THE CHAIN OF ABSOLUTES - (POOJIYANGALIN SANGILI)
POEMS BY SIRPI BALASUBRAMANIAM
THE EVOLUTION TOWARDS SPIRITUAL EMANCIPATION
Dr. Jayanthasri Balakrishnan, Ph.D (English). Ph.D (Tamil).
The Chain of Absolutes (Poojiyangalin Sangili) is undoubtedly the magnum opus of Sirpi’s laudable literary contribution to modern Tamil poetry, and it is unlike any other poem ever written in contemporary Tamil verse. Its very freshness of thought and diction make it specifically singular from the other works of the poet.
The sources which have influenced Sirpi’s treatment of cosmic love are manifold. The poet’s knowledge of the Hindu Holy Scriptures, particularly the Upanishads may have taught him that the Supreme Reality of the universe manifests itself through every form of creation, and whatever subsists is the manifestation of the Absolute. Sirpi, being a Romantic in his poetic values, believes firmly that the natural world is a vast analogue to the spiritual world. Like the American Transcendentalists, Sirpi trusts in the eternal inner search for the cosmic consciousness which, is realized through conflicts and contradictions. His unrelenting spiritual view of reality bears a semblance to Emerson’s endeavour to see the universal soul in an individual soul. Sirpi’s search for the Self is intuitive and is totally devoid of ritualistic intermediaries. Zen Buddhism holds that all sentient beings have Buddha nature, the universal nature of transcendent wisdom. The ultimate goal of this is to become completely enlightened. Sirpi’s profound knowledge of the doctrines of Zen Buddhism and Sufism has added to the poetic dimensions visible in the The Chain of Absolutes. As a poet of reason, Sirpi gives appropriate weightage to the scientific perception of creation and Einstein’s concept of Time.
Under the influence of these diverse, philosophic, scientific and spiritualistic theories Sirpi has evolved his own philosophic convictions regarding universal love. This seamless perpetual love is the organic force that operates at the basis of all life. Whitman would call it, “a keelson of the creation”, a reinforcement to bear the burden of creation. This cosmic kindred spirit knows not age, gender, race or language. It is a mysterious magnetic force that sews together all differences, embalms all bruises, enlightens all hearts and emancipates all desiring souls. Every atom of this organic energy is a panacea for all maladies, and The Chain of Absolutes addresses the possibilities of a conscious spiritual evolution through love.
The process of depersonalization:
Sirpi acknowledges in his foreword that he was ‘possessed’ indeed while going through the creative process of The Chain of Absolutes. He was in a conscious trance in which he found himself to be an echo and a voice, both at once – an echo of the past and a voice for the future. A part of him took the legitimate credit for being a successor of the great literary lineage with Mahakavi Bharathi for its high priest. The other part of Sirpi’s poetic self gathered endearingly Ananda Coomarasamy, Pudumai Pitthan, Jayakanthan and Sundara Ramaswamy as his fraternal siblings. This unique state of creative trance made him let go his individual self and accept the cosmic self. His voice no longer belonged to him but to a chorus of sages and teachers, men of letters and wisdom, who have been chanting the mantra of self liberation. Sirpi evolves from a poet to the poet. His historic inheritance of poetry makes him realize the timelessness of his poetry. This realization makes The Chain of Absolutes represent not “the pastness of the past but its presence”, rather the perennial presence of the past.
