A philosophical framework for everything you love
A 4 minute read
Today’s post is a linguistic one, about the word sringara. That may not mean much to you now, but hopefully I can explain why this word is what I - and perhaps you - have been seeking for a long, long time.
If you look it up in a Sanskrit dictionary, most likely you’ll see the translation “love”. But like most direct translations, especially from Sanskrit, the translation touches on the truth of the matter while falling far short. The idea of sringara is less love, and more everything that inspires that feeling.
A bit of history: there exists in India a sastra - a manuscript - on the performing arts, called the Natya Sastra. It is the world’s first comprehensive treatise on the performing arts, and it explains a system of nine emotions, known as rasas, which still define the arts in India today. A rasa, poorly translated again as “taste” or “emotion” according to our useless Sanskrit dictionary, is actually the defining emotional object of a play or performance. What is it that a performer wants the audience to feel? What emotional flavour does the performer want the audience to savour?
The selected rasa then becomes an unseen director for the piece, guiding the set, the scenery, the dialogues. If the chosen rasa for the performance is sringara, then should the balcony in the scene have flowers on it? Presumably so. And if so, what flowers?
Sringara is the Bollywood framework par excellence. When the boy and girl cavort in the meadow, how is it that the audience do not get bored, thinking “we’ve seen this before”? Of course they have, but that is the beauty of sringara - the job of entertainment is to lead us to an emotional state that we already know. And the state of sringara is the heighest of all.
But sringara is much more than just romantic love. According to Tantric mystical practice, sringara is every state in which something new is created. Think about that for a moment: of course, romantic love - in the best or worst instances, depending on how you look at it - leads to the creation of new life. It certainly leads to the creation of new energy and desire, no matter what results. But sringara is also the state of inspiration, which psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihaly calls ‘flow’. It is the essence of innovation, that buzzword which the corporate world is falling over itself to understand. Sringara is that creative state of making something out of nothing, which every artist knows and tries desperately to recreate each day. Sringara is the state in which new ideas flow out of you effortlessly: sringara is quite simply being ‘in the zone’.
Czikszentmihaly on what makes life worth living
In Tantra, sringara is not just another emotion, but the summit of all human states. And so, anything that can lead to sringara - meditation, art, physical practice, meaningful interaction with another person - has equal value as spiritual practice. Some people prefer to pray, others to sing or dance or write - whatever it is that you do, as long as it leads you to sringara, you are on the right path.
Sringara is not content, cat-on-the-sofa happiness. It is not wellbeing, and balance, and all of those things that are sometimes said to be an ultimate goal. It is the feeling of magic, that you are growing as an individual, that the world is changing around you, and you are the force behind it.