Making God and Giving Him Life – in Kabbalah and other Theurgic Conceptions


« Mains de bénédiction »

God needs men, even more than men need God.

The theurgic, creative power of men has always manifested itself through the ages.

Religious anthropology bears witness to this.

« No doubt, without the Gods, men could not live. But on the other hand, the Gods would die if they were not worshipped (…) What the worshipper really gives to his God is not the food he puts on the altar, nor the blood that flows from his veins: that is his thought. Between the deity and his worshippers there is an exchange of good offices which condition each other. »i

The Vedic sacrifice is one of the most ancient human rite from which derives the essence of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Creator of the worlds.

« There are rites without gods, and there are rites from which gods derive ».ii

Unexpectingly, Charles Mopsik, in his study of the Jewish kabbalah, subtitled The Rites that Make God, affirms the « flagrant similarity » of these ancient theurgical beliefs with the Jewish motif of the creative power of the rite.

Mopsik readily admits that « the existence of a theme in Judaism, according to which man must ‘make God’, may seem incredible.»iii

Examples of Jewish kabbalistic theurgy abound, involving, for example, man’s ‘shaping’ of God, or his participation in the ‘creation’ of the Name or the Shabbath. Mopsik evokes a midrash quoted by R. Bahya ben Acher, according to which « the man who keeps the Shabbath from below, ‘it is as if he were doing it from above’, in other words ‘gave existence’, ‘fashioned the Sabbath from above. »iv

The expression ‘to make God’, which Charles Mopsik uses in the subtitle of his book, can be compared to the expression ‘to make the Shabbath’ (in the sense of ‘to create the Shabbath’) as it is curiously expressed in the Torah (« The sons of Israel will keep the Shabbath to make the Shabbath » (Ex 31,16)), as well as in the Clementine Homilies, a Judeo-Christian text that presents God as the Shabbath par excellencev, which implies that ‘to make the Shabbath’ is ‘to make God’…

Since its very ancient ‘magical’ origins, theurgy implies a direct relationship between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’ or ‘making’. The Kabbalah takes up this idea, and develops it:

« You must know that the commandment is a light, and he who does it below affirms (ma’amid) and does (‘osseh) that which is above. Therefore, when man practices a commandment, that commandment is light.»vi

In this quotation, the word ‘light’ is to be understood as an allusive way of saying ‘God’, comments Mopsik, who adds: « Observances have a sui generis efficacy and shape the God of the man who puts them into practice.»

Many other rabbis, such as Moses de Leon (the author of the Zohar), Joseph Gikatila, Joseph of Hamadan, Méir ibn Gabbay, or Joseph Caro, affirm the power of « the theurgic instituting action » or « theo-poietic ».

The Zohar explains :

« ‘If you follow my ordinances, if you keep my commandments, when you do them, etc.' ». (Lev 26:3) What does ‘When you do them’ mean? Since the text already says, « If you follow and keep, » what is the meaning of « When you do them »? Verily, whoever does the commandments of the Torah and walks in its ways, so to speak, it is as if he makes Him on high (‘avyd leyh le’ila), the Holy One blessed be He who says, ‘It is as if he makes Me’ (‘assa-ny). In this connection Rabbi Simeon said, ‘David made the Name’. » vii

« David made the Name » ! This is yet another theurgical expression, and not the least, since the Name, the Holy Name, is in reality God Himself !

‘Making God’, ‘Making the Shabbath’, ‘Making the Name’, all these theurgic expressions are equivalent, and the authors of the Kabbalah adopt them alternately.

From a critical point of view, it remains to be seen whether the kabbalistic interpretations of these theurgies are in any case semantically and grammatically acceptable. It also remains to be ascertained whether they are not rather the result of deliberately tendentious readings, purposefully diverting the obvious meaning of the Texts. But even if this were precisely the case, there would still remain the stubborn, inescapable fact that the Jewish Kabbalists wanted to find the theurgic idea in the Torah .

Given the importance of what is at stake, it is worth delving deeper into the meaning of the expression « Making the Name », and the way in which the Kabbalists understood it, – and then commented on it again and again over the centuries …

The original occurrence of this particular expression is found in the second book of Samuel (II Sam 8,13). It is a particularly warlike verse, whose usual translation gives a factual, neutral interpretation, very far in truth from the theurgic interpretation:

« When he returned from defeating Syria, David again made a name for himself by defeating eighteen thousand men in the Valley of Salt. »

David « made a name for himself », i.e. a « reputation », a « glory », in the usual sense of the word שֵׁם, chem.

The massoretic text of this verse gives :

וַיַּעַשׂ דָּוִד, שֵׁם

Va ya’ass Daoud shem

« To make a name for oneself, a reputation » seems to be the correct translation, in the context of a warlord’s glorious victory. Biblical Hebrew dictionaries confirm that this meaning is widespread.

Yet this was not the interpretation chosen by the Kabbalists.

They prefer to read: « David made the Name« , i.e. « made God« , as Rabbi Simeon says, quoted by the Zohar.

In this context, Charles Mopsik proposes a perfectly extraordinary interpretation of the expression « making God ». This interpretation (taken from the Zohar) is that « to make God » is equivalent to the fact that God constitutes His divine fullness by conjugating (in the original sense of the word!) « His masculine and feminine dimensions ».

If we follow Mopsik, « making God » for the Zohar would be the equivalent of « making love » for both male and female parts of God?

More precisely, as we will see, it would be the idea of YHVH’s loving encounter with His alter ego, Adonaï?

A brilliant idea, – or an absolute scandal (from the point of view of Jewish ‘monotheism’)?

Here’s how Charles Mopsik puts it:

« The ‘Holy Name’ is defined as the close union of the two polar powers of the divine pleroma, masculine and feminine: the sefira Tiferet (Beauty) and the sefira Malkhut (Royalty), to which the words Law and Right refer (…) The theo-poietic action is accomplished through the unifying action of the practice of the commandments that cause the junction of the sefirot Tiferet and Malkhut, the Male and Female from Above. These are thus united ‘one to the other’, the ‘Holy Name’ which represents the integrity of the divine pleroma in its two great poles YHVH (the sefira Tiferet) and Adonay (the sefira Malkhut). For the Zohar, ‘To make God’ therefore means to constitute the divine fullness [or pleroma] by uniting its masculine and feminine dimensions. » viii

In another passage of the Zohar, it is the (loving) conjunction of God with the Shekhina, which is proposed as an equivalence or ‘explanation’ of the expressions « making God » or « making the Name »:

« Rabbi Judah reports a verse: ‘It is time to act for YHVH, they have violated the Torah’ (Ps.119,126). What does ‘the time to act for YHVH’ mean? (…) ‘Time’ refers to the Community of Israel (the Shekhinah), as it is said: ‘He does not enter the sanctuary at all times’ (Lev 16:2). Why [is it called] ‘time’? Because there is a ‘time’ and a moment for all things, to draw near, to be enlightened, to unite as it should be, as it is written: ‘And I pray to you, YHVH, the favourable time’ (Ps 69:14), ‘to act for YHVH’ [‘to make YHVH’] as it is written: ‘David made the Name’ (II Sam 8:13), for whoever devotes himself to the Torah, it is as if he were making and repairing the ‘Time’ [the Shekhinah], to join him to the Holy One blessed be He. » ix

After « making God », « making YHVH », « making the Name », here is another theurgical form: « making Time », that is to say « bringing together » the Holy One blessed be He and the Shekhina…

A midrach quoted by R. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira teaches this word attributed to God Himself: « Whoever fulfills My commandments, I count him as if they had made Me. » x

Mopsik notes here that the meaning of the word ‘theurgy’ as ‘production of the divine’, as given for example in the Liturgy, may therefore mean ‘procreation’, as a model for all the works that are supposed to ‘make God’. xi

This idea is confirmed by the famous Rabbi Menahem Recanati: « The Name has commanded each one of us to write a book of the Torah for himself; the hidden secret is this: it is as if he is making the Name, blessed be He, and all the Torah is the names of the Saint, blessed be He. » xii

In another text, Rabbi Recanati brings together the two formulations ‘to make YHVH’ and ‘to make Me’: « Our masters have said, ‘Whoever does My commandments, I will count him worthy as if he were making Me,’ as it is written, ‘It is time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126)xiii.

One can see it, tirelessly, century after century, the rabbis report and repeat the same verse of the psalms, interpreted in a very specific way, relying blindly on its ‘authority’ to dare to formulate dizzying speculations… like the idea of the ‘procreation’ of the divinity, or of its ‘begetting’, in itself and by itself….

The kabbalistic image of ‘procreation’ is actually used by the Zohar to translate the relationship of the Shekhina with the divine pleroma:

« ‘Noah built an altar’ (Gen 8:20). What does ‘Noah built’ mean? In truth, Noah is the righteous man. He ‘built an altar’, that is the Shekhina. His edification (binyam) is a son (ben) who is the Central Column. » xiv

Mopsik specifies that the ‘righteous’ is « the equivalent of the sefira Yessod (the Foundation) represented by the male sexual organ. Acting as ‘righteous’, the man assumes a function in sympathy with that of this divine emanation, which connects the male and female dimensions of the sefirot, allowing him to ‘build’ the Shekhina identified at the altar. » xv

In this Genesis verse, we see that the Zohar reads the presence of the Shekhina, represented by the altar of sacrifice, and embodying the feminine part of the divine, and we see that the Zohar also reads the act of « edifying » her, symbolized by the Central Column, that is to say by the ‘Foundation’, or the Yessod, which in the Kabbalah has as its image the male sexual organ, and which thus incarnates the male part of the divine, and bears the name of ‘son’ [of God]…

How can we understand these allusive images? To say it without a veil, the kabbalah does not hesitate to represent here (in a cryptic way) a quasi-marital scene where God ‘gets closer’ to His Queen to love her…

And it is up to ‘Israel’ to ensure the smooth running of this loving encounter, as the following passage indicates:

 » ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’ (Ex 25:8) (…) The Holy One blessed be He asked Israel to bring the Queen called ‘Sanctuary’ to Him (…) For it is written: ‘You shall bring a fire (ichêh, a fire = ichah, a woman) to YHVH’ (Lev 23:8). Therefore it is written, ‘They will make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you’. » xvi

Let’s take an interested look at the verse: « You will approach a fire from YHVH » (Lev 33:8).

The Hebrew text gives :

וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם אִשֶּׁה לַיהוָה

Ve-hiqravttêm ichêh la-YHVH

The word אִשֶּׁה , ichêh, means ‘fire’, but in a very slightly different vocalization, ichah, this same word means ‘woman’. As for the verb ‘to approach’, its root is קרב, qaraba, « to be near, to approach, to move towards » and in the hiphil form, « to present, to offer, to sacrifice ». Interestingly, and even disturbingly, the noun qorban, ‘sacrifice, oblation, gift’ that derives from it, is almost identical to the noun qerben which means ‘womb, entrails, breast’ (of the woman).

One could propose the following equations (or analogies), which the Hebrew language either shows or implies allusively:

Fire = Woman

Approaching = Sacrifice = Entrails (of the woman)

‘Approaching the altar’ = ‘Approaching a woman’ (Do we need to recall here that, in the Hebrew Bible, « to approach a woman » is a euphemism for « making love »?)

The imagination of the Kabbalists does not hesitate to evoke together (in an almost subliminal way) the ‘sacrifice’, the ‘entrails’, the ‘fire’ and the ‘woman’ and to bring them formally ‘closer’ to the Most Holy Name: YHVH.

It should be noted, however, that the Kabbalists’ audacity is only relative here, since the Song of Songs had, long before the Kabbalah, dared to take on even more burning images.

In the thinking of the Kabbalists, the expression « to make God » is understood as the result of a « union » of the masculine and feminine dimensions of the divine.

In this allegory, the sefira Yessod connects God and the Community of believers just as the male organ connects the male body to the female body. xvii

Rabbi Matthias Delacroute (Poland, 16th century) comments:

« ‘Time to make YHVH’ (Ps 119:126). Explanation: The Shekhinah called ‘Time’ is to be made by joining her to YHVH after she has been separated from Him because one has broken the rules and transgressed the Law. » xviii

For his part, Rabbi Joseph Caro (1488-1575) understood the same verse as follows: « To join the upper pleroma, masculine and divine, with the lower pleroma, feminine and archangelical, must be the aim of those who practice the commandments (…) The lower pleroma is the Shekhinah, also called the Community of Israel ». xix

It is a question of magnifying the role of the Community of Israel, or that of each individual believer, in the ‘divine work’, in its ‘reparation’, in its increase in ‘power’ or even in its ‘begetting’….

Rabbi Hayim Vital, a contemporary of Joseph Caro, comments on a verse from Isaiah and relates it to another verse from the Psalms in a way that has been judged « extravagant » by literalist exegetesxx.

Isaiah’s verse (Is 49:4) reads, according to R. Hayim Vital: « My work is my God », and he compares it with Psalm 68: « Give power to God » (Ps 68:35), of which he gives the following comment: « My work was my God Himself, God whom I worked, whom I made, whom I repaired ».

Note that this verse (Is 49:4) is usually translated as follows: « My reward is with my God » (ou-féoulati êt Adonaï).

Mopsik comments: « It is not ‘God’ who is the object of the believer’s work, or action, but ‘my God’, that God who is ‘mine’, with whom I have a personal relationship, and in whom I have faith, and who is ‘my’ work. »

And he concludes that this ‘God who is made’, who is ‘worked’, is in reality ‘the feminine aspect of the divinity’.

The Gaon Elijah of Vilna proposed yet another way of understanding and designating the two ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects of the Deity, calling them respectively ‘expansive aspect’ and ‘receiving aspect’:

« The expansive aspect is called havayah (being) [i.e. HVYH, anagram of YHVH…], the receiving aspect of the glorification coming from us is called ‘His Name’. In the measure of Israel’s attachment to God, praising and glorifying Him, the Shekhinah receives the Good of the expanding aspect. (…) The Totality of the offices, praise and glorification, that is called Shekhinah, which is His Name. Indeed, ‘name’ means ‘public renown’ and ‘celebration’ of His Glory, the perception of His Greatness. (…) This is the secret of ‘YHVH is one, and His Name is one’ (Zac 14:9). YHVH is one’ refers to the expansion of His will. ‘His Name is one’ designates the receiving aspect of His praise and attachment. This is the unification of the recitation of the Shemaxxi

According to the Gaon of Vilna, the feminine dimension of God, the Shekhina, is the passive dimension of the manifested God, a dimension that is nourished by the Totality of the praises and glorifications of the believers. The masculine dimension of God is Havayah, the Being.

Charles Mopsik’s presentation on the theurgical interpretations of the Jewish Kabbalah (‘Making God’) does not neglect to recognize that these interpretations are in fact part of a universal history of the religious fact, particularly rich in comparable experiences, especially in the diverse world of ‘paganism’. It is thus necessary to recognize the existence of « homologies that are difficult to dispute between the theurgic conceptions of Hellenized Egyptian hermeticism, late Greco-Roman Neoplatonism, Sufi theology, Neoplatonism and Jewish mystagogy. » xxii

Said in direct terms, this amounts to noting that since the dawn of time, there has been among all ‘pagan’ people this idea that the existence of God depends on men, at least to a certain degree.

It is also striking that ideas seemingly quite foreign to the Jewish religion, such as the idea of a Trinitarian conception of God (notoriously associated with Christianity) has in fact been enunciated in a similar way by some high-flying cabbalists.

Thus the famous Rabbi Moses Hayim Luzzatto had this formula surprisingly comparable (or if one prefers: ‘isomorphic’) to the Trinitarian formula:

« The Holy One, Blessed be He, the Torah and Israel are one. »

But it should also be recalled that this kind of « kabbalistic » conception has attracted virulent criticism within conservative Judaism, criticism which extends to the entire Jewish Kabbalah. Mopsik cites in this connection the outraged reactions of such personalities as Rabbi Elie del Medigo (c. 1460- 1493) or Rabbi Judah Arie of Modena (17th century), and those of equally critical contemporaries such as Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber…

We will not enter into this debate. We prefer here to try to perceive in the theurgic conceptions we have just outlined the clue of an anthropological constant, an archetype, a kind of universal intuition proper to the profound nature of the human spirit.

It is necessary to pay tribute to the revolutionary effort of the Kabbalists, who have shaken with all their might the narrow frames of old and fixed conceptions, in an attempt to answer ever-renewed questions about the essence of the relationship between divinity, the world and humanity, the theos, the cosmos and the anthropos.

This titanic intellectual effort of the Jewish Kabbalah is, moreover, comparable in intensity, it seems to me, to similar efforts made in other religions (such as those of a Thomas Aquinas within the framework of Christianity, around the same period, or those of the great Vedic thinkers, as witnessed by the profound Brahmanas, two millennia before our era).

From the powerful effort of the Kabbalah emerges a specifically Jewish idea of universal value:

« The revealed God is the result of the Law, rather than the origin of the Law. This God is not posed at the Beginning, but proceeds from an interaction between the superabundant flow emanating from the Infinite and the active presence of Man. » xxiii

In a very concise and perhaps more relevant way: « You can’t really know God without acting on Him, » also says Mopsik.

Unlike Gershom Scholem or Martin Buber, who have classified the Kabbalah as « magic » in order to disdain it at its core, Charles Mopsik clearly perceives that it is one of the signs of the infinite richness of human potential in its relationship with the divine. We must pay homage to him for his very broad anthropological vision of the phenomena linked to divine revelation, in all eras and throughout the world.

The spirit blows where it wants. Since the dawn of time, i.e. for tens of thousands of years (the caves of Lascaux or Chauvet bear witness to this), many human minds have tried to explore the unspeakable, without preconceived ideas, and against all a priori constraints.

