Brahmasrii Dr K C Varadachari
MYTHOLOGY AND MODERNISM
It is usual to deride mythology in modern times. It is considered to be the hand-maid of superstition which like its comrade mysticism invades only primitive minds. It is declared to belong to the ‘Tribal Horizon’ that preceded the ‘Prophetic Horizon’ according to Dr. John Murphy, the Professor of Comparative Religion, Manchester University. The Tribal horizon is given to strong imagination; it is mythopoetic and given to dramatization; using images it aims at wish-fulfillment through dramatic imitation rather than prolonged thought. Indeed professor Bergson has also stated that since imagination is one of those strong traits of the primitive man by which he conjures up perhaps more fears than joys, raises up more spirits than ever can people the globe, it must be considered to be different in kind from the imagination which we call scientific and logical, involving abstract thought and concepts and an
awareness of the ethical principles involved in abstract justice, love and law. He calls this the myth-making function which is a virtual instinct. This myth-making function which is considered to be the primitive method of response, instinctive and not intelligent, hangs round the edge of intelligence as fringe. We must also know that instinct strives to preserve the social fabric or solidarity whereas intelligence, seeking individuality, almost seeks to break up this solidarity. But as Nature is more concerned with society, than with the individual, we find that in advanced societies wherein intelligence has assumed the prominent and dominant role, the solidarity of society is sought to be achieved in two ways; through the virtuality of the instinct as myth-making function, or through intelligent planning. But more often than not the more elemental force gathers strength and the residue of instinct which survives on the fringe of intelligence, which cannot exercise direct action however, informs intelligence and side-tracks and defeats the intelligence itself. There is strength in this manifestation, but it is a strength that diverts or deviates the course of ascent of élan. As such it is something to be carefully guarded against. Mythology
is a substitute for action, even as drama or poetry may be considered to be. This is the general thesis of Bergson.
We must note in this connection, that intelligence is as much social as instinct, but its methodology of integration of social life is radically distinguished from the animal organization – which works on the principle of an invisible anastomosis, especially amongst the bees, white ants and ants. But what intelligence seeks is the free intercourse of minds based on intelligence. Another act of the matter that has to be noted about mythology, or rather when one takes up the mythological as real, is what has not been considered. We know that the best example of mythology which has developed at great and prolific length after having reached the horizon prophetic is Hinduism. Other mythologies have undoubtedly been prior to the proliferation of thought which discovered the One Unity of the Divine in the abstract concepts of Rta, Brahman, Vak, as what in Greek philosophy the Being, the Nous, the principle of love, repulsion, attraction, and cause. The Hindu thought, it is said, fell down to the ritual
mysticism during the period of the Brahmanas but resuscitated itself during the period of the Upanisads which again underwent a development in Buddhism on the one side and degradation in popular Hinduism in the other. Later however it again lifted itself up in the pure philosophy of Sankara, where the concepts of mythology were completely ruled out and thought in its sheer conceptuality was enthroned. Thus true mysticism – conceptual mysticism of intelligence became the pinnacle of our philosophy.
We must ask ourselves whether this is religion also, for it is constantly stated that ‘a religion without God’ and mythology would be beyond human mind and intelligence. Religion when it is merely the struggle for liberation from all bonds of perception and practical conduct undoubtedly does not need a God for its attainment. Thought in its rigid self-introspection and attaining the supreme concept thorough negation of all that it is not, will have arrived at that final concept through supreme effort of thought itself. As Plato stated it ‘Religion is the consummation of wisdom in self-knowledge’. Philosophy ends in the vision of the
eternal Ideas or Idea. But theology looks to the Knowledge of God. Religion should embrace both. Thus wrote Paul Elmer more interpreting the Religion of Plato.
Thus we find that philosophical thought finally realizes the highest concept. It is the business of Religion in a sense to make that concept the guiding star of our conduct in relation to ourselves and in relation to others. This involves the belief in the possibility of the application of that High Concept into practical life which in social. The universal dispersal of this concept into each and everything, or what is known as the sense of pervasion of all creatures by the Divine which makes them our own selves, one with us, is possible only through theology. How has the One become the Many? The problems of philosophy are the realizations of the impossibilities of conceptual solutions. It would perhaps not do to say that ‘All things are full of mystery (enigmation), both in poets and in philosophers. And for my part, I like rather their spirit of reverence towards the truth than the boldness of the moderns. For of matters dimly perceived by human
weakness the more becoming interpreter is Mythology’ said Maximus of Tyre.
