“Having seen one such cave, having seen three, four, fourteen, twenty-four, the visitor returns…uncertain whether he has had an interesting experience or a dull experience or any experience at all. He finds it difficult to discuss the caves, or to keep them apart in his mind…”……………………………………E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

Click on the cave to expand it, and give thanks to Tim Makins for his beautiful and informative site. This particular cave is called ‘Vadathika’ and is at Barabar north of Gaya in Bihar State, one of four carved in granite at the behest of the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka (269-232 B.C.).

…………………….what are they?

…………………who goes into them?

………………what comes out of them?

“… An entrance was necessary, so mankind made one.

“…But elsewhere, deeper in the granite, are there certain chambers that have no entrances? Chambers never unsealed since the arrival of the gods? Local report declares that these exceed in number those that can be visited, as the dead exceed the living – four hundred of them, four thousand or million. Nothing is inside them, they were sealed up before the creation of pestilence or treasure; if mankind grew curious and excavated, nothing, nothing would be added to the sum of good or evil. One of them is rumoured within the boulder that swings on the summit of the highest of the hills; a bubble-shaped cave that has neither ceiling nor floor, and mirrors its own darkness in every direction infinitely. If the boulder falls and smashes, the cave will smash too – empty as an Easter egg. The boulder because of its hollowness sways in the wind, and even moves when a crow perches upon it; hence its name and the name of its stupendous pedestal: the Kawa Dol.”
………………………………………………………….E. M. Forster, A Passage to India

……“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man
…….as it is, infinite.  For man has closed himself up till he sees all things thro’ 
narrow chinks of his cavern.”.
…………….                            …
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

My mind enters here, William Blake’s ‘Sconfitta,’ among many other dark cavern-like places — including the cave in A Passage to India, of course, and still asking not just about Adela and Dr Aziz but about Morgan. For this was in fact E.M.Forster’s last novel, as hard as that may be to believe. 1924.

In 1964 I was a Research Student at King’s College and he sat at the High Table every evening. Everyone called him just “Morgan,” and I wondered at his smallness, availability and shyness. Or 1965, maybe, or 1966? — I was so troubled with entrances, with drugs, sex, music, speed as in over the ground, and children, lots of them, and of course Leavis, Lewis, Yehudi Menuhin playing all six Solo Sonatas and Partitas in King’s College Chapel, visions in Fiesole in August and nightmares in the orchard at Grantchester in October, Beatles-live the same evening at a cinema on Regent St. with the locals — no, I don’t remember when. And even more important, my first entrances elsewhere and beyond, as troubling as any Marabar Cave and as easy to get into yet hard to get out of in one piece.

So what happens anyway?

Christopher Woodman



  1. July 8, 2011 at 9:20 am


    “…a sense of mystery is a different thing from an ability to interpret it, and the largest consolation is that without interpretation there would be no mystery. What must not be looked for is some obvious public success. To see, even to perceive, to hear, even to understand, is not the same thing as to explain or even the same thing as to have access. The desires of interpreters are good because without them the world and the text are tacitly declared to be impossible; perhaps they are, but we must live as if the case were otherwise.”

    The great English critic, Frank Kermode, who died just a year ago, said this in “The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative” in his Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1977. It so incensed the professional critical elite at the time that the formidable Helen Gardner attacked him in her own Norton Lectures two years later as, shudder, an anti-humanist. Frank Kermode replied in a funny essay called “On Being an Enemy of Humanity.” You can read that in his collection called “The Uses of Error”(1991) — good titles all, and a fine place to begin looking at these caves.

    …………..The Uses of Error - Georges de la Tour

    “We must live as if the case were otherwise,” Frank Kermode says.

    I think what is most devastating for me about the periods of melancholy I suffer is the loss of the sense of mystery he’s talking about. For it’s not just that I feel closed down at those times, shut in, terminated, but that I feel there’s nothing out there at all, no meaning, no value and, worst of all, nothing more to find out. It’s not just that the world is a closed book but that there are no letters on the pages anymore whether or not the language makes sense. There’s nothing to interpret, so don’t even think about messages what is more mysteries.

    For the rest of the time, hope lies at the heart of well-being, I’d say, even when one feels fed up, sick and handicapped. And the best hope isn’t explicable either — if it were explicable then it would have to be sensible as well, at least to some extent, have some comprehensible mechanics, be predictable and repeatable on some level — whereas if you live long enough and ask enough questions you realize that that sort of hope is self-serving and prejudiced.

    Mystery is the message — just the effort to interpret is hope, just the trial and error.

    What really makes sense to me is Frank Kermode’s insistence that you can see, perceive, hear, and understand something even if you can’t explain it and don’t have any access to it either, like those myriad of caves in Barabar that have no entrances.


    I was deeply moved a few years ago when I came upon Elaine Pagels’ book, Beyond Belief. A distinguished Christian theologian and expert on the Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels lost her faith entirely when her young son became very ill and died despite her ceaseless prayers — I say that in a nutshell so there can be no distraction from the issue. The mother of a dying little boy had hope, she had faith in God, she gave herself utterly to prayer — yet God wasn’t there. As we all know.

    We know prayer doesn’t work yet we’re still on our knees in some way, quite beyond belief. We know God is dead yet the mystery lives on. Like those caves — they aren’t there but they’re still useful, indeed we’d be dead without them.

    All we have to go on is the effort to interpret what we know even when we can see plainly there’s nothing there.


  2. wfkammann said,

    July 9, 2011 at 2:12 am


    You write: All we have to go on is the effort to interpret what we know even when we can see plainly there’s nothing there.

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    I wish, I wish he’d go away…

    When I came home last night at three
    The man was waiting there for me
    But when I looked around the hall
    I couldn’t see him there at all!
    Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
    Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

    Last night I saw upon the stair
    A little man who wasn’t there
    He wasn’t there again today
    Oh, how I wish he’d go away

    The idea of a self leads quickly to a soul (an eternal soul at that) and all religions postulate some continuation after death. Maybe the Jews are an exception here. Spiritualism was started by two sisters in upstate New York who then moved to Lily Dale in Chautauqua County, NY which is still the spiritualist center of the US. The girls, by the way, admitted that they had faked the tapping sounds but the “religion” is still very much alive and well.

