All papers are to some extent personal testaments, but this presentation is unabashedly so. It has its roots in some momentous experiences earlier this year, which centered on my late sister-in-law’s brief and very painful illness and her sudden death. This paper is consequently dedicated to her.
On account of various circumstances, it happened that I was my sister-in-laws principal caregiver. Emotionally and to some extent physically, I nursed her almost to the end of her life. I nursed her through her pain, her loneliness and her despair. I found myself affected much more profoundly than I thought I would be. As happens sometimes in psychoanalysis, the experience entered deeply into me and had a resonance beyond my comprehension. She entered my dreams as analysands sometimes do. For instance the night she died I had an eerie and terrifying dream that there was someone in the house and someone was trying to put the lights on. It is unclear who was trying to put the lights on - perhaps it was this presence, perhaps it was me. The lights never did get put on andthe presence remained unformed and frightening. So maybe this paper is my attempt to put the lights on, to illuminate what I am terrified of. Perhaps it is my attempt to understand my own death that slinks around mysteriously in the dark.
Not only was her illness and death very painful, the aftermath continued to torment me. I was the executor of her estate, so it fell to my lot to sort through all her papers and possessions. I had to go through notes written to herself, reminding her to do various chores that were now irrelevant. I came across letters and papers that had been carefully put away to be read at leisure in that golden evening that never came. I had to dismantle a lifetime of plans and possessions that in front of my very eyes and in my hands got transformed into unwanted junk. No matter how repugnant I found this transformation, it
was happening and I could not escape the truth of if. All these experiences forced upon me the inevitable question of what on earth was it all about? One moment there is a very full life, the next just a few things to be swept aside and disposed off. It all seemed so arbitrary and meaningless.
Having trained in medicine I am no stranger to death, so I don’t know why this death affected me the way that is has. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she was my age, my contemporary and we had traveled together a long time. Or it might have something to do with the ripeness of my years and the inevitability of my death pressing ever closer to me. I don’t know. But I have till now thought of my death as being a fairly orderly affair. I thought I would at last receive my invitation to the Grand Durbar, which even as I speak, I know is being carefully scripted. I thought there would be a knock on
my door and my heart would sink, but I would try and put on a brave face as I opened the door to my Grand Visitor. I thought we would go through various perfunctory ceremonies as I was escorted out of my life. I had no idea it would not be like that. I never thought that even as I sat waiting patiently at my desk, the wall would be suddenly and violently smashed as a huge tank rolled into the room. The iron treads crushing all ceremony and vestiges of self respect. In a moment my carefully prepared papers and plans would be strewn like confetti around the room and my desk reduced to splinters. There would be no respect, no honour and certainly no consideration. Nothing. It would just be steel treads rolling blindly and relentlessly, crushing all that lay in their path. This is what I witnessed. This is what I saw. Yet even as I trembled something in me protested. I had to try and pluck some meaning out of this disaster. It is hard to find meaning in the ravages of death, for there is no meaning in death, only to death while we are still alive. Meaning is Life’s joyous companion. While we live we can find meaning, even if it is inspired by the savagery of that huge merciless tank. The more I reflected upon it the more I came to feel that for me, meaning lay in communication. For I believe it is communication that generates meaning. Communication can of course be of many sorts but I will concentrate on just three. The first is the communication between people, the subject matter of psychoanalysis. The second area of communication is an internal communication, between different parts of ourselves. It is this internal communication that imbues our lives with meaning and which is expressed most strongly in our imagination and our artistic aspirations. The third area of communication is much more difficult, for it is the area of communication between us and the wider world that we live in. Sometimes it seems this is an extension of the first or second areas of communication, but I would like to think it is outside both, yet it includes them. I will tackle each in turn, but first let me tell you a very personal way in which they forced their attention on me.
