Berechit bara’ Elohim, « In the beginning created God…. ». The act of ‘creating’ (bara‘) the Earth is assimilated to the begetting of a ‘son’ (bar), but also, in a derivative sense, to the act of fattening an animal (‘the fatted calf’) for its future sacrifice. After repetition of the final R, we have the verb barara, which connotes the ideas of election and purification, which correspond to the initial justification of the sacrifice (election) and its final aim (purification). The same root, slightly modified, barakha, denotes the fact of bringing the animal to its knees before slaughtering it, a more practical position for the butcher. Hence, no doubt, the unconscious reason for the late, metonymic shift to the word ‘bless’. Kneeling, a position of humility, awaiting the blessing, evokes the position taken by the animal on the altar of sacrifice.

Hebrew allows yet other permutations with the second radical letter of the word, for example in the case cited, by substituting ר with צ. This gives: פּצה (patsaa, ‘to split, to open wide’), פּצח (patsaha, ‘to burst, to make heard’), פּצל (patsala, ‘to remove the bark, to peel’), פּצם (patsama, ‘to split’), פצע (patsa’a, ‘to wound, to bruise’). All these meanings have some connotation with the slaughter that the sacrifice of the ancient Hebrew religion requires, in marked contrast to the sacrifice of the Vedic religion, which is initiated by the grinding of plants and their mixing with clarified butter.

Lovers of Hebrew, Sanskrit, Greek, or Arabic dictionaries can easily make a thousand discoveries of this nature. They contemplate curiously, then stunned, the shimmering of these ancient languages, sedimenting old meanings by subtle shifts, and feeding on multiple metaphors, for thousands of years.

Unlike Semitic languages, the semantic roots of Chinese or the ancient language of Egypt are monosyllabic, but the rules of agglutination and coagulation of these roots also produce, though in another way, myriads of variations. Other subtleties, other nuances are discovered and unfold in an entirely different grammatical context.

These questions of grammar, roots and settled variations are fascinating, but it must be said that by confining ourselves to them, we never remain but on the surface of things.

We need to go deeper, to understand the very texture of words, their fundamental origin, whose etymology can never be enough. The time travel that etymology allows, always stops too early, in some ‘original’ sense, but that does not exhaust curiosity. Beyond that, only dense mists reign.

It has been rightly pointed out that Arabic is, in essence, a desert language, a language of nomads. All the roots bear witness to this in a lively, raw, poetic way.

In the same way, one should be able to understand why and how the Vedic language, Sanskrit, which is perhaps the richest, most elaborate language that man has ever conceived, is a language that has been almost entirely constructed from roots and philosophical and religious (Vedic) concepts. One only has to consult a dictionary such as Monier-Williams’ to see that the vast majority of Sanskrit words are metaphorically or metonymically linked to what was once a religious, Vedic image, symbol or intuition.

It is necessary to imagine these people, living six, twelve, twenty or forty thousand years ago, some of them possessing an intelligence and a wisdom as penetrating and powerful as those of Homer, Plato, Dante or Kant, but confronted to a very different ‘cultural’ environment.

These enlightened men of Prehistory were the first dreamers, the first thinkers of language. Their brains, avid, deep and slow, wove dense cocoons, from which were born eternal and brief butterflies, still flying in the light of origin, carefree, drawing arabesques, above the abyss, where the unconscious of the world never ceases to move.


i Cf. Ernest Renan. De l’origine du langage. 1848

Vedic Genesis


In the Beginning…

One of the most beautiful and deepest hymns of the Ṛg Veda, the Nasadiya Sukta, begins with what was and what was not, even before the Beginning:

« Ná ásat āsīt ná u sát āsīt tadânīm« i.

The translation of this famous verse is not easy. Here are a few attempts:

« There was no being, there was no non-being at that time. « (Renou)

« Nothing existed then, neither being nor non-being. « (Müller)

« Nothing existed then, neither visible nor invisible. « (Langlois)

« Then even nothingness was not, nor existence. « (Basham)

« Not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent then » (Art. Nasadiya Sukta. Wikipedia).

“Then was not non-existent nor existent.” (Griffith)

How to render with words what was before words? How to say a « being » that « is » before « being » and also, moreover, before « non-being »? How to describe the existence of what existed before existence and before non-existence?

We also begin to think by analogy: how can we hope to think what is obviously beyond what is thinkable? How can we think possible even to try to think the unthinkable?

How can we know whether words like sát, ásat, āsīt, mono- or bi-syllabic messengers, which have reached us intact over the millennia, and which benefit from the semantic precision of Sanskrit, still live a real, meaningful, authentic life?