    Is there a mystery which we cannot apprehend? Does it exist? Of course! Our sensory limitation and our language create the “virtual reality” in which we live. We scoff at people who play video games for hours on end (youngsters and men mostly) but we ourselves are little more than automatons whose every perception and thought is programmed from the cradle and genetically even before.

    But what we call “I” and “me” is as much a part of that mystery as everything else. The Zen people make much of the fact that we can never see our face; only a reflection.

    Grotto at Lourdres

    This cave of Massabielle in France was the scene (1858) of visions by a teenaged girl from Lourdes, Saint Bernadette Soubirous. At the behest of the Virgin Mary she dug in the back of the grotto and discovered a spring. Our Lady of Lourdes said “drink at the spring and wash in it.” Others stood with her and neither saw the Virgin nor heard her speak. Millions of pilgrims visit the site annually.

  3. July 9, 2011 at 11:00 am

    That’s wonderful material, Bill, and makes me feel less embarrassed about subtitling this thread, “The Uses of Error.” I also like the old black and white photo you chose for the Massabielle (lit. “beehive mountain”) cave at Lourdres — puts the most famous of all modern visions firmly in the same context as the Barabar caves in India, a rocky and inhospitable place if there ever was one. Not much of that divine camouflage left at Lourdres, I’m afraid, the “entrance” having been revealed once and for all and stage-lit to boot so that nobody has to look for it anymore. The irony is, of course, that this makes the possibility of discovering the actual entrance even more remote.

    The uses of error indeed.

    As to The Man Who Wasn’t There, here’s the soundtrack from the Coen brothers’ film in which, as the blurb says, the right man is convicted of the wrong crime!

    I explored references to the poem a little on-line, and was astonished at the plethora of entrances, habits, visions, and places that came up. Among other associations, the poem leads to a discussion of what is called a “game-breaking bug” among computer-game “shadow warriors,” for example, to a schizophrenic support-group sharing what may or may not be hallucinations, to a political commentator on Renewamerica that lambastes John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and indeed everybody the neo-cons despise as mere actors-who-aren’t-there, to the most astonishing and fertile bibliography on the theme: film, literature, TV, music, media and, most interesting development of all, to modern physics — or what maybe should be called ‘performance science.’

    Here’s a powerful example of the latter also from “The Man Who Wasn’t There.”

    Finally, there’s the old-hat Humanist-Fundamentalist response to the Christian-Fundamentalist position, yes, that knee-jerk also came up. For the former, the Humanist-Fundamentalists, assume history and science know exactly what’s what in the world and, needless to say, who’s there as well — and of course that the God of the Christian-Fundamentalists is cancelled out by the facts. When I first stumbled on the following response, both the striking image and the stunning new version of the poem, I thought just the opposite. I thought, “How extraordinary, somebody understands that not being there at all is one of the main proofs for the existence of God in our times!”

    What a disappointment then to go to the site that put up the image to find they were just opposed to Religion, that’s all. Just spoilers like adolescents stuck in the old parlor back home. What a waste!

    So what do you think, really? Indeed, I hope you will be as disappointed in the naiveté of the following adaption of “The Man Who Wasn’t There” as I was. Because isn’t it when the God who doesn’t exist simply won’t go away that we begin to understand that his being there, or not, simply isn’t the point? And isn’t that why most of the caves at Barabar have no entrances, that the caves are there anyway whether they have entrances in the world or not?

    That it’s all up to us as Adela finds out, and William Blake portrays in Urizen, so powerfully white in the darkness? Or Job in the shadows in the Georges de la Tour? Isn’t it something like that?

    ……………….The God Who Wasn't There


  4. wfkammann said,

    July 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Frank Kermode’s decision to use Georges de la Tour’s painting, “Job Mocked by His Wife” on the cover of his book, The Uses of Error, is provocative as one might expect. I like the cover design a lot but the painting is obviously more powerful with its original colors. I’m also including the passage from the Bible right after:

    1. One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord.
    2. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
    3. The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.”
    4. Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
    5. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
    6. The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
    7. So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
    8. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
    9. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
    10. But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

    Job is probably not a Jewish story but has antecedents in Babylonian and Egyptian literature; yet, it was included in the Hebrew scriptures. Like Krishna in the Gita, God finally resorts to a revelation of the Divine reality compared with the human. This only after he is unable to give a satisfactory rational explanation for the fact that the righteous suffer.

    Here’s a more modern parallel:

    Stephen Hawking makes it clear that the current mathematical models of the universe make God unnecessary for the creation of the universe. He also called Heaven a fairy story for those afraid of the dark.


  5. July 10, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the more Stephen Hawking seems to retreat from the ‘corporal’ world, only just inhabiting now a tiny fraction of his body, the more his mind seems to range. Has there ever been a scientist who has been able to speak so clearly about the farthest reaches of the universe, who has been able to go so far beyond the beyond in his mind yet still get back enough to summarize the ‘News’ in our morning papers?

    Yet, in a sense, Stephen Hawking speaks no wisdom at all, I’d say — not a word of joy or sorrow, for example, passion, despair or the sacred connundrum. Indeed, his communications have no emotion at all in them partly because they’re produced by a voice machine, not vocal chords plucked by the heart. A terrible thing to say, and of course just a symbol. But very much to be considered.

    I’m not being clever by saying this either, nor am I denigrating this very great physicist’s genius, or his person, which is courageous beyond belief. I’m just being honest.

    Because Stephen Hawking really is on the human level limited in his vision, and I think that needs to be said. I mean, what would he have to say to someone like me, what is more to someone like Job in the Georges de la Tour painting? See a good doctor?

    If he does have more to say than that it’s not getting through in his books. On the other hand, it didn’t get through in Carl Sagan’s last book, “The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God,” either, despite the promising title. On the other hand, it did occasionally break out in surprising ways in his imaginative work, like in “Contact,” for example — proving that not only contact but meaning is possible, even in a technological context!

