“The Yoga of Finnegans Wake: Pulling on a Tantric Thread” Bridget O’Rourke and James Shaw

Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas! (593.1)

So begins the final book of Finnegans Wake.

“Sandhyas!” is recited at the moment Book IV begins, in the interregnum or moment of silence between books.  The annunciation of this Sanskrit word comes at a transformative moment in the Wake, a ginnandgo gap (14.16) or primordial void.

Uncharacteristically, Joyce spelled the Sanskrit word sandhya without modification.  Sandhya means the period between two world eons. It also means twilight, the moment between dark and light, sunset and sunrise. Book IV takes place principally at sunrise, with the matters of the night dissolving and with the portent of being replaced by the matters, forces, and beings of the new day. HCE and ALP are being replaced by their descendants.

Sandhya also means the transition from one generation to the next.  As he ascends, the son must pay obeisance to the father.

These are all meanings readily available to Joyce in the texts he is known to have consulted on Eastern thought. These include Heinrich Zimmer’s Maya der indische Mythos [Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization], one of the few books in Joyce’s library with his own handwritten annotations. Joyce’s friend and assistant Samuel Beckett also read Zimmer and delivered 3 pages of notes on it. Joyce also used the contested texts written by H.P [Madame] Blavatsky, a founder of the Theosophical Society.

JJ handwritten notes on Zimmer
JJ’s handwritten notes on Heinrich Zimmer, Maya: Myths and Symbols of Indian Art and Civilization, from James Joyce, A Facsimile of the Buffalo Notebooks VI.B.41-44. 

Sandhyas! Sandhyas! Sandhyas! also suggests the Latin Sanctus Sanctus Sanctus, part of the Eucharistic Prayer in the Roman Catholic Mass (“Holy Holy Holy”). For some, it may call to mind the Hindu chant, “Shanti Shanti Shanti,” recited in many Western Yoga classes: Peace, Peace, Peace.

Sandhya also resembles and sounds like “Sankhya,” used in Book I of the Wake.

“so long as Sankya Moondy played his mango tricks under the mysttetry” 60.19

Sankhya-Yoga is an orthodox Vedic or Hindu school or Darshana.

The first few pages of Book IV are replete with Sanskrit words, with many references to Hindu, or Vedic and Yogic practice and thought, including references from the Rg Veda. We start with these concepts from the final book of the Wake and then work back around to the beginning, and to other more specifically Tantric Yogic threads. Joyce suggests at the opening of Book IV that we “sea east.” So, let’s take a look to the East.

James S. Atherton remarks that in Book IV Joyce is reaching back to an ancient past, specifically to the RG Veda, among the oldest existing texts in any Indo-European language, dating from somewhere in the range of 1500-1200 BCE, or earlier.

From the end of page 593, the lord of risings, Pu Nuseht (or, Pus(h)an, a sun god from the Rg Veda) speaks:

Vah! Suvarn Sur! Scatter brand to the reneweller of the sky,                             
thou who agnitest! Dah! Arcthuris comeing! Be! Verb umprin-                                
cipiant through the trancitive spaces! Kilt by kelt shell kithagain          
with kinagain. We elect for thee, Tirtangel. Svadesia salve! We        
Durbalanars, theeadjure. A way, the Margan, from our astamite,         
through dimdom done till light kindling light has led we hopas      
but hunt me the journeyon, iteritinerant, the kal his course,        
amid the semitary of Somnionia. Even unto Heliotropolis, the    
castellated, the enchanting. (594.1-9)

First, what do the Sanskrit words in this part of the text mean?

Vah! = means Flow! Or Lead! Or, perhaps, Go Forward! (Joseph Campbell has this as a command, addressed to the Word to become flesh in the new cycle)

Suvarn Sur! = Sur mean sun, god or sage; suvarn means beautiful color or gold and thus: Sanskrit Suvarn sur: ‘god of good shape’ (ie, golden); golden or sun god

Agnitest = Agni is the ancient god of fire from the Vedas, among the most important Vedic gods.