The Nasadiya Sukta anthem is at least 4000 years old. Long before it was memorized in writing in the Veda corpus, it was probably transmitted from generation to generation by a faithful oral tradition. Its verses are pure intellectual delight, so much so that they stand slightly, far above the void, beyond common sense, a frail bridge, a labile trace, between worlds :

नासदासीन्नो सदासीत्तदानीं नासीद्रजो नो व्योमा परो यत् |

किमावरीवः कुह कस्य शर्मन्नम्भः किमासीद्गहनं गभीरम् ॥ १॥

न मृत्य्युरासीदमृतं न तर्हि न रात्र्या अह्न आसीत्प्रकेत | आसीत्प्रकः

आनीदवातं स्वधया तदेकं तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किञ्चनास ॥२॥

Louis Renou translates these two verses as follows:

« There was no being, there was no non-being at that time. There was no space or firmament beyond. What was moving? Where, under whose guard? Was there deep water, bottomless water?

Neither death was at that time, nor undead, no sign distinguishing night from day. The One breathed breathlessly, moved by himself: nothing else existed beyond.”ii

Ralph Griffith:

“Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? And what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day’s and night’s divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.”iii

Max Müller :

« Nothing existed then, neither being nor non-being; the bright sky was not yet, nor the broad canvas of the firmament stretched out above it. By what was everything wrapped, protected, hidden? Was it by the unfathomable depths of the waters?

There was no death, no immortality. There was no distinction between day and night. The One Being breathed alone, taking no breath, and since then there has been nothing but Him. “iv

Alexandre Langlois :

« Nothing existed then, neither visible nor invisible. Point of upper region; point of air; point of sky. Where was this envelope (of the world)? In which bed was the wave contained? Where were these impenetrable depths (of air)?

There was no death, no immortality. Nothing announced day or night. He alone breathed, forming no breath, enclosed within himself. He alone existed.”v

From these various versions, it appears that the translators share a certain consensus on the following points:

Before there was nothing, there was « the One », also called « Him ».

Before the world was, the One existed, alone, and He breathed – without breath.

The Rig Veda claimed that « the One is », long before the time came of any Genesis, long before a « wind of God » came over the waters.

The following verses then take flight, using words and images that may evoke memories of the Genesis in the Bible (- which appeared later than the Veda by at least two millennia, it should be noted):

Renou :

« Originally darkness covered darkness, everything we see was just an indistinct wave. Enclosed in the void, the One, accessing the Being, was then born by the power of heat.

Desire developed first, which was the first seed of thought; searching thoughtfully in their souls, the wise men found in non-being the bond of being.

Their line was stretched diagonally: what was the top, what was the bottom? There were seed bearers, there were virtues: below was spontaneous energy, above was the Gift.”vi


“Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness this All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of Warmth was born that Unit.

There after rose Desire in the beginning. Desire, the primal seed and germ of spirit. Sages, who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent.

Tranversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.”vii

Müller :

« The seed, which was still hidden in its envelope, suddenly sprang up in the intense heat.Then love, the new source of the spirit, joined it for the first time.

Yes, the poets, meditating in their hearts, discovered this link between created things and what was uncreated. Does this spark that gushes out everywhere, that penetrates everything, come from the earth or the sky?

Then the seeds of life were sown and great forces appeared, nature below, power and will above.”viii

Langlois :

« In the beginning the darkness was shrouded in darkness; the water was without impulse. Everything was confused. The Being rested in the midst of this chaos, and this great All was born by the force of his piety.

In the beginning Love was in him, and from his spirit the first seed sprang forth. The wise men (of creation), through the work of intelligence, succeeded in forming the union of the real being and the apparent being.

The ray of these (wise men) went forth, extending upwards and downwards. They were great, (these wise men); they were full of a fruitful seed, (such as a fire whose flame) rises above the hearth that feeds it.”ix

Note that, for some translators, in the beginning « darkness envelops darkness ». Others prefer to read here a metaphor, that of the « seed », hidden in its « envelope ».

Is it necessary to give a meaning, an interpretation to the « darkness », or is it better to let it bathe in its own mystery?

Let us also note that some translators relate the birth of the All to « warmth », while others understand that the origin of the world must be attributed to « piety » (of the One). Material minds! Abstract minds! How difficult it is to reconcile them!

So, « piety » or « warmth »? The Sanskrit text uses the word « tapas« : तपस्.

Huet translates « tapas » by « heat, ardour; suffering, torment, mortification, austerities, penance, asceticism », and by extension, « the strength of soul acquired through asceticism ».

Monier-Williams indicates that the tap– root has several meanings: « to burn, to shine, to give heat », but also « to consume, to destroy by fire » or « to suffer, to repent, to torment, to practice austerity, to purify oneself by austerity ».

Two semantic universes emerge here, that of nature (fire, heat, burning) and that of the spirit (suffering, repentance, austerity, purification).

If we take into account the intrinsic dualism attached to the creation of the « Whole » by the « One », the two meanings can be used simultaneously and without contradiction.

An original brilliance and warmth probably accompanied the creation of some inchoate Big Bang. But the Vedic text also underlines another cause, not physical, but metaphysical, of the creation of the world, by opening up to the figurative meaning of the word « tapas« , which evokes « suffering », « repentance », or even « asceticism » that the One would have chosen, in his solitude, to impose on himself, in order to give the world its initial impulse.

