Also in this Series
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 2
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.1
- Culture and Cosmos – I
- Culture and Cosmos 3 -Part 3.3
- Vedic Symbol of the Universe – Part 3.3
- Culture and Cosmos – 4, Part 1.2
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 1
- Culture and Cosmos 3 – Part 3.2 (Continued from TVN 8/3)
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.6
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.2
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.3
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.5
- Culture and Cosmos – 2, Part 3.4
- Culture and Cosmos – 3 Part 1
- Culture and Cosmos – 3 Part 1.2
- Culture & Cosmos 3 Part 1.3
- Culture & Cosmos – 3 Part 2.2 (continued from TVN 7/6)
- Culture and Cosmos 3 – Part 2.3
- Culture and Cosmos 3 -Part 3.1 (Continued from TVN 8/2)
- Culture and Cosmos -3 Part 2.1 (continued from TVN 7/4)
- Culture and Cosmos – 4 Part 1
Cosmic Harmonies in Hindu Civilisation and Society
A few words must be said about a certain characteristic of planets in orbit of the Sun on the foundational plane of the ecliptic. They too bear axes similar to the Sun. But they are not central. They develop their axes and shapes, including their rotation on these axes and then around the sun, from their position on the ecliptic. That is, each planet’s distinctive nature evolves on the basis of its relationship to the luminary it orbits, given the location of that orbit on the ecliptic or foundational plane.
In the context of the Vedic foundation – which is the ecliptic extending from the Sun of gnosis, or Veda – the planets are akin to the numerous paths of Yoga or the philosophies which came to inhabit the vedic cosmos over the millennia. Each can boast indeed of its own ‘axis’, but it accepts its location on the Vedic base and realises that it owes its very existence to that base and can never deny the inherent oneness of their relationship. Moreover it knows that its own individualised existence ENHANCES the glory of the Sun by this process of multiplication but entirely individualistically. No two planets are the same, yet the essential laws of their being are the same. In other words, they vibrate to the same central Pulse.
A distinguishing feature of these civilisational ‘planets’ is an axis which implies a centre. That is, the planet itself expresses the fundamental Vedic principle of a central FULLNESS, or a compact inner ‘seed’ by virtue of which the process of growth is evolutionary and organic. It is that innermost core which determines the contours, never the reverse. Thus, native to this civilisational expression is always a core of fulness. All aspects of Vedic culture display this basic law.
On the other hand, other cultures have moved into this cosmos and their principal characteristic is the absence of the innermost core or that principle of Fulness. They are founded on another principle, the ‘void’. This is the most marked difference or the clearest proof that the invading culture was indeed an EXTERNAL imposition, bringing into the Vedic cosmos a creation that did not draw from the foundational base for its evolution.
The Taj Mahal is an example. It is indubitably one of the world’s most renowned architectural creations and certainly one of the finest products of Islamic culture. Thus this adds substance to my premise that the special nature of the Vedic ecliptical foundation will compel anything that enters into its midst to produce the best of itself at some point in its development or its interchange with and in the base.
If the Taj Mahal were not a tomb and housed a core of Fulness rather than the void of death, we would be encouraged to believe that it had drawn into itself some of the ‘stuff of the Sun’ as it were. Since this is not the case, the Taj is a shell, an exquisite encasement around an inner void. For this is another feature of a creation which establishes its position within the whole in the act of defining leading to integration: its ‘purpose’ is enhanced and revealed. The extreme beauty and magic of the shell pins one to that exquisite surface. It does not draw within because there is no magnetic core of fulness to create this inward-bound attraction.
What then is the Taj expressing in terms of ‘purpose’, of principle? Its inspiration was, history records, a human love. In the echelon of existence human love is an experience of the heart centre or chamber. Deeper within, in the soul, there is a spark of what no human love can equal: Divine Love. In that innermost chamber, deeper within than the heart, the individual encounters a ‘spaceless’ point. That is, in that centremost inward ‘space’ there is no room for a dual expression of the Pulse of creation. There is only THAT, and it is the solitary experience of the seeker possessed of the Divine, in a perfect union of identity – a fusion similar to the operations in the core of the Sun.
As explained in the VISHAAL solstice Special Issue (included in TVN 6/5, December 1991), Sri Ram drew before the evolution of the species this acute problem or choice: the human or the Divine. India, as a civilisation, chose the divine. Because of that ‘choice’, made thousands of years ago, we can continue proclaiming that India is the ‘cradle of spirituality’, that spirituality, or even religion, is what makes the nation tick.
Indeed this is so, the proof is that the very next Evolutionary Avatar to appear after Lord Ram was Sri Krishna who mercilessly drove the race inward, ever deeper into the temple of Yoga until it could only dissolve its individualised being in the arms of the Divine Lover. As a race, a nation, a people, this was Bharat’s choice. The consequences of such a phenomenal civilisational concord are in evidence everywhere in modern India, in the accumulated expressions across the ages of that choice in the cultural body of the nation.
Distinguishing Features of the Hindu Temple
Every element of the Hindu temple is designed to draw the seeker into that sacred innermost precinct. We may compare this creation to the Taj Mahal in that regard and we realise that the massive profusion in the temple’s exterior has the paradoxical effect of driving us inward and away from the profusion in search of and compelled to seek that spaceless Point where there is nothing but the Divine in that ‘hidden chamber closed and mute’. The shell of the Taj never forces this penetration. Indeed, its irresistible magic lies in the singular fact that its beauty acts as an hypnotic potion which rivets one to that external sphere. It can only do so by not housing an inner core.
