"The Sacred & the Profane" by Roger Caillois / by Romain Vennekens

 Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Namo Gorge, Langmusi, Gansu Province, China

Every religious conception of the universe implies a distinction between the sacred and the profane and is opposed to the world in which the believer freely attends to his busi­ness and engages in activity heedless of his salvation. The do­main of the sacred is one in which he is paralyzed in tum by fear and by hope-a world in which, as at the edge of an abyss, the least misstep, the least movement can doom him irrevo­cably. To be sure, such a distinction is not always sufficient to define the phenomenon of religion, but at least it supplies a touchstone enabling us to recognize it with greater certainty. In effect, whatever definition is proposed for religion, it is re­markable how this opposition between the sacred and the pro­fane is involved in it, even though not coinciding with it purely and simply. For a long time now, by logical inference or direct verification, it has been observed that religious man is, above all, one for whom two complementary universes exist—one, in which he can act without anxiety or trepida­tion, but in which his actions only involve his superficial self; the other, in which a feeling of deep dependency controls, contains, and directs each of his drives, and to which he is com­mitted unreservedly. These two worlds, the sacred and the profane, are rigorously defined only in relation to each other. They are mutually exclusive and contradictory. It is useless to try eliminating this contradiction. This opposition appears to be a genuinely intuitive concept. We can describe it, ana­lyze it into its elements, and theorize about it. But it is no more within the power of abstract language to define its unique quality than to define a sensation. Thus the sacred seems like a category of feeling. In truth, that is the level on which religious attitudes exist and which gives them their special character. A feeling of special reverence imbues the believer, which fortifies his faith against critical inquiry, makes it immune to discussion, and places it outside and be­yond reason. “It is the basic idea of religion,” writes H. Hubert. “Myths and dogmas characteristically comprise its content, ritual re­flects its qualities, religious ethics derives from it, priesthoods embody it, sanctuaries, holy places and religious monuments enshrine it and enroot it. Religion is the administration of the sacred.” We couldn’t stress more forcefully the points at which the experience of the sacred animates all the various manifesta­tions of the religious way of life. This latter is, in effect, the sum total of man’s relationships with the sacred. Creeds reveal and assure permanence to these relationships. Rites are the means of proving them in practice.
— Roger Caillois, Man and the Sacred

Picture : Tibetan Buddhism