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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    Love.. as in, Fight , Pray, Love
    Originally published as: Love
    The intoxicating substance pervading all.

    (For the 'Fight Pray Love' exhibition Brussels June 2015 Catalog)

    “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

    An old Chinese proverb tells us that when we have only two pennies left in the world, we need buy a loaf of bread with one, and a flower with the other.
    The bread is for surviving, the flower is so we have a good enough reason to survive, a motivation that is over and beyond the needs of the body. This proverb may very well be the very foundation of all aesthetics, for without beauty and the love it engenders, without the motive power of the experience of beyond, why survive?

    It is this very beyondness, beyond the spaces and the times, beyond the moments, whether of joy or of suffering, whether celebrating birth or ritualizing death, that the grand vision of Hindu cosmology depicts.
    Bringing forth a unique blend of universal consciousness, pervading all, towered by gods and demigods, divinities and demons, desires impossible and passions unquenchable, the particularities of the Indian cosmological project is nothing less than stunning.
    It is not a perfect universe, but it is a cosmos that is vibrant, full of life and intent; a cosmos full of meaning and importance, managed by values and consequences.
    Between the dream of Brahma, the sustenance of Vishnu and the all destroying powers of Shiva a grand narrative explodes into being, paving the way for an experience of becoming unlike any other.
    Abundantly providing the human mind with a plethora of divinities and symbols, representations and manifestations , naturally ascending and transcending the banal and temporal into concepts of a-temporality and immortality, the Indian reality discernible in art and poetry, music and rituals is over and above all a mythology of love and beauty, being and becoming.
    Vishnu, for instance, the supreme blue being holding a lotus (padma) in one hand, a mace (kaumodaki gada) in the second, the conch (panchajanya shankha) in the third and the final weapon of choice the chakra (Sudarshana Chakra) in his fourth hand, presents us with a grand vision from which all avatars will be born. So grand is the trimurti that all stand in awe and need surrender their egos before their transformative power.
    None more so than Vishnu, whose very name translates into:
    ”all pervading, present everywhere”. (Adi Shankara in his commentary on the Sahasranama states derivation from viś, with a meaning "presence everywhere". "As he pervades everything, vevesti, he is called Vishnu"). Adi Shankara states (regarding Vishnu Purana, 3.1.45): "The Power of the Supreme Being has entered within the universe. The root viś means 'enter into').
    But what is it that enters the world via the agency of Vishnu?
    What is it that pervades all and everything?

    A great secret indeed.

    In Hindu cosmology, the universe, the spaces, the times, are all cyclical, endless, repeating, bending and turning upon themselves.
    This aspect of Hindu cosmology might probably be the closest to the way we currently understand the state of affairs of the universe, via our modern astronomy, physics and mathematics. But the sages of the Rig Veda knew something even deeper, they knew all these cycles and repetitions in time and in space are all part and parcel of the great life of the cosmos to which we, humans, are only a small and insignificant part. And yet within the great sleeping cycles of Brahma, along the quasi infinite Manus, where life is born again and again, there, lays an even deeper profundity.

    That profundity, as stated in the Natya Shastra, belongs to Vishnu, source of all avatars, especially because Vishnu is the final and ultimate presiding deity of the Sṛngara rasa, the rasa of erotic love, romantic love, or passionate attraction but more importantly and above all the rasa of beauty.

    Vishnu, beauty, love, rasa, attraction, being , becoming, a continuous and unbreakable chain, all pervading, intoxicating, invigorating, stimulating.

    “Where there is love there is life. “ (Mahatma Gandhi)

    When Gandhi spoke those famous words, he meant something very different from what we understand, he desired to whisper frontally and in public, a secret and very ancient wisdom.
    He spoke in the English language but behind the words lay a mysterious and most magnificent landscape of meanings and insinuations, a geography of wisdom and understandings, a continuum of immensities, universes within universes, all patiently waiting to be unveiled and tasted, unfolded and experienced, but which so very often remains hidden in the deep recesses of the human mind veiled by its immediate needs.

    Ghandi spoke of a secret. And what a secret it is!

    There exists a secret that only very few initiates ever have been able to touch, to experience and to be immersed in.
    This secret that was whispered amongst the deserts and plains of Asia for millennia, we in the western hemisphere commonly call - love. A term we both overuse and underestimate, very much unlike the Indian (or eastern) tradition.