It may be argued that the Taj does not pretend to be a religious or spiritual expression and that it is simply a mausoleum and a memorial. This is only partially relevant because we are selecting items which reflect a cultural content. In India’s case, all art is religious, – or better, sacred. Music, dance, sculpture, architecture, painting, and so forth. What can be held as true expressions of the indigenous culture all have this ‘purpose’. And they all reveal a central Fulness – as well as an obsession with axes.
If we turn to the immediately religious symbols we may study the nature of the mosque in this light. The mosque appears essentially to be a prayer hall. That is, its central portions are filled not by any deity – indeed, Islam is vehemently opposed to idol worship of any sort. Rather, it is the congregation that provides an inner fullness. And then there is the question of alignment or direction which we must discuss. In the Christian church, to my knowledge alignment of the edifice does not follow a fixed prescription. Similar to the mosque, the church is the refuge of the faithful, the congregation. But there is a further revealing element in the Christian church which adds another dimension to the symbolism. It is the position of the raised altar, separate and apart; and the fact that there can be no service, no worship without the commanding presence of the priest.
In the Hindu temple the emphasis is entirely on the centremost idol because that alone must be the focus. The devotee or worshipper is not encouraged in any way to rely upon or to accept that the priest has any legitimate commanding place in the experience of the seeker. The murti or idol as the innermost Divine requires no mediators. Indeed, this is born out by Hindu culture in that no priest has any final authority over the devotee and he can be eliminated entirely when the devotee performs his own ritual or puja, as it is called, without the need of the priest at all. Even women are free to serve in this capacity. Nor is there any pulpit or any other symbol of an ecclesiastical or kingly power above the Divine. The Hindu is constantly thrown back upon the only true source of ‘authority’: his or her direct experience of the Godhead in whatever form this may take consonant with the temperament of the devotee.
In this too we see the third power of the individual Divine reflected, India’s inner ‘pulse’ of destiny. The inner Divine may be any one of the thousands of Hindu deities, for indeed there are thousands upon thousands of individual worshippers. The precise form it takes is not the issue. The real issue is described in the overall form or design of the Hindu temple. In other words, the temple is the Hindu’s Book of Knowledge. By ‘opening’ this special book in stone – which implies the practice of a yoga or discipline which opens centres normally closed and which then permits the seeker to ‘read’ this book – he or she can understand the single most important truth of Hinduism and compare this with all other cultural expressions: Fullness versus Void. The design or concept of the temple forces the devotee to live the Vedic experience each time he or she enters the temple. One is compelled to plunge deep inside to the core and into the precinct of the innermost Divine regardless of the particular form. This is expressly manifest in the preliminary circumambulation of the edifice, and then within the building around the sanctum sanctorum, and so on, ever moving INWARD, ever converging upon that central Point, that inner Divine. Thus again we observe that the Third Power or the Individual Divine is the foundation of even the a Hindu Temple. The form is manifold. The Vedic experience is one. And it is lived in the intimacy of the soul’s inner chamber, concentrated abode of the Third Power.
The very name given to the Hindu temple’s sanctum sanctorum reveals that it is the abode of the Third: garbhagriha or womb-house. This further emphasises the essential message of Hinduism – the triumph of fulness over the Void, or the birth (from that womb) that fills the void.
Let me quote from Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao’s book, The Indian Temple: Its Meaning, IBH Prakashana publishers, for a concise description of the significance of the garbhagriha, albeit a rather exoteric one:
‘The sanctum is technically known as the ‘garbhgrha’ (‘the womb-house’)… It is insisted that this part of the temple must be constructed first, and before the construction a significant ceremony known an ‘impregnating’ (garbhadhana or garbha-nyasa) should be performed. This ritual involves letting into the earth a ceremonial copper pot, containing nine precious stones, several metals and minerals, herbs and soils, symbolising creation and prosperity. The building which contains this ‘womb’ is said to prosper, and not the one which lacks it… After the completion of this ritual, a stone slab (adhara-sila) is placed over the spot where the copper pot has been buried. This stone slab will be the foundation for the installation of the icon. The copper-pot symbolises the womb, and the icon the soul. The sanctum that is built round is the body. This is the significance of the sanctum being called ‘the womb-house’. Texts like Silpa-ratna, Tantra-samuccaya and Isana-siva-gurupaddhati give an elaborate account of this ritual.’ (pages 55-6)
To express this concept, which has become ritualised in the construction of the Hindu temple, in more esoteric language but far closer to the highest Vedic truth, the ‘fecundation’ of the Womb is equivalent to the VERTICAL direction described by the new cosmology. This is the penetrating shaft from the ‘other dimension’ whereby the Point comes into being, which is the ‘seed’, the sperm, if you will. In the above ritual the same process is conveyed using precious stones and metals and soils and herbs, – clearly all symbols of elements most material, most ‘earthly’. Revealed in this is the explicit Earth-orientation of the Vedic quest. Once that Womb is in place and its fecundation assured, the edifice develops from that central Fulness, never the reverse.
To render our study less abstract, I would like to relate this process and concept to two contemporary episodes revolving around temples. One is the Matrimandir in Auroville, and the other is the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.