This Vedic vision of the suffering of the One is not without analogy with the concept of kenosis, in Christian theology, and with the Christic dimension of the divine sacrifice.

The Judaic concept of tsimtsum (the « contraction » of God) could also be related to the Vedic idea of « tapas« .

From this hymn of the Rig Veda, the presence of a very strong monotheistic feeling is particularly evident. The Veda is fundamentally a « monotheism », since it stages, even before any « Beginning » of the world, the One, the One who is « alone », who breathes « without breath ».

Furthermore, let us also note that this divine One can diffract Himself into a form of divine « trinity ». Dominating darkness, water, emptiness, confusion and chaos, the One Being (the Creator) creates the Whole. The Whole is born of the Being because of his « desire », his « Love », which grows within the « Spirit », or « Intelligence ».x

The idea of the One is intimately associated with that of the Spirit and that of Love (or Desire), which can be interpreted as a trinitarian representation of divine unity.

The last two verses of the Nasadiya Sukta finally tackle head-on the question of origin and its mystery.

Renou :

« Who knows in truth, who could announce it here: where did this creation come from, where does it come from? The gods are beyond this creative act. Who knows where it emanates from?

This creation, from where it emanates, whether it was made or not, – he who watches over it in the highest heaven probably knows it… or whether he did not know it? “xi

Langlois :

« Who knows these things? Who can say them? Where do beings come from? What is this creation? The Gods were also produced by him. But who knows how he exists?

He who is the first author of this creation, supports it. And who else but him could do so? He who from heaven has his eyes on all this world, knows it alone. Who else would have this science?”xii


“Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born, and whence comes this creation? The Gods are later than this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps he knows not.”xiii


« Who knows the secret? Who here tells us where this varied creation came from? The Gods themselves came into existence later: who knows where this vast world came from?

Whoever has been the author of all this great creation, whether his will has ordered it or whether his will has been silent, the Most High « Seer » who resides in the highest of the heavens, it is he who knows it, – or perhaps He Himself does not know it? »xiv

The final pun (« Perhaps He Himself does not know it? ») carries, in my opinion, the essence of the intended meaning.

That the Gods, as a whole, are only a part of the creation of the Most High, again confirms the pre-eminence of the One in the Veda.

But how can we understand that the « Seer » may not know whether He Himself is the author of the creation, how can He not know whether it was made – or not made?

One possible interpretation would be that the Whole received an initial impulse of life (the « breath »). But this is not enough. The world is not a mechanism. The Whole, though ‘created’, is not ‘determined’. The Seer is not « Almighty », nor « Omniscient ». He has renounced his omnipotence and omniscience, through assumed asceticism. His suffering must be understood as the consequence of risk taking on the part of the One, the risk of the freedom of the world, the risk involved in the creation of free essences, essentially free beings created freely by a free will.

This essential freedom of the Whole is, in a sense, « an image » of the freedom of the One.

iNasadiya Sukta. Ṛg Veda, X, 129

iiṚg Veda, X, 129, 1-2. My translation in English from the translation in French by Louis Renou, La poésie religieuse de l’Inde antique. 1942

iiiRalp Griffith. The Hymns of the g Veda. RV X, 129,1-2. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Delhi, 1073, p. 633

ivṚg Veda, X, 129, 1-2. Max Müller. Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1878)

vṚg Veda, X, 129, 1-2. My translation in English from the translation in French by . A. Langlois. (Section VIII, lect. VII, Hymn X)

viṚg Veda, X, 129, 3-5. My translation in English from the translation in French by Louis Renou, La poésie religieuse de l’Inde antique. 1942

viiRalp Griffith. The Hymns of the g Veda. RV X, 129,3-5. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Delhi, 1073, p. 633

viiiṚg Veda, X, 129, 3-5.. Max Müller. Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1878)

ixṚg Veda, X, 129, 3-5.. My translation in English from the translation in French by. A. Langlois. (Section VIII, lecture VII, Hymne X)

xNasadiya Sukta, v. 4

xiṚg Veda, X, 129, 6-7. My translation in English from the translation in French by Louis Renou, La poésie religieuse de l’Inde antique. 1942

xiiṚg Veda, X, 129, 6-7. My translation in English from the translation in French by. A. Langlois. (Section VIII, lecture VII, Hymne X)

xiiiRalp Griffith. The Hymns of the g Veda. RV X, 129,6-7. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. Delhi, 1073, p. 633-634

xivṚg Veda, X, 129, 6-7. Max Müller. Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion (1878)

Agni, a Vedic Messiah?

The most remote historical traces of the appearance of monotheistic feeling date back to the time of Amenophis IV, born around 1364 BC. This Egyptian pharaoh, worshipper of the unique God Aten, took the name of Akhenaten, as a sign of the religious revolution he initiated in the Nile valley. The abbreviated fate of his monotheistic « heresy » is known.