Dah! =  burn, scorch

Tirtangel = tirtha, a sacred place, also, a place of safe crossing of rivers, or an angel of such a place

Svadesia = self-guider; one who acts in accord with dharma

Durbalanars = durvala means weak, nar is men: weak men (Dubliners…)

Margam = marga, path

Astamite = after sunset

What to make of these Sanskrit references? They further elucidate some of the well-known themes of Book IV:  Dawn is approaching, the god of the new day is called forth to burn up the old and, self-guided, lead us weak mortals on the path “even unto Heliotropolis” (594.8). This passage may be glossed this way:

Lead forward, Golden God! Offer oblation to the renewer of the sky, Agni, who ignites the blaze! Burn! The brightest star in the constellation is coming! Be! Through the transitive or trance-like spaces. Self-guided one, save us! We weak men (Dubliners) call upon you. A way, a path to … Heliotropolis!

Understanding the references opens up the text, and ties this new day to the most ancient of times, places and gods, Agni, in particular, from the RG Veda. Through such ancient references, “Past now pulls.” (594.26), a suggestion of karmic influence from the past onto and into the present and future.

Brocken Spectre at the Cliffs of Moher, by Sean Tompkins

On page 596.2-5  we are reintroduced to:

the hundering                                                                                                                     blundering dunderfunder of plundersundered manhood; behold,
he returns; renascenent; fincarnate; still foretold around the hearth-

Who is then further described as:

without links, without impediments, with gygantogyres,                                               with freeflawforms;parasama to himself; atman as evars;

“Without links, without impediments” has a strong Eastern, as specifically Buddhist, feel (the Five Hindrances or Impediments that must be overcome on the path to liberation, nirvana).

Parasama is Sanskrit for another equal to himself, or, again, the self-guided. And this is atman, the critically important Hindu/Yogic Self; “pure Being, the Absolute, by whatever name it may be called-the Self (atman)”

This prime mover or archetypal energy underlies all surface manifestations of apparent self and being:

astronomically fabulafigured; as Jambudvispa Vipra
foresaw of him;

Jambudvipa is the continent around Mount Meru, the Hindu mythological centerpoint of the universe and the source of the three great real and mythological rivers (the center and source of the universe itself).

Vipra means wise, inspired

Our wise self-guider, atman, has his source in the very center of the power of the universe.

The new vibrant Finn/HCE-replacement is on the scene.

On page 597 we are told there are two sides, the west and the east, the falling asleep and the waking up.

vidnis Shavarsanjivana”——Shiva, the great Hindu God, bringing the corpse back to life.

Shiva, with trident.


Lok! A shaft of shivery in the act, anilancinant. Cold’s sleuth!
(597.19 and 24)

Here, Shiva, who typically carries a trident or shaft, annihilates. But also, Shiva “in the act”; Shiva is a god of great sexual power–he is represented as a lingum, a phallus, and his consort, or feminine expression, Shakti, as a Yoni, or vagina/uterus/womb.

Shiva and Shakti.

The combined object of Shiva/Shakti, “in the act” is a classic expression in Hindu/Yogic, and most especially Tantric Yogic, iconography of the blissful state of enlightenment, Samadhi. The state of freedom from illusion, maya.

So, a flash of light through the illusory confusion:

Lok! A shaft of shivery in the act, anilancinant. Cold’s sleuth!
Vayuns! Where did thots come from? It is infinitesimally fevers,
resty fever, risy fever, a coranto of aria, sleeper awakening, in
the smalls of one’s back presentiment, gip, and again, geip, a
flash from a future of maybe mahamayability through the windr
of a wondr in a wildr is a weltr as a wirbl of a warbl is a world.
Tom. (597.24-30)

Mahamayability: the Hindu/Yogic concept of maya, illusion and maha, great. The sleeper awakes with a flash from the future, annihilating, at least for the moment, the great illusion that comprises the world as we in our unenlightened state see it. In other words a moment of enlightenment is upon us, breaking through the wondr/wildr/weltr/wirbl/warbl world.

