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Issue XVIII

Elliot Toman

Judean Roots, Judean Fruit

“‘…And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land of thy sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.’”
Genesis 17:8 

“When does one first begin to remember?” begins Winston Churchill’s majestic autobiography, My Early Life. The Jewish people have consistently done so ever since Mosheh told them in D’varim 31:19 to “Now therefore write ye this song [the Torah] for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.” This Mr. Churchill, a dear and life-long friend of the Jews, knew.

Despite colonization, massacre, dispersion, and genocide, the Jews reside today as then in their ancient home, speaking their ancient language, and clinging with heroism and righteousness to their ancient religion. Nearly three and a half millennia have turned to dust since signs and wonders brought them to a land flowing with destiny. The roots planted in the day of Yehoshua’s sword, though neglected for a time, now bloom as the fruits of their fealty.

The tongue which the One who shaped us in the womb used to spread the stars to the farthest ends of space is spoken again throughout the cities of Yehudah. As said Yir’miyahu long before fine, fluted columns graced Hellas, in the streets of Yerushalayim are heard the voices of gladness and joy, the voices of bridegroom and bride. Familiar in their mouths and freshly remembered, the strains of David’s lyre sweeten the air like the scent of olive groves. The eagles’ wings rest and their nests are warmed and full.

The Jewish people are a family, a nation, a land, a book, a story on which the sun never and will never set. For they fear no evil.

Hebrew alphabetic exercise. Iron Age I, c. 12th century B.C.E. Iz’bet Sar’tah. Pottery. 16 x 9 cm. IAA: 1980-1. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
“Isaiah seal,” c. 8th century B.C.E. Clay impression. (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Jug with Hebrew inscription (“[Belonging] to Yehumal”). Iron Age II, c. 8th–7th century B.C.E. Chev’ron area. Pottery. 21 x 13 cm. IAA: 1975-242. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Hebrew letter. Iron Age II, 7th–6th century B.C.E. Arad. Ink on pottery. 6.2 x 4.3 cm. IAA: 1967-669. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Graffito with temple vessels. Herodian period, 1st century B.C.E. Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem. Plaster. 32 x 32 cm. IAA: 1982-1055. (Yoram Lehmann / Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Oil lamp with original wick. 1st century B.C.E.–1st century C.E. Qumran cave, Judean Desert. Pottery. 4.3 x 10 cm. 97.74(147); IAA: 346303-פ.  (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Section from the Great Psalms Scroll (11Q5). c. 30–50 C.E. Qumran Cave 11, Judean Desert. Parchment. (Shai Halevi and Leon Levy / Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library)
Bronze p’rutah of the First Jewish Revolt. April 67–March 68 C.E. Jerusalem. Bronze. Obverse: Amphora with broad rim and two handles; Shenat sh’tayim (“Year 2”). Reverse: Vine leaf on branch; Cherut Tziyon (“[For the] freedom of Zion”). Diameter: 17 mm. Private collection. (Ben Poser / White Rose Magazine)
Letter in Greek from the archive of the lady Babatha. c. 96–134 C.E. Cave of Letters, Judean Desert. Papyrus. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem / Alamy Stock)
Menorah. 6th century C.E. Ein Gedi synagogue. Bronze. 21.5 x 14 cm. IAA: 1970-612. (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Incantation bowl with Hebrew script. c. 1450 C.E. Land of Israel. Ink on pottery. Glass lantern slide. c. 1900. LS2457-A. Collection of David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Histoire universelle depuis le commencement du monde jusqu’à présent, traduite de l’anglois. Bd. 3 (Amsterdam: Arkstée et Merkus, 1771), p. 1. (Alamy Stock)

“‘…Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, whither they are gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land… I will make a covenant of peace with them—it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will establish them, and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in the midst of them for ever.’”
Ezekiel 37:21, 26 

Félix Adrien Bonfils (1831–1885). Jewish men in Jerusalem. c. 1870. Glass lantern slide. LS421. Collection of David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). Torah scroll. 1898. Glass lantern slide. LS809. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
Jews at the Western Wall. c. 1900. Glass lantern slide. LS1440. Collection of David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
Félix Adrien Bonfils (1831–1885). “Jerusalem Jew.” c. 1870. Glass lantern slide. LS3815. Collection of David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
Yemenite Jewish boy learning to read. Jerusalem. c. 1900. Glass lantern slide. LS3866. Collection of David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). Southern view of the Mount of Olives. March 23, 1902. Glass lantern slide. LS298. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). View of the Western Wall from the roof of a synagogue. April 4, 1902. Glass lantern slide. LS327. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). Jewish women and children. T’ver’yah. c. April 1907. Glass lantern slide. LS3924. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). Jewish settlement at Rosh Pinah. Upper Galilee. April 16, 1907. Glass lantern slide. LS1284. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
David Gordon Lyon (1852–1935). Jewish school in Metulah. Northern Israel. April 18, 1907. LS1303. Collection of David Gordon Lyon. (Harvard Museum of the Ancient Near East)
Liselotte Grschebina (1908–1994). Bukharan girl, Jerusalem. 1937. Gelatin silver print. 22.5 × 16.8 cm. B01.0244(0119). (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

“The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.…
Awake, O north wind;
And come, thou south;
Blow upon my garden,
That the spices thereof may flow out.
Let my beloved come into his garden,
And eat his precious fruits.”
Song of Songs 2:12, 4:16 

