Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Morning Star rising in the heart.

It is as though a new day is dawning. In India there is a daily ritual of greeting the Morning Sun (Surya Namashkar). The Sun is rising over the dream city. This light of the Sun is like the revelation of a new World, a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Jesus is revealed in the depths of our hearts. ^You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter.1.19) And so this Wonderful City is in fact the city of the heart, in which Jesus is being revealed to every culture, and to every generation. One Indian theologian has said that the Gospel of Jesus has to be baptized in the Holy River of India, if it is to become meaningful for this culture, and this people. We have to imagine Jesus in the cultural frames of our own past, if He is to enter into our hearts.

Baptism and the Dream City.

Finally, there is the Baptism of Christ. This again is something that happened in the past, but continues to happen today, in the hearts and lives of every believer. Jesus is baptized in the waters of a Holy River. The image of the Holy River is closely associated with our dream of the city. Great cities like the city of Benares in India, are situated on the banks of a holy river (the Ganges). And so Jesus is revealed at the moment when the Holy Spirit descends on Him, and John witnesses that he indeed is the Holy One who is to come and deliver his people.

In this context we may also reflect on the Presence of the Spirit in every religious tradition, and not only in the Christian or Biblical revelation. The Spirit gives light and Wisdom to all people who are searching for the Truth, throughout the history of humanity, and in every culture.

A Marriage Feast at Cana

The Epiphany is celebrated in the Liturgy, as the time when Jesus was “manifested”. In the ideal world of the liturgical year, Jesus is born at the end of time, and then at the beginning of a new Year, which is the New Liturgical Year, we celebrate the events when Jesus became known to the world, and became recognized as the Lord of History, in the hearts of his disciples. The readings for the feast of the Epiphany deal with the important events when Jesus becomes known. Three scenes are associated with this idea of Epiphany. There is the coming of the Wise Men from the East, bringing gifts as a recognition that the Messiah has come to announce a new Kingdom of God. Then there is also the Marriage Feast of Cana, when Jesus is asked by his Mother to change water into wine, that is reveal his Divine Ministry through a miracle at a wedding. The theme of the Wedding Feast in the Bible, represents the coming of a New Kingdom. It is an Eschatological feast, that takes place at the “end of time”. So the historical event of a particular wedding that took place in Cana, a particular town in the Holy Land, becomes something that points to a Universal happening. It is about the Marriage Feast that is taking place in our hearts.


The image of the “New Jerusalem” in the Bible is a dream city. This city is not a “historical city” but belongs more to the world of the imagination. It is a city in which the idea of a city which we have in our imagination, is fulfilled. In India we may imagine a city which has features like the city as it has evolved in the Indian context. We also have “Holy Cities”, which represent what citizens long for as a symbol of the location where a whole community and culture finds a living place. Every civilization creates what it believes to be the “ideal city”. It is this ideal, or dream city in which we begin to imagine important events taking place, which are part of the narrative of our sacred scriptures.

There has been the question: The life of Christ was historical, and Jesus was never in India !!. Jesus lived and died in a particular culture and time which happened twenty centuries back in the past. We do not know what that culture was like, or at least cannot imagine it. When we imagine the life of Jesus, as we read the events described in the Gospels, we think of Jesus as being present in our hearts. Jesus is not just living in a distant land, which we have never visited. Jesus is here and now, in our imagination, in the desires of our hearts. So the dream world is the place that lies in our hearts, in our longings, and in our imagination.

Saturday, July 9, 2011



When in 1984 the Art Ashram was initiated, the idea emerged that the Ashram could offer
Art retreats’ based on the prophetic imagination as we find it articulated in Holy Scripture. The Bible as a textual document of the Word of God, as received by Prophets and visionaries,
is full of many images. Often the Prophet is asked to write down what he or she received from the mouth of God, so that others can read about what the Prophet has heard and seen. It is important to remember that the Divine Word is not only something “heard”, but has also been “seen”. The Word is instruction, but also action—it is the embodiment of a Divine Will that
communicates with human thought processes. We are familiar with thought as communicated through utterance—that is, through the spoken word. But the image is also ‘thought made
visible’. In a way the image goes beyond sound, speaking to the mind through silence. The image is non-verbal thought, and could be understood as lying closer to action. It is in that sense that we speak of the image as a ‘work’ of the imagination. It carries the sense of being an oracle, for an image-symbol is a word that becomes visible in deed. The image points towards a future, through a process of becoming, whereas the written text encapsulates the experience of a past, through a process of assimilation, and documentation.

The symbol is strictly speaking thought that has become visible, because it is embodied in a sign that has been made tangible through the human power of the imagination. The visible symbol can be felt, or touched by the individual conscious person.The symbol speaks not only to the mind, but also to the whole embodied being including the psyche, and even very physical feelings. The visible image connects us with the psychic domain of what we call the memory—something re-membered, in the sense that it is also embodied. The Word is ‘pneuma’ or spirit. But the visible symbol is part of a phenomenal world that the physical senses can experience. Of course even in the act of hearing, the Word is already being embodied into sound waves, and the rhythm of speech. The listener receives the Word into his heart, making the Word part of
his or her own life. It is in this way that the Word goes beyond thewritten text, becoming part of a lived reality in the present. Through meditating on the Word, we try to embody the message of the Word into our daily lives.

The Holy Book itself takes on the significance of an Image, which we can touch and read in a respectful way. The Book is not only composed of letters, for it has been decorated or ‘illuminated’ with pictures. These pictures that accompany the text, help us to absorb the spoken Word into our hearts. We might tend to forget that the Bible is a visible, tangible book, which is also a visible symbol, because we often become unaware of the way that even human language has arisen out of a mytho-poetic world of the imagination. When we read the Bible or any Sacred
Scripture, images are evoked in our minds and hearts. Without these images, the words would not be intelligible to us. Often we might think of the written word as more spiritual than visible and tangible images. The Spiritual Word seems to contain pure meaning, whereas images that we see are sometimes hard to understand in a deeper more metaphorical way. Word and image, however, always need to accompany each other, for there is no word that exists alone, without an image linked to it. This image may be a mental image, but even then the
idea is always taking shape in our consciousness in a manner that corresponds to the way the imagination follows a process of giving to an idea a visible realizeable form. The Word needs to be born, incarnated into our physical world.

There is an inherent danger in the written text that it often tends to become too ‘wordy’, and too fixed in a literary tradition that limits its meaning to the way it has been understood in the past. In that way the Divine Word can loose its creative force, and just becomes a meaningless formula without application to our present concerns and needs. The Word should be something that we contemplate in stillness, and in that process relate to our present, and also to our hopes for the future. It is this contemplative dimension of the Word of God that the imagination wants to explore. This is only possible if we give time to reflecting on the Word in silence, and allowing the word to evoke new images in our hearts and minds. The Word needs to become part of our reverie, our capacity to dream imaginatively. It is in this spirit of reverie that the contemplative souls in every generation have received the Divine Word into their hearts. This contemplative and spiritual approach to the Divine Word is called ‘Lectio Divina’.

The Art Retreat is a form of Lectio Divina, which not only contemplates the inner meaning of the Word, but also expresses the Word through visible signs and symbols whose meaning helps us to explore the inner significance of what Sacred Scripture is trying to reveal to us.

‘Lectio Divina’ lies at the heart of what we might term a Biblical Spirituality. It is listening to the
Word of God in such a way that it is interiorized. The disciples who were accompanied by the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus said “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Sriptures?” (Luke 24.32) It is this burning heart which not only opens the scriptures, but also the eyes of the disciples when they recognized the Lord in the “Breaking of Bread”. It is this sense of the ‘burning heart’ that leads the attentive listener to the Divine Word from symbol to silence, from the outer phenomena perceived by the senses, to the inner spirit as apprehended by the enlightened mind. ‘Lectio Divina’ could be understood as a way of seeing. While reading Sacred Scripture, we begin to look at the world in which we
live in a different light. As the psalm puts it metaphorically: ‘Let your Word be a lamp for my path’. The Word reveals reality, it illumines what we daily see, but never think consciously about, never ponder its deeper significance.

