Monday, August 07, 2006


The Bejeweled Universe

Food and scripture:

Grain and pulse,
spice and condiment,
sweet and savoury,
herb and hemp,
fibre and flax,
weed and vine,
root and tuber,
fruit and berry,
leaf and flower,
seasons and cycles,
rites and ceremonies,
festivals and offerings,
feasts and fasts,
invocations and well-wishing,
vessels and utensils,
spoons and ladles.

Phoneme and phonetics,
vowel and consonant,
numbers and value,
fantasy and intimacy,
humour and mirth,
pronunciation and articulation,
accent and intonation,
drone and ululation,
name and meaning,
word and association,
vocabulary and syntax,
language and identity.

Work and play,
riddle and joke,
proverb and ditty,
prayer and profanity,
fact and fantasy,
fable and parable,
syllogism and analogy,
simile and metaphor,
sign and symbol,
digit and alphabet,
counting and valuation,
puzzle and clue,
clothing and costume,
masks and make-up,
drama and rehearsals,
concerts and soirees.

Myth and legend,
place and person,
teller and tale,
memory and object,
icon and image,
bow and arrow,
figure and form,
function and involvement,
banyan and pipal,
pose and gesture,
mood and expression.

Society and culture,
race and civilisation,
evolution and ascent,
reward and punishment,
behaviour and biology,
beast and bird,
insect and reptile,
fish and amphibian,
ecology and environment,
ore and mineral,
geology and topography.

Image: Brooch, by Andy Cooperman.

You’ve asked me to comment in particular on this poem. I find it a powerful description of the world and what we see in it, what we are caught up in, the furniture and clutter of our lives. Nowhere do you say something like “All this is Maya”. Yet that is the feeling it evokes in me, and overall it feels like an evocation of India too, but I don’t know if I would have guessed that if I did not know you had written it.

It’s not just a list. It is a ladder. We start on the lowest rung, with the basic materials of nutrition and clothing. The first stanza is a kind of archaeological inventory, with evidences of human settlement on earth. In the second stanza we have the elements of human communication, by voice and intellect and mathematics and language. In the third stanza we have the “games people play” – the way they decorate or create reality. In the fourth, we have the elements of a tradition being handed down to each generation, on the basis of commonly understood symbols and modes of expression. And then in the last stanza, we have the conceptual furniture of today’s post-Darwinian academic world. It suggests to me that we have gone too far, pretending to know it all when we don't; perhaps kicking away the ladder by which we arrived at this perspective.

It’s only when I work backwards to the beginning that I see a subtitle: Food and Scripture. I know a little of the Hindu Scriptures but out of their proper context. I do not know to what extent they are food for the growing intellect and soul of an Indian child, or how they accompany his progress through the various ages of man. Myself, I have reached the age of the sannyasin. Scriptures and teachers are no longer my guides. Bread-winning and children are no longer my daily preoccupations. The world of experience, both present and past, is enough study for me now. If someone asked me to point them in the direction of wisdom, I’d wave my arms in a broad inclusive sweep covering both the outer and inner world.

Yes, there is a lot in your poem, and it ferments in the understanding. Thank you.
Hullo Yves, and thanks for your message.

I asked you to read "Bejeweled Universe" - to convey the kind of cognitive /
linguistic / symbolic universe that I could see myself having been made up
of / by, literally food and scripture, scripture in the sense of learning,
being taught, seeing, reading, and all this in "sacred" terms; culminating
in the biggest book, the earth, whole land-forms and topography can also be
read (and the conditioning and raising in the Indian symbolic universe can
help one read that too). I could see how providential / serendipitous it was
to have been exposed even to a grain and a pulse, their names, the key to
understanding the intricate code of life contained in that huble grain and
pulse, and their names...

Reading your response just now - when you wrote "all is maya" (the resonance
it gives): actually I didn't mean that at all, exactly the opposite in fact.
If one were hyper-aware, hyper-observant, hyper-scrutinising, hyper
cross-relating, then one can see every tiny thing within this enormity as
being vital / providential / sacred.

Reading your comment - thanks to you I could finally grasp and know what is
meant by: "Samsara is Nirvana" and "Nirvana is Samsara" (Buddhist
metaphysics in the Lankavata Sutra). Thank you!

You have given a beautiful and excellent commentary on the "poem".

Actually "Lost & Found", "Log", "Verdure", "Bejeweled Universe", "Journey" -
are together part of a single composition / conception. Highly allusive,
msytical, coded, personally meaningful. As if they are self-expression that
can have meaning only for oneself. However, as some others read some pieces
and liked it - from their own view - I realised this could have meaning for
others, in ways I could not understand (just as my meaning others would not
be able to understand, even after detailed de-coding by me!).

I wrote in my (other) blog (Cuckoo's Call) about how this came to be written
(Half moon over Gaya).

Similarly in Cuckoos Call I wrote about the two poems "The Prison of
Mirrors" and "Beyond the Prison of Mirrors". Between these two poems lies a
process and an experience, of drastic transfromation / transfiguration
(inner). I went from looking at mirrors to inside or beyond the mirror!

Yes, thanks to the internet and blogging - all this dialogue is enabled.


Interesting discussion. Thanks, gentlemen. And, of course, the "coincidence" train rolls on: You mention, Rama, "Samasara is nirvana," and today's quote on AD is from Nagarjuna saying the same thing in somewhat different words...
rama - As I read "The Bejeweled Universe" this is what came across to me: the word "and."

In between each of the poem's phrases is that simple word. This brings to mind something my teacher once said to me in response to my question, "How did you develop The Seven Fundamental Principles for Standing in the Face of the Truth?" (The first principle is Balance, and the seventh one is Harmony.)

To introduce his answer, he first told me that these are universal principles, not something he had invented. He went on at length before finally turning to my question.

"I had been studying the term 'balance and harmony' for quite some time. In the process of studying it, I was wondering why we struggle with achieving harmony. At some point I began to ask what it takes to move from balance to harmony. I started focusing my attention on the word 'and'. I wondered what it was that made up the 'and'."

When he said this to me, I recall being a bit taken aback. What a simple thing to do, I thought, yet so simple that I could live ten lifetimes and it would never occur to me to stop and ask that question.

Continuing he said, "What, I wondered, did AND stand for? Because clearly, it stood for something or it wouldn't be there. In time, I realized that this and represented a transition. Once I understood that, I eventually came upon the five principles that transition us from balance to harmony."
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