Flowers glow by the Kineret. July 5, 2010. (Ben Poser)
Prayer before the dawn. Metzadah. July 13, 2010. (Ben Poser)
“Welcome to the Jewish Quarter.” Jerusalem. July 14, 2010. (Ben Poser)
Metzadah, over which the sun shall never fall. c. July 15, 2012. (Ben Poser)

“Should you have been banished to the very sky’s end, your God will gather you again even from there….”
Deuteronomy 30:4


A Light Unto the Nations: Gordon Gallery Opens in NYC

A couple of days after the October 7 massacres in southern Tel Aviv, when I called to ask my Chabad client whether he wanted to delay a meeting we had scheduled, that rabbi replied, “We cannot push off building Jewish life… that’s not how we operate.” It was with much the same sentiment that Amon Yariv stayed true to his timetable for launching in New York the newest outpost of Tel Aviv-based Gordon Gallery, which he’s run since 2004. So, on December 14, 2023, I joined Yariv to celebrate with the opening on the Lower East Side of a wonderful group show of painting and sculpture by Israeli artists.  

Though this is the gallery’s first frontier overseas, at home the Gordon Gallery is long-established—a pioneer in cultivating, representing, and presenting the work of Israel’s most accomplished contemporary artists since its founding in 1966 by Amon’s father Shaya and partner Atal Broida. Its first exhibition space took its name from its location on Gordon Street, but has now expanded to multiple operations in southern Tel Aviv-Yafo and Jerusalem.

From a pocket-sized space on Norfolk Street, light spills out through large glazed doors and transom windows, opening up the interior’s full width to the street, illuminating and enlivening what had been the dim end of the block near Rivington. 

On display for this opening exhibit is a group show of work by four artists, Yaacov Dorchin, Moshe Kupferman, Gilad Efrat, and Alima.

While all four work in an formally abstract milieu, they each have their own distinct sensibility, and with varying degrees of visual complexity, from the minimalist, thinly impastoed Kuperman to the lighthearted, animated graphic gouaches of Alima—working outside of her usual lithographic printing mode, to the densely weighted but lightly balanced iron assemblages of Dorchin.

I got to talk a bit about his process to Gilad Efrat, who was here for the event. His work in oils consist of large but humanly scaled canvases covered with thickly built-up, boldly colored irregular masses that are then smeared, cut, troweled, and shaped. As I guessed from just looking at the collection on show, he works very quickly, and the gestures he makes give the works the scale and immediacy of hand drawings. While certainly non-representational, the patterns of positive/negative, solid/space and volume/line, and the saturated hues, as well as Efrat’s technique of knife-edging the figure/ground compositions, wind up lending a quality of shifting landscape forms, as though seen from an airplane, raising them from mere abstractions and giving them a quasi-figural legibility. On a purely visceral level, though, they are intricately rhythmic, upbeat, even joyful.

Together, they offer a solid, if, by no means, typifying, introduction to the breadth of media, methods, and outlooks of contemporary Israeli fine art. As with any sophisticated curating, the chosen pieces are thoroughly conceived, by artists each with their own substantial body of work, and which sit well together while provided the space necessary to stand on their own. As a group, they also offer a compelling case for Israel-on-the-Hudson without being limited to some provincial level of quality.

While we can be proud of our Israeli brethren’s debut, we can also have the confidence of their international pedigree of appeal. In this period of gratuitous and unmitigated opprobrium across the allegedly enlightened, civilized world merely for wanting to exist, for the world’s only single, tiny Jewish state to redeem even 380 square feet of empty loft space in New York City for the sake of giving access to art is an honor and an inspiration. And perhaps, like the Chabad shaliach’s work, it is just an emissary’s mitzvah.

From the top:
Gordon Gallery, 139 Norfolk Street
Opening night, December 14, 2023
Alima, Untitled (2005), gouache and acrylic on paper, 90 x 70 cm.;
Gilad Efrat, Untitled (2023), oil on canvas, 120 x 150 cm.;
Yaacov Dorchin, Untitled (2023), iron, 20 x 20 x 7 cm.;
Moshe Kupferman, Untitled (1973), oil on canvas, 81 x 100 cm.

Are Communal Leaders Up to Fighting Anti-Semitism?

The worldwide Jewish community is doing all it can to combat anti-Semitism, right? It’s comforting to believe that. It means you can carry on with your day-to-day life, certain in the knowledge our leadership is working flat out on your behalf.

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A Feminist Open Letter Justifies Hamas Rape

There were too many fact-based condemnations of Hamas’s sadistic barbarism on October 7. The left-wing and lesbian feminists could stand it no longer. They finally had to speak out against what they call the “weaponization” of rape by those who dare to oppose Hamas.

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Candace Owens + ‘America First’ anti-Semitism

The threat Candace Owens presents is tangible. She has millions of followers and has decided that her main targets are the Jews. She is a channel for Nick Fuentes and his call for an America First, Christian Nationalist “holy war against Judaism.”

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The Strings of the Divine: Orchestrating the Cosmos

J. Robert Oppenheimer carried a huge fascination for the Indian scripture “Bhagvad Gita.” Looking at the fireball of the explosion of the test nuclear bomb, Trinity, he exclaimed a quote from the book: “Now I am become the Death, the destroyer of worlds.” (Video reference)

J R Oppenheimer reminiscing his quote from Bhagvad Gita: ‘Now I am become the Death’ 

Oppenheimer was not the only scientist of the modern era with a fascination for Indian philosophy. Many scientists who pioneered modern day science were ardent enthusiasts of Vedanta and other aspects of ancient Indian philosophy.