    But to be blunt about Stephen Hawking, he would never play around with images like that, indeed, I think he lacks imagination. If he were a therapist there would be nobody in his office. And can you imagine him as a mother?

    And that’s because he’s exclusively a Scientist and never a Poet — he can speak to things but not to dreams, associations, irreconcilable dilemmas and leaps of absurdity like love, surrender, and caves without entrances. Because the fact is that his airy nothings aren’t airy at all, otherwise he’d abandon them as false! Indeed, they’re entirely literal. They’re bound up in physical forces that he can express in equations, and limited to the constructs any well-trained mathematician or cosmologist can think about. His work is all about laws, particles, distances, all of which can be measured in the mind and in due course written down — clear and rational and of course QED. In Stephen Hawking’s world, unlike in Einstein’s what is more Simone Weil’s, an exceptionally great and lucid modern thinker as well, nothing whatever is left to the imagination — there are just dead figures in Hawking’s world, no living one’s like in Einstein’s mystical hunches or Simone Weil’s personal drama — and certainly no living world like that inhabited by William Blake’s noble Urizen with his head bowed down, consumed by the impossibility of darkness.


    Stephen Hawking tells us God is not necessary to construct the universe because at the moment of the Big Bang the laws are already inherent in nothingness. Fair enough — but don’t blink either. After the latest experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, which he knows very well, data is emerging that would suggest our Big Bang wasn’t the first, indeed that it was probably just a ripple. The latest ‘model,’ which Hawking shares, is that our so-called “big bang” was in fact just a tiny blip on the very edge of an infinite whirlpool of much, much bigger bangs in huge towering clusters like the ones in those extraordinary photos sent back from the Hubble.

    So where does that leave it all now?

    And I don’t mean just the question of God either, which is also just a ripple. I mean the question of all the other myriad ways that equally brilliant men and women have seen it, like the Buddha who invoked neither God nor the soul to envision it, or the man Jesus, the one who actually died on the cross. Period. The Jesus we didn’t get to know who says in The Gospel of Thomas, “He who seeks, let him not cease seeking until he finds; and when he finds he will be troubled, and when he is troubled he will be amazed, and he will reign over the All.” Or like so many women.


  6. wfkammann said,

    July 11, 2011 at 9:57 am

    …..Hubble Telescope image, 2011

    This beautiful image taken recently by the Hubble Telescope has the look of a cave or, better, the Grotto of Massabielle. Is it the womb-like nature of caves?

    Did Marpa the Translator lock the criminal Milarepa in the cave on Mt. Everest to wait for a Buddha to emerge? Here’s one of his famous 100,000 Songs:

    ………Worldly affairs are all deceptive;
    ………So I seek the Truth Divine.

    ………Excitements and distractions are illusions;
    ………So I meditate on the Non-dual Truth.

    ………Companions and servants are deceptive;
    ………So I remain in solitude.

    ………Money and possessions are also deceptive;
    ………So if I have them, I give them away.

    ………Things in the outer world are all illusion;
    ………The Inner Mind is that which I observe.

    ………Wandering thoughts are all deceptive;
    ………So I only tread the Path of Wisdom.

    ………Deceptive are the teachings of Expedient Truth;
    ………The Final Truth is that on which I meditate.

    ………Books written in black ink are all misleading;
    ………I only meditate on the Pith-Instructions of the Whispered Lineage.

    ………Words and sayings, too, are but illusion;
    ………At ease, I rest my mind in the effortless state.

    ………Birth and death are both illusions;
    ………I observe but the truth of No-Arising.

    ………The common mind is in every way misleading;
    ………And so I practice how to animate Awareness.

    ………The Mind-holding Practice is misleading and deceptive;
    ………And so I rest in the realm of Reality.

    They say that when Milarepa was asked how he achieved Enlightenment he lowered his pants to show his backside which was covered with heavy calluses.

    When Marpa left on a trip to India he sealed the cave in which Milarepa was meditating. When he returned he learned that no one had seen Milarepa. When he unsealed the cave he was still inside; meditating. He subsisted on nettles, which are actually very healthy but nevertheless. That’s why he’s often depicted with a greenish tint about him.



    As to Job, he says: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. The idea that ‘the bad’ comes from God is something that most people have trouble with. That’s why Christians give ‘the world’ to Satan and leave God in charge of ‘the good.’

    To criticize Hawking because he has to use a voice simulator is a low blow.

    Since Heisenberg we have mathematical models of reality which have little that is common-sensical about them. The new models postulate parallel universes and extra dimensions. Maybe it’s like that and maybe not.

    The “caves” without entrances are bubbles in the granite: rock swiss cheese. Could the practice of meditators leave behind demons, dakinis with blood on their lips? Is not the biggest trap the solipsistic one? The fact that we can experience only a fraction of the “reality” around us? Geiger counters detect radiation and if they start clicking you had best move out of there, but we? we would have no idea and so we have to believe a machine; so why not believe Hawking?


  7. July 11, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    So many points all at once.

    What I was trying to say about the recent theory that our Big Bang is just a ripple on the edge of clusters upon clusters of much larger Big Bangs is that one might imagine that as looking a bit like one of those staggering Hubble Telescope photos of the cosmos, and what you’ve provided is a wonderful example. What I’m asking us to do is to imagine that the central, cave-like explosion is our universe and that each of those bright stars in the photo is yet another universe exploding somewhere else, and many, many times larger and more active.

    The difficulty with that imagination is that it’s still stuck in the mind-set that says that by definition everything that exists is ‘somewhere,’ and more precisely somewhere in ‘space.’ And suddenly we’ve got millions of ‘spaces’ that aren’t anywhere in ‘space’ at all!

    The powerful part of that imagination is that it moves us away from the assumption that size matters, or existentially that what is ‘there’ is out there and that what is ‘here’ is in here, in public on the one hand or in private on the other. That’s one big self-imposed diddle. Or that big and small are quantitatively different — you funnel into small and you come out big, or vise versa, a worm-hole or Alice in Wonderland.


