PRIMAL ELEMENTS : THE ORAL TRADITION
It is my pleasure to introduce the first of the five Volumes, entitled Prak]rti : The Integral Vision. This Volume focuses attention on the cosmogonical myths prevalent in cohesive societies which are articulated not as theory but are manifested in lifestyle, ritual practice, medical systems, art forms, music, dance and in the craft tradition.
The Seminar brought together a number of scholars who had been working at the field level for the programmes of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. Besides, there were others, who have, for years, been pursuing the role of understanding of the five elements in body systems — medicine — preventive and curative medicine and in healing. This was a rich fair. The Volume comprises the Papers and gives an inkling or insight into some of the discussions held at the Seminar.
Professor B.N. Saraswati’s introduction presents the essence as also the dynamics of the discussions which took place at this Seminar. However, no record of this Seminar would be complete without sharing with the readers, the wisdom, the insight, the scientific as also the meditative, outer and inner, vision of a scientist, thinker and philosopher, a modern rishi — who is no more amongst us — Professor D.S. Kothari — who inaugurated the Seminar, or, one should really say, the series of Seminars. He began with the simplicity of a child’s question — a simplicity which can only be given to one who had gone beyond the narrow boundaries of mere intellectual argumentation.
"Why do we feel warm in the sunlight?" "Why does the sun feel warm?", he asked. This is the first and the last question. An attempt to give an answer to this question has been the history of civilizations, he said . Is it a physical phenomenon? Is it the body that feels warm? Is it nature that provides the warmth? Is it only the sun that provides the warmth? Or are there other elements in interaction with the body which produce the warmth? If it is the body that feels warm then what is body? Is it matter? Is it an aggregation of the five elements?
These are simple, child-like questions and within them is embodied the history of philosophy, science and the arts. Turning his attention from this, a very simple question, he elaborated lucidly on the eighth, thirteenth and the eighteenth chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, especially on sarira (body) as defined by the Gita. The question asked was: what is sarira? What are the epithets chosen even in seeking an answer to this fundamental question?
Krishna calls Arjuna ‘Kaunteya’, i.e., the son of Kunti — that is the biological link. But is sarira only a physical organism? Sarira is the ksetra (field). Krishna enjoins upon Arjuna to be the ‘knower of the field’. He who has the capacity of ‘knowing’ (comprehending) the field is the ksetrajna.
Body, therefore, is equal to the ksetra. And what is this field? The field is the fivefold body — the sheath of nature, comprising the five elements. Almost as a scientific equation, Professor Kothari extracted the essence of the Gita by stating, body = ksetra, ksetra = five elements. And where from do these five elements come? They come from nature, nature here understood by its Sanskrit name prakrti. Is nature dead without attributes? No, there is no absolute dead matter, because nature itself is psycho-physical, psycho-somatic because it is gunatmaka (i.e., with attributes and qualities). Thus the system by which man comprehends nature and its elements is not just physical or material, it is a psycho-physical system. It begins with the wholeness. Professor Kothari continued to remind us that the material component of the universe is always changing from moment to moment, body to body, the macrocosm to the microcosm, and yet there is something which remains constant. What is that something? He continued, is it not logical that "I am more than the assembly of the parts and the moment I am more than the assembly of the parts, the implications are clear?" I am part of ananta and infinity, and infinity and a continuity despite every moment of flux and change. Consciousness is the eternity and the immutable, he said.
From an enumeration of the thirteenth chapter of the Gita he took us to the eighteenth, where nature of the consciousness of total surrender and of meditation and reflection is articulated. It is thus consciousness and not dead matter, but the combination of consciousness and matter which makes us feel warm in the Sun.
Modern science, he reminded us, has realized for the first time that the atom has a wholeness of its own. It is also ananta, its growth is a dynamic process and it is not merely an aggregation of electrons and protons. Time has now come, said he, when science has to be spiritualized, just as the ritual of the indigenous people had been spiritualized so as to sacralize nature. Science and the perceptions at the level of textual traditions, the metaphysics and the arts and those lived by cohesive communities must converge. Science, he said, has arrived at the dictum that the velocity of light is absolute. It is only modern science which is linking physical matter with consciousness, and if the IGNCA has begun this exploration then it must be complimented and congratulated for its courage. Such questions can only be asked in a spirit of humility, modesty and with an openness of mind where the barriers of disciplines and cultures, ideologies and positions are transcended. The symbiosis of knowledge, vision and values alone can bring about a consciousness of the wholeness. How can this happen? It can happen with a sense of feeling, bhavana, of reflection and of meditation. All this is possible only if man lives by the perennial consciousness that he is one amongst all particles of nature, and is also conscious of the probability and possibility that he can be Brahman.
The audience was blessed and stood in silence and in grace because a scientist and mystic had spoken. The journey of the Seminar had begun.
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi