Wednesday, 25 June 2008

green leaf falling upon a little red fish

I have just found out that the Sanskrit term varna (cast) has two literal meanings: firstly colour and secondly veil. In the Vedas, it was also used to depict the light of gods and the glowing colours of dawn. Are colours then nothing but a veil simultaneously hiding and revealing the world to us? And what about the veiling and the unveiling of the soul? Could colours be the essence of such an act, of a deed creating the world? There is also Goethe with his mysterious words: colours are Taten des Lichts, Taten und Leiden - acts of light, acts and sufferings of light. Why must there be pain between the veiling and the unveiling? And could this veil be used to bind the lover, to bind the self to the object, the soul to its longing, to its act?

It is written in the Bhagavad Gita: These works never bind me, for I have no desire for their fruit. He who knows me as Truth is never bound by actions.

Note to the picture:
the red fish are carp,
koi (鯉), the colourful, ornamental kind which one can find swimming in all the ponds of Japanese temples. Because of its homophony with koi (恋), love, the carp has been used as a symbol for passionate love throughout the ages. I once read a short story bearing this title, koi, in which the main character receives a carp as a gift and takes care of it in his garden pond. Nothing actually happens. It is considered to be one of the most erotic stories in Japanese literature.


  1. I thought you might like this purple prose:

    After following the Bandar Shah a little while back, we turned to the right down a track between wattle fences. High reeds obscured the view. Suddenly, as a ship leaves an esturay, we came out on to the steppe: a dazzling open sea of green. In other greens, of emerald jade or malachite, the harsh deep green of the Bengali jungle, the sad cool green of Ireland...the heavy full-blown green of English summer beeches, some element of blue or yellow predominates over the others. This was the pure essence of green, indissoluble, the colour of life itself.

    The sun was warm, the larks singing up above. Behind rose the misty blue of the woodland Elburz. In front, the glowing verdure stretched out to the rim of the earth.

    Bearing, landmarks, disappeared as they would from a skiff in the mid-Atlantic. We seemed to be always below the surrounding level, caught in the trough of a green swell. Sitting down we might see for twenty feet: standing up, for twenty miles-and even then, twenty miles away, the curve of the earth was as green as the bank that touched the wheels, so that it was hard to tell which was which. Our only chart was by things whose scale we knew, groups of white kibbitkas, dotted like mushrooms on a lawn-though even in their case it needed an effort of reason to believe they were not mushrooms; and droves of cattle, mares with their foals, black and brown sheep, kine and camels-though the camels were deceptive in the opposite sense, seeming so tall that it needed another effort to believe they were not antediluvian monsters.

    As the huts and animals varied in size, we could plot their distances: half a mile, a mile, five miles. But it was not this that conveyed the size of the steppe so much as the mutliplicity of these encampments, cropping up wherever the eye rested, yet invaraibly separate a mile or two from their neighbours. There were ..of them , and the sight, therefore, seemed to embrace hundreds of miles.

    As plans of cities are inset on maps of countries, another chart on a larger scale lay right beneath our wheels, there the green resolved, not into ordinary grass, but into wild corn, barley, and oats, which accounted for that vivid fire, as if a life within the green. And among these myriad bearded alleys lived a population of flowers, buttercups and poppies; pale purple irises and dark purple campanulas, and countless others, exhibiting all the colours, form and wonders that a child finds in its first garden. Then a puff of air would come , bending the corn to a silver ripple, while the flowers leaned with it; or a cloud shadow , and all grow dark, as if for a moment's sleep; so that this whole inner world of the steppe was mapped on a system of infinite minute recessions; having just those gradations of distance that the outer world lacked.

    Our spirits had risen when we left the paltteau. Now they effervesced. We shouted for joy, stopping the car less the minutes that were robbing us of the unrepeatable first vision should go faster. Even the larks in the paradise had lost their ordinary aloofness. One almost hit my hat in its inquisitveness.

  2. is this veiling/unveling not what Goethe called a "fading, soaring"?
    How can there not be pain when the 'object' is lost? lost and found: our oldest game. fort-Da?
    Are there not the green waters after the black?

    In some traditions they talk of 70,000 veils (70 representing the countless) and the veiling and unveiling, as if to say, not "love stilleth the will" but a ceaseless flow, deeper and deeper (should we call this "falling" in love? if the soul's only true act was this longing, this burning and nothing else.."yearning makes the heart grow deeper"), neither bound nor free, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.

    I don't think one can be spellbound by the colours for long though, just as one couldn't be bound by a square piece of fabric.
    After being dazzled, isn't it the warmth that inheres that holds us (holds us, not binds us) close?

    I love your idea that the strands of the soul/world are woven from different coloured fabric. As if some were blue, but more like black. And some were white, but sometimes red.

  3. oh b, this is so wonderful! what are kibbitkas?
    and I love the image of that lark hitting your hat! :-) I suppose you wrote it, didn't you?

  4. anonymous, hi again :-) I won't ask about the colours of your soul then, if you don't think "one can be spellbound by the colours for long though, just as one couldn't be bound by a square piece of fabric" :-)
    what does "long" mean here, though?

  5. no, sorry, should have said: robert byron from the road to Oxiana.

    no idea! will check. I just went with the flow of the words. But this word hits me now like a lark.

  6. "long" depends on the beloved. In the presence of God it is said that a second is like a thousand years. And the temporary absence from a loved one can seem like an aeon.

    if one is bound by the stare of 'beaufiful medusa'then 'long' may be seven seconds or it may be a month. Perhaps there is no sense of time.

    One cannot see the colours of one's own soul. They can only be reflected in the eyes of another.

  7. Interesting reasoning. Goethe's approach is more or like scientific. Light stimulates human retina and spectrum of the pain sends the bunch of bio-electric signals to neurons in our brain and the brain finally recognize the colors collectively as chunk of patterns based on empirical data. Light unveils colors.. might make sense because without light, as a bundled form of energy, there will be no more colors existing. existing. :p

  8. wow, Peter, thank you! I have always wondered what Goethe meant here, these "acts and sufferings of light"... so it is very good after all to have a scientific mind pondering over one's posts :-P