Theology without mythology leads to a strange production. But have we no criterion by which we could understand mythology? It is not likely that there are two kinds of mythologies as I have hinted, the mythology that proceeds from the height of intellectual Understanding and the mythologies which are fancies and fantasies of minds seeking the satisfaction, through day-dreaming and dramatization, which are substitutes for action and thought in its rigid logical spin? The failure of most thinkers later on to understand the mythological references in the Vedic and Brahmanic literature (for even at the stage of the Brahmanas we find the lack of a sure understanding of the original figures, resulting in numerological mysticism, ritual mysticism, ritual mysticism, and sacrificial mysticism, must be considered tragic. The Upanisads, especially the smaller ones, gave up the pursuit of mythology whilst the Puranas involved themselves in continuous mazes. There is a tragedy in the myth-making function, which whilst it seeks to illustrate a profound experience,
and where it is not merely for the sake of story-weaving or mere dramatization, and is didactic, different, from the kind even there from the stories known to us as Pancatantra it proceeds from a level altogether different from the ‘fringe’ of instinct that hangs to the intelligence.
We should proceed on certain assured lines in respect of mythology. It would not be wrong to deny that, after all, language seeks to represent experience of the physical objects. The interrelationships, which are observe, between objects give rise in intellectual beings of lower order just the realization of that particular relationship between two similar objects and nothing more. He is particular-minded. But a higher intelligence would be able to deal with any two objects provided the relationship is perceived. The intelligence focuses itself not on objects but on the relationships. It is possible that the myth-making function seizes upon this aspect of intelligence, and at once encloses it in its dramatization and novel-constructions, constructiveness being also as instinct. This is to particularize the relationships. Escaping from this particularizing of the relationships intelligence seeks to
discover the rationale of all relationships and seeking to minimize its multitude. This the myth-making function finds it difficult to follow up. But it has also its substitute simulacrum, the mana, the Numinous of Rudolf Otto; but as will be seen this is a power not a concept, and not a relationship. But thought also attains a virtual abandonment of all relationships in the totally Absolute Relationless Existence, within or without according to some mystical thinkers like Sankara and Bradley, but some philosophers hold that it is the internally related to Absolute. Thus we are pressed to accept the mythological or instinctively mythological figure of a universal power on the one hand, and on the other, a concept of highest value to thought or intelligence. Religion as Theology had to solve the riddle, and it tried it by reducing power to the level of Avidya, subordinate to the concept, which is the Vidya.
Philosophy may be forced to evaluate and super-evaluate the conceptual understanding of reality, where the concepts may have an essential existence or more properly non-existence; but it is true that theology or the science of God has either to transvalue the concepts by
revealing these concepts as intrinsic to experience or else discover a host of other concepts which will reveal the laws of the consciousness known as religious, which is persistent and elemental, to which man reverts after each defeat of thought, and from which he escapes only to be reminded of the reality fundamental to experience. It is in mythology that this elemental structure of reality is retained and acts as the powerful lever to conduct. But the dangers of an unenlightened mythology or an escape-mythology are great, and would profoundly affect our ascent into rational existence and through it to a spiritualised and divinized consciousness. It is the business of a philosophy of religion to rescue the discrimination, never wanting in the ancients, but which has been cut adrift and lost in the movement of history that has but preserved that which was as near aboriginal as possible. The value of a critical analysis of mythology which would sift the true from the mass of untrue and instinctive rationalizations would be enormous. But what shall we be guided by in this effort? It may be asked. Our answer is that the apparatus we shall construct shall not be merely the ‘consensus of opinion’ or agreed-similarities of the
manifestations of the mystico-mythological fancy all over the world. Indeed the solar mythologism that prevailed in all periods and in all stages of mankind will point to the grave dangers of linking up the advanced with the primitive manifestations of the Solar Myth. Nor should there be the obsession that all the Puranas in the East and higher religions are true and have to be accepted till disproved. Rather it should be the other way about. In the name of super-spiritual experience the ancient fancies come in and are spread by the followers with a zeal and pseudo-rationality that imperils the fuller and finer under standing of pure mysticism. The ‘Education’ or drawing out of the rational and casual principles and morphological principles from the structure of spiritual experiences of every order to which eminently belong the mythologies of higher religion, is the desideratum. The concept of Avatar for instance, is a crucial example of the grace of the Divine illustrated in a variety of ways as the incarnation of the Divine as Son, as Lord Saviour, or Teacher and Prophet, in almost all the Higher Religions. The mythical stories woven round these figures, conceptualized or otherwise, and the creation of
personas about them bearing names strongly reminiscent of the part they play in the eternal drama of individual life are palpably patent.