Regarding the construction of the former, it is to be noted that rather than follow the prescriptions of the Vedic culture, the Matrimandir construction observed the reverse: the architects started from the exterior, the four supporting pillars, and set in place a central Void. This was not even a camouflaged or esoteric symbolism. It was a hole measuring three metres in diameter. In addition, the inclusion of this centremost hole or void, which, it must be noted, did not exist in the Mother’s original plan, increased the cost of the construction enormously. It was set in place a few years after the Mother inaugurated the construction in 1971. From that time onward the history of Auroville and the Matrimandir has been anything but ‘auspicious and prosperous’. There were even accidents and one instance where a young woman, it appears, fell through that very hole and was paralysed completely. (She later suicided.) Auroville was finally taken over by the Government of India when internal disputes could not be solved otherwise. It would appear from this that regardless what those in charge of the construction put out, or how much of a stiff upper lip the residents of Auroville put to the Government take-over, these facts indicate that perhaps the ancient Vedic prescriptions were most profoundly wise. The construction of the Matrimandir has been entirely un-Vedic, and I shall deal with this in the next part of this essay. It may be argued that the Mother and Sri Aurobindo did not intend their work to follow the old patterns and that therefore the Matrimandir construction, even if it can be proven that it did not follow those ancient precepts, has every right to deviate from the norm. Further on in this series I will provide evidence to show that it was precisely through the plan the Mother gave for that temple that the Dharma was to be ‘reestablished’. I shall also discuss what exactly is implied in such an undertaking.
The other contemporary example of the ‘fecundated Womb’ vis-à-vis a temple refers to Ayodhya. The fear exists in certain quarters that soon construction will begin of the temple to Ram which is meant to replace the Babri Mosque. It is sustained by Hindus that the site of the mosque was formerly a temple which had been demolished in order for the Emperor Babar to build this mosque. Furthermore, it is held that the site is especially sacred insofar as tradition considers it to be the actual birthplace of Sri Ram.
I have dwelt on this to a certain extent in the Solstice Special Issue (included in TVN 6/5, December 1991). At this point I would simply like to refer to this question of Fullness versus Void and the hallowed formula for the proper construction of any Hindu temple which is that first the Womb (fecundated) must be installed and then all the rest arises out of that. In Ayodhya, if prevalent fears are to be played out, it would appear that the reverse has been the case: Hindus are preparing to start construction, it is believed, encircling the existent mosque and moving inward, pressing the mosque out perhaps. If such were the case, it could be held by the purists that the Vedic formulas are not being respected and misfortune will result. However, this state of affairs adds a deeper dimension to the surreptitious epiphany of the Ramlal idol in the mosque at the December solstice of 1949. The ‘void’ was then filled. The rest is academic.
It may also be pointed out that according to the true and profound Vedic tradition, the icon would not have ‘appeared’ where it did had there not been the prior womb-fecundation ritual in some form, as Prof. Ramachandra Rao describes, somewhere along the line. In my view this is the firmest proof that the site did indeed once hold a Hindu temple to that very God, or that the precise location was ‘fecundated’ by Ram’s very birth, corroborated now by the appearance of the icon. Given the nature of what we are treating, it is understandable that such matters are difficult to adjudicate in courts of law.
In addition to the above, there is then the question of measurements, proportions, and so forth, which conspire mathematically, geometrically, to create an atmosphere conducive to the lived Vedic experience. Foremost is the question of alignment. Every Hindu temple must respect a certain alignment. This is marked by the stumbha (skambha) or cosmic pillar positioned carefully before the garbhagriha. I do not intend to discuss this element in any great detail, though I would like to refer again to Prof. Ramachandra Rao’s text to illustrate that this Cosmic Pillar is perhaps the least understood of the adornments of the Hindu temple. He makes this clear when he writes… ‘The symbolism of the flag-staff is not clear in the textual accounts, probably because it was a late innovation and not a necessary involvement of the shrine’… He goes on to state that the staff was perhaps an addition brought in by the royal families or patrons of the temple. But further on he writes… ‘The flag-post is also magical in its significance. The texts assign Siva to the bottom of the post, Brahma to the middle portion and Vishnu to the top.’ (Ibid, pages 106-109.) My position on this is that this ‘skambha’ is indeed the least understood of the temple’s symbols because it holds the key to the Rigvedic yoga of alignment – a knowledge long lost.
A hint is given in the text, it would appear, to a far deeper significance of the stumbha when Prof. Rao mentions its connection with the Hindu Trimurti or trinity. Let me add to this that these directions and alignments are COSMICALLY oriented, and that is the point I wish to make here. The entire science of temple building is cosmic or drawn from the cosmic harmony. Thus in this, above all else, is demonstrated the entirely universal character of the Vedic Dharma. The devotee is thrust into a cosmic alignment and harmony when he or she enters the temple. This is no earth-bound direction such as Mecca, one of the most important features of the Islamic mosque. The mosque must be positioned in such a way as to permit the worshipper to turn toward Mecca during his prayers; and even when he is not praying in the mosque, he is obliged to respect this direction. Thus, a worshipper west of Mecca would face eastward, while a worshipper east of Mecca, say India, would face westward. Only Mecca is important as a direction, and it has no cosmic connection. If we add to this the importance of the brotherhood, which the mosque concept emphasises, we observe that two features of Islam separate it from Hinduism. This is the prominence of the brotherhood, and the orientation toward Mecca whenever and wherever it meets for prayer – that is, a point on Earth. In this light it is quite simple to deduce that the goal would be a brotherhood across the globe directed to this hallowed location, in contrast to the Hindu temple which focuses not at all on the congregation or the clergy and any earthly direction, sacred though it may be, but solely on the inner Divine, centre of the cosmos from any point in the universe where the individual stands who houses in his or her body a soul, a ‘garbhgriha’.
