Runa Bandyopadhyay — Bernstein's Jewish Dharmma: An Upanishadic Quantum Poetics

Runa Bandyopadhyay has translated into Bengali, with extended, performative commentary, my essay “The Pataquerical Imperative: Midrashic Antinomianism and the Promise of Bent Studies.” from Pitch of Poetry: “Patquerical Nightshow” in  Ongshumali (W. Bengal / Berlin): 
Bengali: part onepart two; part three; part four, part five, part six
Englishonetwothree, four, five, six

More recently, Bandyopadhyay has written, in English, a  response to my poem “Twelve-Year Horoscope” (a poem that will be included in Topsy-Turvy):  "On/extending “Twelve-Year Universal Horoscope”: Sybil (2020)
She has also written a review of Topsy-Turvy at Sybli (2021) 

Also by Runa Bandyopadhyay (in Bengali):
 in Dumdum Junction (W. Bengal), 2019: pdf
•Translation and commentary on “Thank You for Saying Thank You” and “Thank you for Saying You’re Welcome,” in Aparjan (Kolkata, W. Bengal)
•Translation of “Strike!” in Aparjan — Bengali Webzine on Social, Cultural and Literary Issues
Translation and commentary on “Thank You for Saying Thank You” and “Thank you for Saying You’re Welcome,” in Aparjan (Kolkata, W. Bengal)
•Revew of Near/MissAparjan (Kolkata, W. Bengal) [an English translation of this essay is here]

I present the essay below in the context of these other works and our ongoing dialogue, which began with this 2019 conversation in Kitaab. In a sense this conversation picks up where I left off with Aryanil Mukherjee, who interviewed me for Kaurab in 2008. 

--Ch. B.

I am worried about this essay, worried to take religion as a subject of my discussion of the poetry and poetics of Charles Bernstein. But I know he is here somewhere. Religion is a very controversial issue, especially in India, so I have never dealt with this subject. But I think my association with Bernstein has given me the courage to strike the region that “throws me back to ground I thought I knew so well but in which I can no longer find my way.” [Bernstein 2016b:
Recalculating, 90]

I:  What is Dharmma?

Let me start with Albert Einstein’s definition of religion: “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds — it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” [1960: 11] And let me add to this Rabindranath Tagore’s definition of the poet’s religion: “Creation is the perpetual harmony between the infinite ideal of perfection and the eternal continuity of its realization; that so long as there is no absolute separation between the positive ideal and the material obstacle to its attainment, we need not be afraid of suffering and loss. This is the poet’s religion.” [1922: 1446]

In Sanskrit we have a word, dharmma; its derived term dharma is commonly used for the English word religion, the name given to a group of people who follow a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority. But dharmma is more than that: in my sense of the word, it walls off true awareness of and care in and of the world from so-called religion.

Dharmma has two root verbs ─ holding and protecting. So it’s an activity of holding something/someone and protecting/maintaining it. Creating crops with care and love is a kind of dharmma for the farmer. Likewise, the dimension of society that holds special activities, rituals, and customs, and cares for them, is the dharmma of that society. There can be human dharmma and matter dharmma. Human beings, society, matter ─ all are involved in dharmma’s continuous, dynamic internal activities/processes. Dharmma makes existence possible. There is no existence of a molecule without the particular activities of the atoms that constitutes its property (dharmma). The existence of a society is impossible without humanity (the activity of humans who are the members of the society). So, there will be no existence/entity/being in the world without its dharmma. From dust to universe, from farmer to poet, everyone has his or her own dharmma.

Here are few concepts related to dharmma as per Sanskrit/Bengali etymology[1] [Khan, 2009: 608], I will be using in my discussion:

  • Dharmmic ─ righteous ─ A person who produces something according to his social-dharmma, specific to his country/region.
  • Adharmmic ─ nonrighteous, a person who trades in products, produced by others, to gain some profit without producing his own (but today those who are involved in trading are not said to be nonrighteous! That is, to echo Blake, the human abstract made by human brain from the necessity of civilization).
  • Āstika ─ akin to theist ─ a person who believes in the existence of something higher, that may be own thoughts, the Brahma, the self, the soul, the god, the rules ─ or anything.
  • Nāstika ─ akin to atheist: n + āstika; n in a sense of not.

Why dharmma at all? Why the concepts of God came into the mind of human? Because human wants to be immortal and dharmma helps him to realize his immortality. To echo Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “From evil lead me to good. From darkness lead me to light. From death lead me to immortality” [1950: hymn-1.3.28, 86] ─ ‘Evils’ are our natural actions and thoughts that can be regulated by the hymns, the achieved knowledge. Knowledge, being luminous and of an imperishable nature, is called light and immortal, and help one to identify oneself with those things that lead to immortality, to divinity. The process of achieving immortality has revealed in the Prashna Upanishad:

Just as these rivers, flowing towards the sea, disappear when they have reached the sea; their names and forms perish and all is called sea. So also, these sixteen parts (the constituents) of the witness that go towards the Purusha (the self) as their goal, disappear on reaching the Purusha; their names and forms are destroyed and all is called Purusha alone. Such a man of realization becomes free from the parts and is immortal. [hymn: 6.1.5]

Dharmma helps us to look into our inner self to recognize our ignorance of fragmentation; to develop our consciousness to get the vision of wholeness; to achieve the higher mental state of awareness/alertness to the possibilities for knowledge, experiences, and information; to recognize one’s own existence (mindfulness) in a given surrounding, so that all ignorance, the cause of death, is destroyed. All contradictions in the fragmented manifestation of reality get absorbed in Brahma, the truth of truth, the inner self, the soul, the whole, and the knower becomes immortal. True dharmma helps a man to cultivate and express the qualities inherent in his nature, to flourish his knowledge to have faith in him, faith in his truth, faith in higher value of life, even encourages sacrifice and martyrdom. If it would not have been like this, then why Galileo had to go for trial for his invention/faith in heliocentric view, while we are revolving happily with the earth around the sun with his immortal truth. Why Socrates had to drink hemlock for his truth, for his virtue, for his wisdom, for his inner divine voice, but not perish till today, rather, flourish with his immortal philosophy of ‘art of measuring’ to inquire everything in life, in reality. Only their multicellular bodies have perished, but their multipersonal humanities are still immortal, to echo Tagore:

What is unique in man is the development of his consciousness, which gradually deepens and widens the realization of his immortal being, the perfect, the eternal. It inspires those creations of his that reveal the divinity in him, which is his humanity in the varied manifestations of truth, goodness and beauty, in the freedom of activity, which is not for his use but for his ultimate expression. This is his religion. [1922: 958]

And this immortal knower is the God whose kingdom of heaven is within us. A society exists with this humanity and thus dharmma makes the root of a society; keeps the wheel of the society turning, to fuel the progress of humanity.

Basically, the transformation of actual meaning of dharmma to so-called religion was developed from a radical fear of life ─ hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. This leads to the formation of priest caste to set itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear. This religious hierarchy secured secular authority. Bertrand Russell: “Fear is the basis of the whole thing ─ fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand.” [1957: 18] In Ideas and Opinions, Einstein termed this religion of fear and explained that, though the progress of civilization develops the religion of fear to moral religion, the civilized religion still shares the basic interest of fear. But that which is common to all civilized religions is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. On top of that, there is a religious interpretation of existence as Nietzsche said, “the fear born of that instinct which senses that one might get hold of the truth too soon … Piety, the ‘life in God’ … the ultimate product of the fear of truth.” [1906: 59] Beside all these religions, Einstein placed his own dharmma as “cosmic religious feeling” that is in harmony with natural laws. And he argued that “the religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it.” [1960: 38] That, in turn, echoes the Zen philosophy that when we elevate ourselves from the bondage of ego, our “self” is simply the total consciousness, and as C. G. Jung wrote in his foreword, “the world of the mind encloses the whole universe in its light,”[2] (13) to mean the “self” possesses both cosmic and individual life and spirit.

