the beliefs of all people
To call something a myth is to call it lies. It is a label, perhaps a libel too, which signifies that he who believes in that myth is a liar. Or, deluded. Or, led astray and is one to be saved. One more, among many. Who are not, us.
While it might be fine for the fundamentally committed, or the omnipotently aware, to mythologise the beliefs of all they choose to, as scholars committed to the cause of sarbat da bhala, and as a culture that is confident enough to know there is no one exclusive path to liberation, we must be better.
To begin with, there have been various academic attempts to define what a myth is. They naturally come from the largely historic-materialist western epistemic tradition. In this essay, I will explore a framework for understanding what I believe is an inherent mis-framing of the problem.
A mythology, I propose, has to have an identifiable human author, who claims his creation (explicitly or implicitly) to be a myth. Think of Tolkien’s mythopoeic literature.
What we usually label as myths should be better understood as cosmographies : the reduction into human speech, by a people, their knowledge and understanding about the nature of existence. I use the word knowledge intentionally. Understanding, ironically, perhaps without knowing what it means.
My definition might seem postmodernist, you might call it so of you believe the colonisation of the Ganges valley region by Saptnad Indo-Aryans launched the first postmodern age.
There is a case to be made that it did. In conjunction, of course, with other global events of the centuries leading up to the Axial age. What was the Buddha but the first Frankfurt School theorist dealing with the existential dilemma caused by the end of the idyllic age of soma soaked warriors roaming the world, wandering wherever they wished – now, reduced to drudgery in the season determined entrapment of an agricultural life. O’ to be chakravartin again!
I end my ithasi digression, more suited for a meandering telling of the Mahabharata, and return to the matter at hand.
A cosmography emerges from the mind of man contemplating spirit, and attempting to grasp onto it, hold it in his consciousness even as it fades like a dream. Then, still grasping, he attempts to reduce it into words, so he might tell others of what wonders he saw in that realm of pure ideas, reflected so inadequately into mind: he grasps, much like Socrates’ attempting to describe the geometry of sachkhand. And he always fails.
That realm of forms might be glimpsed, the Japuji assures us, so we too might seek to break our chains, become khalas from maya‘s prison, and perhaps gain a glimpse of the edge of the realm of true forms, the realm of truth in all it glorious chaos, where loh loh aakar are formed from nirankar; but what forms we see as we encounter that realm of timelessness, Akal Ustat reminds us, concentrating us back into our vessel of flesh, bringing us back from a dimensionality we are yet not ready for in our mortal state – that glimpse can only be expressed by us ego blinded beings like the vision-blind men who sought to identify the elephant through touch. What are we but fools, to attempt to express the cosmos through the modulated wind of the tiny chamber of our mouth.
Yet, some who have ascended, perhaps in some way, they can. Some with minds so pure, and voice so refined, they might bring into our world of material chaos a reflection of a fragment of a form – for us too, to see, if the word is imbibed in our minds.
Where dost the lotus grow, which gives vaporous water the form of a dewdrop gem, to lets it fall into the dark waters below – an offering, to the darkness, of light.
pratham bhagautee simar kae
A cosmography is an attempt to organise incomprehensible infinity into humanly comprehensible frames of reference. The various divinities of a culture represent various scales of being of the cosmic whole.
The faerie of the forest, the nymph of the brook, the lord of the high mountain realm, the carrier of the skies, the holder of the cosmic waters of existence, the overseer of the gates of transition from the material to the spirit realm, the planet who is a daeva, stars who are a squabbling family of sisters and sages, the principles of creation, laws of existence, and the destruction that must come to us all – Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh.
A historical-materialist will ask, do they exist. One who is humble enough to accept the infinity of Akal will ask – where.
Whether such a scaling of the cosmos is inspired by animism – because that is what is; spiritualism – because that is how it must be seen; or platonism – because that is the only way how it can be understood : could be placed on a spectrum of cosmo-ontology to cosmo-epistemology, which is exactly what our current paradigm of materialism is as well.
There have been other materialisms before.
They too have had the paradigmatic spotlight shift from them, only to return to see them in new light and to use them as the materiel for writing new cosmographies. How high the ladder climbs, I do not know. But all cosmographies are a step in that never ending climb, to remove either would threaten the entire structure of ascendance, of the human soul attempting to be more than an animal’s motive force.
Whether passed on through the generations as speech or text, all these paradigms are essentially glimpses of the Akal. Attempts to reduce the irreducible, or deduce the inconceivable, as symbols or words, or figures and forms.
Mind gazing into Spirit, and Spirit gazing back into Mind.
None was or can be without the other. Do we see the forms or do they see us? The butterfly, the dream.
tat tvam asi
Cosmographies are human attempts to explain the whole that is whole, through systems of scaled divinities or forms, as the whole in parts. This is done through signification of the experience into idea and idea into word.
Perhaps it might be thought of as map making, as cartographies of glimpsed dimensions, created by cultures to allow their descendants to explore experience. And since this is an enterprise in which we, as humanity, are all voyagers it would take a bold man to call the cosmographies of others, lies.
For in the long run, aren’t we are all liars?
What else is maya, why else was the Buddha born? Why are both the multitude of siddhas, rishis, devas or asuras? Are they only born because they must be? Or were they given aakar, forged from that eternal loh which, ever-creating, watcher of itself and its deeds, gave them form, so through them, it itself, might be seen?
Who knows, Who can tell.
sach khand vassey nirankar
kar kar vekhey nadar nihal.