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What Were They Thinking?

by on July 25, 2014

                                                 What Were They Thinking?

                                                       by Marco M. Pardi

“L’avenir est comme le reste: il n’est plus ce qu’il était.” Paul Valéry. 1937. “Notre Destin et Les Lettres”. trans.: The future, like everything else, is no longer quite what it used to be.

Author’s note: Some of the terms herein are direct transliterations. The literature in which they appear includes pronunciation keys such as accent marks.  I am unable to reproduce these in every instance, but have not found that detracts from the context in which the terms are used.

A college degree is not necessary to the understanding of the forces at work during the closing decades of the Ice Ages, although courses in Anthropology, Ecology, Geology, and Mythology would help.  Modern Man (Homo sapiens sapiens) had long been established throughout much, and arguably most of the world.  As I have said elsewhere, the primary resource for organic life is fresh water.  Thus, everywhere we look even roaming bands of gatherers-foragers stayed within easy reach of water sources such as streams, rivers and lakes.  As regional stability allowed population densities to grow settlements arose proximal to the water resources.

Stability, however, can be deceiving, as current climate change deniers should note.  For whatever reasons, volcanic activity, geothermal changes, solar activity, or just too many people farting methane,  the Ice Ages began to crumble like so many ice cubes immersed in Jethro’s moonshine.  Glacial lakes, seeping a constant and seasonal river flow but held in stasis by ice blockades were, with the crumbling of the ice, suddenly loosed downstream often in mega-scenarios worthy of modern catastrophe films.  People, other animals, and plant life were inundated and swept downstream.  Sea levels rose worldwide.  How much?  A once verdant valley between two promontories of land became what we now call the English Channel.  A recent example of how this works would be the Johnstown Flood of 1889, in which the South Fork Dam gave way under heavy rainfall releasing 20 million tons of water and quickly killing over 2,200 people in a relatively small area.

It should come as no surprise then that surviving cultures, particularly widespread throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere, have memorialized these local traumas through oral traditions which, in some cases, developed into written accounts.  And, it should be no surprise that, as certain cultures gained ascendancy their stories evolved from local to global. This is obviously the case with the story of Noah and the Great Flood, memorialized from the lower reaches of what was the Tigris-Euphrates floodplain to the entire world (or so it seemed to the survivors).

As can be seen from the Noah story, problems arise when cultures attempt to derive some moral (as opposed to practical) lesson from such an event, even attributing the event to some super entity wielding death as a teaching tool.  Most modern cultures seem to have matured beyond this benighted state. However, in the United States (an entity which defies definition as a culture) there is an increasingly shrill and active movement among fundamentalist/evangelical Christians (only a very tiny fraction of Christians worldwide) to force their story into the American mind through takeover of local school boards, library boards, and publishers of school text books.  A plank in their platform, so to speak, is their claim to the reality of Noah’s ark story,  and the claimed reason for it.

An indicator of how disproportionately funded these groups are can be found in Kentucky, where a mega-theme park has opened to people wishing to have the Noah experience.  I have not visited, but I doubt the implied, or blatantly stated moral lesson includes deep consideration of the following:

  1. An all powerful entity created the Earth and populated it with myriad life forms;
  2. The entity became displeased with the actions of a tiny fraction of these life forms;
  3. The entity caused a horrible and protracted death by drowning to all but a handful of his favorites, on condition they bring with them “the seed” of all other life forms – which were also to perish.

In the past few days much of the world has stood in shock over the downing of a civilian airliner filled with people, including many children and infants, going on holiday.  The perpetrators of this event, most certainly separatist East Ukrainian thugs, have earned for themselves almost universal disdain.

