The yogic and rishi vision of rasa and Ananda as one’s own true Self pervading all space is perhaps the secret of India’s boundless creativity.
India is perhaps the most creative civilization in the history of the world and has been so for thousands of years. To begin with, Indic or Bharatiya culture embraces all aspects of art, from poetry, drama and literature to sculpture, painting and architecture, music and dance, and each in a wondrous variety of forms, modes and applications.
On top of this myriad artistic abundance, both behind it and also woven within it, is a comparable profound depth and vastness of India’s spiritual, yogic, philosophical and psychological teachings that comprehend the unbounded universe of consciousness, within us and around us extending beyond all dimensions.
What is most important about India’s artistic creativity is that all art forms have been explored and embraced as paths of Yoga, ways of the highest Self-realization, and means of connection with the sacred, divine and universal. This includes every sort of representational form of the deity – male and female, human, animal, plant and stone – which western religious traditions might denounce as idolatry. Yet it extends to the mathematical, geometrical, abstract and formless as well.
India has never suffered from the devastating cultural split between the sacred and the profane that has long shadowed over Christianity and Islam, which have often limited or even denied representational art and evocative music forms as unsacred, and which still provokes intolerance leading to violence.
This does not mean that India’s extensive artistic tradition has no recognition of difference between sacred and unsacred uses of art. In fact, India’s theater and dance usually occurred within temple precincts and followed themes like Ramayana and Mahabharata.
India’s vision of the sacred embraces the whole of life. It is not limited only to certain religiously correct art forms. It recognizes a Divine consciousness pervading the dance of life, including every aspect of our own being, thought, breath, sense and action, which is all a manifestation of sublime spiritual energies.
Ananda as Atman, the Ultimate Essence or Rasa
The Vedic idea – which we find clearly expressed in the Taittiriya Upanishad – is that the entire universe arises from Ananda. Ananda is commonly translated as bliss, which is perhaps the best equivalent in the English language, but is much more than that. Ananda refers to an unbounded peace and joy that overflows from the transcendent into time-space creation. This Ananda is our own inner nature and the pursuit of Ananda should be our true way of life. Yet Ananda is not just feeling good or happy, but is the fullness of feeling, in which we can understand every aspect of life as part of our own inner being, with a Divine fervor that is able to embrace and go beyond sorrow and death.
The pursuit of Ananda is not a pursuit of pleasure, enjoyment or happiness in the ordinary sense, such as drives the commercial world today. These are but lower manifestations of Ananda at an outer level, where it is limited and misconceived. The pursuit of Ananda implies the pursuit of rasa, another special Sanskrit term that refers to the essence or refinement. Rasa involves discerning and revealing the deeper essence, truth or beauty hidden behind what we see, which is ultimately our own nature as the Seer, not merely an external beauty or delight.
At a simple level rasa refers to taste. When we eat good food, for example, there is a taste that we relish in, like the many spices used in Indian cooking. Yet at a deeper level, rasa is the taste in-itself, independent of the object, as originating in our own consciousness as invoked, but not created by the object of enjoyment.
The idea of aesthetic taste, an aspect of rasa, is known in the West. A still life painting in European art, depicting a bowl of fruit upon a table, is not about the culinary properties of the fruit. It is about the relationship of shape and color in the forms that invokes a certain aesthetic delight in the mind, above and beyond any actual taste of the food items.
Hindu thought takes this concept of rasa or delight deeper than the western mind, which usually remains trapped in the intellect and its conceptual patterns. Hindu thought says that behind this essence of beauty that classical western art honors, is a deeper essence of bliss, consciousness and Pure Being. And this ultimate essence is not some mere abstract principle or ideal; it is our own true Self that pervades the entire universe and is not limited by body or mind, birth or death.
Discovering that infinite essence of our being, we experience the ultimate Ananda of being one with all, which allows us to encompass the whole of life without being attached to it or limited by it. This yogic and rishi vision of rasa and Ananda as one’s own true Self or Atman pervading all space (Akasha) is perhaps the secret of India’s boundless creativity.