There is a popular text ‘An open letter by Mary Boole to Dr Bose.’ This was written by Mary Boole, wife of George Boole, the famous logician who invented Boolean Algebra. Mary Boole was a prominent logician of her day in her own right.

George Boole, creator of the mathematics of computers

George Boole’s father-in-law, George Everest, had served assignments in Colonial India for a long time. He is credited to have made it to the highest peak in the world known to the rest of the world, which still bears his name. Whenever George Everest went back to England for his vacations, he carried copies of many esoteric works from Hindu scriptures, and George Boole read these with great fervour. Boole also spent a lot of time studying from various scholars in India.

According to Mary Boole, it was the fascination with the non-dual philosophy of India that helped George Boole create the foundation of binary logic, and with his colleagues Augustus de Morgan and Charles Babbage laid the foundation of the entire mathematical framework that gave birth to computers in upcoming decades.

Indian Spirituality – A journey into the Unknown

Indian Spirituality is essentially a journey of exploration – a venture to understand the content, composition, structure, dynamics, intent, and purpose of the Creation. 

That makes Indian spirituality a journey into the Unknown. It acknowledges that not everything can be made Known in a way that fits entirely into our linear, rational thought process. The Unknown also includes the Unknowable – stuff that can be experienced, and understood intuitively but cannot be expressed in our verbal vocabulary.

The Indian scriptures are primarily an articulation of the discoveries of stalwarts of spiritual exploration. These scriptures were never meant to be a book of rules. Rather than asserting “this is the way,” they are an enunciation of “this was my way, and this is how I explain what I found. Now find yours.

This is what made the spiritual content of India extremely scientific. At the dawn of 20th century, when scientific observations seemed to defy every known rational foundation of Science and were squeezing the hell out of the scientists’ brains, the pioneers of Modern Physics turned to Vedanta, the core of Indian spirituality, to arrive at an explanation of the Universe that could make sense.

The Connected Universe

One of the observations that was massively challenging scientists’ tolerance for absurdity was “instantaneous action between particles.” The scientists could not accept that any action on one particle could result in a reaction on its entangled counterpart far way, instantaneously.

This mystery was brilliantly explained by the genius of David Bohm.

David Bohm with J Krishnamurthy

Bohm had been a follower of Indian philosophy, too. His conversations with the spiritual icon, J. Krishnamurthy, captured in the book The Ending of Time, is a masterpiece.

Bohm drew the analogy of a fish in an aquarium. 

Suppose you see videos of two fish projected on two screens. You observe that whenever the first fish turns right, the other fish goes straight. When the first fish goes straight, the other one turns to its sides.

Instantaneous action at a distance between two fish

Trying to explain the instantaneous action of one fish on the other could be mystifying.

However, when we find out that both these images are projections of the same fish, filmed from perpendicular angles, the explanation is obvious.

The two fish images are projections of the same ‘unseen’ fish.

It’s not one fish influencing the other. They are two projections of an underlying “unseen” fish, the entangled particles do not influence each other, but are projected manifestations of an underlying inter-connectedness.

This, the inter-connectedness of everything, is the ultimate essence of the whole of Indian spirituality. Indian spirituality is all about one absolute Consciousness.

We are often quick to seek and make conclusions about the “causality” in the world around us. Probably, every causality around us has roots in a much deeper underlying inter-connected dimension.

The science that evolved in the 20th century rang a death-knell to the extremely solid science that had evolved in the previous few centuries. What appeared solid suddenly turned out to be almost entirely hollow, empty space. “The particle is here” gave way to “The particle may probably be around somewhere here.” All claims of accuracy and precision in measurements were replaced by an inherent uncertainty in the act of measurements itself. 

As if Physics was not creating enough problems, logician Kurt Godel came up with his incompleteness theorem that proved that not all statements which are true can be proven to be true within a given system. 

The entire objectivity and certainty of the material world was shaken at its very foundation.

Indian spirituality has always been based on this foundation of the relative nature of our reality. It has always considered realities as a matter of pure subjective, individual perception and interpretation, each reality being just an individual projection of an absolute truth that is beyond our rational perception.

The following poem is an allegorical and metaphorical depiction of this idea.

The Empress’ Carnival

Languishing in “Her” royal chamber,
I’ve been a guest for so long,
Enjoying her hospitality,
Relishing the pleasures of her surreal world.
She, the conjuror,
Brings up everything I wish for – instantaneously.
From a banquet for the taste buds,
To a feast for all my senses,
Oh, A stimulation of the intellect, too,
And endless goose bumps to my soul.
I make a wish and the Empress has it there, 
At the magical sleight of her hand.

I hum to the music that never stops,
Fixated at those dancers who never pause,
Inebriated by the intoxication all around,
That makes even my walk look like a step of a dance.
All these giant wheels in her carnival,
Those monstrous roller-coaster rides,
The wonder of gradually inching up the slide,
And the chill of the thrill as I go falling down.

Outside this royal chamber, there is another world.
No not one, countless many worlds,
A personal world for every being out there,
Each partaking of their own paradise.
I can just see their shadows,
Cast on the walls of their majestic tent.
Just as they see – not me,
But my silhouette on the walls of my tent.
I spent a lifetime, efforting,
To create the perfect exact image of how I wanted to be seen.
Forgetting – They are not there to look at me,
Nor am I here to be hooked to them.
We are all languishing in our universes,
Partaking of the Empress’ carnival,
Casting a glance, once in a while,
At others’ shadows, as we mount our personal rides.

The Veil of Illusion

A fundamental mystical concept in Indian spiritual tradition is the idea that the world is Maya – an illusion.