    I’d love to know more about the story of Milarepa — I know he was a thief and a brigand that caused havoc in the countryside, and that he got put in the cave not just to protect other people from himself but to protect himself from himself. My own feeling is that that’s the only way anything worthwhile ever happens in a person. Like alchemy, if there’s no shit there’s no gold, and of course the alchemical transformation happens locked up in a cave as well, what’s called the ‘retort.’ Indeed, if you open the door of the cave too soon and relieve the pressure nothing happens!

    What I don’t like about the poem is that there are too many static concepts, textual tags as rigid and function-related as the icons on a computer, like ‘Expedient Awareness’ and ‘No-arising.’ In addition, in my experience, very personal, a Tibetan text or practice like the “Pith-Instructions of the Whispered Lineage,” for example, can become part of your identity like a house or a credit card — or a club membership, for example, or belonging to a political party.

    I think that’s partly a result of the fact that the Tibetan teachings are so old and, for us in the west, at least, geographically remote and exotic. They also got such a romantic charge from the early spiritual travelers like the Theosophists, and they still tend to tingle. I suspect that when they were new they were just skillful teaching not Teachings, and as such fresh and effective. It’s only with time and repetition that they have become not shocks but repeatable techniques.

    Also many of the advanced Tibetan teachings that are now taught quite openly in the west were carefully guarded in the Tibetan monasteries and only passed on to those who were ready for them. I think this must have helped a lot to keep them fresh and relevant. So many of them just look good by the beside today, like a singing-bowl, three sticks of incense, and a Tankha.

    (This is mainly my own thing, I know, this reserve about ancient Buddhist initiations and beliefs. So many, many people have that feeling toward Christianity in the west, having grown up feeling manipulated by a Church. I guess I’m the first generation of westerners to have grown up feeling manipulated by Lamas…)


    I regret now what I said about Stephen Hawking’s voice — I tried to guard myself against that accusation when I said it but I didn’t take the time to make myself clear. Of course it’s a low blow if I meant just that his voice sounds mechanical — I meant the whole process of voice simulation as a metaphor for the limitation of all language, and that that was ironically more acute in him, even as such a great physicist — and that that needed to be considered. We are all distanced by the mechanics of speaking, hearing and comprehending, needless to say — indeed, it’s extraordinary that we can say anything to each other at all and be “understood!”

    It’s like seeing: light reflected from an object passes through the small lens of the eye and then is turned upside down and projected on a screen, the retina — where it’s broken up by a myriad of tiny receptors, many of which don’t work, so there are gaps even there, and then what remains of the original image is passed along not as light but as electrical charges in a mass of miniscule threads, tangled in ganglia, jumped through synapses, and no longer in any sensible order, etc., etc., — and we’re still not nearly there to what we then say we see out there, and apparently also “see together!”

    Something else has to be involved in communication beside chemistry, I’d say — maybe a djinn or a spirit…


  8. wfkammann said,

    July 11, 2011 at 11:27 pm


    If there were a djinn or spirit it would be much better than it is.

    We were sitting on the porch watching the dogs play. Suddenly Lucy stops and turns her nose toward the street; her tail goes up and she is on alert. We see her nose twitch as she gets the scent of something she cannot see. Her nose is so much more sensitive than ours; we don’t smell a thing. Is she hallucinating? Has she been taken over by a djinn or spirit? Or, is there something (perhaps another dog) in the street that she can sense (smell) while we sit and sip our morning coffee?

    Wiki gives us some perspective:
    “It is estimated that dogs in general have an olfactory sense approximately a hundred thousand to a million times more acute than a human’s. This does not mean they are overwhelmed by smells our noses can detect; rather, it means they can discern a molecular presence when it is in much greater dilution in the carrier, air. Scenthounds as a group can smell one- to ten-million times more acutely than a human, and Bloodhounds, which have the keenest sense of smell of any dogs[citation needed], have noses ten- to one-hundred-million times more sensitive than a human’s.

    Bears, such as the Silvertip Grizzly found in parts of North America, have a sense of smell seven times stronger than the bloodhound, essential for locating food underground. Using their elongated claws, bears dig deep trenches in search of burrowing animals and nests as well as roots, bulbs, and insects. Bears can detect the scent of food from up to 18 miles away; because of their immense size they often scavenge new kills, driving away the predators (including packs of wolves and human hunters) in the process.”

    Without the Hubble telescope we would see a bunch of twinkling lights. With the telescope we only “see” a fraction of “our” universe; a fraction of our ripple. 98% of matter is “dark” and not knowable but because we see a few twinkling lights we think we might be capable of grasping the whole thing. Not likely! The dark matter, by the way, is necessary to make the mathematics work.

    Hubble Supernova

    “This spectacular image of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A is the most detailed image ever made of the remains of an exploded star. The one-million-second image shows a bright outer ring (green) 10 light years in diameter that marks the location of a shock wave generated by the supernova explosion.

    X-ray astronomy explores the “invisible universe. Some of the images are produced by combining visible (Hubble), x-ray (Chandra) and infrared (Spitzer) images. We could never “see” these images without the telescopes which produce them. Like Geiger counters, no?

    And yet religions; especially Buddhism, tell us that this mammal with a nose much worse than a dog’s and eyes much worse than an eagle’s can, through “Primordial Awareness,” actually “know” the entire universe and all its’ ripples.

    But the cosmology of classic Buddhism has to be abandoned in light of Hubble etc. Can a Buddha read minds? travel to distant “heavens?” Is there any point in meditating at all? Do we ever really get beyond ourselves?

  9. July 12, 2011 at 9:31 am

    Those astonishing, cutting-edge Hubble images have been photo-shopped, Bill — they’ve been passed and re-passed through the lenses of different apparatuses, both before and after the snap, so they’re collages as well. Finally, they’ve been subjected to a rigorous but artificial editorial process in which, step by painstaking step, an image that we can see has been allowed to emerge. For the essential feature upon which each and every editorial decision has been made was based not on the integrity of the image but the equipment and experience of the audience, i.e. what the audience can “see.” And of course the editors want the audience to “see” something comprehensible and if possible, considering all the expense and the technology involved, something really spectacular!

