Feb 27, 2013

Can Hindutva do Yoga?

What is "Hindutva", where is it coming from? How has it changed colours and manifested different tendencies along the way, and where is it going? Is it a reactionary threat from a bruised past, or could it be an opening to a new future for India as an all-inclusive civilization? There is some polarization and imbalance in Indian politics today around these questions.

समत्वं योग उच्यते । "Balance or evenness is called Yoga."
So goes the famous phrase from the Bhagavad Gita (2.48). In practical terms, it is the intelligence to correct an imbalance or unevenness that resulted from the effort to stretch one's concept of Self. It is a technique to correct problems in a way that is safe and also beneficial.

Its a given that an individual, society, civilization and humanity is continuously exploring new frontiers of information, exterior and interior to its sense of self. In this exploration, the individual or society stretches itself beyond familiar limits, or is stretched by circumstances it gets itself into. So an understanding of the territory is helpful, and a technique is needed to regain balance or reach new stable ground.

A map would give one an understanding of the territory. If one finds oneself on new or dangerous ground, one can use the map to decide on a course. Perhaps one could retreat to the safety of old familiar ground. But that would not be beneficial if newer ground can be discovered after, say, fording a river or climbing a plateau.

Of course it goes without saying that "the map is not the territory", in the famous words of Count Alfred Korzybski in his dissertation, Science and Sanity. But even more interestingly, one could say that "the map is part of the territory", as far as human consciousness goes! Therefore, even more than the biophysical environment, cultural "mind-maps" (mathematically analyzed) are important for intrapersonal and political preferences. That then goes back into reshaping the environment and world we live in.

So as the individual or a social or political movement evolves or devolves, it may manifest several tendencies. Some of these tendencies may enhance survival, others are counter-survival, and still others simply vain indulgences. Even among these, some tendencies may be more pro-survival than others, or some may be less damaging than others.

Importantly, some tendencies that seem risky or retrogressive may be just what is needed to be able to find new ground, and therefore must be undertaken - with a vision. Whereas other over-cautious obsessions may hold the individual or society back, and keep one chained to old and familiar burdens and enemies that continue to slowly feed on one's soul.

Which tendencies should one support in adjusting to - and proactively reshaping - the political environment? Which tendencies to restrain? Which tendencies can compensate for the risks of other tendencies?

I found a good table that maps various tendencies from different angles of vision, and puts them on a grade-scale, along an axis of optimal balance:

Source: The Order Of Time website.

My observation is that, down each column, the ideological tendency one step before balance also acts like an inflection point. We can call it the Penultimate step. At this point, there is a tendency to ripple right back in a sort of reverse peristaltic movement, back to the tendency one step after the balance point. We can call this the Intrapersonal Limit point, for it is the logical conclusion of the drive, taken independently of all other drives with one's body as the reference point. This reverse peristaltic movement vomits all the discontents of the system before a rebuilding can begin. So from this Limit point, one then cycles down through all the other steps, including the Penultimate step, and then one comes out the other side and actually reaches the balance. However -- if one does not have that enlightening cognition on the self and life in the Penultimate step during the first iteration, then one can fall over into excess - one falls into an unenlightened mode of the Intrapersonal Limit!

Example 1: The "cultism" phase under the column "religion" is an inflection point. If in the course of life one has drifted into a religious or political cult ideology, and then has certain cognitions, it can lead to greater maturity. Then one tends to start over, first from a self-pampering "royal" enjoyment of what one has of life or can reach for. Then one moves into re-examining the "fundamentals" (but with a new vision this time). Then cycles through "traditionalism", and learn to integrate it into a "holistic" life. Again at the penultimate step, there is a re-entry into the deeply personal imago of the "cult" cocoon (but with purpose and vision this time), until one comes out from it into "balance". However, if one does not have a metacognition in the cult phase the first time round itself, then one is likely to fall over into excess, in the form of the "religious royalty cultish dead-end", and its worshiping devotees. Either one becomes the guru maharaj, or one of the acolytes.