Closer to us, in the 9th century AD, in Ireland, John Scot Erigenes wrote:

« Because in all that is, the divine nature appears, while by itself it is invisible, it is not incongruous to say that it is made. » xxiv

Two centuries later, the Sufi Ibn Arabi, born in Murcia, died in Damascus, cried out: « If He gave us life and existence through His being, I also give Him life, knowing Him in my heart.» xxv

Theurgy is a timeless idea, with unimaginable implications, and today, unfortunately, this profound idea seems almost incomprehensible in our almost completely de-divinized world.

___________________

iE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p.494-495

iiE. Durckheim. Elementary forms of religious life. PUF, 1990, p. 49

iiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.551

ivIbid.

vClementine Homilies, cf. Homily XVII. Verdier 1991, p.324

viR. Ezra de Girona. Liqouté Chikhehah ou-féah. Ferrara, 1556, fol 17b-18a, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.558

viiZohar III 113a

viiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.561-563.

ixZohar, I, 116b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.568

xR. Abraham ben Ḥananel de Esquira. Sefer Yessod ‘Olam. Ms Moscow-Günzburg 607 Fol 69b, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.589

xiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiR. Menahem Recanati. Perouch ‘al ha-Torah. Jerusalem, 1971, fol 23b-c, quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xiiiR. Menahem Recanati. Sefer Ta’amé ha-Mitsvot. London 1962 p.47, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xivZohar Hadach, Tiqounim Hadachim. Ed. Margaliot. Jerusalem, 1978, fol 117c quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.591

xvCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviR. Joseph de Hamadan. Sefer Tashak. Ed J. Zwelling U.M.I. 1975, p.454-455, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p.593

xviiSee Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xviiiR. Matthias Délacroute. Commentary on the Cha’aré Orah. Fol 19b note 3. Quoted in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xixCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 604

xxIbid.

xxiGaon Elijah of Vilna. Liqouté ha-Gra. Tefilat Chaharit, Sidour ha-Gra, Jerusalem 1971 p.89, cited in Charles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites which make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 610

xxiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 630

xxiiiCharles Mopsik. The great texts of the cabal. The rites that make God. Ed. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1993, p. 639

xxivJean Scot Erigène. De Divisione Naturae. I,453-454B, quoted by Ch. Mopsik, Ibid. p.627

xxvQuoted by H. Corbin. The creative imagination

The Grammatical Names of God: ‘Who’, ‘What’ and ‘That’.


« A Hebrew Grammar »

I’d like to compare here the use of various « grammatical » names of God, in the Veda and in the Zohar.

The idea of a « One » God is extremely old. More than four thousand years ago, long before Abraham left Ur in Chaldea, the One God was already celebrated by nomadic peoples transhumant in Transoxiana to settle in the Indus basin, as attested by the Veda, and then, a few centuries later, by the peoples of ancient Iran, as reported by the sacred texts of the Avesta.

But the strangest thing is that these very diverse peoples, belonging to cultures thousands of years and thousands of miles apart, have called God by the interrogative pronoun. They named God by the name « Who ?» and other grammatical variations.

Even more surprisingly, some three thousand five hundred years after this innovation appeared, the Jewish Kabbalah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, took up this same idea of using the interrogative pronoun as a Name of God, developed it and commented on it in detail in the Zohar.

It seems that there is rich material for a comparative anthropological approach to various religions celebrating the God named « Who? »

The Vedic priests prayed to the one and supreme God, creator of the worlds, Prajāpati, – the « Lord (pati) of creatures (prajā) ». In the Rig Veda, Prajāpati is referred to as (Ka, « who »), in hymn 121 of the 10th Mandala.

« In the beginning appears the golden seed of light.

Only He was the born sovereign of the world.

He fills the earth and the sky.

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?

He who gives life and strength,

He whose blessing all the gods themselves invoke,

immortality and death are only His shadow!

– To ‘Who? »-God will we offer the sacrifice?

(…)

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 ‘Who?’-God will we offer the sacrifice? » i

Max Müller asserts the pre-eminence of the Veda in the invention of the pronoun « Who » as a name of God: « The Brâhmans did indeed invent the name Ka of God. The authors of Brahmaṇas have broken so completely with the past that, forgetting the poetic character of the hymns and the poets’ desire for the unknown God, they have promoted an interrogative pronoun to the rank of deityii.

In the Taittirîya-samhitâiii , the Kaushîtaki-brâhmaṇaiv , the Tâṇdya-brâhmaṇav and the Satapatha-brâhmaṇavi , whenever a verse is presented in interrogative form, the authors say that the pronoun Ka which carries the interrogation designates Prajāpati. All hymns in which the interrogative pronoun Ka was found were called Kadvat, i.e., ‘possessing the kad‘, – or ‘possessing the who?

The Brahmans even formed a new adjective for everything associated with the word Ka. Not only the hymns but also the sacrifices offered to the God Ka were referred to as « Kâya »’vii.

The use of the interrogative pronoun Ka to designate God, far from being a kind of limited rhetorical artifice, had become the equivalent of a theological tradition.

Another question arises. If we know that Ka actually refers to Prajāpati, why use (with its burden of uncertainty) an interrogative pronoun, which seems to indicate that one cannot be satisfied with the expected and known answer?

Further west to the highlands of Iran, and half a millennium before the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, the Yashts, among the oldest hymns of the Avesta, also proclaim this affirmation of the One God about himself: « Ahmi yat ahmi » (« I am who I am »)viii.

God is named this way in Avestic language through the relative pronoun yat, « who », which is another way of grammatically dealing with the uncertainty of God’s real name.

A millennium before Moses, Zarathushtra asked the one God: « Reveal to me Your Name, O Ahura Mazda, Your highest, best, most just, most powerful Name ».

Then Ahura Mazda answered: « My Name is the One, – and it is in ‘question’, O holy Zarathushtra! « »ix .

The Avestic text literally says: « Frakhshtya nâma ahmi« , which can be translated word for word: « He who is in question (Frakhshtya), as for the name (nâma), I am (ahmi)« . x

Curiously enough, long after the Veda and the Avesta, the Hebrew Bible also gives the One God these same « grammatical » names, « Who » or « He Who ».

We find this use of the interrogative pronoun who (מִי , mi ) in the verse from Isaiahxi: מִי-בָרָא אֵלֶּה (mi bara éleh), « Who created that? ».

As for the relative pronoun « who, whom » (אֲשֶׁר , asher), it is staged in a famous passage from Exodusxii: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (ehyeh asher ehyeh), « I am who I am », or more acurately, « I will be who I will be », taking into account the imperfect tense of ‘ehyeh’.

The latter option leaves open the possibility of a future revelation, of another Name yet, or of a divine essence whose essence would have no grammatically formulable essence, but could be rendered only approximately, for example by means of a relative pronoun and a verbal form in the future .

Two millennia after Isaiah, in the midst of the European Middle Ages, the famous book of the Jewish Kabbalah, the Zohar, attributed to Moses de Leon, focused on a detailed study of the name Mi (« Who? ») of God.

One of the tracks that emerges from this interrogation is the intrinsically divine relationship of Mi (Who) to Mâ (What) and to Eleh (That).

« It is written: « In the beginning ». Rabbi Eleazar opened one of his lectures with the following exordium: « Lift up your eyes (Is 40:28) and consider who created this ». « Lift up your eyes up, » to what place? To the place where all eyes are turned. And what is that place? It is the « opening of the eyes ». There you will learn that the mysterious Elder, the eternal object of research, created this. And who is He? – Mi » (= Who). He is the one who is called the « Extremity of Heaven », above, for everything is in his power. And it is because he is the eternal object of research, because he is in a mysterious way and because he does not reveal himself that he is called « Mi » (= Who); and beyond that we must not go deeper. This upper end of the Heaven is called « Mi » (= Who). But there is another end at the bottom, called « Mâ » (= What). What is the difference between the two? The first, mysterious one, called « Mi », is the eternal object of search; and, after man has searched, after he has tried to meditate and to go up from step to step until he reaches the last one, he finally arrives at « Mâ » (= What). What did you learn? What did you understand? What did you look for? Because everything is as mysterious as before. This mystery is alluded to in the words of Scripture: ‘Mâ (= What), I will take you as a witness, Mâ (= What), I will be like you' ». xiii

What are we learning, indeed? What have we understood?

Mi is a Name of God. It is an eternal object of research.

Can it be reached? No.

One can only reach this other noun, which is still only a pronoun, (= What).

You look for « Who » and you reach « What ».

This Mâis not the sought-after Mi, but of Mâ we can say, as Scripture testifies: « Mâ, I will take you as a witness, Mâ, I will be like you. » xiv

The Zohar indicates indeed:

« When the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed, a heavenly voice came and said, « Mâ (= What) will give you a testimony, » for I have testified every day from the first days of creation, as it is written, « I take heaven and earth as my witness this day. « And I said, « Mâ will be like you, » that is, He will give you sacred crowns, very much like His own, and make you ruler over the world. » xv

The God whose Name is Mi is not the God whose Name is Mâ, and yet they are one.

And above all, under the Name of , He will one day be the ‘equal’ of anyone who seeks Him in all things, at least according to the Zohar:

« Just as the sacred people no longer enter the holy walls today, so I promise you that I will not enter my dwelling place above until all the troops have entered your walls below. May this be your consolation, for in this form of « What » (Mâ) I will be your equal in all things. » xvi

The man who ‘seeks’ God is placed between Mi and Mâ, in an intermediate position, just as Jacob was once.

« For Mi, the one who is the upper echelon of the mystery and on whom all depends, will heal you and restore you; Mi, the end of heaven from above, and Mâ, the end of heaven from below. And this is Jacob’s inheritance that forms the link between the upper end Mi and the lower end Mâ, for he stands in the midst of them. This is the meaning of the verse: « Mi (= Who) created that » (Is 40:26). » xvii

But that’s not all. Isaiah’s verse has not yet delivered its full weight of meaning. What does « that » mean?

« Rabbi Simeon says, « Eleazar, what does the word ‘Eleh‘ (= That) mean? It cannot refer to the stars and other heavenly bodies, since they are always seen and since the heavenly bodies are created by « Mâ« , as it is written (Ps 33:6): « By the Word of God the heavens were created. » Neither can it refer to secret objects, since the word « Eleh » can only refer to visible things. This mystery had not yet been revealed to me until the day when, as I stood by the sea, the prophet Elijah appeared to me. He said to me, « Rabbi, do you know the meaning of the words, ‘Who (Mi) created that (Eleh)? « 

I answered him, « The word ‘Eleh‘ means the Heavens and the heavenly bodies, and Scripture commands man to contemplate the works of the Holy One, blessed be he, as it is written (Ps 8:4): « When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, etc ». and a little further on (Ibid., 10): « God, our master, how wonderful is your name on all the earth. « 

Elijah replied: Rabbi, this word containing a secret was spoken before the Holy One, blessed be He, and its meaning was revealed in the Heavenly School, here it is: When the Mystery of all Mysteries wished to manifest itself, He first created a point, which became the Divine Thought; then He drew all kinds of images on it, engraved all kinds of figures on it, and finally engraved on it the sacred and mysterious lamp, an image representing the most sacred mystery, a profound work coming out of the Divine Thought. But this was only the beginning of the edifice, existing but not yet existing, hidden in the Name, and at that time called itself only « Mi« . Then, wanting to manifest Himself and be called by His Name, God put on a precious and shining garment and created « Eleh » (That), which was added to His Name.

« Eleh« , added to inverted « mi » [i.e. ‘im’], formed « Elohim« . Thus the word « Elohim » did not exist before « Eleh » was created. It is to this mystery that the culprits who worshipped the golden calf alluded when they cried out (Ex 32:4): « Eleh » is your God, O Israel. » xviii

We learn in this passage from the Zohar that the true essence of the golden calf was neither to be a calf nor to be made of gold. The golden calf was only a pretext to designate « that ».

It was only there to designate the essence of « Eleh » (That), the third instanciation of the divine essence, after that of « Mi » and that of «  » …

As the Zohar indicates, this can be deduced by associating the Name « Mi » (Who?) with the Name « Eleh » (That), which allows us to obtain the Name « Elohim » (God), after inverting mi into im, ...

The Name Mi, the Name and the Name Eleh were not primarily divine nouns, but only pronouns (interrogative, relative, demonstrative).

These divine pronouns, in which lies a powerful part of mystery because of their grammatical nature, also interact between themselves. They refer to each other a part of their deeper meaning. The « Who » calls the « What », and they both also refer to a grammatically immanent « That ».

The grammatical plane of interpretation is rich. But can a more theological reading be attempted? I think so.

These three Divine Names, « Who », « What » and « That », form a kind of proto-trinity, I’d like to suggest.

This proto-trinity evokes three attributes of God:

He is a personal God, since we can ask the question « Who? » about Him.

He is a God who may enter in relation, since relative pronouns (« Whom », « What ») can designate Him.

Finally He is an immanent God, since a demonstrative pronoun (« That ») can evoke Him.

Even if Judaism claims an absolute « unity » of the divine, it cannot help but hatch within itself Trinitarian formulations – here, in grammatical form.

This Trinitarian phenomenology of the divine in Judaism, in the grammatical form it borrows, does not make it any less profound or any less eternally perennial. For if there is indeed an ever-present symbol, always at work, of the original wiring of the human mind, it is grammar…

In a million years, or even in seven hundred million years from now, and whatever idea of the divine will reign then, I guess that there will still be a transhuman or posthuman grammar to evoke the categories of the Who, the What, and the That, and to make them look as aspects or ‘faces’ of the Divine.

__________________

iRig Veda. 121st Hymn. Book X.

iiMax Müller. History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature. 1860, p. 433

iii I, 7, 6, 6

iv XXIV, 4

v XV, 10

vi http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/sbe32/sbe3215.htm#fn_77

vii The word Kâya is used in Taittirîya-samhitâ (I, 8, 3, 1) and Vâgasaneyi-samhitâ (XXIV, 15).

viii Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green. London, 1895, p.52

ix  » My name is the One of whom questions are asked, O Holy Zarathushtra ! ». Quoted by Max Müller, Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Ed. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55

x Cf. this other translation proposed by Max Müller: « One to be asked by name am I », in Max Müller. Theosophy or Psychological Religion. Longmans, Green & Co. London, 1895, p. 55.

xiIs 40.26

xiiEx 3.14

xiiiZohar I,1b.

xivZohar I,1b.

xvZohar I,1b.

xviZohar I,1b.

xviiZohar I,1b.

xviiiZohar I,1b-2a

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.

West does not meet East, does it?


« Raimon Panikkar »

For more than two centuries, the West has produced a small but highly committed phalanx of Indianists, Sanskritists and Veda specialists. Their translations, commentaries, reviews, and scholarly theses are generally of good quality and show a high level of scholarship. The specialized departments of some Western universities have been able to promote, year after year, excellent contributions to the knowledge of the enormous mass of documents and texts, Vedic and post-Vedic, belonging to a tradition whose origins go back more than four thousand years.

One is quickly struck, however, by the dazzling diversity of the points of view expressed by these specialists on the deep meaning and the very nature of the Veda. One is surprised by the remarkable differences in the interpretations provided, and in the end, in spite of a smooth harmony of facade, by their incompatibility and their irreconcilable cacophony.

To give a quick idea of the spectrum of opinions, I would like to briefly quote some of the best experts on Vedic India.

Of course, if one wanted to be complete, one would have to make a systematic review of all the research in indology since the beginning of the 19th century, to determine the structural biases, the interpretative flaws, the blindness and the cultural deafness…

I will limit myself to just touching on the issue by evoking a few significant works by well-known specialists: Émile Burnouf, Sylvain Lévi, Henri Hubert, Marcel Mauss, Louis Renou, Frits Staal, Charles Malamoud, Raimon Panikkar.

The following ideas will be found there in a jumble, – surprisingly eclectic and contradictory:

Vāk is the Logos. Or: The Vedic Word (Vāk) is equivalent to the Greek Logos and the Johannine Word.

-The Veda (a.k.a. the « Aryan Bible ») is « coarse » and comes from « semi-savage » people.

-God’s sacrifice is only a « social fact ».

-The Veda got lost in India quite early on.

-The rites (and especially Vedic rites) have no meaning.

-The sacrifice represents the union of the Male and Female.

-Sacrifice is the Navel of the Universe.

Émile Burnoufi: Vāk is the Logos

Active in the second half of the 19th century, Émile Burnouf asserted that the Vedic Aryâs had a very clear awareness of the value of their cult, and of their role in this respect. « Vedic poets state that they themselves created the gods: ‘The ancestors shaped the forms of the gods, as the worker shapes iron’ (Vāmadéva II,108), and that without the Hymn, the deities of heaven and earth would not be. » ii

The Vedic Hymn « increases the power of the gods, enlarges their domain and makes them reign. » iii

But the Hymn is also, par excellence, the Word (Vāk).

In the Ṛg-Veda, a famous hymniv is called « Word ».

Here are some excerpts, translated by Burnouf :

« I am wise; I am the first of those honoured by the Sacrifice.

The one I love, I make him terrible, pious, wise, enlightened.

I give birth to the Father. My dwelling is on his very head, in the midst of the waves (…)

I exist in all the worlds and I extend to the heaven.

Like the wind, I breathe in all worlds. My greatness rises above this earth, above the very heaven. »

Emile Burnouf comments and concludes:

« This is not yet the theory of the Logos, but this hymn and those that resemble it can be considered as the starting point of the theory of the Logos. » v

From Vāk to Logos! From the Veda to the Word of theGospel of John!

Multi-millenium jump, intercultural, meta-philosophical, trans-religious!

Remember that Vāk appeared at least one thousand years before the Platonic Logos and at least one thousand five hundred years before John the Evangelist used the Logos as a metaphor for the Divine Word.

Does Burnouf force the line beyond all measure?

Is this not an anachronism, or worse, a fundamental bias of an ideological nature, unduly bringing religious traditions closer together without any connection between them?

Or is it not rather a great intuition on his part?

Who will tell?

Let’s see what other indianists think about it…

Sylvain Levivi: the « Aryan Bible » is « crude ».

