Paganism as a Metagrid of the Future a paper by Prof. Lokesh Chandra Written for the 2nd Conference of the WCER

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica (15th edition, 1979) defines paganism as “practices and beliefs that are incompatible with monotheism; it thus often designates what is neither Christian, Jewish nor Islamic”. In positive terms Paganism is a seeking of the symbols of consciousness, a way to wisdom, a resonating integrity of the multiple. It is an interface with the timeless and cosmic. No commandments but awakened awareness, no dogmas but dialogue, no ideology but ideas, so that tiny pebbles gathered on the shoreline of life become fine like pearls. When we carry these pebbles back home to our hearts, intertwined with them will be the Sea of Consciousness in our sleeves. Paganism is the flow of spiritual culture and material civilization in the rhythms of the universe, evolving into the wholeness of an inner unity. The Pagan quest is eternal, even beyond our within. We wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end. We are the Cosmic Religions, pilgrims to the younder shore, we live to have something to outlive. Man and nature are one: banish the delusion of being different.

Menuo sauluze vede         Candra-Mah Suryam udvaha
Pirma pavasareli              Prathamam pravatsaram

Dainos is akin to the Rigvedic word dhena in the sense of speech reflecting the inner thoughts of man. The dainos or dhena are the human ascent to the Divine, and not a Divine condescension through a prophet via a book. They are sadhana or visualisation, contemplation, luminosity growing from within. Sadhana is a epiphany of the divine in human consceiousness. In the words of the Rigveda it is to find the bonds of being in Non-being (sato bandhum asati niravindan). In the ancient Indo-European world, realisation was central to human transcension, as distinct from revelation in the three Judeocentric traditions. Revelation is the body of truth which is made known by a prophetic tradition. It is a communication to a lesser mind and demands unquestioning acceptance. Realisation or sadhana, on the other hand, is a visualisation of truth, a cultivation by meditation, a transfiguration of the individual into the majesty of the Divine. Epic moments of human life are fragments of Divine splendour. As the bhagavad Gita says:

Yad-yad vibhutimat sattvam, srimad urjitam eva va
Tad-tad evavagaccha tvain, mama tejo-’ msa-sambhavam

The universe is animated by an all-pervading divine radiation: wherever this current attains a particular intensity, a higher voltage, revealing itself as beauty, power, wonder, there the Supreme becomes apparent, there is the Divine. The World Pagan Congress held last year has awakened the world with a lion’s roar. I am reminded of the words of a great Buddhist philosopher Asanga who characterised Buddhism as: “As a lion unfrightened by noises. As a wind, not to be captured by a net. As a lotus leaf impervious to water. As a rhinoceros treading the majesty of solitude”. The Pagan Charter issued by the First Congress seeks values-sensitivity, futures-creativity and holism. It brings a clearer understanding of the depth and feeling of Pagan values. We may structure it under four heads:

  1. Love of one’s land and history
  2. Sacredness of all life
  3. Divinity of nature
  4. Polycentrism, or Unity in diversity.

1a. Love of one’s land. Zemyna or Zemes Mate ‘Mother Earth’ is a Lithuanian goddess with all-pervading functions. She is the mother of fields, forests, hazels, mushrooms, sauna, sand, fire and even death: she has around seventy hypostases. The Lithuanian word is cognate to the Rigvedic jman ‘earth;. In the Rigveda she is the boundless mother, great, firm and shining. She is celebrated along with the Sky: Dyava-prthivi. Earth is the mother of man, and heaven the father (Dyaus pita prthivi mata). The territorial imperative is fundamental to life. The biological sciences accept the concept of territory as a genetically determined form of behaviour. “A territory is an area of space. Whether of water or earth or air, which an animal or group of animals defends as an exclusive preserve…” Some mysterious flow of energy and resolve invests territory. It is a force that shapes our lives in countless ways. Sanctity of the earth, love of the land induces spiritual universality. It is the end-result of along agricultural tradition.The Judeocentric religions crystallised in arid zones and are the end-products of pastoralism which is violent and predatory. Pastoralism is defense-intensive. For cohesion it seeks a high Military and Political Participation Ratio (MPPR). Paganism evolves from an agricultural world-view. The Lithuanians, Indians and other Pagans could preserve their native spiritual roots as they were wedded to their lands. An agriculturist would grab the land of another only if the land were scarce and if he disposed the labour to till it. Agriculturism is labour-intensive. His is a world of sharing, of humane distillation, of intrinsic multifornisty, and of the freedom of choice. He values the rights of humans to be “sculptors of themselves”, as well as a vast variety of peoples as against a chosen people. Paganism is a polytheistic world of inherited metaphors flowing into the perennially new.