    Now the audience has been brought up on flowers, fireworks, sunsets, orgasms, Star Wars, Vietnam, fire-balls wiping out dinosaurs, the cremation of parents, the nuclear holocaust, and last night’s TV spy spectacular in which the whole god-damned oil-tanker blew up the Titanic! That means the audience knows what it knows it can see. And the photo-shopper in the lab knows all that too and keeps pulling the input apart and putting it back together until there’s something really mind-blowing to put up, as we say.

    Otherwise it might have looked like this:

    …………….Hubble photoshopped

    or this — and would we bother?

    …………….Hubble photoshopped again

    Don’t we want it to be hot and just this side of bliss? Or a bit like God as we imagine him even after we’ve lost him, something that could have been created by him anyway, something that might even console us for the Paradise we’ve lost?

    Personally I do trust the scientists in this process, and I know they’re doing their very best as well as working in an extremely competitive environment in which if somebody else can get better results they will. But it’s still all just hunches or, dare I say it, imaginations just like mine. And I’m a poet, not a scientist at all.

    I think that’s why the language of astro-physics and cosmology uses so much baby-talk, because it’s only with the innocent playfulness of a young child newly discovering language that the universe can be described at all.

    Finally, the models as well as the imaginations of nuclear physics are so similar to astrophysics that you just have to conclude, as I think the scientists do too, mind you, that looking outward is the same direction as inward, same landscape, same puzzles, same size!


    So I’d disagree completely with what you say in the end: “The cosmology of classic Buddhism has to be abandoned in light of the Hubble.” Why does it have to be abandoned any more than that of any other classic cosmology? Because anybody can read minds and travel to distant heavens, can’t they, or photo-shop the mind of God? I mean, what did Dante do, or Carl Sagan, at least in his imaginative work? And what are we doing right here after all? We’re already out there, we sentient beings, indeed we’re creating it all like crazy as we go!

    “Is there any point in meditating at all?”

    I’d say no, better to hum, stroke the dog, or go for a walk. Or best of all, rest well.

    “Do we ever really get beyond ourselves?”

    We are beyond ourselves, and then we die back into it, in a sense, there being no beginning either.

    And of course that’s flippant, peanut-butter mysticism. But that’s partly because we’re all in the same boat, and anything we can say about the boat that matters has got to sound vulgar.


  10. wfkammann said,

    July 18, 2011 at 9:26 pm


    Sombrero Galaxy
    A brilliant white core is encircled by thick dust lanes in this spiral galaxy seen edge-on through the Hubble. The galaxy is 50,000 light-years across and 28 million light years from Earth.


    Birth of Krishna Festival
    Young boy dressed as Krishna during the Krishna Janmashtami or Birth of Krishna Festival.


    …………………………………Kashmiri Song
    ……………. Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,*
    ……………. Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell?
    ……………. Whom do you lead on Rapture’s roadway, far,
    ……………. Before you agonise them in farewell?
    ……………. Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
    ……………. Where are you now? Where are you now?

    ……………. Pale hands, pink tipped, like Lotus buds that float
    ……………. On those cool waters where we used to dwell,
    ……………. I would have rather felt you round my throat,
    ……………. Crushing out life, than waving me farewell!
    ……………. Pale hands I loved beside the Shalimar,
    ……………. Where are you now? Where are you now?
    …………………………………………………………………………………* Gardens

    Poem written by Adela Florence Nicolson (1865-1904). She wrote under the pseudonym ‘Laurence Hope.’

    The music was composed by Amy Woodforde-Finden who was born in Valparaiso, Chile. She is probably best known for her set of Indian Love Lyrics with words by Laurence Hope. Of the four lyrics, Kashmiri Song proved an instant hit and immediately turned the tenuous connection between India and King Edward’s English-speaking subjects into a pulsating affair of the heart. The Indian Love Lyrics were originally self-published in 1902. The popularity of her Kashmiri Songs kept her in the good graces of her publishing house and in the hearts of her audience. Her songs are noted for their sentimentality, their romantic fluidity and how they blend a particularly British, middle class sensibility with an Asian pastiche. This version is from the film “Hers to Hold” (1943) – directed by Frank Ryan with Deanna Durbin, Joseph Cotten, Charles Winninger and Ludwig Stössel.

    Blowing from the Guns
    “Blowing from Guns in British India” – Vasili Vasilyevich Vereshchagin (1842-1904)


  11. July 19, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    It’s a magnificent painting, but would have been incomprehensible to me had I not recently read William Dalrymple’s account of the 1857 “Indian mutiny,” The Last Mughal. Those noble figures in white are Indian elders strapped across the muzzles of British cannon, and I hate to think of the mess those upright but ignorant young soldiers from Hackney and Newdigate are going to have to clean up afterwards,

    The composition with its line of cannon disappearing out of the frame on the left emphasizes the enormity of the gesture, and the crowd only just visible on the right what a devastating spectacle it must have been for the populace, for however hidden they might have been the show was for them. Indeed, it’s the ultimate ‘reprisal!’

    And of course, most poignant of all, at least from the perspective of the painter, the position of the elder in the foreground with his arms bound to the cross, head thrown back in pain and despair, knees blent, feet nailed by gravity to the ground.

    And the white helmets just a little bit higher, like domes — topped only by their church on the horizon.

    And the glow, as if the whole world were on fire.

    Here’s how the same scene appeared in The Illustrated London News (1857):

    You can click here to see more of the body parts. You will also notice that in this version the victims are just pieces, that there are no spectators to speak of but an awful lot of soldiers. That’s the spin for home consumption — and that’s the spin that Adela Quested would have brought with her to Chandrapore in A Passage to India, and that made it so difficult for her to deal with her own feelings.


