The Way to do is to be.
– Lao Tse
People should not consider so much what they are to do, as what they are.
– Meister Eckhart
I think the purpose of religion is to live life like a poem, To look carefully and see life, not to possess it, but to be it. To make life a sacrament. It is expressed in different way in different traditions. Traditions can seem to weigh people down, and yet the great sages of may traditions are uniquely individual.
In their uniqueness shines a perennial philosophy or sanatana dharma, which has always and everywhere been the metaphysical system of the prophets, saints and sages.
For example, in Hindu thought, the ultimate reality is the word principle (shadba-tattva) from which the whole cosmos manifests. Even for Westerners this should not be hard to understand. In Judaism words do things (“In the beginning God said, then it was so.”Genesis 1) and Christians claim Jesus is the Word “all things were made through him” (Jn 1:2).
In Hinduism the word is imperishable, the first born of truth. Mother of the Veda, hub of immortality.
The first creation is mahat, the intellectual principle, the seventh the creation of humans. The word is measured in four degrees (pada), three kept closely hidden (guhu nihita) and men speak only of the fourth degree of wisdom. This perception guides human life and culture.
But knowledge does not remain static. It multiplies like the deposition of knowledge like the layers of matter caused by a flood, and becomes a tradition, or Paramapala.
Tradition is extremely important in India, there are 18 classes of texts, expressed in samhita, or revealed hymns, Brahaman , a human composition of ritual acts, and Aranyaka, or rituals as symbols of hidden truth. The Upanishads mostly debate the aranyaka.
But Parampala is derived from pauranika the appearance and disappearance of knowledge. Perhaps some things have been buried under the weight of millennia of history.
At times it seems the individual has no part in Indian culture. Individuality seems alien and disruptive in a culture with scant regard for privacy where tradition forces a “correctedness” with others and an ever widening circles of family. However, in all social forces we find an equal and opposite reaction.
The great sages were very unique. So does tradition frustrate or inspire individuality?
Every tradition (paramaara) cycles through periods of ascent and decline. Sometimes because of contact with other cultures. The sages reveal that self awareness can recharge paramapara through the awakened individual. Greatness of a unique individual in the Gita is not his individuality in himself but the supra-individual that radiates through him as a channel of a greater energy.
While not a perfect fit, in the West one may think of the artists muse, or the divine spark within, speaking out.
But as the poet Jaishankar Prasad reminded us in the poem Kamayani, an ego centric and unrestrained individualism is the worst enemy of the person himself.
Or as the Gita says “Whatever a great man does, people will imitate, they follow his example.”
Which is why traditions grow and decline. A civilization can also stagnate in the weight of tradition.
An Ayurvedic Prescription: Individuality Vs Community
Ramesh Chandra Shah in Parampara and the individual, explains the word Vyashti does not quiet mean by individual person, (but is now used that way today) but contrasts with samashti, the monocentric human collective. He prefers the word abhivyakti to describe the modern worlds individuality.
Shah writes “Whereas Western civilizational values were threatened by the consequences of its own over-adventurism – by its own calculative enterprise of conceptual control of the universe, Indian culture, on the other hand, seemed to be threatened by its inertia and loss of creative self confidence.”
After the psychic onslaught of colonialism Indian paramapara has become congealed and dependent on defence mechanisms against the other, he suggests. Modern Indian Parampara is a response to secular western thought on tradition and modernity.
Shah tconsiders the Hindi poet, Agyeye, with his adaptive rather than a literal renderings, and T.S. Eliot who used the word Tradition closer to parampara, inclusive of the gifted individual. What is needed, he argued, is more the spiritually artist individuality to inspire Indian tradition. So Agyeye upgraded individuality to the principle of creativity and adventure or maulikata. To build a nation of critics. As Yeats described: “In dreams begin responsibilities.”
The secret is balance. A very Ayurvedic prescription. The disease of the West is an over active rajoguna.In the East, their is a weakening of the rajas and a preponderance of tamas. There is Uthi – a mere tradition hardened into a defence mechanism. Post mediaeval there is stagnation, what Sri Arobindu called “great poverty of life” in his “The Life Divine”.
Thousands of years earlier, in chapter 4 of the Gita, Krisna states he taught the tradition to Vivasvat who taught Manu but that over time it was lost.
But, a brighter side is possible if western ideas catalyse India’s own native capabilities.
In 1929 K C Bhattacharya spoke of a shadow-mind resistance to the “svaraj in ideas’ or what Mahatma Gandhi later called ‘our hard-hearted intelligentsia’. Looking at the virus of politicisation of every aspect of Indian life, with its unprecedented corruption, they seem right.
The individual can be thwarted by the shadow of tradition congeals into rurhi. On the other hand an overactive value- blind (mulya-marh) indviduality will cost the community and nation.
While initially helpful, the loosening of rurhi has turned against us and become counter productive.
However, as much as India has been maligned for her passivity , she is showing she does absorb new ideas.
How will we bring back the poetry to tradition and life?
Erich From in “To Have or to be” describes how Tennyson picks a flower and describes it, Basho sees it but does not touch it, and Goethe,” the great lover of life, one of the outstanding fighters against human dismemberment and mechanization” picks up the plant root and all and transplants it in his garden.
Each poetically describe a flower, Tennyson must have it, but kills the object he describes, all Basho does is “look carefully” to “see” it .Self knowledge gave the West Rilke and Holderline who sung of departed gods and mans homelessness. We want more than the rootless changing technology of the marketplace.
This deep experience being is central to Indian paramapara. Could it offer the West a sacred centre?
“It is the nature of wisdom to be illusion-proof and clear sited. It does not claim immortality for itself, but for that from which it emanates” writes Shah. It is what Yeats called “the great memory”.
Who has this inspiring Parampara?
The sages reveal that self awareness can recharge paramapara through the awakened individual. An individual self or jivatman who is illuminated through either intuition or discipline may realise the unity of being .
This is the unity sought by religion and civilization.
But there have been many modern sages. Yet we don’t say they gave us parampara, they revealled a parampara called a yoga and revolves around meditation. This contrasts with Heideggers descriptve metaphor s that nuclear fission is logical consequence of the West’s objective, calculative thought. It is atomistic. Individualism rather than individuality.
“What is the experience of the self where the duality between subject and object is lost and the individual artist becomes empowered to transmit the quintessence of a parampara in ever renewing forms of contemporary relevance?” writes Shah “The answer, it seems, is contained in the question itself, because it appeals to that highest common factor of all religions, that perennial philosophy or sanatana dhama, which has always ad everywhere been the metaphysical system of the prophets, saints and sages. “
Then he quotes Aldous Huxley from his Introduction to the his translation of the Gita:
“It is only in the act of contemplation when words and even personality are transcended, that the pure state of the Perennial Philosophy can actually be known. The records left by those who have known it in this way make it abundantly clear that all of them, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Hebrew, Taoist, Christian, or Mohammedan, were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable Fact.”
That is the source of Paramapara?
“But the struggle of the individual towards this paramparika wisdom – the live process as well as attainment – is nowhere better exemplified than in the work of the artists and the poets. It’s this kind of internal evidence that speaks directly to us in our confusion and distress, because it’s the poet, the artist, who shares not only our aspirations to Unity of Being, but also our fragmented existential condition.”
As William Butler Yeats wrote:
Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
(Among School Children, from The Tower, 1928)