January-June 2021
The Veda are the foundation of Hinduism: the Sanātana Dharma. Etymologically, Veda signifies ‘vision’ and thus ‘true knowledge.’ In India, one would simply say ‘awakening’. In this sense, the four collections of hymns and liturgical formulas of the Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma and Atharva Veda refer to what the ṛṣi, the first sages, saw when, facing the mystery of the universe, they sensed, as much in the infinity of the heavens as in the depths of their own hearts, an Absolute that surpassed them. Contemplating the creation in its fundamental bounty, they perceived a generosity at the origin of everything:
We have crossed towards the further shore beyond darkness. The radiant dawn extends its rays, smiling like a lover seeking conquests, she brings light to all and with the charm of her countenance awakens us to bliss.[1]
Above all, the light was the guide for their awakening, the light of the dawn and the dusk, the blinding light of the sun at its full height when all darkness has been dispelled: “Let us meditate on that excellent glory of the divine vivifying Sun, May he enlighten our understanding.”[2] The light itself became the final goal of their quest – not just the external light, but the interior light that shines at the depth of the heart: “Gazing beyond the dark we reach the supreme Light and attain the Sun, the God of Gods, the Light.”[3]
In the dazzling brilliance of the sun, the Human Being is the primordial priest when, with hands uplifted towards the glowing orb, they unite the world here below with the world of the gods. Such is the original connection – the re-establishment of the balance of the universe, to which all future sacrifices will be committed – the yajña that the Veda detailed meticulously from the humble offering of the water right up to the impressive sacrifice of the horse (aśvamedha). One can then easily understand why Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) in his master work The Vedic Experience, was able to write, “If one had to choose a single word to express the quintessence of the Vedic Revelation, the word yajña, sacrifice, would perhaps be the most adequate.”[4]
Among the sacrifices documented in the Veda,one of them over the millennia has generated an unfailing interest. It is described in the tenth mandala of the Ṛg Vedain the Puruṣa-sūkta[5], a hymn of more recent composition in a corpus that is some 3500 years old. It is not about a sacrifice that human beings can do because it is a sacrifice brought about before humans existed. However, up to the present day there is scarcely a liturgy that is not accompanied by the recitation of at least several of the sixteen Sanskrit verses that make up the Puruṣa-sūkta. Furthermore, the importance of the myth of the Puruṣawithin Indian thought has been such that whoever would want to understand only a tiny part ofits tangled developments will always have to come back to one of the most penetrating visions that was given to the first ṛṣi. Such is the task that we now have to undertake.
The Puruṣa-sūkta
Puruṣa signifies man in general but in the case of the Puruṣa-sūkta,one has to say: the primordial Man. Two etymologies can be put forward for the Sanskrit term. The first comes from the verbal root [pṛ], to fill, from which comes the idea of totality and plenitude and the transcendent dimension. The second would be associated with pur – the fortress, the city, – to which the verbal root [sad] is joined, to sit or [] to dwell, from which comes the idea of the spirit residing within the interior of the human body, the immanent dimension of the divine. In a sense, one can say that the whole evolution of the archetype of the Puruṣahas played on this double etymology. However, before following its thread across the centuries, it is worth coming back to its place of origin in the Ṛg Veda.
In the introduction to his translation of several hymns from the Veda,Louis Renou wrote concerning the Puruṣa-sūkta,
Immolated during the course of a vast sacrifice (the first of the sacrifices) the limbs of the Giant, in being scattered across the expanse, gave birth to the world. This hymn . . . is the one that had the greatest impact. Did it not embrace the creation of the world within the same impulse as that of the sacrifice, the two primordial events?[6]
To understand how this vision has pervaded Indian thought, there is no better way than to listen to the recitation of it by the Brahmins, as they clearly emphasise the alliteration of the initial S – sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ sahasrākṣaḥ sahasrapāt – which immediately describes the cosmic immensity of the Puruṣa:
The Puruṣa has a thousand heads,
a thousand eyes, a thousand feet.
He pervaded the earth on all sides
and extended beyond it as far as ten fingers.
It is the Puruṣa who is all this,
whatever has been and whatever is to be.
He is the ruler of immortality,
when he grows beyond everything through food.[7]
The primordial Man is the quintessence of the cosmos in its original unity, He fills everything, he is the fullness of everything, according to the first possible etymology of the Puruṣa. However, that unity has been disseminated, and it is from the dismemberment of the body of the primordial Man that the whole creation is born by means of a sacrifice that the Puruṣa-sūkta describes further on:
When the gods spread the sacrifice
with the Puruṣa as the offering,
spring was the clarified butter,
summer the fuel, autumn the oblation.
They anointed the Puruṣa, the sacrifice born at the beginning,
upon the sacred grass.
With him the gods, Sādhyas, sages sacrificed.[8]
With a paradox typical of the Vedic spirit, the Puruṣais at the same time both the victim that the gods have sacrificed at the very beginning and the one for whom the sacrifice (yajña) is offered. The Sanskrit here displays a real genius by using only three words: yajñena yajñamajayanta devāḥ, which begin the last verse of the hymn:
With the sacrifice the gods sacrificed to the sacrifice.