Bernstein: “In a time before beginnings, the songs of poets echoed the language of cosmos and cosmos echoed poets’ charms. Poem and cosmos were as intertwined as thunder and lightning.” [2018: Near/Miss, 169]

Through the millions of years of continuous process of evolution, we reached to the present where we can perceive the world through senses, mind, and experiences of life. We get the vision of the physical world through our senses and its interrelationship with our inner self through our illuminated imagination. The awakening or enlightenment happens when one’s mind is free from all authorities, even of one’s own memory, to echo the Bernstein term of his essay “The Art of Immemorability,” since poetry is a product of an awakened poet, whose “result is not a poetry in the service of memory but a poetry … of the continuous present.” [2011: Attack, 105] This is the basis of all dharmma, whether it is Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, or Judaism. This mental state is called Samadhi (Sanskrit: “contemplation”) in Hinduism, Satori in Buddhism. As per society-dharmma, ancient sages (Eastern Sages are philosophers in Western language) communicated these achieved knowledge through scriptures, which are the divine revelations communicated from the beginning through oral tradition. This is the common concept of any religious scripture.

But what those scriptures are? — whose contents are preserved as holy book with so much orthodoxy that we can’t think of any violence-less opposition in the modern time. To get an answer let me check in general what the content of a religious scripture is. Since basic idea of a scripture is same for all dharmma and I will be referring Hindu scriptures in my discussion, let me go through in brief the fundamental Hindu scriptures. The main and oldest one is known as Shruti (Sanskrit: “that which is heard”) to mean a priori that which is intuitively developed without deriving it from existing and orally communicated from generation to generation. Shruti has two parts: (1) Karma-kanda (Sanskrit: ‘action-part’) — consists of Veda (Sanskrit: ‘knowledge’) and Brahmana (Sanskrit: exposition of the meaning of hymns of Veda). Veda contains hymns that are to be sung, to be performed, not to be read but to be heard, and Brahmana contains prose commentary that is attached to Veda to explain the significances of rituals — hymns of Veda were supposed to be sung while performing rituals. (2) Jnana-kanda (Sanskrit: ‘knowledge-part’) — consists of Upanishads, the philosophy of Veda, and Aaranyaka, forest-grown or forest-dweller, refers to the fact that it was taught in Aaranya (forest). Nevertheless, this Aaranya refers not the earthly forest, but the social and mental forest — the jungle of various social institutions within which we live; the jungle of various ideologies where we grasp for breath and trying to find our ways. In general, the Vedas give poetic and symbolic expression of spiritual truths while Upanishads express the philosophical truths of the Vedas. Scriptures are basically achieved/realized knowledge by various ancient philosophers of the world (like E=mc2: a hymn of science in our modern era) and communicated according to their respective social environment as a part of the society-dharmma. Based on types of achievement Hindu philosophers divided Veda into four: Rigveda (theoretical achievement), Yajurveda (practical achievement), Samaveda (relative achievement), Atharvaveda (residuary achievement to mean rest of the achievements of the previous three main Vedas). Each Veda consists of several Upanishads.

If we look into the Sanskrit etymology of Upanishad, we will find a deeper meaning of dharmma as the fuel of a society. The Upanishad is a compound word arrived from Upa + Nishad: Upa — an associate (service provider in modern marketing term!); Nishad — a store to exchange something. In this sense, Upanishad provides philosophical or ontological knowledge through exchange. In other words, Upanishad is our most fundamental original philosophy of individualism that led to capitalism. On the other hand, Veda is socialistic, that resists individualism, and that is why Upanishad is against Veda, which rejects the exchange principle. Actually all ideologies and philosophies of dharmma of the world can be classified into two — Vedic (socialist) based on rituals and action-part and Upanishadic (capitalist) based on knowledge and devotion. In this sense Vedic Hindu dharmma, Catholic Christanity and Shia Islam are Vedic while Vaishnavism, Protestant Christianity, Sunni Islam are Upanishadic. Actually, any idealism starts with revolutionary, reformative, and transgressive nature to go beyond the limit. But as they get settle down as a mainstream, they become fundamentalist. This is true for all, starting from Vedic dharmma to Marxism; even relativism of Einstein is not different in that sense. Tagore was Upanishadic where as Mahatma Gandhi was Vedic.

The older meaning of the term Upanishad is “secret word” or “secret import” or “secret doctrine” to place emphasis on the mystic and ultrarational aspect of philosophical thought. Adi Sankaracharya, an Indian philosopher of 788 CE, interpreted the term as standing for the realization of Brahma or Atman (soul, the self) identity, to emphasis the harmony between the inner mystic vision of the unity and universality of the self as the absolute being. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which is the last part of Yajurveda, written around 700 BCE by those who were against the traditional Vedic order, arguing the priestly class, rejecting materialistic concerns to move from external spiritual aspects like rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies to an internal spiritual enlightenment. Dharmma, whether Hindu, Islam, Christian, or Jewish, doesn’t refer to the religious rituals and set of doctrines, rather the philosophy of life to echo our modern poetry sage Bernstein, “ritual without innovation and disruption, like spirituality in the service of fixed religious doctrine, is a barrier to the sacred” [2016a: Pitch, 166]

II:   Why I Am Not a Buddhist?

Why I Am Not a Buddhist

Reality cons me as it spur(n)s me
This is the road to eternal
Consanguinity, eloping with
Hope and leaving me to pick
Up the proverbial bag.
But that’s the argument for.
                     — Charles Bernstein [2018: Near/Miss, 89]

Here the paradox of ‘Not’ becomes the mystery of negation. As per etymology, the verb root in ‘No’ (negate) has two actions ─ do not (“off”) + active absence (“on”). The behavior of this entity ‘No’ is very mysterious. It’s not just a sign in word-language, but “a ‘mental activity’ … the negation-sign occasioned our doing something” [1958: 147] to echo Wittgenstein. If there is nothing, then it doesn’t mean that there is no thing, but it means that there exists a no and so it makes it on. And if there is something, then it makes it no (negation). That is to say that ‘no’ is the destroyer/negator in the world of creation and the creator in the world of negation, to echo the creation and destruction of particles in the quantum field of this material world, to echo the Bhagavad Gita, “action in inaction and inaction in action,” [hymn: 4.18] by continuous introspection on the truth about the self with a true freedom, which is not the freedom from the action but the freedom in action in our ever changing space-time; to echo the construction and deconstruction process in the poetic field of a poet; to echo the thought that God’s nothing to mean God’s no thing but “without doubt, God’s a matter of mind” [Bernstein 2018: Near/Miss, 150], an idea of a force that “renovates the world.” [Bernstein 2016a: Pitch, 276]

