Ethics in the Upanishads

Literature from across the world engages with ethical questions and moral quandaries, and plays a role in cultivating our moral sensibilities.  Religious literatures often present ethical teachings indirectly, such as in the form of parables, or more directly, such as moral commandments.  In the Upanishads of late Vedic India, we find both ethical and metaphysical teachings set out in contexts of lineages of teachers and students. 

Read More Ethics in the Upanishads

The Ring in Indo-European literature

One criticism sometimes made against JRR Tolkien is that he somehow imitated the ring-based plot of Richard Wagner’s opera cycle ‘The Ring of the Nibelung’ in his own master work ‘The Lord of the Rings’.  Prof. Tolkien expressly disclaimed any similarity between his own work and that of Wagner, once comparing his Lord of the Rings with Wagner’s Ring Cycle by saying, “Both rings were round, but there the resemblance ceases.”

Read More The Ring in Indo-European literature

The rage of the warrior in literature

I previously discussed how strong emotions such as grief and rage well up from a very deep place within the self, expressing themselves in ways which go beyond the usual range of human expression, and how, according to the Indian tradition, the first poetic verse utterance emerged as an expression of deep sorrow.  We see this particularly in the expression of rage on the battlefield, as will be described here.

Read More The rage of the warrior in literature

Some Indo-European thoughts on time

Our day-to-day experience of time passing can be highly non-linear and subjective, as we move from giving rapid presentations to enjoying lazy Sunday afternoons.  Science too has studied how our brains have the ability to slow down and speed up our perception of time.  In this way, our lived experience of the flow of time diverges sharply from the scientific description of this experience.

Read More Some Indo-European thoughts on time

Trysts by night in art and poetry

The painting above, by one of the great Indian artists of the late eighteenth century, Nainsukh, depicts such a scene.  Our paramour sneaks away from her home by night to a spot in the forest where she has arranged to meet her lover during the night, and she must be back before anyone awakes and misses her in the morning.

Read More Trysts by night in art and poetry

Love, death and Sanskrit literature

In romantic literature across the world, we frequently read about lovers who would die rather than be apart.  In the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, Pyramus kills himself, believing Thisbe to be dead.  When Thisbe finds the dead body of Pyramus, she also kills herself.  Romeo and Juliet, based on this story, and many other tales of world literature, follow a similar pattern.

Read More Love, death and Sanskrit literature

T.S. Eliot, the Vedas and the Concept of Time

The concept of time seems to have been a preoccupation for many leading figures of this generation across a variety of fields, stimulated perhaps in part by the linking of hitherto distant regions through railway and telegraphy during the nineteenth century, and likely also by the impact of Einstein’s work.  Such figures might include Henri Bergson, Martin Heidegger, Marcel Proust, Salvador Dali and many others.

Read More T.S. Eliot, the Vedas and the Concept of Time

Conflicting norms of behaviour: in Greek drama and Indian epic

Polyneices a proper burial.  Polyneices has been killed in a battle against his brother and fellow citizens, and, as he is considered a traitor to the kingdom, the king decrees that no-one is to bury him or mourn him.  As his sister, however, Antigone feels that she is under an obligation to give him some minimal burial rites, and in fact does so, leading to her being condemned, as illustrated above.

Read More Conflicting norms of behaviour: in Greek drama and Indian epic