Thursday, January 12, 2012


As the night settles in the train, he climbs up to the top berth, and performs namaz, his prayers. Simple gestures, a pattern to follow five times a day, known, familiar. A ritual, a repetition, a returning to the centre, a remembering.

Nothing prepares you for the sudden stab of envy you feel. 

The amazement of it. Where is this bend in the road you have reached, what do you see now?

And then this morning, while waiting for a friend, you come upon this passage in the Joseph Campbell book you have been reading, and you again feel the same catch in your throat.

“For it is the rite, the ritual and its imagery, that counts in religion, and where that is missing the words are mere carriers of concepts that may or may not make contemporary sense. A ritual is an organization of mythological symbols; and by participating in the drama of the rite one is brought directly in touch with these, not as verbal reports of historic events, either past, present, or to be, but as revelations, here and now, of what is always and forever.

Where the synagogues and churches go wrong is by telling what their symbols “mean”.  The value of an effective rite is that it leaves everyone to his own thoughts, which dogma and definitions only confuse. Dogma and definitions rationally insisted upon are inevitably hindrances, not aids, to religious meditation, since no one’s sense of the presence of God can be anything more than a function of his own spiritual capacity.

Having your image of God – the most intimate, hidden mystery of your life – defined for you in terms contrived by some council of bishops back, say, in the fifth century or so: what good is that? But a contemplation of the crucifix works; the odor of incense works; so do, also, hieratic attires, the tones of well-sung Gregorian chants, intoned and mumbled Introits, Kyries, heard and unheard consecrations.

What has the “affect value” of wonders of this kind to do with the definitions of councils, or whether we quite catch the precise meaning of such words as Oramus te, Domine, per merita Sanctorum tuorum? If we are curious for meanings, they are there, translated in the other column of the prayerbook. But if the magic of the rite is gone….

Page 97, ‘Myths to Live By’, Joseph Campbell

Photo: Jamia Masjid, Bijapur

No comments:

Blog Archive