What is reality that “cons” him as well as “spur(n)s” him? Is it the goldfish view from a curved goldfish bowl? How can we be sure that some enormous lens does not distort our vision? Based on Descartes’s principle of duality of mind and matter, classical science believes in the observer-independent realism where a real external world exists outside our physical existence without any uncertainty in their properties. But since the time Heisenberg stated his uncertainty principle, the modern science proved that there is no observer-independent reality because particles with which we, the material world is made of, neither has a definite position nor a definite momentum unless and until those properties are observed/measured by an observer. Modern science adopts model-dependent realism which is an idea as Stephen Hawking stated, “that a physical theory or world picture is a model and set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations” [2010: 58]— the scientific model or our conscious and subconscious mental model that we create/imagine to interpret our everyday world. The reality is solely dependent on the observer’s measurement/ perception on certain object or event of the world. It’s a ‘mental image’ in Wittgenstein’s sense; an impression created through our sensory processing and through the way we think and reason. So there can be different conceptual model of a phenomenon depending on the observer’s perception as Bernstein says, “All poetry is conceptual/ but some is more conceptual than others” [2018: Near/Miss, 75]; but we can use whichever is more convenient in a particular set of circumstances in a particular social, cultural environment in a particular period of time. So we can say echoing Bernstein “Conceptually and philosophically, poems are models for other kinds of social organization, other phenomenologies of perception, other perceptions of consciousness” [2016a: Pitch, 270] through which we can interact the multidimensional reality that toggles us with the ever-changing uncertainty of reality because “poetry can offer ways to understand the relationship between apparently discrepant particulars.” (271)

Reality also spurs him to stand by the present time with all its losses, pain, groundlessness, and emotional turbulence, to open the knots of the time. Reality, in and through the poem, triggers the mystery of finding oneself in dynamic interplay with the world. The continuous uncertainty and contradiction of reality of the world calls the hidden persuader within the poet to reveal the infinite within himself, the highest reality, the soul, the universe of personality, the inner essence of all things. This is the call of truth, the call of beauty, which is to be achieved actively through the boundless series of achievement, through the endless rhythm of action in this ever-expanding universe, which is engaged in a continuous cosmic dance of energy. The poem, Tagore writes in “The Poet’s Religion,” is the medium that “reminds us that the greenroom is the greyest of illusions, and the reality is the drama presented before us, all its paint and tinsel, masks and pageantry, made one in art” [1922: 1445]. Because the greenroom is dealing with its fragments and logical relationships to establish the truth of a proposition, but aesthetics lies in proportions, in the unity of the whole, in the sense of relativity in a given time and space where the beauty of the whole, beauty of mind is not in uniformity but in harmony. The poet discovers this illusion through his continuous journey through the warp and woof of light and dark, hope and despair — that is reality. Bernstein continues his voyage of eternal “becoming” with Tagore’s carefree Crossing, vacillating in the endangered wonder of reality with its conflict of object and life ─ “Hide not your face in terror; tears are in vain; your door chains have snapped. / Run out for your voyage to the end of all joys and sorrows. / Let your steps be the steps of a desperate dance.”[3]

Meanwhile, in his commentary to the poem “Why I Am Not a Buddhist,” Bernstein writes, “All true poetry comes from deep fear, immobility, timidity.” The poet has no escape but to accept, and “to come face to face with loss, despair, grief: the irreparable” [2016a: Pitch, 278], to acknowledge one of the Fourfold Noble Truths of Buddhism ─ Truth of suffering.

Suffering is called Dukhya in Sanskrit, an inalienable condition of the self in our limited life. Freedom from suffering is attainable not by fleeing from it, but by transforming its value into the realm of truth, the truth of immeasurable love because “The shortest distance / between two points / is love,” as Bernstein reconfigure Blake’s “The Human Abstract.” [2001: With String, 35] Love — is the mantra of Jewish dharmma as Jesus said, “love God as I love him, as his son” [Nietzsche 1906: 164] since “the shortest distance between two” relations in the human world is found in the father-son relationship. Not in the sense of any submission or any obedience to an authority but an eternal love that knows no bounds — bodhi-hridya as called in Buddhism — Buddha’s way of the utmost sacrifice of love, the final answer in itself, love that can’t be cultivated by thought but generated by a complete silent mind where mediator is entirely absent. But to reach to that truth the poet prefers to the path that recognize/identify the actual face of falsity as the poet, in his commentary on “Why I Am Not a Buddhist,” says “My concern is more What is false? than What is truth?” This echoes with the unique epistemological theory of Upanishadic philosophy that states that to find the validity of any cognition we require not to explore the truth of cognition, but its falsity. The fundamental mantra of the philosophical investigation of Upanishad is — Neti, Neti (Sanskrit: “Not this, Not this”). To understand what the self, the Brahma, the truth is, one has to understand what not the truth is, by the process of negation of all limiting adjuncts. The complete negation is the highest form of passion that enables a man to give his mind, his whole being to see what actually life is and to go beyond that.

The paradoxical reality generates conflict, vacillation between truth and falsity. When the reality pushes to its furthest limit, our whole personality, the active part of our consciousness, which may be called as free will or Mind-only in Zen master D.T. Suzuki’s sense, becomes confident due to “the poet’s courage” out of “timidity” (as Bernstein notes in his commentary, referring to Walter Benjamin on Hölderlin), a state of mind where both the state of fear and fearlessness dissolves. Bringing the situation to a head is, according to Bernstein, “to think about the issues, to reconceptualize the problems, again going back to the site of the convention, which helps us to reconvene/rethink the terms of our mutual coexistence” [2016a: Pitch, 271] — to throw oneself against limits. Instead of transcending the limit, the poet prefers “bouncing off them” so he can “stay closer to the ground,” (272) which in turn opens up an inaccessible hitherto unknown region of the mind, to look through the godly spectacle into an alternative imaginary world, which is a temporary autonomous zone (TAZ) as Hakim Bey calls them. That is to echo Bernstein, “unlike much of the rest of life, it is a provisional space or holding area in which we consider alternative formations, alternative modes of convention and constellation, and live with these imaginal realities for the duration of the poem” (263). This is because this imaginary parallel world in the poet’s mind is the real world to him that possesses all possibilities and potentials as the poet pitches: “The wildness of the imagination is the greatest guarantor not only of freedom but also of reality.” (212)       

There is a hymn in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, “It is never seen but is the Witness; It is never heard, but is the Hearer; It is never thought, but is the Thinker; It is never known, but is the Knower.” (1950: hymn-3.7.23, 510) Who is this unknowable knower? This knower is “Santam, Sivam, Advaitam” as Tagore, an active member of Adi Brahmo Samaj[4] (Original Society of Brahma), named it, “the Peaceful, in the heart of all conflicts; the Good, who is revealed through all losses and sufferings; the One, in all diversities of creation.” [1922: 1389] It is Santam — the unchanging; it is Sivam — the absolutely pure supreme bliss, the consciousness in essence; It is Advaitam — the nondual which is free from illusory ideas of differences. This Advaitam is the inner self, the god of heaven within us, the Brahma — the name given by Indian Vedic philosophers, the perpetual eternal truth, the God, the Ishvara, the Allah — just naming differently by different religious authorities — which is never seen because it is not a sense-object, but the subject, the vision itself. It is imperceptible because it is beyond the characteristics of effects. It is imperceivable by the mind because it is not an object of the mind, but the thinker itself. Only a differentiated object, which is within the range of our sense organs, can be perceived, but the Self is the opposite of that, silently witnessing consciousness. It is incomprehensible by intelligence, as Suzuki said, though “the intellect desires to have him located, but it is in his very nature that he cannot be limited.” [1964 (1934): 72] This, indeed, in resonance with Wittgenstein, “It is not a something, but not a nothing either! … a nothing would serve just as well as a something about which nothing could be said.” [1958: 102] Being a subject Brahma is unknowable by mind, intellect and senses in the objective sense, but knowable through direct intuitive perception through Samadhi ─ as named in Hinduism, the attainment of bodhi (Sanskrit: “True wisdom”), the highest state of mental alertness; through Satori — as named in Zen Buddhism, the enlightenment or acquiring a new point of view; through doctrine of Divine Illumination — as named in Christianity, illumination of mind, of self, to burn all the illusions of reality. All these are just other words for paths/ways to name a one and only one way to know the Self, the soul, the whole, the single dharmma of mankind to echo Tagore, “In death the many becomes one; in life the one becomes many./ Religion will be one when God is dead”[5]

