Holy Truth?


If you ask a Librarian to show you the section with the Upanishads and Sūtras, the nice lady is likely to point you to the shelves marked ‘Religion’.

But these compilations are documents of Inquiry characterized by trial and error, not claim and faith. They were the obsessions of the Learned. Your normal healthy farm-boy will find it all quite batty.

The search for some Grounding Truth is Man’s first investigative journey. And the First Inquirers were the men and women of Religion. We aren’t so smart to have newly awoken to it for the first time.

Shūnyam does not lead you up the mountain or into a cave. It unloads you at Life, unrehearsed. And there is nothing in the Human Condition however exalted, muddled, banal or depraved that is not intimate with it.

Nor is Shūnyam against the comforts, consolations and beatitudes of the rituals of the sacred. [Its exploration was not as high philosophy or the limit of inquiry but as a point of Refuge.] And you don’t know what Piety or Reverence mean, except as camouflaged petitionary acts, until you are in sight of Shūnyam.

But put an early religious spin on Shūnyam and you will miss. And in this business, you miss by a milli-meter, you miss by a mile.

‘Nothing holy’, replied Bodhidharman [around 500 CE], when Emperor Wu asked him; ‘What is holy truth?’

There is nothing holy, religious, sacred, spiritual, esoteric or mystical about Shūnyam. To limit it so would be to abase its Truth. [There is nothing earthy, profane or banal about it either. But that is less often the slip.]

Indian records are sketchy as is the norm. We know Bodhidharman cited from the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra, [Lanka, as in Sri Lanka today] a later tradition to the Prajñā Pāramitha.

Chinese chroniclers [Tánlín, Dàoxuān, circa 550 CE] identify him as: ‘The third son of a nobleman of firm Brahman stock from South India’.

Given what we know of dynasties and trade-routes, he was most likely from Kāñcipuram, the then capital of the PallavasNo shrines, no stupas, no sign-boards, the last time I checked. No one remembers anymore.

Kāñcipuram, seat of the Śaṅkarācārya, my maternal family Guru. I haven’t been back in a long time.