Thus we may very confidently state that the Vedic Dharma has spawned a galaxy of ‘exalted individuals’. Each such being is sacred. Each is holder of an inner ‘spark’ or Godhead, as the temple holds in its garbhgriha the divine Murti. On this basis alone it should be obvious that the Vedic Dharma is truly and compellingly universal by virtue of being so utterly riveted on the individual and the human soul. Similarly, to exclude a member of a caste or non-caste or foreigner or whosoever from entering such temples presents something of an incongruity. But even for the native of Bharat to fight for such a right is equally incongruous for the very reasons I have given above: in the Vedic Dharma ultimately there is nothing higher than the individual soul as the encasement of the Supreme. The Hindu temple simply reproduces this fact of existence. In one’s secret chamber, anywhere, any time, the Lover is one with the Beloved.
This is not to say that temples should be obliged to open their doors to everyone, that distinctions should be dissolved. The point is only that the right of distinction, while being a prerogative of the Third Principle, should not be exercised on the basis of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, ‘best’ or ‘worst’. They are simply manifestations catering to the great galaxy spawned by the Dharma. And finally, nothing is ‘higher’ on the horizontal circular plane of the Dharma’s ecliptic. Everything, in a perfect equality, converges on the Centre and owes its being to the single central Sun or ‘point’.
That Mysterious One, or the Axis Mundi
In all artistic expressions of India’s culture we observe the prominence of what I have called an ‘axial obsession’. This is to be noted in dance very clearly, in particular India’s purest expression, one of the most ancient forms of temple sacred dance still preserved on the subcontinent. This is Bharatnatyam, the ‘Dance of India’, native to Tamil Nadu where the dharma is ‘preserved’.
This special art form is obviously an enactment of certain specific alignments which are cosmos-inspired. That is, the human figure is used to express a certain relationship between the Earth and the heavens. But we cannot separate Bharatnatyam from sculpture in our analysis insofar as the human figure in dance takes the poses which we find to be the cosmic foundation of sculpture and adds to it movement. The two forms together offer a sort of complementation between rest and motion, essential components of the Truth-Consciousness whereby these opposites are harmonised in creation.
An interesting debate surfaces now and again in contemporary Indian society. It centres on what came first, dance or sculpture? That is, was it dance and movement that inspired the numerous sculptures we see gracing Hindu temples which are so obviously linked to dance, or vice-versa.
To illustrate, an article appeared in the Sunday Review of the Times of India, dated 5 January 1992, by Arahiya Sethi, entitled ‘Movement in Monument’. Reference is made by the author to an exhibition organised by a sculptor-dancer, Ramabali Kant. The issue the exhibition brought up was the above question. To prove that it was probably dance that inspired the sculptured sacred forms, the author refers to the Vishnu Dharmottara Purana in which Rishi Markandeya advises King Vajra ‘to learn first the laws of dancing before attempting sculpture, for only when the technique of movement in the living form is mastered can it be arrested in the plastic media.’ Sethi goes on to note that…
‘The sculptural quality of Indian dance is a reflection of the dancer’s aim of achieving the perfect balance as the climax to a series of movements. On the other hand, the profusion of dancing figures in Indian sculpture testifies to the sculptor’s fascination for the kinetics of Indian dance. In fact, one could go as far as to say that a relationship also exists between dance movements and poses, on the one hand, and architectural forms on the other. This view regards architecture as an extended form of sculpture. Hence while circular kinetics of Mohini Attam are mirrored in the rounded and squat temples of Kerala, the majesty of the gopurams of the temples in the south, is captured in the linear expression of Bharat Natyam. This brings up the question of inspiration – was it sculpture that inspired dance, or dance sculpture?’
I would like to state that the answer is not one or the other. Rather, we must inquire what spiritual realisation served to inspire not only dance and sculpture and architecture, but possibly every other facet of Indian culture and civilisation. This realisation, or yogic process to be more exact, is carefully noted down in the Veda; for example, in the hymns to Skambha, the cosmic pillar or axis mundi which I have quoted earlier from the Atharvaveda. But what is the reason for this ‘obsession with axes’? It is simply that axial alignment is the obsession of the Creator – or, as Hindu lore would have it, of Vishwakarma, the Divine Architect. We may be so bold as to state that being fashioned in His/Her image, it is only natural that a civilisation which has made the choice to live for that Principle and that alone, would seek to display this essential aspect of the Divine in all facets of its collective and individual existence. We note here a direct parallel with the philosophies of pre-Christian Europe and the Mediterranean area, for example Plato’s exclamation that ‘God always geometrises’ or that all is simply Number. Basing our analysis on the cultural works of the Vedic civilisation, the same conclusion must be reached.