According to Suzuki, in Zen Buddhism this enlightenment is called “the awakening of an inner sense which enables one to look into the actual working of things.” [1964 (1934): 109] This awakening happens when one’s mind is free from all authority, and then there is neither negation nor contradiction. Shruti, the main scripture of Hinduism, uses this word awakening/attainment synonymous to knowledge. Because nonattainment of the Self is Avidya (Sanskrit: “ignorance”]; attainment of the Self removes all the obstruction of false impression due to ignorance and realization of the Self is possible by no other means but knowledge. One can realize the unification of the actualities of everyday life and not treating life as a sort of metaphysical exercise. This is, as Suzuki said, “the sudden flashing into consciousness of a new truth hitherto undreamed of. It is a sort of mental catastrophe taking place all at once, when piling up of matters … has reached a limit of stability and the whole edifice has come tumbling to the ground.” [1964 (1934): 95] In poetic realm, this awakening is the condition when a poet receives signals, as Bernstein explains his poetic process ––

Poems are ways of creating containers or structures or forms that channel those verbal/ semiotic/ symbolic/ psychic streams. The poem is the medium in the double sense that it’s a material ground but also something that receives signals. [2016a: Pitch, 264]

The psychic stream is a very important term in Eastern mystic world. The awakening what we are talking about is a psychic occurrence of the happening and as C. G. Jung wrote in his foreword, “every spiritual happening is a picture and imagination … where imagination itself is a psychic occurrence” [Suzuki 1964 (1934): 15] to open up multiple possibilities to echo Bernstein:

I want the visceral experience that comes from the construction of the poem as a psychic experience of dwelling in such language intensities — with the ever imminent (that is, intermittent) possibilities for transformation. [2016a: Pitch, 263]

Now if we equate ─ awakening and imagination ─ in the poetic realm, where the poet writes his poem with his abstract imagination, and charges the reader’s imagination with sufficient energy so that reader can interenact in Bernsteinian way. That is to say that awakening is happening for both the poet and his reader where reader’s thought is not conditioned but triggered by the imaginary world of the poet, because only imagination can transmute the world around him to his own world to find his unconditioned Self.

Bernstein not only acknowledges the first Noble Truth of Buddhism, but also responds to other Noble Truths — Truth of the cause of Suffering, and Truth of the Cessation of Suffering — with his own poetic-dharmma that says, “Poetry has the possibility of offering perceptual models for a range of philosophical and social problems,” which are “not solutions, rather reflections/projections.” [2016a: Pitch, 271] The language poet acknowledges the sufferings of voicelessness and breathlessness of language under the pressure of high-minded moral and didactic principles of the official verse culture, and explores the possibilities in language to respond to bent, mute, marginalized, silenced, and marked as obsolete/abandoned/unofficial by the dominant politics of language. His work is against the homogenization of cultures/languages by the dominant colonization to find a voicing to enact as an affective state for the silenced.


I am less interested in narratives of social/cultural identities or disabilities than in how such frames (and the experiences they embody) transform both the writing and reading of poems: difference making for difference, not difference expressed through sameness. [2016a: Pitch, 338]

Bernstein appears as dharmmic (righteous as per etymology or religious-minded as per conventional understanding) because he produces/constructs his poetry by means of his own passion/faith/belief in his own poetics, his own poetic-dharmma. His dharma is aversive to the process of the official verse culture, which appears as Adharmmic (nonrighteous as per etymology) because imitating of others’ poetry and trading/profit are their basic criteria. Moreover, he invented his own poetic-ism and termed as pataquericalism ─ for a pataquerical imagination that provides “imperceivable solutions to opaque problems” with swerve-inducing science. [2016a: Pitch, 171] in order to explore a querulous/queer inquiry, bouncing off Alfred Jarry’s ’Pataphysics. This, indeed, in resonance with the philosophical investigation process of Upanishad — which is also named as Uttara-Mīmāṃsā (Sanskrit: “latter-inquiry” or “higher inquiry”) in contrast with Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā (Sanskrit: “former-inquiry” or “primary inquiry”) of Veda that deals with rituals, the action-part, where source of knowledge doesn’t lies in the experience of individuals but in the cognition according to Veda. In contrast, Upanishad, also called Vedanta (Sanskrit: “end of Veda” to mean the text added at the end of Veda), written at the end of the Vedic period, was entirely written in debate form where dialogue were raised in a series of metaphysical objections, and then theories were provided to resolve. The purpose was to answer the philosophical questions about Veda’s hymns raised by various philosophical debating figure in Upanishadic era, like Gargi, Maitreyi et cetera, with an attitude of inquiry about the achieved knowledge by the philosophers of the Vedic era. This indeed echo Bernstein, “an attitude of inquiry, a manner of listening, a mode of recognizing what is significant and proceeding from there to identifying networks of significance,” [2011: Attack, 8] to reveal the universal mystery of creation, of life, of reality, to touch the inner rhythm of the self to transmute facts into truths.

The title “Why I Am Not a Buddhist” appears to be an irony because “Irony is as close to truth as language allows. … In truth, there is no truth: no truth but this (no truth but that). In reality, the truth lies under.” [2018: Near/Miss, 36] Meaning is not in the line but between the lines. The paradox of negation of the word ‘Not’ in Bernstein’s poem makes the affirmation for the “fact” that poet’s mind/thought/god is in quantum coherence with Buddhism, with Upanishad, keeping in mind the poet’s signaling:

If I had to stipulate the facts of the poem, I would say there are no facts other than the words, and the words are not facts at all but what makes facts possible. The poem is the fact of its own making. The poet is the extension of the fact of the poem. [2016b: Recalculating, 6]    

III:   Why I Am Not an Atheist?

Why I Am Not an Atheist

I cling to shards of nothing
Which make a cranky sound
When I add milk and sugar coating.
There is so much to say about this
And so little reason to.
God dried up so long ago even the ancestors
Have forgotten. There is no use
Kicking a dead rhinoceros
Or a red one either, for that matter.
                           — Charles Bernstein [2018: Near/Miss, 66]

Echoing Einstein’s “I am not an atheist,” Bernstein titles the poem in his most recent book Near/Miss. Again the poet plays with the mystery of Not — and going beyond the mystery with Nothing. Nothing is not the no-thing, but all-inclusive affirmation to echo Chandogya Upanishad,[6] “The Prana is Brahma; joy is Brahma; The akasha is Brahma;  what is joy is the akasha; what is the akasha is joy” — here akasha means shunyata (emptiness or nothingness) and joy is the supreme pleasure of experiencing the supernal beauty beyond ordinary materiality. That is the Brahma, the innerself, the highest reality, dwells in the empty space in our heart. This is the endless rhythm of the world with its mystery of creation, tugs at our heartstrings to produce its eternal symphony. This is the endless silence of infinite, the mysterious dark energy of mind, the source of all, inseparably associated with Brahma, which is the word/syllable itself — Om — the point (.) which is the unit of carrier of energy as well as unit of time as per Sanskrit linguistics, and its representative sound in audible language is Om (pronunciation is like ng ─ removing ba from bang), the root of all sounds/words. As if it is the singularity point (.) from which the universe has been created; the singularity point where Purush (Pure consciousness) and Prakriti (Nature) merges. The representation in written language is by point (.), the extension of which is the ‘Tao” in Chinese. As if all the sounds starting from Om up to the big-bang are parallel echoes of the event of creation of our universe, and human, as an observer, does the wordy recreation of the event through sound to tell the world about the event of creation. It is the inherent sound of the inner soul, charged through the dark and dead silence of our mind; the inner silence in the abyss of nothing, to echo Suzuki, “an ‘eternal abyss’ in which all contrasts and conditions are buried. … It is the ‘silence of thunder’ obtained in the midst of the flash and uproar of opposing electric currents … contemplation of absolute oneness and allness,” [1964 (1934): 35] which itself echoes Rabindranath Tagore’s Poem: “Thou shalt dwell in silence in my heart like the full moon in the summer night.” [Tagore, 15]