1b. Love of history. The Eternal is value and the New is meaning. To India and Lithuania millennia of Time are “living space”, the subtle and profound unseen of Becoming. The Baltic people have inhabited their present territory from the second millenium BC. At that time their domains extended as far as Moscow. The Lithuanian language provides a bridge between the Vedic language and the living European languages. The Lithuanian Dievas is the Vedic Dyaus. He participates in ecstatic song and dance when the boundary between the transcendental god and the earthbound farmer is blurred. Special attention is devoted to the cultivation of barley from which beer is brewed. Beer is the drink of Baltic sacral feasts. It is yavavu in the Rigveda, from yava ‘barley’ the same as Lithuanian javai. The Weather-god Perkunas is the Vedic Parjanya. The marriage of Surya to the Moon is mentioned in the Rigveda. Millenia is the common heritage of the Pagan world. The sanctity of Eternity is reflected in myths and sacred rites, in lyrical survivals and poignant attachment to the Perennial (Sanatana) both in India and in Lithuania. History is the deeper ground of our existence. Poet Goethe says: He whose vision cannot cover / History’s three thousand years / Must in outer darkness hover. Wounded, time seeks resurrection in our Congress.

  1. Sacredness of all life. Intense concern for the sanctity of all life and the interdependence of all sentient and stationery as well as inanimate nature is the hallmark of Paganism. The worship of woods and waters, of trees, stocks and stones, of fire and animals among the Lithuanians and Latvians go back to very ancient Vedic rites. The life cycle of the humans was dependent on the festival cycle of the agricultural seasons. The deities of the embodied state of human life found harmony in theurgy, that is communication with the divine by external rites. Hard work found joyous festivity in the daina (Vedic dhena) sung at birth, marriage and death. They celebrated man’s place in and dependence on nature, a metaphor of the Divine. The summer and winter solstices mirror the yearly cycle of spring and autumn. They are the Purusa ‘the Supreme Being’ and Prakriti – ‘Nature’. The human and the Divine participate in ecstatic song and dance. In the Rigveda, the inanimate and the animate are divine. The divine steed, the Horse symbolical of the Sun and Fire, the Cow as beams of the Dawn, the Kine and the waters, are symbols of many-splendoured life. Even the Germanic god Odhin transforms himself into an Eagle. The phenomena of nature, aerial and celestial, and the Earth itself are deities in the Rigveda. Rivers, mountains, plants, sacrificial, implements are as mighty as heaven. They are invoked to drive away demons and destruction, and to bestow wealth and offspring. The forest is a deity under the name of Aranyani in the Rigveda 10.146: striking a post-modern note on the conservation of ecological balance. The heaven and earth of the Lithuania universe have an echo in the Dyava-prthivi of the Rigveda. In the Lithuanian marriage ceremony the gods gather in the sauna, a holy precinct. A fire is lit, birch whisks are brought in and water is drawn. The whole ceremony reminds of the marriage rites of the Grihyasutras with the ritual fire lit with sacred faggots of specific woods and sankalpa with water. The Latvian designation feedi ‘blossoms’ shows that in early times Baltic offerings also consisted of flowers and fruits. To this day, we in India have the offerings of flowers and fruits, besides incense, lamps and perfumes. The immensity of creation wherein the kingdoms of plants and animals, stones and natural phenomena harmonise with the Human is the divinity of the biosphere. Vishnu incarnates as fish, boar, tortoise. Buddha is born in several animal genera in the Jatakas to gain perfection in the six transcendent paramitas.
  2. Now we come to the third concept of the charter of Paganism: the divinity of nature. In Saamkhya philosophy, Prakriti or Nature and Purusa or The Transcendent Being are respectively the visible realm and the transcendental foundation. Mind is among the material phenomena illumined by transcendental consciousness (Chit). It is Eternal Realities (Satya from the root as ‘to exist’) that give our existence both meaning and value. Rita of the Rigveda is the cosmic order that is natural as well as ethical. It is impersonal: it has no personification. It exists independently of the gods, who maintain the cosmic paradigm to protect the world against chaos and ignorance. Rita is the cosmic rhythm and Satya is the flow of Life. In the Lithuanian tradition, Dievs (Dyaus) sets down laws of the universe as a framework for life. Man is free to order his life in concordance with moral or divine laws and practical needs: he has the freedom of choice as well as the responsibility for his actions. This is the theory of karma. He is not born in sin, he inherits no sins, and only his own actions absolve him or involve him in sin or in merit.