    The secret of all empires is the monopoly on violence — and the greater the disparity between the number of ‘natives’ in relation to the number of imperial enforcers the greater the need for spectacularly vicious and memorable reprisals.

    And of course the more violence there is in a dominant, imperial culture the more it tends to get hidden behind comfortable dogs, children, whiskers, white gloves, fair play and manners. And tea, of course — the more delicate the porcelain the more aggressive the culture.


    Exploding people for political purposes has a very old history. And it’s always the spin that’s placed upon the ‘reprisal’ that makes it moral and, of course, the clearer the message the more imperative the moral.

    There’s a lot of this in A Passage to India, which I think is what you meant, Bill. Do you think it is?


  12. wfkammann said,

    July 20, 2011 at 3:41 am


    I am always amazed at how well you express what I mean; in fact, I’m often surprised at what I did mean once you’ve expressed it. They had Dr. Aziz ready to strap to the cannon when Adela has a pang of conscience, a simple doubt.

    Forster describes the British women as the ones who hold the line and maintain the culture of the Raj. Listen to Mrs. Turton:

    “‘At last some sense is being talked,’ Mrs. Turton cried, much to her husband’s discomfort. ‘That’s what I say; I say there’s not such a thing as cruelty after a thing like this.’Exactly, and remember it afterwards, you men. You’re weak, weak, weak. Why, they ought to crawl from here to the caves on their hands and knees whenever an Englishwoman’s in sight, they oughtn’t to be spoken to, they ought to be spat at, they ought to be ground into the dust, we’ve been far too kind with our Bridge Parties and the rest.’

    “She paused. Profiting by her wrath, the heat had invaded her. She subsided into a lemon squash, and continued between the sips to murmur, ‘Weak, weak.'”

    It reminds me of my time in the Seventh Army Soldiers’ Chorus singing for USAREUR command in Belgium. The song: “Dog Faced Soldier.” The generals drunk on their asses; but, not their wives! At the first notes they sprang to their feet dragging the old men after them. General Andrew Jackson Goodpaster, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, might have kept drinking but “Dog Faced Soldier” is the Marine Hymn of the Army and you WILL stand at attention as it’s sung. Here’s the way I remember it:

    …………………I Wouldn’t Give A Bean
    …………………To Be A Fancy Pants Marine
    …………………I’d Rather Be A
    …………………Dog Face Soldier Like I Am

    …………………I Wouldn’t Trade My Old Fatigues
    …………………For All The Navy’s Dungarees
    …………………For I’m The Walking Pride
    …………………Of Uncle Sam

    …………………On Army Posters That I Read
    …………………It Says “The Army Builds Men”
    …………………So They’re Tearing Me Down
    …………………To Build Me Over Again

    …………………I’m Just A Dog Face Soldier
    …………………With A Rifle On My Shoulder
    …………………And I’d Go To Hell And Back For USA

    …………………So Feed Me Ammunition
    …………………Keep Me In My Old Division
    …………………Your Dog Face Soldier Boy’s Okay

    The fact that conscience or self doubt could triumph even once over power and domination is the death knell of the Empire. “Weak, weak, weak” indeed.


    A sidebar on Adela Florence Nicolson, the Anglo-Indian who wrote under the name of Laurence Hope — she was the author of “The Kashmiri Song” I posted in my last comment.

    ……………….Adela Florence Nicholson -- Laurence Hope
    ……………….Adela Florence Nicholson, aka ‘Laurence Hope’

    Adela’s father, Colonel Arthur Cory, was the editor of The Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore and was likely the man who gave Rudyard Kipling his first job as a journalist. Like Kipling, Adela had literary siblings. Her sisters, Annie Sophie Cory and Isabel Cory pursued literary careers. Annie wrote popular, racy novels under the pseudonym ‘Victoria Cross,’ while Isabel assisted and then succeeded their father as editor of the Sind Gazette.

    In 1901 Adela published Garden of Kama, which was published a year later in America under the title India’s Love Lyrics. She attempted to pass these off as translations of various poets, but this claim soon fell under suspicion. She was among the most popular romantic poets of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Her poems are typically about unrequited love and loss, and often the death that followed such an unhappy state of affairs. Many of them have an air of autobiography or confession. Her poetry was extremely popular during the Edwardian period, being hailed by such men as Thomas Hardy.

    Her husband, Colonel Malcolm Hassels Nicolson, was twice her age. A talented linguist, he introduced her to his love of India and native customs and food, which she began to share. This widely gave the couple a reputation for being eccentric. Shortly after his death she committed suicide at age 39. Here is a poem dedicated to him.

    …………………I, who of lighter love wrote many a verse,
    …………………Made public never words inspired by thee,
    …………………Lest strangers’ lips should carelessly rehearse
    …………………Things that were sacred and too dear to me.
    …………………Thy soul was noble; through these fifteen years
    …………………Mine eyes familiar, found no fleck nor flaw,
    …………………Stern to thyself, thy comrades’ faults and fears
    …………………Proved generosity thine only law.
    …………………Small joy was I to thee; before we met
    …………………Sorrow had left thee all too sad to save.
    …………………Useless my love—-as vain as this regret
    …………………That pours my hopeless life across thy grave.

    Talented; popular; today nearly forgotten. Is that what I meant to say, Christopher?


  13. July 20, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Next I’d like to know about that UFO-like object you posted over Ravi Shankar’s head. Or is it a halo?

    Certainly I love the music, but aside from Ravi Shankar being a distinguished Indian classical musician I see no connection with the UFO graphic that comes before him or with the little blue-faced boy who comes right after.

    And I still don’t get the connection to the movie, I’m afraid, though I find Adela Florence Nicholson/Laurence Hope’s life-story fascinating (what an extraordinary photo!). I just don’t hear one scrap of that life story in the sappy piece of music you selected to stand for her, or the movie.

    Finally I haven’t a clue where the brutal painting at the end fits into the story you were trying to tell.

    You said the post was a comment on A Passage to India. Do you mean the poem by Walt Whitman, the novel by E.M.Forster, or the pop group?