This can be applied to any column. Also, perhaps more than one iteration may be required between the Penultimate step and the Limit, so that one gains all the necessary cognitions before one emerges into the point of balance on a new plane. Lastly, to get a comprehensive view of any religious, political or social ideology, one could map out its position along all columns and then put it on a grade-scale in comparison to other ideologies or cultures.

For the purposes of this blog entry, some brief thoughts about the column "politics":
(1) The "populism" phase under politics is the Penultimate inflection point. At a point when a tendency gains popularity (e.g. at a punctuated equilibrium in a society's evolution), then cults form and there is a tendency to gravitate to a "formal" ideology that best encapsulates the desires associated with this tendency.
(2) Next, there is likely to be the emergence of a "strong leader"  or more preferably a tight leadership core that consolidates the ideological movement and fleshes it out -- especially by wisely encompassing opposing but complementary points of view -- then captures the commanding heights of political power, and begins changes in all limbs of the establishment - political, educational, economic, cultural.
(3) From there a dynamic society should move into a new nationalism that is not centered on a particular personality or its dynastic succession, but on a national purpose linked with its civilization's worldview, to grow stronger economically and healthier socially.
(4) From there it would move into an isolationist phase, to consolidate its gains and capitalize on them, feed itself and grow strong in order to project power internationally.
(5) From there the society would re-enter a populist phase, where there is a widespread will aligned with the national purpose conceived earlier, and a widespread implementation of the promised benefits conceived in the populist phase the first time round.
(6) Once these benefits are received at the popular level, there should emerge a general recognition of its limits, and a national cognition of a new plane of existence that involves balance.
(7) However, if there is no proper cognition the first time round in the "populist" phase, then no good "formalism" comes from it, or rather an intellectually mediocre ideology rides the tide and leads to a chronic excess in the "formalism" step, of legalistic ideological affiliation and repeated purges of people who cannot continually swear by that ideology.

I think its easy to see that in movements where this has not played out, there has been a stalling of the iteration, and ultimately it leads to greater and greater tension and conflict - either internal, or with other societies - or simply stagnation.

In step (1) from above, movements that generated a more elegant, agile and intellectually superior formalism and ideology thrive longer. The US constitution is one example. The basic credo of Islamism is also pretty agile and rugged -- though at a rather different level of the psycho-physical mind than the US constitution. The Shi'a conversion of Iran is another case in point - where several Sufi cults were already closet Shi'a and Persian nationalist. Shah Esma'il was himself influenced by one such sect and he emerged as the strong leader in step (2) and lead the Safavi takeover. The Indian constitution is also a very comprehensive document, but the dead weight of several provisions in it need to be done away with as their intended goals are met as per the Preamble. Religious and caste privileges and freedoms to politically organize on those lines and so forth are meant to create a unified nation as clearly stated in the Preamble. They were never intended to become permanent entitlements for the purpose of more and more vicious politics.

Then in step (2) one observes that certain movements found a core leadership that consolidated that formalized ideology, debated it within their own core and found themselves cordially on both sides of the aisle. Again the US is a good example with its founding fathers fleshing out their thoughts on democracy and the Publius papers, and occupying both sides of the aisle. Whereas other movements that were not able to maturely encompass two opposing viewpoints have run into historic problems. Islamism still suffers from the Shi'a-Sunni schism that has lead to chronic blood-letting for fourteen centuries. Does Hindutva have the philosophical caliber to speak from opposing viewpoints? Can Hindutva be all-encompassing? Is there even a credible Hindutva Left at this point, or is there likely to be one in the near future? Obviously, the Gujarat model of development cannot be replicated in all states and regions.