The five elements or panca-bhuta are: earth, water, fire, air and ether. They are the ground and activators of purification and intensification of life. Today as pollution of the ecology proceeds at a rapid pace, the Pagan rites of divinizing Heaven and Earth gain a new meaning. The cult of Saule or Sun, the celebration of the summer solstice, the Moon God Meness who traverses the sky on his horses (namely the morning and evening stars who are from the Vedic Asvins) are our links with Nature, which have to be respected and protected. Offerings to Zemyna or ‘Earth’, or Zemes Mate ‘Mother Earth’ ensure that forests will function as lungs of cities, gardens as welfare cycles, and fields of crops as life cycles. Humans remain dependent on the gods, and the social context functions on a cosmic level.

Fires were never extinguished in the domestic hearth in Lithuania like the household fire (garhapatya) in India. Fire was kept perpetually burning in special sanctuaries on high hills and on river banks tended by holy minds in Lithuania. The fire of the sanctuaries became the eternal fire, the idealised fire whose flame kindled in the dainos and kept the heart of Lithuania alive in the frozen frontiers pulsating with life. The opening words of the Rigveda pay homage to the fire: Agnim ide purohitam. They are the first words of the Indo-European people that have lived on for millennia.

Fires kindled on river banks remind one of the etymology of the name Lietuva from the root lei ‘to flow’. The flowing rivers give the idea of constant progress: “where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand” (Tagore). The sands are the birthplace of Judeocentric monocentrism.

Paganism is the new sociology of ultimate concerns. The infinite universe is a cathode and the perceiving consciousness of humans is the receiving anode.

  1. Unity in diversity is the fourth concept in the Pagan Charter. Unity and diversity are the two banks of the river of culture and civilizations, of the heart and the mind, wherein flows the multiple in freedom. The flow is constant change, as well as perennial diversity and richness of reality unfolding. The original menaing of Lithuania or Lietuva is ‘flowing water’. Likewise the word Hindu means the great river Sindhu. The ever-flowing waters remind us of the play The Bacchae of Euripedes: “Many are the shapes of things divine”. This acknowledgement is in touch with the depths, a new turn, a re-turn to polytheism. Friedrich Schelling says: “Polytheism … is the way to truth, and is thus Truth itself”.

In the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus the hero announces that Zeus will one day die because he forgets other gods, and asserts himself as the Only One. ‘The God’ dies of monocentrism. David L. Miller says: “It would seem inevitable that the God of the monotheistic theology would die, that He would suffer an ineluctable demise. The imperialism of the mind … cannot forever endure … Thinking monotheistically about the deepest matters of the heart and spirit cannot put man in touch with life”.

The sharp attacks on Paganism were attacks on the multifaceted richness of structures of consciousness. The early Christian Apologists “could see nothing but evil in the Greco-Roman civilization” (Ebr. 1979:13:1080). The ‘soldiers of Christ’ dubbed the non-Christians pagani ‘raw rustics’ (Tertullian, about 202 AD). The Latin word paganus means a ‘village, something joined together’ akin to the Sanskrit root pas>pasa ‘that which joins’. The word page was pagina ‘strips of papyrus fastened together’. Paganism unites by owing multiformity. Paganism is the re-birth, the re-naissance of the gods and goddesses, rites and ceremonies, songs and dances, the discovery of the multiple centres (polytheism) of value and meaning. The divine centrum is everywhere, infused with the many, corresponding to the common and universal fact that we are all both human and divine in our own ways. Paganism is a princely kiss reverently placed on the Sleeping Beauty of religious thought.

Born April 11, 1927 at Ambala (Haryana State) India. Son of : eminent Indologist late Prof. Raghu Vira Studied at Forman Christian College, Universities of Lahore and Utrecht (Netherlands); Publications: 365 books and 195 articles. Travelled extensively in Asia, Europe, USA and USSR for inter-cultural relations. Languages: Hindi, Sanskrit, Pali, Avesta, Old Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, Indonesian, Greek, Latin, German, French, Russian, etc. (20 Languages)

Member of the Parliament (Upper House) of India 1974-80 and 1980-86. Member of several committees of Parliament on Education, Official Language, Heavy Industry, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Defence, Science and Technology, etc. etc. Jawaharlal Nehru Fellow (1974-75) Vice-President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (Ministry of External Affairs) Advisory Committee, Encyclopaedia of Dravidian Languages Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research (1982-85) Japan Foundation Special Prize, 1987 Institute of Oriental Philosophy Scholarly Achievement Award, Tokyo, 1990 Director, International Academy of Indian Culture, New Delhi (1963- ). Govt. Nominee, Indian Historical Records Commission.