There were the first ritual laws.
These very powers reached the dome of the sky
where dwell the Sādhyas, the ancient gods.[9]
Previously, the Puruṣa-sūkta had presented the fruits of the primordial sacrifice. These were first the start of the liturgical cult which was of prime importance for the Vedic person.Afterwards, following on from the dismemberment of the Puruṣa,the entire animal and human creation arose, in particular the division of society into four castes (varṇa):
From that sacrifice in which everything was offered,
the verses and chants were born,
the metres were born from it,
and from it the formulas where born.
Horses were born from it,
and those other animals that have two rows of teeth.
Cows were born from it,
and from it goats and sheep were born.
When they divided the Puruṣa,
into how many parts did they apportion him?
What do they call his mouth,
his two arms and thighs and feet?
His mouth became the Brahmin (brāhmaa);
his arms were made into the Warrior (rānjanya),
his thighs the merchant (vaiśya),
and from his feet the servant(śūdra) was born.[10]
The breaking up of the unity represented by the Puruṣa, in as far as it was the totality of the universe of space and time, is not a complete loss in an overwhelming multiplicity. The worlds of humans and the gods remain mysteriously connected to the body of the Puruṣa and the Vedic liturgy is specifically the place where this original unity allows itself to be intuited again. Furthermore, the mysterious connections between the cosmos and the Puruṣa, such as they are set out at the end of the hymn, had a considerable future in the Upaniṣad, whose only objective, etymologically speaking, was to rediscover the connections that re-establish the scattered unity:
The moon was born from his mind;
from his eye the sun was born.
Indra and Agni came from his mouth,
and from his vital breath the wind was born.
From his navel the middle realm of space arose;
from his head the sky evolved.
From his two feet came the earth, and the quarters of the sky from his ear.
Thus they set the world in order.[11]
The central message of the Puruṣa-sūkta is that sacrifice is at the beginning of everything – an offering up of unity itself so that multiplicity can appear.
One final detail concerning the primordial sacrifice is here worthy of mention. It concerns the vertical axis represented by the wood to which the Puruṣa was bound, a veritable cosmic ladder erected between the three worlds of the earth, the intermediate space and the heavens:
They were seven enclosing-sticks for him,
and thrice seven fuel-sticks,
when the gods, spreading the sacrifice,
bound the Puruṣa as the sacrificial beast.[12]
It is interesting to note here that , according to the architectural treatises (vāstu śāstra), when temples appeared on Indian soil in the post-Vedic era the archetype of the Puruṣa was again found in the two horizontal and vertical dimensions of the new venue for sacrifice:
The Puruṣa is not only related to site and ground plan. The elevation of a temple (śikhara: abode of the garbhagṛha or sanctum) is also likened to the body of Puruṣa, and the different parts of the temple are named after the limbs of the body, the soul being the consecrated image in the sanctum. The temple is thus a symbol of the cosmic Man which is all in one body and soul, parts and the whole’.[13]
This important observation brings our focus now to the centre of the temple, the place of the sacrifice itself. In what some authors have called ‘Brahminism,’ this isa new development of Hinduism that emerges from the first insights in the Vedas concerning the mystery of the origins.
The sacrifice of Prajāpati
The epoch of the Brāhmaṇaopened up a new phase in Indian thought. After the grand inaugural visions of the Ṛg Veda and the liturgical formulas of the Yajur Veda, this new corpus wanted to develop the sophistication of the ritual by describing it in ever greater detail. For a non-Brahmin – and a fortiori a foreigner – the thousands of pages of the Brāhmaṇacan be somewhat forbidding. However, to the careful reader, they offer a wealth of riches, as we can see in La doctrine du sacrifice dans les Brâhmanas, the  magisterial work of  Sylvain Lévi (1863-1935) .[14]
What caught the attention of Levi in the Brāhmaṇawas the recovery of the myth of the sacrifice of the Puruṣain the figure of Prajāpati, the lord of creatures,[15] who was scarcely mentioned in the Veda. On several occasions, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa describes the creation of the world through the sacrifice of Prajāpati in order to show that “at the origin of every being there is a sacrifice that has produced it. The texture of the universe is sacrifice, which is the act par excellence that produces all that is.”[16] For example, it is written that:
Prajāpati produced living beings, and having produced living beings he went upwards, – he went to that world where that sun now shines. And, indeed, there was then no other victim meet for sacrifice but that one [Prajāpati], and the gods set about offering him up in sacrifice. Wherefore it is with reference to this that the ṛṣi has said (Ṛg Veda X, 90, 16), ‘With the sacrifice the gods sacrificed to the sacrifice,’ – for by sacrifice they did offer up Prajāpati, the sacrifice.’[17]
Other mythological accounts from the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa describe the same reality, namely that Prajapati is the very personification of sacrifice. In a striking way, it is said that Prajapati, no longer wanting to be alone, yet having nothing at his disposition to create the world, dismembers himself to produce a descendants, that is, new generations of creatures, up to the point where he becomes drained of all life. Thus, ‘creation is pictured here as the self-immolation of the Creator. It is only because Prajāpati sacrifices himself fully that he can give to creation his whole self’.[18]
In the way that Prajāpati became the father of all creatures, one finds the vein of the Puruṣa-sūkta. The text goes so far as to say that ‘Puruṣa is indeed the sacrifice’.[19] However, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa took a new step. As Prajapati was on the verge of death, the creatures to whom he gave life became frightened. Thus with the help of Agni, the sacrificial fire, they decide to seek a way to bring their father back to life by piecing together his dismembered body through a new ritual sacrifice. Thus,
it is only by the same sacrifice in the opposite direction, by the same sacrifice in which he has himself been offered as oblation, that Prajāpati is snatched back from death. He has been sacrificed and he lives; he has been dismembered but stays the same because the sacrifice has recomposed him.[20]
We have, then, a double sacrifice: the primordial sacrifice by which Prajapati created the world by his dying and the ritual sacrifice by which Prajapati was brought back to life. However, the reconstitution of the dismembered unity was not accomplished on a single occasion at the beginning; it happens each time a ritual sacrifice is carried out. This is the crucial innovation introduced by the Brāhmaṇa.