Curious figure that that of Sylvain Lévi, famous indologist, pupil of the Indianist Abel Bergaigne. On the one hand, he seems cheerfully to despise the Brāhmaṇas, which were nevertheless the object of his long, learned and thorough studies. On the other hand, he acknowledges a certain relative value with his lips.

Let’s judge:

« Morality has found no place in this system [of Brāhmaṇas]: the sacrifice that regulates man’s relationship with the deities is a mechanical operation that acts through its intimate energy; hidden within nature, it is only released from it through the magical action of the priest. The worried and malevolent gods are forced to surrender, defeated and subdued by the very force that gave them greatness. In spite of them, the sacrificer rises to the heavenly world and ensures himself a definitive place in it for the future: man becomes superhuman. » vii

We could ask ourselves why eminent specialists like Sylvain Lévi spend so much time and energy on a subject they denigrate, deep down inside?

Sylvain Lévi’s analysis is indeed surprising by the vigor of the attack, the vitriol of certain epithets (« coarse religion », « people of half savages »), mixed, it is true, with some more positive views:

« Sacrifice is a magical operation; the regenerating initiation is a faithful reproduction of conception, gestation and childbirth; faith is only confidence in the virtue of the rites; the passage to heaven is a step-by-step ascent; the good is ritual accuracy. Such a coarse religion supposes a people of half-wild people; but the sorcerers, the wizards or the shamans of these tribes knew how to analyze their system, to dismantle its parts, to fix its laws; they are the true fathers of the Hindu philosophy. » viii

The contempt for the « half-wild ones » is coupled with a kind of more targeted disdain for what Levi calls, with some sharp irony, the « Aryan Bible » of the Vedic religion (reminder: Levi’s text dates from 1898):

« The defenders of the Aryan Bible, who have the happy privilege of tasting the freshness and naivety of the hymns, are free to imagine a long and profound decadence of religious feeling among the poets and doctors of the Vedic religion; others will refuse to admit such a surprising evolution of beliefs and doctrines, which makes a stage of gross barbarity follow a period of exquisite delicacy. In fact it is difficult to conceive of anything more brutal and material than the theology of Brāhmaṇas; the notions that usage has slowly refined and taken on a moral aspect, surprise by their wild realism. » ix

Sylvain Levi condescends, however, to give a more positive assessment when he points out that Vedic priests also seem to recognize the existence of a « unique » divinity:

« Speculations about sacrifice not only led the Hindu genius to recognize as a fundamental dogma the existence of a unique being; they may have initiated him into the idea of transmigrations ». x

Curious word that that of transmigration, clearly anachronistic in a Vedic context… Everything happens as if the Veda (which never uses this very Buddhist word of transmigration…) had in the eyes of Levi for only true interest, for lack of intrinsic value, the fact of carrying in him the scattered germs of a Buddhism which still remained to come, more than one millennium later….

« The Brāhmaṇas ignore the multiplicity of man’s successive existences; the idea of repeated death only appears there to form a contrast with the infinite life of the inhabitants of the heaven. But the eternity of the Sacrifice is divided into infinitely numerous periods; whoever offers it kills him and each death resurrects him. The supreme Male, the Man par excellence (a.k.a. Puruṣa) dies and is reborn again and again (…) The destiny of the Male was to easily end up being the ideal type of human existence. The sacrifice made man in his own image. The « seer » who discovers by the sole force of his intelligence, without the help of the gods and often against their will, the rite or formula that ensures success, is the immediate precursor of the Buddhas and Jinas who discover, by direct intuition and spontaneous illumination, the way to salvation. » xi

The Veda, one sees it, would be hardly that one way towards the Buddha, according to Levi.

Henri Hubert and Marcel Maussxii: The divine sacrifice is only a « social fact ».

In their famous Essay on the Nature and Function of Sacrifice (1899), Henri Hubert and Marcel Mauss undertook the ambitious and perilous task of comparing various forms of sacrifice, as revealed by historical, religious, anthropological and sociological studies, affecting the whole of humanity.

Convinced that they had succeeded in formulating a « general explanation, » they thought they could affirm the « unity of the sacrificial system » across all cultures and all eras.

« It is that, in the end, under the diversity of the forms that it takes, [the sacrifice] is always made by the same process that can be used for the most different purposes. This process consists in establishing communication between the sacred and profane worlds through a victim, that is, something destroyed in the course of the ceremony. » xiii

The unity of the « sacrificial system » is revealed mainly as a « social fact », through the « sacralization of the victim » which becomes a « social thing »: « Religious notions, because they are believed, are; they exist objectively, as social facts. Sacred things, in relation to which the sacrifice functions, are social things, and that is enough to explain the sacrifice. » xiv

The study by Hubert and Mauss is based in particular on the comparative analysis of Vedic sacrifices and sacrifices among the ancient Hebrews.

These authors attempt to determine a common principle, unifying extremely diverse types of sacrifice. « In the course of religious evolution, the notion of sacrifice has joined the notions concerning the immortality of the soul. We have nothing to add on this point to the theories of Rohde, Jevons and Nutt on the Greek mysteries, whose facts quoted by M. S. Levi, borrowed from the doctrines of the Brahmanasxv and those that Bergaigne and Darmesteter had already extracted from vedicxvi and avesticxvii texts, must be compared. Let us also mention the relationship that unites Christian communion to eternal salvationxviii. (…) The characteristic feature of objective sacrifices is that the main effect of the rite is, by definition, on an object other than the sacrificer. Indeed, the sacrifice does not return to its point of departure; the things it is intended to modify are outside the sacrificer. The effect produced on the latter is thus secondary. It is the central phase, the sacrifice, which tends to take up the most space. It is above all a question of creating spirit. » xix

This principle of unity takes all its resonance with the sacrifice of the god.

« The types of sacrifice of the god that we have just reviewed are realized in concreto and gathered together in one and the same Hindu rite: the sacrifice of soma. We can see first of all what a true sacrifice of the god is in the ritual. We cannot expose here how Soma god is confused with the soma plant, how he is really present there, nor can we describe the ceremonies in the middle of which he is brought and received at the place of the sacrifice. One carries him on a bulwark, worships him, then presses him and kills him. » xx

The « sacrifice of the god », whatever its possible metaphysical scope, which is absolutely out of the question here, is never really a « social fact » …

Louis Renouxxi: The Veda was lost in India early on.

Louis Renou emphasizes in his Vedic Studies what he considers to be a « striking paradox » about the Veda.

« On the one hand, we revere him, we recognize in him an omniscient, infallible, eternal principle – something like God in the form of « Knowledge », a God made Book (Bible), an Indian Logos – one refers to him as the very source of Dharma, theauthority from which all Brahmanic disciplines are derived. And on the other hand, the traditions, let us say philological traditions, relating to the Veda, the very substance of the texts that compose it, all this has been weakened early on, if not altered or lost. » xxii

In fact, Renou shows that the sharpest enemies of the Veda proliferated very early on in India itself. For example, he lists the « anti-Vedic attitudes » of the Jainas, the Ājīvika and the Buddhists, the « semi-Vedic tendencies » of the Viṣṇuïtes and the Śivaïtes, or the « a-Vedic » positions of the Śākta and the Tāntrika. Renou reminds us that Rāmakrisna has taught: « Truth is not in the Vedas; one must act according to the Tantras, not according to the Vedas; the latter are impure by the very fact that they are pronounced, etc…. « xxiiiand that Tukārām said: « Pride is born from the repetition of the syllables of the Vedaxxiv.

It was with the appearance of the Tantras that the Vedic period came to an end, » explains Renou. It accelerated with a general reaction of Indian society against the ancient Vedic culture, and with the development of popular religiosity that had been bullied by the Vedic cults, as well as with the appearance of Viṣṇuïsme and Śivaïsme and the development of anti-ritualistic and ascetic practices.

The end of the Veda seems to be explained by root causes. From time immemorial it was entrusted to the oral memory of Brahmins, apparently more expert at memorizing its pronunciation and rhythm of cantillation as faithfully as possible than at knowing its meaning or perfecting its interpretations.

Hence this final judgment, in the form of a condemnation: « The Vedic representations ceased early on to be a ferment of Indian religiosity, it no longer recognized itself there where it remained faithful to them. » xxv

From then on, the Vedic world is nothing more than a « distant object, delivered to the vagaries of an adoration deprived of its textual substance. »

And Renou concludes with a touch of fatalism:

« This is a fairly common fate for the great sacred texts that are the foundations of religions. » xxvi

Frits Staalxxvii: Vedic rites make no sense

Frits Staal has a simple and devastating theory: the rite makes no sense. It is meaningless.

What is important in the ritual is what one does, – not what one thinks, believes or says. Ritual has no intrinsic meaning, purpose or finality. It is its own purpose. « In ritual activity, the rules count, but not the result. In ordinary activity, it is the opposite. » xxviii

Staal gives the example of the Jewish ritual of the « red cow »xxix, which surprised Solomon himself, and which was considered the classic example of a divine commandment for which no rational explanation could be given.

Animals also have ‘rituals’, such as ‘aspersion’, and yet they don’t have a language, » explains Staal.

The rites, however, are charged with a language of their own, but it is a language that does not strictly speaking convey any meaning, it is only a « structure » allowing the ritual actions to be memorized and linked together.

The existence of rituals goes back to the dawn of time, long before the creation of structured languages, syntax and grammar. Hence the idea that the very existence of syntax could come from ritual.

The absence of meaning of the rite sees its corollary in the absence of meaning (or the radical contingency) of the syntax.

Frits Staal applies this general intuition to the rites of the Veda. He notes the extreme ritualization of Yajurveda and Samaveda. In the chants of Samaveda, there is a great variety of seemingly meaningless sounds, extended series of O’s, sometimes ending in M’s, which evoke the mantra OM.

Staal then opens up another avenue for reflection. He notes that the effect of certain psychoactive powers, such as those associated with the ritual consumption of soma, is somewhat analogous to the effects of singing, recitation and psalmody, which involve rigorous breath control. This type of effect that can rightly be called psychosomatic even extends to silent meditation, as recommended by Upaniṣad and Buddhism.

For example, controlled inhalation and exhalation practices in highly ritualized breathing exercises can help explain how the ingestion of a psychoactive substance can also become a ritual.

In a previous article I mentioned the fact that many animals enjoy consuming psychoactive plants. Similarly, it can be noted that in many animal species we find some kind of ritualized practices.

There would thus be a possible link to underline between these animal practices, which apparently have no « meaning », and highly ritualized human practices such as those observed in the great sacrificial rites of the Veda.

Hence this hypothesis, which I will try to explore in a future article : the ingestion of certain plants, the obsessive observation of rites and the penetration of religious beliefs have a common point, that of being able to generate psychoactive effects.

However, animals are also capable of experiencing some similar effects.

There is here an avenue for a more fundamental reflection on the very structure of the universe, its intimate harmony and its capacity to produce resonances, especially with the living world. The existence of these resonances is particularly salient in the animal world.

Without doubt, it is also these resonances that are at theorigin of the phenomenon (certainly not reserved to Man) of « consciousness ».

Apparently « meaningless » rites have at least this immense advantage that they are able to generate more « consciousness » .

I would like to add that this line of research opens up unimaginable perspectives, by the amplitude and universality of its implications, at various levels of « life », and from cosmology to anthropology…

Charles Malamoudxxx : Sacrifice is the union of Male and Female.

By a marked and even radical contrast with the already exposed positions of Sylvain Lévi, Charles Malamoud places the Veda at the pinnacle. The Veda is no longer a « grossly barbaric » or « half-wild » paganism, it is in his eyes a « monotheism », not only « authentic », but the « most authentic » monotheism that is, far above Judaism or Christianity !

« The Veda is not polytheism, or even ‘henotheism’, as Max Müller thought. It is the most authentic of monotheisms. And it is infinitely older than the monotheisms taught by the religions of the Book. » xxxi

Once this overall compliment has been made, Charles Malamoud in turn tackles the crux of the matter, the question of Vedic sacrifice, its meaning and nature.

On the one hand, « the rite is routine, and repetition, and it is perhaps a prison for the mind »xxxii. On the other hand, « the rite is to itself its own transcendence »xxxiii. This is tantamount to saying that it is the rite alone that really matters, despite appearances, and not the belief or mythology it is supposed to embody….

« The rites become gods, the mythological god is threatened to be erased and only remains if he manages to be recreated by the rite. Rites can do without gods, gods are nothing without rites. » xxxiv

This position corresponds indeed to the fundamental (and founding) thesis of the Veda, according to which the Sacrifice is the supreme God himself (Prajāpati), and conversely, God is the Sacrifice.

But Charles Malamoud is not primarily interested in the profound metaphysical implications of this double identification of Prajāpati with the Sacrifice.

The question that interests him, more prosaically, is of a completely different nature: « What is the sex of the Sacrifice? » xxxv, he asks …

And the answer comes, perfectly clear:

« The Vedic sacrifice, when assimilated to a body, is unquestionably and superlatively a male. » xxxvi

This is evidenced by the fact, according to Malamoud, that the sequences of the « accompanying offerings », which are in a way « appendages » of the main offering, called anuyajā, are compared to penises (śiśna). The texts even glorify the fact that the Sacrifice has three penises, while the man has only one. xxxvii

Of the « male » body of the sacrifice, the « female » partner is the Word.

Malamoud cites a significant passage from Brāhmaṇas.

« The Sacrifice was taken from desire for the Word. He thought, ‘Ah, how I would like to make love with her! and he joined with her. Indra thought, ‘Surely a prodigious being will be born from this union between the Sacrifice and the Word, and that being will be stronger than I am! Indra became an embryo and slipped into the embrace of the Sacrifice and the Word (…) He grasped the womb of the Word, squeezed it tightly, tore it up and placed it on the head of the Sacrifice. » xxxviii

Malamoud qualifies this very strange scene as « anticipated incest » on the part of Indra, apparently wishing to make the Sacrifice and the Word her surrogate parents…

For us  » westerners « , we seem to be confronted here with a real « primitive scene », in the manner of Freud… All that is missing is the murder…

And yet, murder is not far away.

Crushing soma stems with stones is explicitly considered in Vedic texts as « murder, » Malamoud insists.

« Killing » soma stems may seem like an elaborate metaphor.

It is however the Vedic metaphor par excellence, that of the « sacrifice of God », in this case the sacrifice of the God Soma. The divinized Soma is seen as a victim who is immolated, who is put to death by crushing with stones, which implies a « fragmentation » of his « body », and the flow of his substance, then collected to form the essential basis of the oblation?

This idea of sacrificial « murder » is not limited to soma. It also applies to the sacrifice itself, taken as a whole.

Sacrifice is seen as a « body », subject to fragmentation, dilaceration, dismemberment?

« The Vedic texts say that one kills the sacrifice itself as soon as one deploys it. That is to say, when we move from the sacrificial project, which as a project forms a whole, to its enactment, we fragment it into distinct temporal sequences and kill it. The pebbles praised in this hymn Ṛg-Veda X 94 are the instruments of this murder. » xxxix

If the Word makes a couple with the Sacrifice, it can also make a couple with the Silence, as Malamoud explains: « there is an affinity between silence and sperm: the emission of sperm (netasaḥ siktiḥ) is done silently. » xl

A lesson is drawn from this observation for the manner of performing the rite, – with a mixture of words, murmurs and silences :

« Such a soma extraction must be performed with inaudible recitation of the formula, because it symbolizes the sperm that spreads in a womb »xli.

The metaphor is explicit: it is a question of « pouring the Breath-Sperm into the Word-Matrix ». Malamoud specifies: « In practice, to fecundate the Word by the Breath-Sperm-Silence, this means dividing the same rite into two successive phases: one involving recitation of texts aloud, the other inaudible recitation. » xlii

All this is generalizable. The metaphor of the male/female distinction applies to the gods themselves.

« Agni himself is feminine, he is properly a womb when, at the time of the sacrifice, one pours into the oblatory fire, this sperm to which the soma liquor is assimilated. » xliii

Permanence and universality of the metaphor of copulation, in the Veda… according to Malamoud.

Raimon Panikkarxliv : Sacrifice is the navel of the universe

Panikkar says that only one word expresses the quintessence of Vedic revelation: yajña, sacrifice.

Sacrifice is the primordial act, the Act which makes beings be, and which is therefore responsible for their becoming, without the need to invoke the hypothesis of a previous Being from which they would come. In the beginning, « was » the Sacrifice. The beginning, therefore, was neither the Being nor the Non-Being, neither the Full nor the Empty.

The Sacrifice not only gives its Being to the world, but also sustains it. The Sacrifice is what sustains the universe in its Being, what gives life and hope to life. « Sacrifice is the internal dynamism of the Universe.» xlv

From this idea another, even more fundamental, follows: that the Creator God depends in reality on his own Creation.

« The supreme being is not God by himself, but by creatures. In reality he is never alone. He is a relation and belongs to reality. »xlvi

« The Gods do not exist autonomously; they exist in, with, above, and also through men. Their supreme sacrifice is man, the primordial man. (…) Man is the priest but also the sacrificed; the Gods, in their role as primary agents of sacrifice, offer their oblation with man. Man is not only the cosmic priest; he is also the cosmic victim. »xlvii

The Veda describes Creation as resulting from the Sacrifice of God (devayajña), and the self-immolation of the Creator. It is only because Prajāpati totally sacrifices itself that it can give Creation its own Self.

In doing so, the Divine Sacrifice becomes the central paradigm (or « navel ») of the universe:

« This sacred enclosure is the beginning of the earth; this sacrifice is the center of the world. This soma isthe seed of the fertile horse. This priest is the first patron of the word. » xlviii

The commentator writes:

« Everything that exists, whatever it is, is made to participate in the sacrifice. » xlix

« Truly, both Gods and men and Fathers drink together, and this is their banquet. Once they drank openly, but now they drink hidden.»

*************

The competence of the Indian and Sanskritist scholars cited here is not in question.

The display of their divergences, far from diminishing them, increases in my eyes especially the high idea I have of their analytical and interpretative capacities.

But no doubt the reader will not have escaped the kind of dull irony I have tried to instil through the choice of accumulated quotations.