To carry the analysis into wider vistas, we find that axial alignment, or indeed the coming into being of an axis in the first place, is the principal feature of the cosmic manifestation. This is to be verified in smaller cosmic bodies such as the planets, and in larger, i.e., the Sun. It is also the distinguishing feature of the very centre of our galaxy and indeed the supreme centre of all galaxies, in fact, wherever we find bodies in orbit of a central mass. This is simply because Skambha, that One, is the great secret of creation, the centremost principle of all that exists. It is, in fact, because of that centre, that Point, that any alignment came into being at all. Material creation begins with the Point which in turn is simply a crossing of cosmic directions. More specifically, it is the intersection of the vertical and horizontal dimensions. This means that it is the centre of the compressed 9/6/3 which forms the vertical direction and emerges in the material universe as the One from where that compressed essence extends, evolves, expresses itself in the material plane through time and space. More importantly, and this is the profound Secret of Secrets, or what in the Gita is called the ‘Secret Science’, the convergence and then the emergence of a centre indicates that a connection is made between this plane and ‘the other’, the Transcendent. The Point is thus the Immanent Transcendent, the Vast compressed to a point, a ‘seed’. The whole of material creation is then the organic evolution of That, of the triadic essence which is the basis of all material creation.
I shall quote some verses from the hymns to Skambha of the Atharvaveda to demonstrate the exactitude of the ‘science’ in those ancient times. The translation is Raimundo Panikkar’s and not having the original Sanskrit I must rely on his work. He has used the word ‘Support’ whenever ‘Skambha’ appears in the text:
‘…Toward whom does the rising Flame aspire?
Toward whom does the Wind eagerly blow?
On whom do all the compass points converge?
Tell me of that Support [Skambha] – who may he be?
‘Where do the half months and months together
proceed in consultation with the year?
Where do the seasons go, in group or singly?
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘Toward whom run the sisters, day and night,
who look so different yet one summons answer?
Toward whom do the waters with longing flow?
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘The one on whom the Lord of Life [Prajapati]
leant for support when he propped up the world –
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘That which of all forms the Lord of Life
created – above, below, and in between –
with how much of himself penetrated the Support?
How long was the portion that did not enter?
‘With how much of himself penetrated the Support
into the past? With how much into the future?
In that single limb whose thousand parts he fashioned
with how much of himself did he enter, that Support?
‘Through whom men know the worlds and what enwraps them,
the waters and Holy Word [Brahman], the all-powerful
in whom are found both Being and Nonbeing –
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘By whom Creative Fervor [tapas] waxing powerful
upholds the highest Vow, in whom unite
Cosmic Order [ritam] and Faith, the waters and the Word ‘’
Tell me of that Support – and who may he be?
‘On whom is firmly founded earth and sky
and the air in between; so too the fire,
moon, sun, and wind, each knowing his own place –
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘In whose one limb all the Gods,
thirty and three in number, are affixed –
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘In whom are set firm the firstborn Seers,
the hymns, the songs, and the sacrificial formulas,
in whom is established the Single Seer [the mystical sun] –
Tell me of that Support, who may he be?
‘In whom, as Man, deathlessness and death
combine, to whom belong the surging ocean
and all the arteries that course within him;
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘Of whom the four cardinal directions
comprise the veins, visibly swollen,
in whom the sacrifice has advanced victorious –
Tell me of that Support – who may he be?
‘Those who know the divine in Man
know the highest Lord; who knows the highest Lord
or the Lord of Life knows the supreme Brahman.
They therefore know the Support also.
‘The branch of Nonbeing which is far-extending
men take to be the highest one of all.
They reckon as inferior those who worship
your other branch, the branch of Being.
‘Great are the Gods who were born from Nonbeing,
yet men aver this Nonbeing to be
the single limb of the Support, the great Beyond.
‘The limb in which the Support, when generating,
evolved the Ancient One – who knows this limb
knows too by that same knowledge the Ancient One [original Principle]
‘It was from this limb that the thirty-three Gods
distributed portions among themselves.
Thus in truth only knowers of Brahman
are also knowers of the thirty-three Gods.
‘Men recognise the Golden Embryo [Hiranyagarbha]
as the unutterable, the Supreme.
Yet it was the Support who in the beginning
poured forth upon the world that stream of gold…’
Vedic civilisation is the only one in the world, from ancient times into the present, which has been audacious enough to strive to establish an entire society of this profound basis, this ‘support’, this Skambha. Panikkar’s translation of these splendid hymns lacks the insights the direct yogic experience gives which would permit a far more precise translation. Nonetheless, even a simple, literal version such as the above, suffices to help us in making the connections between the India of today and the ancient world as recorded in the Veda. As I am demonstrating, every aspect of India’s culture was a conscious, knowledgeable (and successful) attempt to reproduce, to recapture this axial fact of our existence in the numerous facets of collective and individual living. Everything else we know in the world is a lesser attempt, never having reached the purity of the Vedic inspiration. But preceding the actual visual, audial and plastic arts, there stands that supreme yogic achievement of Skambha and Agni, the axis mundi. This is the yoga detailed in the Rigveda. It is a knowledge long lost and which has resurfaced in this century with the appearance of the 9th Evolutionary Avatar, Sri Aurobindo, who was to initiate with his birth the reestablishment of the Vedic Dharma – that is, the restructuring of Indian society on those eternal and indestructible foundations. For this the Avatar, as Sri Ram and Sri Krishna before him had done, had to LIVE THE YOGA. In other words, to imprint this eternal truth on the evolutionary matrix of this 9th Manifestation. Sri Aurobindo had to rediscover that Vedic Yoga. His appearance as the 9 in the Solar Line was in the form of the Transcendent. His ‘sleep’ and awakening as the One is in the form of the Immanent Transcendent, or the Point, the One, the Centre, Agni. To render the realisation possible and complete, the powers of 6 and 3 were conjoined to the 9. And out of that Third the One was born.