The purpose of each particular sacrifice is the symbolic reconstruction of the dismembered body of Prajāpati. Such sacrifice is known as agnicayana, and its complex ritual is set out at length in Books VI to X of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa. Etymologically, agnicayana refers to the construction of the altarpiece of the fire that is an essential element of Vedic cult: “When one builds up the fire-altar one reconstructs space and time, the body of Prajāpati.”[21]To perform the agnicayana, the four classes of Vedic priests are required: the hotṛ of the Ṛg Veda, the adhvaryu of the Yajur Veda, the udgātṛ of the Sāma Veda, and the brahman of the l’Atharva Veda.
The meticulous study of the ritual is of fundamental concern here. The dismembered corpse of Prajapati is represented by the large number of scattered bricks (istaka) required for the construction of the altar. As in former times the sons of Prajapati gave life back to their father by constructing a sacrificial altar, which would be a new body for him, likewise the priests of the agnicayana carry out, gesture by gesture, the different stages of the life-saving sacrifice. After a preliminary initiation (dīkṣā) lasting one year, they mark out on the ground a sacred space upon which they are going to construct an altar with 10,800 bricks set out in five stacked rows. Previously they will have buried in the foundation of the future altar a mysterious golden effigy of a man, a live tortoise, and the heads of five animals.[22] When the human effigy is put in place, the Puruṣa-sūkta is sung, thus establishing a concrete link with the ancient sacrifice of the Puruṣa.[23] Then, each day and each night a brick is put in place, accompanied by an appropriate mantra, faithful to the injunction of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa to recover the unity and the continuity of time:
The officiant recites the verses continually, without interruption: and so he makes the days and nights of the year continuous, and so the days and nights of the year alternate continually and without interruption.[24]
Once the years-long ritual [25] is over, the altar is ready to receive the āhavanīya, the sacred fire, which finally gives life back to Prajāpati, for whom from that time the altar acts as an immortal body, over which time no longer has control.
In an exemplary way, the agnicayana reveals the objective of the whole sacrificial system of the Brāhmaṇa: to re-establish the universe in its equilibrium between the world of humans and of the gods by recovering the broken unity. There is no longer only a primordial sacrifice by which the world is created, as was the case in the Puruṣa-sūkta. Rather, the sacrifice is repeated indefinitely so that the body of Prajāpati can be forever recreated. In a way that is even more radical than the Veda, the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa places the sacrifice (yajña) at the centre of all reality since every sacrifice recreates, at a given time and place, the archetypal primordial sacrifice. The yajña of the Brahmin priest is thus the continual creation and re-creation of the world – the most secure preservation of the cosmic equilibrium:
Sacrifice is the centre of the world, its force, that which gives it the strength to be, to be what it is and what it shall be, that which supports the cosmos and maintains it in existence. Sacrifice is not primarily a human affair but a cosmic venture, and God and the Gods are the prime actors in it. Sacrifice is not only the creative act; it is also both the conservational and the actively transforming act of the whole universe.[26]
The never-ending repetition of the sacrifice that sustains the cosmos is called the ṛta,which can be translated as ‘cosmic order’ because the reality of the world continues as long as the Brahmanical sacrifice is carried out. In the order of the cosmos, there is nothing static; rather, everything is in motion as is the fire of Agni who presides over all the Vedic liturgies. Thus ṛtais the ultimate foundation of everything; it is the ‘supreme.’”[27]
In exactly the same way, the Veda and the Brāhmaṇaaddress the question of the return to unity which is, par excellence,the driving thread of Indian thought. As much in the myth of the sacrifice of Puruṣa as in that of the self-immolation of Prajāpati, one can contemplate the destruction of primordial unity in order to make possible cosmic multiplicity . This is not an original sin, but it still cannot satisfy human beings. They need to rediscover what has been lost. The goal of the Vedic liturgy is none other than to re-establish the harmony of the world of humans and of the gods, which is continually threatened by the non-virtuous acts (papa) that punctuate life. To allow everything to rediscover its proper order within the primordial unity, there is no other way than the different ritual sacrifices (yajña) carried out in the prescribed way. Such is the task of the Brahmin priest in the name of all those who have commissioned (yajamāna) of the sacrifice.