In the Art Retreat, participants are invited to experience the Word of God as embodied in the heart of the disciple. What we are looking for is not skill in representation. Participants are not required to be professional artists, in the sense of being trained and equipped to render their feelings and ideas through cleverly constructed images. What is important is not what is produced, but rather the contemplative process that uses images, and the feelings that they evoke, as a way of understanding the Sacred Scripture. This approach to art forms could be termed “demonstrative”, in that it shows what is being recalled, both as a memory, and also as a reflection on what could be projected into the future. Lectio Divina in this context is like a pilgrimage, a walking with the Lord while listening to the words of Holy Scripture in the silence of the heart. Images make this process of thought into a visible and tangible reality. Reverie, in the sense of reflective and imaginative thought, becomes a dream which has the transforming power of a sacrament. Remembering is not just a turning to what is past, but a recreating of a new vision. Imags give a form to the feelings that the Divine Word evokes in the heart of the pilgrim. Words themselves make present the Lord who is also sacramentaly embodied in the community of those who journey together on the same spiritual way, but also in the hospitality of that life
sustaining food that gives physical strength to those who walk together and work towards creating a new future.

The art retreat is thus a dialogue that takes place through the shared presence that brings together pilgrims on the spiritual path, and makes present the Lord who embodies the Word
in the world as we experience it today. I feel it is important to understand art as a dialogue, not only between people who have a common spiritual search, but also a dialogue with this sense of the Presence of God, manifest in Sacred Scripture. In Sacred Scripture, the Word of God speaks to us personally, and the process of ‘Lectio Divina’ includes an inner conversation that we have with God through the text that we read. Reading becomes a way of carrying on a dialogue with God in the depths of one’s heart.

In this sense, I would also suggest that there can be a dialogue which reaches beyond one particular religious tradition, to build bridges between people of different Faiths. What links followers of different spiritual paths, is a common belief that the Word of God is accessible to people of all religious traditions. What divides believers is not a respect for different Sacred Scriptures, but rather the way that these scriptures are interpreted. Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists can read the Gospels and find in the Bible words that speak to their own hearts, addressing each individual’s search for the Truth. In the same way a Christian can also find spiritual food in Sacred Scriptures outside the Biblical tradition. It is this dialogue in the presence of the Word of God as revealed to all human beings, which can give a new significance to art works that draw their inspiration from the imaginative riches that are found in Sacred Scriptures. I have often found that one of the best ways to dialogue with someone of another Faith, is through sharing Sacred Scripture. Together we can listen to the Word of God as revealed to us in each other’s scriptures.

The Bible is a rich storehouse of images, in which we can find a rich feast to sustain our world of the imagination. It is the purpose of the art retreat to explore this image or symbol world of the Bible by creatively working together with the prophetic signs that help us to interpret the world in which we live, and find hope for the future. Written scriptures become for us the embodiment
of the “Angel of History”, revealing both old things and new. The spirit of ‘Lectio Divina’ guides us to discover the meaning of Holy Scripture for our daily lives, so that the Divine Word is not just something that we read, or hear about, but informs our reality, in the historical, cultural and geographic conditions that give shape to our lives.

As an Indian artist working in close collaboration with the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (N.B.C.L.C.) since 1970, I would like to develop this idea of art as informed by a Biblical Spirituality. This reflective approach to Sacred Scripture, as embodying the Presence of the Divine Word, reaches out to share insights to be found in all Sacred Scriptures, that express spiritual Truth. I do believe that the Divine Word crosses all cultural and religious boundaries, revealed in the wisdom that we find in many different spiritual traditions. In fact, the Bible itself draws images and insights from the different Wisdom traditions of surrounding cultures and nations. One can read the Bible as providing the bridge that helps in our understanding of many diverse spiritualities, for the Divine Word has been present for all peoples who search for Truth, and in the whole of Creation. When reflecting about what we might understand to be Christian Art in the Indian context, it has been important to recognize that many artists who are not professing Christians, have drawn inspiration from Biblicall images. In fact it is often very helpful to see the Bible as a Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim might understand it imaginatively. A Hindu by the name of P.C.Mazoomdar wrote a book in the 19th Cent. Entitled “The Oriental Christ”. In this work he presents the Word incarnate as he encountered Him in the Gospels—a Christ who spoke to the heart of a Hindu.

I hope that with the cooperation of the N.B.C.L.C and also the Biblical Secretariat of the C.C.B.I, it will be possible to extend this understanding of the Biblical Apostolate and spirituality to give a new impetus to what has been called the process of ‘inculturation.’. The concept of ‘Art as
Dialogue helps’ to focus on the pilgrim nature of art processes. Prophetic art is concerned not so much with the static cultural traditions embedded in national and regional identities, but rather draws inspiration from the Word of God present in different cultures of the world. We are trying to understand what the Spirit is saying to us today, in our multi cultural and religiously diverse
historical situation. It is this prophetic voice of Holy Scripture that needs to be interpreted in the light of present human concerns. For example, the search for Peace, and a just future on this planet earth, is enshrined in the signs and symbols that are to be found in all Holy Scriptures. Art forms have a function to speak as modern oracles, to all peoples who are concerned about the future, and are searching for a more just and equitable distribution of the riches of the earth’s resources. A prophetic art stands in judgement against what has been narrow, and unjust in the religious traditions that have wrongly interpreted the word of God in different Scriptures. Holy Scriptures have often been abused by those who have used the Word of God to further limited, sectarian and divisive aims.

Art is prophetic in so far as it unfolds a Divine intention, present in all forms of creative expression that manifests a spirit working through each one of us, to bring about a new Heaven and a new Earth.

Come to my Country

Come to my Country !”

Meditating on artas a rite of passage.

The idea of a voyage resonates deeply with a spiritual quest. Every culture encapsulates the ‘rites of passage’. Cultures are never static, but rather like migrant birds, cross over geographic boundaries. W.B.Yeats, in his poem “Sailing to Byzantium” says “Monuments of unageing intellect……..gather me,into the artifice of eternity.” 1

What the poet is searching for is a place where “…images that yet, Fresh images beget.(‘Byzantium’). Here is a land of the imagination, where “birds on the trees….set upon a golden bough to sing….of what is past, or passing, or to come”. (‘Sailing to Byzantium’). The artifice has a timeless quality, which is beyond the “common bird or petal, And all complexities of mire or blood.” (‘Byzantium’)2

The mystical poet Kabir of the 15th century, says:

"The arrow of the song has pierced me !

Come to my country."

But what is this country of which Kabir repeatedly reminds us ?

"I’m a bird from another country, my friend

I don’t belong to this country…"

Like a migrant bird, or “Hamsa”, the soul is forever restless for another land. Of this ‘Hamsa’, or swan, Kabir speaks:

Tell me, O Swan, your ancient tale.

From what land do you come, O Swan ? to what shore will you fly ?

Where would you take your rest, O Swan, and what do you seek ?.

There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule; where the terror of death
is no more.

There the woods of spring are a-bloom and the fragrant scent ‘He is I’
is borne on the wind;

There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed, and desires no other joy.

(Poems of Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore, XII)

The poet, or artist, longs to discover the land of the imagination. Here the forms that embody dreams, are not temporal like the “complexities of mire or blood”. And yet, this inner landscape of the spiritual quest, has its own alchemy, of

sages standing in God’s holy fire

As in the gold mosaic of a wall…

(‘Sailing to Byzantium’)

Flames that no fagot feeds, nor steel has lit,

Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flames..