    Love, the very embodiment in one word of a dynamic motion. One word, Love, that has as many constituents and attributes, features and qualities as the number of minds that will use the term.
    Nowhere has the term been researched and amplified, recognized and elevated as in the Indian subcontinent.
    There a colorful and deep mythology brought to life in the forms of stories and images, representations and rituals, evolved over the course of millennia to bring into manifestation the love of being and the passion of becoming.

    Led by powerful minds, that in some mysterious fashion were able to transcend the banality of everyday life into an ephemeral yet extremely powerful sense of being and communion with forces and energies, far from the modern and farther yet from the common.
    Indian culture in this sense provides us with an array of options of becoming that is nothing less than astonishing.
    What is maybe the most surprising aspect of this culture in this respect is the paradoxical, and to some westerners, alien, concept of emotions.
    There is no term that describes emotions in Sanskrit, which is itself a paradox since the culture is steeped in highly emotional energies.
    Though there is no emotion (at least not in the common Greco-Latin influenced western translation) there are many ‘emotions’ and more importantly ‘feelings’, critical aspects of the interaction of the human with the world in which he or she finds himself or herself respectively.

    The perspective we suggest is that the secret of Love as manifested in the Indian philosophy is best represented in Indian art, in its manner of being conceptualized and in its deep connectivity to the flow of all life.
    Therefore to enter the realm of love we will need explore Indian art, itself an enigma, for its aesthetics understanding is very deep and in a sense all encompassing.

    To penetrate into the challenge or secret of Indian art and its manifestations we need first consider the subject matter of Rasa, the very essential ingredient in the aesthetic perception of life.
    Rasa is a difficult concept to understand for us westernized minds, but maybe the way to go about it is by accepting that rasa is a generalized emotion, a very special kind of consciousness or cognition from which the individual needs and necessities have been expunged.
    Art in the sense of Rasa then is a special kind of mimesis, an imitation, but a very special and highly extraordinary form of imitation, for it imitates not a form but an essence, a universality or a potentiality.
    That may probably be the most important issue at play here, for ‘essence mimesis’ is fundamentally different than ‘form mimesis’.
    Consequently, the difference between Indian art in its deepest sense and western art conceptualization is in ‘that which is being imitated’.
    Rasa, in this respect can be said then to be the emergence of the sense of being and becoming associated with a direct interaction with a form (the art in itself) that carries an essence and in many cases ‘is’ the essence in manifest.

    In this sense when we look upon a form of art, contrary to the commonly objectified manner we usually look at objects and believe to perceive them, in the case of Rasa, the observer, the work of art and their interaction need be understood as one coherent whole.
    Art accordingly is not an object but an event that gives us not only the intelligence hidden in the thing in itself (for according to rasa it is impossible to grasp the thing in itself outside the interaction or merging of man and object- concluding in an event of possibilities opening up) but the very essence that is hidden and points the way to self transformation.
    To the westernized mind, aesthetics objectifies a reality, discriminates its qualities and features and arrives to find an experience. Rasa, on the other hand, whether understood as taste, juice or essence, is a completely different theory of aesthetics. In fact it is illuminating to comprehend that for Rasa to be, to exist, the observer must, in a fashion, lose herself within the experience of art, manifesting as an emergent situation of sensation and emotion, that is a-priori transcendent.

    The sense of Rasa should in fact be understood as a deeper reality manifested in the event of experience, in which the triplicate of the art work, the observer and the essence are merged at the point of time and space of the event of Rasa.
    Since there is no duality as it exists for us, due to our heritage of western thought, dividing our bodies and minds, the experience of Rasa is a full spectrum wholeness, a process and a continuous progression. A raga for the soul or a vision to the senses, the experience of Rasa is transformative and totally immersive, it is a manifestation of the higher faculties of the mind translated into an immediate experience of absorption.

    This fashion of understanding the world, the mind and the full spectrum of human experience is radically different than our common understanding, based as it is on our Greco-Roman philosophy.
    In the old Greek tradition the division between techne and episteme was to be the fundamental influence on all matters. The original (Greek) division is between that which can be ‘made’ or techne and that which can only be theorized as knowledge or ‘episteme’. Techne in fact is more akin to craft or art (though eventually we have translated that into technology) and episteme might better be understood as the equivalent to that which we today might call ‘theory’.
    We are as a matter of fact highly influenced by the Aristotelian view of opposition between ‘knowledge’ as episteme and ‘crafting’ as in techne’ but also this contrast is new (relatively speaking). For writers of Greek philosophy before Aristotle such a division was anything but a miscomprehension. According to Xenophon and his mentor Socrates not only is there no such distinction that makes sense, but: “Socrates explicitly identifies as technai such activities as playing the harp, generalship, piloting a ship, cooking, medicine, managing an estate, smithing, and carpentry; by association with these technai, we can include housebuilding, mathematics, astronomy, making money, flute playing, and painting. Without marking any difference, he also calls many of these activities epistêmai.” (1)