Vishnu and Lakshmi

Padma, brighter
and sweetster, this flower that bells, it is our hour or risings.
Tickle, tickle. Lotus spray. Till herenext. Adya. (598.12-14)


Take thanks, thankstum, thamas. In that earopean end meets
Ind. (598.15-16)

Campbell elucidates the myth underlying this as:

13. From the navel of the sleeping god Vishnu, whose dream is the universe, a golden lotus blossums forth at the opening of each new cycle of existence. This lotus is the universe of his dream. 

14. This is the moment of Sandhyas, “Junction,” when the opposites come together, Europe and India, empirical knowledge and intuitive wisdom, are now one.”

Padma is Sanskrit for lotus, and is another name for Vishnu’s consort (or, feminine aspect) the goddess Lakshmi. The paragraph ends with “Adya” which Campbell takes as “Amen”, and, of course, that fits. McHugh says it refers to now or today, an equally appropriate interpretation. But there is an additional, important Hindu reference here:

“Adya” means original power from which all five senses, and all five elements originated. Derived from a Sanskrit word, it is a name of Goddess Durga, Adya-Shakti or Kali, and is the power from which the entire universe has emanated; she is the mother of the entire universe.

As noted above, Shakti is the female aspect of the combined Shiva-Shakti, and is (in another telling of the same story but from the Vishnu iconography) also Vishnu/Lakshmi. While this concept of Shiva-Shakti has been a part of Hindu mythology for millennia, it is with the much more recent (~700 CE) development of Tantrism that this combined object became a central feature.

The word adya returns, this time as “adyatants”, which McHugh has as a combination with “anta”, or “end”; so it becomes “now and at the end” or just “now-end”. This is entirely compatible with the additional layer of meaning  noted above. Again, we are in a sandhya, a space-time gap, both beginning and end, and neither, a pause, a moment in suspension and awe. The text continues:

To them in Ysat Loka. Hearing. The urb it orbs. Then’s now
with now’s then in tense continuant. Heard.

“Ysat Loka.” McHugh has “Loka” as the universe or any subdivision of it. And this is fine. However, Loka is also “state of mind or being” while “Satya” means “true.” The phrase Satya Loka can mean:

The seventh and highest sphere is Satya Loka, abode of God, the only Real Substance, Sat, in the universe. No name can describe it, hence this sphere is called Anam, the Nameless.

Zimmer describes this state as something like a heavenly rebirth; not full liberation, but a step in that direction. He also describes satyaloka as the 7th chakra, the sahasrara or crown chakra, the point at which Shiva/Shakti are united. In the Rgveda, satyaloka is the host or abode of the gods, of which Agni is the leader.

Joyce here is referring to a place and state of mind of the highest order, true wisdom, samadhi.

The Four Yugas

The Four Yugas 

the age of the madamanvantora of Grossguy and Littleylady, (597.33)

In Hindu/Vedic mythology there are four great ages, or Yugas, of the universe. A mahamanvantara is one complete cycle of all four ages gone round 3 times, with one sandhya at the end (and others separating the Yugas, and note that the Wake has small sandhyas , or silences, at key points). Blavatsky refers to this as lasting 4,320,000,000 years. Note that this number, 432, has its own prominence in the Wake

A single cycle of the 4 stages lasts 4,320,000 years, and is called a Maha-Yuga. We are currently  in the 4th stage, or Yuga, the Kali-Yuga, the duration of which is 432,000 years.

This kali-yuga we are in matches perfectly with the structure of the Wake and particularly the content of Book IV. The kali-yuga is a period of dissolution, of things falling apart, ending; the past Golden Age (the first yuga, Krita or Satya Yuga), the age of truth and light has passed, as have the next two, as the world cycles down into the fourth heading straight for Doomsday. Here is Wendy Doniger’s explication:

But time in India is not only linear…but cyclical, unlike Greece (for the end circles back to the beginning again). The cosmos is reborn over and over again, as each successive Kali Age ends in a doomsday fire and a flood that destroys the cosmos but is then transformed into the primeval flood out of which the cosmos is re-created, undergoing a sea change in a new cosmogony. The idea of circular cosmic time is in part the result of Indian ideas about reincarnation, the circularity of the individual soul. The ending precedes the beginning, but the end and the beginning were always there from the start, before the beginning and after the end …

It seems she could just as well be describing The Wake instead of an ancient Indian Puranic text.