It seemed to me that the West still has a long way to go to begin to « understand » the East (– here the Vedic Orient).

It so happens that sometimes, in reading some Vedic texts (for example the hymns of the 10th Mandala of Ṛg Veda, and some Upaniṣad), I feel some sort of deep resonances with thinkers and poets who lived several thousands of years ago.

____________________

iEmile Burnouf. Essay on the Veda. Ed. Dezobry, Tandou et Cie, Paris, 1863.

iiEmile Burnouf. Essay on the Veda. Ed. Dezobry, Tandou et Cie, Paris, 1863. p.113

iiiEmile Burnouf. Essay on the Veda. Ed. Dezobry, Tandou et Cie, Paris, 1863. p.112

ivRV iV,415

vEmile Burnouf. Essay on the Veda. Ed. Dezobry, Tandou et Cie, Paris, 1863. p.115

viSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898.

viiSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898.p. 9

viiiSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898.p. 10

ixSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898.p. 9

xSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898. p.10-11

xiSylvain Lévi. The doctrine of sacrifice in the Brāhmanas. Ed. Ernest Leroux.1898. p.11

xiiHenri Hubert and Marcel Mauss. Mixed history of religions. From some results of religious sociology; Sacrifice; The origin of magical powers; The representation of time. Collection: Works of the Sociological Year. Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan, 1929, 2nd edition, 236 pages.

xiiiHenri Hubert and Marcel Mauss. Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice. Article published in the review Année sociologique, tome II, 1899, p.76

xivHenri Hubert and Marcel Mauss. Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice. Article published in the review Année sociologique, tome II, 1899, p.78

xvDoctr, pp. 93-95. We absolutely agree with the rapprochement proposed by M. L., between the Brahmanic theory of escape from death by sacrifice and the Buddhist theory of moksà, of deliverance. Cf. Oldenberg, The Buddha, p. 40.

xviVoir Bergaigne, Rel. Véd., sur l’amrtam « essence immortelle » que confère le scma (I, p. 254 suiv., etc.). Mais là, comme dans le livre de M. Hillebr. Ved. Myth., I, p. 289 et sqq. passim, les interprétations de mythologie pure ont un peu envahi les explications des textes. V. Kuhn, Herabkunft des Feuers und des Göttertranks. Cf. Roscher, Nektar und Ambrosia.

xviiCf. Darmesteter, Haurvetât et Amretât, p. 16, p. 41.

xviiiBoth in dogma (e.g. Irenaeus Ad Haer. IV, 4, 8, 5) and in the most well-known rites; thus the consecration of the host is done by a formula in which the effect of the sacrifice on salvation is mentioned, V. Magani l’Antica Liturgia Romana II, p. 268, etc., etc. – One could also relate to these facts the Talmudic Aggada according to which the tribes who have disappeared in the desert and who have not sacrificed will not have a share in eternal life (Gem. to Sanhedrin, X, 4, 5 and 6 in. Talm. J.), nor the people of a city which has become forbidden for having indulged in idolatry, nor Cora the ungodly. This talmudic passage is based on the verse Ps. L, 5: « Bring me together my righteous who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. »

xixHenri Hubert and Marcel Mauss. Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice. Article published in the review Année sociologique, tome II, 1899, p.55-56.

xxHenri Hubert and Marcel Mauss. Essay on the nature and function of sacrifice. Article published in the review Année sociologique, tome II, 1899, p.72-73

xxiLouis Renou. The fate of the Veda in India. Vedic and Paninean studies. Volume 6. Ed. de Boccard. Paris. 1960

xxiiLouis Renou. The fate of the Veda in India. Vedic and Paninean studies. Volume 6. Ed. de Boccard. Paris. 1960, p.1

xxiiiThe teaching of Ramakrisna. p. 467, cited in Louis Renou. The fate of the Veda in India. Vedic and Paninean studies. Tome 6. Ed. de Boccard. Paris. 1960, p4.

xxivTrad. of the Pilgrim’s Psalms by G.-A. Deleury p.17

xxvLouis Renou. The fate of the Veda in India. Vedic and Paninean studies. Volume 6. Ed. de Boccard. Paris. 1960, p.77

xxviIbid.

xxviiFrits Staal. Rituals and Mantras. Rules without meaning. Motilar Banasidarss Publishers. Delhi,1996

xxviiiFrits Staal. Rituals and Mantras. Rules without meaning. Motilar Banasidarss Publishers. Delhi,1996, p.8

xxixNo. 19, 1-22

xxxCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005.

xxxiCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.109

xxxiiCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.45

xxxiiiCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.45

xxxivCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.58

xxxvCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.62

xxxviCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.64

xxxviiSB XI,1,6,31

xxxviiiSB III,2,1,25-28, cited in Charles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.55

xxxixCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.146

xlCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.74

xliCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.74

xliiCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.74

xliiiCharles Malamoud. The dance of the stones. Studies on the sacrificial scene in ancient India. Seuil. 2005. p.78

xlivRaimon Panikkar. I Veda. Mantra mañjari. Ed. Bur Rizzali, 2001

xlvRaimon Panikkar. I Veda. Mantra mañjari. Bur Rizzali, ed. 2001, p. 472.

xlviRaimon Panikkar. I Veda. Mantra mañjari. Bur Rizzali, ed. 2001, p. 472.

xlviiRaimon Panikkar. I Veda. Mantra mañjari. Bur Rizzali, ed. 2001, p. 480.

xlviiiRV I,164.35

xlixSB III,6,2,26

The Oosphere and the Noosphere


« Oospheres »

Marcel Conche writes somewhere, with a kind of cheerful irony: « I like medlar very much. There is nothing to eat. It is the most metaphysical fruit. For metaphysics comes down to the fact that, in any case, we know nothing about anything. » i

For my part I prefer peach, as a fruit. It is very juicy, with tender and tasty flesh. Some have smooth skin, others are fluffy, but all of them have an inviting slit, and a hard core, mobile or adherent. It is, in my humble opinion, a much more metaphysical fruit than the medlar: at the end of the endings, we know that we are going to take some more without getting tired of it, so much the flavor is not forgotten, and so much the mystery of this closed slit and this hard core can only mystify the spirits less able to grasp the immanent transcendence of the peach tree, from its flower to its fruit…

It really is a great mystery that human brains, at least some of them, can open up to metaphysics, that of medlar, or that that flies over the worlds, and reflects on what was before nothing was …

One of the oldest myths in the world dates back at least six thousand years, four thousand years before our era, and three thousand years before Moses. It is the Vedic myth of Prajāpati, a name that means « Father, or Lord of creatures ». Prajāpati was then thought as the supreme God, the One who created the world. But, unlike the biblical God, the creation of the Universe and all creatures, according to the Veda, could only be done through the sacrifice of Prajāpati.

In the beginning, having nothing from which to create the world, since everything was nothingness, Prajāpati had to resort to Himself, dismembering, offering Himself as a sacrifice, and dividing Himself so that from Him could flow the Universe and Life.

The Veda explains the creation of the universe as the Creator’s self-immolation, and designates this sacrifice as « the navel of the Universeii.

« Now the Lord of creatures, after having begotten the living creatures, felt as if He had been emptied. The creatures departed from Him; they did not stay with Him for His joy and sustenance. « iii

The supreme God gives Himself completely, and He suffers the torments of death: « After He begat all that exists, He felt emptied and was afraid of death. » iv

Why this Sacrifice of the Supreme God?

Perhaps because a « greater good » can be expected from it?

Does God (Theos) sacrifice Himself to make possible not only the existence of the Cosmos and Anthropos but also their future « divinization »?

TheTheos sacrifices Himself to extend modes of divinization to other beings than Himself. Thus one sees that the essence of the Sacrifice is entirely in the general becoming. The God sacrifices Himself so that the future can come to be. The God sacrifices Himself entirely, He takes this supreme risk, so that the « Future » and the « Other » can also be?

But then, does that mean that God is not eternal?

He sacrifices His solitary eternity so that He can become a shared, common « becoming ». To eternity, of which He was the sole custodian, He adds Time, the Future, the Process… and therefore Freedom.

He transforms His stable, immobile essence from a being a « First Engine » into a risky, unstable, uncertain process. He voluntarily gives a freedom proper to the Cosmos, as well as to the Anthropos.

God creates the universe with great precision (cf. the incredible finesse with which the « constants » of the Universe have been shaped). However, the universe is not a deterministic mechanics. There is « chance » in it. Let us simply say that there is « freedom ». God threw, whether Einstein likes it or not, an anthropo-cosmic die…

Hence this special mystery, unique to the human brain: how can we presume to know what Prajāpati has concocted before the dawn of time? How do we know that He sacrificed Himself, that He felt emptied, that He was afraid of death? How could the brains of the Veda visionaries conceive of this divine sacrifice and appreciate all its consequences?

There are two possible answers.

Either the Theos allowed this mystery to be « revealed » directly to the souls of certain representatives of Anthropos (such as biblical prophets).

Either there is, more immanently, and more anthropologically, a congruence, a sympathy, an obviousness, which seems to imbue the human brain.

The brains of the Vedic prophets felt internally, intuitively, through a kind of analogy and anagogy, the divine drama at stake. This intuition was undoubtedly based on the observation of phenomena that appeared in the human environment, and which are among the noblest, most striking, most counter-intuitive that can be conceived: sacrifice for love, the gift of one’s life for the survival of those one loves…

In any case, let us conclude that the human brain, through its antennas, its pistils, its « oospheres », is capable of navigating freely in the eternal « noosphere », and that it is given, sometimes, to penetrate its essence…

_______________

iMarcel Conche. Regain. Ed. Hdiffusion. 2018, p.65

ii R.V. I,164.35

iii N.B. III, 9.1.1

iv S.B. X, 4.2.2

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.

iiiIbid.

ivIbid.

vBhagavad Gîtâ, 15, 15 (transl. Ph. Quéau)

Agni Alive


Etymology goes back further to the dawn of thought, much further than archaeology or paleography.

The root of the oldest words is all that remains of time that no memory can imagine. These roots are the minute, ineffaceable traces of what was once pure intuition, radiant knowledge, sudden revelation, for singular men and moving crowds.

The ancient roots, still alive, like verbal souls, speak to us of a vanished world.

Among the most powerful roots are those that inform the names of the Gods.

In the Veda, Agni is said to be « Fire ».

But the truly original, etymological meaning of the word « agni » is not « fire », it is « alive », and « agile ».

The idea of « fire » is only a derivation from this primeval sense. The oldest intuitions associated with the word « agni » then are « life » and « movement », as opposed to « rest » and « death ».

The divine Agni, had indeed many other names, to tell of his other qualities: Atithi, Anala, Dahana, Vasu, Bharata, Mātariśvā, Vaiśvānara, Śoṣaṇa, Havyavah, Hutabhuk…

Agni’s names all have a distinct, specific meaning. Atithi is « Host », Anala is « Longevity », Dahana is « Burning », Tanūnapāt : « Self-Generated », Apāṃnapāt : « from the waters ».

So many attributes for such a hidden God!

« Two mothers of a different color and walking quickly, each giving birth to an infant. From the breast of one is born Hari [yet another name of Agni], honored by libations; from the breast of the other is born Soucra (the Sun), with a bright flame ». i

Agni is indeed « visible », He was born as a child, – but very clever, very wise is whoever can really « see » Him !

« Which of you has seen Him, when He is hiding? As an infant just now, there He is who, by the virtue of sacrifice, now gives birth to His own mothers. Thus Agni, great and wise, honored by our libations, generates the rain of the cloud, and is reborn in the bosom of deeds.» ii

Agni is everywhere. Agni is not only « alive », « agile », He is not only « Fire », not only « God ».

He is also the flickering glow, the sparkling lightning, the blazing forest, the fatal lightning, the evening sun, the pink dawn, the inflexible flint, the warmth of the body, the embers of love…

To understand the Veda, it helps to be a poet, to expand one´s mind to the universe, and even farther away.

iRigVeda 1,7,1,1.

iiRigVeda 1,7,1,4.

The Murder of Moses


John Everett Millais‘ Victory O Lord! (1871)

« All men are either Jews or Hellenes; either they are driven by ascetic impulses which lead them to reject all pictorial representation and to sacrifice to sublimation, or they are distinguished by their serenity, their expansive naturalness and their realistic spirit, » wrote Heinrich Heinei.

The over-schematic and somewhat outrageous nature of this statement may surprise in the mouth of the « last of the Romantic poets ».

But, according to Jan Assmann, Heine here would only symbolize the opposition between two human types, each of them holding on to two world visions, one valuing the spirit, without seeking a direct relationship with material reality, and the other valuing above all the senses and the concrete world.

In any case, when Heinrich Heine wrote these words at the beginning of the 19th century, this clear-cut opposition between « Hebraism » and « Hellenism » could be seen as a kind of commonplace “cliché” in the Weltanschauung then active in Germany.

Other considerations fueled this polarization. A kind of fresh wind seemed to be blowing on the European intellectual scene following the recent discovery of Sanskrit, followed by the realization of the historical depth of the Vedic heritage, and the exhumation of evidence of a linguistic filiation between the ‘Indo-European’ languages.

All this supported the thesis of the existence of multi-millennia migrations covering vast territories, notably from Northern Europe to Central Asia, India and Iran.

There was a passionate search for a common European origin, described in Germany as ‘Indo-Germanic’ and in France or Britain as ‘Indo-European’, taking advantage as much as possible of the lessons of comparative linguistics, the psychology of peoples and various mythical, religious and cultural sources.

Heine considered the opposition between « Semitic » and « Aryan » culture as essential. For him, it was a question not only of opposing « Aryans » and « Semites », but of perceiving « a more general opposition that concerned ‘all men’, the opposition between the mind, which is not directly related to the world or distant from it, and the senses, which are linked to the world. The first inclination, says Heine (rather simplistically, I must say), men get it from the Jews, the second, they inherited it from the Greeks, so that henceforth two souls live in the same bosom, a Jewish soul and a Greek soul, one taking precedence over the other depending on the case.» ii

A century later, Freud thought something comparable, according to Jan Assmann. « For him, too, the specifically Jewish contribution to human history lay in the drive toward what he called « progress in the life of the spirit. This progress is to the psychic history of humanity what Freud calls ‘sublimation’ in the individual psychic life.”iii

For Freud, the monotheistic invention consisted « in a refusal of magic and mysticism, in encouraging progress in the life of the spirit, and in encouraging sublimation ». It was a process by which « the people, animated by the possession of truth, penetrated by the consciousness of election, came to set great store by intellectual things and to emphasize ethics »iv.

This would be the great contribution of « Judaism » to the history of the world.

At the same time, however, Freud developed a particularly daring and provocative thesis about the « invention » of monotheism. According to him, Moses was not a Hebrew, he was Egyptian; moreover, and most importantly, he did not die in the land of Moab, as the Bible reports, but was in fact murdered by his own people.

Freud’s argument is based on the unmistakably Egyptian name ‘Moses’, the legend of his childhood, and Moses’ « difficult speech, » an indication that he was not proficient in Hebrew. Indeed, he could communicate only through Aaron. In addition, there are some revealing quotations, according to Freud: « What will I do for this people? A little more and they will stone me! « (Ex. 17:4) and : « The whole community was talking about [Moses and Aaron] stoning them. » (Numbers 14:10).

There is also that chapter of Isaiah in which Freud distinguishes the « repressed » trace of the fate actually reserved for Moses: « An object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like one before whom one hides his face, despised, we took no notice of him. But it was our sufferings that he bore and our pains that he was burdened with. And we saw him as punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:3-5)

Freud infers from all these clues that Moses was in fact murdered by the Jews after they revolted against the unbearable demands of the Mosaic religion. He adds that the killing of Moses by the Jews marked the end of the system of the primitive horde and polytheism, and thus resulted in the effective and lasting foundation of monotheism.

The murder of the « father », which was – deeply – repressed in Jewish consciousness, became part of an « archaic heritage », which « encompasses not only provisions but also contents, mnemonic traces relating to the life of previous generations. (…) If we admit the preservation of such mnemonic traces in the archaic heritage, we have bridged the gap between individual psychology and the psychology of the masses, we can treat people as the neurotic individual.”v

The repression is not simply cultural or psychological, it affects the long memory of peoples, through « mnemonic traces » that are inscribed in the depths of souls, and perhaps even in the biology of bodies, in their DNA.

The important thing is that it is from this repression that a « decisive progress in the life of the spirit » has been able to emerge, according to Freud. This « decisive progress », triggered by the murder of Moses, was also encouraged by the ban on mosaic images.

« Among the prescriptions of the religion of Moses, there is one that is more meaningful than is at first thought. It is the prohibition to make an image of God, and therefore the obligation to worship a God who cannot be seen. We suppose that on this point Moses surpassed in rigor the religion of Aten; perhaps he only wanted to be consistent – his God had neither name nor face -; perhaps it was a new measure against the illicit practices of magic. But if one admitted this prohibition, it necessarily had to have an in-depth action. It meant, in fact, a withdrawal of the sensory perception in favor of a representation that should be called abstract, a triumph of the life of the mind over the sensory life, strictly speaking a renunciation of impulses with its necessary consequences on the psychological level.”vi

If Judaism represents a « decisive progress » in the life of the spirit, what can we think of the specific contribution of Christianity in this regard?

Further progress in the march of the spirit? Or, on the contrary, regression?

Freud’s judgment of the Christian religion is very negative.

« We have already said that the Christian ceremony of Holy Communion, in which the believer incorporates the Saviour’s flesh and blood, repeats in its content the ancient totemic meal, certainly only in its sense of tenderness, which expresses veneration, not in its aggressive sense ».vii

For him, « this religion constitutes a clear regression in the life of the spirit, since it is marked by a return to magical images and rites, and in particular to the sacrificial rite of the totemic meal during which God himself is consumed by the community of believers.”viii

Freud’s blunt condemnation of Christianity is accompanied by a kind of contempt for the « lower human masses » who have adopted this religion.