Wrought in this inner furnace of the heart, base metal is transformed into deathless gold. The elemental is given a new meaning in the icon; and sacred architecture, built from the natural substances of clay, rock or timber, reach upward to a spiritual world, transforming the physical reality of the world in,which we live and die. The voyage is itself a passage into another subtle world of symbol, and the “sign within the sign” (Kabir.)

The Spirit of the Place.

There is a close connection between the imagination and what some artists have called the “spirit of a place”. This link goes back to the primal roots of culture, when wandering peoples felt that certain places were inhabited by a Presence. It is this Presence in a place which speaks to the
imagination. I have often played with the idea that a Site, that is a geographic place having very specific features, also has a kind of Sight. We speak of ‘sight-seeing’. The traveler goes in search of a site. But it is not only we who see the site, the place also sees us. Mircea Eliade speaks of places having a hierophany. That means that a place is also the location for a vision—an epiphany. Through entering a place, and deeply engaging with that geographic site, we realize a new kind of vision.

Culture has arisen out of this engagement between a particular community and a place. The early emergence of the concept of ‘nation-hood’, was from a deep seated feeling of belonging to a particular place, so that blood and mire, as W.B.Yeats puts it in his poem about Byzantium, get inter-mingled. Blood, symbolizing the forces of life that run through the body of an individual, become part of the earth where the individual lives and dies. The redness of the earth, what the poet William Blake understood as “Beulah”, the red clay from which the Creator fashioned the body of the human being, is linked symbolically to the colour of human flesh. In fact the body itself is a “place”.

The poet Kabir often uses the metaphor of an earthen vessel to describe the body. “Come to my land” is an invitation to experience what his body senses—to see the world as his body sees it. “Come to my land” is thus a passage into the physical world of those who inhabit the land, for whom the land is their way of seeing, listening, tasting and touching. It is a communion with the other, by sharing not only the home of the other, but also eating the same food that nourishes the physical body of the other. This is the essence of that human culture of hospitality. And yet, as Yeats reminds us in his two poems on Byzantium, a country, or its culture, is not just something material, or tangible. It is also a vision, which reaches out to a shore that is a step “into the artifice of eternity”

Once out of nature I
shall never take

My bodily form from any
natural thing,

But such a form as
Grecian goldsmiths make

Of hammered gold, and
gold enamelling.

(“Sailing to Byzantium”)

“Byzantium” is not just a place on the Bosphorus, a place that represented a vibrant culture for more than a thousand years. Byzantium is for Yeats, a city of the mind, a memory that is also a way into his own inner world of imagining. This city becomes for him a heavenly city, an image of a place which lies beyond this world, and its mundane geography.

People nowadays tend to speak of a “global culture” and this seems to imply an art which has no local roots, being rather like some modern airport, or shopping mall, a place that is like every other place. But we all know that such places have no culture, they are really nowhere, and no-thing. Culture, like a living tree, always has its roots in a particular place, with its own very unique geographic setting. The uniqueness, and creativity of a particular vision, emerges out of this “sense of place”, be it the place where we live, or visit as a place of pilgrimage; or that inner place, of the heart. It is through our body that we experience the world around us. Again as Kabir says:

Where did you come from ?

Where are you going ?

Get the news from your body !!

That is why it is important that no matter where we travel, we must always listen to what our own body is telling us. We experience the outer world through the body, and so it is the body that mediates to world to our consciousness.

The Message of the Voyage.

Henry Corbin has written an essay on “the theme of the Voyage and the Messenger”.3 It was Corbin who coined the term “the imaginal”. He discusses “The Story of the Bird” as it appears in
Iranian mystical Sufi literature.

“In an ecstatic ascension of the mind, it crosses the valleys and ranges of the cosmic mountain of Qaf. It was this story of Avicenna’s which Fariduddin ‘Attar orchestrated so magnificently into the mystical epic entitled ‘The Language of the Birds’” (p.145).

The Modern playwright and director, Peter Brook, developed this ‘Conference of the Birds’ (as
it is also sometimes called) into an understanding of story-telling and dramatic action. For Peter Brook the ‘space’ in which the actors play their parts, is the cosmic space, the ‘empty space’ which is also like the prayer carpet that the devout Muslim carries with him.4 It is like a portable mosque, something that can be rolled up and transported by a migrant people. But it is a place that can be rolled out anywhere, at any time. As Shakespeare was to say, the stage is at once a specific site, but also a microcosm, a universe of its own.

More and more modern individuals are becoming nomadic like their primal ancestors. The period of settlements, more or less permanent, which defined the individual, is disappearing. An urbanized, shifting population, is no longer rooted to an agricultural plot of land. We become birds of passage, but this does not mean that we no longer communicate with the land. The four
elements of earth, water, light energy and air, continue to be the medium through which we are able to listen to the voice that speaks to us through our bodies.

There is a deep link between bio diversity, and cultural diversity. A culture emerges out of the contact between a human community and the landscape that enfolds a settlement. Culture and nature are not opposed to each other, rather culture is the response that human beings make to nature. The fact that natural environments differ from one geographic context to another, means that cultures as they have emerged historically have also assumed very different forms. But still these cultural differences do constitute a challenge to human unity, and dialogue. Where human communities are on the move, the cultural forms that they evolve in their historical journey from place to place, give rise to tensions and misunderstandings. Cultures are, as we have already
remarked, never static. Constantly people are meeting and interacting in new ways—and this changing pattern of relationships constitutes the vitality and adaptability of cultures. But in the
process of exchange, there is always the resistance brought about by the very need to evolve new forms of culture. Cultural growth, or evolution, is itself a process of parturition, of having to come out of the past, in order to embrace the future. That is why culture is intimately connected to rites of passage. This is an essential way of understanding the life journey of the individual, whose path through the various stages beginning with birth, and concluding with death, mirrors in a way the life cycles that we find in nature. Every living form passes through stages of inception, germination and growth, followed by decline, and concluding in disintegration and dissolution back into the common humus from which life emerges, and to which all living beings return. Thus a philosopher like Aristotle related all forms of conscious evolution to biological rhythms that we find in nature. Civilizations rise and fall in the same way that natural processes develop, only to finally disintegrate, and give rise to new life forms.5

But whereas in nature these rhythms of life take place without the resistance brought about by the individual will to oppose change, in human cultures what we call a “tradition” is always in dialectical conflict with what is new, and questioning past solutions in the light of new conditions. Creativity is a perennial challenge to the structures of tradition. Tradition is often equated with what is dead and out-dated, whereas the vibrant and living aspects of a culture look towards the future, and value the necessity to change with the times.

Of course, change is not always good. There is a change that is for the worse, a change that is the
beginning of a decline. To be sick, is to change in a negative sense. Cultures degenerate, and there a radical approach to re-vitalizing a culture has to discriminate between what is living, and what is dying in a cultural tradition. Coomaraswamy once made the rather mis-understood comment “from primitive man to modern man—what a decline !!!” Gandhi was also accused of condemning modernity, and wanting to go back to the past. To be “modern” is not necessarily to be better, or more healthy. There is much in modern society that is clearly a loss of integrity, involving a loss of culture. Globalization, for example, involves radical and far reaching processes of change. But these are not necessarily for the better. But this is not because change in itself is bad. Change is necessary, as the world in which we live, indeed the very natural environment in which we are, is constantly in a process of change. The Buddha was to point out that nobody can enter the same river twice. The flow of life giving waters in a river, mean that what we might perceive as the same river, is in fact constantly changing. We need, however to understand change, in the context of life, rather than disease and death. What remains as a connecting thread, is the will to live; culture needs to be renewed, and in that process, to be transformed.

