‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity’ [Ecclesiastes: 1]
‘Hey! 30 years on the Mat and not even a spot of shamanic-power? A short bolt of ecstasy? A minor miracle or two? ‘Peace of Mind’?’
In this less than luminous Age, plan, purpose, penalty and prize, are self-evident implacable verities to the to the modern graduate who moves proudly to a Pavlovian shimmy. Shūnyam lies at the end of the road where every such last view, however benign, however trivial, has been gutted empty.
Alighting on Shūnyam won’t make you rich, famous or even better-looking. And there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The rainbow ends where you stand right now. The Symbol’s full circle.
When Socrates asks Parmenides to relate his own long odyssey, he first goes silent. Then:
‘I feel like the old race horse at Ibycus, who trembles at the start of the chariot race knowing from long experience what is in store for him.’
About right. The trek is not for the intellectual tourist or the levitating mystic. It doesn’t come easy and it doesn’t come quick. Hold-on to your day-job if you are not sure.
[Well, a carrot perhaps. The donkey always gets a carrot after the unload. So what’s the carrot?]
Those who began the search all those many years ago were less ascetic, no less desirous, than the hagiographic literature makes out. For them the finale, the ultimate crown, was to be more than trophy-wives and a yacht docked off Cannes.
They were looking for something much bigger. The grandest prize of all. Something called: ‘Immortality’. Also called: ‘The Other Shore’.
The highest intent of Yajna, of ceremonial sacrifice, was the gaining of Immortality [A-mrityu; mrityu, as in mortalis, mort, mortal].
The pivotal verses that birth the first intuition of a formulated Shūnyam in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad are in fact a response by Yājñavalkya to his wife Maitreyi’s query on Death. It’s the opening throw.
[Yajna today stands domesticated as the Puja and ‘Immortality’ has been toned down to requests for an employable son-in-law. But that is another story.]
In the Tradition of Shūnyam there is no consoling advise proffered that you will ‘Live Forever’ [a thoroughly terrifying idea]. It is rather the issue of your claiming to have been ‘Born’ in the first place.
The summary sound-bite of organized religions runs: ‘Immortality is Eternal Life’. From the ‘In Flesh’ extreme [‘All Day Golf’] to some abstract eternal residence as Spirit by the side of God in a perfected heaven. All religions by and large offer the same plans. You pick the company and policy you like.
At Shūnyam things get a mite confusing. It no longer is clear what ‘Death’ means if you can’t find the file documenting your ‘Birth’.
The Unborn [Ajatham]. The Unarisen [Abhutam]. You might find yourself ‘Immortal’ in spite of yourself.
[The venerable Japanese Zen-Master Hakuin, at his moment of Satori: ‘How wondrous! How wondrous! There is no Birth and Death from which one has to escape; nor is there any supreme knowledge [Bodhi] after which one has to strive…all the complications [Koans] numbering 1700 are not worth the trouble of even describing.’]
Today, the subject of ‘Immortality’ is never raised in respectable circles especially so in the West [‘Can’t we stick to football and the PTA?’]. Preparation for such a search would likely get you a doubled-prescription for Prozac, the world’s best-selling anxiety drug.
But the subject is in fact at the very heart of the Christian West.
Apostolic authority from Deacon to Pope has its legitimizing root in one event. The event of Jesus rising from the grave not just in spirit, but ‘In Flesh and Blood’, his meeting with the apostles, and his choosing of Peter as the first Pope, the rock [Petra] on which the Church was to be built. Christianity as we know it begins here.
Jesus’ ‘Resurrection in Eternal Life’ as testified to by the apostles was the Miracle that begat the formal Church. In the much cited line from Romans: ‘If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved‘.
The Resurrection of Jesus in ‘Flesh and Blood’ was the affirming seal that legitimized the new apostolic Church. If you question the apostles and their authority the entire spool unwinds [and Magus and Mark and Mary Magdalene did some serious unwinding ].
When you kneel at the pew, you kneel to this, the central Christian affirmation of Salvation in Christ. Rebirth [Re-natus] into Eternal Life.
‘To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.’