The truth is that the human mind is, as intelligence, rational; it will revert to reason provided it is given the chance. But it is also willing to experiment with truth and learn from the errors of its ways, and be stronger and more vigorous for every renewed adventure. It also probes and learns. Mythology of the higher order always whets its explorative fantasy; and the business of a philosopher may be, as M. Bergson has come to see in his last work, forced to clear the path of torrential mystic force of all the weeds of ‘closing mythos’, not indeed of all mythology, for his story reads like a Modern Myth of the Elan Vital with its threefold vyuhas of instinct, intelligence and intuition, but of all that have the inherent power of enclosing and stepping down the energy of growth of more and more widening consciousness.
A Science and philosophy of mythology thus seems to be necessary.
RABINDRA NATH’S PHILOSOPHY & RELIGION
Rabindranath is one of the most seminal thinkers of the modern age. His traditional roots are in the Upanishads and this is amply testified in his works Personality, Religion of Man and Sadhana. His poetry stems out of the deep and abiding inspiration that the Upanishads had on him. Unlike the Vedantins who had endeavoured to reach the Ultimate through Jnana (textual and scriptural knowledge) which has been the dogma of the Advaitins of the Mayavada school mainly, his approach has been from the Vaishnava view as he has himself stated of Rasa or bliss. This is not the ordinary poetic view which seeks to discover tastes (rasa) either in Nature or in Man or in technique or in expression. His notable aim was to make rasa a means to realization, bliss as a pramana towards infinite accomplishment and attainment. The intuitive realization that aesthetic intuition goes beyond the
intellectual institution itself has been about the most important discovery of Rabindranath.
It did not come to him all at once but it did gather up because of the growing intensity of aesthetic enjoyment in Nature and Man which was stimulated along with the profound contemplation of the wisdom of the Upanishads, One of the Upanishads indeed had revealed that the highest is Ananda-Bliss, and that it was a status of reality higher than vijnana and manas and prana and annam. In other words, the ultimate reality was of the Order of Bliss, a term that was the Ultimate of Saccidananda and synonymous with the anantam(infinity). The means to realize this ultimate nature of Reality is not something to be sought outside of itself: not through reasoning but by means of bliss itself should this be known. How to make bliss the means to Bliss is the problem of problems.
Bliss as a means to Bliss as the end is through the realization of beauty, a growing perception of the beautiful in nature and all. Philosophers of science may use perception as the sensory means to know the nature of a thing outside. This sensory perception is
invaluable for science. But beauty is a perception of the beautiful in the sensory and the perceptual activity of the bliss-activity or the beauty is what penetrates underneath the superficial form and grasps the symbolic or the suggestion of the Infinite in each percept. This requires a moulding of oneself in the intuitive change towards perception or of perception so as to release the symbolic and the Ultimate out of the sensory.
Once this dynamic nature of the bliss-governed perceptual activity was seized upon for interpreting Reality the whole world became a changed or transformed world or transfigured world. The meaningless world of philosophic intellectuals (maya) became a bliss world of meaningfulness (lila). The world-negational philosophy found its refusal in the world affirmation of Rabindranath. It is not the negational aesthesis of the bhakti schools of certain kinds but the affirmative aesthesis of the New World of mystics. The world regained its own meaningfulness as the field of Godly activity, existing for the Godly activity.