Each of the three areas I mention were points of contact and communication around my sister-in-laws death. The first was inspired by the moment that I held her hand as she passed out of consciousness in the hospital. That moment in my mind was a replication of her fondest memory of holding her father’s hand when she was a little girl and him reciting verses of the Gita to her as they strolled in their garden. She remembered these verses and in reciting them she remained connected both with her father and the Gita. The second moment of inspiration came at the moment I dispersed her ashes standing in the ocean. There was a flash of vermilion in the water and a whiff of the sandalwood powder that had been mixed with her ashes. A large wave crashed against my chest and that was it; no traces remained. The third moment came when I smashed the clay urn of her ashes on a rock crying “Ram naam satya hai” (the Hindu funeral chant) which means “The name of God is truth”. In other words, so long as the name of truth can be articulated, it is called God. I hope to show later when there is no such articulation there is just truth. So this paper is basically a search for meaning in these moments of contact – first between hands as life passes from person to person. Secondly, meaning that may exist as a flash of colour between endless waves of the ocean. And finally in the truth that lies in the world between our many words.1. TRUTH PASSING BETWEEN HANDS
Man is named after his hand – “manus”. It is the hand that tills, caresses, kills and communicates. Even when the hand is not directly involved, it is implicitly there when we are touched by scenery, piece of music or by what someone says. It is the hand that reaches out for understanding, friendship, sustenance and help. And it is the hand that gives, helps, sustains and encourages. We have created language to abstractly do what our hands can’t do, whether it is to communicate with each other, or whether it is to give us a handle on our universe that we can then grasp. It is the hand of the parent that
protectively holds the hand of the child and it is our language for the universe that protectively holds our minds by giving us a place in it. The Gita chants its song of the universe, the father chants his love for his child and the child chants her love for him and the Gita. There is a dynamic circle of hands touching hands, hands reaching out for hands and hands protecting hands. The touching of hands is the touching of minds. The touching of minds is our communication with each other and the world we live in. Between hands passes love, compassion and hatred. Hands stand for us and for our relationships with each other. This is the primary place of meaning. Passing between our hands is our everyday life, our everyday truths and our everyday meaning.
When I talk about truth or life passing between hands, my mind goes immediately to Michelangelo’s famous fresco on the Sistine Chapel ceiling of God giving Life to Adam. This is an enormously evocative depiction that is packed with much meaning. I will try and tease out some of the meaning it has for me. I will group this meaning first under Adam, then under God and then the passing of life between hands.
The posture of Adam is recumbent and relaxed. He is not anxious, he is not eager and he is not grasping what is being given to him. This is in complete contrast to how we are in our everyday lives, always anxious, always rushing and always grasping at whatever we can lay our hands on. This might have something to do with the fact that despite our anxious striving we seem unable to receive the gift of life that is being given to us. Adams posture tells us that in order to receive this gift of life we need to be still, relaxed and languid, but still reaching out.
These days we find it difficult to talk about God because in most quarters to talk about God makes it seem like we are dwelling in the myths of childhood. Most rational people would find it impossible to believe in such an anthropomorphic personal God. Yet here in the fresco, we have a very humanoid God giving life to Adam. How can we come to terms with such a depiction? I have come to terms with it is in this way. The portrait of God in this picture has a close resemblance to Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses with the Ten Commandments tucked under his arm. So the way that I understand God here is
a personification of the Law, not just the laws of human relationships, but the laws of the Universe. I understand the appearance of human beings on this planet as being the inevitable outcome of the laws of life and evolution on Earth. So we could say that it is these laws that result in mankind or that these laws are responsible for the existence of mankind portrayed as Adam. For me the posture of God in this picture is also significant, for in contrast to the stationary Adams, God is very much on the move. His bearing, posture and beard express total dynamism. He has no sooner created Adam than he is
already on the move again. He is looking back at Adams but he is already onto his next job, his next project. Neither Time nor God pause for a moment. Life creates life and having created life moves on relentlessly to other lives other creations, endlessly.