It is easy to mock this concept – if everything is an illusion, why can we not walk through walls?

The concept of Maya is beyond any of these misconceived and misconstrued arguments. It is more about a Veil that hides the absolute reality, preventing us from seeing what exactly is, and relegating us to a limited perception of the universe.

Maya, the Illusion is about the discrepancy of what is and what we perceive. The analogy of the reality being veiled signifies that we cannot see reality absolutely as it is, but only an interpreted version of it. This holds equally to the sensory phenomenon as well as our mental constructs. This is equally true of the physical aspect of the world as well as our inner psychological world.

What we perceive through our senses is a shared interpretation. It is the result of the way our neurology processes inputs from around us. Other living beings process the same inputs differently and have a different quality of perception about the universe around us.

It’s exactly the same when we make conclusions about behaviours, intentions, actions of another person.

Our perception of everything around us is laced with meanings, interpretations, judgements, that add layers of structure to what actually exists. Our individual realities are composed of a hierarchy of such structured layers.

We do not share a common reality. We carry our own individual realities, and what we share with others is an intersection of our realities. Each of us is the centre of our own individual reality, and we play a supportive role in other people’s realities. 

When we look at all of this from a strictly matter-based perspective, it may feel spooky. That is what drives some to assert that “faith” should be kept away from “rationality”.

The cosmic view of the Indian spirituality did not have such a dichotomy, because it was always based on the idea of the universe being constituted of “Consciousness” and “Energy” and matter being just a dense approximation of the same. The idea of God itself was a manifestation of these forms of Consciousness and Energy. Hence, the physical world was not separate from God, and faith was not contradictory to rationality.

Welcome to the world of waves and vibrations!

The World of Vibrations

The Indian view perceives the entire universe as constituted of vibrations. Matter is the densest form of this vibration, the vibrations of the lowest frequency of the spectrum, but vibration nevertheless.

Hence, the treatise on these subjects do not get confounded by any wave-particle dualities. Particle, too, is a form of wave.

The notion of the wave- nature of particle is what solves the conundrums of modern science. 

This perception of the universe as vibration is the key to the Science of ‘Mantras’. 

Mantras are not prayers. Mantras are not a call to the almighty for His grace. Mantras are a sequence of sounds that create a certain vibrations on intonation, which resonates with certain vibrations they resonate with to create a desired connection and an intended impact.

The whole of Sanskrit language, alphabet and grammar is a phenomenal expression of the concept of vibrations. 

The Sanskrit Alphabet

The Sanskrit alphabet is not a random mish-mash of randomly arranged letters.

The Sanskrit Alphabet itself is considered as a complete Mantra in itself. The Sanskrit Alphabet is the phonetic representation of all Consciousness – the human consciousness as well as the cosmic consciousness. 

Every language consists of vowels and consonants

Vowels are sounds which can be stretched infinitely. e.g. I could prolong the sound ‘eeeeeeeeeeee’ and elongate this sound forever without a break. Constants are discrete sounds, and require vowels for completion.

A simple representation of vowels in Sanskrit

Vowels in Sanskrit, because of the free-flowing characteristic of their sound, represent Shakti – the primordial Energy, which is also regarded as the feminine aspect of Divine.

In Sanskrit, letters are arranged in a sequence of points inside our vocal system from where sounds originate.

Arrangement of vowels in Sanskrit based on the location at which the sound originates

The sequence of vowels, too, are arranged based on the location of the origin of the sounds. 

Each vowel represents a facet and flow of Shakti, the Divine Feminine Energy and has a very precise impact.

The Consonants in Sanskrit are arranged in a similar schematic way. Consonants, because of their discrete nature, represent Shiva – the primordial Consciousness, which forms the substratum of the entire universe, but requires the support of Shakti, the vowels to have an existence.

Representation of the Sanskrit consonants

 The first 25 consonants are arranged in 5 sets of 5 letters each.

The arrangement of these sets depends on the location from where the sounds emanate. 

e.g. the first set of sounds, that includes letters like ‘k’ as in kite, or ‘ga’ as in ‘gun’ emanate from the throat area.

The other sets progressively move horizontally outward on the tongue, till we reach the last set which contains sounds like ‘pa’ and ‘ba’ which are pronounced entirely from the lips.

Within each set, the point of the source of the sound, moves upwards, the last sound of each set being a nasal sound, e.g. ‘m’. The nasal sounds play the role of prolonging the vibration of the entire word, just like the gonging of a bell.

Each letter carries a distinct vibration and can impact body, mind, spirit, as well as the environment around us in specific ways. 

Sound vs. Meaning

The vocabulary of Sanskrit takes into account that the meaning of words have a correlation with the vibration of the sound of the word. This is what essentially makes Sanskrit a language that does not only communicate with human consciousness, but with the existence in totality. The impact it creates does not only come from its meaning, but through the resonance of vibrations it creates.

The whole of Indian language, art and literature has evolved with this equivalence of sound and meaning, the emphasis being more on the sound than the content.

The Science of Vibration

There is an entire science of study, called the Naad Yoga, which studies the impact of sound vibrations on our body and consciousness as well as the universal and cosmic consciousness. Naad Yoga studies sound for the impact it creates through its frequencies and vibrations, with little regard to the content or meaning involved.

This – Naad Yoga – is the basis of the whole of Indian classical music.

Through this edition of this series on Indian Art+Spirituality, we are taking a few steps closer to the fascinating world of the Indian Classical Music.

