The Still Point of the World

T.S.Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton begins with

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

It echoes those lines from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse where Siddhartha asks the ferryman Vasudeva, “Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?”

Here is what happens next.

A bright smile spread over Vasudeva’s face.

“Yes, Siddhartha,” he said. “Is this what you mean? That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past, nor the shadow of the future?”

“That is it,” said Siddhartha, “and when I learned that, I reviewed my life and it was also a river, and Siddhartha the boy, Siddhartha the mature man and Siddhartha the old man, were only separated by shadows, not through reality. Siddhartha’s previous lives were also not in the past, and his death and his return to Brahma are not in the future. Nothing was, nothing will be, everything has reality and presence.”

Siddhartha spoke with delight. This discovery had made him very happy. Was then not all sorrow in time, all self-torment and fear in time? Were not all difficulties and evil in the world conquered as soon as one conquered time, as soon as one dispelled time?

Getting back to Eliot’s poem

What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

Later on, the poem continues with its mystical theme:

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards: at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

That reminds me of the words of a song called The Dance by the rock group called Uriah Heep which ends with the words, “You become the dancer, and you become the dance the dancer dances.”

Of course, in Hindu mythology, the King of the Dancers is Shiva as the Nataraja. As Nataraja, Shiva dances the Tandava which brings the Universe into existence and then dances it out of existence.

One thought on “The Still Point of the World

  1. That’s an interesting idea. I’ve seen similar views expressed in other texts, including the Bhagavad Gita and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. (Funny how these things show up where you least expect them.)

    Mourn not for those that live, nor those that die.
    Nor I, nor thou, nor any one of these,
    Ever was not, nor ever will not be,
    For ever and for ever afterwards.
    All, that doth live, lives always!


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