Around two centuries later, monotheism reappeared in history with the strange figure of Melchisedech (in Hebrew מַלְכֵּי־צֶדֶק ), high priest of El-Elyon (‘God the Most High’) and king of Salem. It was Melchisedech who gave his blessing to Abram (Abraham), when Abram came to pay him homage and tribute.i

Coming long after Akhenaten, neither Melchisedech nor Abraham obviously « invented » monotheism. The monotheistic idea had already penetrated the consciousness of peoples for several centuries. But they can be credited with having embodied the first « archived » trace of it in the biblical text.

The pure, hard, monotheistic idea has an austere beauty, a shimmering, icy or burning one, depending on the point of view. Taken philosophically, it is the intuition of the One mingled with the idea of the Whole. This simplicity of conception and abstraction reduced to the essential have something restful and consoling about them. Without doubt, the mineral lines of the deserts helped to overshadow the confused and abundant vegetal multiplicity of animism or polytheism, which had blossomed in less severe, greener, landscapes.

A simple idea, monotheism has a revolutionary power. The idea of a single God inevitably leads to the idea of a universal God, which can disturb acquired habits, hinder power interests. In principle, the idea of the « universal » may also have as an unintended consequence the crush of more « local » cultures and traditions.

But Abraham and Moses were able to combine the idea of a single, transcendent, « universal » God with the idea of a « tribal », « national » God, committed to a “chosen” people as « Lord of Hosts », Yahweh Tsabaoth.

The covenant of a “universal” God with a particular, « chosen » people may seem a priori an oxymoron. The election of Israel seems to contradict the universal vocation of a God who transcends human divisions. There is one possible explanation, however. This seemingly contradictory idea was, according to all appearances, the very condition for its deployment and epigenesis, as witnessed in history. It was necessary for a specific people – rather than any particular people – to embody and defend the idea, before it was finally accepted and defended in the rest of the nations.

The monotheistic idea also leads, by an almost natural derivation, to the idea of a personal God, a God to whom man may speak and say « you », a God who also speaks, hears and answers, who may appear or remain silent, present all His glory, or remain desperately absent. The idea of a “personal” God, through its anthropomorphism, is opposed to that of an abstract God, an inconceivable, perpendicular, inalienable principle, transcending everything that the human mind can conceive. What could be more anthropomorphic, in fact, than the concept of « person »? Isn’t this concept, therefore, fundamentally at odds with the essence of a God who is absolutely « Other »?

When, within Judaism, a young village carpenter and rabbi, a good orator and versed in the Scriptures, appeared in Galilee two thousand years ago, Abrahamic monotheism took a seemingly new direction. The One God could also, according to Rabbi Yehoshua of Nazareth, become incarnate freely, « otherwise », through a new understanding of His revelation, His Essence, His Spirit.

But to be fair, from ancient times, other people of different lore had already been thinking about the idea of a Deity with multiple manifestations – without contradiction.

The Indian grammarian Yāska reports in his Nirukta, which is the oldest treatise on the language of the Veda, that according to the original Vedic authors, the deity could be represented by three gods, Savitri, Agni and Vâyu. Savitri means « producer » or « Father ». His symbol is the Sun. Agni, his « Son », has the Fire as his symbol. Vâyu is the Spirit, with Wind as its symbol.

The oldest historically recorded form in which the idea of the divine trinity appears is therefore based on an analogy, term by term, between the material world (the Sun, Fire and Wind) and the metaphysical world (the Father, Son and Spirit).

The Sanskritist Émile Burnouf reports that when the Vedic priest pours clarified butter on Fire (Agni), “Agni” then takes the name of « Anointed One » (in Sanskrit: akta).

Note that « Anointed » is translated in Hebrew as mashia’h, meaning « messiah ».

Agni, the Fire who became the Anointed One, becomes, at the moment of the « anointing », the very mediator of the sacrifice, the one who embodies its ultimate meaning.

Burnouf noted the structural analogy of the Vedic sacrifice with the figure of the Christic sacrifice. « The center from which all the great religions of the earth have radiated is therefore the theory of Agni, of which Christ Jesus was the most perfect incarnation.”ii

Agni, – universal paradigm, « mother idea »? Agni is for the Aryas the principle of all life. All the movements of inanimate things proceed from heat, and heat proceeds from the Sun, which is the « Universal Engine », but also the « Celestial Traveller ». During the Vedic sacrifice, a sacred fire is lit which is the image of the universal agent of Life, and by extension, the image of Thought, the symbol of the Spirit.

Long after the first Vedic prayers had been chanted to Savitri, Agni, Vâyu, some (Judeo-)Christians believers said in their turn and in their own way, even before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem had occurred: « I believe in the Father, the Son and the Spirit ».

However this Trinitarian formula was admittedly not “Jewish”, since Judaism presented itself as fiercely monotheistic.

But from the point of view of its formal structure, we can say with some level of credibility that it was partly the result of Zoroastrian, Avestic and, more originally, Vedic influences.

In yet another cultural area, the Chinese, the ancient Trinitarian intuition of the divine is also proven. The highest gods of the Tao form a trinity, the « Three Pure Ones » (Sān Qīng , 三清 ).