Indian Classical Musical – Orchestrating the Cosmos

Music adds another dimension to vibrations – notes. Each note in itself has a distinct vibration, and when combined in a sequence of notes, creates a distinct impact.

The Indian Classical Music is essentially an exploration of the impact of all dimensions of Sound on Human Consciousness. 

The Indian Classical Music is a marvel. It has an existence beyond great music and fantastic lyrics, catchy tunes, haunting melodies or foot-tapping rhythm. It is beyond moods and emotions and thoughts and feelings. 

The Indian Classical Music employs the power of Naad – sound vibrations – in the most fascinating way. The spirituality of Indian Classical Music comes not from the content or lyrics, but the ethereal manner in which the sound is manoeuvred with. Even an instrumental rendition of a Sitar, Flute or Veena, can lead one to deep states of trance.

There are many folk-lore that describe how singers in the past have achieved feats like causing rain, stopping torrents, lighting up lamps, attracting and taming wild animals, etc. through a rendition of certain ragas (musical scales). While these do seem far-fetched, an understanding of the vibrational nature of the universe, does indicate a hint of what appropriate vibrations could do to the universal as well as human consciousness. 

While no musician of this era may be able to light a lamp through her singing, the impact of Indian classical music as an element of therapy causing real physical changes in our physiology is sufficiently documented. 

In the previous editions of this series, we looked at the role of gods and goddesses in Indian spirituality and we explored many art forms that draw inspiration from these personified forms of Consciousness. 

We are now ready to move beyond those and explore the meta-theological aspects of Indian spirituality.

In this edition, we have gradually worked our way to arrive at a point where we understand why and how could vibrations be so potent in shaping up our reality. With this background, in our upcoming editions, we will delve into the amazing world of ragas and the whole mystical and enigmatic world the ragas create for us. 

In fact, the Indian Classical Music is a means for orchestrating the cosmos!

The 10/7 Feminist Silence

I did not hear these pro-Hamas marchers, especially the lesbian, “queer,” and feminist ones, calling for an end to rape, woman-battering, or the persecution of homosexuals and “queers” in Gaza. I saw no signs that condemned honor killing or polygamy. No one called for reproductive freedom for American women or for an Equal Rights Amendment.

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Undercover with Liberated Ethnic Studies

Liberated Ethnic Studies activists are well connected, highly organized, and deeply committed to establishing a radical pedagogy that seeks to undermine the liberal order by using our public school system as a vehicle to normalize their ideology.

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White Rose: The Musical

A new theatrical production devoted to telling the story of the White Rose—from their inception to their demise—has come to Theatre Row on 42nd Street in New York City for a 12-week run.

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Am Yisrael: Jews are from Judea

Jews should de-colonize and re-indigenize both their rhetoric and minds. They should understand that identity matters; and that how they identify themselves matters.

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Judeans: Faith + Ethnicity

It is often ignored that Jerusalem is also the national ethnic center of the Jewish people. Whereas Christianity and Islam’s attachments to Jerusalem are only religious, there is a dual Jewish religious and national-ethnic attachment to the city. Jerusalem has been the national capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and continues to serve as the capital of the modern State of Israel.

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Judean Ethnicity: The DNA Evidence

Genetics has proven that modern Jewish populations carry their Israelite ancestors’ ancient Middle Eastern DNA.

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The Eternal Jew

A poem by Darren Glick

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Jewish Assimilation Never Works

Jews, put bluntly, are not in need of the nations’ failed ideas. This is to say that Judaism, while open-minded and welcoming, is an entity unto itself, and does not require fundamental transformation.

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Judean Ethnicity: Rooted in Torah + History

What do they have in common? Though they live in far-flung countries all over the world, they share common ancestry with the ancient Israelites. Though they may speak different languages, they all share the Hebrew language.

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Ethnicity But Not Ethnocentric

to be a Jew goes beyond just your DNA. While no Jew can ever stop being a Jew according to our tradition and Jewish law, there are some basic minimums each Jew must uphold to be considered a Jew who is still part of the community.

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In the Image of a Hand

My mother told me that the Jewish people are like a hand because I asked her why she was crying. “You see my hand,” she said. “If I cut one of my fingers, where do you feel the pain?” I must have said, “the entire hand,” because this is when she told me that the Jewish people are like one hand; that if the Jewish people are hurting in Israel, we hurt everywhere.

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My Name is Judea: The Story of a People + a Girl

This is a story about Judea, a girl who faces bullying in school by a group of kids who purposefully call her not by her given name. The more that Judea tries to show to the students that her name is Judea, the more proof she brings, the bullying increases.

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Video: Halleluya

In honor of my Grandfather Stephan Igra and his brothers and sisters. Each of them deserve recognition and respect for their actions during the war in Warsaw. Where they “lived” outside of the Ghetto. I say “lived” because it’s nothing we can ever imagine. Some were in hiding being shuffled to different safe houses, others were fighting for the underground. I say Thank you and Halleluyah…for I am because of you!

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The Canvas of The Divine

In Conversation with Lakshmi Ambady

How often have you looked up at the skies and wondered at a majestic mountain, an archaic dinosaur, or bunny rabbits running around up in the sky?

While we may often be bemused by the shapes and formations up there, and we may even get into an argument with a friend as to whether what we see is a grazing cow or a racing horse, the clouds themselves are totally ignorant about how they look to us. They just sail through the wind with absolutely no idea of whether they present an admirable form to the humans below or an appalling one.

It is us, humans, who project these forms to those clouds as per our inclination and temperament.