  14. wfkammann said,

    July 21, 2011 at 6:12 am


    The following are exerpts from the novel A Passage to India:


    “All invitations must proceed from heaven perhaps; perhaps it is futile for men to initiate their own unity, they do but widen the gulfs between them by the attempt. So at all events thought old Mr. Graysford and young Mr. Sorley, the devoted missionaries who lived out beyond the slaughterhouses, always travelled third on the railways, and never came up to the club. In our Father’s house are many mansions, they taught, and there alone will the incompatible multitudes of mankind be welcomed and soothed. Not one shall be turned away by the servants on that verandah, be he black or white, not one shall be kept standing who approaches with a loving heart. And why should the divine hospitality cease here? Consider, with all reverence, the monkeys. May there not be a mansion for the monkeys also? Old Mr. Graysford said No, but young Mr. Sorley, who was advanced, said Yes; he saw no reason why monkeys should not have their collateral share of bliss, and he had sympathetic discussions about them with his Hindu friends. And the jackals? Jackals were indeed less to Mr. Sorley’s mind, but he admitted that themercy of God, being infinite, may well embrace all mammals. And the wasps? He became uneasy during the descent to wasps, and was apt to change the conversation. And oranges, cactuses, crystals and mud? and the bacteria inside Mr. Sorley? No, no, this is going too far. We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing.”


    “Going to hang up her cloak, she found that the tip of the peg was occupied by a small wasp. She had known this wasp or his relatives by day; they were not as English wasps, but had long yellow legs which hung down behind when they flew. Perhaps he mistook the peg for a branch–no Indian animal has any sense of an interior. Bats, rats, birds, insects will as soon nest inside a house as out; it is to them a normal growth of the eternal jungle, which alternately produces houses trees, houses trees. There he clung, asleep, while jackals in the plain bayed their desires and mingled with the percussion of drums. “Pretty dear,” said Mrs. Moore to the wasp. He did not wake, but her voice floated out, to swell the night’s uneasiness.”


    “Godbole consulted the music-book, said a word to the drummer, who broke rhythm, made a thick little blur of sound, and produced a new rhythm. This was more exciting, the inner images it evoked more definite, and the singers’ expressions became fatuous and languid. They loved all men, the whole universe, and scraps of their past, tiny splinters of detail, emerged for a moment to melt into the universal warmth. Thus Godbole, though she was not important to him, remembered an old woman he had met in Chandrapore days. Chance brought her into his mind while it was in this heated state, he did not select her, she happened to occur among the throng of soliciting images, a tiny splinter, and he impelled her by his spiritual force to that place where completeness can be found. Completeness, not reconstruction. His senses grew thinner, he remembered a wasp seen he forgot where, perhaps on a stone. He loved the wasp equally, he impelled it likewise, he was imitating God. And the stone where the wasp clung–could he . . . no, he could not, he had been wrong to attempt the stone, logic and conscious effort had seduced, he came back to the strip of red carpet and discovered that he was dancing upon it.”

    “Covered with grease and dust, Professor Godbole had once more developed the life of his spirit. He had, with increasing vividness, again seen Mrs. Moore, and round her faintly clinging forms of trouble. He was a Brahman, she Christian, but it made no difference, it made no difference whether she was a trick of his memory or a telepathic appeal. It was his duty, as it was his desire, to place himself in the position of the God and to love her, and to place himself in her position and to say to the God, “Come, come, come, come.” This was all he could do. How inadequate! But each according to his own capacities, and he knew that his own were small. “One old Englishwoman and one little, little wasp,” he thought, as he stepped out of the temple into the grey of a pouring wet morning. “It does not seem much, still it is more than I am myself.”

    And here are some passages from the poem by Walt Whitman, Passage to India, which was the source of Forster’s title.


    …………Passage to India!
    …………Lo, soul, seest thou not God’s purpose from the first?
    …………The earth to be spann’d, connected by network,
    …………The races, neighbors, to marry and be given in marriage,
    …………The oceans to be cross’d, the distant brought near,
    …………The lands to be welded together.


    …………O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
    …………Cover’d all over with visible power and beauty,
    …………Alternate light and day and the teeming spiritual darkness,
    …………Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above,
    …………Below, the manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
    …………With inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention,
    …………Now first it seems my thought begins to span thee…………….


    …………Greater than stars or suns,
    …………Bounding O soul thou journeyest forth;
    …………What love than thine and ours could wider amplify?
    …………What aspirations, wishes, outvie thine and ours O soul?
    …………What dreams of the ideal? what plans of purity, perfection, strength?
    …………What cheerful willingness for others’ sake to give up all?
    …………For others’ sake to suffer all?


    …………Passage, immediate passage! the blood burns in my veins!
    …………Away O soul! hoist instantly the anchor!

    …………Cut the hawsers–haul out–shake out every sail!
    …………Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
    …………Have we not grovel’d here long enough, eating and drinking like mere
    …………Have we not darken’d and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

    …………Sail forth–steer for the deep waters only,
    …………Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
    …………For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
    …………And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

    …………O my brave soul!
    …………O farther farther sail!
    …………O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
    …………O farther, farther, farther sail!

    • wfkammann said,

      August 12, 2011 at 1:46 am


      I would like to comment on the above post and explain what I think about it. Mrs. Moore and her son and daughter who appear later in the novel are Hindus or have, through Mrs. Moore’s Christian mysticism, a natural appreciation of Hinduism.

      “Fielding sighed, opened his lips, shut them, then said with a little laugh, ” I can’t explain, because it isn’t in words at all, but why do my wife and her brother like Hinduism, though they take no interest in its forms? They won’t talk to me about this.”

      Professor Godbole knows this and that is why he selects Mrs. Moore for the ritual.

      The Christians allow humans and perhaps apes into the realm of God, but not wasps. Mrs. Moore includes wasps in her understanding and Godbole would go so far as to include a stone in the ultimate completeness but dares not.

      How far DOES the Divine extend?