The first member of the supreme triad is called the Celestial Venerable of the Original Beginning (元始天尊 Yuanshi Tianzun). This God has other names that it is interesting to list: Supreme God Emperor of Jade (玉皇上帝 Yuhuang Shangdi), Great God Emperor of Jade (玉皇大帝 Yuhuang Dadi), or Celestial Treasure (天寶 Tianbao) and finally God of Mystery (玄帝 Xuandi), which is an abbreviation of Supreme God Celestial Mystery (玄天上帝 Xuantian Shangdi).

From these various names it can be deduced that this God is at the « beginning », that He is at the « origin », that He is « supreme », that He is « mystery ».

By analogy with the Christian trinitarian system, this first God of the Taoist trinity could appear as the « Father » God.

The second member of the supreme triad, the Venerable Heavenly One of the Spiritual Treasure (靈寶天尊 Lingbao Tianzun), is also called Lord of the Way (道君 Daojun).

In Christianity, God the « Son » said of Himself that He is « the Way, the Truth, the Life ». The analogy of the « Son » with the « Lord of the Way » is obvious.

The third God of the supreme triad is the Venerated Heavenly One of the Divine Treasure (神寶天尊 Shenbao Tianzun). He is also called the Most High Patriarch Prince or the Old Lord of Supreme Height (太上老君 Taishang Laojun), better known as the Old Child (老子 Laozi).

In Christian symbolism, the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove, flying through the air. The analogy allows for a certain approximation of the Holy Spirit with the Lord of Supreme Height.

Vedism, Taoism and Christianity share, as can be seen, the intuition of a supreme and unique divine entity which diffracts into three representationsiii.


iGn 14,18-20

iiEmile Burnouf. La science des religions. 1872

iii In my opinion, it may be possible to also find a possible equivalent to this trinitarian intuition in Judaism, with the Eternal (YHVH), the Torah and the Shekhinah. The Torah is « divine ». It is said that the Torah existed before the world was even created. And the Torah was also able to « incarnate » itself in some specific way. The Zohar ‘Hadach (Shir haShirim 74b) teaches that there are 600,000 letters in the Torah. If we do an exact count, we find that the Torah actually contains 304,805 letters. In any case, it is certain that the divine Torah has allowed itself to « incarnate » in a « certain number » of Hebrew letters… The Shekhinah also incarnates the divine « presence ». A single divine entity, therefore, and three representations.

The Soul of Languages

Ancient papyrus with hieroglyphs

Ancient languages, such as Sanskrit, Egyptian, Avestic, Chinese, Hebrew and Greek, possess a kind of secret spirit, an immanent soul, which makes them develop as living powers, often without the knowledge of the people who speak them, and could be compared to insects foraging in a forest of words, with fragrant, autonomous and fertile scents.

This phenomenal independence of languages from the men who speak and think with them is the sign of a mystery, latent from their genesis. « Languages are not the work of a reason conscious of itself”, wrote Turgoti .

They are the work of another type of ‘reason’, a superior one, which could be compared to the putative reason of language angels, active in the history of the world, haunting the unconscious of peoples, and drawing their substance from them, just as much as from the nature of things.

The essence of a language, its DNA, lies in its grammar. Grammar incorporates the soul of the language. It represents it in all its potency, without limiting its own genius. Grammar is there but it is not enough to explain the genius of the language. The slow work of epigenesis, the work of time on words, escapes it completely.

This epigenesis of the language, how can it be felt? One way is to consider vast sets of interrelated words, and to visit through thought the society they constitute, and the history that made them possible.

Let’s take an example. Semitic languages are organized around verbal roots, which are called « trilitera » because they are composed of three radical letters. But these verbs (concave, geminated, weak, imperfect, …) are not really « triliterated ». To call them so is only « grammatical fiction », Renan assertedii. In reality, triliteral roots can be etymologically reduced to two radical, essential letters, the third radical letter only adding a marginal nuance.

For example, in Hebrew, the two root letters פר (para) translate the idea of ‘separation’, ‘cut’, ‘break’. The addition of a third radical letter following פר then modulates this primary meaning and gives a range of nuances: פרד parada « to separate, to be dispersed », פרח paraha « to erupt, to germinate, to blossom », פרס parasa « to tear, to split », פרע para’a « to reject, to dissolve », פרץ paratsa « to destroy, to cut down, to break », פרק paraqa « to break, to tear », פרס perasa « to break, to share », פרש parasha « to break, to disperse ».

The keyboard of possible variations can be further expanded. The Hebrew language allows the first radical letter פ to be swapped with the beth ב, opening up other semantic horizons: ברא bara « to create, to draw from nothing; to cut, to cut down », ברה bara’a « to choose », ברר barada « to hail », בבח baraha, « to flee, to hunt », ברך barakha, « to bless; to curse, to offend, to blaspheme », ברק baraqa, « to make lightning shine », ברר barara, « to separate, sort; to purify ».