The poet listens to this silence to receive the spark to make the quark of poetry ─ “I cling to shards of nothing. … There is so much to say about this” because “nothing” is the basis of all creation, all-conserving consciousness, the womb, the creative matrix that is passive and activated by sudden opening of a new point of view, the source of infinite possibilities around the blank center, to echo Bernstein, “Nothing in the sense of not one thing: variants around a blank center.” [2016a: Pitch, 278] It is the “shadow of an absent source,” (x) a presence in absence, existence within nonexistence, nonbeing in all-being, nothing in all-thing. “And so little reason to” because this silent state of mind does not listen to any conventional reasoning. We are so conditioned by reasons, by logics, by institution, by religion that there is no freedom of our spirit and hence our reality of life has lost its view. But this inner silence leads us towards the complete freedom to go beyond the logical barrier, to shift the awareness from the rational mode to the intuitive mode of consciousness, which is not irrational either, but aversive to logical understanding and way of reasoning, much more than merely intellectual to convene in the conventional reasoning.


I maintain a deep affection for the realm of reason, a realm that goes beyond rationality but that is not irrational. Reason incorporates intuition … surely it involves the unconscious, but the unconscious is part of the mind and part of reason. In my practice, certain kinds of unexpected and unpredictable associations occur when I think peripherally … and a kind of sound and rhythmic or musical patterning that occurs, concomitant with less-than-conscious mental states” [2016a: Pitch, 264].

This Bernsteinian ‘nothing’ or ‘emptiness’ is termed as Sunyata in Sanskrit, which is the most important term of Hinduism as well as the ultimate significance of Zen Buddhism. It’s the cosmic religious feeling, a highest kind of the religious feeling, as termed and explained by Einstein, as a feelings where “the individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole.” [1960: 38] This is the cosmic rhythm in our mind that produces the creative emotion to feel an inner sense of unity, to reveal the harmonious sense of our own reality. The character of “nothing” (sunyata) is defined as “a world of negations but leading to a higher or absolute affirmation — an affirmation in the midst of negations” Suzuki: “have no beginning, no end, they are faultless and not faultless, they are not perfect and not imperfect.” [1964 (1934): 51] One has to “throw oneself right down into the bottomless abyss”(55) of “nothing,” but not only that, the “vast emptiness must be traversed. The subject must be awakened from a state of unconsciousness.”(44) This is the awakening, which forms our thought or resonance or in other words Emersonian action, “The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action.”[7] Again, Suzuki: awakening, “is a sort of inner perception — not the perception, indeed, of a single individual object but the perception of Reality itself, so to speak. ... it has no other end but to be back within oneself,” (93) a sort of Bernsteinian “becoming,” “I am a very becoming guy … actuality is just around the corner (just a spark in the dark); self-actualization a glance in a tank of concave (concatenating) mirrors: not angles, just tangles. From which a new direction emerges, purges” [1994: Dark City, 16]

Bernstein writes his poem “Catachresis My Love” — “If nothing is possible, then everything happens. … You can’t go home again. Or home is where you are now, in the present ever forming before you (not behind you). Home not what we did or done, but what we are doing.” [2018: Near/Miss, 33, 34] His Catachresis and his love for a continuous renew/reform to move on — is parallel to Rigveda — Etymology of Rigveda (Sanskrit: Rik+Veda). Ri is similar to re in English to mean anew. In that sense verb root of rik (similar to ṛ́c: also mean to praise, hymns or verse) does not mean repetition only but renew by collecting something new to progress its existence. So the hymns of Rigveda which are theoretical knowledge achieved by ancient philosophers for the progress of the Self anew/afresh itself through time to fuel the progress of mankind. Every religion tells us — this is the path of truth. Every religion shows different path and claimed his path is the best one. But the fact is that there is no path of truth. It’s not static but active; it’s not dead but alive, make itself anew/afresh every moment. We are these moments — nows — time is composed of instants only, all occurrences are only the instantaneous vibrational patterns of the superstring, engaged in endless infinite rhythm —we listen to this rhythm “forming before you” not “behind you.”

Now, the essence of ri in Rigveda can be found in the words like Reach, Right, Rich in English and Reich in German (Proto-Indo-European root h₃reǵ — “to straighten”), but modern man under the veil of the Blakean human abstract symbolizes those words in such a way that “these words become ‘business-mantra’ in the present day civilization, and in that sense the meaning of Rigveda becomes the book of Economics,” as Kalim Khan said. [Khan 2009: 120] Though Khan’s remark may be a catachresis in his satirical tone, but Bernstein doesn’t deny the economy of poetry. But it is Negative Economy, because “the economy of poetry is antipathetic to profit … in poetry’s negative economy, loss prolongs intensification” [2016a: Pitch, 205, 314] as Bernstein said. Though poetry has a negative price in the marketplace, but it creates a negative value; it’s a different kind of economy. Echoing Upanishad’s exchange of philosophical or ontological knowledge Bernstein continues “it’s exchange economy. … the economy in which direct profit is not the aim, losses from the cost of reproduction (from a photocopy to a reading in a bar to a website or MP3 file) are minimized in an effort of maximize exchange value.” (206) So application matters. There is nothing holy/sacred or unholy in scriptures of any dharmma. The hymns/verses/texts of scriptures were achieved knowledge, experiences, and information by ancient philosophers in their time in their surroundings which needs to be anew/afresh through time with introspection into inner-self by individuals in a society, as we see a new theory abandon the old theory in scientific world — it is not static but active— a continuous progress of whole towards wholeness.   

So, instead of atheist (nāstika) Bernstein’s journey through his poetics is in resonance with a theist (āstika) perspective, because the definition of āstika points to a person who believes in the existence of something — and in Bernstein’s case it is the poetic process. If we try to connect theist with the conventional meaning that, it is related to conception of God, then Bernstein says, “I believe in the fallible gods of thought and in my resistance to these gods. I have faith in my aversion of faith.” [2016b: Recalculating, 125] — his faith in his inner being, not with blind faith but with conscious/scientific conviction in creative emotion, which is based on his cosmic religious feeling “that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge” [Einstein 1960: 52] through his own poetics or poetry. If it had not been like that, any great creative achievement would not have been possible in realm of our life, whether it is poetic or scientific world, to echo Einstein, “science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” (46)


IV:   Why I Am Not a Christian?