THE TOUCHING FINGERS
The whole point of this fresco is the contact between God and Adam depicted as the contact between the hands or between the two fingers. It is within that tiny gap between the two fingers that the whole mystery and majesty of this wonderful scene lies. It is in that contact that has just been made, that Adam comes to life, the scene comes to life, the Sistine ceiling comes to life, life comes to life. Without that contact how can there be life? We have to reach out for and touch life, in order to come to life. Life has to reach out and touch us for us to come to life. To me this picture is a beautiful depiction of psychoanalysis. But please don’t misunderstand when I say that, for I am not so blind or arrogant to suggest that the psychoanalyst somehow breathes life into the analysand. Or that the psychoanalyst has God like status and the analysand mortal status. I know that is sometimes how both psychoanalysts and their analysands regard themselves. But this has nothing to do with what I am trying to say. For me man and God are not separate beings, for every man can’t but be composed of God and how can there be a God unless he is composed of man? What I mean is that God is an aspect of man, and man likewise is an aspect of God or creation. Likewise how can there be a universe that is not governed by its inner laws and how can there be laws of the universe if they didn’t have a Universe to manifest themselves in? How can there be an analyst without an analysand and how can there be an analysand without an analyst? The words I am uttering would be meaningless gibberish if they came from a void and went to a void. These words have meaning only because they come from me, and they have meaning only because they are received by you. Unless the words that I am saying can reach out and touch you they cannot come to life, the contact between you and me cannot come to life. This to me is the essence of psychoanalysis. It is the coming into contact of two human beings, two fingers and two minds. It lies in that moment when the words that are exchanged touch the heart and the heart is moved to new life. For this to occur there needs to be a languid receptive state of mind on the one hand. On the other hand this state of mind needs to be combined with a dynamic reaching out for life. Both states of mind have to gradually be cultivated both in the psychoanalyst and in the analysand. When the initial essential conditions are fulfilled the outcome inevitably arises, mankind inevitably evolves, God inevitably evolves. This is as much a law of psychoanalysis as it is of the universe. For it is in the nature of life to manifest itself and for development to take place. The contrary is also a law of the
universe, for if the initial necessary conditions are not met, development can’t take place, man can’t evolve, God can’t evolve.2. A FLASH OF COLOUR
Anyone standing by the ocean for any length of time can’t help but be impressed with the arrhythmic rhythmicity of the waves. The waves come with their own momentum and dash themselves against the shore endlessly. There is something in that movement that communicates timelessness to us. Ashes on the other hand are gray and soft. If you hold them in your hand they just sit there motionlessly, regardless of the fact that they once lived and breathed like the hand that now holds them. If you scatter them on the surf they disappear tracelessly. But the priest that conducted the funeral service told us not to do that. He told us to mix the ashes in milk and add to it certain colours and sandalwood powder. This he told us to cast out to sea with some flowers, looking up at the empty vastness of the sky. The ashes are formless, the ocean timeless and the sky vast and empty. To this was added a dash of colour, a whiff of perfume and a few flowers. Briefly, ever so briefly, formlessness, timelessness and emptiness had form, colour and texture. Briefly ever so briefly there was a human being. Then something heaved in that arrhythmic rhythmicity of the vast ocean and there was just formlessness, timelessness
and emptiness again. This is called surf, this is called ashes, this is called life. Our lives add something to what is formless, timeless and empty ever so briefly. But it is not just our lives that do that, it is what we do in every moment of our lives. We try to add something to life’s fleeting moments. We do this in many different ways, but I want to concentrate on something quite specific, poetry. You see poetry doesn’t really exist outside of life. It is merely something that being added to life becomes part of life. It is a way of seeing and feeling about things. It is adding a bit of colour, a touch of fragrance to the way in which we see and feel. Of course it amounts to nothing. Ashes remain ashes and surf remains surf. But for just a moment something comes to life and gives a certain meaning that would not be there if we didn’t add that colour, that fragrance.
