The Waste Land: Reviving Hope and Hinduism Essay Example

  • Category: Literature, Poem,
  • Words: 1670 Pages: 7
  • Published: 30 May 2021
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In the final section of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Eliot draws upon Hinduism to address the futility of selfish desires and revive hope. Specifically, he writes, “those hooded hordes swarming over endless plains” to show that the wastelanders have inexhaustible desires and hidden motives (369-370). Furthermore, Eliot’s motivation and inspiration to explore Hinduism in The Waste Land is a topic of discussion among scholars. According to Chumber’s, “The Voices of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishad in T.S. Eliot’s the Waste Land” Hindu beliefs discourage selfish behaviour by promoting spiritual enrichment and reconnecting with the divine (84).

As well, Jacobson’s, “T.S. ELIOT: Modernism and Religion in The Waste Land, Ash Wednesday, and The Hollow Men” explains that the wastelanders immerse themselves into selfish activities and face spiritual poverty (17). Although Kuriakose from “The Waste Land: Eliot’s Expiatory Pilgrimage from Church to Pagoda” describes the wastelanders as self-centred; he writes that Eliot draws on Buddhism as a path to attain salvation (158). In this paper, I will argue that T.S. Eliot explores Hinduism in the final section of The Waste Land to: emphasize the wastelanders failure to connect with the divine, examine how Hinduism defines that "self-control, giving alms, and having compassion" are vital to preserving human morality, and ultimately describe how the wastelanders’ occur through selfishness, spiritual poverty, and attachment to fruitless desires (Eliot 433). 

Wastelanders through the lens of Hinduism

Eliot, through the lens of Hinduism, describes the wastelanders’ failure to connect with the divine because their lives revolve around worldly pleasure and selfish gains. Hindu beliefs state that pursuing selfish activities impede spiritual progress and give rise to ignorance (Chumber 89). The wastelanders fall prey to ignorant desires and cannot extend beyond their selfish mentality. Eliot states, "Who is the third who walks always beside you?" to show that the wastelanders can view the external world but are blind in the realms of morality (360). In other words, the wastelanders cannot recognize that this third person represents a divine being because their selfish pursuits supersede human values and spirit. Therefore, the wastelanders entrapment in self-indulgence mutes an inner voice that comes from a higher self. 

Moreover, the wastelanders’ pleasure-seeking behaviour, reflects that persistent desires with disregard of religion prevent a connection to the divine. Consequently, they perpetuate the cycle of pleasure, selfish gain, and declining human values. By doing so, the wastelanders’ cannot form a connection with the divine. As well, Chumber refers to the Bhagavad Gita to state that without connecting to the divine spiritual enlightenment is not possible because of unceasing desires (88). In other words, she argues that while the wastelanders’ accumulate material wealth, intelligence fades and ignorance increase. Hence, the wastelanders’ remain in a wasteland with an incurable infection of desire.

Further, Chumber's argument supports that Hindu beliefs explain how passion, ignorance, and attachment fuel uncontrollable desires (84). Although Chumber's argument clearly explains Hindu beliefs that relate to a divine connection, additional evidence from The Wasteland is necessary to extend her point of view. For example, she states that excessive and meaningless desires increase the distance between reality and illusion; therefore, greater desire equals greater captivity in the hands of illusion. However, the paper does not explicitly address other reasons for desire, which may be necessary to sustain life itself. In contrast to the ill effects of desire, a desire for stable health and acquiring knowledge reflects a more optimistic view of desires. However, she overlooks the positive effects of desire. By extension, the argument will align more with reality and consider exceptional circumstances.

Hinduism explained through the Thunder

Furthermore, Eliot through the Thunder (Supreme deity) explores Hinduism by including "Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.” from the Upanishads to signify that giving, sympathizing, and maintaining self-control are three virtues that can revive the spirit of hope and extinguish the flame of desire burning in the wastelanders (Eliot 433). More specifically, these virtues build the foundation of spiritual upliftment. Eliot’s representation of the wastelanders selfishness shows without practicing human values, hopelessness will transpire, and the flame of desire will burn incessantly. Their ignorance of not internalizing the messages from the under- Higher power leads to barren and empty lives (Eliot 410). Therefore, wastelanders behaviour deviates from human morality and veers toward vice or sinful activities. 

Also, Datta-to give is non-existent in wastelanders because of lust and pursuing materialism pollutes their minds (Eliot 402). Their lust is not only sensual but extends to pride, neglect of responsibility, which contaminates the natural environment as well. Although the wastelanders reap the rewards of transient pleasure, damage to the human spirit occurs without any conscious awareness. As well, Dayadhvam- sympathy is absent in the wastelanders and; thus, becomes apathy considering human suffering (Eliot 412). Damyata- self-control is a quality in which character can flourish and promote other values as well. The wastelanders development of morals and self-control does not thrive because of over exhausting the capacity of their mind full of desires. For instance, Eliot writes the boat is within the control of the individual; however, a calm sea purifies a heart is drawn to it (419-420). However, without realization or acknowledgement of previous deeds, prolongs the existence of this wasteland. Therefore, Eliot includes Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata to define virtue through the eyes of Hinduism, while exploring how the wastelanders function in opposition to the Thunder’s triple revelation. 

Likewise, Jacobson argues that the wastelanders preoccupation with selfishness blocks this divine revelation from entering their minds (inability to receive messages except their own) (17). Jacobson describes that the Thunder’s repetition of Da (to give, be compassionate and self-controlled) reminds spiritual aspirants to practice these values (17). 