    In other words, the division is an illusion, and nowhere more so than in the Indian tradition of Rasa, for Rasa (though translated as the equivalent of our aesthetic experience) sees no division between the knowledge and the making. This is an important facet of the Indian craftsmanship and art especially in the making of divinities, for in the making (techne) lays dormant the trigger to a different kind of knowledge ‘episteme’. Indian art in this sense brings forth an emergence of an engulfing sensation, that contains both the ‘intelligence’ or ‘knowledge’ of a particular state of mind and the sensation of being part of this same knowledge via the ‘making’ or techne of practice, that may be translated also as a form of prayer as acquiring a connection with a higher knowledge, intelligence and ‘essence’.
    We suggest that in Indian art we find a ‘rising above’ the distinction of art and technology, a floating beyond the distinction of techne and episteme, a merging of theory and practice into one seamless whole. This merging results in the Indian form of making divinities that are not a representation of a force but a manifestation of a knowledge that through practice and sensing brings forth a process of becoming or the ‘essence’ or ‘drinking the juice’, the Rasa.
    Rasa in the sense I understand it is a term that represents a communion with an intelligence, a self transforming engagement, a process of becoming that aims to beautify the mind and the world, to connect to the natural wonder of life in a fashion that is over and above the mundane.

    Which brings us to the ultimate realization of the rasa conceptualization - that of the great secret of Love.

    Love then

    In Indian philosophy, culture and mythology love is a multiplicity of states, all related to feelings of beauty and transformation of perception.
    Whether we use terms of longing such as Kama, seen as desire or longing (but often also as wish or passion) or Sringara, one of the nine Rasas, usually translated as erotic love, romantic love, or as attraction or beauty, the motion of self transformation is crystalline.
    Alternatively we could use Bhakti a form of love, most often associated with religious devotion. Bhakti, literally meaning "portion or share", from the root bhaj- "to partake in, to receive one's share”, is a fascinating concept especially if we understand the devotion not in the act of worship itself (though so it is usually conceived) but as partaking in the essence and emerging from the experience as ‘part of’ the divinity itself. The form of love called Bhakti leads one to Iṣṭa-devatā, literally "cherished divinity" (from iṣṭa "desired, liked, cherished" and devatā "godhead”), technically meaning the worshipper’s favorite deity, or the divinity which inspires him or her the most.
    In this sense the concept of Iṣṭa-devatā tells us that one can choose which divinity to worship and in what fashion. Put differently, we could say that the love that permeates the universe of Indian mythology is immense enough to accommodate the specific characteristics of the worshipper’s personal love and it is up to each and every one to find her love in the divinity, unconstrained by the particular deity one is affiliated with.

    I find this particular aspect of Indian traditional philosophical perspective particularly enlightening, for even in the Vaishnavism tradition the concept of choosing ones deity is prevalent. A particular form of Vishnu can be chosen, manifested as one of his avatars whether Krishna or Rama.
    The fact that one can choose a deity that fits his being is paramount and critical to understanding Indian art, how much more so when the subject matter are the divinities manifesting love.

    The world of Indian art manifestations of the intelligence and essence as divinities is an enormous ocean of sensations waiting to be experienced. It is silent on first approach, hiding its multilayered, many faceted existences from casual beholding. But an observant lover, as any art appreciation personification should be, according to Rasa, can meditate or worship, approaching openly the manifestation, then the whispers of distant pasts will reveal themselves to his inner ear, engendering an experience unlike any other.
    This experience, that carries a transformative value as well as an integrity leading to a higher comprehension of ethics, translates into becoming. The reason this is possible in Indian art is due to the Vedas’ conception of time and its manipulation, allowing the image in Indian art to be not a representation but a manifestation of the divine.

    And the divine permeates all, as Love, the intoxicating substance that pervades all and everything.

    A note:

    As some of my readers know, I am an avid fan of Indian art and philosophy, I am thoroughly grateful for the opportunity I have had to write these words for the beautiful exhibition catalog.

    Though it is not my usual style nor kind of writing I have had and still do an amazing moment whilst contemplating the depth of Rasa and Love.

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