Depersonalization of this kind is crucial for a poet, who is after his cosmic self. In this detachment, Sirpi finds his new heights. He beholds cosmic love from without and within. He becomes a seer and the seen as well. He surrenders and by surrendering he conquers. “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality” says T.S. Eliot in his ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’. Through depersonalization, the poet emerges perfectly tuned to pronounce with Vallalar that the viewer, his vision and the viewed are all but one. Depersonalization enables Sirpi view the universe with historical sense, “which is a sense of timeless as well as the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together” and this makes Sirpi bridge the void between mental time and mechanical time. Hence he declares,
“I break open the shell
Of the egg of Time, and
I hop out as its fledgling”
From BEING to BECOMING:
Being is static and Becoming is dynamic. Hence Nature preserves an uninterrupted continuity in the process of evolution. Every being has its intrinsic value not only because of what it is, but also by the virtue of its being a part of an evolutionary process. Nature propagates its success through sustenance of life. A true philosopher - bard would marvel at the unfailing regularity with which Nature replicates herself and his wonder would manifest as love, the original energy.
The Chain of Absolutes promises that liberation is possible only through cognizant fruition. This promise, like the Delphic oracle, resonates through every sentence of the long dialogues that take place between a progressive teacher and his probing disciple. Both the Teacher and the Disciple are in a trance of self-realization, the only difference being their levels of maturity. The Teacher is at the exit and the Student at the entrance. The reader now becomes an imperceptible participant in this journey of emancipation, at the emotional, intellectual and spiritual levels. The transmittable trance of the teacher and the taught catches the reader too. The brain teasing and the soul searching responses of the enlightened, compassionate, and cerebrally provoking Guru well matched by the intellectual and discerning queries of the disciple hypnotize the reader and transport him to a world of continuous, conscious learning. This rare kind of learning includes the vital component of alert unlearning too.
Dialogue as the Poetic Diction:
Sirpi uses Dialogues, the method used by the Upanishads, by the Greek philosophers and the Zen Buddhists as his poetic diction in The Chain of Absolutes. This method of teaching – learning process as advocated by the Upanishads, (even Bhagavat Gita -Gitopanishad being no exception), the Greeks and the Zen has with stood the test of oblivion. This is the only method where the teacher and the taught together search for emancipation from ignorance. Sirpi’s poetic mastermind and his experience as a teacher have urged him to endow on dialogue as a poetic diction. The dividends are rich indeed. Through out Sirpi’s The Chain of Absolutes, the reader is enticed and engaged in listening to the witty, stimulating, insightful and probing discussions between the Guru and the student. As attaining spiritual freedom is an autonomous activity, the reader finds the Guru allowing his disciple to evolve at a natural and logical pace. The guru facilitates his student to progress steadily towards self discovery; the transcendent wisdom
The Upanishads is collectively considered by the British poet Martin Seymour- Smith amongst the 100 Most Influential Books ever written. Transcendental scholars like Emerson and Thoreau were tremendously influenced by these ageless, collectively authored, holy scripts. All Upanishads have been passed down in oral tradition. Through dialogues the Guru would escort his wards towards illumination. The Sankrit term Upanishad is derived from Upa meaning near by, ni meaning at the proper place and shad meaning to sit. Upanishad thus implies “sitting near a teacher to receive instruction” or, “alternatively sitting at the foot of the teacher”, or “laying siege” to the teacher. Monier Williams’ late 19th century dictionary adds that, “according to native authorities, Upanishad means, “setting to rest ignorance by revealing the knowledge of the supreme spirit”.
The Socratic Method, named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectal method, time and again involving an oppositional discussion in which the defence of one point of view is pitted against the defence of another.
The rediscovery of the self is identified by Zen Buddhism as “introspection”, “a backward step”, “turning about” and “turning the eye inward”. The Zen is non-reliant on written words or texts but emphasizes on debates, discussions and dialogues for self-realization. Zen gurus usually practice Koan inquiry during sitting meditation, walking meditation and throughout the daily activities of daily life. A Koan is a story or a dialogue. They often appear to be paradoxical or linguistically meaningless questions. Koans and their study developed in
within the context of the open questions and answers of the teaching sessions conducted by the Zen masters. Thus meditation is a wordless dialogue and a prayer is a “soliloquy of a jubilant soul”. China
Sirpi uses this ancient method to enlighten his contemporary society.
