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.

How to Start Fighting the Looming Global Civil War

There are words that are almost completely untranslatable from one language to another.

To give an idea of their meaning, they may require the mediation of several metaphors, and an accumulation of approximations. These words cannot travel easily.

Is it then wiser to let them marinate in their own juice?

Take as an example the Sanskrit word tajjalān in this text of Chāndogya-upaniṣad:

« In reality Brahman is all this. Whoever is appeased must worship it as tajjalān. »i

Sanskrit scholars suggest that the word tajjalān can be broken down into four syllables: tad + ja + la + an ii.

Each syllable embodies a symbolic meaning, related to a Brahman attribute.

Thus the world is tajja: « That – begotten ». Tajja is formed by the assimilation of tad « that » and ja which is related to the root JAN « to be born, to produce ».

But the world is also talla: « That – attached and dissolved » [tad + la = talla], where the root of la is LĪ, as used in words like liyate, « attach » and layate, « dissolve ».

Talla and tajja are then two opposing processes, of « birth » and « dissolution ».

Finally the world is tadana: « That which breathes and lives in it »[tad + an + a], where an has as its root AN « to breathe, to live ».

The word tajjalān thus describes in a dense, concentrated way, the world as having three states (engendering, dissolution, life/breathing), identified with the essence of Brahman.

Through the ambivalence of the root LĪ, the word also evokes the world’s attachment to Brahman, excluding any idea of separation.

One word, four ideas.

If we tried to give a kind of equivalent of tajjalān in English, we could perhaps propose a concatenated series of words like « That-born-dissolved-linked-alive »…

Let’s generalize.

If certain essential words of a particular civilization have no plausible equivalents in another culture, one could conclude that the world of ideas, religions and cultures is fundamentally fragmented, divided into more or less autistic provinces, keeping before them their idiosyncrasies, secret gardens, intimate grammars, gods and codes.

And this would be an argument to highlight the difficulty of a unified conception of humanity.

However, the hypothesis of the looming Balkanization of ideas and cultures does not necessarily exclude other possibilities, such as the idea that man can be defined by a unique ‘essence’.

For example, the Aristotelian idea that « man is a rational animal » could be entirely compatible with the reality of a Balkanized world.

Idea and reality would only be juxtaposed, circulating in two orbits of meaning not intended to meet, and able to ignore each other royally, for a long time to come.

Nor does the idea of an « essence » of man mean that humanity does not conceal, in its thicknesses, in its depths, in its past or in its future, immense and impenetrable areas of darkness, which no « essence » can define.

It is quite possible that Plato’s Ideas, or Aristotle’s reason, may coexist with a world deprived of meaning and internal cohesion, even if in theory this seems to be incompatible, or contradictory.

It is possible that, if translated otherwise, into a language that perhaps does not yet exist, or will never exist, these ideas would then no longer be contradictory, but would appear obviously compatible, and even necessary.

At this stage, it can already be argued that the hypothesis of a humanity less one than divided, less transparent than obscure, less communicative than hostile is completely compatible with the exactly opposite hypothesis, because it is obvious that so much everything is already mobile, diverse, evolving in a world that is both one and multiple.

Anthropology lets us know of the existence of tribal or religious groups, which are defined by exclusion. These tribes or groups decree the principle of their metaphysical separation from the rest of humanity.

They may draw a feeling of absolute singularity from a « principle », revealed only to them, in their own language, or following a « decision », communicated only to them, from a « God » who would only be « their » God.

However, the very idea of religious or ideological exclusion of entire segments of humanity is neither new nor reserved for specific cultures. Paradoxically, it is in fact quite commonplace.

The ideas of exclusion, separation, ostracism, seem as constitutive of the human essence as the opposite ideas, that of union, unity, community, society.

There are « first » tribes that only call themselves « men » in their language, implying that all those who are not of their tribe, all the rest of men, are not really human.

What the genius of these languages of exclusion has been able to do, symbolically, genetic engineering to modify the human genome can do, really, and on a large scale.

The dream of a « trans-humanity », capable of genetically and neurologically modifying itself, and thus gaining access to a completely unthinkable mutation of the human race, is no longer a distant utopia.

This tangible dream is there to remind us of the burning relevance of a project of an « exodus » reserved for a privileged subset of humanity outside human contingencies.

For the time being, this « exodus » seems to be only of an economic, fiscal or political nature, but it could soon become genetic, neural, anatomical and one day perhaps biological.

The Hollywood myth of a planetary « exodus », of a flight of a few mutants from a polluted Earth, irradiated and deeply scarred by a world civil war, is in everyone’s mind.

The general Balkanization and the bantustans imposed by all kinds of apartheids will be the first step.

In such a case, scholarly debates on words « almost untranslatable » would then be very derisory, very useless.

Those who then correctly pronounce the shibboleth of the day will be able to board the interstellar shuttle or take part in the meta-genetic adventure of trans-humanity.

All the others will be condemned to remain in the earthly hell.

While waiting for this perspective, closer than we may want to believe, we must affirm that words count, that they are semaphores.

It is really worth studying the « untranslatable » words, because they are like symptoms, verbal clues to the global separation, the progressive cultural and religious dislocation, in the making.