This is the most profound mystery of creation. I have written earlier that it constituted the quest of the Alchemists of the West. This is clearly evidenced in the following Hermetic formula, taken from the dialogues between Maria Prophetessa and Aros (Isis and Horus?): ‘One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the One as the fourth.’ Translated into the formula of the new cosmology, this is the 9, 6, 3, and out of the 3 comes the l, who is the fourth in the Line.
The question therefore – What came first, dance or sculpture? – is meaningless. It is that yogic process of alignment and creation of a centre that is the seed-realisation and inspiration of everything we know in the Vedic universe. Similarly, when measures are lost and knowledge is obscured, it has to be the same Vedic process re-lived within the circumscribing conditions of this 9th Manifestation which is to form the basis for any correction or renewal of the things distorted or lost over the ages in between this 9th and the last, the 8th Manifestation of Sri Krishna, when he graced this planet in order to carry out a similar process. When there is talk of renewal in music or any of the other art forms in India, it must be understood that if we are to undertake a renewal, respecting the cosmic structure and processes of old which were the foundations of the things desired to be remade, then we can only do so by first living the Yoga of the Veda. We cannot expect to ‘put the cart before the horse’.
And inasmuch as alignment and centre arise from the fulness of that compressed Seed, again I must repeat, Indian civilisation, founded on the Veda, must struggle to fill the void ever and always. It means that in order to be in a position to function as a true civilisation held together by that mysterious and elusive Point (as ever it had been until the onset of this 9th Manifestation), it must accept that the Yoga of the 9, and 6, and 3, leading to the birth of the One who ‘fills the void’, is the essential ingredient for that to come about.
It is in this light that we are obliged to assess the condition of contemporary Indian society and the realistic possibility of ‘holding together’ when we are faced with a series of expressions on the subcontinent which cannot, by the rightful law of their being, find any point of convergence in the stream of the Vedic foundational plane. The question is then, Do we abandon that plane in view of the fact that there exists this apparently unreconcilable situation as a product of history which cannot be erased? Or do we proceed a step further and ‘put each thing in its place’?
To do this effectively we must recognise what is truly indigenous and what has come ‘from outside’ in, for example, some of the more popular expressions of dance and other forms of art. Kathak, for instance, is remarkably reflective of certain aspects of Spanish Flamenco Dance. Spain, as we know, was greatly influenced by Arabic/Islamic culture, Flamenco being perhaps one such product. It is not surprising therefore that, to a careful observer, Kathak of northern India, also influenced by Islamic culture, should bear some profound resemblance to Flamenco, both have been exposed to the same stream of inspiration. Or else we may take Hindi, officially adopted at the time of Independence as India’s national language. I have always felt that Hindi is to the subcontinent what Spanish is to Europe. They both give evidence of a certain virility and vital quality which distinguishes them from the other languages of their respective areas. The aspirated ‘j’ (jota) of Spanish recalls certain sounds of Arabic, for instance. We find similar sounds in Hindi which sets it apart from the languages indigenous to the subcontinent such as Tamil and Sanskrit.
But what exactly is the distinguishing feature of these particular modifications and influences, brought about by an Islamic wave which moved into the two countries at about the same period? It is that the expression is centred in the vital being (collective or individual, in the yogic sense) rather than the mental or even the physical. This indeed is the quality of Islam, and it can be traced to the Old Testament and the story of Abel and Cain, or the mental and vital principles and their eternal struggle for supremacy. Sri Aurobindo has expressed something of this order in his Thoughts and Aphorisms…
‘Christ came into the world to purify, not to fulfil. He himself foreknew the failure of his mission and the necessity of his return with the sword of God into a world that had rejected him.
‘Mahammad’s mission was necessary, else we might have ended by thinking, in the exaggeration of our efforts at self-purification, that earth was meant only for the monk and the city created as a vestibule for the desert.
‘When all is said, Love and Force together can save the world eventually, but not Love only or Force only. Therefore Christ had to look forward to a second advent and Mahammad’s religion, where it is not stagnant, looks forward through the Imams to a Mehdi.’
But we need not hark back to remote history or legend or scripture to assess the prominence of the vital centre in Arabic/Islamic culture. The contemporary scene is perhaps a better verification. For there is the question of energy, for example, the prime ‘purpose’ of the vital centre in the being of civilisation or in the individual constitution. This is clearly borne out by contemporary Arabia’s contribution to the world economy, its abundance of oil and the role this creates for it in international affairs. But for this commodity, Islamic civilisation would have been forced to play a far less significant role in this 20th Century. Thus, oil (energy) is vital to its international persona.