Three Steps to Enlightenment
Sirpi has segmented this long narrative poem of Dialogues, The Chain of Absolutes in to three sections namely, 1. The Aerial prop Root 2. The Root and 3. The Seed. This classification is noteworthy because much of intellectual insight has gone into it. The natural process of evolution is deliberately reversed by the poet. A tree emerges from a seed that stays in hibernation until it gets the appropriate ambiance for optimum growth. It firmly gets rooted and in this process stands as a symbol of paradox. On one side the roots go deeper searching in darkness and on the other side branches reach out for the sky combing the clouds. No other living organism while growing offers this luxury of moving at opposite directions. The growth of a tree is analogues to the spiritual rediscovery of the self.
The inward journey is a conscious reversal of nature. The dialogues between the teacher and the taught in The Chain of Absolutes begin on a simple plane of thought. The topics for discussion are drawn from the seemingly insignificant objects. Gradually, the conversations grow heavy and deep, consuming and liberating. The flow of diction is smooth and spontaneous that the transition from the outside world to the inside world happens effortlessly. The Aerial prop roots of a Banyan tree offer visible support in holding the mother tree’s heavy branches intact. The Roots of the tree do the same in fastening the tree to the soil, but it is always the Seed, a speck of life which promises immense growth of immeasurable magnitude, that leaves us awe struck. The poem travels from the known, seen and concrete (The Prop Root) to the unknown, unseen abstract (The Root) and from thence forth to the absolute atom of life (The Seed).
Poet Sirpi has made it clear that the spiritual progression is a graded process in which each stage is important, perfect and complete in it self. None the less each juncture is a spring board to reach out to the other. Going through each phase is mandatory because it is an encounter with the Absolute. Thus a travel in search of the self becomes a chain of complete changes – the chain of Absolutes.
The Aerial Prop Root:
The Banyan tree
with its leafy tongues.
The wind listened attentively.
seated under the shade asked:
“I will rise – what tense is this?”
The Student answered:
“I am rising – what tense is this?”
“I have risen – this one?”
The jubilant Teacher
raised his hands
You have attained enlightenment”.
of some one’s fall
– the Grammar!
The banter of leaves continued.
The Chain of Absolutes ( Poojyangalin Sangili ) pp. 16-17.
Thus unwraps the first section of The Chain of Absolutes, ( Poojyangalin Sangili ). The Aerial Prop Root’. Sirpi in a capsule form presents the presence of the over soul, the Brahman, as envisaged by the Upanishads. The Brahman represents is, was and will be. The Absolute remains undeniably a paradox, and hence the dialogues between the Teacher and the taught abound with the seemingly paradoxical use of language.
Interestingly the Zen dialogues are also known for their specialized use of paradoxes. But the insight that the Zen dialogue seeks to offer is not at the common sense level of ordinary linguistic usage. And it is precisely the first step toward enlightenment to realize that the paradox is valid only as long as one remains at the common sense level of understanding. Zen gurus take the Koans, the questions of the students very seriously, as matter of life and death. The question is “the place and the time and the event where truth reveals it self” unobstructed by the oppositions and differentiations of language. The answer of a Koan, makes a student to let go conceptual thinking and like creativity in art the appropriate insight and response arise naturally and spontaneously in his mind.
Sirpi’s master craftsmanship, dexterous use of word pun, and astonishingly economical use of words, create quick and shrewd contexts that bring out the brilliance of the teacher and the taught. The poetic work abounds with ample Koans, outwardly contradictory statements, which “start in delight and end in wisdom”. Some of the examples are as follows:
“That is… the raindrop sprinkled by the stork… This is the droppings of the cloud…”
The Chain of Absolutes ( Poojyangalin Sangili ) p. 19.