So, here’s our all powerful entity, the prototypical Super Hero, who acts on the planet in a way that might more correctly earn it the appellation of Super Thug.  I can imagine the beaming parents bringing their young children into the theme park in celebration of the life massacre that was carried out: “Kids, let’s see if there’s a Dunk-‘Em ride, so we can get that real experience of what all the people, the children, the babies, and all the other life forms on Earth went through as they struggled to breathe their last, not knowing what was happening or why.  How exciting! Let’s take pictures! Maybe there are Super Thug T-shirts and mugs at the gift shop! And remember kids, Super Thug loves you.”  And we wonder how kids grow up torturing animals…. and drowning kittens and puppies.  Some people should not be allowed to reproduce.

But for me there has always been something even more curious: Origin myths which come startlingly close to what we are just recently coming to understand through astro-physics and cosmology.

Last night, as I was reviewing my copy of Heinrich Zimmer’s (1890-1943) analysis of Brahmavaivarta Purana, Krisna-jamma Khanda, I revisited The Parade of Ants, wherein Vishnu, in the guise of a young Brahmin boy, admonishes Indra for his fall into materialism and pride: “Brahma follows Brahma; one sinks, the next arises; the endless series cannot be told. There is no end to the number of those Brahmas – to say nothing of Indras.

“But the universes side by side at any given moment, each harboring a Brahma and an Indra: who will estimate the number of these? Beyond the farthest vision, crowding outer space, the universes come and go, an innumerable host. Like delicate boats they float on the fathomless, pure waters that form the body of Vishnu. Out of every hair-pore of that body a universe bubbles and breaks. Will you presume to count them? Will you number the gods in all those worlds – the worlds present and the worlds past?” Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. Heinrich Zimmer, ed. Joseph Campbell. 1946 Bollingen Foundation, Inc. Washington, D.C.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Deriving from oral to written traditions dating back thousands of years, it anticipates the Cosmology of the 21st Century and the advent of M Theory, the unification of the disparate String Theories, and the growing acceptance of the Multiverse concept, the idea that our universe is just one bubble in an endless froth of bubbles.  This latter concept was in fact necessitated by the realization of uneven hyper-expansion immediately subsequent to the “Big Bang”; parts of the emerging Cosmos expanded much more rapidly than others, hiving into adjacent bubble-universes separated by only an infinitesimally thin membrane. 

Although colorful in its theomorphic and anthropomorphic presentation, the proto-Hindu cosmology is nonetheless prescient in its advancement of a principle now being examined as if born sui generis.  Popular interest in Hindu cosmology was sparked (literally) in part by J. Robert Oppenheimer during an interview about the Trinity explosion, ushering in the age of nuclear weapons. Citing the 1944 Prabhavananda and Isherwood translation of the Bhagavad Gita, he recalled Krishna’s words as he, Oppenheimer, witnessed the explosion: “Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”  In fact, the more accurate translation is: “Now I am become Time, the destroyer of worlds.”  This point is crucial, especially now;  we now understand that the Big Bang (envisioned by Le Maitre, but called such by Fred Hoyle) brought Space/Time into being.  Time being a measure of change – ergo, death of the foregoing state, it is both actor and result.

By contrast, the two Hebrew Genesis accounts (not counting the later deus ex machina attempt to address the obvious incest problem of Adam, Eve, and the surviving Cain) get the order of events out of sequence, making no sense by anyone’s cosmological reckoning but excusable, as much of other early literature, as poor transcriptions of much earlier work by other cultures, probably including India which had been long engaged in trade with the West.        

Early understanding of Nature, in principle if not in fact, was not unusual.  Lucretius (99BCE – 55BCE), a Roman poet and philosopher, explained the workings of the universe, from atomism, to sensation and thought, to mind and soul, as guided by chance, not a divine hand.  His De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) is not merely a classic, but a forerunner of Darwin and Wallace among many others.  And, no less a personage than St. Augustine of Hippo rejected the timeframe of Genesis, arguing from “creavit omni simul” that all was created at once, a remarkable shade of the most current thinking that Time/Space is an illusion as exemplified in Einstein’s half-joke, “Time is Nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once.”  Augustine cautioned that Scripture is often an extended metaphor, to take second place as science advances.

