Thursday, June 15, 2006
THE BLADE OF WHEAT AT THE END OF THE WORLD
"Swamiji, what happens to the Creator's desire for creation to know him through attaining self-realization as human beings if an irreversible wave of climate change leads to the extinction of our species on this planet?"
There were audible gasps in the full hall of listeners. Mine was a frightening, but good question.
Swami Paramanand, supposedly a realized being himself, answering in Hindi responded, "Do you know creation?"
Chastened by the knowledge of all that I did not know, I replied, "Sounds like what God said to Job out of the whirlwind."
Swami Parmanand went on to mime a stalk of wheat. "What happens when the stalk ripens to maturity?" he asked.
"It is harvested," Job replied.
The Swami nodded his head. Just so the world when it has run its course, and thus our species when it's race is run, whether the divine lila - the game that God plays by hiding Himself in all creation, as the Upanishad playfully details - is fulfilled or not.
As Swami Parmanand held his forearm to the the sky, I was struck by the homology with the Eleusinian mysteries, where the priest holds up a blade of wheat to be sacrificed, Demeter sacrificing her daughter Persephone, to be reborn as spring. Both the Dionysian and Christian mysteries replay this ritual. I suddenly realized that now the swami was extending our local imagery - local to the West and to the planet, to the universal dance of death and rebirth, universe after universe.
The swami went on. "Do you know the purpose for which you were born?"
Damn. They always got to this, these teachers. Even the casual Hindu fellow traveler on the train would ask, "And what is your purpose, my goodsirrh?" My purpose, from the standpoint of Vedanta and a line of sages stretching back at least 3500 years was the Hindu version of know thyself. Become realized yourself, and stop worrying about creation, the earth I was trying to save.
"Swamiji, I understand what you are saying. But I don't accept this with the same equanimity as a realized being."
Swamiji nodded again, smiling. At least the aspirant knew where things stood. And I knew that even if I were the Last Man on Earth, this was my purpose.
After the question period ended Swamiji's translator Sunil approached and asked if Swamiji's answer had been sufficient for me.
"Yes, Sunil, because while in India as a young man, I learned a metaphysical context for what Swamiji said." He smiled and nodded, satisfied that the cryptic response had done it's job. The wheat dies, but if it is not realized yet, then the universe is born again, and sentience has another chance to play the game of Realization. It's all alive, it's all God and all matter has interiority. The interiority ultimately is the Self that created it, which periodically retires unto itself (the sleep of Brahma), either satisfied that it is fully known by sentient matter, or else creates the universe anew at another moment of extroverted Spirit.
Swami Paramanand reminds me of the same task that has confronted me since meeting Maurice Frydman, Krishnamurthi's sparring partner in Bombay, in 1968. The purpose of my life, from a Vedantist perspective whose truth I cannot deny, is to know the Self, not to save the earth. But on the other hand, one wears the sword as long as one can. And I want to write with that sword about what it feels like to see the human template slip back into potentiality, the web of life shredded as we flail our way to oblivion.
This is about despair, celebration and joy, humor and irony, divine lila fully occupying every space of creation. It is mind-boggling to think that our place in the Great Dance of Creation may soon vanish, but the Hindu metaphysics of my hippy-saddhu youth has permeated me. I think the West, both the scientists and the Abrahamic priests, has got it wrong. You don't "only go 'round once." As a Buddhist friend said in the face of the immolation of a Himalayan city by hydro-dam builders a decade ago, "Kali Yuga is the end of an era, not the end of time."Brahma may well be making his preparations for sleep once again. Meanwhile, I want to observe and record how we respond to the greatest challenge we have ever faced. And I will continue to celebrate my own dance of creation even as I do everything I can to reduce my eco-footprint, come what may. Courage, friends...
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