Next, in step (3) a new nationalism is given shape, as a collective aspiration and there is economic growth and removal of social evils. I think the USSR and to some extent the PRC had a good phase in this aspect, but because of a philosophically immature formalistic ideology and equally immature core leadership formative phases, they had/have problems. The US continued its colonial momentum and occupied the entire continent from coast to coast, practically finishing off the native races. Thereafter, its engagement with Japan and opening up the Far East is noteworthy, as is its competition with Hispanic and other colonial powers. In India there is a lot of confusion on this step -- about what exactly this national aspiration really is! At best, the only pride that has been inculcated revolves around the fact that India is more sane and morally superior to its neighbors, some of whom we have engaged with in war successfully.

Next, in point (4), the US went through an isolationist phase of consolidation. India has been Non-Aligned, and perhaps this may continue in the near future. It becomes nonsensical without a vigorous growth trajectory and future purpose. So this must go along with an upsurge in economic growth. China has used this step to compensate for its weaknesses in previous steps, and is surviving and doing better than India in many ways, even though India is stronger on some of the earlier steps.

In point (5), we see that many of the promised benefits in the US were realized at a popular level, in terms of standards of living and the American Dream. At this point the US is in step (6), and it remains to be seen whether the nation as a whole can have a cognition of the limitations of the current materialistic understanding of the "pursuit of happiness", and an agreement on a more balanced spiritual understanding of the term - a sane spirituality that avoids the pitfall of Christian fundamentalism or its theological quirks. If this cognition does not dawn on the nation, then as part of step (7) it will continue to get into deeper conflict in the world as it competes for energy resources or in Crusader terms, and there will be greater tensions outside as well as a widening income disparity within.

India is still in the early steps, but at a crucial juncture here. Clearly, future growth and direction is slacking, and it is because there is confusion about the national sense of purpose. The intent expressed in the Preamble has been betrayed by the Congress and the caste and communal political discourse it created. Its own leadership core has degenerated into a dynastic sycophancy. Hindutva has potential and some of its leaders are promising, but it remains to be seen if a mature and intellectually superior ideology can emerge and encompass both sides of the aisle. I believe the emergence of a credible Hindutva Left would be a sure sign of things changing, and notably stalwarts like K.N. Govindacharya walked out of the BJP over a decade ago and started work on this in earnest. Perhaps the cult of Hindutva needs to be revisited and certain cognitions to be gained.

Feb 25, 2013

Identity and Learning: Worlds within worlds

Popular media and political parties seem to thrive on false dichotomies. Some are more transparent than others. Are faith and reason mutually exclusive? Is secularism and diversity endangered by Hinduism? Is democracy compatible with Islam? Is China's one-party system better than India's democracy at this stage of development? One bloc of countries is invading others to give them the gift of capitalist democracy, another bloc works to cure the disease of capitalism and bring social justice, while a third is trying to give everyone the gift of faith and religious law. Buffeted by internationalist blocs and their local sepoys, some Indians prefer to define themselves merely as "being different" from others based on a shared racial memory. How can Indians think about our identity more creatively while engaging with everyone in a globalizing environment?

Fundamental Hindu philosophy says that holistic survival can happen if we all become one - and we can become one while remaining diverse because our desires for distinctive categories reside simultaneously in each of us. We  can become reflections of each other while not becoming copies of one other. We can see and work on reflections of others in ourselves, and ourselves in others. Moreover, the adventure of consciousness blossoms in stages, and each stage reveals petals that protect others within: whorls within whorls. Each whorl is an iteration in the civilizing process of Man.

Below is a tentative table listing some civilizational iterations. Convenient names of historical civilizations have been used to characterize prominent cardinal values in each iteration. Original material borrowed from The Order of Time and modified. 

These can be applied to an individual or a culture as a whole. Various cultures of the world have managed to cycle through or assimilate few or more of these iterations. Its also pretty clear that some need to make more progress than others. 

Each iteration builds on preceding ones, so some individuals/cultures may need to "re-tribalize" in order to re-build a proper foundation for holistic growth rather than face increasing deracination as they "progress".

