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WISDOM AND PASSION
The English translation was made by Robert Moses, completed by Jacques Cloarec and revised by Kenneth Hurry. Some minor modifications and omissions were introduced in the revision.
Photo: Sophie Bassouls
The text we present here is the original lecture delivered by Jacques Cloarec in Venice within the framework of a commemoration of Alain Daniélou organised by the Giorgio Cini Foundation, the University Ca’ Foscari of Venice and the International Institute of Comparative Music in Berlin. In 1995 the text was published in the collective volume Ricordo di Alain Daniélou (Firenze, Leo S. Olschki Editore), belonging to the series Orientalia Venetiana.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I met Alain Daniélou in Paris in 1962, at the time when he founded the International Institute for Comparative Music Studies in Berlin. He asked me to leave my teaching post to join him in the Prussian capital in 1964, which I did. Thus for the last thirty years I have been almost constantly at his side; first in Berlin and then in Venice where he set up another institute in 1970, and finally at the large house of the Labyrinth where he retired in 1980. I should like to offer a portrait of him; but I invite you to view it as a personal essay by a close witness of his life, for he is one of the most complex and difficult-to-define personalities of this century. In his memoirs, this sentence rings so true to me (The Way to the Labyrinth, New York 1987, p. 332: As I write these memoirs, I feel that I have said nothing of what was most important in my life, my real raison d’être. Perhaps behind these various anecdotes and reflexions, a sensitive and knowing reader will have caught a glimmering of that other journey, the journey of the inner man, which unfolds far beyond the range of human adventures, meetings, and passions, in a reality that cannot be expressed by words.)
These memoirs were a great success because of their freedom of thought and the originality of a non-conformist who succeeded, as Bernard Pivot called him in Apostrophes. But Daniélou’s memoirs do not satisfy me entirely, because they fail to leave room for any form of introspection. As a matter of fact, Alain Daniélou was primarily a very reserved, mysterious and self-effacing person; he talked little, neither taught nor presented ideas, but waited until you came to him, and being most attentive, would offer some general thoughts that succeeded in pointing you in the right direction, leaving the impression that you yourself had found the right solutions to your problems.
In parallel with this sense of reserve, he had an astounding technique for never committing himself to a definitive opinion. As a matter of fact, during these last three decades that I spent with him, I could never attribute to him a quality or a fault that was not immediately contradicted by its opposite. As soon as an opinion was uttered, you would think of ten examples running counter to it.
He is my Guru, my master, in the precise sense given to this term in India, and I am his śiṣya, his disciple. But this only became truly apparent to me after his death, a conclusion I had never reached before, which is probably linked to the Indian conception of the master-disciple relationship. ‘Obedience is only a virtue for the disciple and is limited to his master’s service. The disciple never surrenders his free judgement or independence nor does his master ever take the responsibility of imposing a determined way of life or thought. He replies only to those questions which are asked him and his opinion is only advisory.’ These sentences, taken from his book Gods of Love and Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva and Dionysus (Rochester: Vermont, p. 210), I reread shortly after his passing-away, finally grasping the nature of the master-disciple relationship.
We find another, very similar definition in his book While The Gods play (Rochester 1987, page 181): ‘He who is the bearer of a tradition of knowledge is under an obligation to pass it on… And still another sentence worthy of notice: The pupil […] is the receptacle of the teachings of his master, who imparts to him those elements of knowledge that he seems to deserve’ (Ibidem, p. 182).
Within my means, and as a disciple who continues to be receptive to Alain Daniélou’s ideas, I believe that my role, ever since he passed away, is to keep his work alive, and to make it accessible to those who, like him, seek to understand the complexity of the surrounding world and to respect the work of its Creator.