The Hebrew language, which is very flexible, may also allow permutations with the second letter of the verbal root, changing for example the ר by צ or by ז. This gives rise to a new efflorescence of nuances, opening up other semantic avenues:

פצה « to split, to open wide », פצח « to burst, to make heard », פצל « to remove the bark, to peel », פצם « to split, to open in », פצע « to wound, to bruise », בצע « to cut, to break, to delight, to steal », בצר « to cut, to harvest », בזה « to despise, to scorn », בזא « to devastate », בזר « to spread, to distribute », בזק « lightning flash », בתר « to cut, to divide ».

Through oblique shifts, slight additions, literal « mutations » and « permutations » of the alphabetic DNA, we witness the quasi-genetic development of the words of the language and the epigenetic variability of their meanings.

Languages other than Hebrew, such as Sanskrit, Greek or Arabic, also allow a thousand similar discoveries, and offer lexical and semantic shimmering, inviting us to explore the endless sedimentation of the meanings, which has been accumulating and densifying for thousands of years in the unconscious of languages.

In contrast, the Chinese language or the language of ancient Egypt do not seem to have a very elaborate grammar. On the other hand, as they are composed of monosyllabic units of meaning (ideograms, hieroglyphics) whose agglutination and coagulation also produce, in their own way, myriads of variations, we then discover other generative powers, other specific forms generating the necessary proliferation of meaning.

Grammar, lexicography and etymology are sometimes poetic, surprising and lively ways of accessing the unconscious of language. They do not reveal it entirely, however, far from it.

A psychoanalysis of language may reveal its unconscious and help finding the origin of its original impulses.

For example, it is worth noting that the language of the Veda, Sanskrit – perhaps the richest and most elaborate language ever conceived by man – is almost entirely based on a philosophical or religious vocabulary. Almost all entries in the most learned Sanskrit dictionaries refer in one way or another to religious matters. Their network is so dense that almost every word naturally leads back to them.

One is then entitled to ask the question: Is (Vedic) religion the essence of (Sanskrit) language? Or is it the other way round? Does Vedic language contain the essence of Veda?

This question is of course open to generalization: does Hebrew contain the essence of Judaism? And do its letters conceal an inner mystery? Or is it the opposite: is Judaism the truth and the essence of the Hebrew language?

In a given culture, does the conception of the world precede that of language? Or is it the language itself, shaped by centuries and men, which ends up bringing ancient religious foundations to their incandescence?

Or, alternatively, do language and religion have a complex symbiotic relationship that is indistinguishable, but prodigiously fertile – in some cases, or potentially sterile in others? A dreadful dilemma! But how stimulating for the researcher of the future.

One can imagine men, living six or twelve thousand years ago, possessing a penetrating intelligence, and the brilliant imagination of a Dante or a Kant, like native dreamers, contemplating cocoons of meaning, slow caterpillars, or evanescent butterflies, and tempting in their language eternity – by the idea and by the words, in front of the starry night, unaware of their ultimate destiny.

iTurgot. Remarques sur l’origine des langues. Œuvres complètes . Vol. 2. Paris, 1844. p.719

iiErnest Renan. De l’origine du langage. 1848

Yōḥ, Jove, Yah and Yahweh

Mars Ciel ©Philippe Quéau 2020

In the ancient Umbrian language, the word « man » is expressed in two ways: ner– and veiro-, which denote the place occupied in society and the social role. This differentiation is entirely consistent with that observed in the ancient languages of India and Iran: nar– and vīrā.

In Rome, traces of these ancient names can also be found in the vocabulary used in relation to the Gods Mars (Nerio) and Quirinus (Quirites, Viriles), as noted by G. Dumézili.

If there are two distinct words for « man » in these various languages, or to differentiate the god of war (Mars) and the god of peace (Quirinus, – whose name, derived from *covirino– or *co-uirio-, means « the god of all men »), it is perhaps because man is fundamentally double, or dual, and the Gods he gives himself translate this duality?

If man is double, the Gods are triple. The pre-capitoline triad, or « archaic triad » – Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus -, in fact proposes a third God, Jupiter, who dominates the first two.

What does the name Jupiter tell us?

This name is very close, phonetically and semantically, to that of the Vedic God Dyaus Pitar, literally « God the Father », in Sanskrit द्यौष् पिता / Dyauṣ Pitā or द्यौष्पितृ / Dyauṣpitṛ.

The Sanskrit root of Dyaus (« God ») is दिव् div-, « heaven ». The God Dyau is the personified « Heaven-Light ».

The Latin Jupiter therefore means « Father-God ». The short form in Latin is Jove, (genitive Jovis).

The linguistic closeness between Latin, Avestic and Vedic – which is extended in cultural analogies between Rome, Iran and India – is confirmed when referring to the three words « law », « faith » and « divination », – respectively, in Latin: iūs, credo, augur. In the Vedic language, the similarity of these words is striking: yōḥ, ṡṛad-dhā, ōjas. In Avestic (ancient Iranian), the first two terms are yaoš and zraz-dā, also quite similar.

Dumézil states that iūs is a contraction of *ioves-, close to Jove /Jovis. and he adds that this word etymologically refers to Vedic yōḥ (or yos) and Avestic yaoš.