Pilgrimage as a process of change
and transformation.

From ancient times to go on a journey is itself a rite of passage. Thus the symbol of the boat, to
take one example, is an invitation to set out on a voyage. Civilization have their origins in the will to go on a quest, to reach out to further shores. “Mission” properly understood, is the call to cross over boundaries, to set out for a land that we do not know, to meet people that we have never encountered before. If we look carefully at the spirit underlying what is known as the “Acts of the Apostles”, we find that there is a call to go beyond what is known, to reach that which we do not know, and do not understand. It is a call to encounter, and dialogue with the “other”. There is an apocryphal saying of Jesus which has been inscribed over the gate that Akbar built at Fathepur-Sikri, near Agra, which reads : “Jesus, on whom be peace, said: The world is a bridge—cross over it, but do not build your house on it.” Life, as we understand it in this mortal state, is a transition. It is a time in-between two states of being. It is the Way, or ‘Marga’. It is not the goal. It is this understanding of the human journey that underlies the sacramental nature of taking to the road, on a pilgrimage.

The cultural hero, as in the Mahabharata, has to go into exile, visiting the wilderness of the forest, mountain or desert. The passage into the unknown is called a “Thirtha Yatra”, or pilgrimage to the sources (Thirtha) from which the life of a whole landscape comes. The Thirtha is a spring, and in Jainism the cultural hero is a “Thirthankara”; one who crosses over the source to find the further shore. But what the seeker is looking for is not just a living source of water, which evolves into a stream, and eventually flows like a great river to meet the ocean. What the seeker is journeying towards is not just a place in the landscape, that is a sacred ground, but rather the quest is for an inner place of meeting (sangha) where traditions flow together, creating a new entity. Many little streams contribute to the great river that we might link to a civilization, and this river itself finally merges with the ocean. Unity here is not a negation of diversity, but a discovery of diversity in unity.

Crossing over, as a way of

The mysterious principle underlying the quest, the call to visit another “country” from the place where one is born and bred, is that only by travelling far away to another land, can one find oneself. There are many stories like that which indicate that it is only possible to find the treasure that lies buried in the centre of one’s own home, by stepping out to look for it, in answer to a dream that calls the seeker to another land. In Indian art theory, to dance, is to “step over”
or to “trans-gress”. The Lord of the Dance, Shiva, is the one who steps over the demon of blindness (Andhaka) who lies beneath his foot, resting on the ground. The lifted leg of the dancer
is a sign of ‘Moksha’, or liberation. The dancer plays with what is firm, rooted in the particular place where the dancer stands, and the dancer’s will to step forward into the unknown. In the Islamic tradition, the whirling Dervish, is like the door, or ‘Darvaza’, which also is attached to the
vertical beam of the doorway. The door swings to and fro, allowing the seeker to pass from the outer to the inner, from the visible world to the invisible mystery.

Dance is the sacrament of movement; it is also the transforming liberation of the body. To dance, is to re-create the universe. It is a cosmic expression. The Creator is a dancer—and the dance is also the mystery of destruction. Creation and destruction come together in the dance—life and death. Dance is energy, action, but also stillness. To be a dancer is to know the secret of repose. In the same way that music revolves around the eternal Silence, dance hinges on the axis of stillness. It is in this image of the dance that all opposites come together:

Where blood-begotten spirits come

And all complexities of fury leave,

Dying into a dance,

An agony of trance,

An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.


The image of the ruin.

From the time of the Romantic poets in Europe, the ruin has evoked a sense of culture finally returning to nature. The romantic artist Carl Jasper Friederich made many pictures in which the ruined edifice of a Gothic Church, seems to crumble back into the primal forest from where many of its architectural forms derive their symbolic force. The Holy Ground, whether in Europe or in India, carries the significance of the primal sacred grove. The Temple, with its hall of a thousand pillars, reminds one of the garden of Cyrus, here turned to stone.6 The image of the ‘Garden of Cyrus’ was developed by the philosopher and alchemist Sir Thomas Brown as a basis for his understanding of culture as a way of cultivating nature, of discovering in nature the underlying structures of the whole universe. The gardener, like Adam, is the archetypal ruler, or
Prophetic King, whose task is to maintain the order that underlies the whole universe, of which the enclosed garden or Paradise, is a microcosm.

In the Koranic story (18: 61-83, known as ‘The Cave’) we hear the legend of Moses and Khidr. Moses goes on a spiritual quest with his disciple to find the mysterious Khidr, who is a teacher of the prophets.7 (In Arabic the honorific title ‘al-Khidr’ means ‘The Green One’) Moses finds Khidr where two oceans meet, and Khidr agrees to take Moses on a spiritual quest, as long as he refrains from asking questions. They have various adventures together, and repeatedly Moses is shocked by the strange actions of Khidr, and cannot help challenging him by asking him the meaning of what he does. Finally they arrive at a small village, where none of the inhabitants are willing to welcome them. Khidr discovers a ruined wall, which he proceeds to repair. Moses cannot help remonstrate with Khidr “If you had wanted, you could have demanded wages for doing this !” Khidr finally loses his patience with Moses, saying “This is where you and I part ways, but I will now give you the explanation of the things to which you could not forbear objecting”

Khidr now reveals that under the ruined wall there lies a treasure. This treasure has been buried
there by a devout man, whose two sons are now orphans. Khidr is repairing the ruined wall, so that when the boys come of age, they can come to this place, and dig up the treasure which has been buried for them there. The story of Khidr is itself a parable relating to the spiritual quest. Often this strange spirit of the Green seems to be linked to that which is destroyed. He probably represents the spirit of regeneration in every cultural tradition. Under the ruin lies hidden and buried the seed-treasure of the future. Khidr is the guardian of that which has yet to be revealed, but which remains hidden in the unconscious. In the Sufi traditions of Islam he is linked to water, and also to Jesus, who according to one account, had the power to walk on the waters, and to save those who were drowning. The strange, incomprehensible acts of Khidr are related to the genius of the unconscious. Finally he tells Moses, the law-giver, who is shocked by the apparent irrationality of Khidr’s symbolic acts: “I certainly did not do this of my own accord”. He, like the spirit on Nature, acts in accordance with the hidden purposes of the Divine Creator, whose compassion we cannot understand.

The ruin seems to be the end of all that human industry has laboured to erect. In harmony with the cycles of time, what humans achieve, has finally to crumble and return to the soil from which these edifices arose. Nature moves in, and takes over the proud constructs that human beings have made. Nature teaches us humility. In fact, according to one tradition, the reason why the great prophet Moses was sent by God to find Khidr, arose from his own assertion that he, Moses, was the wisest man of all. God shows to Moses that there is someone wiser than him, who can be found at the “confluence of the oceans”. Here he discovers aprimal vision, which is far older than prophecy, but which holds the mysterious key to the meaning of life.

Today we live in what appear to beapocalyptic times. Kabir, the mystic, speaks of a mystery that lies beyond the human constructions of Temple or Mosque. Kabir cries:

It’s just as well, my pitcher shattered-

I’m free of all that hauling water !

The burden on my head is gone……..

A single well, Kabira—

And water-bearers many!

Pots of every shape and size

But the water always One.