Such is the grandeur of the human being at the centre of creation: “He can experience that bliss and sense of fullness [of the identification with the Absolute] only when he is busily engaged in building up again the body of Prajāpati after it has been dismembered and before his new creative act.”.[28] However – and this is the obstacle that emerges rapidly in the Vedic and Brahmanical world – a human being is caught up in a “process . . . of having to re-construct again and again the unity long-wished [because] he loses his unity and identification with the Absolute at the end of every sacrifice.”.[29] Such an instability cannot permanently satisfy an India driven by the desire for unity.
The Puruṣa, sun-coloured, beyond darkness.
We have to come back to the Puruṣa-sūkta. As we have seen, the Brāhmaṇa exploited the full potential of the idea of sacrifice (yajña), which is central to the Vedic hymn. However, in essence this exploitation contains another thread that leads to further developments. In fact, two strophes of the hymn evoke a mystery hidden at the heart of the cosmic manifestation of the Puruṣa filling the entire universe:
Such is his greatness,
and the Puruṣa is yet more than this.
All creatures are a quarter of him;
three quarters are what is immortal in heaven.
With three quarters the Puruṣa rose upwards,
and one quarter of him still remains here.
From this he spread out in all directions,
into that which eats and that which does not eat.[30]
As a matter of fact, only a quarter of the mystery of Puruṣa has been made manifest; three quarters remain “concealed in secret,”[31] according to an idea found elsewhere in the Veda that is applied to the original word (vāc). At a new stage of Indian thought, the Upaniṣad had no other objective than to pierce the mystery in its sealed virginity: “So far goes his greatness, and the Puruṣa is greater than that. A foot of him is all beings: three-footed, he has immortality in the sky.”[32] The Upaniṣad know that quotidian human beings cannot know everything since the Mystery remains for the most part untouched. However, it is people of will who have had the courage to set out to discover the Mystery in its totality and to be permanently blinded by its light. These people were no longer satisfied by the repetition of the sacrifice that in their eyes had become sterile. For them, the multiplicity of creation was no longer a source of bounty but instead of ignorance and of being led astray. For them there was only one final goal: The One in its static perfection. It is then that these people – who for the most part had left human company for the solitude of the forests – proceeded to abandon Agni, the fire of the sacrifice, the priest and mediator between the world of humans and that of the gods, to devote themselves to the heat of the more interior fire of tapas – literally, ascesis, “the primordial fervour, the original fire, the supreme concentration, the ultimate energy, the creative force that initiates the whole cosmic movement.”[33]Thanks to the fire of tapas,they undertook an interior pilgrimage, turning back the cosmic manifestation in order to rediscover the hidden source. Theirs was an interior pilgrimage into the mysterious cave of the heart – the guhā– because the masters had said to them that “The Atman [the Absolute] pierced holes outward. Therefore, one looks outward and not inside oneself. Desiring immortality, a certain sage turned his eyes inward and saw the Atman within.”[34]
What happened here was an actual transfiguration of sacrifice. It was no longer about an unsatisfactory external sacrifice, that was not able to lead to the desired liberation (mokṣa) through an unbreakable union with the Mystery. On the contrary, all that mattered was the inner sacrifice within which a person sacrifices everything, by sacrificing self. Here, it is no longer a plant or animal-based sacrifice to be delivered to the flames of Agni. Only the ego (ahamkāra) and the mind (manas) are the burnt offering of the mystical sacrifice in the heat of tapas: “The ascetic has to burn, to consume, all his thoughts and overcome all his desires . . . because such an ascesis corresponds to the very structure of reality: the sacrifice of the intellect re-enacts the primordial sacrifice.”[35]
Thus the inner sacrifice as proposed by the Upaniṣad is the most perfect participation in the primordial sacrifice of the Puruṣa. Even more, by the sacrifice of one’s ego and the mind that makes one a prisoner in the restricted sphere where only a quarter of the Puruṣa is manifest, a person becomes able to understand the entirety of the hidden mystery, being oneself, in an entirely interior way, the glorious Puruṣa. Such is the deliverance (mokṣa) in the way of wisdom (jñāna) opened up by the seers of the Upaniṣad:
But by his own divinization, the [seer] identifies himself with that Absolute which revealed Itself to him beyond the cosmic activity, in the Silence and Non-Activity of the by now Immobile Perfection . . . Thus the [seer] gradually arrives at a stage where he stops offering sacrifice, at first simply to avoid any external activity and to interiorize its effects by meditation, but then to deliver himself totally to the pure awareness of the Perfect Unity. In this perception he can then contemplate, in an unmoved and detached manner, the flow of the world and of the universe which unfolds itself in front of him without touching him, and in his experience of the Absolute remains forever identified with It.”[36]
Since the seer of the Upaniṣad has become the Puruṣa, simultaneously sacrificed at the interior level and also led back to his primordial unity in the mystical integration that is brought about by the inner awakening, it is not surprising that the archetype of the Puruṣa found a new relevance in this very focused corpus of writing.