Why I Am Not a Christian

One holds these promises (holds
to them) amidst the make-believe
mayhem of another day
each farther from
that resolution in renouncing
aspired to as cat its
pawn. You always throw it down
but you never pick it up. Everything
everywhere circumscribed by its
physical, which is to say habitual
array, the necessity to order what
is otherwise always possible. The frequent
opportunities I have possessed of
observing the thousand acts of amiability
and kindness, feeling by conduct turned
to expectation and ripened to
remorse. You cannot suppose
and cannot not to. The
freight is slumberous friend
to a commoded journey — nearly
a smile or only a poor
bred thing. Profits will
never displace the value of
this self-made masquerade.                     
         — Charles Bernstein [1987: The Sophist, 144]

What is Christianity? As per British philosopher Bertrand Russell, whose book Why I Am Not a Christian makes the title of the Bernstein’s poem — anybody calling himself a Christian he must believe in God and immortality. It is not that Bernstein doesn’t believe in God and immortality, but not in the sense of Christian Institution as I discussed in sections II and III. He believes in the God that doesn’t live in the doctrine-bound territory of temple/church/mosque, but dwells in the heaven within us. He also believes in the immortality that doesn’t deal with heaven-hell boundary of the Christian-soul but the ultimate expression of our creative matrix which reveals the divinity within us because poetry is a product of an awakened poet that destroy the ignorance which is the cause of death. An enlightened poet accepts the reality as it is with its good and evil, with its right and wrong. As Bernstein writes in his poem that under the image of feelings of affirmation for doing right, in the midst of an uncertain and contradictory reality, all our kind deeds turn to expectation until finally ripening to a feeling of regret for doing wrong. Then what is the point “in betting God’s imaginary?”[8] It is better to lay off betting and accept that God is “imaginary — a flickering possibility.” Fabrications of the so-called God elaborately woven for the benefit of religious authority to “spreads the dismal shade / of Mystery over his head.”[9] Mystery is a puzzle, kept secret, remains unexplained and unknown to human: so obscure, so uncertain that the liveried messenger of god, with the two arms of virtue and with vice in two hands, forces human to understand that God is unknowable. To get the advantage of authority they deceive human, conceal or misrepresent the truth of god, distort the truth to mislead, to dupe, to cheat. Poor human couldn’t escape from this net of duplicity and “sits down with holy fears, / And waters the ground with tears: / Then Humility takes its root / Underneath his foot,” as Blake writes in “The Human Abstract.” Humility is not humble but humilis, the Latin word, literally means low ─ human spends his life under the care of God as the so-called religion taught us, and so he feels low, insignificant in front of God. It’s a lack of confidence on his own ability i.e. not able to negate the negative and going on growing the tree Blake invokes, that “bears the fruit of Deceit, / Ruddy and sweet to eat.”

The banner of religion separated man and god by the cruel and selfish desire for power as Bertrand Russell said, “The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms.” [1957: 18] Descartes’s philosophy on the basis of mind-body dualism supported the religious institution. Though Descartes’s dualism is somewhat analogous to Indian Samkhya (Sanskrit: “well known in together”) philosophy, started by sage Kapila in around 700 BCE against the authoritative practice of rituals of Vedic institution, but there was a metaphysical demarcation between them. Samkhya philosophy states the dualism between consciousness and matter, where matter includes both body and mind. Samkhya theorizes dualism between Purusha (pure consciousness) which is absolute, independent and nonattributive, neither produced nor does it produce, and Prakriti (Nature), the material universe. Samkhya philosophy proposed that nature remains unmanifested as long as three attributes, Satya (soul/purity/light/harmony), Rajas (passion/motion/action), and Tamas (darkness/inertia/subjective void of the human body as well as cosmic world) of nature, are in equilibrium. But it gets disturbed in proximity with pure consciousness, which triggers an evolution that leads to the manifestation of the world. In the process of evolution nature is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects and fusion of Purusha and nature led to the emergence of intellect and ego. A living being is the state in which Purusha is bonded to Nature. The bondage arises when the Purusha confusing itself with Ego, which is just an attribute of Nature. So there will be always a yearning to break this bondage. In one hand this ego lead human to control the various forces/energy of nature, even the human energy, on the other hand religious institutes capitalize the yearning of human for breaking this bondage under the veil of virtue and vice. Though philosophy of dualism was necessary for the development of science, because it was acted as a precursor of Newtonian classical physics, modern technology and civilization, but the self-appointed representative of God/religion took advantage and laid down a fixed set of principles to control human energy. Humans forget that God dwells inside their heart; divinity is an inherent human nature, quality; heaven is just a reflection of our life, our salvation, our process of becoming what we already are from the beginning. 

Any doctrine is a set of principles and the corresponding word for principle in Sanskrit language is neeti. The etymological root has two dimensions: do the not of conduct but also bringing (the conduit) of guidance. That first not has itself a double action. On the one hand, the not negates the unnecessary and on the other hand, it turns on the necessary. The necessary/essential becomes so only by sieving out the unnecessary. This is a natural process followed everywhere in nature and in the human world. But religious authority, bewitched by the power of being able to rule on what is right or wrong by means of doctrines, converted the natural principles into the prison of religion, replacing natural with moral. In any dharma, only the doctrine part has remembered by suppressing the philosophical part  like modern India only remembers the Hindu scripture Smriti (Sanskrit: “remembrance”) forgetting its philosophical part Shruti. Manu-Smriti, authored by sage Manu, known as the Kalpa-sutra (Sanskrit: “procedure-Mantra”), the religious manual handed down by tradition and containing religious laws and practices; also contains Purana (Sanskrit: “Ancient”) consisting of ancient myth, legends, genealogy, and history, including two great Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, including Bhagavad Gita. Forgetting everything else, Manu-Smriti has become the only Dharmma Shastra of the conventional Hinduism. Manu-Smriti might have been useful in a given setup in ancient society. Then, what to do with that in our modern society unless it is renewed in the new environment? Nevertheless, conventional institution, bounded by so-called morality, resists reconvention.   

What is morality at all? What we have to do with that when God himself deny it through Nietzsche: “Jesus said to his Jews: ‘The law was made for servants — love God as I love him, as his son! What have we sons of God to do with morality!” [1906 (1886): 164] Sanskrit origin of moral is nyaya: meaning, etymologically, an action, matter, or subject that is right or true only if it has a previous history. Therefore, any principle/action outside those established/approved/accepted by a particular society, in a particular period, is said to be immoral. In other words, moral principle resists innovation. So Bernstein, the innovative poet, always remains outside the defined moral principles, but he remains inside the natural principles of truth and freedom, betting against delusion and tyranny. His journey is to get the freedom from authority with a dream to go beyond the known, to open up a new trail in an unknown terrain, to imagine a growing imaginary through language — against the dogma of religious institutions that the human is a species with fixed nature created by God at some time in the past. Bernstein’s continuous process of invention in aesthetics uses language as a weapon to probe into the realities of present — of now. That aesthetics can’t be bounded by fixed moral orthodoxies, set by authorities; rather it’s an “Ironclad law of nature that new orthodoxies replace old ones, just as it is a delusion of starry-eyed romanticism to think anything else is possible” [2016a: Pitch, 326]

Actually, there is no fixed god-given mastery of human over the natural world, to echo the sophist Bernstein for his satirical alternative to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which he calls “Flawed Design.” “The Theory postulates a creator who is Mentally / Impaired, either through some genetic defect or because of / Substance abuse, and is predisposed to behave in a sociopathic / Manner” [2016b: Recalculating, 79] to make impulsive decisions without feeling guilty for the harm he causes. There is no fixation on human intellect, as Darwin suggested; rather, in Bernstein, it’s ever changing, ever evolving through the flux of the universe.