The entire creation, the whole universe, the cosmos in totality, just gushes through as a flow of the divine. Neither does the sun paint the skies with awe-inspiring hues at sunrise or sunset, nor do the clouds and rains have any intent to play spoilsport to our beach parties and world cup finals.

We are the ones sitting by the side of the stream, interpreting all waves, currents, and eddies being formed in the flow. The stream, on its own, neither has an intent to float our boats to our destinations, nor to drown us by its turbulence.

Different individuals may interpret this painting by Lakshmi Ambady differently, depending on the context available to them.

However, no Indian would have any ambiguity in identifying this painting as representing Shiva. 

What does an art work like the painting shown above add to something that has a well-defined iconography?

The Power of Blur

Formless is where all possibilities of creation exit. In the realm of formless, anything and everything is possible.

At this level, there is no manifestation. It is like the lump of clay which could be sculpted whichever way you want, but there’s no sculpture yet.

Form is the last step in the process of manifestation. Form emerges when manifestation is complete, and there is little possibility of anything else to show up.

Quantum Mechanics refers to this as the ‘collapse of the wave function.’

Traditional Representation of Shiva 

A picture depicting the concrete form of Shiva describes details every aspect of what Shiva stands for. The crescent moon, the snake around the neck, the trident—all have a well-defined significance. 

There is very little to imagine and project other than what is depicted in a photograph.

“Shiva” by Lakshmi Ambady

 An art work is open to interpretation, and could mean different, often contrasting things to viewers.

The smudge could refer to the essential formlessness of Shiva as embodiment of Pure consciousness, his ineffability, his omnipresence and effervescence, or his association with ‘dissolution.’

Dissolution – the Essence of Creation

In Indian philosophy, creation and dissolution go hand in hand. 

Creation is the process that brings sub-atomic particles into a combination that creates forms. 

There is a complete hierarchical structure to our reality. The physical form is the starting point, but that alone doesn’t constitute our reality. Beyond the static form are dynamic events.

A hand colliding with a cheek is an event. A pain response triggered by it makes it a little more significant.

However, it is when we interpret it as an assault on our dignity and self-respect, that it comes alive as an act of “slapping.”

Dissolution is not the same as destruction.

Dissolution is the process of the peeling away of the layers of our reality. It is the gradual blurring of the form into a state of formlessness where new creation is possible.

It starts with the shredding of our stories and interpretations and dissolving our emotional reactions. This allows us to view the elements of our reality beyond our personal traumas and sufferings, as objective building blocks, which, like free radicals that can then be re-assembled in new ways to create an entirely new reality. 

Lakshmi Ambady and her ‘Place of Dissolution’

In this edition, we explore the finer intricacies of Indian art and spirituality through the paintings and poetry of Lakshmi Ambady, an artist based out of Bangalore. Through a strong social media presence, she has a global following of her art. Many of her art works end up getting tens of millions of views.

Lakshmi’s paintings are reflection of a deep immersion and devotion. She picks up simple themes and creates works of art that reflect simple elements of composition, but ring a deep resonance, especially with those who understand the context of Indian spirituality well. 

Her artwork, like her persona, has a simplicity laced with amazing depth, grace, elegance, and aesthetics.

She uses Layasthana as her artist name. Literally, it means the place for dissolution.

Anyone attuned to Indian philosophy knows this is synonymous with the place for creation.

Form vs. Formlessness

Form, once recognized and seen, cannot be un-recognized or un-seen.

The Indian seers knew that Existence is infinite in nature. The moment we scoop out a spoonful of the Universe, we’ve acknowledged we are looking at a finite segment of Existence which is bound to be limited.

Hence, there are no ‘absolutes’ in Indian thought. The key point is not ‘which is the right interpretation,’ but ‘which interpretation resonates with us the most.’

‘Krishna’ by Lakshmi Ambady 

To anyone familiar with Krishna, this painting represents Krishna. The painting depicts two hands holding a flute, with no portrayal of a body or a face. 

It depicts the infiniteness of Krishna. It shows Krishna as the one who is ONE with the entire cosmos.

There are two ways to infinity.

The popular way of depicting infinity is through largeness and expansion. Any mathematician would tell you that infinity is NOT ‘extremely large or expanded finiteness.’ A number, howsoever large, is finite.

Mathematicians define infinity as that which remains unchanged even when anything is added to it or subtracted from it. 

That’s how one of the prominent Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, defines the Divine: 

This is perfect and whole. That is perfect and whole. When anything is taken away from the whole, what remains is the whole.

Infinity is not about quantitative expansion, but a paradigm shift.

In the above art work, Lakshmi arrives at the idea of Krishna’s cosmic form not through an expansion of the form, but through dissolution of the form and a merging with the cosmos. 

It is not two hands playing the flute, but the entire cosmos enchanting us with its surreal melody.

Grasping the Formless

The Divine is essentially formless, but it is impossible to depict ‘formlessness.’

Some cultures approach this dilemma by prohibiting any depiction of the form of Divine.

Indian spirituality goes the other way—it provides complete freedom to depict Divine.

The complexity of representing the formless provides for the creation of a rich cultural heritage seamlessly intertwined with spiritual content.

“Shoonya” by Lakshmi Ambady 

This painting by Lakshmi is titled Shoonya – the emptiness. 

Emptiness signifies something that doesn’t exist. How could a painting capture something that does not exist? Something can only be depicted in terms of something else that exists.

Lakshmi depicts the zero or the emptiness by relating it to galaxies, planets, stars, even us – everything is born out of that nothingness and crumbles back to it.

