Medhananda, a German disciple who served as the librarian of the Sri Aurobindo Library for many years, was also a researcher and interpreter of the symbols in ancient cultures. In this book he examines several myths, tales, and legends in the light of mystic experience. What he sees are not stories about nature gods or tribal histories of kings and warriors, but facts, events and powers of the inner life. For him Heracles is not the muscle-bound hunter and hero of Greek myth, but the seeker of ultimate Truth, a symbol of the awakening consciousness of man. Other interpretations concern tales from ancient Egypt, the Bible, and the Brothers Grimm.
It is an age-old practice in many lands to express the esoteric truths of inner life through the medium of rituals, myths, legends, and fairy tales. Shri Medhananda in his book Immortal Wisdom
reinterprets these legends, myths, and fairy tales in order to bring out their true significance vis-à-vis the inner spiritual life of man. The interpretations of the symbols - for these myths and tales abound in them - are coherent, consistent, and well-connected to give us a true understanding of the materials presented. The psychological and spiritual significances escape the normal, uninitiated individual, but Shri Medhananda ferrets them out with consummate ease. The tales then cease to be mere stories but reveal themselves to be storehouses of spiritual knowledge and sempiternal wisdom. The astounding variety of myths and legends from the East and the West reinforce the fact that amid such cultural diversity inner truths are the same everywhere. I shall cull two accounts which have appealed to me very much: "The Gospel according to Thomas that was buried in the sand" [page 93] and "The Birth of the Golden Child" [page 125].
Shri Medhananda's treatment of these two themes, the former Christian and the latter pagan, is at once original and illuminating, highlighting his quest for that single truth, the one truth expressed differently in different times, climes, and cultures: ekam sat, viprah bahuda vadanti
(the truth is one; wise men express it in various ways).
The plethora of Christian sects such as the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, and various other denominations bear ample evidence of the fact that Jesus Christ, the mystic, yogi
, seer, and avatar
of Love, has been more misunderstood than otherwise. The mystics do not speak a simple, direct language. They use symbols, parables, and even paradoxes to express the holistic truth they experience, which cannot be expressed in trenchant mental terms. Many Gospels purporting to be the authentic recordings of Jesus' sayings have only added to the divisions in Christianity and the real meaning of Jesus' utterances has taken a back seat. Shri Medhananda asserts that the Gospel according to Saint Thomas is one of the most authentic Gospels although it is "officially regarded as 'apocryphal', unauthentic, not admitted to the New Testament canon". He has made a significant selection of those logia
(something like epigrams) which, with his interpretations, indisputably establish Jesus as the harbinger of the unity of Man, Nature, and God "who is all and in all", which the Semitic people, blindfolded by a dualistic religion, could neither comprehend nor digest. Some quotations from the Gospel according to Saint Thomas are presented here:
"Know thyself." [Log 3]
"If you are one and undivided you will be filled with light but if you divide (yourself) you will be filled with darkness." [Log 61]
"Whoever drinks my words from me shall become as I am and I myself will become he and that which is hidden will be revealed." [Log 108]
"Cleave a piece of wood, I am there: lift up the stone and you will find Me." [Log 77]
This particular log
reminds us of the bhakta
Prahlad who, when challenged by his tyrant father Hiranya to show his Vishnu, said ecstatically that the Lord Vishnu was in everything, in the dust as also in the pillar in front of him, meaning that he was all-pervading. This state of immanence, a pantheistic truth, is clearly evident in what Jesus said, though he "emphasises that He does not make this claim for himself alone, exclusively, as the church wants us to believe, but for everyone". There is no gainsaying the fact that Shri Medhananda's selection of Saint Thomas' Gospel has been done with impeccable insight and excellent judgement.
The second narration is that of "The Birth of the Golden Child", the birth of Hatshepsut, who became the celebrated Queen of Egypt and the builder of the famous temple at Deir-el-Bahri. The Mother once indicated that she had been Hatshepsut in one of her previous incarnations. At another time she also made a remarkable revelation that her body was specially shaped in her mother's womb and it was presided over by Mahasaraswati herself. In the account that Shri Medhananda gives, with symbolic pictures, of the birth of Hatshepsut one can see a remarkable parallel to the Mother's own birth. Hatshepsut's body was shaped by the high gods of Egypt and she was born embodying the divine consciousness, a golden child.
The apotheosis of Heracles or Hercules, as he is popularly known, is another theme that, under the scrutiny of Shri Medhananda, yields very rich insights into the labours of Hercules, whose symbolism he unfolds with profound scholarship.
To sum up, right from the beginning to the end, Shri Medhananda gives ample evidence of his erudition and deep understanding of the symbolism in the stories such as Grimm's fairy tales, the myth of Hercules, the Gospel according to Saint Thomas, and the Egyptian tales, legends, and myths, backed up by a profusion of apt pictures, hieroglyphics, and other drawings. The book will be valued by those who want to penetrate deeper into the mystical truths behind the legends and myths of the bygone eras of mankind on earth.The Garden of Man and other stories from ancient times
is cast in the same mould, that of a profound symbolism behind the hieroglyphic depictions of "The Garden of Man", "The Story of the Tree", and "An Old Egyptian Fairytale". The symbolism of the tree connected with esoteric teachings is almost universal. In India, in every temple, especially in the South, there is not only a sthala puranam
, the story of the holy place, but also a sthala vriksha
, the tree associated with the holy site.
Shri Medhananda's interpretations of the Celtic tree of life, the hieroglyphic 'sycamore' (a tree sacred in ancient Egypt) inside a royal cartouche, the archaic cuneiform Elamite tree, etc., underlie the one inalienable fact that the Many, symbolised by the leaves, is nothing but the manifestation of the One, symbolised by the tree. He winds up his expostulations with a reinterpretation of an old Egyptian fairy tale.
On the whole the two books make interesting reading, are valuable additions to the esoteric literature of both the East and the West, and will be an immense aid to the avid and meticulous researchers of such literature.
"Bala-bhai" teaches English, Mathematics, and Numerical Analysis at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education since 1972.