The God « Ka » (« Who? »)


« Raimundo Panikkar »

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

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

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

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

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

‘Who’ is the Lord imposing his lordship on all beings, – and on the ‘Being’ itself ? But who is ‘Who’?

What is the role of Man, what is his true part in this Mystery play?

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

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

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

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

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

« What God shall we adore with our oblation ? »

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

Hence this possible translation :

To the God ‘Who?’

1. In the beginning appeared the Golden Germ.

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

The support of Earth and this Heaven.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

2. He, who gives life force and endurance,

He, whose commandments are laws for the Gods,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

Of everything that lives, breathes and sleeps,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

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

His arms embrace the four quarters of the sky.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

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

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

6. Towards Him, trembling, forces crushed,

Subjected to his glory, raise their eyes.

Through Him, the sun of dawn projects its light.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

7. When came the mighty waters, carrying

The Universal Germ from which Fire springs,

The One Spirit of God was born to be.

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

Pregnant with the life forces engendering the Sacrifice,

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

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

O Heavenly Father, we ask You to keep us,

O Father of the ample and divine Waters!

What God shall we adore with our oblation ? 

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

You alone penetrate all that is born,

This sacrifice that we offer you, we desire it,

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

_________

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

One does not know, but one can sense it. The Divine is not the result of a creation, nor of an evolution, or of a becoming, as if it was not, – then was. The Veda here attempts a breakthrough in the very nature of the divinity, through the image of the ‘germ’, the image of pure life. The idea of a ‘God’ is only valid from the creature’s point of view. The idea of ‘God’ appears only through its relation to the idea of ‘creature’. For Himself, God is not ‘God’, – He must be, in His own eyes, something completely different, which has nothing to do with the pathos of creation and the creature.

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

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

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

This mysterious process, which the word ‘Germ’ evokes, is also called ‘Sacrifice’, a word that appears in verse 8: Yajña (यज्ञ). The Seed dies to Himself, He sacrifices Himself, so that out of His own Life, life, all lives, may be born.

May God be born to Himself, through His sacrifice… What a strange thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And since then, it was His name. »v

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

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

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

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

God is mentally unknowable. Except perhaps in that we know that He is ‘sacrifice’. But we know nothing of the essence of His ‘sacrifice’. We can only ‘participate’ in the essence of this divine sacrifice (but not know it), more or less actively, — and this from a better understanding of the essence of our own sacrifice, of our ‘oblation’. Indeed, we are both subject and object of our oblation. In the same way, God is both subject and object of His sacrifice. We can then try to understand, by anagogy, the essence of His sacrifice through the essence of our oblation.

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

____________________

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

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

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

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

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