And it is worth trying to translate these « untranslatable » words, if we do not want a global civil war to happen some day.

i CU 3.14.1

iiCf. Les Upaniad.Trad. A. Degrâces. 2014, p.128

Les blancs ruisseaux de l’âme

Le lait est comme l’âme, dit une Upaniṣad.i

En lui, le beurre est celé. Il faut baratter et il paraît.

En l’autre, la connaissance est cachée. Quand l’esprit la fouaille, l’augmente et la fait croître, elle vient.

De deux bâtons frottés, jaillit le feu.

De l’âme et de l’esprit surgit le brahman.

Le mot brahman (ब्रह्मन्) est neutre. Il désigne un principe : « croissance, augmentation, renforcement ». Il vient de la racine verbale BṚH- , fortifier, accroître, augmenter, agrandir.

Dans la Bhagavad-Gītā, le Seigneur définit le brahman comme son Moi:

« L’univers est entièrement pénétré de Moi, invisible, sans forme. Tous les êtres sont en Moi, mais rien de ce qui est créé n’est en Moi, et je ne suis pas en eux. Vois Ma puissance surnaturelle! Je soutiens tous les êtres. Je suis partout présent. Je demeure la source de toute création. De même que dans l’espace s’établit la puissance du vent, et partout son souffle, en Moi se tiennent tous les êtres. »ii

Le Seigneur, transcendant, descend incognito sur terre, et il ne mâche pas ses mots:

« Les sots me dénigrent lorsque sous une forme humaine je descends en ce monde. Ils ne savent rien de ma nature spirituelle, absolue, ni de ma suprématie. Ignorants, ils s’égarent. Ils croient aux démons, pas en moi. Vains sont leurs espoirs, vains leurs intérêts, vaines leurs aspirations, vain leur savoir. »iii

Ni sots, ni égarés, les mahâtmâs.

« Ceux qui ignorent l’ignorance, les mahâtmâs, se trouvent sous la protection de la nature divine. Me sachant Dieu, Personne Suprême, originelle, intarissable, ils s’absorbent, ils se dévouent. Chantant sans cesse ma gloire, ils se prosternent devant Moi. Déterminés dans leur effort, ces esprits, ces âmes magnanimes m’aiment. »iv

« Ceux qui savent me contemplent : Je suis l’Être unique. Ils me voient dans la multitude des êtres et des choses ; ma forme est dans l’univers. »v

Le Soi est le Tout, il est chacune des formes, leur variété infinie, leur somme totale, leur commune nature.

« Mais c’est Moi qui suis le rite et le sacrifice, l’oblation aux ancêtres, l’herbe et le mantra. Je suis le beurre et le feu, et l’offrande. De cet univers, Je suis le père, la mère, le soutien et l’aïeul, Je suis l’objet du savoir, le purificateur et la syllabe om. Je suis également le Rig, le Sâma et le Yajur. Je suis le but, le soutien, le maître, le témoin, la demeure, le refuge et l’ami le plus cher, Je suis la création et l’annihilation, la base de toutes choses, le lieu de repos et l’éternelle semence. Je suis la chaleur, la pluie et la sécheresse, Je suis l’immortalité, et la mort personnifiée. L’être et le non-être, tous deux sont en Moi, ô Arjuna. »vi

Mais le Véda même ne suffit pas, ni les rites. Il faut atteindre la connaissance, l’unique connaissance nécessaire.

« C’est indirectement qu’il M’adorent, les hommes qui étudient les Védas et boivent le soma, cherchant des cieux délicieux. Ils renaissent sur la planète d’Indra, où ils jouissent des plaisirs des dévas. Quand ils ont joui de ces plaisirs célestes, quand leurs mérites se sont épuisés, ils reviennent sur cette Terre mortelle. Un bonheur fragile, tel est donc le seul fruit qu’ils récoltent, après avoir suivi les principes des Védas.

Mais ceux qui M’adorent avec dévotion, méditant sur Ma Forme absolue, Je comble leurs manques et préserve ce qu’ils sont. Toute oblation qu’avec foi l’homme sacrifie aux dévas est destinée à Moi seul, ô fils de Kuntî. Car Je suis l’unique bénéficiaire et l’unique objet du sacrifice. Ceux qui ignorent Ma nature véritable, absolue, retombent. Ceux qui vouent leur culte aux dévas renaîtront parmi les dévas, parmi les spectres et les autres esprits ceux qui vivent dans leur culte, parmi les ancêtres les adorateurs des ancêtres : de même, c’est auprès de Moi que vivront ceux qui Me sont voués. »vii

Depuis six mille ans, le Véda témoigne oralement d’un unique, transcendant les sagesses, les rites, les connaissances, les croyances.

Depuis, n’ont pas manqué sur la Terre, ceux qui adorent, sans sagesse, sans connaissance, et qui sans cesse renaissent, sans sagesse et sans connaissance.

De tous les sépulcres blanchis, renaît un monde sépulcral.

Le lait de l’âme, Voie lactée.

Et l’âme est la sœur lumineuse « des blancs ruisseaux de Chanaan et des corps blancs des amoureuses ».

i Amṛtabindu Upaniṣad 20-21

iiBhagavad-Gītā, chapitre 9 (Le plus secret des savoirs)

iiiBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 11-12

ivBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 13-14

vBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 15

viBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 16-19

viiBhagavad-Gītā, 9, 20-25