Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Lal Ded and the Seed of Life


Lal Ded
A KP woman on cover of a magazine. 1951

Yath Saras saer-phul na vai'tsay
Tath sare sakael poene chan;
Mrag shragal gaend zal-haes,
Zain na zain totey paen


It is a lake so tiny that in it a mustard seed finds no room.
Yet from that lake everyone drinks water.
And into it do gazelles, jackals, rhinoceroses, and sea-elephants
Keep falling, falling, almost before they have time to be born



The lines evoke a mystery, conjures up exotic images like rhinoceroses and sea-elephants, something that no Kashmiri would have possibly known. The lines conceal a deeper meaning and invites a reader to get to the root of it all. 
The answer to the riddle is: teats. Mother's teats, the seed of life. The point being that something complex as life actually some out of something that looks very simple. And that just being born is not the beginning, it is also the end. Creatures born and then returning to the source, the seed. 

I have been fascinated by these lines for few years now. So I tried to find if there is a seed to the thought, the idea. 

The simile of egg or seed occurs in grammarian Bhartrihari's Vakya-padiya.

This willing desire, called the word, 
has a nature similar to that of an egg; 
Its evolving starts gradually, 
when one part follows another, 
just as it happens 
when[one foot follows another during ordinary] 
walking

[~From Early Vedanta to Kashmir Shaivism: Gaudapada, Bhartrhari, and Abhinavagupta By N. V. Isaeva]

It is meant to explain how some words conceal and hold higher meaning. A riddle is also essentially words, in sequence, that together hold a deeper meaning.

Harivrsabha, disciple of Bhartrihari mentions the egg being mentioned in those lines is a peacock's egg (mayura-anda). 

In Paratrimshika-karika, Abhinavagupt talks about seed of universe using banyan seed. 

Just as the great banyan tree 
is present in its seed 
only in the form of potency, 
So the whole of the universe, 
with its moving and immovable things, 
is present in the heart [of the higher Lord].

The form the words take here are in thought similar to what Lal Ded is saying.

In Chandogya Upanishad we find origin of the thought, the seed of faith (something akin to mustard seed of Christianity):


You are That
Uddälaka asked his son to fetch a banyan fruit.
'Here it is, Lord!' said Svetaketu.
'Break it,' said Uddalaka.
'I have broken it, Lord!'
'What do you see there?'
'Little seeds, Lord!'
'Break one of them, my son!'
'It is broken, Lord!'
'What do you see there?'
'Nothing Lord!' said Svetaketu.

Uddālaka said: My son! This great banyan tree 
has sprung up from seed so small
that you cannot see it.
Believe in what I say, my son!
That being is the seed; all else but His expression.
He is truth. He is Self.
Svetaketu! You are that.'

[~ Shree Purohit Swami and W.B. Yeats]

Lal Ded also talks about an impossibly small seed of life, a small lake, out of which all life is born. That she mentions as the source. And then in death, life returns to the source. 

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