« In many respects, the new religion constituted a cultural regression in relation to the old, Jewish religion, as is regularly the case when new, lower-level human masses enter or are admitted somewhere. The Christian religion did not maintain the degree of spiritualization to which Judaism had risen. It was no longer strictly monotheistic, it adopted many of the symbolic rites of the surrounding peoples, it restored the great mother goddess and found room for a large number of polytheistic deities, recognizable under their veils, albeit reduced to a subordinate position. Above all it did not close itself, like the religion of Aten and the Mosaic religion which followed it, to the intrusion of superstitious magic and mystical elements, which were to represent a serious inhibition for the spiritual development of the next two millennia.”ix

If one adopts a viewpoint internal to Christianity, however hurtful Freud’s attacks may be, they do not stand up to analysis. In spite of all the folklore from which popular religiosity is not exempt, Christian theology is clear: there is only one God. The Trinity, difficult to understand, one can admit, for non-Christians as well as for Christians, does not imply « three Gods », but only one God, who gives Himself to be seen and understood in three « Persons ».

To take a cross-comparison, one could infer that Judaism is not « strictly monotheistic » either, if one recalls that the Scriptures attest that « three men » (who were YHVH) appeared to Abraham under the oak tree of Mamre (Gen 18:1-3), or that the Word of God was « incarnated » in the six hundred thousand signs of the Torah, or that God left in the world His own « Shekhinah » .

From the point of view of Christianity, everything happens as if Isaiah chapter 53, which Freud applied to Moses, could also be applied to the figure of Jesus.

It is the absolutely paradoxical and scandalous idea (from the point of view of Judaism) that the Messiah could appear not as a triumphant man, crushing the Romans, but as « an object of contempt, abandoned by men, a man of sorrow, familiar with suffering, like someone before whom one hides one’s face, despised. »

But what is, now, the most scandalous thing for the Jewish conscience?

Is it Freud’s hypothesis that Isaiah’s words about a « man of sorrow », « despised », indicate that the Jews murdered Moses?

Or is it that these same Isaiah’s words announce the Christian thesis that the Messiah had to die like a slave, under the lazzis and spittle?

If Freud is wrong and Moses was not murdered by the Jews, it cannot be denied that a certain Jesus was indeed put to death under Pontius Pilate. And then one may be struck by the resonance of these words uttered by Isaiah seven centuries before: « Now it is our sufferings that he bore and our sorrows that he was burdened with. And we considered him punished, struck by God and humiliated. But he was pierced because of our crimes, crushed because of our faults. « (Is. 53:4-5)

There is obviously no proof, from the Jewish point of view, that these words of Isaiah apply to Jesus, — or to Moses.

If Isaiah’s words do not apply to Moses (in retrospect) nor to Jesus (prophetically), who do they apply to? Are they only general, abstract formulas, without historical content? Or do they refer to some future Messiah? Then, how many more millennia must Isaiah’s voice wait before it reaches its truth?

History, we know, has only just begun.

Human phylum, if it does not throw itself unexpectedly into nothingness, taking with it its planet of origin, still has (roughly) a few tens of millions of years of phylogenetic « development » ahead of it.

To accomplish what?

One may answer: to rise ever more in consciousness.

Or to accomplish still unimaginable « decisive progress »…

With time, the millennia will pass.

Will Isaiah’s words pass?

What is mankind already capable of?

What will be the nature of the « decisive progress » of the human spirit, which has yet to be accomplished, and which still holds itself in the potency to become?

It is necessary to prepare for it. We must always set to work, in the dark, in what seems like a desert of stone, salt and sand.

For example, it would be, it seems to me, a kind of « decisive » progress to “see” in the figure of Moses « put to death » by his own people, and in that of Christ « put on the cross », the very figure of the Sacrifice.

What Sacrifice?

The original Sacrifice, granted from before the creation of the world by the Creator God, the « Lord of Creatures » (that One and Supreme God whom the Veda already called « Prajāpati » six thousand years ago).

It would also, it seems to me, be another kind of « decisive » progress to begin to sense some of the anthropological consequences of the original « Sacrifice » of the supreme God, the « Lord of Creatures ».

Among them, the future of the « religions » on the surface of such a small, negligible planet (Earth): their necessary movement of convergence towards a religion of Humanity and of the World, a religion of the conscience of the Sacrifice of God, a religion of the conscience of Man, in the emptiness of the Cosmos.

iHeinrich Heine. Ludwig Börne. Le Cerf. Paris, 1993

iiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 142

iiiIbid. p. 143

ivSigmund Freud, L’Homme Moïse et la Religion monothéiste, traduit de l’allemand par Cornelius Heim, Paris, Gallimard, 1993, p.177, cité par J. Assmann, op.cit. p.144

vIbid. p.196

viIbid. p.211-212

viiIbid. p.173 et 179

viiiJan Assmann. Le prix du monothéisme. Flammarion, Paris 2007, p. 163

ixSigmund Freud, L’Homme Moïse, p.211-212

Metaphysics of Sacrifice


« Prajāpati »

In Platonic philosophy, the God Eros (Love) is always in search of fulfillment, always moving, eager to fill His own lack of being.

But how could a God lack of being? How could he fail to be ?

If Love signals a lack, as Plato says, how could Love be a God, whose essence is to be?

A God ‘Love’, in Plato’s way, is fully ‘God’ only through His loving relationship with what He loves. This relationship implies a ‘movement’ and a ‘dependence’ of the divine nature around the object of His ‘Love’.

How to understand such a ‘movement’ and such a ‘dependence’ in a transcendent God, a God whose essence is to ‘be’, and whose Being is a priori beyond any lack of being?

This is the reason why Aristotle harshly criticizes Plato. For Aristotle, Love is not an essence, but only a means. If God defines Himself as the Being par excellence, He is also ‘immobile’, says Aristotle. As the first immobile Motor, He only gives His movement to all creation.

« The Principle, the First of the beings is motionless: He is motionless by essence and by accident, and He imprints the first, eternal and one movement.”i

God, ‘immobile’, sets the world and all the beings it contains in motion, breathing love into them, and a desire for their ‘end’ (their goal). The world is set in motion because it desires this very ‘end’. The end of the world is in the love of the ‘end’, in the desire to reach the ultimate ‘end’ for which the world was set in motion.

« The final cause, in fact, is the Being for whom it is an end, and it is also the end itself. In the latter sense, the end can exist among immobile beings.”ii

For Aristotle, then, God cannot be ‘Love’, or Eros. The Platonic Eros is only an ‘intermediate’ god. It is through Eros that God sets all beings in motion. God sets the world in motion through the love He inspires. But He is not Love. Love is the intermediary through which He aims at the ‘final cause’, His ‘aim’.

« The final cause moves as the object of love.”iii.

Here we see that Aristotle’s conception of the God differs radically from the Christian conception of a God who is essentially “love”. « God so loved the world » (John 3:16).

Christ overturned the tables of Aristotelian law, that of a ‘still’ God, a God for whom love is only a means to an end, abstractly called the ‘final cause’.

The God of Christ is not ‘immobile’. Paradoxically, not withstanding all His putative power, He places Himself at the mercy of the love (or indifference, or ignorance) of His own creation.

For Aristotle, the divine immobile is always at work, everywhere, in all things, as the ‘First Motor’. The divine state represents the maximum possible being, the very Being. All other beings lack being. The lowest level in Jacob’s ladder of the aeons is that of being only in power to be, a pure potency, a purely virtual being.

The God of Christ, on the other hand, is not always ‘present’, He may be ’empty’, He may be ‘mocked’, ‘railed », ‘humiliated’. And He may ‘die’, and He may remain ‘absent’.

In a way, the Christian conception of divine kenosis is closer to the Platonic conception of a God-Love who suffers from a fundamental ‘lack’, than to the Aristotelian conception of God as ‘First Mover’ and ‘final cause’.

There is a real philosophical paradox in considering that the essence of God reveals in a lack or an ‘emptiness‘ in the heart of Being.

In this hypothesis, love would not only be a ‘lack’ of being, as Plato thinks, but would be part of the divine essence itself. This divine Lack would actually be the highest form of being.

What is the essence of a God whose lack is at its heart?

There is a name for it – a very old name, which gives a rough idea of it: ‘Sacrifice’.

This profoundly anti-intuitive idea appeared four thousand years before Christ. The Veda forged a name to describe it: Devayajña, the ‘Sacrifice of God’. A famous Vedic hymn describes Creation as the self-immolation of the Creator.iv Prajāpati totally sacrifices Himself, and in doing so He can give His Self entirely to the creation. He sacrifices himself but lives by this very sacrifice. He remains alive because the sacrifice gives Him a new Breath, a new Spirit.

« The supreme Lord said to His father, the Lord of all creatures: ‘I have found the sacrifice that fulfills desires: let me perform it for You’ – ‘So be it’, He replied. Then He fulfills it for Him. After the sacrifice, He wished, ‘May I be all here!’ He became Breath, and now Breath is everywhere here.”v

The analogy between the Veda and Christianity is deep. It includes the same, divine ’emptiness’.

« The Lord of creatures [Prajāpati], after having begotten living beings, felt as if He had been emptied. The creatures departed from Him; they did not stay with Him for His joy and sustenance.”vi

« After having generated everything that exists, He felt as if He was emptied and was afraid of death.”vii

The ’emptiness’ of the Lord of creatures is formally analogous to the ‘kenosis‘ of Christ (this word comes from the Greek kenosis and the verb kenoein, ‘to empty’).

There is also the Vedic metaphor of ‘dismemberment’, which anticipates the dismemberment of Osiris, Dionysus and Orpheus.

« When He had produced all the creatures, Prajāpati fell apart. His breath went away. When His breath was no longer active, the Gods abandoned Him”viii.

« Reduced to His heart, He cried out, ‘Alas, my life!’ The waters came to His aid and through the sacrifice of the Firstborn, He established His sovereignty.”ix

The Veda saw it. The Sacrifice of the Lord of Creation was at the origin of the universe. That is why, it is written: « the sacrifice is the navel of the universe »x.

Perhaps the most interesting thing, if we can get this far, is to allow to conclude that: « Everything that exists, whatever it is, is made to participate in the Sacrifice » xi.

Quite a hard lesson.

To be put in the very long perspective…

iAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 8, 1073a

iiAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 7, 1072b

iiiAristotle. Metaph., Λ, 7, 1072b

ivRV I,164

vŚatapatha Brāhmaṇa (SB) XI,1,6,17

viSB III,9,1,1

viiSB X,10,4,2,2

viiiSB VI,1,2,12-13

ixTaittirīya Brāhmaṇa 2,3,6,1

xRV I,164,35

xiSB III,6,2,26

Divine Splinters


Orpheus and Euridyce

In ancient Greek dictionaries, just right after the name Orpheus, one may find the word orphne (ὄρφνη), « darkness ». From a semantic point of view, orphne can be applied to the underworld, the « dark » world. Orpheus, also descended into the Underworld, and was plunged into orphne.

Orpheus was « orphic » par excellence. He sought revelation. He ventured without hesitation into the lair of death, and he came out of it alive – not without the fundamental failure that we know well. But later, the shadows caught up with him. A screaming pack of Thracian women tore him apart, member to member.

Only his severed head escaped the furious melee, rolled ashore. The waves swept him across the sea, and Orpheus‘ head was still singing.

He had defeated death, and passed over the sea.

The myth of Orpheus symbolizes the search for the true Life, the one that lies beyond the realm of Death.

The philosopher Empedocles testifies to the same dream: « For I was once a boy and a girl, and a plant and a bird and a fish that found its way out of the sea.”1

In tablets dating from the 6th century BC, found in Olbia, north of the Black Sea, several characteristic expressions of Orphism, such as bios-thanatos-bios, have been deciphered. This triad, bios-thanatos-bios, « life-death-life », is at the center of orphism.

Orpheus, a contemporary of Pythagoras, chose, contrary to the latter, to live outside of « politics ». He refused the « city » and its system of values. He turned towards the elsewhere, the beyond. « The Orphics are marginal, wanderers and especially ‘renouncers‘ », explains Marcel Detiennei.

Aristophanes stated that the teaching of Orpheus rested on two points: not making blood flow, and discovering »initiation ».

The Greek word for initiation to the Mysteries is teletè (τελετή). This word is related to telos, « completion, term, realization ». But teletè has a very precise meaning in the context of Orphism. Among the Orphic mysteries, perhaps the most important is that of the killing of the god-child, Dionysus, devoured by the Titans, – except for his heart, swallowed by Zeus, becoming the germ of his rebirth within the divine body.

Several interpretations circulate. According to Clement of Alexandria, Zeus entrusted Apollo with the task of collecting and burying the scattered pieces of Dionysus’ corpse on Mount Parnassus.

According to the neo-Platonic gnosis, the Mysteries refer to the recomposition, the reunification of the dismembered body of God.

The death of Orpheus is mysteriously analogous to the more original death of the god Dionysus, which probably derives from much older traditions, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, who worshipped Osiris, who was also torn to pieces, scattered throughout Egypt, and finally resurrected.

For the comparatist, it is difficult to resist yet another analogy, that of the sharing of Christ’s « body » and « blood, » which his disciples « ate » and « drank » at the Last Supper just before his death. A scene that has been repeated in every Mass since then, at the time of « communion ».

There is a significant difference, however, between the death of Christ and that of Osiris, Dionysus or Orpheus. Contrary to the custom that governed the fate of those condemned to death, the body of Christ on the cross was not « broken » or « dismembered, » but only pierced with a spear. The preservation of the unity of his body had been foretold by the Scriptures (« He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken », Psalm 34:20).

No physical dispersion of the body of Christ at his death, but a symbolic sharing at Communion, like that of the bread and wine, metaphors of flesh and blood, presented at the Last Supper, symbols of a unity, essentially indivisible, universally shareable.

This makes all the more salient the search for the divine unity apparently lost by Osiris or Dionysus, but found again thanks to the analogous care of Isis, Zeus, or Apollo.

Beyond the incommensurable divergences, a paradigm common to the ancient religions of Egypt and Greece and to Christianity emerges.

The God, one in essence, is dismembered, dispersed, really or symbolically, and then, by one means or another, finds Himself unified again.

One, divided, multiplied, dispersed, and again One.

Again One, after having been scattered throughout the worlds.

So many worlds: so many infinitesimal shards within the divine unity.

__________________

1Empedocles F. 117

iMarcel Detienne. Les dieux d’Orphée. Gallimard. 2007

The « churning » of East and West


 « The Churning of the Ocean of Milk ». Dasavastra manuscript, ca. 1690 – 1700, Mankot court, Pahari School (India)

In India at the end of the 19th century, some Indian intellectuals wanted to better understand the culture of England, the country that had colonized them. For instance, D.K. Gokhale took it as a duty to memorize Milton’s Paradise Lost, Walter Scott’s Rokeby, and the speeches of Edmund Burke and John Bright.

However, he was quite surprised by the spiritual emptiness of these texts, seemingly representative of the « culture » of the occupying power.

Perhaps he should have read Dante, Master Eckhart, Juan de la Cruz, or Pascal instead, to get a broader view of Europe’s capabilities in matters of spirituality?

In any case, Gokhale, tired of so much superficiality, decided to return to his Vedic roots. Striving to show the world what India had to offer, he translated Taittirīya-Upaniṣad into English with the famous commentary from Śaṃkara.

At the time of Śaṃkara, in the 8th century AD, the Veda was not yet preserved in written form. But for five thousand years already, it had been transmitted orally through the Indian souls, from age to age, with extraordinary fidelity.i

The Veda heritage had lived on in the brains of priests, during five millenia, generation after generation. Yet it was never communicated in public, except very partially, selectively, in the form of short fragments recited during sacrifices. The integral Veda existed only in oral form, kept in private memories.

Never before the (rather late) time of Śaṃkara had the Veda been presented in writing, and as a whole, in its entirety.

During the millenia when the Veda was only conserved orally, it would have been necessary to assemble many priests, of various origins, just to recite a complete version of it, because the whole Veda was divided into distinct parts, of which various families of Brahmins had the exclusive responsibility.

The complete recitation of the hymns would have taken days and days. Even then, their chanting would not have allowed a synoptic representation of the Veda.

Certainly, the Veda was not a « Book ». It was a living assembly of words.

At the time the Taittirīya-Upaniṣad was composed, the Indo-Gangetic region had cultural areas with a different approach to the sacred « word » of Veda.

In the Indus basin, the Vedic religion has always affirmed itself as a religion of the « Word ». Vāc (the Sanskrit word for « Word ») is a vedic Divinity. Vāc breathes its Breath into the Sacrifice, and the Sacrifice is entirely, essentially, Vāc, — « Word ».

But in the eastern region, in Magadha and Bihar, south of the Ganges, the Deity remains ‘silent’.

Moreover, in northeast India, Buddhism, born in the 6th century B.C., is concerned only with meaning, and feels no need to divinize the « Word ».

These very different attitudes can be compared, it seems to me, to the way in which the so-called « religions of the Book » also deal with the « Word ».

The « word » of the Torah is swarming, bushy, contradictory. It requires, as history has shown, generations of rabbis, commentators and Talmudists to search for all its possible meanings, in the permanent feeling of the incompleteness of its ultimate understanding. Interpretation has no end, and cannot have an end.

The Christian Gospels also have their variations and their obscurities. They were composed some time after the events they recount, by four very different men, of different culture and origin: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

As human works, the Gospels have not been « revealed » by God, but only « written » by men, who were also witnesses. In contrast, at least if we follow the Jewish tradition, the Torah has been (supposedly) directly revealed to Moses by God Himself.

For Christianity, the « Word » is then not « incarnated » in a « Book » (the Gospels). The « Word » is incarnated in Jesus.

Islam respects the very letter of the Qur’an, « uncreated », fully « descended » into the ear of the Prophet. Illiterate, Muhammad, however, was its faithful mediator, transmitting the words of the angel of God, spoken in Arabic, to those of his disciples who were able to note them down.

