"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATABlake's Truth | Prof. Asoke Basu  





          Blakes Truth




          Prof. Asoke Basu




     I noticed recently a stanza from one of William Blakes poems that I had first read in high school:

     To see the world in a grain of sand,
     And heaven in a wild flower;
     Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
     And eternity in an hour. (1)



     The stanza answered a spiritual question for me: What is God? The most typical way of conceptualizing God is in thinking that His nature is perfect, His authority the highest. God is thought of as external to human beings. Often He is represented as an ideal, a deity or a sacred object. Some view Him in existential terms. Here it is suggested that God is prior to and transcends all forms. Any human attempt to represent the existence of God is futile, because such attempts draw a boundary around an essential and qualitative Being which is boundless and undefinable. God is. It is as simple as that. Then there are others for whom God is a utilitarian concept. Marxists opine that God is a concoction, a ploy created by the rich and powerful to keep the rest from changing their own socioeconomic conditions. Karl Marxs epigraph on religion was that Religion is the sigh of the creature overwhelmed by misfortune, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.


     However, what is common among all three perspectives - supernatural (that God is external to us), existential (that God exists a priori), and social (that God is man-made device just to keep the poor happy) - is that there is a superior authority that is known through a belief system.




     God in Small Things




     The God that Blake evokes in the aforesaid verse is a conscious and direct act of living and experiencing life. His is the way in which we perceive and understand, by means of our conscious self, the wholeness inherent in the smallest part. God is in and of small things. He can be realized personally by our own human experiences in the interplay of reason and emotion, logic and feeling. In this straightforward approach, God is located not in a distant, mysterious segment of the cosmos but in the natural world. Sacredness is a subjective attitude which can be witnessed within the stream of secular actions and temporal events. God, or God consciousness, is in all things, like flavour in a fruit. Blake experiences this grand Truth in a grain of sand or in a wild flower.


     The capacity to find the meaning of God is in each of us. What portends spring is, in Blakes metaphor, the manner in which we choose to learn of our true identity, and accordingly endeavour to locate its source. All living beings have the same point of origin. Therefore it is fundamental that we humans participate in nature. Everyday acts and observations, however mundane, allow us to purify and transcend our body and mind and reach the spiritual Self. The poet wants us to conceive and experience the art of linking the grandest with the minutest. In this light of consciousness the bond between the world and the soul is revealed.


     The knowledge of our Self is intuitive. As all life arose in the dawn of silence, it is in silence that we experience the eternal One. The Upanishads inform us that true knowledge is intuitive experience, samyag-darshana. If we so choose and act, it is to the One that we can return and find liberation therein. Most religious texts refer in their own distinctive way to the cycle of change - birth, life, death, rebirth - until the self unites with the original Source which Blakes verse apprehends.




     Approaching God Directly




     Now, let us raise what is perhaps the boldest question of our times: Why is there so much disturbance, so much fighting and quarrelling in the name of God?


     Of late, opinion makers, media analysts, educators and theologians have theorized about possible factors associated with the increasing tension between and among religious faiths. In addressing the theological debate between Christianity and Islam, the most common civilizational reference is to the modernization of the Christian belief system - the Protestant Reformation initiated by Martin Luther. The effects of the Reformation were manifold. It shaped Europes political destiny and emboldened Europeans with a rational-scientific mind. Later, the Puritan Pilgrim Fathers sailed out of England and colonized North America. Their new institutional ethos promoted the rise of the liberal democratic state. At the core of this social transformation, religion played a decisive role. Max Webers much applauded thesis is that the Protestant ethic of hard work, acquisition of material goods, duty reformed by piety, nobility of character, and a moral view of self in secular action, fuelled the rise of capitalism. Pursuing this point of view, the theorists suggest an entirely traditional, subjective, exegetical and canonical view of Islamic theism, which has, even in its present phase, remained hagiocratic in Christian view.


     It would be simplistic, if not altogether naive, to conclude that the so-called civilizational crisis can readily be categorized as traditional or modern, or for that matter, holy or profane. In the gusts and eddies of thought and action tradition and modernity can both be conformist in the sense that divine or state-sponsored rules govern the lives of men and women. What is important to note here is that Martin Luther essentially freed the common spirit in all people. The truth is that God can be directly approached by all because each of us is a potent seed of knowledge. Accordingly, Luther proclaimed that indulgences need not be purchased from the Church as a surplus grace to protect the self from sin or for absolution.


     This approach to realizing truth is by direct experience. To quote Vivekananda:


     What right has a man to say he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him? If there is a God we must see Him, if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. Man wants truth, wants to experience truth for himself; when he has grasped it, realised it, felt it within his heart of hearts, then alone, declare the Vedas, would all doubts vanish, all darkness be scattered, and all crookedness be made straight. (2)


     A religion that requires the primacy of faith cannot disavow an appeal to a higher authority. The religion that Blake and Vivekananda refer to can best be described as independent witnessing of the Self, the core of the personality. External institutional aid in aiming for gods as well as goods can be grist to the mill only if we learn to separate those attributes that point to the universal Self from those which bring an understanding of the concrete self alone. Reason and emotion are both essential tools in this empirical process until we break out of darkness into dawns light and are able to universalize ourselves. Just as rational beings can reach for universal values as reasonable moral judgements, so can pure emotions lift the fog of our dyspeptic desires and direct us to the path of happiness. Together, they indicate to us a direct experience of Self-knowledge, where reason is not independent of emotion.






     1. William Blake, The Auguries of Spring.

     2. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 1.127-8.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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