Rabindranath applying the method of aesthetic intuition, amply supported by the Upanishadic, in his Hibbert Lectures, entitled ‘Religion of Man’, as also his Andhra University Lectures on Man, has projected a poetic speculation of the creative process. It is highly suggestive through it cannot be considered to be a real account of the creative process; indeed it is neither a creative evolution nor an emergent one. It is, however, a most suggestive methodology of approach towards a constructive appraisal of the evolutionary or creative process. The ordinary Vedantin hardly realizes that by his theory of deterministic or rather planned and formulated creativity all that happens is but the manifestation of the already prefigured. A true creative act would rather bring into being novelties and every instant of creativity will be a miracle of self and thus give meaning to infinity. Rabindranath rather considers the creator to be a great experimentalist, first experimenting with quantitative extensities of infinity, and thus having produced the gigantic monsters and creatures of the early epochs of evolution in Nature and then having found that quantity cannot be truly representative of Infinity, experimented with and is
perhaps experimenting with quality. The qualitative infinity that has resulted in the discovery of evolution of man has led to the freer manifestation of delight that is the secret of all existence, sustaining both. Matter and mind thus have evolved when these two were organized into being one being and for One being. This is the secret evolution of the Organic Man who has not merely the characteristics of the creature but also the more significant nature of creator as well.
This genuine discovery of the twofold nature of man reveals a new dimension in ontology viz., the concept of personality, as a twofold character creator-creature, the universal-particular tensions operating towards a dynamic creative synthesis known as beauty or Ananda.
The discovery of this magnitude was hardly developed purely in the religious on inn the philosophic fields. Indeed it is strange that it rather found expression in the usual idealistic and aesthetic jargon quite prevalent about the period, that is to say, the first thirties of the 20th century. In the modes of poetic expression and sadhana preparatory to this aesthetic
valuation and creativity, we find Rabindranath experimenting with all that makes this distillation and expression of Ultimate beauty possible. Undoubtedly, the chief strength and genius of Rabindranath did not take up the epic mode of expression which demands a universal vision and an altogether universal creativity like that of Sri Aurobindo. Grand though the manner of life of Rabindranath, this grand epic mode of expression was not his natural ground. His is a more spontaneous homeliness in the Iyrical moment and the fragment in which was revealed the symbol and meaning and message of the eternal. His operative vision was circumscribed to the excellence of the insignificant significant or universal-to behold eternity in an hour and infinity in a flower. The Isavasyopanisad, which Rabindranath so much loved, had suggested beholding the Divine in every thing and everything in the Divine; it had also insisted that one should behold the Divine as having become each and every single thing in the Universe. To this truth Rabindranath dedicated himself, and every little thing was verily the womb of infinity. This extraordinary perception it is that has begun to work with such subtle refinement in his consciousness,
so much so, he could behold the beauty secret and occult in everything.
That this supreme Infinity is a personality is the doctrine of the Mystical Vaishnavas all over. The All-pervading divinity in so far as he could be discovered and enjoyed in each and everything reveals a personality-nature that is of course different from the concept of person in western thought. The aesthetic approach of creative personality is unlike the theological and the dogmatic. It is learnt that Rabindranath did not so much relish the cast-iron rigidity of the dogmatic and speculative intellectual monists and dualists and so on. The dynamic reactivity of the personality (of the Divine as the human) demands an organic conception which will reveal the dynamic unity of the supreme Divine (Universal) working through the individual or particular infinity of Beauty granting the undiminishing experience of Ananda. This is the auspicious, Shivam, and harmonious, sundaram. Rabindranath more and more inclined to the Visistadvaita conception of the relation between the Divine Personality or God and the
individual according to one of the philosophers of Visvabharati.
Indeed the philosophical system of Visistadvaita garnered upon the bhakti-mysticism of the Alvars was truer to the bliss-conception of Reality than the intellectual mysticism of Advaita that exalted the impersonal. Personality is focal to reality in Aesthetic mysticism whereas the impersonal is the reality for the monistic. The concept of the Purusha, later modified into Purushottama when the individuals were being realized as purushas, and the triple type of purusha was formulated by the Gita as Kshara, Akshara and Purushottama, happened to be the all-absorbing concern of the theism of Brahmoism to which Rabindranath belonged.