Further, Jacobson’s interpretation of the Thunder repeating Da three times fits well with Eliot’s curiosity, if a divine figure is always present with the wastelanders (360-364). In other words, the thunder reiterates Da three times, but the wastelanders are in tune with their desires, and while a third divine figure is always present the wastelanders, ignore the divine. Thus, Jacobson’s explanation of Da confirms that the wastelanders are not spiritual aspirants; and that, the wastelanders people do not intend to practice these values. Although Jacobson’s argument is plausible additional revision is necessary. Specifically, he does not provide examples from The Waste Land that directly support how the wastelanders contradict the divine revelation. He explains that they do not receive or process this message from the divine; but, adding how Eliot describes the spiritual emptiness of the wasteland filling up with immoral activity will enhance this argument, and emphasize that the wastelanders suffer by their actions of defying the thunder. Considering that the wastelanders suffer on their own accord, Eliot explains that exploring this suffering is necessary to discuss. 

More specifically, the wastelanders suffering results from selfishness, spiritual poverty, and meaningless desires; therefore, the aftereffects of their immoral behaviour contribute to the lifelessness of the wasteland. According to Kuriakose, Eliot explains that sensual desire increases selfishness and impairs judgement to the extent where the wastelanders themselves do not learn or determine the cause of their suffering (158). On the other hand, Eliot inspiration for finding the cause of suffering rests in the hands of Hinduism and Buddhism. As well, Eliot’s adoption of Hindu and Buddhist teachings in his poem, imply that the wastelanders immoral conduct can change into right conduct if they practice the teachings of these eastern religions with sincerity.

For example, Eliot through the voice of the thunder (supreme deity) prescribes self-control, compassion, and alms-giving as the ingredients of spirituality necessary to alleviate the ill effects of unlimited desires (433). Although the thunder reveals these virtues to the wastelanders, they fail to acknowledge and process this message. Therefore, the thunder indicates that the wastelanders selfish desires are more enriching and pleasant than the higher truth Elliot discusses. In other words, the wastelanders inability to practice self-control, show compassion, and give alms confirms their spiritual poverty. Thus, suggesting that the Wastelanders’ sinful behaviour exacerbates suffering and lower the chance of reform. Moreover, Eliot describes that the inability to surrender (Datta) and giving nothing to others, could explain the significance and determine the effects of karma as shown in Buddhist teachings (402). 

Kuriakose’s research states that Buddhism explains how individuals have power over their lives and God has no intervention in that (164). Another way said, the wastelanders also have this power, but it depletes as desire increases. As well, Kuriakose presumes that Eliot’s desire to obtain the highest form of knowledge and engage in responsible behaviour requires self-control rather than divine intervention (164). More importantly, the principles of Buddhism encourage self-reliance to recognize that suffering is a product of reality; therefore, exercising the power of discipline is necessary to face, manage, and transcend suffering. 

Additionally, Kuriakose’s argument provides a realistic view of Eliot’s motivation to include eastern religions because finding an answer to suffering seems difficult to obtain or grasp (158). Therefore, discussing the principles of morality from Hinduism and Buddhist perspectives indicate that the power of unity can illuminate the perception of suffering through multiple angles. Using this approach can address suffering in a more specific manner. Another strength of this argument is explaining how Eliot defines that the power of desire, contributes to sinful behaviours and abandoning desire paves the path to salvation. 

Although Kuriakose discusses that excessive desires for pleasure represent a decline in morality, his article does not suggest how to suppress or eliminate those desires. The wasterlanders immerse themselves in unproductive activities and become delusional or blind desire after desire. However, according to his argument in line with Eliot’s view, the solution to achieve serenity involves the removal of all desire to attain supreme forms of peace (158). Realistically speaking, to eliminate desire has positive effects on influencing morality for spiritual advancement and redemption; contrary to that, exploring the negative effects of eliminating desire will be helpful. The strongest positive effect of eliminating desire contributes to self-realization; however, to interpret the harmful effects not to pursue desire is necessary to address.

Overall, the goal of this paper is to explore Eliot’s motivation and purpose to use Hinduism in the Wasteland on addressing the futility of desire, spiritual poverty, and selfishness. By doing so, discovering the relevance of these issues has real-world implications. However, expanding this paper’s argument is necessary for analyzing other motivations to use Hinduism in The WasteLand. Lastly, The Wasteland embodies how human values can change the outcome of suffering; and therefore, rather than undermine human capabilities he challenges the ways of life through the voice of eastern religions (Kuriakose 158). 

Works Cited:

Chumber, Sonia. “The Voices of the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishad in T.S. Eliot’s the Waste Land.” International Journal of Language and Literature, vol. 2, no.3, 2014, pp. 83-97.

doi: 10.15640/ijll.v2n3a6

Jacobson, Rogan. “Modernism and Religion in The Waste Land, Ash Wednesday and The Hollow Men.” Metaphor, no.2, 2014 pp. 11-21. 

Kuriakose, John. “The Waste Land: Eliot’s Expiatory Pilgrimage from Church to Pagoda.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies, vol. 7, no. 4, 2016, pp. 158-156. doi:10.7575/aiac.alls.v.7n.4p.158.

Thomas Stearns, Elliot. "The Wasteland.” The Dial Publishing Company, Inc., 1922 pp. 473-485.



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