But there is another example of the vital-oriented structure of the civilisation, far purer and closer to the realm of the symbolic and the ‘symbol being the thing symbolised’. I refer to the Horse which is the animal symbol in almost all occult and esoteric traditions most expressive of the qualities the vital contributes to creation. The Veda makes this symbolism abundantly clear. Indeed, in ancient times the Horse was as sacred as the Cow, since together they represent the basic pillars of creation: Consciousness(Cow)-Force(Horse).
For the horse to fulfil its symbol role it must express its essential nature or its true dharma. This is speed, movement. In the cosmic harmony it is that formidable motion of all creation, because of which forms emerge and are held together. Thus speed is its attribute. There is no finer example of that quality than the English Thoroughbred, for centuries the only horse used for high-quality racing, – the ‘sport of kings’. But it must be noted that the foundation stock of the thoroughbred was entirely Arabian. The horse we know by that name today can be traced to a breeding experiment involving three of the finest Arabian horses in the second half of the 18th Century. It is also worth noting that this inter-civilisational mix which went into the production of this superb animal and highest expression of the Horse Dharma, was the same combination that entered the Vedic plane, Arabic and English. I may add by way of a clue to the future denouement, the Horse symbol and the vital centre hold the key to the resolution of the conundrum India faces in seeking to integrate these strands from beyond her borders.
Defining Hinduism, an exercise long overdue
Scholars and theologians have great difficulty in describing or defining Hinduism. We are all agreed that it does not follow the patterns all other religions follow, hence the difficulty in even labelling it a religion. But we persist in doing so simply because there is no other term or bracket in which to fit this unique manifestation of the human spirit. Most authorities on the subject offer banal definitions, in the West emphasising the Hindu belief in reincarnation as being one of the chief feature of the religion. This is entirely misleading but it is understandable since the yardstick for the assessment is always the known and well-structured Middle-Eastern religions, Judeo-Christianity and Islam, with which Hinduism has little in common and none of which believe in reincarnation. Hinduism is thus measured on that limited yardstick. In the process nothing of its true character is known. This is not only a problem in the West. In India itself one has difficulty in locating a real authority on the matter, for the reasons which I have been describing in this series: the principal features of the Vedic Dharma have become quite obscured over the centuries.
Sri Aurobindo stands perhaps alone in this century in giving a nearly perfect description of Hinduism, but not many have appreciated his work in this area or its import for the reestablishment of the Vedic Dharma. This may be due to the fact that his revelations reach back to the true Vedic foundation which is now to be rediscovered before anything of his writings can be properly comprehended. I shall quote portions from his Foundations of Indian Culture, Part III, Chapter l, where he defines Hinduism. It will then be more than evident that his definition follows meticulously the basic formula of the new cosmology, 9-6-3-0/1, which in turn is the formula revealing the birth-pattern of the Solar Line of which he is the initiator.
His definition begins with the overall unifying Principle, the Transcendent, which in this cosmology is the 9; from there he passes on to the Cosmic Divine, the number 6 in the cosmological formula, and then finally all converges on the Individual Divine, the 3. For Sri Aurobindo the core of Hinduism consists of this ‘formula’ and constitutes what he describes as a… ‘synthetic character and embracing unity’ which, if it is not grasped impedes us from understanding… ‘the whole meaning of Indian life and the whole sense of Indian culture’:
‘…And if we are asked, “But after all what is Hinduism, what does it teach, what does it practise, what are its common factors,” we can answer that Indian religion is founded upon three basic ideas or rather three fundamentals of a highest and widest spiritual experience. First comes the idea of the One Existence of the Veda to whom sages give different names, the One without a second of the Upanishads who is All that is, and beyond all that is, the Permanent of the Buddhists, the Absolute of the Illusionists, the supreme God or Purush of the Theists who holds in his power the soul and Nature, – in a word the Eternal, the Infinite. This is the first common foundation; but it can be an endless variety of formulas by the human intelligence. To discover and closely approach and enter into whatever kind of degree of unity with this Permanent, this Infinite, this Eternal, is the highest height and last effort of its spiritual experience. That is the first universal credo of the religious mind of India.
‘Admit in whatever formula this foundation, follow this great spiritual aim by one of the thousand paths recognised in India or even any new path which branches off from them and you are at the core of the religion. For its second basic idea is the manifold way of man’s approach to the Eternal and Infinite. The Infinite is full of many infinities and each of these infinities is itself the very Eternal. And here in the limitations of the cosmos God manifests himself and fulfils himself in the world in many ways, but each is the way of the Eternal. For in each infinite we can discover and through all things as his forms and symbols we can approach the Infinite; all cosmic powers are manifestations, all forces are forces of the One. The gods behind the workings of Nature are to be seen and adored as powers, names and personalities of the one Godhead… One may approach the Supreme through any of these names and forms with knowledge or in ignorance; for through them and beyond them we can proceed at last to the supreme existence.
‘One thing however has to be noted that while many modernised Indian religionists tend, by way of an intellectual compromise with modern materialistic rationalism, to explain away these things as symbols, the ancient Indian religious mentality saw them not only as symbols but as world-realities, – even if to the Illusionist realities only of the world of Maya. For between the highest unimaginable Existence and our material way of being the spiritual and psychic knowledge of India did not fix a gulf as between two unrelated opposites. It was aware of other psychological planes of consciousness and experience and the truths of these supraphysical planes were no less real to it than the outward truths of the material universe. Man approaches God at first according to his psychological nature and his capacity for deeper experience… The level of Truth, the plane of consciousness he can reach is determined by the inner evolutionary stage. Thence comes the variety of religious cult, but its data are not imaginary structures, inventions of priests or poets, but truths of a supraphysical existence intermediate between the consciousness of the physical world and the ineffable superconscience of the Absolute.