Today, from a more personal point of view, I should like to share the extraordinary memory of a person whose life was constantly governed by wisdom and passion. Often he would say to me, ‘Prior to any discussion, try to define precisely the words you employ to ensure that everyone is talking about the same thing’. He considered that most misunderstandings, particularly at the important international, multi-lingual conferences he attended, were caused by people’s tendency to employ the same words but give them different meanings. Furthermore he was extremely interested in the problems of language, from the moment of concept-formation in the brain, to oral and written expression, in short totally different stages long studied by Hindu thinkers and philosophers. I shall thus start by elaborating on what I understand behind those words ‘wisdom’ and ‘passion’.
Considered from the etymological point of view, the primary meaning of the word ‘wise’ or ‘sage’ is derived from the Latin sapiens, knowledge. There is no doubt that Alain Daniélou corresponded perfectly to this definition, if we think of his immense knowledge. The more ancient meaning that dictionaries give to this word: he who has true knowledge of things; enlightened, savant, is equally suitable. If however we take the word in its modern sense of nice, obedient, chaste, modest, measured, prudent, reasonable, all adjectives readily found in the dictionary, we are forced to consider that they are in evident opposition to his personality. Was he immune to what torments other humans? Singled out for his reputation for objectivity? I am not so sure. He often said to me before launching onto some bizarre task, I am utterly unreasonable. And in that, he was entirely right.
We are suddenly quite far from the great sage and from the ideas of those who knew him in the ‘autumn of his life’. But such was his personality
On the contrary, the passion that lived in him cannot be understood by taking its etymological meaning related to suffering, passio in Latin. The French pâtir is derived from it, and was not his kind of thing. Instead we have to take the word passion in its modern sense of the intense interest he nourished for all the tasks he undertook, as well as in the sense of the pleasures that earthly and human beauty offer us. His passion often took the guise of irrational, affective, violent opinions, but not of affective and intellectual states sufficiently powerful to dominate the life of the spirit by the intensity of their effects or the permanence of their action. Here we catch a glimpse of him driving fast cars, Porsches or Jaguars, running through red lights in a heavily-policed Berlin. Then we see him chain-smoking, a habit acquired from his days at Madras’s Adyar Library where smoking was strictly forbidden. And we also catch him ready to go back to India to receive the highest distinction from the President of the Indian Union, having already been awarded the rank of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour under de Gaulle and Malraux and promoted Officier by Francois Mitterrand – all statesmen whom he despised.
We see him becoming passionately interested in a new musical instrument that two young French researchers, Michel Geiss and Christian Braut, created according to the theories in his book Sémantique Musicale, or we see him on top of scaffolding, overseeing the construction of a roof according to his specifications. Away from India, we catch him developing a passion for Dionysism, and shortly before his death, for Mithraic cults. In the Berlin of the nineteen-seventies, we see him as a dynamic fighter, arguing with ethno-musicologists from the world over, and then in Moscow, invited by the Soviet authorities, denouncing Russian imperialism in the Asian republics.
We are suddenly quite far from the great sage and from the ideas of those who knew him in the ‘autumn of his life’. But such was his personality. He was in reality an agitator, a ferment of society who did not consider his Indian orthodoxy to be contrary to his attitude; quite the opposite, that it followed to the letter the philosophical teachings he received from the Benares pundits.
He had always been challenging. From his adolescence onwards, his main interests-music, dance, painting-clashed with his mother’s wishes. She wanted him to become a Ministry of Finance inspector, like his uncle Clamorgan. So he became a singer, dancer, pianist and even composer. Later he was an Indologist, speaking fluent Hindi and translating Sanskrit. But soon enough he was unwelcome at the universities because he did not share their modes of thinking. It is his artistic temperament that disturbs most: he loved Indian music, the very music he played on his vina. And he loved the architecture and the sculpture of mediaeval temples discovered in the jungles of central India. He always cultivated an aesthetic approach to life and thus ‘didn’t look serious’. But everything he did was lived with passion from inside. When he moved to India, he lived like an Indian–he spoke about India with a clarity and knowledge unmatched by other Westerners and became an unavoidable presence within the field of Indian studies. Similarly, in the world of traditional music, he realized for UNESCO a collection of records that are unlike any others owing to the rigour of his choice, in terms of artistic and technical criteria, and they enabled him to impose this music as an art form and not as mere folklore. And these collections, currently re-issued as CDs, remain an absolute model as well as his greatest achievement, because he succeeded in modifying the Western approach to Asian music. But what a shake-up within the world of ethno-musicology!