Let us summarize. For some, the « Word » is Silence, or Breath, or Sacrifice. For others, the « Word » is Law. For others, the « Word » is Christ. For others, the « Word » is a ‘Descent‘.

How can such variations be explained? National « Genius »? Historical and cultural circumstances? Chances of the times?

Perhaps one day, in a world where culture and « religion » will have become truly global, and where the mind will have reached a very high level of consciousness, in the majority of humans, the « Word » will present itself in still other forms, in still other appearances?

For the moment, let us jealously preserve the magic and power of the vast, rich and diverse religious heritage, coming from East and West.

Let us consider its fundamental elevation, its common aspiration, and let us really begin its churning.

________

i Cf. Lokamanya Bâl Gangâdhar Tilak, Orion ou Recherche sur l’antiquité des Védas, French translation by Claire et Jean Rémy, éditions Edidit & Archè, Milan et Paris, 1989



The White Streams of the Soul


The Milky Way. The constellation of Cygnus appears in the top of the image.

Milk is like the soul, says one Upaniṣad.i How come?

In milk, butter is hidden… As in potency… It must be churned and it appears.

In the soul, knowledge also is hidden… As in potency… When the spirit searches, it increases its strength, makes it grow, and knowledge comes.

Another metaphor: from two sticks rubbed together, fire springs forth. From the soul and the spirit rubbing together, comes the Brahman.

The word Brahman (ब्रह्मन्) is neutral. It designates a principle: « growth, increase, strengthening ». It comes from the verbal root BṚH- , to strengthen, to increase, to augment, to enlarge.

In the Bhagavad-Gītā, the Lord defines Brahman as his own Self:

« The universe is entirely pervaded by Me, invisible, formless. All beings are in Me, but nothing that is created is in Me, and I am not in them. Behold My supernatural power! I sustain all beings. I am everywhere present. I remain the source of all creation. Just as in space the power of the wind is established, and everywhere its breath, in Me stand all beings. »ii

The Lord, transcendent, descends incognito to earth, and He does not mince His words:

« The fools denigrate Me when in human form I come down to this world. They know nothing of my spiritual, absolute nature, nor of my supremacy. Ignorant, they go astray. They believe in demons, not in Me. Vain are their hopes, vain are their interests, vain are their aspirations, vain is their knowledge. « iii

Neither fools nor vain, are the « great souls », the mahatmah.

« Those who are ignorant of ignorance, the mahatmah, are under the protection of the divine nature. Knowing Me as God, the Supreme, original, inexhaustible Person, they absorb themselves, they devote themselves. Unceasingly singing my glory, they prostrate themselves before Me. Determined in their effort, these spirits, these magnanimous souls love Me.” iv

What happens then?

« Those who know, look at me: I am the Unique Being. They see Me in the multitude of beings and things; My form is in the universe.”v

If the Self is the Whole, it is also in each one of the forms in it, in their infinite variety, their total sum, and their common nature.

« But it is I who 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 Rig, the Sâma 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 resting place and the eternal seed. I am heat, rain and drought, I am immortality and death personified. Being and non-being, both are in Me, O Arjuna.”vi

But the Veda itself is not enough, nor the rites. The most important thing is yet to attain knowledge, the only necessary knowledge. Where is it hidden?

« It is indirectly that they worship Me, the men who study the Vedas and drink soma, looking for delicious heavens. They are reborn on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy the pleasures of the devas. When they have enjoyed these celestial pleasures, when their merits have been exhausted, they return to this mortal Earth. A fragile happiness, such is the only fruit they reap, after having followed the principles of the Vedas. But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My absolute Form, I fill their lacks and preserve what they are. Every oblation that man with faith sacrifices to the devas is destined for Me alone, O son of Kunti. For I am the sole beneficiary and the sole object of the sacrifice. Those who ignore My true, absolute nature, fall back. Those who worship the Devas will be reborn among the Devas, among the ghosts and other spirits those who live in their worship, among the ancestors the worshippers of the ancestors: likewise, those who are devoted to Me will live with Me.”vii

Following that logic, let’s wonder: from all the « whited sepulchres » of the world, what will really be reborn? New whited, sepulchral worlds? New whited, sepulchral galaxies?

The poet said: « the Milky Way, – luminous sister of  the white streams of Chanaan, and of the white bodies of the lovers ».viii

But it seems to me that the Milky Way, with all its grandeur, has less milk and less light than one living soul… As for the streams of Chanaan and the bodies of the lovers, that’s still an open discussion, to compare their ´milk´ to the soul.

__________

iAmṛtabindu Upaniṣad 20-21

iiBhagavad-Gītā, 9

iiiBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 11-12

ivBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 13-14

vBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 15

viBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 16-19

viiBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 20-25

viii(Guillaume Apollinaire. La chanson du Mal-Aimé. Alcools.)

« Voie lactée ô soeur lumineuse
Des blancs ruisseaux de Chanaan
Et des corps blancs des amoureuses »

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

The Union of Breath and Word


Rig Veda ─ Padapātha

The Vedic rite of sacrifice required the participation of four kinds of priests, with very specific functions.

The Adhvaryu prepared the altar, lit the fire and performed the actual sacrifice. They took care of all the material and manual aspects of the operations, during which they were only allowed to whisper a few incantations specific to their sacrificial activity.

The Udgatṛi were responsible for singing the hymns of SâmaVeda in the most melodious way.

The Hotṛi, for their part, had to recite in a loud voice, but without singing them, the ancient hymns of Ṛg Veda, respecting the traditional rules of pronunciation and accentuation. They were supposed to know by heart all the texts of the Veda in order to adapt to all the circumstances of the sacrifices. At the end of the litanies, they uttered a kind of wild cry, called vausat.

Finally, remaining silent throughout, an experienced Brahmin, the ultimate reference for the smooth running of the sacrifice and guarantor of its effectiveness, supervised the various phases of the ceremony.

These four kinds of priests had a very different relationship to the word (of the Veda), according to their ranks and skills.

Some murmured it, others sang it, others spoke it loudly, – and finally the most senior among them kept silent.

These different regimes of expression could be interpreted as so many modalities of the relationship of speech to the divine. One could also be content to see in them an image of the different stages of the sacrifice, an indication of its progress.

In the Vedic imagination, murmurs, songs, words, cries, and finally silence fill and increase the divine, like great rivers wind ‘safe to the sea’.

The recitation of Ṛg Veda is an endless narrative, weaving itself, according to various rhythms. One can recite it word for word (pada rhythm), or mime a path (krama) according to eight possible varieties, such as the « braid » (jatā rhythm) or the « block » (ghana rhythm).

In the « braid » (jatā ) style, a four-syllable expression (noted: abcd) became the subject of a long, repetitive and obsessive litany, such as: ab/ba/abc/cba/bc/cb/bcd/dcb/bcd…

When the time came, the recitation would « burst out » (like thunder). Acme of sacrifice.

In all the stages of the sacrifice, there was a will to connect, a linking energy. The Vedic word is entirely occupied with building links with the Deity, weaving close, vocal, musical, rhythmic, semantic correlations.

In essence, it represents the mystery of the Deity. It establishes and constitutes the substance of a link with her, in the various regimes of breath, in their learned progression.

A hymn of the Atharvaveda pushes the metaphor of breath and rhythm as far as possible. It makes us understand the nature of the act in progress, which is similar to a sacred, mystical union.

« More than one who sees has not seen the Word; more than one who hears does not hear it.

To the latter, she has opened her body

like her husband a loving wife in rich attire. »

It is interesting, I think, to compare some of these Vedic concepts to those one can find in Judaism.

In Genesis, there is talk of a « wind » from God (רוּח, ruah), at the origin of the world.i A little later, it is said that God breathed a « breath of life » (נשׁמה neshmah) so that man became a « living being » (נפשׁ nefesh).ii

God’s « wind » evokes the idea of a powerful, strong hurricane. In contrast, the « breath of life » is light as a breeze, a peaceful and gentle exhalation.

But there is also the breath associated with the word of God, which « speaks », which « says ».

Philo of Alexandria thus commented about the « breath » and « wind » of God, : « The expression (He breathed) has an even deeper meaning. Indeed three things are required: what blows, what receives, what is blown. What blows is God; what receives is Intelligence; what is blown is Breath. What is done with these elements? A union of all three occurs.”iii

Breath, soul, spirit and speech, in the end, unite.

Beyond languages, beyond cultures, from the Veda to the Bible, a profound analogy transcends worlds.

The murmurs of the Adhvaryu, the songs of Udgatṛi, the words of Hotṛi, and the very silence of the Brahmin, aim at an union with the divine.

The union of these various breaths (murmured, spoken, sung, silent breaths) is analogous in principle, it seems to me, to the union of the wind (ruah), the soul (neshmah), and the spirit (nefesh).

In the Veda and in the Bible, — across the millennia, the union of the word and the breath, mimics the union of the divine and the human.

_____

iGn 1,2

iiGn 2,7

iii Philo. Legum Allegoriae 37

Vedic Genesis


Trimurti

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

Griffith:

“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

Griffith:

“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

Müller:

« 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.

The Divine, – Long Before Abraham


More than two millennia B.C., in the middle of the Bronze Age, so-called « Indo-Aryan » peoples were settled in Bactria, between present-day Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. They left traces of a civilisation known as the Oxus civilisation (-2200, -1700). Then they migrated southwards, branching off to the left, towards the Indus plains, or to the right, towards the high plateau of Iran.

These migrant peoples, who had long shared a common culture, then began to differentiate themselves, linguistically and religiously, without losing their fundamental intuitions. This is evidenced by the analogies and differences between their respective languages, Sanskrit and Zend, and their religions, the religion of the Vedas and that of Zend-Avesta.

In the Vedic cult, the sacrifice of the Soma, composed of clarified butter, fermented juice and decoctions of hallucinogenic plants, plays an essential role. The Vedic Soma has its close equivalent in Haoma, in Zend-Avesta. The two words are in fact the same, if we take into account that the Zend language of the ancient Persians puts an aspirated h where the Sanskrit puts an s.

Soma and Haoma have a deep meaning. These liquids are transformed by fire during the sacrifice, and then rise towards the sky. Water, milk, clarified butter are symbols of the cosmic cycles. At the same time, the juice of hallucinogenic plants and their emanations contribute to ecstasy, trance and divination, revealing an intimate link between the chemistry of nature, the powers of the brain and the insight into divine realities.

The divine names are very close, in the Avesta and the Veda. For example, the solar God is called Mitra in Sanskrit and Mithra in Avesta. The symbolism linked to Mitra/Mithra is not limited to identification with the sun. It is the whole cosmic cycle that is targeted.

An Avestic prayer says: « In Mithra, in the rich pastures, I want to sacrifice through Haoma.”i

Mithra, the divine « Sun », reigns over the « pastures » that designate all the expanses of Heaven, and the entire Cosmos. In the celestial « pastures », the clouds are the « cows of the Sun ». They provide the milk of Heaven, the water that makes plants grow and that waters all life on earth. Water, milk and Soma, all liquid, have their common origin in the solar, celestial cows.

The Soma and Haoma cults are inspired by this cycle. The components of the sacred liquid (water, clarified butter, vegetable juices) are carefully mixed in a sacred vase, the samoudra. But the contents of the vase only take on their full meaning through the divine word, the sacred hymn.

« Mortar, vase, Haoma, as well as the words coming out of Ahura-Mazda‘s mouth, these are my best weapons.”ii

Soma and Haoma are destined for the Altar Fire. Fire gives a life of its own to everything it burns. It reveals the nature of things, illuminates them from within by its light, its incandescence.

« Listen to the soul of the earth; contemplate the rays of Fire with devotion.”iii

Fire originally comes from the earth, and its role is to make the link with Heaven, as says the Yaçna.iv

« The earth has won the victory, because it has lit the flame that repels evil.”v

Nothing naturalistic in these images. These ancient religions were not idolatrous, as they were made to believe, with a myopia mixed with profound ignorance. They were penetrated by a cosmic spirituality.

« In the midst of those who honor your flame, I will stand in the way of Truth « vi said the officiant during the sacrifice.

The Fire is stirred by the Wind (which is called Vāyou in Avestic as in Sanskrit). Vāyou is not a simple breath, a breeze, it is the Holy Spirit, the treasure of wisdom.

 » Vāyou raises up pure light and directs it against the dark ones.”vii

Water, Fire, Wind are means of mediation, means to link up with the one God, the « Living » God that the Avesta calls Ahura Mazda.

« In the pure light of Heaven, Ahura Mazda exists. »viii

The name of Ahura (the « Living »), calls the supreme Lord. This name is identical to the Sanskrit Asura (we have already seen the equivalence h/s). The root of Asura is asu, “life”.

The Avestic word mazda means « wise ».

« It is you, Ahura Mazda (« the Living Wise One »), whom I have recognized as the primordial principle, the father of the Good Spirit, the source of truth, the author of existence, living eternally in your works.”ix

Clearly, the « Living » is infinitely above all its creatures.

« All luminous bodies, the stars and the Sun, messenger of the day, move in your honor, O Wise One, living and true. »x

I call attention to the alliance of the three words, « wise », « living » and « true », to define the supreme God.

The Vedic priest as well as the Avestic priest addressed God in this way more than four thousand years ago: « To you, O Living and True One, we consecrate this living flame, pure and powerful, the support of the world.”xi

I like to think that the use of these three attributes (« Wise », « Living » and « True »), already defining the essence of the supreme God more than four thousand years ago, is the oldest proven trace of an original theology of monotheism.

It is important to stress that this theology of Life, Wisdom and Truth of a supreme God, unique in His supremacy, precedes the tradition of Abrahamic monotheism by more than a thousand years.

Four millennia later, at the beginning of the 21st century, the world landscape of religions offers us at least three monotheisms, particularly assertorical: Judaism, Christianity, Islam…

« Monotheisms! Monotheisms! », – I would wish wish to apostrophe them, – « A little modesty! Consider with attention and respect the depth of the times that preceded the late emergence of your own dogmas!”

The hidden roots and ancient visions of primeval and deep humanity still show to whoever will see them, our essential, unfailing unity and our unique origin…

iKhorda. Prayer to Mithra.

iiVend. Farg. 19 quoted in Émile Burnouf. Le Vase sacré. 1896

iiiYaçna 30.2

ivYaçna 30.2

vYaçna 32.14

viYaçna 43.9

viiYaçna 53.6

viiiVisp 31.8

ixYaçna 31.8

xYaçna 50.30

xiYaçna 34.4

Drunken Love, a metaphor of Divine Love


Soma is a flammable liquid, composed of clarified butter and various hallucinogenic plant juices. On a symbolic level, Soma is both a representation of the living God, the embodiment of the essence of the cosmos, and the sacrifice par excellence to the supreme God.

Vedic hymns, composed to accompany the sacrifice of the Soma, abound in metaphors, attributes and epithets of the divinity. Verbs such as to pour, to flow, to come, to abide, to embrace, to beget are used to describe the action of God.

Many hymns evoke, in a raw or subliminal way, the dizziness of (divine) love. Words such as lover, woman, womb, ardour, pleasure. But here again, they are metaphors, with hidden meanings, which must be carefully interpreted.

The sacrifice of the divine Soma can be summed up as follows: a mixture of oil, butter and milk flows in flames towards the « matrix » (the crucible where the fire blazes with all its strength), then rises in smoke and fragrance towards Heaven, where it participates in the generation of the divine.

The 9th Mandala of the Rig Veda, entirely dedicated to the sacrifice of the Soma, considered as a God, explains the profound meaning of what is at stake and its cosmic effects. Here are a few quotes, which, I believe, capture the essence of what’s at stake:

« The poured Soma flows for the Ardent, for the Wind, for that which envelops, for the Spirits, for the Active.»i

« This golden light, support, flows into that which ignites it; that which crackles flows into the matrix.”ii

« He who is here [the Soma] has come like an eagle to take up his abode, like the lover to the woman.”iii

« This gold that one drinks, and which flows rumbling towards the matrix, towards pleasure.”iv

« That which flows from desire, comes from that which moves away and from that which comes near, – the sweetness poured out for the Ardent.”v

« Those who go together shouted. They made the gold flow with the stone. Take up residence in the matrix where it flows.”vi

« The sound of the burning Ardent, like the sound of rain; lightning goes into the sky.”vii

« Bringing forth the lights of the sky, generating the sun in the waters, gold envelops milk and waters.”viii

« Coming from the original milk, He flows into the hearth, embracing it, and by crying He generates the Gods.”ix

« Soma, as He lights up, flows towards all the treasures, towards the Gods who grow through the oblation.”x

Other mystical traditions, the Jewish for example, share with the Vedic language comparable semantic elements, similar metaphors (oil, honey, milk, entrails, bosom, matrix, water, wine or liquor, pouring out, flowing into, ).

Particularly interesting in this respect is the Song of Songs, composed between six and eight centuries after the Rig Veda.

« Your name is an oil that pours out.”xi

« Your lips, O bride, distil the virgin honey. Honey and milk are under your tongue.”xii

« Myrrh and aloes, with the finest aromas. Source of the gardens, well of living water, runoff from Lebanon!”xiii

« I gather my myrrh and my balm, I eat my honey and my comb, I drink my wine and my milk.”xiv

« From my hands dripped myrrh, from my fingers virgin myrrh.”xv

« His head is of gold, pure gold. “xvi

« Her eyes are doves, at the edge of rivers, bathing in milk, resting on the edge of a basin.”xvii

« Your bosom, a rounded cut, let there be no lack of wine! »xviii

« I will make you drink a fragrant wine.”xix

We can see that the Rig Veda and the Song of Songs, centuries apart, share, despite their distance, a comparable atmosphere of loving fusion with the divine.

This should come as no surprise. There is no doubt that this is an indication of the existence of an extremely profound anthropological constant.

The traces left in the Palaeolithic by prehistoric religions, which show comparable metaphors, bear witness to this.