“I beseech renunciation, O teacher, make me an ascetic!” Upon the lips of the sage a bird of ridicule spread its wings. He said:“you have started loving from now on” p. 22
“What are you musing over, my son?” “A question … is eating me, O teacher” “What is it?” “My mind is perplexed as to what does mind mean?” “Fine. listen, Mind is a vessel But a strange vessel” “A strange vessel !” The student looked puzzled The teacher gave the answer “Mind is a vessel If you were to put desires in it Its bottom would get unfastened It would never ever be full “If you were to put inside Sorrows…?” “Unable to hold the vessel may break” “If you were to put inside love…?” “The vessel would grow wings and start flying” “What would happen if you were to put inside compassion, teacher?” “It would then glow as untainted gold” “If jealousy is put inside?” “The vessel in rage would lose its lid “ “What should I do to keep it full?” The student asked resignedly with merciful eyes the teacher said “Keep it empty” pp.23-25.
The first phase of spiritual evolution has multiple roles to play. This phase is longer, more intricate and more excruciating than the succeeding two because it is here that the student is initiated, conditioned and nurtured to be the right fit for the metamorphosis. This preparatory ground warrants daring, resolve and unfaltering faith. The student is put to test by fire, the fire of wisdom. The guru introduces him to Nature, the only book of eternal knowledge. At length, the Guru discourses on what trees are to us. Each tree is a symbol of sacrifice. All faiths of mankind have articulated their indebtedness to the trees. Trees have been held sacred, worthy of worship and as objects of veneration
Whitman would record his transition from a boy to a bard in his,’Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking ‘and Sirpi traces the evolution of the disciple in a similar fashion. The disciple is emotionally stirred on seeing a deer being hunted down by a tiger. He laments over the death of a wild peacock. This kind of emotional immaturity is central for total autonomy. Valmiki’s empathy for a pair of Krounch birds poured forth from his heart as melodious slokas. Siddhartha’s compassion transcended him to become the Buddha. Whitman’s anxiety for the birds from
transformed him to ‘the Bard of America’. Similarly the student in The Chain of Absolutes finds himself in a chaotic, poignant mind set and thus realizes that detachment or objectivity could be accomplished only through attachment. Alabama
The forest has now become the school for the disciple. Every where, every thing has valuable lessons for him to learn. The flora and fauna tutor him with the diverse aspects of life. The bees proclaim “gather, stay filled and expend”. The disciple’s readiness to learn has made him always alert and mentally agile. The more he knows the more he is confused. The last poem of the first phase ends with a promise made by the Guru.
“Confusion harasses you, son. Once you know the Origin you would discard grief” pp. 50-51
The second phase commences with the search for the Origin with Mahakavi Bharathi’s words
supplying the appropriate lead:
“Need I tell the Origin or not?” said I. She showed her countenance benign, cured I was of my desires.
The forest is under the monsoon showers and it bears testimony to nature’s bounty. The disciple is haunted by his deep desire to fathom the transient Origin. Abandoned temples provoke him into a series of serious thoughts. He wonders whether the various faiths would identify for him the fountain head. He is mystified when the realization dawns that the search for Self is essentially a private, autonomous endeavour.
“Have found out the origin of the river, son? asked the Guru in jubilance. The disciple raised slowly his bent head and said, “no, O teacher”. The origin of the waterfall is a rivulet. Once you reach the peak, it is damp every where. I could not find the origin……
What is the origin of a cloud? If it is the sea, then what is the origin of the sea? If it is the river, what is the origin of a river?”, the Sage catalogued the questions……
The student stood asking himself, “the more and more I listen to my lessons, the greater grow my doubts instead of clarity”. pp. 66-67
Their conversations take serious and poignant tone. The answers given by the Guru take a longer time to permeate into the student’s mind. The guru deliberately takes his ward for a tour into the diverse and profound philosophies propounded by various religious sects of the world. They appear contradictory and complimentary to each other. Be it Buddhism or Jainism, Christianity or Islam, message from the Upanishads or ideas advocated by the rationalist EVR Periar, all boil down to the well being of an individual and the en mass. The well wisher of mankind is the real worshipper of the divine. This intellectual excursion activates the intuition of the student. He realizes every thing that subsists in nature is worshipful, venerable and awesome.“O Teacher, today every thing appears to be one and the same. I worshipped the trees, worshipped I the Earth, offering flowers I worshipped you. In this process, I felt I was worshipping myself” said the disciple… pp. 96-97
The guru was visibly jubilant at his student’s growth. He felt that his ward was both matured and mellowed and ready enough to receive the deep and difficult concepts of cause and effect. Descartes and Einstein are quoted by the Guru. The baffled disciple pleaded him to simplify these concepts as they appear contradictory. For the first time, the Guru called his ward endearingly, “brother” and continued, “this is my last counsel to you. So long, you were my shadow. From now on, you will be you”.