And out of these regenerations, out of the gloam, and clouds, and the fog, steps Kevin,

St. Kevin of Glendalough
Hindu Priest Yogi Swami
Hindu priest Yogi, wearing various strands including Rudraksha Beads

A naked yogpriest,clothed of sundust, his oakey doaked with frondest leoves, offrand to the ewon of her owen. Tasyam kuru salilakriyamu! Pfaf! 601.1-3

Tasyam kuru salilakriyamu!” is from the hindu epic poem the Ramayana and expresses one of the central themes of Book iV:

It is a directive to the Hindu hero (and incarnation of Vishnu) Ram at the death of his father to “perform the last rites in water”  that is, to give obeisance to the father who is being supplanted by the son, and to do so in the water of the river Ganges (or, we can interpolate, the Liffey):

Oh, best one among men, River Ganga is the elder daughter of Himavanta, and oh, dextrous one, you have to offer water-oblation to the departed paternal-uncles of yours in her waters, namely the holy waters of River Ganga.

And then a reference to tat tvam asi, the mystical Vedic aphorism declaring the unity of the individual with the universal (Brahman) :

tat tvam asi=thou art it thoo
Notebook section of “as to tat team asi” from Joyce’s The Index Manuscript. Finnegans Wake Holograph. Workbook VI.B.46.

From thee to thee, thoo art it thoo, that
thouest there

The 28 plus one maidens hail Kevin’s arrival; he is hailed, “O Jarama,” the birthless and deathless one.

St. Kevin here may be reasonably seen as Shiva, the god of yogic practice and the model ascetic (who in other guises, or parts of his narrative, can also become a prodigious lover and sexually prolific). And this version of the story of St Kevin is very similar to the version of the Hindu myth of Kandu as told in Zimmer (and re-told in Blavatsky) of the great ascetic yogi man who gained god like powers through his yoga practice. The gods, fearing his growing power, sent a beautiful apsara or nymph to tempt him away from his ascetic practice with sexual pleasure. In the Hindu story the the apsara is successful, at least for a time, maybe 900 years or so of sexual bliss ensues… However, Kandu eventually wakes from the pleasure state and finds full moksa/release in another yogic practice, that of bhakti yoga, or devotion/obeisance to god.

As the story shifts to Kevin and his more Christian centered rites on the lake, the Sanskrit references begin to slow. Yet the story still closely tracks with Yogic ages, all the matters of the night are dissolving, just as at the end of the Kali Yuga, the universe heads toward dissolution and, finally complete destruction, fire and flood.

But it seems this Buddha (or buddhi, mind) is destined to be here for only a day, and Shaun steps forward.

And recalling that the Kali Yuga ends after 432,000 years, at this moment St. Patrick is set to arrive in Ireland, metaphorically, if not quite historically, in the year 432.  St. Patrick and the Archdruid engage in conversation/debate, and the druid remarks in the manner of Kant or Freud, but also echoing tat tvam asi (variously translated into English as That thou art, That art thou, You are that, or That you are):

inside true inwardness of reality, the Ding hvad in idself id est, (611.21)

Or, “the thing in itself it is.”

Patrick dismisses his four three two (432) argument and wins the day. The new day opens. The actors may be new, but they seem very familiar.

receives through a portal vein the dialytically
separated elements of precedent decomposition for the verypet-
purpose of subsequent recombination so that the heroticisms,
catastrophes and eccentricities transmitted by the ancient legacy

of the past; type by tope, letter from litter, word at ward, with
sendence of sundance, since the days of Plooney and Colum-
(614.33-36 and 615.1-2)

As in the description of the Hindu myth of the end of the Kali Yuga above, here certain protagonists decomposed at the end, return at the beginning of the new Yuga, recombined; and there is also transmitted, by letter, certain ancient legacy or knowledge.