The Venus of Laussel is 25,000 years old. Naked, she brandishes a horn to drink it. This gesture, always young, reminds us that in the oldest ages of humanity, the divine was already perceived in the guise of love, – and (infinite) drunkenness, a spiritual one of course, but in a strange sort of way, associated to a more mundane one.

iRig Veda. Mandala 9. Hymn 34,.2. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Poured forth to Indra, Varuṇa, to Vāyu and the Marut host, to Viṣṇu, flows the Soma juice. »

iiIbid. Hymn 37,2. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Far-sighted, tawny-coloured, he flows to the sieve, intelligent, bellowing, to his place of rest. »

iiiIbid. Hymn 38,4. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « He like a falcon settles down amid the families of men. Speeding like lover to his love. »

ivIbid. Hymn 38,6. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Poured for the draught, this tawny juice flows forth, intelligent, crying out, unto the well-beloved place. »

vIbid. Hymn 39,5. For reference, the translation of Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) gives : « Inviting him from far away, and even from near at hand, the juice for Indra is poured forth as meath. »

viIbid. Hymne 39,6. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « In union they have sung the hymn ; with stones they urge the Tawny One. Sit in the place of sacrifice. »

viiIbid. Hymn 41,3. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « The mighty Pavamāna’s roar is heard as ‘twere the rush of rain. Lightnings are flashing to the sky. »

viiiIbid. Hymn 42,1. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Engendering the Sun in floods, engendering heaven’s lights, green-hued, robed in the waters and the milk. »

ixIbid. Hymn 42,4. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Shedding the ancient fluid He is poured into the cleansing sieve ; He, thundering, hath produces the Gods. »

xIbid. Hymn 42,5. Ralph T.H. Griffith (1889) translates: « Soma, while purifying, sends hither all things to be desired, He sends the Gods who strenghten Law. »

xi So 1,3

xii So 4,11

xiii So 4,14-15

xiv So 5,1

xv So 5,3

xvi So 5,11

xvii So 5,12

xviii So 7,3

xix So 8,2

The « Book » and the « Word ».


The high antiquity of the Zend language, contemporary to the language of the Vedas, is well established. Eugène Burnoufi even considers that it presents certain characteristics of anteriority, which the vocal system testifies to. But this thesis remains controversial. Avestic science was still in its infancy in the 19th century. It was necessary to use conjectures. For example, Burnouf tried to explain the supposed meaning of the name Zarathustra, not without taking risks. According to him, zarath means « yellow » in zend, and uchtra, « camel ». The name of Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism, would thus mean: « He who has yellow camels »?

Burnouf, with all his young science, thus contradicts Aristotle who, in his Treatise on Magic, says that the word Ζωροάστρην (Zoroaster) means « who sacrifices to the stars ».

It seems that Aristotle was right. Indeed, the old Persian word Uchtra can be related to the Indo-European word ashtar, which gave « astre » in French and « star » in English. And zarath can mean « golden ». Zarathustra would then mean « golden star », which is perhaps more appropriate to the founder of a thriving religion.

These questions of names are not so essential. Whether he is the happy owner of yellow camels, or the incarnation of a star shining like gold, Zoroaster is above all the mythical author of the Zend Avesta, of which the Vendidad and the Yaçna are part.

The name Vendidad is a contraction of Vîdaêvo dâta, « given against demons (dêvas) ».

The Yaçna (« sacrifice with prayers ») is a collection of Avestic prayers.

Here is an extract, quite significant.

« As a worshipper of Mazda [Wisdom], a sectarian of Zoroaster, an enemy of the devils [demons], an observer of the precepts of Ahura [the « Lord »], I pay homage to him who is given here, given against the devils, and to Zoroaster, pure, master of purity, and to the yazna [sacrifice], and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing of the masters, and to the days, and the hours, and the months, and the seasons, and the years, and to the yazna, and to the prayer that makes favorable, and to the blessing!”

This prayer is addressed to the Lord, Ahura. But it is also addressed to the prayer itself.

In a repetitive, self-referential way, it is a prayer to the yaçna, a ‘prayer praying the prayer’, an invocation to the invocation, a blessing of the blessing. A homage from mediation to mediation.

This stylistic formula, « prayer to prayer », is interesting to analyze.

Let us note from the outset that the Zend Avesta clearly recognises the existence of a supreme God, to whom every prayer is addressed.

« I pray and invoke the great Ormuzd [= Ahura Mazda, the « Lord of Wisdom »], brilliant, radiant with light, very perfect, very excellent, very pure, very strong, very intelligent, who is purest, above all that which is holy, who thinks only of the good, who is a source of pleasure, who gives gifts, who is strong and active, who nourishes, who is sovereignly absorbed in excellence.”ii

But Avestic prayer can also be addressed not only to the supreme God, but also to the mediation that make it possible to reach Him, like the sacred Book itself: « I pray and invoke the Vendidad given to Zoroaster, holy, pure and great.”iii

The prayer is addressed to God and all his manifestations, of which the Book (the Vendidad) is a part.

« I invoke and celebrate you Fire, son of Ormuzd, with all the fires.

I invoke and celebrate the excellent, pure and perfect Word that the Vendidad gave to Zoroaster, the sublime, pure and ancient Law of the Mazdeans.”

It is important to note that it is the Sacred Book (the Vendidad) that gives the divine Word to Zoroaster, and not the other way round. The Zend Avesta sees this Book as sacred and divine, and recognizes it as an actor of divine revelation.

It is tempting to compare this divine status of the Book in the Zend Avesta with the divine status of the Torah in Judaism and the Koran in Islam.

The divine status of sacred texts (Zend Avesta, Torah, Koran) in these monotheisms incites to consider a link between the affirmation of the absolute transcendence of a supreme God and the need for mediation between the divine and the human, – a mediation which must itself be « divine ».

It is interesting to underline, by contrast, the human origin of evangelical testimonies in Christianity. The Gospels were written by men, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. The Gospels are not divine emanations, but human testimonies. They are therefore not of the same essence as the Torah (« revealed » to Moses), or the Koran (« dictated » to Muhammad, who was otherwise illiterate) or the Zend Avesta (« given » to Zoroaster).

In Christianity, on the other hand, it is Christ himself who embodies divine mediation in his person. He, the Anointed One, Christ, the Messiah, incarnates the divine Word, the Verb.

Following this line of thought, one would have to conclude that Christianity is not a « religion of the Book », as the oversimplified formula that usually encompasses the three monotheisms under the same expression would suggest.

This formula certainly suits Judaism and Islam, as it does Zend Avesta. But Christianity is not a religion of the « Book », it is a religion of the « Word ».

iEugène Burnouf, Commentaire sur le Yaçna, l’un des livres religieux des Parses. Ouvrage contenant le texte zend. 1833

iiZend Avesta, I, 2

iiiZend Avesta, I, 2

Religions of blood and religion of milk


The ancient Jewish religion, from its origin, favored the oblation of blood, the animal sacrifice to God. A lamb, a goat, a heifer or a dove could do the trick. The Egyptologist Jan Assmann argues that the sacrifice of sheep or cattle was conceived by Moses as a way of affirming the symbolism of a « counter-religion », in order to stand out as far as possible from the ancient Egyptian religion. In fact, the ancient Egyptian religion considered the Bull (Serapis) as a divine avatar, which it was obviously a “sacrilege” to sacrifice. Taking the exact opposite side by choosing the sacrifice of blood was an effective way of cutting all bridges with the past.

Much further to the East, in the Indus basin, and long before the time of Abraham or Moses, the even older religion of the Veda excluded any animal sacrifice. On the contrary, the Cow was (and still is) sacred. This is why only the milk of the cow was sacrificed, not its blood.

The Cow was considered as a divine symbol, because it represented the cosmic cycle of life. And milk embedded its essence.

How so?

The sunlight floods the earth, makes the grass grow, which feeds the cow, which produces the milk. In the final analysis, this milk comes from cosmic, solar forces. It is then used in the sacrifice in the form of « clarified butter ». Sôma is composed of this liquid, flammable butter and other psychotropic vegetable juices. By burning in the sacred fire, the butter from the cosmos returns to its origin, in the form of flame, smoke and odor, and embodies the homage paid to the universal Divinity.

The 9th Mandala of the Rig Veda is dedicated to this Vedic worship of the Sôma. It contains hymns and prayers to the Divine Sôma:

« You who flows very gently, perfectly liquid, light up, O Sôma, you who has been poured out as a libation to the Burning One ». (Hymn I,1)

“Burning” or “Ardent” is one of the Names of the Divine.

The Sôma flows to regale Heaven, it flows for « comfort » and for the « voice » (« abhi vajam uta çravah« ). The Sôma is divine. The sacrifice of Sôma is an image of the union of the divine with the divine through the divine: « O Sôma, unite with you through you. »

The sacrifice of the Sôma is a metaphor of life, which is transmitted incessantly, constantly diverse, eternally mobile.

« The daughter of the sun lights the Sôma, which comes out of the fleece and flows around what remains constant and what develops.”

The « daughter of the sun » is a figure of the sacred fire. The « fleece » is the envelope of skin that was used to preserve the Sôma. What is « constant » and what « develops » are metaphors of the sacred fire, or a figure of the sacrifice itself, an image of the link between the Divinity and mankind.

The Sacred Fire is also divine. It is a God, who manifests the sacrifice and transcends it. It flies towards the woods of the pyre, before rising ever higher, towards the sky.

« This undead God flies, like a bird, to the woods to sit down. « (Rig Veda, 9th Mandala, Hymn III, 1)

« This God, who is on fire, becomes a chariot, becomes a gift; he manifests himself by crackling. « (Ibid. III,5)

The liquid Sôma is given to the Sôma that catches fire. Having become a flame, it gives itself to the Fire.

The Veda sees libation, the liquid Sôma, as a « sea ». This sea in flames « crackles », and the Fire « neighs like a horse ». The Fire gallops towards the divine, always further, always higher.

« By going forward, this has reached the heights of the two Brilliant Ones, and the Rajas which is at the very top. « (Ibid. XXII, 5).

The « Two Brillant » and the « Rajas » are other Names of God.

« This flows into Heaven, liberated, through darkness, lit with generous oblations. This God poured out for the Gods, by a previous generation, of gold, flows into that which enflames it.  » (Ibid. III,8-9).

The marriage of somatic liquor and burning fire represents a divine union of the divine with itself.

« O you two, the Ardent and the Sôma, you are the masters of the sun, the masters of the cows; powerful, you make the crackling [the thoughts] grow ». (Ibid. XIX, 2)

The meanings of words shimmer. The images split up. The flames are also « voices ». Their « crackling » represents the movement of thought, which is synonymous with them.

« O Fire, set in motion by thought [the crackle], you who crackle in the womb (yoni), you penetrate the wind by means of the Dharma (the Law) ». (Ibid. XXV,2)

Erotic metaphor ? No more and no less than some images of the Song of Songs.

They are rather figures of thought referring to a philosophical, or even theological system. In the Veda, Fire, Thought, Word, Cry, Wind, Law are of the same essence.

But the yoni also puts us on the trail of Vedic mysticism. The yoni, the womb, is the name given to the stone crucible that receives the burning liquor. The yoni, by its position in the sacrifice, is the very cradle of the divine.

A Vedic Divine, born of a yoni bathed in divine liquor and set ablaze with divine flames.

« This God shines from above, in the yoni, He, the Eternal, the Destroyer, the Delight of the Gods » (Ibid. XXVIII, 3).

God is the Highest and He is also in the yoni, He is eternal and destructive, He is gold and light, He is sweet and tasty.

« They push you, you Gold, whose flavour is very sweet, into the waters, through the stones, – O Light, libation of Fire. « (Ibid. XXX, 5).

Light born from light. God born of the true God.

These images, these metaphors, appeared more than a thousand years before Abraham, and more than two thousand years before Christianity.

Nothing really new under the sun..

The Secret Teaching of Hermes


In a short dialogue, Hermes addresses his son Tati to summarize some ancient, and quite essential ideas. We learn that man is made up of separate envelopes, body, mind, soul, reason, intelligence. As he gradually emerges from these envelopes, man is called upon to « know » better and better. His final vocation is « apotheosis », a word that must be taken literally i.e. to go « above the gods ».

Hermes:

– The energy of God is in His will. And God wants the universe to be. As Father, as Good, He wants the existence of that which is not yet. This existence of beings, there is God, there is the Father, there is the Good, it is no other thing. The world, the sun, the stars participate in the existence of beings. But they are not, however, for the living the cause of their life, or the origin of the Good. Their action is the necessary effect of the will of the Good, without which nothing could exist or become.

[My comment: Hermes does not believe in the immanence of the divine in the world. The divine is absolutely transcendent, and only His Will, whose effect can be observed through the existence of His creation, bears witness to this transcendent remoteness.]

Hermes:

It must be recognized that the vision of the Good is above our strength. The eyes of our intelligence cannot yet contemplate its incorruptible and incomprehensible beauty. You will see it a little, perhaps, when you at least know that you can say nothing about it. For true knowledge is found in the silence and rest of every sensation. Whoever achieves it can no longer think of anything else, nor look at anything, nor hear anything, nor even move his body. There is no more sensation or movement for him.

[My comment: There are two kinds of spirits. Those who have « seen » the Good, but cannot say anything about it, and those who have not « seen » it, but who will perhaps one day see it, under certain conditions. Hermes belongs to the first group. He can only express himself by allusion. He cannot say anything about it, which is already a lot …].

Hermes:

– The splendor that inundates all his thought and his soul tears man from the bonds of the body and transforms him entirely into divine essence. The human soul reaches the apotheosis when he has contemplated this beauty of Good.

Tat :

– What do you mean by « apotheosis », Father?

[My comment: Tat’s question is not a lexicographical one. He is waiting for a full description of the phenomenon. The word « apotheosis » is not a neologism, a word invented by Hermes. The word was used, for example, previously by Strabo to describe the death of Diomedes, which he also describes as « apotheosis », but in a sense that seems to transcend the reality of his « death ». « Some authors add to the subject of Diomedes that here he had begun to dig a canal leading to the sea, but having been called back to his homeland he was surprised by death and left this and many other useful undertakings unfinished. This is a first version about his death; another makes him stay until the end and die in Daunie; a third, purely fabulous, and which I have already had occasion to recall, speaks of his mysterious disappearance in one of the islands that bear his name; finally, one can look at this claim of the Henetians to place in their country, if not death, at least the apotheosis of the hero, as a fourth version…. « (Strabo, Geogr. VI, 3,9)].

Hermes:

– Every unfulfilled soul, my son, is subject to successive changes. The blinded soul, knowing nothing of beings, neither their nature nor the Good, is enveloped in bodily passions. The unfortunate soul, unaware of herself, is enslaved to foreign and abject bodies. She carries the burden of the body. Instead of commanding, she obeys. This is the evil of the soul. On the contrary, the good of the soul is knowledge. He who knows is good, and already divine.

[My comment: The body is a veil whose envelope prevents access to knowledge. In the body, the soul is enslaved. Not only can she not ‘see’, but she cannot ‘know’. She can only know her slavery, her enslavement. Which is already a lot, because it is the beginning of her liberation].

Hermes:

– Beings have sensations because they cannot exist without them; but knowledge is very different from sensation. Sensation is an influence that one undergoes. Knowledge is the end of a search, and the desire to search is a divine gift. For all knowledge is incorporeal.

[My comment: The sensation is imposed from the outside. Knowledge is first and foremost a desire for knowledge. To know is first of all a desire to know. But where does this desire come from, if one has no knowledge of what one can desire? « The desire to seek is a divine gift ». But isn’t it unfair to those who are deprived of the grace of this desire? No, this desire is in everyone, in latent form. The desire to know only asks to be born. It only needs to be set in motion, and it grows stronger with every step].

Hermes:

– All knowledge is a form, which grasps the intelligence, just as the intelligence uses the body. Thus both use a body, either intellectual or material. Everything comes down to this combination of opposites, form and matter, and it cannot be otherwise.

[My comment: Form and matter can be considered, as Hermes does, as a « combination of opposites ». One could also say « alliance of opposites », to mean that their whole is more than the sum of their parts. There is also the idea that intellectual representations can be described as having a « body », which itself is endowed with a spirit and perhaps a soul. This leads us to imagine a whole ascending hierarchy, of souls and spirits, up to a supreme root, of all souls and spirits. Two thousand years after these ideas began to be formulated, the Jewish Kabbalah of the European Middle Ages took up exactly the same ideas ].

Tat:

– What is this material God?

Hermes:

– The world is beautiful but it is not good, because it is material and passive. It is the first of the ‘passive’, but the second of the beings, and is not self-sufficient. It is born, though it is always, but it is in birth, and it becomes perpetual. Becoming is a change in quality and quantity – like any material movement.

[My comment: Here the influence of Gnosis is revealed. The world is beautiful, but it is not good. The assertions of Genesis are therefore contradicted head-on: ‘And God saw that it was good.’ (Cf. Gen. 1:4, Gen. 1:10, Gen. 1:12, Gen. 1:25). The first chapter of Genesis even concludes as follows: ‘And God saw everything that He had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen. 1:31). But this Gnosis can be interpreted. The world is not « good », admittedly, but it does not necessarily mean that it is « bad » either. If it is not « good » it is because it is always « becoming », it is always being « born ». Besides, one can argue that ‘Only God is good’, as Jesus said. This Gnosticism is therefore not incompatible with an interpretation of Creation as a living process, as an eschatological aim].

Hermes:

– The world is the first of the living. Man is second only to the world, and first among mortals. Not only is man not good, but he is evil, being mortal. Nor is the world not good, since it is mobile; but being immortal, it is not evil. Man, being both mobile and mortal, is evil. »

[My comment: Here, the vision of Gnosis becomes even more precise. The world is not evil, but Man is. The difference between the world and Man is that the world is always born, it is always alive and reborn, whereas Man is mortal. The only possibility, however, of escaping this fundamental evil is resurrection. If it is possible, then Man is also reborn, again, he escapes death, – and evil].