(‘Bhala Hua Meri Gagri Phooti’ by Kabir)

Here the artist becomes the iconoclast. Beyond the created form, lies a mystery that no words can contain. The image has to be destroyed, to discover the formless that lies beyond all form. There is an elemental beauty in these images, which reminds us that all forms of Culture have to return to the sources of Nature, which are like the primal golden egg—what the Islamic tradition referred to as ‘Sifr”, the ‘Nought’ from which all number derives. This is the Sypher that art points to—what the poet Yates calls “the artifice of eternity’ (in ‘Sailing to Byzantium’)

Jyoti Sahi Dec. 2008

‘Sailing to Byzantium’ from The Tower.(1928) by W.B.Yeats, Selected Poetry

‘Byzantium’ from The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933) by W.B Yeats. Selected Poetry

‘The Voyage and the Messenger: Iran and Philosophy’ by Henry Corbin translated by Joseph Rowe, 1998

Chapter: ‘The Theme of the Voyage and the Messenger’ pp. 135-163

Cf ‘Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa’ by John Heilpern. Routledge 1999

Cf “The Preference for the Primitive” by E.H.Gombrich. 2002. Section on ‘Aristotle on Growth and Decay’ pp. 15-16

Cf “The Garden of Cyrus, or Net-work plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered” by Sir Thomas Brown (1658)

The following notes are derived from ‘Khidr: The History of the Ubiquitous Master’ by Shawkat M. Toorana.

The Elemental Place

The Elemental Place

Some reflections of an Indian
artist traveling between continents.

It was quite a culture shock. I had flown directly from Bangalore’s newly constructed
International Airport, to Berlin via Frankfurt. I had come to attend an artist’s “Pleine air “ to commemorate the 750th anniversary of a Cistercian monastery at a place called Chorin, an hour’s drive from the city centre of Berlin, in the direction of the Polish border. This was a centre of the ancient principality of Brandenburg. Here the Ascasian Margraves of Brandenburg, had their burial place. Earlier, this area, known as the ‘Marches of Brandenburg’, had been settled by Slavonic tribes. When the Cistercian monks came to develop this part of the land, there had already existed an older Church and castle near to the small lake called Amts See. The new monastic foundation was established in 1258. The Monastery probably rose up on the earlier ruins created by tribal conflicts between Arcanians, Pomeranians, and Danes at the turn of the 12th Century.

Passing through the villages and neighboring town of Eberswalde one has a sense that here was one of the frontiers of a Christian culture reaching towards the North, about a thousand years ago. Those were unsettled times when wandering tribes off the steppes of Russia were moving South towards Europe, and the warmer climes of the Mediterranean. The process was one of transformation of nature, being humanized by culture

Here, in the northern reaches of Europe, the landscape had changed as the ice melted. These gently undulating planes, with pockets of water left over from the ice age, form an inter linking pattern of inland lakes, around which were thick forests. A new energy of light and warmth was already in the process of changing nature into a biosphere fed by waters that now offered a hospitable environment for vegetation and animal habitation. The waters of the melting ice had over centuries broken down primordial rock formations, creating a rich loam of clay and water. Deposits of sand, gravel and lime also provided the basic natural ingredients for building new settlements, constructed in clearings made by nomadic tribes in the primeval forest. But for this to be possible, yet another elemental energy had also to be harnessed—the transforming power of fire

Fire is an ambivalent source of life, being both creative and also destructive. One third of the ancient hymns of the Vedas are dedicated to the Lord of Fire, the god known as Agni. It is with the help of fire that clearings in the forest could be made by early settlers. But not only did fire work to create a space for human habitation, it also gave the technology for transforming the earth. A Bronze Age gave place to an iron culture that now had the technological skills to smelt iron from the bedrock, and so forge implements that could be used both for agriculture, and war. Weapons could be manufactured which seemed to have an almost magical power, and it is this technology that feeds myths about heroes who were men at arms

It is this culture of conflict with the dark forces of the forest that gives rise to a rich symbolic world that the early monks built into the very structure of their new places of worship. We find images of the struggle against mysterious monsters of the primeval vegetation, in the form of dragons. Nature is not only seen as something to fight against, as indicated by the intricate patterns of leaf forms that are carefully observed, and brackets that support stem like pillars which remind us of the shape of a chalice, with knotted interlacing patterns that are thought to represent eternity

Myth and the landscape.

As an artist I have been interested in the way that myths have arisen out of a particular landscape. About 25 years ago, I began to make a particular study of folk and tribal myths in India. I found that these myths spoke to my imagination, and opened up a whole inner world of my own psyche.1 I have been particularly fascinated by the ideas of the psychologist Carl Jung, who suggested that myths, which form the basis for religious symbols across the world, are in fact profoundly human. In that sense myths are universal, or what he termed archetypal, because people all over the world use the imagination to understand reality. The way they make meaning out of their geographic and political reality follows patterns that are common to all human beings. So, even though myths express very local concerns, and memories, they also reach out to speak a universal language that can be meaningful in very different human conditions

The work I did on the tribal myths of Chotanagpur, for example, seemed to have a wider application than could be explained simply by understanding how these legends had arisen out of a particular community, rooted in a very specific locality. One of the reasons, I felt, for this was the way in which myths articulate the relationship between culture and nature, between human life styles, and the materials that are readily available in the local landscape. The elemental materials with which human cultures work, are local realities, but also universal in that they provide the basis for all cultures. This interplay between the local and the universal is an age-old question that applies to the diversity not only that we find in nature, but also in cultures.
Every culture is unique, and yet every culture interacts with other cultures, and is enriched by the cultures of people who live far away.

I was surprised to note the way that art forms, and the mythic world view that underlie all cultures in India, have aroused a deep interest among artists in Europe. Reversibly, Indian artists have also been inspired by western movements in art. I myself have, since the time when I studied art in London, been fascinated by the way that ‘expressionist’ artists in Europe used symbols and myths to explore the inner
world of the psyche. The very fact that I had traveled so far to participate in this workshop with artists in a distant part of Europe, showed that art can be a form of communication, of learning and also sharing what shapes the inner world of the imagination in every human being.

Ruins and the Landscape as Memory.

Out of the ruins of an earlier age, the monks were able to found a new synthesis of subconscious myth, and knowledge as to how nature could be transformed into a fruitful culture. The monastic garden contained healing herbs that the monks
gathered from the rich diversity of the local vegetation, representing these herbs in the decoration of the Church to symbolize the healing power of the Mother Mary to whom every Cistercian monastery is dedicated

The ready availability of a plentiful supply of wood, which was cut down to enable agriculture to be established, fueled fires in which not only metal was extracted fromthe stone. Furnaces also burnt the clay bricks, providing a building material that the local basalt rock could not provide, being difficult to shape. Cistercian architecture had developed in France, where sand-stones were readily available, allowing craftspeople to make the light traceries which could both soar to great heights, but also allow light into the interior space of the Church nave. But here in the northern part of Germany, the monks had to rely on another material---brick. And so a distinctive style of early Gothic architecture can be found here which is made from carefully molded, and cut brickwork.

The monastic impulse converts not only nature, but also the concept of the warlike hero into another type of brave conflict—now no longer directed against an outer enemy, but inwards as a form of asceticism. Human nature is molded and transformed, as much as the materials that are found outside in the landscape.

This process of internalizing a cultural process was also very important in India, where Kshatriya clans evolved the concept of the ‘renouncer’ or Sanyassi, who represented a new form of heroic ideal. Buddha, for example, came from the same fighter clans who used outer weapons to establish their political power. But in the figure of the sage or monk, an outer mission was now turned inwards, to achieve a new kind of consciousness through yogic meditation. The Cistercian understanding of the ancient monastic motto “Ora et Labora” (Work as Prayer) was understood as a commitment to manual labour in the fields combined with intellectual effort in the scriptorium where manuscripts were copied, and a new form of learning brought to the unlettered populace.

The Myth of theIron Smelters.