He is also challenging on the political front because from very early on he fought in the Orient against Western imperialism and colonialism, first in the musical field and then in the more general context of culture and education. Starting from his first text Le Tour du Monde en 1936 (Around the World in 1936), he actively defends both American Indians and Hindus, berating the British for their policy of apartheid towards the latter. At UNESCO he found several executives who understood his point of view and helped him in his crusade. He was not compliant towards those who classified his tendencies as orthodox and conservative because of his open opposition to socialism and especially communism. And what a surprise to find in his writings a crusade against all the Religions of the Book (monotheistic and dogmatic), to discover that he also considers the Aryans as barbarian invaders, the first heralds of decadence. What interested him were those civilizations that preceded these invasions, a point of view presented in his most widely-translated book, Shiva and Dionysus. In it he expounds the Shaivite world-view and philosophy, which exclude all dogma and therefore all limits to knowledge.
And then there is the unease created by some of his texts, in particular The Hindu Temple: Deification of Eroticism (translated by Kenneth F. Hurry, Rochester 2001), a book on erotic sculptures in medieval temples; The Phallus, Sacred Symbol of Male Creative Power (translated by Jon Graham, Rochester 1996); The Complete Kama Sutra (Rochester 1994), which is the first unabridged modern translation of the classic Indian text, containing the Sanskrit commentary by Yashodhara and excerpts from a commentary in Hindi by Devadatta Shastri.
Daniélou moved between various social circles with great ease, from the Roman demi-monde, the shanty towns of Tiburtino so dear to Pasolini, to the mansions of the top European aristocracy; from the severe Brahmans in Benares to the dancers of the Moulin Rouge. Asked to meet a well-known intellectual or writer or eminent politician, it left him cold, silent, bored, after which he would throw himself into a taxi and start an animated conversation with its driver, as if they were long-lost friends. He would indulge in detailed conversations with gardeners or craftsmen, anybody he could learn from.
Not easily classifiable and challenging, these are the traits that emerge in him again and again.
In fact, I find his attitude typical of the behaviour of the Indian wandering monks, the Sadhus, who are forever opposed to the ‘establishment’, who refuse to obey society’s edicts and abandon the world into which they were born. They are lawless, not unlike some segments of today’s youth, who seem to follow a similar path and refuse to recognize themselves in the world that their parents have created for them.
In truth, Alain Daniélou did not consider himself an innovator, but a spokesman for the ancient Shaivite tradition transmitted by the pundits of Benares
In attempting to define Alain Daniélou, one has to remember his battle against all ideologies, dogmas, belief systems, faiths. Everything had to be challenged, always. Only knowledge, the search for the best explanation, counted for him. Hence his virulent attacks directed against any form of dogma and his understanding of Hinduism: The only values I never challenge are those that I have learnt from Shaivite Hinduism, a teaching that rejects all dogma, and never have I found any form of thought that has gone so far, so clearly, with such depth and intelligence, in the understanding of the divine and the structures of the world.
Is Alain Daniélou little known outside France? Or even within France? I have just come back from Lausanne, where I prepared a photographic exhibition at the Musée de l’Elysée. My Air India flight being delayed, I observed a group of Swiss and French ‘pilgrims’ who were learning the basics of Hindu religion, battling with various notions pertaining to Shiva, Parvati, Kartikaya, Ganesha, etc. I asked to borrow their tourist guidebook and felt annoyed when I noticed that not any of Daniélou’s books were mentioned. I was needlessly annoyed. He himself considered his work to be rather confidential and aimed at readers honestly seeking a deeper understanding of the world around us. Why then participate in the media frenzy that goes together with any product, be it intellectual, artistic or material? For him, it was essential to publish, without much concern for print-runs; at least, true seekers of knowledge would have the opportunity to find what they are looking for. Obviously, there an elitist side to this which is bound to displease some. It is related to the Indian conception of society and the caste system, in which only a small, well-prepared part of the population (Brahmans and Sannyasin) are concerned with intellectual questions. Now, however, we see his translated books reaching readers in English-speaking countries, particularly in the United States. This also makes them accessible to Indians, and among a younger, more modern generation, there is surprise at discovering the work of a Frenchman so deeply imbued by Hindu orthodoxy. In truth, Alain Daniélou did not consider himself an innovator, but a spokesman for the ancient Shaivite tradition transmitted by the pundits of Benares.
