TénukkuL inbam civappó karuppó
vánukkuL ícanai-tédi madiyilír
ténukkuL inbam cerin-dirundár-pól
Is the joy in the honey black or reddish?
Searching God in the sky is as foolish.
As abundant the joy that honey brings,
God is shining in the essence of things.
This verse is attributed to the Tirumúlar (7th century C.E.?), the founder of the Tamil Saiva Siddhánta school. His Tirumandiram consists of more than 3000 meters, and has been commented upon by a great many scholars.
This verse very simply reminds us that academic debates and logical analyses of profound truths often miss the whole point of spiritual experience. Honey contains the essence of sweetness: one can know this only from direct experience. One can discuss and debate the matter of honey’s sweetness endlessly, but that can never give us even an inkling of the taste of honey. Indeed, it would be foolish to be engaging in talks about honey in our efforts to taste it. “Is honey red or black?” is a metaphorical way of referring to the analytical approach. Likewise, says the poet, it is absurd to seek God in particular spaces, for the divine is all-pervasive. It is only when one recognizes and experiences the spiritual light that is inherent in every atom of the physical universe that one is truly enlightened, declares Tirumúlar.
Clearly, a sage-poet who has achieved that stage finds the customary modes of prayer and worship to be superficial and shallow, and theological discussions to be utterly foolish. He urges us to strive to see the divine in the world around, to experience ecstasy in Nature and its countless manifestations from dust to distant stars.
However, it must be remembered that discussions and debates, scholarship and learning, also have a place in culture and civilization. It would be a serious error if society abandons altogether intellectual and scholarly pursuits. What is important is to know the relevance of what we are doing in a given context. It is important to realize that Tirumúlar‘s injunction is valid only in the context of purely spiritual pursuits.
March 5, 2011