How did the Vedic sages and many others arrive at their insights?  Westerners have found it easy to forget that linear conceptions of time, supported by geology, etc.,  are modern.  Tradition has it that Siddhartha Gautama, meditating under the Bodhi tree on the banks of the river Nairanjana for seven days and nights reached enlightenment through the vision of the universal flux, the coming and going of all things, the temporality of all things, indeed the illusion that they are real and substantial.  He realized that permanence, in any form is an illusion.  This foretells the advent of quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement, field theory and now our growing understanding of gravity.

Somewhere in the history of the West, materialism – the belief in immutable reality took hold. But this was rather late in coming, since the Greco-Roman world was already well familiar with the four ages tradition: Gold, Silver, Brass, and Iron.  What is not commonly recognized is the debt to the Hindu tradition:  Krita, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali representing the “four square of totality”.  Interestingly, the Kali age (related to kal-aha “strife, quarrel”), representing the worst of anything, is characterized in the Vishnu Purana as: “When society reaches a stage where property confers rank,  wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond between husband and wife, falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion….the Kali Yuga.” According to the cycles, we are in that today.

As more accounts of NDE, OBE and SDE appear, including those in which the individual reports viewing the panorama of the universal cycles, I hope we will take the time to refer back to writings which have been there all along.  I’m curious about not only what they were thinking, but how they managed to think it.

“Now my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose…..I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in any philosophy.”  J.B.S. Haldane, Possible Worlds, 1927    



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  1. How very interesting !
    I have recently (maybe since 2010) developed an interest in the Hindu traditions, and i must say I find them fascinating and profound, so ancient and so modern , really an alluring way of thought that incredibly was cultivated so long ago and makes more sense than ever today.
    Thank you so much for sharing not only your thoughts but also light on this subject !
    P.S. ” Some people should not be allowed to reproduce.”… this really made me laugh 😉 ! (AGREED !!!)


  2. Thank you, FOAL. As you know, I like to listen careully to people to discover processes in their thinking that they themselves are unaware of. In this context, one of the telling features of fundamentalist/evangelical jargon is their insistence on calling themselves “God fearing”. Well, they should be. Nowhere is there any parallel for a vanity-fragile Super Thug who, taking offense at the behavior of a very tiny fraction of one of the life forms he is said to have created, decides to murder-by-drowning ALL land based life. Ironically, these same people are the strongest voice for Capital Punishment. Where are they when their Super Thug is put on trial for Genocide?


  3. I’ve seen several good documentaries which demonstrated that there might be a scientific explanation behind some of the “Bible stories” we are fed as children. They explained the historical probabilities which led to the oral traditions that made their way into the written, as well as the linguistic misinterpretations which further complicated the issues.

    I’ve done some “comparison shopping” when it comes to religions, and I find that they all hold some truth, but none hold enough truth to keep me interested. As you are aware, Buddhism tells us not to accept the beliefs of others, but to seek out our own truths. It’s a never ending search.

    “The Ant Parade” is my favorite Hindu oral tradition. I discovered it when a friend was “trying Taoism on for size”. As a result, I have a largish black metal ant which stands guard in my Zen garden. Each time I see it, I am reminded to remain humble; that I don’t know it all, or need it all. There will always be more than I can imagine.

    Time, I have decided, is decidedly nonlinear, assuming it exists at all. It’s the only way of explaining how some people just know things, or how things seem to change when we’re not looking. When I’m feeling philosophical, I think that time and substance are just one big ball of (string theory) twine, and we are tangled beyond all hope of rescue.

    Forgive my whimsy; there is no truth to be had here. Rose


  4. Rose, you continue to amaze. Aspects of you unfold as if they have been patiently waiting for someone or something to pull the string. Thank you so much, Marco


    • On the contrary, Marco, it is I who should be thanking you for providing a venue in which my (strange) better self can roam free. It is much enjoyed, and much appreciated. Rose


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