Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Connective and Substitutive Thinking

Speaking of Correspondence and Connections, no one has given a better description than Roberto Calasso in the final chapter of the book Ardor. He describes the sacrifice of Soma and describes King Soma arriving with his retinue. The retinue is made of poetic meters (chandas) and the footprint of the cow described in the mantra is speech or vac. These sound silly, meaningless flights of fancy, “meaningless hallucinations” to the secularist and modern ethnographers. “Not so” says Calasso.

Calasso discusses two kinds of thought processes. One is what he calls connective thoughts. The other is substitutive thoughts. Connective thoughts are about continuities and similarities and are based on analogy. Substitutive thoughts are about discrete parts, gestures in rituals and events. Vedic rituals including sacrifices are about resemblance and similarities. They connect the humans with the invisible through symbols and gestures.

 The word symbol itself is not the correct translation of the word used in Sanskrit, because there is no appropriate word in English – just as there is no correct word in English to correspond to the words dharma  (universal process of establishing order, but translated as morals and ethics) and vigraha (that which cannot be contained, but translated as idol).

The word symbol stands for what is called bandhu (that which connects), sampad (equalization of similar things or concordance) in Sanskrit. These Sanskrit words are used in prescribing various rituals in sacrifice as suggestive of similarities between two elements such as agni and gold or corresponding elements in the celestial sphere (moon and Soma) and in this world (mind).

In ancient times, people thought that earthly events were influenced by celestial beings and events and that every earthly object and event had a celestial counterpart. For example, myths in Hinduism relate the milky way and the constellations to earthly events and Vedic rituals. For example, the seven rishis and seven sisters of mythology probably correspond to the constellations Saptarishi mandala (Ursa Major in the West) and Seven sisters(Pleiades in the West). The seven steps ceremony in Hindu weddings is a corresponding and connecting act in individual life.

Sacrifices are meant to connect humans with the invisible, using impermanent things to connect with the permanent. They require detachment from our own possessions (na mama, is the mantra meaning “this is not mine”) and destruction (of a plant or an animal). In the process the gestures and rituals are meant to recognize the correspondence between discrete items on this earth and the Completeness of the universe.

1 comment:

Krishnan said...

The rituals connect us to the spiritual by these gestures, just as in classical dance the pose/Mudhra convey a significant aspect of the unfolding story or fable.
Very interesting to know these things in this context.