Can you tell me the meaning of the terms datta, damyata, dayadvam in The Wasteland?  

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Datta, Dayadvam, and Damyata hold out the prospect of hope—albeit remote—in the midst of the fractured post-war landscape set out by Eliot in The Waste Land. There is a lot of giving (Datta), sympathizing (Dayadvam), and controlling (Damyata) in the poem, but all of the wrong kind, the kind associated with the modern world.

The modern varieties of both giving and controlling can be seen in the joyless sexual encounter between the typist and her lover in section 3, "The Fire Sermon." This is not the kind of giving and controlling that Eliot endorses, the self-control and selfless giving associated with traditional religious world-views, such as those found in the Upanishads and the Christian Gospels.

Nor is there any true sympathy in this increasingly atomized modern world, where people are separated from each other as they busily pursue their own interests. True sympathy comes from a realization that we are all part of a unified whole, a fundamental unity that links us all together. Such a picture of humanity is a constant refrain in Hindu scriptures, which Eliot studied intently as a young man, and from which he derived the majestic thunder call of "Datta, Dayadvam, Damyata."

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Datta, Dayadvam, Damyata and are Sanskrit terms. In his notes on The Wasteland, Eliot identifies the phrases as coming from the Brihidaranyaka Upanishad. (The Upanishads are are set of holy books written in the Hindu tradition.) 

Eliot translates these terms in his notes as follows: 

  • Datta: Give
  • Dayadvam: Sympathize
  • Damyata: Control

Control here commonly is understood to refer to self-restraint.

These terms are explored in the text with each phrase appearing at the head of its own stanza. In each stanza the idea behind the term is briefly, if obscurely, elucidated.

The terms come from a story from the above mentioned Upanishad wherein men, gods and demons approach Brahman (in the form of thunder here) and ask for guidance. 

According to the Indian legend, men, gods, and devils ask the thunder the same question, and each is given a different answer—give, sympathize, and control, respectively.

The guidance each receives is exactly the same, "Da", but later is interpreted differently according to the needs and nature of each group. 


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