Of the many forms of poetry that exist in our world, I want to say a little bit about haiku for it is this form of poetry that seems to convey best what I am trying to communicate. As many of you would know, haiku is a Japanese form of very brief verse, so brief in fact that they are almost wordless. The fact that it is Japanese in origin is important, for there is something in Japanese culture that places a very high value on things natural. The Japanese soul seems wedded to nature in a manner and to a degree that is quite remarkable and unique. I don’t like to talk about people, countries or culture as if they were something that is out there and not to be found in here. That is not what I mean, for what I am talking about is to be found here too. I am only talking about tendencies or propensities. There seems to be a constant effort in the Japanese to approximate more closely to what is natural, whether it is in gardening, religion or poetry. This tendency doesn’t seem as marked in other cultures or traditions. Haiku thus reflect this naturalistic tendency. Haiku are thus always about nature or the interleafing of nature with human nature. They have a horror of symmetry, abstraction and hyperbole. They tell it as it is, and they tell it simply and briefly. Words come in the way, concepts come in the way. Yet despite their utter simplicity they add a flash of colour and a whiff of fragrance ever so briefly to the swell that keeps surging and retreating, every day every moment. I will illustrate what I am trying to say with 3 haiku by Issa. Haiku are poems and best left uncommented on. However, since I am using them here as illustrations, I will add afew comments after each haiku. The first haiku –“Dodging the crowd,
Like all haiku this is an extremely simple poem and could pass unnoticed. The event described too could pass unnoticed, for it is such a small detail that it would seem hardly worth anyone’s time to notice it. Yet that is just the point of the poem. There is a certain amount of ambiguity in this haiku as indeed there is in all haiku, for it is unclear who it is that is dodging the crowd. My inclination would be to think that it is a child, for who else would dodge the crowd clutching a poppy. You see most of are members of the crowd racing ahead in our busy lives, full of the cares and worries of a complex world. Who
would notice a little child grasping a poppy? Or for that matter, who would notice a poppy, with our without the child? But the child notices the poppy, for the mind of the child is not cluttered like our minds, that is why the child is able to grasp the poppy. It is equally possible that the poet is aware that most of the time he is a member of the crowd, equally blind and deaf to the details of life that really matter. It might be that just very occasionally he is able to have the mind of a child and when he does then he can grasp the poppy and thereby dodge the surging busy mind. And he will need to really grasp the
poppy for he knows that soon he will lose it in his crowded mind. In the same way we can see the poppy when for a brief instant the surf is coloured and we catch a whiff of sandalwood. We know we have added it to the surf, and because we have added it we can see the surf. The surf and poppy have always been there but we don’t always grasp them. When we do, then no matter how fleeting that grasping, it is something that is very precious. We add this very simple haiku to reality, and by adding it, we capture it.
The second haiku –
“Praying mantis –
on temple bell.”2
This is a very beautiful haiku and for me exceedingly complex, though I am sure Issa never meant it to be. On surface it could mean that the praying mantis has as much devotion or religion on its mind as the priest that rings the bell. Which many of us would agree is not very much! But it could also mean that the mantis has a deeper understanding of religion than many of us have, for the mantis doesn’t distinguish itself from reality like we do. It is merged with reality and hence it is a totally unselfconscious part of the world as it is. When someone rings the temple bell we can all hear it and our minds are drawn to the many connotations that the bell brings. How many of us are there that can hear the bell that is not rung? How many of us can hear when there is no ringing to be heard? When there is no colour in the surf, no poppy in the surging crowd? Yet the praying mantis has one hand on the bell and that one hand is ringing the bell silently. Issa hears the bell, as he always does, for he hears the mantis, he hears the bell and he hears the communication that passes between them. Hands are touching hands and the Bhagvad Gita is passing silently between them. When we can hear that Song, we can hear what Issa heard when saw the hand of the mantis on the bell. For it is a touching of hands, a passing of communication. The bell rings as it has never rung before. Can you hear it?