Bernstein’s favorite mantra — Curve Continuously: both in linguistic materiality as well as in action. Linguistically, his poem is poe-desic (echoing geodesic). That is to say that the shortest distance between the two words in his poem is not flat but curved; to mean to its multidimensionality; so to speak, his experience as an observer of objects and events of the world, occurrences of words in his poem always accounts for space-time, the spatiality as well as temporality. Since his space-time always includes the fourth dimension in action, his poetic path appears to be bent/curved; giving an impression that the force, the gravity of the poet’s thought is acting on it as in the case geodesics in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And in terms of action he prefers his journey in the poetic world is to curve continuously.  This indeed echoes the doctrine of flux of pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Heraclitus ─ a world of perpetual change, “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow,”[10] which echoes the quantum field theory to refer to the continuous dynamic interaction of fundamental particles of nature in this material world with of which we are part and parcel. The “other water” refers to the different manifestations of these particles, which are just patterns and the vibrational modes of vibrating super-symmetric string, spread over the space-time, determining the particle to which it will be manifested, and we observe the dynamic interplay between these forces/energies of nature in the actions/events/occurrences. In Heraclites’ “other water,” the particles are flowing/ changing at every moment, but total energy of the universe, the “same river,” remains constant. To echo Bernstein echoing Charles Olson echoing Heraclites: it is a “poetics of dynamic movement, where each phrase takes on new meaning in new contexts.” [2016a: Pitch, 111]

So, what will be the neeti (principle) to be a dharmmic to break out of prison of dogmatic beliefs, laid down by religious authorities for centuries? We first must be able to identify/recognize the imposed regularities of events/occurrences of our life, regulated by the union of rational realm of our consciousness and the religious philosophy of divine rule for the existence of life and death, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, honor and dishonor, praise and censure. Once recognized, these imposed “independent” causes of natural events will lose their grip on human mind. As Tagore said in creative realm “Forms are many, forms are different, each of them having its limits. But the varied forms, in their very separateness, must carry something which indicates the paradox of their ultimate unity; otherwise there would be no creation.” [1922: 1411] Therefore, the principle of mutual accommodation comes into picture. A unique form has the fullest license to parade a parody of itself, but as a member of the particular work it has its responsibility to the ultimate unity that controls the heart of any work. If a poet works with forms that break the law of proportion altogether to profess absolute separateness, then he will be called as immoral to his creation. But Bernstein is not immoral in that sense. His belief in the so-called religion may be anti-Christian (though not anti Blake’s Christianity), but it is not anti-religious at all because in his poetic-dharmma he is committed to the morality of the poet’s religion as he pitches:

I wanted to suture together disparate, even opposing, forms, in order to create a mobius rhythm out of the movement among the discrepant parts; the meaning is as much in the space in between as in the poems themselves. [2016a: Pitch, 243]

Here we arrive at Heraclitus’s philosophy of the unity of opposites — “Collections: wholes and not wholes; brought together, pulled apart; sung in unison, sung in conflict; from all things one and from one all things.” [ref.11] All of which points towards the relativistic approach of quantum mechanics, where all changes in the world are due to the dynamic and cyclic interplay of opposites, quark and antiquark, matter and antimatter, life and death, where each pair of opposites is a unity. This reflects the nonidentity of the subject and it’s actually, a series of transformations that contains and transcends all opposing forces/energies of the world to reflect that their incompatibility is only temporal.  

To echo in the poetic zone: “Stelae for Failed Time” is the last scene of Bernstein’s Benjaminian libretto, Shadowtime, which, in the Brian Ferneyhough opera, is performed entirely by the chorus of the angels of history. Yet this last part is also a “solo” for the angels. Bernstein pitches for this performance by asking — “why a ‘solo’ sung by a chorus? It’s a solo because if you are outside of time, the multiplicity is understood as a single voice. In the actual time of performance, it is heard as multiple voices, a cacophony. It’s another way of figuring multiplicity and fragmentation, though ultimately it’s not fragmentation” [2016a: Pitch, 209]

Through creation, the poet expresses his truth, the creative force leads his action/meditation through conflicts, struggles and continuous searching to reveal the infinite within himself and through expression, he moves towards the whole. His faith in his truth, his creation with “infinite reality of perfection … with its eternal music of beauty and its inner light of the divine presence,” [Tagore 1922: 1451] leads him to realize the human divinity to reach to his dharmma. Bernstein’s dharmma has neither doctrine, nor dogma, nor even the social or moral conception of God, but an awareness of entire being, an attainment of bodhi. It is that true wisdom where truth is unfolding itself in its own endless creation. The idea of an omnipotent and omnificent personal God to provide solace, help, and guidance to man, has a decisive weakness, because as Einstein questioned:

If this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? [1960: 46]

This, indeed, echoes Bernstein, “the dogma of an omniscient and omnipotent God maligns hope and denies the sacred, as it turns its back on the world” [2018: Near/Miss, 80]. Instead of fragmented view of reality, we need a spiritual design of life to transforms the visual reality into an organic whole, a movement of a whole towards wholeness.

The Sophist once explained, “Why I Am Not a Christian” and then, after Recalculating, the satirical sophist Bernstein states his religious status as, “I’m an observant Jew. I look closely at the things around me, as if they were foreign.” [2016b: Recalculating, 125] This is not to mean religious observance of Jewish dharmma but to mean literally (wordly) an observer, who looks closely into his own self, and his continuous dynamic interaction with his social surroundings, with the world through which he could perceive the conflicts, the apparent chaos of consciousnesses, lack of causal relationships, false beliefs and symbolic authority of life, of words, of language. Bernstein believes that the relationship between observer and observed is interactive and participatory, to resonate with Spinoza’s (and Einstein’s) pantheism that believes in Natura naturans ─ “a dynamic nature in action, growing and changing, not a passive or static thing.”[11] This resonates with Bernstein’s “civic practice of Jewishness,” (232) which is an aversion of identification “as a practice of dialogue and as an openness to the unfolding performance of the everyday.” He likes to identify himself as an American Jew but not Jewish American writer because he is a Jew but his Jewishness, he continues, is “adrift from fundamentalist religious practice … refuse imposed definitions of what Jewishness means … attend to how such Jewishness lives itself out, plays tunes not yet played.” [2011: Attack, 232]

Bernstein’s Jewish dharmma is at odds with religion because it is not bound by invariant rituals and formulaic beliefs, nor is it locked into moral arguments of right and wrong, arguments that too often stand in the way of justice and truth. Bernstein’s Jewish dharmma rejects the immutability of moral, religious, social, or linguistic norms. Indeed, he coined the term Midrashic Antinomianism as a new approach to “bent studies” (also his coinage) to recognize that:

A poem is not one but many, that sound and sense are as much at odds as ends… to come to some conclusions a work of art always exceeds its material constructions as well as its idealizations, physical or digital instantiations, anterior codes or algorithmic permutations, experiences while reading or viewing are no more than weigh stations and any number of interpretations, contexts of publications, historical connections — all these have a charmed affinity clustering around a center that is empty. [2011: Attack, 128]    

The poet who believes in a world of changes that emerges, in chains of causation, through the actions, events and occurrences of life, of history; a poet who believes, that is, that the visible universe of the immediate but also the possible ─ “things as they are but also things as they might be” (40) ─ is always/already the highest reality. Such a poet cannot believe in the idea of God who interferes in the course of events. Hence, he finds no purpose in believing in any moral religion, because the concept of a God who rewards and punishes becomes inconceivable to him, given his entanglement in a world in motion. His conception of the world undermines any fixed morality, though holds the promise of a non-moralistic ethics: “Ethics is ironic, morality sincere. Ethics secular, morality religious. Poetics is the ethical refusal of morality in the name of aesthetics” (78). It’s a poetic ethics where no formal moral religion is necessary. Yet this poetics possesses dharmma in another sense, given the commitment to what Nietzsche called our “own law-giving, own arts and artifices for self-preservation, self-elevation, and self-deliverance.” [1906 (1886): 262] This is work of aesthetic inquiry: nothing but new whys, nothing but new hows to face reality as it is.