Who is a Yogi? The one who reduces and reduces the duration of every breath and dissolves it until it stays put in the atom of a moment called the present.
Physical atoms need space to stay. But the atoms of time, the moments need no space.
The past, the present and the future shrink within a moment. The present is a moment and the moment is an atom of time.
Time does not spin, time does not pass. Time stays still as the immeasurable nucleus of the atom of time, the moment.The Universe and its Galaxies and lives dear all roll past in the presence of this prevailing present.
Time is a chain of the moments of the present.
The present in its nucleic form is an Absolute.Time is a chain of Absolutes.
Brother! Time is the nuclei of the present, incalculable by physical atoms. pp. 122-125
The speech of the Guru is like the Sermon on the Mount. It almost becomes a chanting that allows the student to experience a non- dual reality. In this communion with the over-soul, duality is transcended, and the conceptions of the self and the other dissolve to enable the disciple to experience total emptiness- Sunyata. According to the Guru,
The atom causes one to be born in birth and to disintegrate in death.
This Galaxy shrinks and swells. Birth and death creation and destruction are atom’s sports.
Atom is the origin. It is the Fountain head. The profound faith advocated by the atom is to love, both the living and the non-living.Atom is the origin. Nucleus is its origin and a nucleic particle is the origin of a nucleus. Sans Atom life comes to a stand still. pp. 99 -100
When one is filled with the Emptiness, a paradoxical predicament, the one is undoubtedly at the threshold of enlightenment. It is a dynamic state of perennial bliss, the prevailing present. The ‘Enlightened’ becomes the Infinite Spirit Source, the biggest, the greatest and the ALL.
The third phase of The Chain of Absolutes ( Poojyangalin Sangili) begins with a stanza from William Blake’s poem ‘To see a world in a grain of sand’ which is suggestive of the forth coming discourses between the Guru and the disciple.
To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour
Knowledge of the ultimate Origin is incomplete if it is not understood in the frame of reference of time. How does one interpret time? Is it a second, or a minute or an hour or a day or a month or a year? As Whitman in his ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ observes, when the bridge between the past and the future laid perfectly through the present with empathy and love, “It avails not, time nor place--distance avails not”. In the words of the Guru, the calculations as the seasons of a year and of a day are made by being within Time. Is it possible to calculate Time from without? Time is a complexity that appears easy. It is a mystery that appears comprehensible, a graspable illusion, dynamism appearing static and a racing inertia.