The ancient myth of the Iron Smelters, or Lohar Kahani, probably goes back to the Axial age, when Buddha wandered in the forests near to the Damodar river, where ancient tribes also practiced iron smelting. Some ancient sites where iron works have been found, seem to belong to around the fourth to second centuries before our common era. According to legend, the peoples who developed this form of technology, were also responsible for the mysterious steel column that we have near Kuthubh Minar in Delhi. Some even suggest that the chariot wheels and weapons used by warring tribes as described in the Indian Epic of the Mahabharatha, were fashioned by the same tribes of the Indo-Gangetic planes that become expert in iron technology. It is in this same region of what is now called “Jharkhand”, that the Tata Iron and Steel Company began large scale modern iron industries.

Exploring this mythic world of ancient “Adivasi” communities, I was very much struck by the symbols that I found in this myth, which I felt related to the role of the Iron Smith that we find in many cultures. This figure of the Smith is closely associated with a Shamanistic tradition, where the primal technology of obtaining metal from elemental rock, was seen as an alchemical process, that could be also understood in psychic terms. In the Arthurian legends we hear of magical weapons that are found by the hero embedded in rock, from which it is the task of the chosen knight to draw a magic sword. This act of releasing the steel weapon from its rock case, becomes a metaphor for an inner process of finding the psychic power to change natural
substance into a cultural tool.

In the series of paintings that I worked on in the late eighties I tried to interpret the pre-historic myth in the light of an emerging concern about what industry was doing to the natural environment, and how this could be interpreted today as referring to ecological issues. Of course when these myths about the iron age (kali-yuga in Indian mythic terminology) people did not know about ecology. But essentially what the myth addresses is the relation between human work and industry to the rhythms of nature. In many cultures all around the world, iron is considered to be a dangerous or in-auspicious metal. Those who work with iron, creating not only the tools that were to play a vital part in agriculture, but also the weapons that were used to fell trees, and fight wars, were both regarded with fear as magicians, and dismay as the harbingers of a new dark age.

Work: Technology and the Creative Arts.

One could perhaps trace back the link between this work of transforming natural resources to create a whole civilization, to the kind work that early monastic foundations accomplished in the late middle ages. Perhaps one could find a connection between what became an important stride in the founding of our modern world, and a spiritual or psychological search for the transformation of nature into culture. What has been called the Axial Age, was also the age in which the different Metacosmic belief systems crystallized, whether in Greece, the middle East, the Indian subcontinent, or China. One could, perhaps trace a cultural trajectory that at first saw nature and its primal forces as manifestations of a Divine Presence in the elemental world that we perceive with our senses, to a later belief that the Creator exists beyond creation.

When the monks settled in Chorin, they wanted to follow the new artistic and architectural principles that were proposed by their founder-monks in Citeaux—particularly the ideas formulated by Bernard of Clairvaux. The new cultural awakening in Europe, which was heralded by the mystical and practical vision of thinkers like St. Bernard, was able to bring together various spiritual impulses coming both from the East and the West. What were the monks trying to do? The spiritual vision behind the dictum “ora et labora” (human physical labour can be a form of prayer), was that manual work which has the capacity to transform the natural environment, can also inform a deep spiritual awakening. This was also an insight that Gandhi believed in: work is not just something degrading, being a purely physical activity, but is also a way of initiating a deep spiritual transformation. “Ora” understood as “prayer” could be related to the Indian concept of “Sadhana”. Work is a spiritual path, if it is undertaken not out of personal egotistical greed, or desire to conquer either human beings, or nature, but is a way of working with creatures, towards a common goal. This was the approach to “karma” or action that we find outlined as a Karma Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita. It is this approach to art as hand-work, and not only intellectual or conceptual imagining, that has been the basis for an Indian approach to the various crafts and performing arts, like dance, music or

In a way the making of an artifact is like a process of alchemy. In his book on “Sadhana”, Tagore describes a work that goes beyond human effort, and is in harmony with the cosmic work of creation. This was his way of seeing the artist as a Vishwa Karmi, or one who continues the work of the Divine Craftsperson, the architect of the whole universe.

The Cistercian monks who settled down at Chorin were faced with many practical tasks Bernard of Clairvaux had wanted his monks not to live on hilltops, but rather in valleys. They should be close to water, and should work with the energy that lies latent in flowing water. Here in this region, the rocks that are found scattered on the ground are lumps of granite, broken up by the receding ice cap that had come from the north across Sweden and Denmark. These rocks could be used for foundations, but were not suitable for the fine intricate structures that now characterized Gothic architecture. For this a ore malleable material had to be obtained. So the peculiar nature of this northern early Gothic building work is that it is made from fired bricks. The monks made the bricks themselves from the local clay that they formed in special
wooden moulds. Then, as wood was plentiful in this forested country, kilns were constructed in the fields to fire the bricks.

The construction of the bricks for building involved all four elements. Water mixed with the clay of earth would be dried in the open air, and then fired. Fire transforms the earth into a new compound, which is now water resistant—a vessel that can contain water and air. But ultimately the inner spiritual purpose of the building is to act as a vessel for light. The outer form embodies this inner light. This is the essential mystery that the vessel of the Church is meant to incorporate.

Work with clay and the process of forming a place in which light can be enshrined is the essential purpose of culture. The built form is not understood only in terms of walls, but rather in relation to the spaces that the walls contain.2 The Gothic form of architecture is characterized by its use of windows, but also niches that help to lighten the structure of the wall, and allow for openings where light can give life to matter. The niche is used as a place where a lamp can be placed, and is in this sense an extension of the lamp itself, offering a protective holder for the flame.3 It has the character of a hearth, which is the oldest feature of the inhabited human dwelling place. At night a few of us went into the vast empty space of the uninhabited nave of the ruined Church. There we sat in the darkness and allowed the luminous stillness of the night sky to penetrate the dark interior of the empty nave, through the tall windows. Then a small candle was lit and placed in a niche. The shadows that this small flame cast in the rib-like cage of the dark flutedcolumns of the Gothic building, gave a new perspective to its massive form. We realized that the built structure was enlivened not only by the light, but by the shadows cast by its many surfaces.

The construction of such a work represents, I believe the creation of a social and individual sense of self-identity. What is being built is not just a place to live, and pray, but an experience of the Presence: individual, communal and also cosmic. The Self finds its being by embodying the Being of a Divine Presence in the natural environment. The building becomes a living form in which to be, and communicate with a spiritual reality incarnated and sacramentalized in this geo-political and historical context.

As an artist coming from the Indian context, and also involved in the creation of ceramic works, I was particularly interested to understand the significance of this brick constructed early Gothic style, in which ceramic work has played a defining role.

Creation myths and the elemental

All over the world we find myths that relate how the first human beings were made out of clay. Adam was created by God out of the red clay, and when Cain murdered Abel, it was the earth that received the body of the slain brother, and cried out for justice. In the tribal traditions of Chotanagpur, we also hear of the human couple formed out of clay and left to dry in the sun. But in this myth, we are told that to begin with the horse of the Creator, called Hamsraj Pankraj, trampled over the first clay creatures, destroying them with its hooves. The horse, or Aswa, has been related to the wild, and often fierce forces of the cosmos, Viswa. The taming of the horse,
and later the tradition of horse sacrifices, seems to relate at a psychic level, to the harnessing of these elemental energies, by human culture.

The work of art helps human beings to come to terms with those elemental forces that lie hidden in the psyche. We are very conscious of the destructive forms in nature. There are floods, storms, and earthquakes that destroy life. But these very manifestations of change in nature, also determine the way in which the landscape has been shaped by shifting structures of the earth’s body. Climatic changes are not only seasonal, but effect the way we are conscious of our environment, linking the individual to great cycles of time which have formed our landscape, like the ice age. It has been pointed out that these great forces of transformation that have changed the very chemistry of our planet earth, have also given us the raw materials on which culture depends. It is these cycles that have created deposits of fossil fuels, have brought about concentrations of metallic elements in the rocks, which have influenced our technologies. Movements on the earth’s surface have crushed together materials giving rise to the very clay, sand, and soil that is the basis for agriculture, providing also our building materials. Without these cosmic changes, culture could never have even begun.