Hermes:

– It is necessary to understand how man’s soul is constituted: intelligence is in reason, reason in the soul, the soul in the mind, the mind in the body. The spirit, penetrating through veins, arteries and blood, moves the animal and carries it, so to speak. The soul infuses the spirit. Reason is at the bottom of the soul. And it is Intelligence that makes reason live.

[My comment: Man is a kind of metaphysical onion, containing deep down within him, in his inner core, a divine principle, – Intelligence, which is another name for Divine Wisdom.]

Hermes:

– God does not ignore man; on the contrary, He knows him and wants to be known by him. The only salvation of man is in the knowledge of God; this is the way of ascent to Olympus; only by this alone does the soul become good, not sometimes good, sometimes bad, but necessarily good.

[My comment: The ascent to Olympus is another metaphor for apotheosis].

Hermes:

“Contemplate, my son, the soul of the child; the separation is not yet complete; the body is small and has not yet received full development. It is beautiful to see the child, not yet sullied by the passions of the body, still almost attached to the soul of the world. But when the body has developed and holds her [the soul] in its mass, separation is accomplished, oblivion occurs in her, she ceases to participate in the beautiful and the good.”

[My comment: the loss of innocence of the soul begins from the first days of her apprenticeship in the body she has inherited. This loss of innocence can also be interpreted as the first steps in the long « ascent » that still awaits her].

Hermes:

« The same thing happens to those who come out of their body. The soul enters into herself, the spirit withdraws into the blood, the soul into the spirit. But the Intelligence, purified and freed from its envelopes, divine by nature, takes a body of fire and travels through space, abandoning the soul to its tribulations. »

[My comment: These words are a striking summary of the highest wisdom attained over tens of thousands of years by shamans, visionaries, prophets, poets, all over the world. They must be taken for what they are: a naked revelation, destined only to those souls predisposed, by their abysmal and primordial desire, to understand what it is all about].

Tat:

– What do you mean, O Father? Does intelligence separate from the soul and the soul from the spirit, since you said that the soul is the envelope of intelligence and the spirit is the envelope of the soul?

[My comment: Tat listens to his father very well, and he remains faithful to logic itself. His question is a request for clarification. The difference between the spirit and the soul and the difference between the soul and the intelligence may need to be explained more clearly. But how to explain “intelligence” to those who cannot imagine the power of its infinite possibilities? Hermes knows this difficulty well. He will try another way of explanation].

Hermes:

– It is necessary, my son, that the listener follow the thought of the speaker and associate himself with it; the ear must be finer than the voice. This system of envelopes exists in the earthly body. The naked intelligence could not be established in a material body, and that body could not contain such immortality or carry such virtue. The intelligence takes the soul as its envelope; the soul, which is divine itself, is enveloped in spirit, and the spirit is poured into the animal. »

[My comment: The key expression here is « naked intelligence ». What is revealed in these words is that even intelligence, in its highest, most divine form, can still remain « veiled ». Nothing can be said about this here, for the moment. We are only alluding to the fact that the process of ascension, of apotheosis, is certainly not finished, but that it is itself susceptible to other, even more radical forms of spiritual nakedness, unclothing].

Hermes:

– When the intelligence leaves the earthly body, it immediately takes its tunic of fire, which it could not keep when it inhabited this earthly body; for the earth cannot withstand fire, of which a single spark would be enough to burn it. This is why water surrounds the earth and forms a rampart that protects it from the flame of fire. But intelligence, the most subtle of divine thoughts, has the most subtle of elements, fire, as its body. It takes it as an instrument of its creative action.

[My comment: One of the garments of intelligence, described here under the metaphor of the « tunic of fire », is a way of describing one of its essential attributes: creative ability. But there are certainly many others. Other metaphors, other « garments » would be needed to try to account for them].

Hermes:

– The universal intelligence uses all the elements, that of man only the earthly elements. Deprived of fire, it cannot build divine works, subject as it is to the conditions of humanity. Human souls, not all of them, but pious souls, are « demonic » and « divine ».

[My comment: The idea that the soul is « demonic » is an idea that Plato communicated to us through the speech of Diotima in the Symposium. There can be found also another fundamental idea, to which I have been attached all my life – the idea of metaxu].

Hermes:

– Once separated from the body, and after having sustained the struggle of piety, which consists in knowing God and harming no one, such a soul becomes all intelligence. But the unholy soul remains in its own essence and punishes herself by seeking to enter into an earthly body, a human body, for another body cannot receive a human soul, it cannot fall into the body of an animal without reason; a divine law preserves the human soul from such a fall.

[My comment: Here we find the idea of metempsychosis. Since ages, these ideas circulated from the Far East to Greece].

Hermes:

– The punishment of the soul is quite different. When the intelligence has become a « daimon », and by God’s command has taken on a body of fire, she [the intelligence] enters the ungodly soul and is scourged with the whip of its sins. The unholy soul then rushes into murder, insults, blasphemy, violence of all kinds and all human wickedness. But by entering the pious soul, the intelligence leads her to the light of knowledge. Such a soul is never satiated with hymns and blessings for all men.

[My comment: A distinction must therefore be made between light, knowledge and the « light of knowledge ». The latter form of consciousness is the possible source of a meta-apotheosis, – for the moment, this word is a neologism, which I propose, because here it is very necessary].

Hermes:

– This is the universal order, the consequence of unity. Intelligence penetrates all the elements. For nothing is more divine and more powerful than intelligence. She unites Gods with men and men with Gods. It is the intelligence that is the good « daimon« ; the blessed soul is full of her, the unhappy soul is empty of her.

[My comment: intelligence is the « metaxu » par excellence. The Hebrews gave it the name neshamah. But what a name is, it is its essence that we must try to understand].

Hermes:

– The soul without intelligence could neither speak nor act. Often intelligence leaves the soul, and in this state the soul sees nothing, hears nothing, and looks like an animal without reason. Such is the power of intelligence. But it does not support the vicious soul and leaves it attached to the body, which drags it down. Such a soul, my son, has no intelligence, and in this condition a man can no longer be called a man. For man is a divine animal which must be compared, not to other terrestrial animals, but to those in heaven, who are called Gods.

[My comment: Aristotle said that « man is an animal who has reason (logos) ». We can see that Hermes rises several notches above Aristotle in his intuition of what man is, in essence. Aristotle is the first of the moderns. Plato is the last of the Ancients. But in these difficult matters, the Ancients have infinitely more to teach us, with their million years of experience, than the Moderns, really out of their depths in these matters].

Hermes:

– Or rather, let’s not be afraid to tell the truth, the real man is above them, or at least equal to them. For none of the heavenly Gods leaves his sphere to come to earth, while man ascends into heaven and measures it. He knows what is above and what is below; he knows everything accurately, and what is better is that he does not need to leave the earth in order to ascend. Such is the greatness of his condition. Thus, dare we say that man is a mortal God and that a heavenly God is an immortal man. All things will be governed by the world and by man, and above all is the One.

My comment : There is a strikingly equivalent intuition in the Veda. In the Veda, Puruṣa, devanāgarī : पुरुष, means « man, person, hero, vital principle, spirit » but also and foremost : « the Soul of the Universe »…

There is yet another, essential aspect.

The sacrifice of Puruṣa, the death and dismemberment of Osiris, the crucifixion of Christ do share a deep, structural analogy.

iCorpus hermeticum, X.

Absent Dream


The Song of songs, at the core of the Hebraic Bible, has accustomed the faithful, in Judaism and in Christianity, to the idea that the celebration of love, with human words and not without quite crude images, could also be a metaphor for the Love between the soul and God.

However, this very idea can also be found in the Veda, – with an anteriority of at least one thousand years over the Bible. This incites us to consider why, for so many millennia, persisted the metaphor of human love as applied to the union of the human soul with the Divinity.

The Veda is the oldest text, conserved for the benefit of mankind, that testifies to the idea of the Divinity’s love for the human soul, – as improbable as it may be thought, considering the nothingness of the latter.

« As the creeper holds the tree embraced through and through, so embrace me, be my lover, and do not depart from me! As the eagle strikes the ground with its two wings, so I strike your soul, be my lover and do not depart from me! As the sun on the same day surrounds heaven and earth, so do I surround your soul. Be my lover and do not depart from me! Desire my body, my feet, desire my thighs; let your eyes, your hair, in love, be consumed with passion for me!”i

A comparative anthropology of the depths is possible. Its main advantage is that it allows us to give some relativity to much later, idiosyncratic and ‘provincial’ assertions, and above all to confirm the fruitfulness of research into the very essence of common human intuition.

This research is one of the bases of the Future Dream, whose’ absence crushed, wounded modernity suffers so much from.

iA.V. VI, 8-9

A God with no Name


The intuition of mystery has touched humanity from the earliest ages. Eight hundred thousand years ago, men carried out religious rites accompanying the death of their loved ones, in a cave near Beijing, at Chou Kou Tien. Skulls were found there, placed in a circle and painted in red ochre. They bear witness to the fact that almost a million years ago, men believed that death was a passage.

Fascination with other worlds, a sense of mystery, confrontation with the weakness of life and the rigor of death, seem to be part of the human genetic heritage, since the dawn of time, inhabiting the unconscious, sculpting cultures, knotting myths, informing languages.

The idea of the power of the divine is an extremely ancient idea, as old as humanity itself. It is equally obvious that the minds of men all over the world have, since extremely ancient times, turned towards forms of animism, religions of immanence or even religions of ecstasy and transcendent trance, long before being able to speculate and refine « theological » questions such as the formal opposition between « polytheism » and « monotheism ».

Brains and cultures, minds and languages, were not yet mature.

Animism, shamanism, polytheism, monotheism, and the religions of the immanence try to designate what cannot be said. In the high period, the time of human dawn, all these religions in -isms obviously came together in a single intuition, a single vision: the absolute weakness of man, the irremediable fleetingness of his life, and the infinite greatness and power of the unknown.

Feeling, guessing, fearing, worshipping, revering, this power was one and multiple. Innumerable names throughout the world have tried to express this power, without ever reaching its intrinsic unity.

This is why the assertion of the monotheisms that « God is One » is both a door that has been open for millions of years and at the same time, in a certain way, is also a saying that closes our understanding of the very nature of the « mystery », our understanding of how this « mystery » has taken root in the heart of the human soul, since Homo knew himself to be a sapiens

In the 17th century, Ralph Cudworth was already tackling the « great prejudice » that all primitive and ancient religions had been polytheistic, and that only « a small, insignificant handful of Jews »i had developed the idea of a single God.

A « small insignificant handful of Jews »? Compared to the Nations, number is not always the best indicator. Another way to put the question is: was the idea of the One God invented by the Jews? If so, when and why? If not, who invented it, and for how long was it there around the world?

If we analyse the available sources, it would seem that this idea appeared very early among the nations, perhaps even before the so-called « historical » times. But it must be recognized that the Jews brought the idea to its incandescence, and above all that they « published » it, and « democratized » it, making it the essential idea of their people. Elsewhere, and for millennia, the idea was present, but reserved in a way to an elite.

Greek polytheism, the Sibylline oracles, Zoroastrianism, the Chaldean religion, Orphism, all these « ancient » religions distinguished a radical difference between multiple born and mortal gods, and a Single God, not created and existing by Himself. The Orphic cabal had a great secret, a mystery reserved for the initiated, namely: « God is the Whole ».

Cudworth deduced from the testimonies of Clement of Alexandria, Plutarch, Iamblichus, Horapollo, or Damascius, that it was indisputably clear that Orpheus and all the other Greek pagans knew a single universal deity who was « the One », and « the Whole ». But this knowledge was secret, reserved for the initiated.

Clement of Alexandria wrote that « All the barbarian and Greek theologians had kept the principles of reality secret and had only transmitted the truth in the form of enigmas, symbols, allegories, metaphors and other tropes and similar figures. « ii And Clement made a comparison between the Egyptians and the Hebrews in this respect: « The Egyptians represented the truly secret Logos, which they kept deep in the sanctuary of truth, by what they called ‘Adyta’, and the Hebrews by the curtain in the Temple. As far as concealment is concerned, the secrets of the Hebrews and those of the Egyptians are very similar.”iii

Hieroglyphics (as sacred writing) and allegories (the meaning of symbols and images) were used to transmit the secret arcana of the Egyptian religion to those who were worthy of it, to the most qualified priests and to those chosen to succeed the king.

The « hieroglyphic science » was entirely responsible for expressing the mysteries of theology and religion in such a way that they remained hidden from the profane crowd. The highest of these mysteries was that of the revelation of « the One and Universal Divinity, the Creator of the whole world, » Cudworth added.

Plutarch noted several times in his famous work, On Isis and Osiris, that the Egyptians called their supreme God « the First God » and considered him a « dark and hidden God ».

Cudworth points out that Horapollo tells us that the Egyptians knew a Pantokrator (Universal Sovereign) and a Kosmokrator (Cosmic Sovereign), and that the Egyptian notion of ‘God’ referred to a « spirit that spreads throughout the world, and penetrates into all things to the deepest depths.

The « divine Iamblichus » made similar analyses in his De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum.

Finally, Damascius, in his Treatise on First Principles, wrote that the Egyptian philosophers said that there is a single principle of all things, which is revered under the name of ‘invisible darkness’. This « invisible darkness » is an allegory of this supreme deity, namely that it is inconceivable.

This supreme deity has the name « Ammon », which means « that which is hidden », as explained by Manetho of Sebennytos.

Cudworth, to whom we owe this compilation of quotations, deduced that « among the Egyptians, Ammon was not only the name of the supreme Deity, but also the name of the hidden, invisible and corporeal Deity ».

Cudworth concludes that long before Moses, himself of Egyptian culture, and brought up in the knowledge of ‘Egyptian wisdom’, the Egyptians were already worshipping a Supreme God, conceived as invisible, hidden, outside the world and independent of it.

The One (to Hen, in Greek) is the invisible origin of all things and he manifests himself, or rather « hides » himself in the Whole (to Pan, in Greek).

The same anthropological descent towards the mysterious depths of belief can be undertaken systematically, notably with the oldest texts we have, those of Zend Avesta, the Vedas and their commentaries on Upaniṣad.

« Beyond the senses is the mind, higher than the mind is the essence, above the essence is the great Self, higher than the great [Self] is the unmanifested.

But beyond the unmanifested is Man, the Puruṣa, passing through all and without sign in truth. By knowing Him, the human being is liberated and attains immortality.

His form does not exist to be seen, no one can see it through the eye. Through the heart, through the intelligence, through the mind He is apprehended – those who know Him become immortal. (…)

Not even by speech, not even by the mind can He be reached, not even by the eye. How can He be perceived other than by saying: « He is »?

And by saying « He is » (in Sanskrit asti), He can be perceived in two ways according to His true nature. And by saying « He is », for the one who perceives Him, His true nature is established.

When all the desires established in one’s heart are liberated, then the mortal becomes immortal, he reaches here the Brahman.”iv

The Zohar also affirms: « The Holy One blessed be He has a hidden aspect and a revealed aspect. »

Aren’t these not « two ways » of perceiving the true nature of « He is »? Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhyn affirms: « The essence of the En-Sof (Infinite) is hidden more than any secret; it must not be named by any name, not even the Tetragrammaton, not even the end of the smallest letter, the Yod.” v

So what do all these names of God mean in the purest monotheism?

« R. ‘Abba bar Mamel says: The Holy One blessed be He says to Moshe: Do you want to know my Name? I name Myself after my deeds. Sometimes my name is El Shadday, Tsebaoth, Elohim, YHVY. When I judge creatures my name is Elohim, when I fight the wicked I am called Tsebaoth, when I suspend the faults of men I am El Shadday and when I take pity on the worlds I am YHVH. This Name is the attribute of mercy, as it is said: « YHVY, YHVH, merciful and compassionate God » (Ex. 34:6). Likewise: ‘Ehyeh, asher ‘Ehyeh (I am who I am) (Ex. 3:14) – I name myself after my deeds.”vi

These are very wise words, which invite us to ask ourselves what was the name of YHVH, 800,000 years ago, at Chou Kou Tien, when He saw the sorrow of these men and women, a small group of Homo sapiens in affliction and grief, assembled at the bottom of a cave.

iRalph Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), quoted in Jan Assmann, Moïse l’Égyptien, 2001, p.138

iiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch. 4, 21,4

iiiClement of Alexandria, Stromata V, ch.3, 19,3 and Stromata V, ch.6, 41,2

ivKaha-upaniad 2.3. 7-9 and 12-14. Upaniad. My translation into English from the French Translation by Alyette Degrâces. Fayard. 2014. p. 390-391

vRabbi Hayyim de Volozhyn. L’âme de la vie. 2ème Portique, ch. 2. Trad. Benjamin Gross. Verdier. Lagrasse, 1986, p.74

viIbid. 2ème Portique, ch. 3, p. 75.

Thought


In the Veda, Thought (manas) is one of the deepest metaphors of the Divine. Many other religions later celebrated the Divine Thought and sought to define some of its attributes. But reading in the Veda this original intuition, in all its emerging force, reinforces the idea that, for anyone, ones’ own thought, ones’ own faculty of thinking, has always been the source of a powerful astonishment, puts on the track of our origins, and uncovers the roots of our freedom.

« She in whom rest prayers, melodies and formulas, like the grapes at the hub of the chariot, she in whom is woven all the reflection of creatures, – the Thought: may what She conceives be favorable to me!”i

iṚgVéda X,71

Loving Word


« In the beginning was the Word » (Jn 1,1)

More than thousand years before the Gospel of John, the Veda was already considering the Word as having a life of its own, a divine essence. The Vedic Word was a Divine Person. The Vedic Word was a prefiguration of the Psalms of David where, as in the Veda, Wisdom is personified as a female figure associated with the One God.

The Word (vāc) is the very essence of the Veda. « More than one who sees has not seen the Word. More than one who hears does not hear it. She has opened her body to him as she did to her husband, a loving woman in rich attire.”i

The Word, or Wisdom, or Vāc, is like the loving Sulamite of the Song of songs.

Those who know will understand.

iṚgVeda X,71