The Upaniṣad furthermore exploited the two dimensions contained within the possible etymologies of the Sanskrit term. First of all, in the dimension of wholeness and transcendence the Puruṣa is an equivalent of the Brahman – the Absolute as the cosmic Mystery. The Chāndogya Upaniṣad here contemplates “the Puruṣa made of gold who is seen within the sun, with golden beard, golden hair, all golden to the nail-tips.”[37] The more recent Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad affirms that “just as flowing rivers go down into the sea leaving name and form behind, the one who knows, freed from name and form, reaches the Puruṣa, higher than the highest.”[38] The awakening here is the recognition that one is really Brahman or the Puruṣa, the light that covers everything with its glory: “The Puruṣa who is seen in the sun am I. I am he.”[39]
However, it is above all the dimension of interiority of the Puruṣa that has been the most crucial in the Upaniṣad, and one can justifiably say that “the transformation of the Cosmic archetypal Person into the innermost divine presence in the human being was the Copernican revolution of the Upaniṣad.”[40]. Here the Puruṣa is associated with the Atman, the Absolute that is our deepest inner mystery. Thus, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad did not hesitate to re-write the myth of creation of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa upon which this Upaniṣad depends: “In the beginning was the Atman, in the likeness of a Puruṣa. Looking around he saw nothing but himself.”[41] Some other Upaniṣhad preferred to evoke the profound mystery of the “Puruṣa who is seen within the eye,”[42] “a light without smoke”[43]: “A Puruṣa, a thumb in length, rests in the midst of the Atman, Lord of past and future.”[44]
Finally, when the Upaniṣad settled the equation of the Brahman and the Atman into the formula of the awakening, they reconciled the two dimensions of transcendence and immanence of the Purusa: “I see the light that is your most beautiful form. That Puruṣa – I am he:[45]; “’The Puruṣa who is seen in the eye is the Atman,’ he said. ‘It is the immortal, the fearless. It is Brahman’”[46].
It is not surprising then that in a later Upaniṣad, the Puruṣa ended up being the personification of the ardently longed deliverance (mokṣa):
I know this great Puruṣa, sun-coloured, beyond darkness. Knowing him, one goes beyond death. There is no other path by which to go. All this is filled by the Puruṣa, the one, who stands in the sky, forms as a tree. There is nothing higher or lower than he, no one smaller or larger.[47]
Such is the ultimate knowledge of the sealed three-quarter part of the mystery of the Puruṣa. a knowledge about which another Upaniṣad said that “it can be won by the one whom the Atman chooses. To him the Atman reveals its own form.”[48]
The Lamb slain before the creation of the world
Having thus traversed almost a thousand years of Indian thought, we are able to gauge the boundless fecundity of the myth of Puruṣa in its many developments: the sacrifice at the beginning of all creation in the Ṛg Veda,a true sacrificial system (yajña) that allows the preservation of the world in the Brāhmaṇa,and finally the inner sacrifice in the Upaniṣad,where humans themselves become the glorious Puruṣa. It is hardly surprising that such an archetype had a permanent effect on the first Christians who became interested in “the dismembering of the primordial Puruṣa” from which “springs the life that fills the universe.”[49] Among these must be counted Henri Le Saux-Svāmī Abhiṣiktānanda (1910-1973)[50] who wrote in his personal diary: “No doubt the Puruṣa will help me rediscover, as if afresh, the universal dimension – the eternal dimension – of the mystery of Jesus.”[51] However, to demarcate the distance separating the myth from the reality of the salvific Incarnation, he added, “Good Friday. The Cross: at this point, the Puruṣa is no longer enough to explain the mystery of Jesus, nor the mystery of the human being at its greatest depth. . . . The Puruṣa is not sacrificed for the world’s salvation. He does not suffer – Jesus suffers.”[52]
Having said that, it is undeniable that for an Indian Christian the myth of the Puruṣa is an extraordinary ‘pre-vision’ of the mystery of Christ. In fact, does the First Letter of Peter not say that we have been “You know that you were ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake” (1:18-20)? In an even more striking way, Revelation speaks of “the Lamb slaughtered since the foundation of the world” (13:8). [53]  
There was a need of a reader as attentive to the final book of the Bible as Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) to extract the full theological richness of such a statement. It had already caught the attention of S. Bulgakov (1871-1944) and P. T. Forsyth (1848-1921):
Christ’s sacrifice began before he came into the world, and his Cross was that of a lamb slain before the world’s foundation. There was a Calvary above which was the mother of it all. His obedience, however impressive, does not take divine magnitude if it first rose upon earth, nor has it the due compelling power upon ours. His obedience as a man was but the detail of the supreme obedience which made him man.[54]
Without doubt, the doctrine of the Ur-kenose – the “fundamental Kenosis”[55] as briefly sketched out by von Balthasar – has been much discussed within the Church. Nevertheless, one easily understands that a Hindu, bathed in the light of Puruṣa, can readily grasp that this kenosis is a sacrifice at the heart of all reality, as its most intimate foundation.