That is the way to reach to the truth of truth beyond the paradox of reality, by the Upanishadic process of “Not this, not this, not gross, not minute.” [1950: hymn-3.8.8, 517] This is the way of a perceiver/meditator as a dharmmic because, as Bernstein pitches —

Truth is not singular, but that doesn’t mean there is no truth; but truth is trampled by those who take its name as their own badge of valor. I’ve taken to contrasting morality with ethics. Morality tells you what to think, what’s right to think; ethics asks what makes us think it’s right, and right for whom? right in what way? I’m not telling you what you can’t do but what you can do. [2016a: Pitch, 249]

This is in resonance with the philosophy of a Buddhist, with the theory of Zen Buddhism ─ “Zen does not mean withdrawal from the world but means, on the contrary, active participation in everyday affairs, belief in the perfection of our original nature.” [Suzuki 1964 (1934), 123] The philosophy of Bernstein’s poetics is to go beyond the “preconceived beginning, middle, and end” [2016a: Pitch, 259] to reject the closure in order to reconvene convention as Bernstein pitches.

Russell: “We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it.” [1957: 18]

Tagore: “Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; / Where knowledge is free; / Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls; / Where words come out from the depth of truth. / Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; / Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; / Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action — Into that heaven of freedom”[12] you can find Bernstein’s Jewish dharmma, resonating in quantum coherence with Upanishad.

Works Cited:

Bernstein, Charles. 1987. The Sophist. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press.
———.1994. Dark City. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press.
———. 2001. With String. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
———. 2011. Radical Jewish Culture/ Radical Jewish Practice” in Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
———. 2016a. Pitch of Poetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
———. 2016b. Recalculating. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
———. 2018. Near/Miss. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chandogya Upanishad. Accessed on May, 2020.    

Einstein, Albert. 1960. Ideas And Opinions. edited by Carl Seelig. NewYork: Crown Publishers, Inc.

Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow Leonard. 2010. The Grand Design. London: Bantan Books, Transworld Publisher.

Khan, Kalim and Chakravarti Ravi. 2009. Bangiya Sabdarthakosh (Bengali Dictionary): A Collection of Bengali words with their Verb-based and Letter-based Meanings, Vol-1. Kolkata, India: BhashaVinyasa; translated from Bengali by Runa Bandyopadhyay.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1906 [1886]. Beyond Good and Evil. Translated by Helen Zimmern. Project Gutenberg: (Accessed on May, 2020.)

Prashna Upanishad. Translated by Swami Sivananda. Kharagpur IIT, India (Website). Accessed May, 2020.

Russell, Bertrand. Why I Am Not a Christian: And other essays on Religion and other subjects. 1957. ed. Paul Edward. London: Goerge Allen & Unwin Ltd.

Suzuki, D.T. 1964 [1934]. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. NewYork: Grove.

Tagore, Rabindranath. 1906. Crossing. htpps://, Accessed on May, 2020.
———. 1913. Gitanjali (Song Offerings). Madras, India: Macmillan India Limited. 1981.
———. 2017 [1922]. “Creative Unity” in The Complete Works of Rabindranath Tagore. New Delhi, India: General Press.
———. Poems, 15 “Thou Shalt dwell in”. htpps:// (Accessed on May, 2020.)

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, with the commentary of Sankaracharya. 3rd ed. Translated by Swami Madhavananda. 1950. Almora, India: Advita Ashrama.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1958. Philosophical investigations. ed. G.  E. M. Anscombe, R. Rhees, G. H. Von Wright. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd.


[1]Bangiya Sabdarthakosh is a Bengali dictionary which gives Bengali words with their verb-based and letter-based meanings. The word meanings used here are translated from Bengali by Runa Bandyopadhyay. Cited in Khan 2009.

[2] Suzuki, D.T. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. It was first published in Kyoto by the Eastern Buddhist Society in 1934 with a preface by Carl Jung. Then Evergreen Black Cat published in 1964 from NewYork, with a foreword by C.G. Jung as cited in Suzuki.

[3]Tagore, Rabindranath. Crossing. Original Bengali version of the book is Kheya, first published in 1906 and then translated by Tagore in free verse with name Crossing. The used poem name “Is it the destroyer who comes?” cited in Tagore 1906.

[4]Brahmo Samaj — It is a monotheistic movement within Hinduism, started in Kolkata in 1828 during the Bengal Renaissance, a cultural, social, intellectual and artistic movement  in Bengal. The movement was led by Raja Ram Mohon Roy, called as the father of Modern India, a renowned novelist, and Indian religious, social, and educational reformer. Debendranath Tagore, father of Rabindranath Tagore was the successor of Ram Mohon Roy, repudiated Vedic authority and making reason and intuition the basis of Brahmanism. The Brahmo Samaj does not believe in avatars (incarnations), and does not insist on belief in karma (causal effects of past deeds) or sansara (the process of death and rebirth). It discards Hindu rituals and adopts Judeo-Islamic faith and practice, denounces polytheism, image worship, and the caste system. At a later stage Brahmo Samaj was split and the group headed by Debendranath Tagore took the name Adi Brahmo Samaj.

[5]Tagore, Rabindranath. Stray Birds. The original Bengali poem was translated by author himself from his Bengali book Kanika (literally ‘fragments’ written with no individual titles but with serial number) published in 1899. The used poem no is 84. Cited in Tagore.

[6]Chandogya Upanishad. Hymns- 4.10.4, 4.10.5. Cited in Chandogya. Prana [Sanskrit: “breath”], considered as a life-giving force. Prana is seen as a universal energy which flows in currents in and around the body. Akasha [Sanskrit: “Sky”] In Indian religion, it is supposed a all-pervading field in the ether in which a record of past events is imprinted. Five primary elements of nature includes: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (or akasha). Prana acting on the akasha is creating or projecting the universe.

[7]The American Scholar by Emerson: as mentioned by Bernstein in his Pitch Of Poetry, 282. Cited in Bernstein 2016a.

[8]Bernstein asks in “Betcha,” his poem on Pascal’s wager, in Near/Miss, 150. See Bernstein 2018

[9]Blake’s “The Human Abstract,” as quoted by Bernstein in his Pitch of Poetry, 304, see Bernstein 2016a.

[10] SEP Website. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Accessed on May, 2020)

[11]Wikipedia. Spinozism: (Accessed on May, 2020)

[12]Gitanjali (Song Offerings) by Rabindranath Tagore. Original Bengali version of the poem, named as Prarthana (Prayer) was published in the book Naibedya (Offerings) in 1901. Then translated in English by Tagore himself in free verse and collected in Gitanjali without any title of each poem, instead they are serially numbered; first published in 1913 by Macmillan India Limited. A pocket edition was published in 1981, 20. 


Runa Bandyopadhyay is a bilingual poet, essayist, translator, and critiqueer in the New Poetry world of Bengal, India, a scientist by profession, but fully addicted to innovative experimental literature. As a critiqueer she invented a new genre in ‘recurring poetry’ and authored Nocturnal Whistle (2019) in English, Traveller to BookYard (2020), Between the Lines (2012), and Light-Travel of the Dark (2017) in Bengali. She also authored four Poetry books, two storybooks, and two collections of hybrid essays in Bengali. She coedited the anthology Hardcore Kaurab-2 with poet Barin Ghosal in 2013 and Bridgeable Lines: An Anthology of Borderless World Poetry in 2019. She is a regular contributor in various Bengali/English literary journals, both in print and electronic media. Runa has translated/interviewed numerous international poets bidirectionally including Charles Bernstein, Jerome Rothenberg, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Peter Gizzi, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Elizabeth Willis, Barin Ghosal, Swapan Ray, Swadesh Sen, Rabindra Guha, Alok Sarkar, etc.