‘The idea of strongest consequence at the base of Indian religion is the most dynamic for the inner spiritual life. It is that while the supreme or the divine can be approached through a universal consciousness and by piercing through all inner and outer Nature, That or He can be met by each individual soul in itself, in its own spiritual part, because there is something in it that is intimately one or at least intimately related with the one divine Existence. The essence of Indian religion is to aim at so growing and so living that we can grow out of the Ignorance which veils this self-knowledge from our mind and life and become aware of the Divine within us. These three things put together are the whole of Hindu religion, its essential sense and, if any credo is needed, its credo.’
Reestablishment of the Dharma
Similar to the difficulty in defining Hinduism, we encounter a similar problem when assessing the true nature of what is known as a reestablishment of the Dharma, considered by Hindu tradition to be the work of the Ten Avatars. After this review of the foundational base of the Veda, it becomes easier to understand this most important feature of the tradition. Most assess the issue in moralistic or religious terms, according to the standards set by the structured religions of the world – a better human being and a better society, law-abiding, dutiful, responsible, caring, compassionate, and all the rest. But these qualities are not the issue at all when the time comes for this very special ‘reestablishment’. Indeed, the moralistic assessment is the way Mohandas Gandhi came to look upon the ‘Ramrajya’ (‘rule or reign of Sri Ram’) which he aspired to establish in India. Or else the present political and cultural organisations which have also adopted the Ramrajya slogan as their platform.
But none of this is pertinent to the reestablishment of the Vedic Dharma; and, to be more precise, there can never be an establishment of the reign of Sri Ram since his period was the 7th Manifestation of 10,000 years ago. Time does indeed move on. The reestablishment must take place in the soil of the contemporary India we know and in consideration of the accumulated experience of the civilisation over the past 2,000 years.
Neither Ram nor Krishna had to face the question of Fullness versus Void. In their respective Manifestations, this was not the central issue. After the rise and supremacy of Buddhist and Mayavadist philosophies and spiritual realisations, this acute problem lies at the root of the reestablishment simply because these avenues of experience have struck a blow at the very heart of the Veda itself, – that Core of Fullness upon which the entire edifice of the civilisation was built.
Whenever we encounter a target or goal that is ‘otherworldly’, then we know the void is its sustenance and it is an expression un-Vedic in essence. Every religion in existence today houses this Void by the mere fact that the goal is a heaven ‘above’, or ‘beyond’, and that life on this planet is but a passage through the fire, as it were, in order to reach that supreme Heaven. The position is one of a denial of the Earth herself, contingent upon which is a denial of the Goddess. Thus the movement is not inward, converging on the Core of fullness or garbhagriha. It is outward, dissolving in the Beyond. Hence we say that all these religious and spiritual postulations and realisations harbour the Void. And there is only one which does not. It is the Vedic Dharma.
For India, when the time of the appearance of the 9th (and 10th) Evolutionary Avatar arrives, it is the signal that the civilisation has reached a momentous crossroads and that the work to be done will not resemble that of the former Evolutionary Avatars but will conform to the demands of the Time-Spirit and the circumscribing conditions of this 9th Manifestation. Furthermore, and this is the most important point, we have reached the end of the Line. We are at the 9th and 10th stages of the Puranic Line of Ten. We understand by this that the Dharma has come full circle. All that has intervened from the time the first OM was chanted until today has resulted in a joining of the Serpent’s head and tail. That is, the reestablishment now, unlike in Ram and Krishna’s time, involves the very heart and soul of the Dharma. It lives on if the reestablishment is done and the real Satyayuga or Age of Truth (not Ramrajya) begins for the civilisation, or it perishes. There are only these two ‘possibilities’.
It must further be stated that a work of this order is carefully arranged. Nothing is left to chance. All is controlled, planned, foreseen. Let us then explore the avenues which have been given to the civilisation and its wisemen and women in order to secure the Victory. In so doing we must bear in mind that this closing of the circle implies that the reestablishment hinges in part on the resurrection of the Yoga detailed in the earliest Veda, and that without the successful accomplishment of that process there can be no question of any reestablishment. For India’s destiny is spiritually oriented, which means that it is on the basis of these yogic achievements first and foremost that anything beyond that can begin to express itself in the civilisation and society. I have demonstrated this regarding the arts and the necessity of a basic yogic realisation if any form of renewal is to come about in the ‘limbs’ of the yogic civilisational Body. The same may be said of any aspect of contemporary Indian life. And if a crossroads has been reached and we stand amidst tumbling ruins of all that appeared to be the ‘solid’ edifice of the new India, we must accept that what is collapsing is not founded on that original and indestructible Base. Therefore, we must make contact with That and allow it to reveal the contours of the true new India.
I propose in the next part of this series to dwell exclusively on the strategy and mechanism arranged for India in this 9th Manifestation to ‘reestablish the Dharma’. In the process we will explore more thoroughly the question of Alignment and Measure, by virtue of which ‘all things are made new’, to use the Biblical phrase.
February of 1992
Aeon Centre of Cosmology
(to be continued)