Spelling Thusness

It was one of the poet Arthur Rimbaud’s most inspired ideas to formulate a system where vowels were associated with colours – “A Black, E white, I red, U green, O blue”. The basics of such systems of correspondences are quite familiar to modern occultists, as there must be at least a dozen books dedicated to such tables of correspondences alone. What I find mostly lacking, though, is the poetic fancy to bring these lists alive.

In Rimbaud, however, we find no such lack.

From the blackness of “A” Rimbaud conjures up an image of jacket made of flies, held together, it seems, by a variety of foul stenches, or “Gulfs of shadow”. And from his blue “O” he lets out an uncanny sound of that noisome instrument, the trumpet, only to introduce us in his next sentence to a plurality of silences, “crossed by Worlds and Angels”. And so forth.

With his wild variety of seership, Rimbaud manages, I think, to express something of the inexpressible. He seems to find some queer angle through which he is able to cause a response from the very thusness of a vowel. Now, it is not the essential meaning of the thing that he teases out. Rather than that, he seems to harass a vowel’s thusness, until the very power of that thusness causes a verbal shockwave to explode. And how immense is the power of a thusness! It is almost as if Rimbaud touches the core of the vowel, and with a dirty fingernail splits an atom therein.

Now what are vowels, unless the very building blocks of our minds and our experiences – our Angels and our Worlds. How much more subtle, and how much more powerful, then, is the thusness of a vowel? So much so, that the quest for it cannot be confined to modern poetry, but it must be a spiritual quest.

What, then, could be for us a good example of a spiritual quest? Buddhism, in all her different forms, could be described as a spiritual quest. And certainly, at least in her most sober core, Kabbalah is a spiritual quest. So let us look for a short path – a left-hand path – to thusness in these two noble quests, by simply looking closely at the meanings of the word “thus” in both traditions respectively. If Rimbaud found it in a wovel, could we not discover at least something of it in a whole word?

It is said that every Buddhist Sutra begins with the words “Thus have I heard…” (Evam maya srutam…) Now, the unsuspecting reader might think this is just a customary way to begin a story, not unlike our “Once upon a time there was…” The first, and perhaps the most obvious meaning of these words is, that the Sutras were heard from the mouth of the Gautama Buddha by the ear of his faithful cousin Ananda. But as we are dealing with a genuine holy writ, we are actually plunged into fathomless depths of meaning from the very first word: “Thus”, or, in Sanskrit, “Evam”.

The word is composed of two sacred syllables, the E and the VAM. This word, evam, is called The Casket of Buddha-Gems, and in it are united all the Buddhas and all the Dakinis, expressing the essence of all the Sutras and all the Tantras. This means that in the word “thus” are united the syllable E, which is the Bhaga, that is, the Kteis; and the syllable VAM, which is Kulisa, that is, the Phallus. And again, E is the wisdom of female emptiness, and VAM is the compassion of the masculine principle of the skillful means. To quote the Vajra Garland:

E is emptiness it is taught
Likewise, VAM is compassion.
The bindu results from their union.
This union is the supreme marvel
Embracing the 84,000 dharma teachings.
In short, it is the seal of the dharma.

This sort of elaborate world of meanings unfolding from such a simple and unsuspected word as “thus” is not an exception. This same word, “thus”, when used in the Hebrew Scriptures, is actually even more pregnant with meanings. These meanings are dealt with in depth by the 11th century kabbalist Rabbi Joseph Gikatilla in his masterful treatise “The Gates of Light” (Sha’are Orah).

Here the word “thus” or koh is understood as a formula for an aspect and an attribute of God. Koh is called the Gate of Prayers, through which death, sickness and barrenness are transformed into life, mercy and fruitfulness. Koh is blessing received from the highest spiritual source of Kether, the highest sephira.

When God in Genesis 5:15 took Abraham outside at night and invited him to count the stars if he could, God made an obvious comparison between the countless number of the stars and the numerous people to whom Abraham would become the venerable founding father. But when God pronounces “Thus (koh) will be your offspring”, we find out from Rabbi Gikatilla that the word koh opens much deeper vistas from His words than a mere prophecy.

We are told that the sentence is practically an empowerment, and by koh is meant a divine attribute of the Kether Elyon, that is, the source of the movement of the wandering stars. And by this divine attribute, which Abraham shall pass on to his offspring, he should be able to enter the “source of all sources” – the sublimity of the Thusness. This experience is described as a profoundly healing one.

The idea that koh is the way to the source of movement in the Universe,  corresponds with the Tantric meaning of the Sanskrit word evam. For it is the interplay of the E and the VAM, the female and the male principles, that is the source of vibration that animates the Universe, or makes everything move, so to speak.

Although we have only scratched the surface of much deep contemplation on the words evam and koh, we leave off the spiritual quest for now, and return to the poetic one. In the end it is this very interplay of the subtlety of thusness and the robust vitality of the manifest form that makes poetry so terribly alive. When one is really aware of this constant vibration in seemingly static things, even the sight of a blank page can become almost unbearably energizing experience; one letter is like a chariot of fire; one word like a rain of mountains from the sky; one sentence like hearing the footsteps of God in a garden of speaking serpents.