Theme by Kota Neelima

True, there may be no difference anymore, but I belong to you, and not you to me;
just like the waves belong to the ocean and not the ocean to the waves.

Adi Shankaracharya1, Vishnu Shatpadi, 8th century AD.

Truth is an incomplete construct, and it must remain so; knowing is to know it in parts and not its whole. The only knowledge that survives is the knowledge of what the truth is not, neti neti (not this, not this).
The truth of the Self, similarly, is framed by that which we know is not true about the Self. The skepticism of the scientific is unrequired here to establish as baseless the belief that the Manifest maybe a form of the Unmanifest. It is not about tangibility of the proof or the evidence of causation. It is merely that truth cannot be absolute, the mind knows better. And within this disobedience of the human thought is the great possibility of exploring the various aspects of truth about the Self – what it is not, what it can never be, and, resultantly, what it might be. The Manifest Absence is where the human mind situates itself, despite being surrounded by and being part of the Manifest Presence. For, it is only then that it is one with its own matter – that which the Self is made of, and unmade from.
The Brhad-Aranyaka Upanishad (BU)2 states:
This self is not this, not this. It is incomprehensible, indestructible, unattached, unfettered, uninjured, unaffected by that which it has done. Or not done.3 (BU, IV.4.22)
Such independence of the Self from all issues of existence, however, is not registered in any place other than the Self itself. That makes it problematic for determining its effect. Further, there is the issue of defining what represents the Self. How can the Self know its own nature, especially when there is little clarity on whether Self symbolized an entity other than the human mind and thought, or if it was part of the process of death and birth like the rest of the body? This question must remain unanswered, perhaps, in the service of a greater and deeper understanding of the immersion that the human mind is capable of.
The Upanishad states:
If the Self is known and wished for, then why would one suffer the body? 4 (BU, IV.4.12)
The variety of the Manifest Presence provides a materialistic menu of the things that the Self is not. In doing so, the Self is immediately removed from the measureable and the worldly, to be placed along with things that are larger than the cyclic life and death, and all that which takes place in the sensory realm. It is only through experience that the mind can discard things that the Self is not and merge its multiplicity with the singular Absolute, as a truth beyond all truths.
The Upanishad states:
The Absolute is not a quality or attribute of things in the world, the object of thought, or action. It can be understood only by elimination or example. 5
However, the knowing of this does not alleviate the Self from the process of life that remains irreversible and unalterable by the Self. Such knowing also does not facilitate detachment from the world because of the awareness that the Self is only a partial expression of the Absolute truth. And so, what choice has the human thought but to find completion in the incomplete; accepting the Manifest while always searching for the Unmanifest. The particularity of life represents the whole, just as the generality of the part.

purnam adah, purnam idam, purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya purnam eva vasisyate6 (BU, V.2.1)

At the same time, the mind is cognizant of the Manifest Presence as a function to demarcate the Manifest Absence. It is aware that the employment of the mechanics of the form or akara is a temporal avocation. It is based in the need for a point of reference driven by organic cells that hurtle towards their eventual death and destruction. The mind is cognizant, also, that the Manifest Presence is a physical avocation as well to actualize the Manifest Absence or the nirakara. It is an exercise in constant reconstruction of the present from the debris of past and possible future. It rebuilds the structure from its ruins, despite the knowledge that it would be in ruins again. Essentially illusionary, it calls for something stronger than logic to explain and support it, and that’s faith.
The sensorial vulnerability to stimuli that allows these functions of the Manifest Presence facilitates belief; for instance, without the Manifest Presence there would have been no religion. As the mind is aware of the difference, the Manifest Presence seems to burden itself with all the provocation for the existence of the Manifest Absence. The duality is established, like the Bhagavad Gita7 suggests, in the separation of the mind from action.
The question arises on why is the presence even necessary? What difference would it have all made if the Manifest Presence was never extracted from its Absence and remained single, whole Absolute? Also, if the form is merely an avocation, then its own marginality is established and affirmed by the maya (illusion) and avidya (ignorance) that surround it, as Adi Shankaracharya argues. What, then, is the need to delve into the Absence, that which renders everything incomplete?
The Upanishad refers to this:
It is the duality that seeks and senses the others. The duality allows for the other to be known through sight, smell, sound, language, thought and understanding. If everything was the Self, then by what and by whom would one be seen, known, heard, spoken about, thought about and understood? It is by duality that the unknown can be known. 8(BU, II.4.14).