The Supreme Purusha is the ever-present presence in everything which sustains everything by bliss Ananda, and this is the highest truth which can liberate all that is best in each and everything, subjective or objective. Know that everything is sustained by the Bliss, Ananda that is higher than intelligence and higher than truth: - Anandam, Brahmeti
Vyajanat says the Upanishad. Anando vai rasah: it reiterates. By this double emphasis is realized the unity of the Ultimate as the one that has to be attained-the parama purushartha. Rabindranath’s liberation is not through renunciation of the anandanubhava but by acceptance that all these verily are Brahman. Freedom or moksa is not restricted to the liberation from the cycle of births and deaths which is more of the order of escape; it is the creative activity that releases the Divine in the Nature and in man and manifests the unique union of the eternal and the immortal in the mortal and the fragment. It is not to see the whole steadily and as whole: it is rather the freeing of the ignorance that blinds us to the actual manifestation of the infinity in each and every thing in the manifested world. This freedom for creative being in each individual is verily moksa for it grants bliss, refined pleasure and happiness.
It is more easily through art that one releases one’s identity with the Divine: for it is at the basis, creativity, that is common to the Divine and the human artist. To utilize this granted freedom, ultimately in every other area of life, is one of the profoundest techniques
discovered by man. Freedom cannot suffer abridgment in the process of true creativity. To suffer any abridgment in this regard is to annihilate the very nucleus of being of the individual. Thus artists are in a true sense liberators. Rabindranath was thus a strenuous worker for liberation of man from the thraldom of life to all unliberating influences; to expand the area of freedom for true creative advance had been on of his great aspirations. But, as in every thing, it demands the education towards creativity. Men must have faith in their inward creative freedom in all sectors of human activity.
Moksha which has been the aim of all religious thought was surely to be attained by practicing this liberty of expression in art, not in the sense that one could create as one likes but one who could create the infinite in each one of his works. This may not strictly take on to that freedom from the samsara and cycle of rebirths and ignorance. However it gave a new meaning to moksa: what it should do and could do.
Rabindranath’s philosophy thus centres round the basic discovery of man not only as the bearer of
value but as the creative-creature of the Universe in and through whom the Ultimate Creator or Man realises the continuous revelation of free freedom through Art. Illusionism is not the meaning of the universe nor bare freedom: the universe is the lila, play of bliss, which is the one essence or Rasa of Existence. Realisation of the artistic life is the fulfillment of the philosophic life as well. In this creativity of Art there is detachment from the purely physical perspective and apprehension and awareness of an integral organic enjoyment of the Divine and the human. Though it is not humanism yet in Rabindranath there is the incorporation of the human in the Divine Man, which makes man attain the sense of perfection as well as freedom and bliss.
In India, philosophy and religion have commingled even as theory and practice; one sustains the other. The philosophical thought of Rabindranath proceeding as it did from the aesthetic Ultimate and aesthetic intuition, developed a religion of beauty, of creative worship of the One Divine at the back of all creation. “Let me assert my faith by saying that this world, consisting of what we call animate and inanimate things, has found its culmination in man, its best
expression, Man, as a creation, representing the Creator, and this is why of all creatures in has been possible for him to comprehend this world in his knowledge and in his feeling and imagination, to realize in his individual spirit a union with a spirit that is every where. (Religion of Man, p. 103) ‘My religion is a poet’s religion. All that I feel about it is from vision and not from knowledge” (ibid, 107) “The man whose inner vision is bathed in illumination of his consciousness at once realizes the spiritual unity reigning supreme over all differences. His mind no longer awkwardly stumbles over individual facts of separateness in the human world, accepting them as final. He realizes that peace is in the inner harmony that dwells in truth and not in any outer adjustments. He knows that beauty carries an eternal assurance of our spiritual relationship of reality, which waits for its perfection in the response of our love” (ibid. 108)
Thus the religion of the poet-artist achieves a union with reality that profoundly makes reality near to man-a man’s reality so to speak. It is to the nearness of Man that the religion of Rabindranath leads and to harmony that is dear to the heart of man. What a
religion of the intellect achieves as a deistic Creator, the religion of the poet brings into the heart of man for adoration and love, service and worship. Thus it becomes possible for the poet to claim that the answer to the Vedic poet’s query ‘Which God shall I adore? to Whom offer our oblations that one offers to the God in man, in every thing and fragment. Thus a deep wonder and love well up towards all that is God’s. To serve God in man through the realization that in all is God Himself possessing and enveloping all-Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat.