Without entering too far into a recent theological debate, which deserves deeper consideration, we can allow the Indian myth of the sacrificed Puruṣa to shed new light upon the mystery of the Eucharist that is celebrated every day in innumerable parts of the world. For that, it is beneficial to hearken to the words Henri Le Saux wrote in his Indian hermitage at Gyansu in the midst of a Hindu world:
The morning mass in my mezzanine, in the external form of the Indian rite, integrating the Vedic praise and the hymns of the Puruṣa, the real Hindu title for the Christ (certainly not in the sectarian modern Hinduism, but in the great tradition of the Śruti (Scriptures)[56]. In the name of all those around about me. Giving a voice to their silence, revealing Christ in their call to God. . . . To plunge into the depth of India in the name of the Church, to discover Christ there, the pre-existing Puruṣa – more so actually than in the Greek logos – and waiting there for his unveiling. I still believe what I wrote: the Indian Church awaits to give birth to the idea that deep down in a Hindu heart, the Puruṣa awakens himself as Christ![57]
Conventionally, the holy sacrifice of the mass has been theologically understood as the sacramental commemoration of the bloody sacrifice of the Cross, accomplished once and for all on Golgotha: “The Sacrifice which is offered every day in the Church is not distinct from that which Christ Himself offered, but is a commemoration thereof.”[58]. Three altars can be discerned here. First of all, the altar of the Cross where the one who makes the sacrifice is himself offered as the sacrifice: “by commending himself to you for our salvation, showed himself the Priest, the Altar, and the Lamb of sacrifice.”[59]. Then reference is made in the Canon of the Mass to a mysterious celestial altar – the sublime altare tuum – the archetype where the liturgy of the Son, the eternal High priest is celebrated: “
In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.[60]
Without doubt, we have here one of the liturgical keys to understanding, as von Balthasar put it, “the everlasting aspect of the sacrifice of Golgotha.”[61]
Finally, there is the stone altar on which the mass is celebrated and within which are incorporated the relics of the martyrs whose sacrifice bore witness to the greatest Love. To understand the theological richness associated with the stone altar, it is necessary to re-read the preface that was used at the time of its consecration:
Having become both the true Priest and the true oblation, he [Christ] has taught us to celebrate for ever the memorial of the Sacrifice that he himself offered to you on the altar of the Cross. Therefore, Lord, your people have raised this altar, which we dedicate to you with joyful praise. Truly this is an exalted place, where the Sacrifice of Christ is ever offered in mystery, where perfect praise is rendered to you and redemption flows forth for us. Here is prepared the table of the Lord, where your children, fed by the body of Christ, are gathered into the one, the holy Church. Here the faithful drink of your Spirit from the streams that flow from Christ, the spiritual rock, through whom they, too, become a holy oblation, a living altar.[62]
The symbolic and theological richness of the stone altar is remarkable. One single aspect concerns us here. The altar is the place where, by the sacrifice of the mass, the Church is made manifest when the many become one, without losing any of their singularity: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10:16-17). The Apostle states it clearly: in our sacramental communion with the sacrificial body of Christ, the multiplicity of the creation is made one and thus the Church is built, of which the bread is most transparent sign. An ancient eucharistic prayer from the first Christians spoke in terms that were almost the same of the eucharistic unification of the world: “As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom.”[63]
On the altar at the Mass, day after day the Pleroma of Christ is manifested when all the singular realities of the world, signified by the bread and the wine, “fruit of the earth and the work of human hands,” are gathered up and united in the strength and light of the Risen One. Thus, each mass that is celebrated at a particular time and place has no purpose other than to extend sacramentally the power of the Resurrection to that time and place, assumed, purified and transfigured in Christ. Doing this, each “white stone” (Rev 2:17) of the singular human circumstances in which the mass is celebrated is embedded in the mystery of the Church which “will not be complete, will not be the whole body of Christ, until it has incorporated all the civilisations and all the cultural and spiritual riches of the entire world.”[64] Jules Monchanin (1895-1957), who was called Purush by his friends, said that “Christ, by the Resurrection totus Deus, deifies everything, man and the whole world,”[65] and then went on to say,   
In the Church and through it Christ prolongs his Redeeming Incarnation until the end of time, incorporating within himself all those who are redeemed, animating them with the Holy Spirit and leading them to the Father. With him and in him, they share in his mystery and are incorporated within the Holy Trinity. This mystical body of Christ, which is the continuation through the Resurrection of his physical body, is no longer constrained by space and time. It can only possess its full ‘ecumenicity’ by integrating itself with the whole of humanity, with all cultures and in all eras. Time is only granted to the world for the preparation of the catholicity of the Church.”[66]
We have here a fuller meaning of the mystery of the mass, which too often suffers from ideological reductions. The echoes brought by the Puruṣa-sūkta and also by the sacrificial doctrine in the Brāhmaṇa throw a new light upon the mystery which takes place in the eucharist celebrated daily in each part of the world: the unification of the whole of the creation in the dismembered body of the crucified Christ and in his glorious Risen Body. Such is the gracious wish of the Father: “to gather up [recapitulate] all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). The Eucharist is thus the sacrament which allows the fullness of Christ to invade and recover everything.
