Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, South India: an entrance corridor
In the vibrant salons of Voltaire’s Paris they phrased it right: ‘The First Divine was the First Rogue who met the First Fool’.
‘The Veda is tainted by the three faults of Untruth, Self-Contradiction and Tautology..[it is] the incoherent rhapsody of knaves..‘ So began the Carvaka Philosopher [around 100 BCE].
Building steam the Carvaka texts continue:
‘Only the perceived exists..there is no world other than this..no heaven and no hell..happiness and misery arise in the laws of Nature; who paints the peacocks? [Why is] water cold, fire hot?..from its own nature was it born.. Charity is ordinanced by the indigent, Chastity by the impotent..‘
The Carvaka Philosophers were of course right. The Vedas [from Vidya: knowledge; learnedness; skill], are nothing if not in-your-face Contradictions and subversive Tautologies.
Sanskrit sacred text expands from a center of ferociously absurd verse in concentric circles of increasing sensibility.
‘It moves; it moves not. It is far; and it is near. It is inside [all]; and it is outside [all]’ pronounces the Isha Upanishad.
Esoteric religious texts typically began as written down versions of privileged oral teaching. Upanishad is Rahasya: ‘Secret Transmission’. The core is unsaid and ambiguous; the interpreted periphery, explicit and sensible.
The core texts are Sruti, unfiltered; at the periphery are the Smritis, Slokas and Sastras, the qualifiers and footnotes, the rules and rituals of orthopraxy.
At the peak of Vedic intent, Brahman is Nirguna Brahman (without attributes). As Sahguna Brahman, (with attributes) all names are in absurd phrase: Being-Becoming; Sonant-Silent; Eternal-Temporal; Explicit-Implicit.
Lower still and in increasing familiarity are the Myths, the Epics, the Folk-Tales, the Proverbs, the learned Bon-Mots.
You can drop the bar as low as you like. It is up to you.
This Maṇḍala of cryptic center simplifying in stages to a comprehensible and conventional perimeter is repeated in the architecture of the classic South Indian Temple.
The Garbha Griha [‘Womb-Abode’] resides at the center of the complex, recessed within corridors of diminishing light and crouching access. The deity is minimalist in extreme, a stone-erect.
As the devotee moves outward from ‘Womb’, the pillars and ceilings and walls of the temple becomes discernible, domestic. Myths, Gods, Goddesses and semi-divine figures.
At the outer walls of the temple, all cover is dropped. Life depicted in full bounce. Men and women, child and animal, angle and color, festival and ritual; life as Panorama.
The temple parallel, the three-dimensional analogue of sacred text.
The Biblical ‘Parable’ originally meant an ‘absurd, enigmatic expression’. Asked why he spoke in parables, Jesus quotes Isaiah:
‘By hearing ye shall not hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall not see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross…’
The Eastern Church insightfully saw greater danger in reassuring sensibility than in the absurd and in the cryptic. ‘Scripture shorn of antinomy’, it voiced, ‘is Scripture suspect’.
Contrary to popular belief, the Western Church held no different. The difference is more in the speed of memory-loss.
‘Miracle’ [from the Latin, Mira for ‘Wonder’], is the manifestly inexplicable event. A defiant event in violation of accepted, credible laws. There is no religion still around that does not have the miracle and the magical act as the main feature of attraction.
Nothing will make the crowd fall to its knees as would the display of a minor miracle. Reason has no capability to convince. Every other inducement does better. But none as potent as magic and miracle.