Monday, October 8, 2007

Jesus the Pilgrim on Earth

The Pilgrim in search of earth's sources of life. Oil on Canvas. (Part of a dyptich in the collection of Mr. Hubert de Beuff, Normandy, France.)

India’s diverse traditions, primal and classical, speak more of human life as a participant along with Nature. Not that we should naively assume there are no tensions for Eastern cultures in human existence within Nature. Violent sacrifice, for instance, abounded in diverse forms of Indian religion, much to the disgust of the Buddha, Mahavira (the Jains’ BCE 7th century leader) and other early teachers who gave new spiritual and cultural directions. There are other forms of tension too. Like ascetics everywhere, India’s world-renouncers too often found body and soul in conflict with each other, between higher aspirations and lower seductions. In a worldview quite dominant in Hindu thought, Nature, and the senses, is a seductive dancer unveiling her attractions. The Self is dangerously prone to being captivated and confused by her. Indian spiritual history is far from a simple love-in with Nature.

Even so, the positive pointers are very clear. For example, deeply embedded in that spiritual life is a faith in earth as our sustaining Mother. A famous Vedic passage describes at length human interdependence with earth’s life (this is but a small part of the whole song):

Impart to us those vitalising forces
that come, O Earth, from deep within your body,
your central point, your navel; purify us wholly.
The Earth is Mother, I am son of Earth.

Mother of plants, begetter of all creatures,
firm, far-flung Earth, sustained by heavenly Law,
kindly and pleasant is she. May we ever
dwell on her bosom, passing to and fro.

Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth,
May you of that have quick replenishment;
O purifying one, may our thrust never
reach into your vital points, your heart.

Peaceful and fragrant, gracious to the touch,
may Earth, swollen with milk, her breasts ever flowing,
grant me her blessing together with her milk. (Atharva Veda 12:1)

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