It is necessary here to recapture the vastness of the vision of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) in order to prevent any harmful reduction of the Eucharist:
There is only one Mass in the world, throughout all time: the true Host, the full Host, it is the universe that the Christ penetrates ever more intimately and brings to life. From the distant origin of things up until their unpredictable consummation, through innumerable turmoils in limitless space, the entire Nature undergoes, slowly and irresistibly the great Consecration. Only one thing occurs in the Creation, deep down, from all time and for ever: the body of Christ.[67]
In our understanding of the Eucharist, the Letter to the Ephesians can help us find an appropriate balance between the remembrance of the Passion and the proclamation of the Resurrection, both of which occur within the sacrament. Since the Letter to the Ephesians contemplates the cosmic plenitude of Christ, there is certainly room for substantive dialogue between the myth of Puruṣa and this landmark of an emerging ecclesial theology : ‘He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things’ (Ep 4, 10). If the Christ is able to extend his transcendent power to the whole creation, it is because he dwells within the intimacy of each being: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:16-17).
Being thus within them, Christ can lead believers on the road of spiritual sacrifice which is the real adoration: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom 12:1).
In this same movement towards a greater truth, which was the same as that of the Upaniṣad, Pope Saint Gregory the Great (550-604) asked himself, “What else do we understand the altar of God to be but the soul of the just man, which lays on itself, before His eyes, as a sacrifice all the good deeds he has performed?”[68] The only duty of the disciple of Christ is then to become a living altar, in the image of his Master who made himself “‘the altar, the priest and the victim”! And to the Christian in India the call to give flesh to Puruṣa – mysterious premonition of the fulness of Christ to come: “This evening celebrated Mass with the hymn to the Puruṣa. . . . The celebration of the birth of the Puruṣa, before time and beyond all times. The celebration of each one’s birth, of the birth of the Man in each one who is born.”[69]
Trans.  Roderick Campbell Guion OCDS
[1]Ṛg Veda I, 92, 6.
[2]Ṛg Veda III, 62, 10. This is the Gāyatrī mantra that is recited each day by the Brahmins.
[3] Ṛg Veda I, 50, 10.
[4] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, Mantramañjarī. An Anthology of the Vedas for Modern Man and Contemporary Celebration, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1977, p. 347.
[5] Cf. Ṛg Veda X, 90, 1-16.
[6]L. Renou, Hymnes spéculatifs du Véda, Paris: Gallimard, 1956, p. 12.
[7]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 1-2.
[8]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 6-7. The Sādhyas are a category of the Vedic gods.
[9]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 16.
[10]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 9-12.
[11]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 13-14.
[12]Ṛg Veda X, 90, 15.
[13]B. Bäumer, « Purusa », Kalatattvakosa I, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass, 1988, p. 46. Here is what A. K. Ramanujan wrote about the analogy between the Hindu temple and the human body: “Indian temples are traditionally built in the image of the human body. The ritual for building a temple begins with digging in the earth, and planting a pot of seed. The temple is said to rise from the implanted seed, like a human. The different parts of a temple are named after body parts. The two sides are called the hands or wings, the hasta; a pillar is called a foot, pāda. The top of the temple is the head, the śikhara. The shrine, the innermost and the darkest sanctum of the temple, is a garbhagṛha, the womb-house. The temple thus carries out in brick and stone the primordial blueprint of the human body’ (Speaking of Śiva, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1973, pp. 19-20).
[14]S. Lévi, La doctrine du sacrifice dans les Brâhmanas, Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1898. More recently the Italian philosopher Roberto Calasso has published a very penetrating study of the Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa: R. Calasso, Ardor,London: Penguin Books, 2015.
[15] Cf. Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa ‘That same Puruṣa became Prajāpati, the Lord of all creatures’.
[16] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 348.
[17] Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa X, 2, 2, 1-2.
[18] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 78.
[19] Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa I, 3, 2, 1.
[20] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 78.
[21] Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa VI, 1, 2, 17.
[22] The five animals are a tortoise, a horse, an ox, a sheep, and a goat.
[23] The image of Puruṣa lying at the foundation itself of the altar is very powerful. One can recall here that the relics of the Buddha and of his disciples were place placed in the foundation of the ancient stupas – as is the case at Sarnath and at many other Buddhist holy places. On this matter, we can consult the penetrating study of Paul Mus: ‘Où finit Puruṣa ?’, Mélanges d’Indianisme à la mémoire de Louis Renou, Paris: De Broccard, 1968, pp. 539-563.
[24] Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa I, 3, 5, 16.