The third haiku –
“My empty face,
I don’t think that Issa here is talking about the concept of emptiness in Buddhism. A deep understanding of Buddhist emptiness is much sought after and yet it is an understanding that is rarely found. So it is not something that can ever be “betrayed”. What Issa is here talking about is vacancy. How vacant his face, his mind, his life is. Yet for the most part it is concealed in darkness. Is this true of us as well? If we and our lives are indeed vacant can we bear to expose them? For the most part our vacancy is concealed in the darkness of busy lives, in papers painstakingly put together like the one that I am reading, in lectures that reveal little of who we are. We carry our vacant faces in this darkness, never seeing this vacancy and hoping to God no one else can either. But then very occasionally there is a flash of lightening that illuminates this vacancy. Lightening comes in many forms and places. Lightening can be in the form of a poppy or in the sound of a silent bell. Lightening can come when we see our footprints vanishing in the surf and lightening can come when we lose someone we love. Suddenly for a brief moment all is revealed. Suddenly in that hard cold light we can see ourselves and our faces in the unbearable vacancy of our lives. There is no escaping it. We see clearly that haggard, gaunt and lined face that has seen too much, known too much. We cannot escape it. After this brief revelation, merciful darkness again envelopes us. We resume our vacant busyness, our petty jealousies and our fatuous aspirations. It is as if that flash of lightening never took place. With any luck we won’t hear the deep thunder that follows it either –
“Another and another Cup to drown
The Memory of this Impertinence!”43. THE NAME OF GOD IS TRUTH
I would like to illustrate this third section with a part of the “Mahaparinibbana Sutta” which is about the Buddha’s last days. The Buddha was said to embody the truth in an absolute way, but actually we can all be said to embody the truth in our own relative ways.
My understanding of this section of the Sutta is that it describes Buddha’s cousin and devoted personal attendant, Ananda, being absolutely beside himself with despair and grief at the Buddha’s extremely painful illness, knowing perfectly well that the Buddha would soon be dead. When the Buddha dies the movement will be leaderless and he Ananda, will be completely lost and orphaned. He is asking, pleading, begging that the Buddha tell him who will be the next leader that will protect and guide the movement. He is longing to know the formula, the magic word that will maintain order and meaning
in a world on the brink of collapse, for that is what the death of someone close to one does, collapses any sense of meaning. The Buddha understands intimately the nature of the question and says that he has no secret teaching or formula or magic word that he has kept to himself like many a secretive teacher does in order to maintain power and prestige over his pupils. Whatever he has known that would be of benefit to his followers he has taught. He has never made distinctions of inner and outer circles either of pupils or the teaching. For instance he expressly forbade the teaching being preserved in sacred Sanskrit, but wanted it to be held in the common language of the people, Pali – there was never any elite versus common, distinction in what he taught. Whatever he taught it was all there, it was just thus, like the Tathagata himself, who was just “thus”. (“Tathagata” literally means “thus come” or “thus gone”.) To assume that the Tathagata is different from the thus-ness of the world or that the teaching has some secret communication that is different from the world as it is, is to miss the whole point. If someone wants to talk in terms of principal and peripheral then let them do so, the Buddha said. “Tathagat na evam hoti …” which literally means, the Tathagata is not like this i.e. he is not the principal and he is not the peripheral. The Buddha says explicitly to Ananda, for him and his followers, to find the truth in themselves. Implicitly the message is a bit more complex and communicates something along these lines - “If you are trying to find salvation in my person Ananda, witness the fact of my decease. You can see Ananda, for yourself that I am just like an old cart kept going by being strapped together. And you know what keeps me going Ananda? It is not that there is something special about me. It is my being able to reflect on and become one with what is formless, nameless and infinite in me. That is how the pain of the world can be endured by putting it in context, by realising that it and I are just ‘Thus’ - this finite painful body and this infinite pain free mind, which are different aspects of the same reality, without beginning and without end. Therefore Ananda, be mindful of all that is happening in your body, mind and soul”. The “therefore” here is emphatic, and links the preceding with the succeeding. It confirms that all this talk about leader and followers, principal and peripheral is about body and spirit, not as distinct and separate, but as intimately intertwined and interconnected. It confirms how the same entity is both limited and finite yet also free and infinite. “Therefore” says the Buddha to Ananda, “Do not turn to other people, as you are turning to me for support and guidance. Be independent Ananda. Turn to what is already in you, what is already in the teaching. There are no secrets, no inner or outer, no principal or peripheral, no leader or followers, just body and spirit. All that exists is right here in you, this intimate capacity for consciousness of yourself, this self awareness of the universe. If you can dwell thus, your will benefit enormously, both now and forever more.”