Jyoti Sahi. Art Ashram, Dec. 2008

Cf: “The Child and the Serpent: Reflections on Popular Indian Symbols” by Jyoti Sahi. 198

Cf The Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu:

Clay is molded to make a pot, but it is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the clay pot lies. Cut out doors and windows to make a room, but it is in the spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the room lies. (11 or 55)

Cf The Sura of Light in the Holy Koran:

God is the light of the heavens nd the earth. The likeness of His Light is a niche werein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is like a brilliant star lit from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would almost give light though no fire touched it. Light upon



I have been reflecting on an eastern aesthetics that relates art to spirituality and meditation. Art is a way of “Making Peace” with nature, and with the community as a whole. Art is not just about making works of art.

It is possible to find some important links between Indian approaches to art as Sadhana, and the Chinese way of approaching image making in relation to Tao, or the Way.

The whole style of approaching art criticism is very different in the East from the philosophy of art which we find in the West. Reflecting on the meaning of art is through poetic metaphors, and using intuition rather than rational, discursive thought.

Rabindranath Tagore visited China, and other countries of the Far East, and as a result a number of important artists and philosophers from China, Japan and Indonesia interacted with the Bengal School of Art as developed in Shantiniketan at the Kala Bhavan. We note that in the work of Ram Kinker, Binod Behari Mukherjee, and others of the Bengal school, there are ideas that can be found in Chinese aesthetics, combined with Indian concepts like Rasa and Dhvani. The Kala Bhavan, which was started in 1919, the same year as the Bauhaus in Weimar, brought together many strands of far eastern aesthetics. At this time art critics from the West like Laurence Binyon, E.B. Havel, Stella Kramrisch, and many others “discovered” the aesthetics of the East, and suggested its vital importance for the renewal of art as a spiritual force.

George Rowley in his Principles of Chinese Painting, and Lin Yutang in her translations from the original writings of Chinese practitioners, and thinkers about aesthetics, have contributed to an understanding of
the relevance of Eastern forms of art as an aspect of spiritual practice. In this way we can also see the link between Taoist and Zen Buddhist forms of meditation, and inner processes that Tantra-Yoga in
India tried to understand, and describe.

In trying to outline a way of Seeing, and responding to the natural, environment, through art as a spiritual practice, I have been studying some of the writings that are available on Eastern aesthetics. Already Ananda Coomaraswamy tried to articulate what he felt was a very different approach to art, which was practiced in the East, but which has become of increasing interest also in the West
through a growing awareness of Buddhist and Hindu metaphysics. In the same way that classical Greek philosophy profoundly influenced the development of European art, perhaps now Eastern forms of
philosophical thought, and also aesthetics, could play an important part in shaping an art of the future, which embraces all cultures.

Aesthetics and inter-religious understanding.

Making peace with nature has also brought together people of different faiths. It has been noted that faith systems like Taoism, Confucianism, Vedantic Hinduism, and Buddhism, are all characterized by a different understanding of the relation of the human community to its natural environment, from the attitude that we find in the Judeo-Christian family of religions. There, going back to the Old Testament and Prophetic writers we find a radical form of metacosmic spirituality. According to this worldview, human beings have to go beyond nature to find a God who is distinct from Creation. Nature is often viewed as a hindrance, or at least a reality that needs to be overcome and transcended if we are to reach out to a God who cannot be apprehended in the way that we observe natural phenomena.

In fact one of the criticisms levelled by such a monotheistc and transcendent belief system, against more cosmic spiritualities that we find in folk and tribal religions, but also in the mystical insights of Taoism, Buddhism and the Vedanta, is that here nature is often confused with the Creator, and phenomena which we experience with our physical senses are seen as ways to discovering the Divinity
immanent in the whole of Creation. This viewpoint is often characterized as pantheistic, and part of an illusion which instead of revealing the Divine, tends to obscure a true understanding of the Godhead.

Art can help in bridging the gap between different faith systems by affirming the truth which lies in the imagination, and a more affective approach to spirituality. Images rely on metaphors, and are thus closer to a more intuitive approach to reality. The metacosmic worldview has often been too narrowly rational, and has tended to separate the human community, and cultural forms from the life springs of nature. There are those who blame our present ecological crisis on the way that metacosmic faith systems have turned aside from the natural, and created environment, and placed human beings
above their environment, even proposing that the whole of Creation is only for the use and advancement of human communities. This has led to a kind of injustice, where not only nature is denied its rights,
but also those who live close to nature, are seen as inferior human beings. The problem of human poverty is related to the way that natural resources have been used, and appropriated by the powerful, who have often legitimised their position as the prerogative of those who have been called to a higher position above natural necessities.

In this way we can observe that making peace with nature is a necessary step towards making peace with those who live close to nature, and depend on its resources for their livelihood. The process of “making” which is the creative task of cultures, is about Making Peace through art forms. Here aesthetics can be seen to have a vital import on ethical issues. Seeing nature is also about seeing the reality of the world in which we live.


Recently we have been thinking about the role of art in Peace Studies. In the Sita School, which Jane started in 1975, art has played a very important part in the education of the students. Here “art”
is not thought of in a limited sense, as just one particular form of art, but rather in a broad way as the use of the imagination. This includes working with puppets, dancing, story telling, painting and
working with materials like clay, paper, wood and so forth. The imagination has a very practical, and physical application in what might be called play. We learn about our environment, and also our
own bodies, through playing with materials. There is a wisdom which we derive from a physical contact with materials, using our hands, as much as our intellectual faculties.

It has been suggested that violence increases in society in relation to the split between mind and body, our intellectual lives, and the way we feel, and sense the reality of the world around us with our
bodies. Too often modern culture is characterised by a very intellectual, rational approach to learning, which leaves out the wisdom of the heart and the hands.

Art may provide a way in which we can have a more integrated approach to the world in which we live. This is characterised by an attitude which we call “empathy”. This includes an approach to others, and nature as a whole, which feels at one with the experience of those who are outside our own personal world. We can have empathy for living creatures, including trees, flowers, and even non-living aspects of our environment like rocks, and rivers. We can feel an empathy for animals, and also strangers, who are outside our own familiar cultural world. It is through such an empathy, that is a power of the imagination, that we can find bridges between our own world, and the reality of those who are not part of our cultural and historical community. Empathy is essential if there is to be peace between cultures and people, and also between human communities and the natural environment.

Through a summer school of seeing, we hope to explore these issues of peace and cultural diversity, along with an awareness of the natural world in which we live. The purpose of such a school is not just to learn how to do a particular form of art, but rather how to use the imagination for mapping out relationships that lead to a more peaceful interaction between persons and things. The imagination has
an important role to play not only in the way we learn, but also in the way we relate to others. The summer school of seeing will thus attempt to create ways of communicating with others, and creating
maps for peace.

Story of the Workers with Fire

Storyof the Workers with Fire (AGNIHAR),

also known as the Story (kahani) of the Iron Smelters (Lohar)

In the beginning there was a Green God called "Haram". (The word Hara means Green in Indian languages. But whether the name Haram is derived from this or some other root, is not clear, as there are different opinions. Some call him Dharam, or Dharmes, which is related to the Indo-European Firma, or that is fixed, permanent)

He made everything.

Haram made all the animals, and gave them work to do.

Only onem family Haram forgot. These were the "Asuras". (Surya means the sun, so some suggest these are people who live in the dark. But Ahura in the Iranian tradition meant the wise people, as in Ahura Mazda. Again some difference of opinion)

The Asuras asked Haram "What can we do? What work have you got for us to do ? Give us work!!" (The word "work" in Indian languages is Karam. This can also mean fate)

Haram said: "All right ! you can work with fire !"