The integration of the Self with the Absolute might, therefore, never happen without the Manifest Presence. This is especially true if the Manifest Absence is seen as the destination for the return of its Presence in its truest, purest form. For, it is only through the dissolution that the differences are gone, only death equalizes all forms and plurality. Once again, the rationalizing mind seeks answers which are not there for the taking. For, the finding is not the finding of the answer. It is always the finding of a question. There may be a final question where all questions of the human mind converge. But because it is the human mind that asks it, there can never be an answer that satisfies it.

As the Upanishad states,
The Self cannot be understood through instruction, thought or listening to others. It is to be attained only by those whom the Self chooses for this knowledge. To them, the Self reveals the truth.9 (Katha Upanishad, I.2.23).

Based on the Upanishadic debate about the Self, ‘The Manifest Absence’ is the 2018 collection of paintings and prints by the artist. The works represent the various ways in which the Self is described through negation and contrast, rather than a categorical identification. The paintings, oil on canvas, seek to visualize the Absence before it converts momentarily to the Manifest Presence. Notable are the works that picture the Nirguna or the absence of qualities, Nirakara or the absence of form, Nirbhedha, or the absence of discrimination, Niskama or the absence of desire, Nirviseha or the absence of attributes and Nirantara or the absence of interruption. In the artist’s works, the Absence is never inert but is textured with all that which could have been and all that which still can be. The Absence is, also, never the opposite of the Presence, in the same way as the half Moon is not half, but always complete. The Absence is the Unmanifest; it is the original state of the Creation and the mind recognises that through what the eyes can see – and, that has been the objective of this series of paintings. The Manifest Absence is the 8th solo exhibition of the artist, who lives in New Delhi, India.

1 Adi Shankaracharya is an Indian philosopher and thinker who propounded the Advaita Vedanta based on non-dualism. He wrote the commentary for 10 of the 14 most important Upanishads, which elevated the Hindu religious discourse to an exploration of the soul of all humankind. He established four centres of knowledge and practice of his philosophy in four parts corners of the country; in Sringeri in South of India, Puri in East, Dwaraka in West and Badrinath in North. Shankaracharya’s non-dualism finds resonance in modern Indian thought and influences varied fields from spirituality to the politics of secularism.

2 Upanishads are Indian philosophical texts that debate ideas of self, god and man, along with knowledge, truth and consciousness. There are said to be 108 Upanishads, of which the oldest date back to 1000 B.C. to 300 B.C. Of these, the Brhad-Aranynaka (BU) is one of the oldest and is considered the most important.

3 S. Radhakrishnan, The Principal Upanishads, HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, p. 279.

4 Ibid., p. 276.

5 Ibid., p. 67.

6 ‘That is complete, this is complete, from complete, complete is born;
Even when something is taken from the complete, what is left is complete.’

7 The Bhagavad Gita, or the song of God, is the basis of Hinduism as both a religion and way of life in India. It contains philosophy and ethics conveyed during the epic battle of Mahabharata by the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Sri Krishna, to the legendary Pandava warrior Arjuna. Vyasa’s Mahabharata and Homer’s Illiad are similar in many aspects, especially in the stories of Arjuna and Achilles. When a distraught Arjuna wants to give up battle, Krishna’s convinces him with his message of niskama karma, or action without desire, which is part of the Karma Yoga philosophy and a template for contentment in a materialistic universe.

8 Ibid., p. 201.

9 Ibid., p. 619.