      On a similar note:



      “A Marabar cave had been horrid as far as Mrs Moore was concerned, for she had nearly fainted in it, and had some difficulty in preventing herself from saying so as soon as she got into the air again. It was natural enough: she had always suffered from faintness, and the cave had become too full, because all their retinue followed them. Crammed with villagers and servants, the circular chamber began to smell. She lost Aziz and Adela in the dark, didn’t know who touched her, couldn’t breathe, and some vile naked thing struck her face and settled on her mouth like a pad. She tried to regain the entrance tunnel, but an influx of villagers swept her back. She hit her head. For an instant she went mad, hitting and gasping like a fanatic. For not only did the crush and stench alarm her; there was also a terrifying echo. Professor Godbole had never mentioned an echo; it never impressed him, perhaps. There are some exquisite echoes in India; there is the whisper round the dome at Bijapur; there are the long, solid sentences that voyage through the air at Mandu, and return unbroken to their creator. The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these, it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. “Bourn” is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or “bou-ourn,” or “ou-boum,”–utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeak of a boot, all produce “bourn.” Even the striking of a match starts a little worm coiling, which is too small to complete a circle but is eternally watchful. And if several people talk at once, an overlapping howling noise begins, echoes generate echoes, and the cave is stuffed with a snake composed of small snakes, which writhe independently.” A Passage to India

      That all sounds and even hope and politeness produce the sound “Bourn” got me to thinking.

      One thing I have learned from reading Forster is his infinite attention to detail. His use of leitmotif is evident in the quotations about wasps in the previous post.

      Here’s another example. Wondering about the origins of Miss Quested? In Howard’s End we find:

      “Oh, but come upstairs for a little. Miss Quested plays. Do you like MacDowell? Do you mind his only having two noises?”

      But what about “Bourn” itself. Why did Forster choose this word? What is Bourn?

      A Bourn that Forster might have know is just 8 miles from Cambridge and is home to the Church of St. Helena and St. Mary. The patron of this church is Christ College, Cambridge.

      Bourn Church

      Within this old church is a maze which dates from the end of the 19th century. The simple tile maze was adapted from the layout of the hedge maze at Hampton Court. The font is placed at the goal of the maze, which is slightly off-centre. The base of the font obscures one of the pathways, and any special design that might have been at the goal.

      Bourn Baptismal Font

      Placing the baptismal font at the center of the maze was certainly an afterthought. Unlike a labyrinth which has only one way in and out, however circuitous, a maze has branches, loops and dead ends. You can become lost in a maze. It may represent the challenges of a spiritual life with the possibility but not the certainty of reaching the goal.

      Bourn Maze

      Additionally, a piece of lead from the steeple bears the coat of arms of John Ferrar. This is the family of Nicholas Ferrar of Little Gidding fame. Nicholas Ferrar set up a church in which prayers were said “without ceasing.” The last of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is entitled “Little Gidding.”

      So, the sound “Bourn” may set up a series of associations which shed light on the meaning of the Marabar Caves. A reflection not unlike the two matches in the quotation below:

      They are dark caves. Even when they open towards the sun, very little light penetrates down the entrance tunnel into the circular chamber. There is little to see, and no eye to see it, until the visitor arrives for his five minutes, and strikes a match. Immediately another flame rises in the depths of the rock and moves towards the surface like an imprisoned spirit: the walls of the circular chamber have been most marvellously polished. The two flames approach and strive to unite, but cannot, because one of them breathes air, the other stone. A mirror inlaid with lovely colours divides the lovers, delicate stars of pink and grey interpose, exquisite nebulae, shadings fainter than the tail of a comet or the midday moon, all the evanescent life of the granite, only here visible. Fists and fingers thrust above the advancing soil–here at last is their skin, finer than any covering acquired by the animals, smoother than windless water, more voluptuous than love. The radiance increases, the flames touch one another, kiss, expire. The cave is dark again, like all the caves.

      Now that’s not contrived at all. It’s as plain as the nose on your face and almost certainly true!

  15. August 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Yes indeed, Bill — and I thank you for that shot in the arm. Of course Coleridge took his not intravenously but straight over-the-counter and out-of-the-bottle, but the effect was much the same as Forster’s own forbidden life.

    So what is it? What is it?

    I’m just about to drive up Doi Suthep, the mountain in the foothills of the Himalayas that overhangs Chiang Mai, and the monsoon is fierce too so we’ll have to see what I say if and when I get back. Apparently the road is caved in in places too.

    And you know who’s in a panic as well — not me!


  16. August 15, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Meanwhile back on the ranch:

    • wfkammann said,

      October 30, 2013 at 2:07 am

      “A moment after their mouths met he felt her bare arms settle lightly round his neck. They stood pressed together, against the smooth trunk of the frangipani tree, body to body, mouth to mouth, for a minute or more. The sickly scent of the tree came mingling with the scent of Elizabeth’s hair. And the scent gave him a feeling of stultification, of remoteness from Elizabeth, even though she was in his arms. All that that alien tree symbolised for him, his exile, the secret, wasted years,-it was like an unbridgeable gulf between them. ” From Burmese Days, George Orwell. Had to think of you.

  17. October 30, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    That’s a wonderful challenge, Bill, not only with regard to George Orwell’s relationship to the East and women, but with regard to my own relationship to George Orwell, the East, women, and those secret, wasted years.

    Because it’s been over 2 full years since this blog has had any words, and that’s a terrible waste.


  18. wfkammann said,

    December 5, 2013 at 11:01 pm


    We are back from a month in Morocco. Anytime we would wish people well in the future, their response was almost always “Insha’Allah.” The idea that nothing happens that is not concordant with the will of Allah makes all plans for the future inexpressible without the addition of “Insha’Allah.” This expression is found in Spanish ojalá, and the Portuguese phrase, oxalá, and, of course the famous “God willing and the creek don’t rise.” Hope this blog will have more words soon, “Insha’Allah.”

  19. December 7, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Working on it.


  20. February 25, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    […] You may also like to read this….THE MYSTERY OF BARABAR & THE MARABAR CAVES […]

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