This has a resemblance to the Indian concept of the indistinguishably of the Creator from the Creation. While the Creator, in His formless existence is beyond the grasp of our minds and senses, we can perceive and grasp the Creation, that explodes out of the Creator and would eventually implode and subside back to Him.

The Canvas of the Divine

What exactly is as an art?

Not every movement can be classified as dance, not all collection of notes a tune, nor every splash of color or pretty picture be called an artwork.

What characterizes an art? 

When does a creation become worthy of being classified as a piece of art?

What distinguishes a masterpiece painting from a pretty photograph?

Art is characterized by distinct intellectual and emotional stimulation.

It is just about feeling great or evoking happy emotions. It is not about whether you like what you see.

A deep art work often evokes a myriad of complex, and often contrasting emotions and thoughts. 

Lakshmi calls this painting The Mind. It reflects the different levels of mind – the visible and conspicuous parts of the mind that grab all spotlight, as well as those invisible silhouettes – the subconscious – that drives everything, as well as the unconscious – that control our personalities. 

There are elements in the painting that you may not care to mention if you were to describe this painting, but they silently and subtly add to the overall composition of the painting to provide it the vibes it emanates.

When we describe a person, including ourselves, we describe conspicuous and tangible elements, but the real persona is shaped by the intangible – the subconscious and the unconscious.

Apart from this intellectual dimension, the painting has an emotional content that is open to the interpretation. 

Does this reflect a grim and sordid lonely night, or does it reflect infinite peace and stillness? 

Is it about someone hiding away from the sufferings of the world, mourning his loneliness, or feeling complete in this natural splendour?

Does the individual in the painting want to disappear in the darkness because life is a grind and has nowhere else to go, or does he simply want to melt away in the darkness and disappear into the oneness of this spectacle?

Another depiction of the full moon by Lakshmi includes the iconic characters of Indian culture, Krishna and his divine consort, Radha.

The image represents much more than beautiful moon or two lovers lost in romance. 

The ineffability of an art-work leads to a state of immersive silence and stillness, which is a form of dissolution too.

An embodiment of total surrender

This painting, my favourite from Lakshmi’s creations, sums up all points discussed.

In this painting, you see the glitters of the jewelry, but even without a clear-cut outline, one can identify the form of the Goddess in this painting. 

The painting indicates the Goddess’ oneness with the entire cosmos – essentially formless and unmanifest, but her presence shines forth in our lives that assures us of her presence, showing us the way all along.

Lakshmi complements the painting with a poem – 

What a fine mistake it was
To allow Her to preside this throne I made.
She’s seeped into every pore of my life,
With a demeanour I’ve never felt.

She’s taken the liberty to drive my time
And take me to places I have never been.
I choicelessly am being chaperoned,
Through spaces now with no particular intent.

The poem represents the intricacies of how a devotee looks up to the divine. 

Lakshmi doesn’t say the goddess takes her to the best of the best of places. She says the goddess takes her to places she has never been

A devotee doesn’t look at the divine as a wish-fulfilling-tree or a cash-cow.

The devotee is willing to go with the divine on a hitch-hiking trip of the cosmos, exploring the mysteries of the universe and the mysteries of her own existence.

Lakshmi’s poetry book,  Moon, Snakes, Love has poems elucidating her spiritual insights with great precision.

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The poetry of Lakshmi Ambady is a verbal equivalent of her paintings. She presents her poems as an intricate visual narrative.

In the poem shared below, she describes how a spiritual aspirant prepares herself for her spiritual journey, which includes emptying herself of everything that is ‘hers’ to create space for the divine which not only immerses her with divinity, but transforms her beyond recognition.

Preparation

Pages of conceit, she burns,
Before she steps in.
She deserts it all
To make room for him.
Slivers of vanity,
She leaves behind-
Everything that shan’t allow 
To seep him in.

All she carrier with her
Is unbending readiness
And devotion,
Her companion, constant.
And when she steps out,
She indeed, never would.
But what you knew of her,
Shall be a memory, so distant.

This takes the proverbial emptying of one’s cup a step ahead to completely destroying the cup, so that the divine could create its golden chalice within us, and fill it to the brim with its intoxicating bliss.

Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/layasthana

Layasthana Website: https://www.layasthana.com

In this brief conversation, we explore the state of Consciousness that Lakshmi brings to her art – paintings and poetry.

NS : Your social media handles identify you as ‘Layasthana.’ What does it mean? 

LA: Layasthana is a term that originates from Sanskrit, a classical language of India. In Sanskrit, Laya refers to dissolution or absorption, and sthana means place or position

Therefore, Layasthana can be interpreted to mean the place or state of dissolution or absorption, often used in the context of spiritual or philosophical discussions. In every spiritual pursuit, the ultimate goal is achieving moksha or liberation, signifying merging with the ultimate reality. This entails “dissolving” into a state of the divine. 

My artist name, “Layasthana,” aptly reflects this concept. I’ve chosen art as a means to dissolve boundaries and enable others to experience, even momentarily, a sense of dissolution when engaging with my artwork.

NS : All of your art – paintings and poetry – reflect deep devotion and surrender. They indicate how you have let gone of all oars and are floating through life in the flow of divine. 

How would you describe this state of consciousness so immersed in devotion and surrender?

LA: That’s a very beautiful question. Before addressing that though, let me talk about the essence of devotion. A devotee, fundamentally, is an individual who has set themselves aside. It’s akin to a love-affair but the only difference is that here a reciprocation isn’t expected. Referred to as Bhakti Yoga, it stands as a path of spiritual dedication centred on profound love, fervour, and surrender to a higher dimension. When one is overwhelmed by something or someone, a natural inclination toward devoutness ensues. 

