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Is "The Fire Sermon" in The Waste Land a confluence of Buddhism and Christianity?

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samanta187 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted July 2, 2013 at 9:45 AM via web

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Is "The Fire Sermon" in The Waste Land a confluence of Buddhism and Christianity?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 2, 2013 at 5:30 PM (Answer #1)

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This section of the poem is definitely a confluence of Buddhism and Christianity as allusions to both of these religions are made to support Eliot's message of the sterile and unfulfilling nature of sex. The title of this section, "The Fire Sermon," is a deliberate allusion to a famous sermon from the Buddha in which he calls upon his acolytes to forego earthly passion, which is symbolised by fire, and to search for liberation from temporal pleasures. The Buddha saw these earthly passions as being immensely destructive and preventing the regeneration of people. The section of this poem captures this sense of meaninglessness in sex through the homosexual encounter that Mr. Eugenides proposes at notorious places in London with the speaker and also the sex scene observed by Tiresias between the typist and her lover. She, after the sex they have in spite of her reluctance, is shown to exhibit the meaningless and destructive nature of sex:

She turns and looks a moment in the glass,

Hardly aware of her departed lover;

Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass:

"Well now that's done: and I'm glad it's over."

Sex is shown to be empty as she does not value her lover or the sexual act and is only filled with a "half-formed thought" that sex is over. Sex is nothing more than a meaningless task to her that does nothing to help her grow in understanding and love.

The final words of the section represent a Christian allusion, as the phrase "O Lord Thou pluckest me out" is a reference from St. Augustine's Confessions. Augustine was famously somebody who engaged in plenty of sexual activity before he converted to Christianity, and this allusion thus cements the way in which Eliot deliberately creates a confluence of Buddhism and Christianity to highlight his message of the meaningless nature of sex and how so often it becomes a destructive force.

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