Friday, July 07, 2006


Shortly after reading James’ poem I wrote him:

At this morning's Mahabharata reading, Prof Lal also read from the Buddha's "Fire Sutra" (sutra means sermon). This brought to mind the resonance of your poem "World Without End" to the Fire Sutra. As a student of Eng Lit, you are aware of the "Fire Sermon" section of Eliot's Waste Land (which I first saw and read in the Eliot volume in your room in London!).

I found and read the Fire Sutra six years ago. I am attaching an extract from it.

The core scripture of "High Hinduism", the Vedas - expressions of revealed knowledge of the pastoral Aryan settlers, who are believed to have entered India and subjugated and enslaved the Dravidian inhabitants - has much to do with yagna or sacred fire sacrifice. An elaborate ritual, where a small fire is lit (using twigs and dried cow dung cakes) and flamed by offering successive leaf-spoonfulls of clarified butter and other ritual materials, to the recitation of sacred mantras and symbolic gestures, connoting inner purification through the process of worship based on ritual offerings.

Sankara, the great 9th century St Augustine-like figure who re-engineered Hinduism into its present form, in his commentaries on the Upanishad (ancient Indian metaphysical visions) reference to "the seven life breaths", explains this in terms of the seven organs of sense (two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and the mouth).

They are compared to seven different sacrificial oblations. The enlightenments produced by their activity are the flames of the sacrifice; the objects which supply their action, the fuel. Every sense moves in an appropriate world of its own; but they are all coordinated by the mind, which is located in the heart. (All this is also part of the "Tantra" worldview, of the individual's connection to the cosmos through different inner centres of energy, and the journey of the kundalini, the serpent coiled at the base of the spine, through these centres, beginning from the groin and culminating in the crown, to its release and connection with the Absolute.)

Sankara and his brahminical vedic Hinduism is also of course associated with the sanctification of caste, commensality and untouchability. And tantra was also essentially a knowledge of the folk shaman. High Hinduism and folk shamanism fuse together in India, and its not possible then to say what is high and what is low, or even who colonised whom.

Sorry to unload all this on poor you!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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