A devotee comprehends realms that may be beyond our conception. They can grasp concepts that we might struggle with because there’s less of “themselves”. There’s very little room for transcendent experiences, when one is too full of themselves.

In this specific poem, when I expressed allowing the goddess to permeate the essence of my existence, I meant that I was profoundly moved by her presence, yielding space for her dominance in my life. What we identify as a deity is essentially an elevated form of intelligence. Therefore, by yielding control to her, I implied that my life is now guided by this superior intelligence. 

If indeed it is superior, wouldn’t I inherently trust it to lead me away from distress? Even if it does lead to hardship, shouldn’t I have faith that it’s solely for my personal development and growth?

3. Why do you create art? How do you create art?

LA: The primary motivation behind people engaging in art, music, or poetry is often to “express” themselves. Many of these expressions emerge from their repressions and tend to be compulsive and unconscious. We know that any form of expression carries a particular vibrancy of energy, and its strength or weakness largely depends on the artist creating it. 

This is an experiment worth attempting: consistently engage with a piece of music that carries intense pain and desolation for a week. You will gradually observe how this energy starts to overlay onto your life, seeping into your daily activities and influencing your overall energy levels.

Now imagine the kind of art and music individuals devoid of genuine joy and exuberance are producing in the world?

However, in Eastern philosophies, the priority was to first establish oneself in yoga or inner equilibrium before engaging in outside actions. “Yogasthah Kuru Karmani” means, first establish your way of being – then act. In essence, when you establish an internal balance, the compulsive urge to express diminishes. You can then choose to express because you genuinely wish to, and when others witness such an expression, it brings them immense joy.

Here, I want to stress the responsibility that artists carry. I personally refrain from creating artwork when I’m disturbed because inevitably, that emotional state would seep into the art, providing an unpleasant experience for viewers. I see the act of painting or writing poetry itself as a form of sadhana. 

Sadhana serves as a “tool” crafted to facilitate the evolution of one’s consciousness. Therefore, when I engage in painting, I often disconnect from the world and my thoughts, allowing it to become a spontaneous outpouring.

Lately, my artworks have evolved from simple expressions to explorations. Whenever I encounter a new concept or deity in my textual readings that I’m unfamiliar with, I delve into research. Subsequently, I attempt to depict it visually through painting. Thus, the majority of my recent pieces revolve around my self-education about the diverse facets of Hinduism, embracing and being awed by the vast spectrum of knowledge it holds.

NS: A lot of your poems in your poetry book “Moon, Snakes and Love” talk about emptying, silence, stillness, thoughts dying out. Is this a denial of this human existence?

Is this existence just a wait-over to meet divine? Does it have no significant on its own?

LA: What you refer to as “Shiva” embodies the ultimate representation of dynamic action and serene stillness—a profound state to exist in. Stillness, in this context, doesn’t imply immobility or a lack of contribution to the world. On the contrary, actions stemming from inner tranquillity yield conscious and responsible actions and not those that are compulsive. The issue lies in our prolonged emphasis on the significance of our thoughts and mind, which, in comparison to the vastness of the universe, is rather minuscule. 

As one begins to detach from the mind through meditation, the inherent stillness of existence becomes apparent, as the essence of existence is stillness. When you taste even a fragment of stillness, suddenly, your life radiates exuberant intensity and you begin to live differently.

The question of existence being distinct or detached from divinity won’t emerge when one perceives the interwoven nature of all life-forms and the splendour of life’s intelligence. The notion that human existence exists on its “own” doesn’t truly surface when the interconnectedness and magnificence of life become apparent. In essence, everything is energy, just throbbing in varying levels. What you call “divine” is just another vibration of this energy.

NS: A lot of your paintings have a kind of blur which to me as represent an honest attempt to represent energy and consciousness, which do not inherently have a form.

How do you look at your own paintings? What do you often try to communicate through your paintings?

LA: In Indian aesthetics and spiritual philosophy, there is a mood called “Ananda Rasa” which literally translates to the “juice of bliss”. Ananda Rasa specifically embodies the sensation of joy, bliss, or divine ecstasy evoked through artistic expression, emphasizing the idea of transcending ordinary emotions to experience a heightened sense of joy or divine bliss through the appreciation of art and aesthetics. 

Any form of art – poetry, music, theatre, dance aims to create this moment of non-bridging of mind and body in the audience. This is essentially what meditation is – to move towards a no-mind. Which means that the one of the major impediments to experiencing bliss, is the mind. In other words, if one can create art from a no-mind, it can evoke a feeling of bliss in the artist and the audience, however momentary it is. Then art becomes meditative. Then art has the power to transform and inspire.

Gurdjieff, a spiritual leader and mystic from the 20th century categorises art into two – subjective and objective. The modern art he calls subjective art. The ancient art — the real art — the people who made the pyramids, the people who made the Taj Mahal, the people who made the caves of Ajanta and Ellora, they were of a totally different kind. He calls that art objective art. Objective art means something that helps you to become centered, that helps you to become healthy and whole. This art will be just a device for your inner growth, for maturity.

He is saying the same thing using a different language. 

Every day, I receive messages from individuals expressing how some of these artwork serves as a temporary escape from their thoughts. It wouldn’t be accurate to claim that I deliberately create these moments for them, as I lack a specific technique. However, it’s not accidental either. All I know is how to keep my mind aside while I create a piece. Naturally then, it carries the possibility to create an “Ananda Rasa” in the audience.


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