PASS ME THE SALT

I came upon this wonderful story from the ancient texts of the Hindus, The Upanishads, that got me thinking about how we far-flung faiths have so many streams crossing each other, while celebrating the unique rivers of thoughts that flow from their own spring:

“A young man called Sretaketu has studied the Vedas for twelve years and was rather full of himself.  His father, Uddalaka, asked him a question which he was unable to answer, and then proceeded to teach him a lesson about the fundamental truth of which he was entirely ignorant.  He told his son to put a piece of salt into water and report back to him the following morning.  When his father asked him to produce the salt, Sretaketu could not find it because it had completely dissolved.  Uddalaka began to question him:

 ‘Would you please sip it at this end?  What is it like?’, He said.  ‘Salt.’

“Sip it in the middle.  What is it like?’ ‘Salt.’

‘Sip it at the far end.  What is it like?’  ‘Salt.

‘Throw it away and then come to me.’ 

He did as he was told but that did not stop the salt from remaining the same. 

His father said to him, ‘My dear child, it is true that you cannot perceive Being here, but it is equally true that it is here.  This first essence-the whole universe has as its Self: That is the Real: That is the Self”: that you are, Sretaketu!'” 

“Thus, even though we cannot see it, Brahman pervades the world and as Atman, is found eternally within each one of us.” (Juan Mascaro’s translation, VI of The Chandogya Upanishad).

  The element salt has many used to illustrate well known spiritual parables in our Judeo-Christian traditions as well.  In biblical times, it was an expensive and important commodity.  It was used to barter, was widely traded, and used not only as a means to flavor food but even more vitally, as a preservative.  Hence, it was widely understood as a metaphor for preserving the purity of the world, as well as being essential to sustain all life . 

The Hebrew Bible (namely Exodus, Ezekiel, and Kings) mentions salt as a purifying agent. While passages in Leviticus (2;13) and Numbers (18:19) present salt as a sign of  God’s covenant .  

Jesus employs the metaphor of salt in the gospels of Matthew (5:15-16), Mark,  and Luke (14:34-35) in the New Testament to spiritually instruct:  “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50).”

Salt itself, sodium chloride, is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavor, so that interpreting salt that has lost its flavor has been a topic of some debate.  The most common explanation for this is that salt in the era was quite impure, not only due to extraction methods, but also due to unscrupulous merchants mixing it with other substances. Other scholars say that the writers are aware of salt not being able to lose its flavor and hence being the salt of the earth implies that the audience, once having heard the message, will always remember their value. The words translated lost its flavor translate from the Greek as became foolish, but the Aramaic for both phrases is the same, and so we must use our gifts, lest we lose our gifts, from lack of wisdom, complacency, or impurity.

May you never lose and may you be worth your salt.

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3 thoughts on “PASS ME THE SALT

  1. Dear Katherine,

    I am very happy to find your voice here again!

    You must be uberbusy and I must find the heart to forgive your too-long absence in the blogosphere.

    Your salty posting is just the ingredient I need for my writing (which I do almost daily) today.

    A funny thought crossed my mind – If i was a caucasian woman, a christian, a theologian, with children – i would be writing what you have been writing. Hehehe. Funny yes?

    There is no border to goodness. Ya Huuu!

    Pax Taufiqa.

    • Hi Taufiq, I am happy to hear from you as well. I have been enjoying your blog very much. I was wondering, does your son celebrate Halloween? Does he and his buddies get dressed up and go trick or treating? Or, are you just scratching your head right now, and wondering what in the world is this woman talking about?? I just finished a post about Halloween, and I am, as always, curious. Perhaps there is a similar holiday in Islamic tradition or folklore?

      You can tell that you write everyday, your words and phrases flow freely. Now that I am getting to paid to write on a topic given to me, this blog is even more of a “treat”, as I can write about whatever has gotten my attention at the moment. Both are good, but the first is bread and butter, and the latter more like my favorite candy!

      Well, Taufiq, if I were you I would be able to read and write several languages fluently, draw beautifully, and probably be younger (alas), but whoever we are, our writing is about the oneness and bounty of God…Amen, “no border to goodness”, Aloha, Katherine P.S. We are also equal opportunity sinners, we don’t kick anybody out of that pool 🙂

  2. Dear Katherine,

    Halloween is not that big in Malaysia. Certainly it isnt a neighbourhood thing, although I guess some expatriate communities do arrange some celebration for the children. But for the general Malaysian population, I think adults of drinking age enjoy it more than kids here. I was at a club (this is not a common thing for me, but you know… love dares all! Hehehe) on Saturday night, and one of my friends was dressed in what is suppose to be a roman toga. But I think he ended up looking like Mahatma Gandhi! Hehehe. It was hilarious.

    So you see, I am not scratching my head wondering what the heck this woman is yammering about. The fact is, Katherine, western and especially American culture and tradition is firmly parked in the living room of maybe 99% of homes in Malaysia. American wrestling? It is huge here – second only to the English Soccer Premier League. The good and bad, the tasteful and vulgar, we are lapping it up! Hehehe. I don’t mind at all. I like variety, you see.

    Islamic folklore? Hmmm… I cannot remember coming across a similar tradition. But for the Chinese they do celebrate the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. They organise concerts and also make offerings to their ancestors. People call it ancestor-worship. I don’t. I think it is a sweet mark of respect to our ancestors, without whom, lets face it, we wouldnt even be here in the first place.

    Ah yes, your work. Well, I am sure you derive pleasure out of your regular writing, Kat. I too am busy with work spilling into the weekends, that I was unable to blog until now, which is Monday night here.

    Hehehe. Yes! We are equal-opportunitysinners. I like that phrase. Btw, I am doing something a little different in my posting today. I have a new character in the blog. His name is Hamzah the Lion. I hope you will it!

    Pax Americana

    Taufiq.

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