Thus the Religion we need is the Religion of Man (God in man) according to Rabindranath Tagore, the great creative artist of India during the beginnings of this Twentieth Century, whose Centenary of Birth we are celebrating this Year.
The Philosophy of Kabir follows the path of devotion enunciated in the earlier scriptures. The central feature of this path is the realization that God is the self of all creatures. The universe is the body of God, the souls are the temples of the Absolute Spirit. God is accessible, adorable, is nearer than anything else to man, is capable of being known, enjoyed and entered into. The path of devotion comprises two divisions, bhakti and prapatti. The distinctive feature of the prapatti, which is taught by the Gita, is that it means seeker’s refuge in the Divine Godhead by means of integral surrender. It is the way of unselfing which entails the act of making God the sole enjoyer (Bhokta) and controller and sovereign of oneself. It combines the path of devotion with the reign of Grace. Whilst bhakti, like other yogas namely jnana and karma, lays stress on the fitness of the individual (adhikara), a fitness
is for all practical purposes determined by his birth and status, in prapatti there is no such restriction. The only fitness is the possession of the ardent unquenchable desire for release, for being saved. It is for all those without any distinctions of caste or creed or faith, whose hearts are sore and bleeding, who have nothing at all, akincana, who are weak, weary and poor. Ramanuja taught both the paths as paths that lead to deliverance.
Kabir is the direct inheritor of this prapatti tradition through Swami Ramananda, who was well-known as a devout and scholarly teacher of the doctrines of Sri Ramanuja, who settle down at Kashi (Banares). Kabir was born in1398 A.D. He lived for 120 years. Kabir was born of a poor Mohammedan weaver’s family, but was very early inclined to the worship of Sri Rama. Kabir could not got initiated directly by Ramananda, and it was by means of a ruse that he got initiated. Kabir placed himself on the steps of the ghat that Ramananda used to frequent for his bath in the early hours of the morning, and Ramananda unwittingly treading on Kabir muttered thrice the holy
name of Rama, as was his habit and lifted up Kabir, who in exultation announced himself initiated as disciple, Ramananda was glad. This appears to be almost the first real conversion of any one of another faith into the Hindu-fold. Kabir however used to say that both Rama and Allah meant the same Absolute Personality of god.
Kabir’s acquaintance with Hindu scriptures is much more close than with Islamic thought. Not even Sufism seems to have influenced him much. Kabir practiced the trade of the weaver and lived simply. He also travelled much over North India. He performed miracles too. His life was one constant watch against all types of restrictions and superstitions, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, He had to undergo the usual trials incidental to realization of the Absolute, ridicule, repression and finally respect was gained. Kabir composed and perhaps sang his hymns and poems. Kabir was a poet of beauty. His poetic compositions are called Bijak and comprise Ad-mangal, Ramainis, Sabads, and others. Tagore, our Nobel Laureate, has translated some of his most beautiful pieces.
Kabir’s philosophy of Reality comprises two important features. First and foremost like the other mystics he stresses the importance of the conception of God as the benevolent transcendent Godhead, the Para, and Isvara, who is the true releaser of man from samsara. This godhead could be contacted by means of sincere dhyana on the sacred name learnt form the Guru. This Sacred name leads to the realization of the Godhead within and one finds oneself as coming from the Unconditioned, Para transcendent Being Himself. Kabir says “Now have I come from the Unconditioned; I was bodiless, I took body and I came; In this body I am called Kabir. The Swan1 which has been separated from birth to birth I came to raise him up. I was called the unseen Purusa, Maker, Immortal. With all my body I belong to the sat-lok. I dwell in every heart. Kabir says Hear “O brother sadhus! I have manifested the true name”. these words said to have been spoken by Kabir even as an infant, reveal that the Divine who was Para incarnates in the individual soul and even assumes the name of the soul, and if the individual understands that he is indeed different from his body and has Isvara’s
1 The swan is the discriminating Soul i.e. himself. RELIGION – KABIR 261
grace his salvation is sure. The constant repetition of the Lord’s name is the means to the realization of the unity with Brahman, who is Hari and who is indwelling in all forms and things, and keeps them as His temple. The realized soul is indeed the temple of God.
Om Tat Sat