I should like to end with two messages given us by Alain Daniélou: first, we should try to accept the world, the creation, for what it is and not what we would like it to be and second, that we stop our anthropomorphism, which can only lead to disaster. In this sense, his message coincides with that of the new ecologists. We have to accept that we are at the same time ‘prey and predator’. We thought for some time that we were only predators. The microscopic viruses that attack us and afflict us, such as cancer or AIDS, are reminders of the equilibrium inherent in nature. The second message concerns our quest to understand our role and our raison d’être on earth, both as individuals and as members of the species we represent. We have been given two duties: on the one hand, to transmit life, though procreation, the transmission of a genetic code, as the only way of going forward (in his mind, excluding any idea of paradise, reincarnation, etc.). We perpetuate ourselves through our children: the Italians have the saying I figli sono lo specchio dei genitori [children are a mirror of their parents]. And, on the other hand, we have the duty of transmitting knowledge, which he considered his own mission as an individual. The more he advanced in terms of age and knowledge, the more this seemed obvious to him and he would brush aside all rites and rituals in order to focus on research and understanding. He would say, ‘When you know, you don’t need to believe’, in the same vein in which Picasso said: ‘I don’t seek; I find.’ To me both sayings seem to approach the idea of happiness on earth. This has led a friend of his to write, ‘ I like to think that he put his genius into his life. His life was his masterpiece.’
- A well-known French television show on cultural affairs.
- Only in French, see in English Music and the Power of Sound, The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness, Rochester: Vermont 1995. This book is the new U.S. edition of Introduction to the Study of Musical Scales (London 1943), with a foreword by Sylvano Bussotti.
Impressions of the Labyrinth
The Linden Avenue
In memory of our long stay in Berlin, this avenue of linden trees is known as Unter den Linden. In Alain Daniélou’s imagination, it is very significant because, strangely, it runs close and parallel to the road outside the estate and, starting from one of the eight entrance gates, it leads nowhere, ending in a “fishtail”. It is a particularly moving spot for me, where I can still see Alain Daniélou going to gather roses at the side of this avenue.
The Two Arches near the Garages
The name Colle Labirinto, the hill of the labyrinth, is given on the land registry. When I first came here in 1962, it was never mentioned and it was only later that I found out why. We never sought any inspiration from it, and it was quite involuntary on our side that our building turned the house into one. It was always our philosophy not to intrude and to give residents the greatest possible freedom. The result: every evening 17 outer doors have to be locked, which give every set of rooms an independent exit.
The Little Door of the Swimming Pool
This photo was used to illustrate the e-book version of Alain Daniélou’s Les Contes du Labyrinthe (The Tales of the Labyrinth) and I feel it was a good choice because, as in the tales themselves, when you push a door open, you never know where it will lead you.
The wisteria sinensis, one of the first plants to blossom in Spring, hides some very strange characters: field-rats (large field mice), very sleek and vegetarian, who live under the roofs, and large grass snakes, anything but vegetarian. I never agree when visitors praise the peace of the Labyrinth, since I think of the numerous families of baby rats that die of hunger because their parents have been devoured.
Woods always give an impression of mystery. Ours is not at all well-kept and has become a paradise for a great number of rodents and birds. We had a lot of trouble installing a very heavy travertine linga there, well hidden. Hinduism is not a proselytising philosophy.