The Guru’s dialogues, which teem with paradoxical propositions, intentionally perplex the disciple. He orients the disciple about the time and distance traveled by light to present itself as a twinkling star. The disciple is further baffled when the Guru states the obvious and quotes Heraclitus, the great Greek philosopher (540 BC-480 BC): “One cannot step twice in to the same river, for other waters are ever flowing on to you”. The Guru also provided his ward with a time table as framed and calculated by the ancestors of Hinduism. The calculations were made with thousands of millenniums as the minimal unit of Time. Obviously the derivations were mind boggling. Men of letters have called Time by various terms and phrases like the revolving wheel of Time, the
and the like. Sages like Buddha and Sankara have attempted to decipher Time as “to dawn, to mature and to wither” and “aeons, years and seasons are mere illusions that hide the truth” respectively. river of Time
Sirpi concludes The Chain of Absolutes (Poojyangalin Sangili) by evoking mixed emotions in the mind of the disciple and the readers as well. The tone of the last poem is plaintive and philosophic. The reader too like the disciple has accepted the Guru as a spiritual counselor. It was a day when Nature went mute with a heavy silence and an ominous quietude that hung like a shroud upon the other wise mirthful forest. The Guru signaled his disciple to fill the cask of bottle guard with water. As it started overflowing, he suggested for more and more water to be poured. Slowly his eyes closed and his body gradually leaned like a dry leaf withering. Though his presence filled the ambiance, his brother the disciple continued to sob. Time which sprang as a rival to the Source pretended innocence and winked at sitting within the Absolute.
Sirpi like Emily Dickinson, who made Death lively, yokes the sublime with the ridiculous. Miss. Dickinson would hear a fly buzz when she died. The arrival of the ultimate king, Death, would be deliberately juxtaposed with a trivial happening of a fly buzzing. Situational irony used as a literary tool would never fail to intensify the pathos of the context.
The roaring aeons fell face down and spread-eagle like the chameleons drunk with the cactus milk. p – 128.
Sirpi’s empathetic self is not satisfied with merely mocking at the cruel conquest of Time. The last stanza stands willfully aloof and picturises a mundane scene on the streets of Chennai. This technique provides the well deserved comic relief, by including a comic episode or interlude to relieve tension and heighten the tragic element by contrast. The humor involved is wry and sardonic.
There is another imbecile, insensitive world legitimately co-existing along with the world of souls that seek spiritual emancipation. This world is more powerful, more focused and more successful in leading ‘fulfilled lives’. This world is stagnant, rotting and by choice spiritually sterile. It suffers not from the pains of guilty conscience. Betrayal, fraudulence, hypocrisy, and degenerative morality have become the salient features of this de-humanized society. Hence its indifference is its virtue.
Amidst this pandemonium, at the rear of an Auto that ploughed through the crowded street of Chennai were the words engraved: ‘Need to have money till one reaches the Grave’. p.128.
The Chain of Absolutes (Poojyangalin Sangili) is undeniably Sirpi’s masterpiece. The thought structure of this particular creation is very complex. Through out the poet sustains the emotional quality by the sheer power of gathering logically inconsistent arguments into a synthesis. He questions the traditional orthodox definitions of Time and eternity. By negating them, he confirms a cosmic philosophy that is personal and universal. Sirpi insists on the immediate and urgent want for a spiritual renaissance. Many of the prophetic expressions found in The Chain of Absolutes shed ample light on the need for re-humanizing the society. Through out Sirpi relates the ephemeral to the ever lasting there by compelling the reader to take his stand and make a choice. Irritation and impatience do surface during the conversation between the Guru and the disciple. But it is the righteous indignation of a bruised sensitive soul.
To William Wordsworth, a poet is “a man speaking to men; a man endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness; who has a greater knowledge of human nature and a more comprehensive soul.” To Walt Whitman the greatest poet “hardly knows pettiness or triviality. If he breathes into any thing that was before thought small, it dilates with grandeur and life of the universe… The known universe has one complete lover and that is the greatest poet. His love above all has leisure and expanse… He is a seer, he is an individual, he is complete in himself… He is not one of chorus; he does not stop for any regulation, he is the president of regulation”. Sirpi is befitting of the aforesaid definitions of a romantic and a bard of the mass. Celebrating Nature is akin to celebrating mankind. Though the originality of diction and content of The Chain of Absolutes make it the most difficult poem of Sirpi, it establishes him as a mystical poet and an altruist with an insight into the realms of Self, Life, Time, Death and Eternity.