The Asuras were happy. They made fires. They burnt the dark forest. They made black charcoal from the burnt trees. With charcoal they cooked the earth in great ovens. From stones they made iron. From iron they made sharp weapons. They cut down trees They killed animals. They made war. They became rich and strong. Everyone was afraid of them !

The animals came running to Haram in terror. Haram's white horse 'Hamsraj Pankraj', the Swan Horse (Hamsa means Swan, Panka means wings) had his nose filled with smoke. He lost his appetite. He could not ear. He became sick. "Help us ! The animals cried to Haram. "The Asuras are destroying the whole earth !!!

Haram sent his white birds. They flew to the Asuras who worked in the dark caves of the earth. "Stop these fires!" the birds pleaded. "Stop this work!" the birds shouted.

The Asuras laughed at the birds. They threw coal dust on their white wings. They caught the feathers of the birds with their iron tongs. The birds became covered with coal dust and their feathers were spoilt. "Our God is Work (Karam)" the Asuras boasted. "Now we worship Karam not Haram (or Dharam). We will not stop working. We will burn up everything !"

The birds returned to Haram. Their feathers were spoilt, with the polluting smoke of the fires. One bird was now the Crow. Another was the Stork. The last is called the "Scissor bird" (Kenchi Chiriya, or Drongo), because its tail is divided where the Asuras caught it with their tongs used in smelting iron. "Our feathers are ruined ! the birds lamented, "We are no longer beautiful. The fires have covered us with ash !"

Haram's wife is Sita (the Furrow in the earth, also the tip of the plough with which the earth is cultivated. She is born from the earth) She is the gentle womb of the earth.

"Be careful!!" she warned Haram. "These Asuras are proud and hard-hearted. Do not go to them directly. Take a round-about path. Be clever !!" (The myth is also sometimes referred to as the
indirect path)

Haram came to the Asuras in the disguiye of a small child. He looked weak, his skin covered with ugly patches. He appeared to be sick, his body wounded. He came to the Asuras like a beggar. "Help me !" Haram begged the Asuras. "Please give me some work that I can do ! I am without Mother or Father. I am ready to work for you !"

The Asuras laughed at Haram. "What work can you do ? You are sick. You have no strength. Go to the Old Woman. She makes charcoal in the forest, which we use in our fires. Maybe she can give you a job that you can do."

The boy Haram went to the Old Woman. "Can I help you with some job ?" he asked. She felt sorry for him. "What can you do?" she enquired. "Maybe you can look after my grain. It has to be dried in the sun, but the birds come and eat it ! Can you keep an eye on my grain ? That is an easy job for you to do. Are you hungry ?" she asked. "You can give me an egg--that is all I need," the boy replied.

Haram took the egg when the woman had gone to the forest. He went to play with the children of the Asuras. They played a game rolling iron balls so that they fell into a hole in the ground. "Can I play with you?" the child Haram asked. "But you have no ball to play with!" the Asura children replied. "I have this egg!"Haram showed them. "Your egg will get broken in the game, if it is hit by an iron ball!" the children mocked. But Haram played their game, using his egg. He beat the Asura children at their game. "This boy has some kind of magic!" the Asura children concluded. They ran to tell their Fathers.

Meanwhile the Asuras were finding that they were getting less and less iron out of the ground. They were worried. They wondered if some magic that the strange child was using, was working against them. They decided to find out from the child Haram how they could get iron out of the
ground once more. "What should we do, so as to get iron from the earth ?" the Asuras now asked Haram. "We cannot get iron from rocks as we did before ! Tell us the magic formula. We know that you can use magic. How can our fires change stones into balls of iron ? What is the secret ?"

At first Haram refused to answer them. Then at last he said: "Yes, I know the Secret. You have to make a Sacrifice!. Only then will fire change the earth into precious metal"

"What is this Sacrifice ?" the Asuras enquired. "How should we make a Sacrifice ? What should we do ?" (Karam can also mean a ritual sacrifice)

"Perhaps you can sacrifice a white hen" Haram suggested. The Asuras got some more iron from the earth when they made this sacrifice. But it was very little. They asked Haram again to help.

"May be you could sacrifice a goat--that is bigger!!" Haram proposed.

The Asuras sacrificed a goat. That was more effective, but still not good enough. Again they approached Haram. Once again he suggested an even bigger animal, this time a Buffalo. That is more expensive. But even that did not satisfy the needs of the Asuras.

In the end the child Haram revealed the secret lying behind the need to sacrifice: "Actually, you must sacrifice a human being !"

But where to find a victim ? " I have no Father or Mother. I am weak, my body is sick and covered with wounds. You can sacrifice me !" Haram told the Asuras. Now they were really happy.

"How can we sacrifice you ?" they wanted to know. "Put me into your fire ! Close me up in the oven in which you burn your stones. Let me be in the flames for three days and three nights. Then open up the oven, and let me out!"

The Asuras did as Haram suggested. When they opened the oven Haram stepped out, golden like the rising sun. He came out riding on his white swan-horse Hamsraj Pankraj.

"So far we only got black iron out of the earth using fire. Where did this wonderful gold come from ?" The Asuras asked in amazement.

"This can happen if you offer Sacrifice !" Haram revealed.

Then all the Asuras rushed into their fire. "Let us also get this precious gold!" they cried. "Close us up in the burning oven!" they instructed their wives. "Cook us for 3 days and 3 nights !" they commanded their women folk.

The first day the women heard their men shouting. "Why are they shouting?" the women asked Haram. "Perhaps they are fighting over the gold; you know how greedy they are!" Haram suggested.

Then there was silence.

When the women opened the oven, they found only dry bones and ashes.

"You have cheated us!!!" they now accused Haram.

"Cheated you ?" Haram asked "Do not talk to me about cheating ! I gave you a work to do. You burnt my earth. You killed my animals. You never listened to my bird messengers. I came myself to ask for your charity. You mocked at me. So now do not talk about cheating!!!"

"But I can still help you again" Haram added. "You can work again--but not like you did before. You must not work all the time. The earth must have time to rest. You should dance. You must respect other creatures. You must offer Sacrifice. You must not be greedy. You must not only work to become rich. You must work for all creatures, so that all might become beautiful. Your fires must be used to transform the whole earth. You must be wise. Do for others what you would like others to do for you. Give generously, and then you will receive !"

This is the new covenant that Haram gave to all creatures.

Ps. In the original myth, as told by the Pahan (shaman), the widowed wives of the Asuras clung to his horse as he was returning back to the skies. Then one woman fell into the forest, another into a river, another onto a mountain, another onto a rock. They became the Spirits of Nature, and can still be found in the land. They are angry spirits, and so can bring sickness, suffering. They need to be appeased.

Haram told his creatures: "I do not need to eat. What you sacrifice is no use to me !! But these Spirits who are Angry, they need to be offered your sacrifices. Give your Sacrifices to them ! Then they will not hurt you. Then you can Prosper.!"

According to many the myth of the Iron Smelters is recited at the time of the Sacrifice. The Sacrifice protects the living from the angry spirits of the dead, who feel that they have been cheated. These spirits are associated with the feminine beings of the Underworld. They are the spirits of nature. The living are afraid of these spirits.

Should human beings be afraid of the spirits of nature ? Science and Technology have been developed to free people from this fear. But in the process, nature itself has been destroyed. At a deeper level, the Sacrifice that human beings have to make, is to Nature. Unless nature is propitiated, it will eventually destroy us. It is nature that brings us many blessings, but also suffering and disease, if we do not respect the spirits of nature, and take care of them.