The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 3, 2002

Signs & signatures
Man is doomed to look for answers
Darshan Singh Maini

IN normal circumstances, we are seldom tempted to probe the nature or character of a coincidence, and tend to regard it as a chance happening, a freak incident. And since such coincidences often cross our lives, we do not, as a rule, try to see beyond or far, where they may (or perhaps, must) connect with a larger expanse of experience, or with some hidden purpose or design. And that design in its own turn, as we cross the initial difficulties of cognition, could finally embrace the entire created nature or universe. Of course, ancient Indian or Oriental thought, in its own holistic idiom, has orchestrated such ideas in ancient books of wisdom, but clearly these insights began to lose their force when Newtonian science upset cosmology and all earlier calculations, and changed the drift of human thought, orienting it towards the nexus between materiality and causality. In other words, causes and effects had a purely material base, and the phenomena of nature were explicable in terms of the evolution of the matter into consciousness. By and large, this thesis has governed human progress since the 18th century Enlightenment, and its aim— the good life on earth subsuming everything from shining kitchen and fabulous cars to whatever money can dream up of still holds the human imagination. And there is, to be sure, enough virtue in that thought upto a point. And now, while new "windows" are opening on the limits of knowledge, new ideas on a universal moral culture are beginning to be voiced with epiphanic convictions in the United States of America itself - "the paradise" of "the fortunate fall".


What drove me into such reflections is the result of a chance happening - my perusal of a remarkable book, The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure by James Redfield (1994). The book, it appears, has received extravagant praise, and at least, one commentator goes almost overboard when he observes: "You have never read a book like this"! But I happened to chance upon yet another highly impressive book, River Out of Eden by Richard Dawkins. Briefly, his argument is that "nature lacks all purpose", or that the human search for "the meaning in everything from love to "the lizard on our dining table" — the inescapable "how" and "why" of things, persons, places, events, happenings etc.— would yield no real returns. It is futile to go peering into voids and horizons for the connection "between this and that".

No wonder God and his tribe would, in the end, explain nothing — great disasters, devastating wars, gratuitous suffering, or atavistic evil in the form of an Ingo, a Hitler, an Adi Amin, Hiroshima or, nearer home, in the form of the LTTE "hell" in the "paradise" island of Sri Lanka, or of the mindless terrorists' outrage in Kashmir, in NEFA, in Kabul etc. That the Darwinian nature is not the Wordsworthian valley of peace and serenity, but a phenomenon "red in tooth and claw", as Tennyson, (otherwise a God-fearing Victorian) put it, deviating into Darwinian doubts, again underscored a century ago the idea of nature as nature as nature with no spark of divinity in it. And Wordsworth too had his moments, or "intimations" of doubt regarding the incursion of evil and suffering in human life on a scale that frightened him.

And before I move on to James Redfield and his book of "Insights," I may add that what Dawkins and others of his way of thinking are saying today was dramatised almost in a poetic vein, by the novelist Joseph Conrad, towards the end of the 19th century. In novel after noval and in tale after tale from Heart of Darkness to Lord Jim and Nostromo, he seems to be pointing towards the pointlessness of the happenings beyond human ken. The universe for him was just a grand dazzling awesome spectacle, nothing else, or at its worst, just "a knitting machine" with its droning, chattering tic-tic-tic.

And now to the other book, James Redfield's narrator hears of an ancient manuscript found in the rainforests of Peru which offers sequentially a series of "Nine Insights" to those in quest — scientists, priests, environmentalists, academics the etc. — till "we move towards a completely spiritual culture on earth." In its own way it's a modern Pilgrim's Progress, and the seeker goes on from one "Insight" to the next higher till the purpose of human life become transparent to all mankind. Nothing then remains unexplained, unconnected, unknown. No imponderables, no chance happenings, no rogue or freak wanton occurrences.

In a manner, Redfield's book harks back to "the First Cause" though not in terms of Christian theology or philosophy, but in terms of modern theories of quantum physics and Einstein and the New Biology.

Redfield seldom quotes a poet or a novelist, or cites example from literature or theology, but I'm reminded of the American confessional poet, Theodore Roethke, who even as he blasphemed and fornicated, achieved a state of "mystic" consiousness in the midst of forest trees, wild flowers and foliage. For he appropriated energy from nearly all sources within his reach from his German father's "greenhouse" and trees, from the soil's dirt and dung, from student lovers who walked into his classroom, or into his magnetic parlour. Of course, in Redfield's scheme of progression, such a person still remained incomplete and dangling even when he was broadly speaking, in sync with the things of this beauteous and bountiful world.

But the long argument stipulated here between a Dawkins and a Redfield (how names can, at times, be so suggestive: 'daws' and 'kins' and a 'red field') brings my "musings" to a perplexing point. For, each view, considered separately sounds right, and each raises a swarm of doubts when viewed from the other end of the telescope. And this existential dilemma which has tormented writers from the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare to Melville, and from Conrad and Dostoevsky to Sartre and Camus, remains to raise questions that in their very nature are unanswerable. So the agony and the ambivalence abide.

The fact is man cannot help but seek "causes", and cannot help but return with dusty answers. And thus he seeks to set up Utopias, though as history affirms all Utopias in the end turn into dystopias. As Aldous Huxley's Brave New World showed, utopias invariably end up as travesties and tragedies. And yet Redfield with a vast knowledge of life's terrors still affirms "a bright new world", complete with a lush green earth," "a spiritual economy" in place of "the money economy" - all by the middle of the new millennium! So, all Doomsday literature is to be found soon in libraries and museums only! Naturally, this leaves me less fascinated and more bemused than ever before.