The three words yaoš, yōḥ (or yos) and iūs have the same etymological origin, therefore, but their meanings have subsequently varied significantly.

In Avestic, the word yaoš has three uses, according to Dumézil :

-To sanctify an invisible entity or a mythical state. Thus this verse attributed to Zoroaster: « The religious conscience that I must sanctify [yaoš-dā].”ii

-To consecrate, to perform a ritual act, as in the expression: « The consecrated liquor » [yaoš-dātam zaotram].iii

-To purify what has been soiled.

These concepts (« sanctification », « consecration », « purification ») refer to the three forms of medicine that prevailed at the time: herbal medicine, knife medicine and incantations.

Incidentally, these three forms of medicine are based respectively on the vitality of the plant world and its power of regeneration, on the life forces associated with the blood shed during the « sacrifice », and on the mystical power of prayers and orations.

In the Vedic language, yōḥ (or yos) is associated with prosperity, health, happiness, fortune, but also with the mystical, ritual universe, as the Sanskrit root yaj testifies, « to offer the sacrifice, to honor the divinity, to sanctify a place ».

But in Latin, iūs takes on a more concrete, legal and « verbal » rather than religious meaning. Iūs can be ´said´: « iū-dic« , – hence the word iūdex, justice.

The Romans socialised, personalised, legalised and ‘secularised’ iūs in a way. They make iūs an attribute of everyone. One person’s iūs is equivalent to another person’s iūs, hence the possible confrontations, but also the search for balance and equilibrium, – war or peace.

The idea of « right » (jus) thus comes from a conception of iūs, founded in the original Rome, but itself inherited from a mystical and religious tradition, much older, and coming from a more distant (Indo-Aryan) East. But in Rome it was the juridical spirit of justice that finally prevailed over the mystical and religious spirit.

The idea of justice reached modern times, but what about the spirit carried in three Indo-Aryan languages by the words iūs, yaoš-dā, yōs, originally associated with the root *ioves– ?

One last thing. We will notice that the words yōḥ and Jove, seem to be phonetically and poetically close to two Hebrew names of God: Yah and YHVH (Yahweh).

iG. Dumézil. Idées romaines. 1969

iiYasna 44,9

iiiYast X. 120

The God « Which? »

The ancient Greeks were not content with their twelve principal gods and a host of minor gods. They also worshipped an « Unknown God » (Agnostos Theos, Ἄγνωστος Θεός ).

Which? Series a3 ©Philippe Quéau. 2019

Paul of Tarsus, in his efforts to evangelise, was aware of this and decided to take advantage of it. He made a speech on the Agora of Athens:

« Athenians, in every respect you are, I see, the most religious of men. Walking through your city and considering your sacred monuments, I found an altar with the inscription: « To the unknown god ». Well, what you worship without knowing it, I have come to tell you. »i

He had little success, however, with the Athenians. Perhaps his rhetoric was not sufficiently sharp. The tradition of the « unknown God » was, it is true, already very old, and known far beyond Greece. For example, in India, in the texts of the Vedas, some two thousand years before Paul discovered it in Athens.

The Vedic priests prayed to a God whom they called « Which? », which was a very grammatical solution to signifying their ignorance, and a subtle way of opening wide the doors of the possible.

The God « Which » alone represented all the known and unknown gods with a single interrogative pronoun. Remarkable economy of means. Strong evocative power, subsuming all possible gods, real or imaginary, gods of all ages, peoples, cultures.

The Vedic priests used to repeat as a refrain: « To which God shall we offer the holocaust? », which may be in a way equivalent to saying: « To the God ‘Which’, we shall we offer the holocaust…”ii

The Vedas made of this « question » a repeated invocation, and a litany simultaneously addressed to the one God, the only Sovereign of the universe, the only life-giving God, the only God above all gods, and indeed « blessed » by them all.

« In the beginning appears the golden seed of light.

He alone was the sovereign-born of the world.

He fills the earth and the sky.

– To which God shall we offer the holocaust?

He who gives life and strength,

him whose blessing all the gods themselves invoke,

immortality and death are only its shadow!

– To which God shall we offer the holocaust?


He whose powerful gaze stretched out over these waters,

that bear strength and engender salvation,

he who, above the gods, was the only God!

– To which God shall we offer the holocaust? »iii

There are several monotheistic religions that claim to know and state the name of the God they claim as their God. But if this God is indeed the one, supreme God, then is not His Name also essentially One? And this Name must be far above all the names given by men, it obviously transcends them. But many religions, too self-assured, do not hesitate to multiply the names « revealed », and to this unique God they give not one name, but three, ten, thirteen, ninety-nine or a thousand.

A God whose « reign », « power » and « glory » fill heaven and earth, no doubt the epithets and attributes can be multiplied, giving rise to the multiplicity of His putative names.

It seems to me that in the Veda, the idea of God, the idea of a God as being too elusive in the nets of language, perhaps comes closest to its essence when named as a question.