This then is how I understand this section of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta. I think the importance of this section is highlighted by the Buddha’s last words, for they summarise what he expresses more fully here. The Buddha’s words last words were “Vyaydamma sankhara. Appamadena sampadetha.” These words literally mean “All conditioned things are of a nature to decay – strive on untiringly.” These 4 words are simultaneously a statement of the Buddha’s own demise and his exhortation and encouragement to his followers to the very end. But they are also a summary of the sentiment of the above discourse – not to think that there is no teaching or salvation apart from the physical person of the Buddha, for we too, like the dying Buddha are in the process of decay, even as I talk to you and you listen to me. But that doesn’t mean that we are already dead. To be human is to be both finitely and painfully animal and yet at the same time to have a joyous and infinite symbolic capacity. His last words economically capture this duality of our existence and also suggest that emancipation is reached by awareness of our death and finiteness. While there is life there is the capacity for self-awareness and we must strive for this self-awareness, for that is what really matters, that is the only thing that matters. When the urn that contained the ashes is smashed, the name of truth is smashed, Buddha is smashed, but the truth is not therefore smashed. For with the death of the Buddha, the smashing of the urn, all that now remains is the nameless truth – this surf, this sky, this moment, this you, this me. “Ram nam satya hai.” Yet God doesn’t become
God by being called God, but is God in spite of being called God. A person doesn’t become a person by being given a name, but is a person despite the name, despite the identity. Names and identities are defined territories, circumscribed briefly within the dimensions of time. When that identity is lost there is just that nameless identity that is outside the dimension of time. The Buddha is the Buddha, but he is also the ‘thusness’ of the world, ‘Tathagata’. But frightened creatures that we are, we want to cling to names, we want to cling to signposts rather than what they are pointing to. Freed from the urn, ashes become the sand, the surf and the sky. How can there be sand without surf or surf without sand? The sky is infinite, as is the ocean. Namelessly they reflect each other infinitely.
Psychoanalysis is a name for a complex multifaceted relationship between two people. It is true that the name defines the parameters of what we call psychoanalysis, yet psychoanalysis keeps spilling over those parameters and extending into the world-as-it-is. Equally the world-as-it-is, keeps spilling over the parameters that define psychoanalysis. The world-as-it-is lives fully within the parameters of psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis is fully a part of the world-as-it-is. When we fail to understand this, we fail to understand the meaning of psychoanalysis; we fail to understand the truth.
How can one carry ashes except in an urn? How can meaning be carried except in a name? How can the sky, the sand and the surf be carried except in one’s heart? The brief moment of these elements coming together is called a life. What is life but a flash of vermilion, a whiff of sandalwood? Then the surf rolls in and rolls out, leaving no traces. This is the rhythm of life; this is “Ram nam satya hai.”CONCLUSION
I would like to conclude this presentation by another haiku from Issa. Tragic Issa. Issa who had 4 children all of whom died in quick succession, followed some years later by the death of his wife. “He married again (in 1824) but was soon divorced. In 1827, his house burnt down, and in poverty and heartbroken, he died, survived by a third wife and an unborn child.” One needs 5 to understand something of this background of enormous and repetitive loss to fully appreciate the magnitude of this haiku –
“World of dew?
and yet …”6
This beautiful world of ours is as fragile and transient as morning dew. Dew is there to be found every morning. Buddhist teachings are to be found in every garden, every mind. Psychoanalytic sessions are dew drops, transient and never to be repeated. The whole sky is reflected in every dewdrop; the whole Buddhist canon is found in a whiff of fragrance and the whole analysis is to be found in one session, one moment of one session. Truth is transience and transience is truth. Who can argue with that? Issa doesn’t argue with it yet he still says “and yet …” What is this ‘and yet’? It might be he
is talking about the gap between the fingers of God and Adam. This gap might be between you and me as we reach out for each other. This “yet” might lie between endless waves of ocean coloured with a line of haiku, a fragrance of the dharma. This “yet” might be “Vyayadhamma sankhara. Apmadena sampadetha.” We live our life watching it slip like grains of sand through our fingers. We live our life watching it being dashed helpless against the shore. We live our life against the endless open vastness of the sky. And yet, and yet …..