Monday, October 8, 2007
The Prophetic cry.
A cry in the Wilderness. Oil on Canvas. (Part of a Dyptich in the collection of Mr. Hubert De'Beuff. Normandy. France.}
Not only is Earth the nurturing Mother of all. Human intrusion into her life is seen as dangerous, calling for forgiveness. Indeed, in Hindu ‘high’ tradition, arising from bed in the morning one can step onto the ground only with a prayer asking for forgiveness from Mother Earth.
Humans share Nature’s life together with all creatures. But all human actions also need to be imbued with ‘compassion for all creatures’, a phrase often repeated in such basic scriptures as the Gita. Probably there is direct influence from the Buddhist movement here, that by the time of Christ had captivated the heart of many throughout India. It was first through the ‘middle’ castes and their response to Buddhism that the ethical outlook of the dominant Hindu thinkers too was soon to be so deeply affected. (We noted earlier that the Jaina movement, with its ethic of non-violence – resurgent around the same period as the Buddha’s ministry, i.e. 7th century BCE – also made a great impact on Indian attitudes generally).
What must not be lost sight of is that key factors in all these great movements spring out of more primal cultural life. There is so much primal imagery to be seen: In the Vaishnava worldview, the whole of cosmic life as a body, Vishnu as the sun, or Krishna as a moon-like figure, or Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu) as born out of the lotus; Sarasvati, consort of Brahma, riding on a swan; in Saivism the divine dance, within a circle of fire, as creative potency, or the waters of the Ganga as pouring out on to the head of Siva; in Buddhism, the central image of the tree – especially the sacred Peepul tree - as pointing to liberating insight. References to primal imagery can become endless.
In Indian religious life, then, elemental images remain deeply embedded. No doubt all memory begins with the nurturing breast of the mother, so that the round circle never loses its appeal as a pointer to perfection and bliss. Beyond this there is also wider primal landscape of people’s deeply held unconscious memory, in which elemental surrounds and the seasons that changed them each year, played such a crucial role. Earth, mountains, forests, plains, birds, animals; Water, springs, rivers, lakes, rain; Fire, sun, moon, stars, lightning; Air, wind, storm. All these and much more remain deep archetypal symbols for human consciousness.
In each religious tradition, however, these primal symbols are expanded and enhanced by further spiritual insight. As we saw, the tree gains new significance as a pointer to the Buddha’s inner illumination. Similarly, in Christian experience many of these primal images, without losing something of their originating potency, can become radically enhanced by further insight – usually resulting from some aspect of the Christ-story.
For the Indian Christian, then, there are several layers of ‘insight’ relating to such primal images. As well as being re-visioned within India’s long history of faith, there is the distinctive meaning that Christ brings to, or draws from, such symbolism. Thus, when Jesus declares, ‘I am the water of life’ (or, ‘Light of the world’, ‘True vine’, and so on), there are so many layers of insight and meaning for the reflective Indian Christian seeking to integrate all that has shaped inner consciousness.
Within this experience, there is the discovery of Earth as epiphanic, as throwing up new insight into the true nature of our being. Running counter to much taken for granted in our modern dependence upon the mind’s reasoning power, and in the engineering technology stemming from this, here is a way of seeing things that might yet enable new directions for a human race facing frightening apocalyptic disasters in this third millennium. Humans are challenged to rediscover their true place as co-participants along with Nature within God’s amazing creation.
c. Elemental Faces/Cosmic Christ