[25] The last time that the agnicayana was carried out in India, at Pannal in Kerala, the ritual took less time and only lasted from the 12th to the 24th of April 1975.
[26] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 98.
[27] R. Panikkar, Ibidem, p. 350.
[28] U. M. Vesci, Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1992, p. 285.
[29]U. M. Vesci, Ibidem, p. 286.
[30] Ṛg Veda X, 90, 3-4.
[31] Cf. Ṛg Veda I, 164, 45: “The word (vāc) is measured in four quarters. The wise who possess insight knows these four divisions. Three quarters, concealed in secret, cause no movement. The fourth is the quarter that is spoken by Men.”
[32] Chāndogya Upaniṣad III, 12, 6.
[33] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 52.
[34] Kaṭha Upaniṣad IV, 1.
[35] R. Panikkar, The Vedic Experience, p. 420.
[36] U. M. Vesci, Heat and Sacrifice in the Vedas, p. 287.
[37] Chāndogya Upaniṣad I, 6, 6.
[38] Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad III, 2, 8.
[39] Chāndogya Upaniṣad IV, 11, 1.
[40] B. Bäumer, “From Puruṣa to Śakti” in W. Skudlarek & B. Bäumer, Witness to the Fullness of Light. The Vision and Relevance of the Benedictine Monk Swami Abhishiktananda, New York: Lantern Books, p. 33.
[41] Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad I, 4, 1.
[42] Chāndogya Upaniṣad I, 7, 5.
[43] Kaṭha Upaniṣad IV, 13.
[44] Kaṭha Upaniṣad IV, 12.
[45] Īśa Upaniṣad 16 ; Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad V, 15, 2.
[46] Chāndogya Upaniṣad IV, 15, 1
[47] Śvetāśvatara UpaniṣadIII, 8-9.
[48] Kaṭha Upaniṣad II, 23.
[49] Abhishiktananda, Ascent to the Depth of the Heart. The Spiritual Diary (1948-1973) of Swami Abhishiktananda (Dom Henri le Saux),Delhi: ISPCK, 1998, p. 255 (13th April 1963).
[50] To Henri Le Saux’s name must be added those of his friends Raimon Panikkar, Bettina Bäumer, Uma Marina Vesci who have studied the Puruṣa in the works cited previously. The Indian priest George Praseed should also be mentioned, who devoted his doctoral thesis to this theme: cf. G. Praseed, Sacrifice and Cosmos. Yajña and the Eucharist in Dialogue, New Delhi: Decent Books, 2009. Finally, we must not forget other important works in French such as: M. Biardeau-C. Malamoud, Le sacrifice dans l’Inde ancienne, Paris: PUF, 1976.
[51]Abhishiktananda, Ibidem, p. 346 (24th April 1972).
[52] Abhishiktananda, Ibidem, p. 341 (31st March 1972).
[53]Certain new translations have separated the « ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου» from the« τοῦ ἀρνίου ἐσφαγμένου » but that goes against the more prevalent tradition.
[54] P. T. Forsyth, The Person and Place of Christ, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909. This citation is taken up in:H.-U. von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000, p. 39.
[55] H.-U. von Balthasar, Ibidem, p. 39.
[56] The Śruti are the collected sacred Scriptures of Hinduism: Vedas, Brāhmaṇa, āraṇyaka and Upaniṣad. The Bhagavadgītā can also be included in this list.
[57] Letter from Henri Le Saux to Sister Thérèse Lemoine of 24th October 1966.
[58]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae IIIa, q. 22, a.3, 2um. For further details we would draw attention to Y. de Andia, « Le sacrifice parfait », Mystère du Christ, mystère de Dieu. Introduction à la mystique et la mystagogie, Namur: Lessius, 2019, pp. 207-234.
[59] Fifth Preface of Easter.
[60] The Roman Canon.
[61] H.-U. von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale, p. 40 : ‘And what does the ‘sublime altare tuum’ of the Roman Canon mean if not the everlasting aspect of the sacrifice of Golgotha, which is likewise represented in the Lamb slain before time began, seated eternally with the Father on that throne from which issue ‘the flashes of lighting, and voice, and peals of thunder’ (Apocalypse 4,5) of God’s glory ?’.
[62] Preface during the Mass for the Consecration of an Altar.
[63]Didachè, IX.
[64]J. Monchanin, ‘L’hindouisme’, Mystique de l’Inde, Mystère chrétien, Paris: Fayard, 1974, p. 66.
[65]J. Monchanin, ‘Spiritualité de l’Inde’, Ibidem, p. 237.
[66]J. Monchanin, ‘Essai de spiritualité missionnaire’, Théologie et spiritualité missionnaires, Paris: Beauchesne, 1985, p. 164.
[67]P. Teilhard de Chardin, ‘Panthéisme et christianisme’, Comment je crois ?, Paris: Le Seuil, 1969, p. 90.
[68] Grégory the Great, Homelies on Ezekiel II, 10, 19.
[69] Abhishiktananda, Ascent to the Depth of the Heart, p. 363 (25th December 1972).
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