“Norvena’s over” (619.29).  Nirvana’s over. Nirvana, the state of supreme enlightened bliss in Buddhism, has ended, or at least it is time to pass over it and into the ALP/Shakti state.

But the still sama sitta. (625.27)

Perhaps “samasthithi”, still quiet state (of a Yoga pose, for example), or perhaps sama citta, same/still mind. (Or, still the same shit.)

As Book IV shifts to the perspective of ALP the Sanskrit/Yogic references wash out of the text. Yet the “streamsbecoming” (The untireties of livesliving being the one substrance of a streamsbecoming 597.7-8) feminine perspective is essential to the Wake and to its Yogic thread. Samsara is referred to in Buddhist texts as the “stream of becoming”. It is Maya, it is everyday karmic life and history as it unfolds, repeats, returns cyclically. Thus ALP and the very movement of the river is the essential Yogic element of Maya, illusion, the world itself, and also Shakti the feminine aspect of the combined Shiva-Shakti.

Book IV ends with its own sandhya, the long blank space before returning to the beginning of the new first age/Yuga.

I am leafy speafing. (619.20)

This is the silent fecund moment before circling back to the beginning.

The world disintegrates at the end of the fourth Yuga (and fourth book of the Wake), and then reassembles and begins again at the beginning of Book I, the first Yuga.

Campbell suggests that Finnegans Wake itself is the needed “spiritual” text for the current age we are in:

The Wake is the Purana [sacred Hindu text] of modern man. For their world, the old Indians had the Mahabarata- they say in India, ‘If it isn’t in the Mahabarata, it isn’t in the world.’ A great deal has happened since the days of the Mahabarata and for our world we have the Wake..

Campbell contends that Joyce’s next book was to be on nirvana (or heaven, or in Dante’s framing, Paradiso), the escape from this cycle of birth and rebirth. As Campbell sees it, one can continue reading the Wake from its last sentence right back and through its beginning in a never-ending cycle of birth and rebirth, samsara. Or, you may pause at the end, reside in that moment of quiet, and then pass out of that cycling and into the void, nirvana.  If one avoids the cycle of rebirth, “one goes out into the void– which would have been Joyce’s Paradiso, the book of heaven.”

And this points toward another, more specific, Eastern influence in the Wake, that of Tantric Yoga. An essential feature of Tantrism is the equation samsara and nirvana. That is, that nirvana, liberation, can only be found in the world of birth, death and rebirth. Liberation is in the very details of ordinary life. Samsara and nirvana are two sides of the same reality.

As Stephen says in Ulysses:

“That is God…A shout in the street”

Or, from Doniger:

Tantra thus offered the best of both worlds, or, as the Tantric mantra has it, bhukti-mukti, bhoksha-moksha, or bhoga-yoga, “enjoyment-release”…”sensual delight and spiritual flight”

And so it all ended. Artha kama dharma moksa. Ask Kavya for

the kay. (93.22-23)

Like the word Sandhya(s), the Sanskrit phrase Artha kama dharma moksa is given without alteration, ambiguity or syncretization. These are the 4 essential aims of life in Yoga:

Artha is success;

Kama is pleasure;

Dharma is more complicated to translate but means path, religion, law, justice;

Moksa is liberation or enlightenment (“release” as Doniger has it, from suffering and ignorance).

In many Hindu texts only the first three are considered, as they are the aims of the typical householder. Suggesting that for the householder, the aim is to achieve a high rebirth (recalling the Satya Loka). Moksa, then is reserved for the ascetic, the renunciate, or the person dedicated to spiritual pursuit, in any case. Others, and most especially the Tantric schools and texts that developed in 7th-10th centuries CE, considered moksa to be the aim of all, and available to all, and not requiring the renunciation of success and pleasure, but even achieved through success and pleasure. The Kama Sutra is not simply a “sex manual”, but a guide to moksa through pleasure.

