Friday, January 24, 2014

A Root: The Nameless

I felt that it was time for another Philae post, and that feeling coincided with a desire to share my favorite piece of prose, ever.  It is from the novel Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.  I was going to share it on Facebook, but it is too long, and would rather have it up here where I will be able to see it.

I have omitted a single paragraph, because without the context of the novel it would make no sense, and is the only reference to why this speech is given.  For those who are not familiar, Samsara is the concept of the temporal reality around us, that we dwell in and visit for a time in life, and all that is connected to it.

Please, do me the favor of sitting down and taking the time to read these words.  I read them first when I was eight, and re-visit them and this novel every few years, and every time I find new value, meaning, and purpose in them.  Thank you.

“Names are not important,” he said.  “To speak is to name names, but to speak is not important.  A thing happens once that has never happened before.  Seeing it, a man looks upon reality.  He cannot tell others what he has seen.  Others wish to know, however, so they question him, saying, ‘What is it like, this thing you have seen?’  So he tries to tell them.  Perhaps he has seen the very first fire in the world.  He tells them, ‘It is red, like a poppy, but through it dance other colors.  It has no form, like water, flowing everywhere.  It is warm, like the sun of summer, only warmer.  It exists for a time on a piece of wood, and then the wood is gone, as though it were eaten, leaving behind that which is black and can be sifted like sand.  When the wood is gone, it too is gone’.  Therefore the hearers must think that reality is like a poppy, like water, like the sun, like that which eats and excretes.  They think it is like anything that they are told it is like by the man who has known it.  But they have not looked upon fire.  They cannot really know it.  They can only know of it.  But fire comes again into the world, many times.  More men look upon fire.  After a time fire is common as grass and clouds and the air they breathe.  They see that, while it is like a poppy it is not a poppy, while it is like water, it is not water, while it is like the sun it is not the sun, and while it is like that which eats and passes wastes, it is not that which eats and passes wastes, but something different from each of these apart or all of these together.  So they look upon this new thing and make a word to call it.  They call it ‘fire’.

“If they come upon one who still has not seen it, and they speak to him of fire, he does not know what they mean.  So they, in turn, fall back upon telling him what fire is like.  As they do so, they know from their own experience that what they are telling him is not the truth, but only a part of it.  They know that this man will never know reality from their words, though all the words in the world are theirs to use.  He must look upon the fire, smell of it, warm his hands by it, stare into its heart, or remain forever ignorant.  Therefore ‘fire’ does not matter, ‘earth’, ‘air’, and ‘water’ do not matter.  ‘I’ do not matter.  No word matters.  But man forgets reality and remembers words.  The more words he remembers, the cleverer do his fellows esteem him.  He looks upon the great transformations of the world but he does not see them as they were seen when men looked upon them for the first time.  Their names come to his lips, and he smiles as he tastes them, thinking he knows them in the naming.  The great burning blossom squats, flowing, upon the limb of the world, excreting the ash of the world, and being none of these things I have named and at the same time all of them, and this is reality – The Nameless.

“Therefore, I charge you – forget the names you bear, forget the words I speak as soon as they are uttered.  Look, rather, upon the Nameless within yourselves, which arises as I address it.  It hearkens not to my words but to the reality within me, of which it is a part.  This is the atman, which hears me rather than my words.  All else is unreal.  To define is to lose.  The essence of all things is the Nameless.  The Nameless is unknowable, mightier even than Brahma.  Things pass, but the essence remains.  You sit, therefore, in the midst of a dream.

“Essence dreams it a dream of form.  Forms pass, but the essence remains, dreaming new dreams.  Man names these dreams, and thinks to have captured the essence, not knowing that he invokes the unreal.  These stones, these walls, these bodies you see seated about you are poppies and water and the sun.  They are the dreams of the Nameless.  They are fire, if you like.

“Occasionally there may come a dreamer who is aware that he is dreaming.  He may control something of the dream-stuff, bending it to his will, or he may awaken into greater self-knowledge.  If he chooses the path of self-knowledge, his glory is great and he shall be for all ages like unto a star.  If he chooses the way of the Tantra, combining Samsara and Nirvana, comprehending the world and continuing to live in it, this one is mighty among dreamers.  He may be mighty for good or for ill, as we look upon him – though these terms, too are meaningless, outside of the namings of Samsara.

“To dwell within Samsara, however, is to be subject to the works of those who are mighty among dreamers.  If they are mighty for good, it is a golden time.  If they are mighty for ill, it is a time of darkness.  The dream may turn to nightmare.

“It is written that to live is to suffer.  This is so, say the sages, for man must work off the burden of Karma if he is to achieve enlightenment.  For this reason, say the sages, what does it profit a man to struggle within a dream against that which is his lot, which is the path he must follow to achieve liberation?  In the light of eternal values, say the sages, the suffering is as nothing; in the terms of Samsara, say the sages, it leads to that which is good.  What justification, then, has a man to struggle against those who are mighty for ill?”

He paused for a minute, raised his head higher.


The answer, the justification, is the same for men as it is for gods.  Good or ill, say the sages, mean nothing for they are of Samsara.  Agree with the sages, who have taught our people for as far as the memory of man may reach.  Agree, but consider also a thing of which the sages do not speak.  This thing is ‘beauty’, which is a word – but look behind the word and consider the Way of the Nameless.  And what is the Way of the Nameless?  It is the way of Dream.  And why does the Nameless dream?  This thing is not known to any dweller within Samsara.  So ask, rather, what does the Nameless dream.

“The Nameless, of which we are all a part, does dream form.  And what is the highest attribute any form may possess?  It is beauty.  The Nameless, then, is an artist.  The problem, then, is not one of good or evil but one of aesthetics.  To struggle against those who are mighty among dreamers and mighty for ill, or ugliness, is not to struggle for that which the sages have taught us to be meaningless in terms of Samsara or Nirvana, but rather it is to struggle for the symmetrical dreaming of a dream, in terms of the rhythm and the point, the balance and the antithesis which will make it a thing of beauty.  Of this, the sages say nothing.  This truth is so simple that they have obviously overlooked it.  For this reason, I am bound by the aesthetics of the situation to call it to your attention.  To struggle against the dreamers who dream ugliness, be they men or gods, cannot but be the will of the Nameless.  This struggle will also bear suffering; and so one’s Karmic burden will be lightened thereby, just as it would be by enduring the ugliness; but this suffering is productive of a higher end in the light of the eternal values of which the sages so often speak.

“Therefore I say unto you, the aesthetics of what you have witnessed this evening were of a high order.  You may ask me then, ‘How am I to know that which is beautiful and that which is ugly, and be moved to act thereby?’  This question, I say, you must answer for yourself.  To do this, first forget what I have spken, for I have said nothing.  Dwell now upon the Nameless.”

The Phoenix/Dragon at Sirius Rising, 2011.

Thank you for sharing this with me.  You now know me far better than you once did, even if you knew me well before.

Love and Beauty,

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