Zen Buddhism in “A Passage to India”

The structure of A passage to India is divided into:  the “Mosque,” “Caves,” and “Temple.” Forster explains that the three parts stands for three main seasons of the Indian year (Vasant 285).The action of “Mosque” takes place during the cool spring; the “Caves” during the hot summer; and the “Temple” during the wet monsoon season of the autumn. But the significance of this division goes well beyond seasons of the year. They are also in relation to the Hindu mantra Om, which is composed of three sounds: a-u-m (in Sanskrit, the vowels a and u combine to become o) (Vasant 286). Within Om, several triads are represented: the three worlds, earth, atmosphere, and heaven; three major Hindu gods, Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; and the three sacred Vedic scriptures, Rg, Yajur, and Sama.

Mrs. Moore’s experience in India was not a gloomy one but rather a process towards Zen enlightenment. Through the several triads of Om, specifically represented by the three worlds, each section of the Mosque, Caves, and Temple represent a step toward enlightenment.


Mosque is symbolic of the earth and resonates in the literary work severally. As representation of Earth, the complex relationship between systems calls for real awakening. In the context of Zen enlightenment, Mrs. Moore visits a mosque after boredom from the Chandrapore club. Although a Christian by religion, she explores her imagination and seeks refuge in the mosque in an effort to achieve internal peace. Unlike other Britons, she portrays a good-hearted, religious and tolerant personality. At her elderly age, she sees things from a deeper perspective and believes that trying out new spiritual frontiers would facilitate self-discovery. While meeting Dr. Azzis in the mosque, she strengthens her relationship with the Indian culture (Forster 18). Her intuitive approach towards the Indian people is evident in her tolerant treatment of Dr. Azzis even after the wrongful accusation on sexual harassment in the caves.

In respect of Zen enlightenment, one need to embrace open mind, explore diversity and make judgment based on logic rather than emotions. Mrs. Moore gets a perfect interactive platform to dig deeper into the Indian-British relationship by forging friendship with Dr. Azziz. While theme of racial discrimination is evident among many other Britons including Heaslop, Mrs. Moore’s son, she takes low profile to pursue the underlying actual identity of Indians. The imagery of Wasps reflects the spirit of enlightenment on which India base its principles.Mrs. Moore exhibits sensitivity towards the religious significance of Wasp among Indians. Mrs. Moore derives pleasure from interacting further with native people during the Bridge party. In essence, the Anglo-Indian relations seem decided institutionally with British nationals exercising egocentric power play. However, Mrs. Moore is determined to unravel the mystery that underlines Indian-moslem relationship. The intrinsic values of Azziz justify Mrs. Moore’s instincts. Although she represents the voice of Christianity, subsequent visit to the cave is deemed the actual first step towards Zen enlightenment.


The caves provide a unique environment with an inexplicable spiritual feeling. In the entire work of Foster, transition of events take place in the cave. In an attempt to familiarize with India, Dr. Azziz take Mrs.Moore and Miss Adela to the cave where there encounter leaves an indelible mark in their life. Unlike the Cool Mosque, the caves are pitch dark and such identical that one can easily get lost. The caves are symbolic of the mental journey in an imagination world. In fact, before visiting the Marabar cave, Mrs. Moore is a human character with so high ambitions in life (Forster 22). While in the cave, she becomes aware of her atman.  She transcends from her individual sense and becomes very confused to the extent of not comprehending the differences between god and evil. An incident in which she loses track of Dr. Azziz and Adela put her in a meditative situation. Her notion of divinity is fully destroyed by the newly discovered knowledge about the Hindu gods and spirits.  She sees no difference between good and bad, humanity and inhumanity. Her humanism is reduced to nothing as the summation of good and evil has become immutable.

The struggle between her enlightened spirit and the evil spirits in the cave is seen through her irritability and dejection. Before she leaves the café, she full unified with the Hindu spirits (Raschke 283). In the light of Zen enlightenment, Foster offers an insight into the centrality of isolation and caves in Indian culture. Reverberating echoes in the cave is coupled with rare sight.In the caves, a picture of confusion dominates as evident in Adela mistakenly accusing Dr.Azziz of sexual assault. Caves in the Indian culture and mythologies are seen as prelude to spiritual transformation and awareness. The aspect of natural sense in Mrs. Moore had transformed and the lingering uncertainty on her spiritual position was a path to Zen.



The temple is the ultimate religious identity of the Indians. This part comes later in the work but presents a crucial aspect of Mrs. Moore’s proximity to Zen Buddhism. The divinity that characterizes the temple is a function of total silence. Mrs. Moore has a Christian identity, but has tried the caves and the mosque with consequential spiritual realignments. Mrs. Moore is seen to have conquered the earthly spirits and transcended to the middle level in the realm of the Indian Spirit in the Hinduism religion.  Foster relates this description to the Zen Buddhist Void.  The Zen Buddhist stands in between negation and affirmation, nonexistence and existence. The coincidental temple scenario and emergence of gods in the illusion of Mrs. Moore boost her relationship with Hindu. In fact she seemed to know Indians much deeper spiritually and cultural. She actually became a celebrity among the Indians.

The accumulated knowledge, experience and devotion to learn Indian culture bore fruits. At the time of her death, Mrs. Moore is dead on board to England. The son had decided to eliminate the mother by ferrying her back home in a conspiracy theory. She remained same person with charismatic support such that some Indians felt aggrieved by his death. The description of the experience of Mrs. Moore in the caves by the Foster confirms the explication of the Void by Nakamura. Mrs. Moore had transcended to what foster calls the “Middle State” between the earthly endeavors and heroic endeavor. Even in her death, she remains a celebrity with prospects of Zen Buddhism. Death is actually an important phase of transformation to Zen enlightenment.

Foster overtook time exploring the religious reality of Indians in light of the British colony. A Passage to India is a riddle that every person deciphers in the light of their own perception of prejudice and passion (Glen 935). Mrs. Moore’s experience in India was not a gloomy one but rather a process towards Zen enlightenment. Through the several triads of Om, specifically represented by the three worlds, each section of the Mosque, Caves, and Temple play a role (Glen 941).The three religious entities acted as a built up to Mrs. Moore’s advancement towards the Zen. Acting within a spiritual space humbles man to tolerate culture, race and individuals despite their position.

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