And in the paragraph ahead of this can be heard an iteration of essential Buddhist precepts:

In the ignorance that implies impression that
knits knowledge that finds the nameform that whets the wits that
convey contacts that sweeten sensation that drives desire that
adheres to attachment that dogs death that bitches birth that en-
tails the ensuance of existentiality. (18.24-28)

Robert Amos-Buddha
Image credit: Robert Amos

Here we have what can reasonably be referred to as a lascivious image. As Campbell has it, Dolph here has drawn a picture of his mother’s genitals (pubic hair and all). But it is also a depiction of Yeats’s gyre (among other things, e.g., Euclidean geometry, an elucidation of Dante).

Yeats Gyre
Yeat’s gyre from A Vision

Hughes and others note that this paragraph is directly tied to Yeats’s A Vision, from which the Vortex is taken (and the Wake clearly identifies it with the vortex in the marginal note on page 293 and in other places). Joyce’s diagram is both a depiction and parody of Yeats.


Joyce’s diagram overlapping Yeats’ gyre

Joyce takes Yeats’ rather esoteric symbolism and discourse right down to earth, and in a very Tantric way, depicting the sexual energy within it. Yeats had been in a deep study of Indic thought and specifically Tantrism (including its practice) while developing his thinking around the gyre and vortex.

And there is a third image which can be associated with these two.

The Yoni Yantra

Typically, though not always, in Tantric symbolism, the upward pointing triangle is phallic/male and the downward, yonic/female, with the combined object referring back to the image of Shiva/Shakti. The tie to Yogic and Tantric imagery continues into page 294, where the left-hand marginal notes refer first to the Sanskrit “Sarga, or the path of outgoing”, that is, “process of world creation, letting go, voiding”


This is followed by:

Docetism and  

Didicism, Maya-     

Thaya. Tamas-


Tamas, rajas and sattvas are the three constituent parts, or characteristics of all matter according to Hindu, Yogic and Tantric thought. Another way to say it is as Campbell does: “…the three gunas, or qualities of Maya, which constitute the nature of the world.They are, respectively, inertia, activity, and harmony.” Sattvas refers back to, and is etymologically the same as “sat” discussed earlier as in Satya Loka, the abode of truth.

In this marginal note Joyce ties these constituent parts of matter/maya/illusion to the ongoing controversy between Dolph and Kev. As McHugh suggests, Docetism being the doctrine of incorporeal nature of Christ’s body; and that Christ’s suffering was illusory. This ties directly back to the exploration in Book IV of how Maya/illusion gives rise to dukha/suffering and that breaking free of this illusion, this ignorance, leads to, or is, moksha, liberation, release.

The Maya/illusion versus the Thaya, the thump of the fall.

The next few pages of the Wake take us deeply into an exploration of the unity of opposites. And into Yeats’ A Vision and the gyre/vortex which itself is a product of a dialectical set of oppositions. And also into the geometry of triangular shapes (as we explored above in the Yoni Yantra). And, of course, the sigla used by Joyce for ALP is the triangle (pointing up 299.f4). We learn the mathematics of the unification of HCE and ALP. Joyce then takes us deep into the esoterics of Tantric Yoga. the left-hand margin on page 303:
Force Centres of the Fire Serpentine

Force Centres of

the Fire Serpen-

tine: heart,

throat, navel,
spleen, sacral,

fontanella, inter-

temporal eye.

These are the well known Yogic Chakra centers through which the serpentine kundalini force (Shakti) rises, unspiralling from the base just below the genitals, through the genitals up into the heart center and beyond, culminating at the crown of the head in the thousand petaled lotus at which Shiva and Shakti are joined (the Satya Loka). This is moksha, liberation.

Chakra Centers
Yoga Chakras

As we are told, up and at em boys:

Upanishadem! (303.13)

As this dense controversy nears its conclusion, as it approaches its own sandhya (silence) we hear the familiar call from the beginning of Book IV:

Thou in shanty ! Thou in scanty shanty ! !

Thou in slanty scanty shanty! ! ! (305.22)

This references “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus” , and as well the familiar (to all Yoga students here) chant “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti”, and the beginning of Book IV, in the “ginnandgo gap” of

“Sandhyas sandhyas sandhyas”  (593.1)

Should you want to view the video after having read the text: