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Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions

Life of Pi by Yann Martel is an account on the adventures of a sixteen-year old Indian boy who spent 227 days with a Bengal tiger on the lifeboat. The narration also determines the religious searches of the protagonist Piscine Molitor Patel where he strives to find the essence of faith. Initially being a Hindu, he tries to find the goals of other religions, like Christianity and Islam. Pi constitutes that each religion has its own mission and outlook on concept of love and devotion. Hence, when Piscine encounters Christian philosophy, he considers Jesus could not be compared with grand and powerful Hindu Gods; in Islam, the hero finds out its overwhelming concept of brotherhood. Relying on this the plot, the names and details of the story symbolize a desperate search of veritable God. In particular, especial symbolic meaning bears the name of the Japanese cargo called Tsimtsumt, which functions as a strong allusion and philosophical meaning.

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The notion of Tsimtsumt lies in the phenomenon of the divine contraction and expression of God. The name suits the description of the ship itself: “A cargo ship is a huge and stable structure, a feat of engineering” (Martel 92). The author describes the cargo as if it was the expression of God; it is mighty and powerful thus resembling a powerful organism where people are easily manipulated. The notion of Tsimtsumt is interpreted in the theological philosophy of cabbalists revealing the symbolic position of this phenomenon. In religion, this termed is explained as the divine will and providence leading to the concept of the imminence of God. The essence of tsimtsum philosophy lies in the significance of divine light presenting the divine power of creation (Lamn 40). It is known that the light is the first thing created by God so that light symbolizes the absolute power.

In the story, the shipwreck caused the misconception of the protagonist.Pi could not imagine that this powerful and perfect mechanism could not be easily defeated. He could not understand the reason of the catastrophe; nothing predicted cargo sinking. In the story, the shipwreck symbolizes the Pi’s disappointment in religion; his faith was shattered and subsea. Viewing the situation philosophically, tsimtsumt could be regarded as absence of divine light; if it is absent, this emptiness should be replaced by God Essence, as there are no place deprived of divine interference. By shipwreck, Martel rejects the philosophy of contraction of divine light thus manifesting the omnipresence of God.

Further, there exists another interpretation of this philosophical phenomenon. The act of self-elimination is also God’s attempt to bring existence to other than Him beings. The paradox here lies in the following: of the God is a ubiquitous phenomenon, than how is it possible to contract his omnipresence? (Ariel 174). For this question, Martel tries to give his own explanation. He rejects the possibility of contraction thus allowing the Japanese cargo to sink and proclaiming the boundless existence. Piscine’s refusal to accept the disappearance of the ship shows divergence of his own outlook on religion and the universally accepted facts.

In conclusion, the story presents the synthesis of the world religions thus stipulating their imperfectness. Each religion has its own merits and disadvantages but in a whole, their concepts are focused on the declaration of the superiority of God. In that regard, tsimtsumt shows the paradox and mystery of God’s omnipresence. The significance of the ship name lies is disability to exist without God, as He is the creator of everything in the world.

Work cited

Ariel, David S. Kabbalah: the mystic quest in Judaism. US: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

Lamm, Norman. The religious thought of Hasidism: text and commentary. US: KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 1999.

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Martel, Yann. Life of Pi. US: Harwest Books, 2003.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 21). Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions. https://studycorgi.com/tsimtsumt-in-life-of-pi-the-synthesis-of-the-world-religions/

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"Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions." StudyCorgi, 21 Dec. 2021, studycorgi.com/tsimtsumt-in-life-of-pi-the-synthesis-of-the-world-religions/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions." December 21, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tsimtsumt-in-life-of-pi-the-synthesis-of-the-world-religions/.


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StudyCorgi. "Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions." December 21, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tsimtsumt-in-life-of-pi-the-synthesis-of-the-world-religions/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions." December 21, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tsimtsumt-in-life-of-pi-the-synthesis-of-the-world-religions/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Tsimtsumt in Life of Pi: The Synthesis of the World Religions'. 21 December.

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