We will say again, no doubt, long into the distant future, and beyond the millennia, with the Vedas: Which God?

The God Which?

– The God “Which ?”

iAct. 17.22-24

iiRig Veda. X, 121.

iiiRig Veda. X, 121.

Which? Series, b2. ©Philippe Quéau. 2019

The Bow, the Arrow, the Target

The Earth is yellow, the Water is white, the Fire is red, the Upanishads say. They add that the Air is black and the Ether is blue.

In this vision of the world, everything is part of a system.

Everything fits together, colors, elements, sounds, bodies, gods.

There are five elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether), and the human body has five parts that correspond to them. Between the feet and the knees is the level of the Earth. Between the knees and the anus is the level of Water. Between the anus and the heart, that of Fire. Between the heart and the eyebrows, that of Air. Between the eyebrows and the top of the skull, the Ether reigns.

That is not all. These five elements and these five parts of the body have divine correspondences.

Brahman rules the Earth, Viṣṇu Water, Rudra the Fire, Iṥvara Air and Ṥiva Ether.

What does this tight network of disparate relationships imply about the mutual relationships of these five Gods?

Iṥvara is the « Supreme Lord », but it is only one of Brahman‘s manifestations. If Brahman is the ultimate cosmic reality, why is it found between the feet and the knees, rather than at the top of the skull?

These questions are interesting, but they do not touch the essence of the problem. Symbolic systems have their own logic, which is an overall logic. It aims to grasp a Whole, to grasp a meaning of a higher order. What is important is to understand the general movement of symbolic thought, to catch its essential aim.

For example, let us consider the symbolism of the number 3 in the Vedic texts, – the symbolism of the triad.

« Three are the worlds, three are the Vedas, three are the functions of the Rite, all three are ‘three’. Three are the Fires of Sacrifice, three are the natural qualities. And all these triads are based on the three phonemes of the syllable AUṀ. Whoever knows this triad, to which we must add the nasal resonance, knows that on which the entire universe is woven. That which is truth and supreme reality.”i

The idea of the triad, which may appear a priori as nothing more than a systemic tic, refers in the Veda to a deeper idea, that of trinity.

The most apparent divine trinity in the Veda is that of Brahman, the Creator, Viṣṇu, the Protector and Ṥiva, the Destroyer.

Here is a brief theological-poetical interpretation, in which we will note the symphonic interpenetration of multiple levels of interpretation:

« Those who desire deliverance meditate on the Whole, the Brahman, the syllable AUṀ. In phoneme A, the first part of the syllable, Earth, Fire, Rig Veda, the exclamation « Bhūr » and Brahman, the creator, are born and will dissolve. In phoneme U, second part of the syllable, Space, Air, Yajur-Veda, the exclamation « Bhuvaḥ » and Viṣṇu, the Protector, are born and will dissolve. In the phoneme Ṁ are born and will dissolve Heaven, Light, Sama-Veda, the exclamation « Suvar » and Ṥiva, the Lord.”ii

In a unique, single syllable, the Word, the Vedas, the Worlds, the Gods are woven from the same knots, three times knotted.

Why three, and not two, four, five or six?

Two would be too simple, a metaphor for combat or the couple. Four forms two couples. Five is a false complexity and is only the addition of a couple and a triad. Six represents a couple of triads.

The idea of Three is the first simple idea, which comes after the idea of One, – the One from which everything comes, but about which nothing can be said. Three, in its complex simplicity, constitutes a kind of fundamental paradigm, combining the idea of unity and that of duality in a higher unity.

Long after the Vedas, Christianity also proposed a Trinity, that of the Creator God, the Word and the Spirit. It might be stimulating to try to see possible analogies between the Word and Viṣṇu, or between the Spirit and Ṥiva, but where would this ultimately lead us? To the conclusion that all religions come together?

It also seems very interesting to turn to the uncompromising monotheism(s), which apparently refuse any « association » with the idea of the One. Judaism, as we know, proclaims that God is One. But rabbinism and Kabbalah have not hesitated to multiply divine attributes or emanations.

The God of Genesis is a creator, in a way analogous to the Brahman. But the Bible also announces a God of Mercy, which recalls Viṣṇu, and it also proclaims the name of Yahweh Sabbaoth, the Lord of Hosts, which could well correspond to Ṥiva, the Lord Destroyer.

One could multiply comparable examples and use them to make the hypothesis that rather recent religions, such as Judaism or Christianity, owe much to the experience of previous millennia. Anyone concerned with paleo-anthropology knows that the depths of humanity’s times possess even greater secrets.

But the important point I would like to stress here is not, as such, the symbol of the triad or the Trinitarian image.

They are, in the end, in the face of the mystery itself, only images, metaphors.

The important thing is not the metaphor, but what it leads us to seek.

Perhaps another triadic metaphor will help us to understand the very nature of this search:

« AUṀ is the bow, the mind is the arrow, and the Brahman is the target.”iii

iYogatattva Upanishad, 134.

iiYogatattva Upanishad, 134.

iiiDhyānabindu Upanishad, 14.