Once in 1992, Lee Kwan Yew, the architect of Singapore's successful city-state, was invited to Pakistan as part of a cultural exchange, to discuss ideas for developing an Asian economy using "Asian values", and to make way for investments. His hosts told him about the ideology of Pakistan, the two-nation theory, the inspiration of Islam, its values and mission, and the problems it was facing. At the end, Mr. Lee exclaimed, "How can a culture that places all its value in a life after death create a thriving entrepreneurial and innovation-based modern economy?!" Apparently he correlated purposes with values and virtues, and for a society with a fixation on one particular iteration, he saw a serious problem.

The purposes of any iteration have been looked at from four viewpoints: 
  1. Non-illusion, i.e., what kinds of data is considered more 'real' and significant than others. The Selection of Importances is basic to any course of action and further cognition. 
  2. Love, i.e., how is affinity expressed in the context of that iteration. The kinds of affinity and identification  it allows directly corresponds to the smooth flows of that same type of communication, as well as the type of reality that can be shared by participants of that iteration.
  3. Reward, i.e., the medium that provides satisfaction for participants. This has a direct effect on the political-economic order possible at that iteration. It can intensify or dampen the production-consumption cycle, and have similar effects on all other forms of oscillations.
  4. Social quality, i.e., the attitude it creates at the social apart from individual level, in either mobilizing people or affecting them in other cultural ways: actions, speech, thoughts, etc. This will be a trigger for the kinds of "rights" and obligations that people at a particular iteration tend to prioritize and are willing to fight for.
  5. Effect, i.e., the net political effect of that iteration at the individual as well as social level.
A quick summary of the above table:

The Zeroeth Iteration  (Vedic) has as its essence a vigilant meditation as a permanent state of mind. Its net effect is "discipline". Here "discipline" doesn't mean a regimen, but rather discipleship. The Vedic effect is to be at cause over "knowingness", and therefore to gain the ability of continuous, never-ending learning. 

The purposeful values of any iteration can't be treated as absolutes - that would be an error. Rather, its Values are better interpreted according to practical Principles aimed at bringing about a desired Reality. This desired Reality is the quality of consciousness that is sought to be achieved for some purpose. Each such Reality (consciousness) manifests certain Virtues that indicate its existence symptomatically. For this  Zeroeth iteration, the relationship can be represented as follows:

The First Iteration (Asian) has as its goal "community", and therefore its values, principles and virtues align with that, in a sense of regimen and harmony.

The Second Iteration (Platonian) has as its goal "politics". So its values, principles and virtues align with this purpose of the art and science of governing any sphere of affairs - individual or social.

The Third Iteration (Christian) is inherently an inverted, subjective reality, and has as its goal sacrifice. Here is an inversion, a gambit of one reality for another, where there is gain through loss.

The Fourth Iteration (Mohammedan) is a sufferance, an austerity, executed at a sunset of sorts. A penitent austerity, an abandonment or killing of past, and a turning about and journey back to a lost Center. It is  a cult phase, of correction and radicalization of old orders. But inversion and radicalism can result in unhinged fixations also.

The Fifth Iteration (Cartesian) is a rational foundation of inquiry based on empirical observation. Undertaken holistically, it is the beginning of being able to work with two (or more) realities simultaneously, a spiritual dualism. Undertaken without completing the earlier iterations, it can become a permanent deracination from spiritual reality.

The Sixth Iteration (Democratic) introduces accountability of all parts to the whole. It is devolution of responsibility.

The Seventh Iteration (Economic) is the organizing principle of any order that can encourage or discourage different types of responsibility. It is the base of the pyramid.

The Eighth Iteration (Interfaith) takes into account that at least at a global level, human civilization will always have a "cleft" in it - apart from the mainstream, there will be crosscurrents, subversive points of view, a rejectionist section of defectors or drop-outs. Certain ideologies will always exist that cater to this eternal tendency. A mature civilization can create a working unity even with this cleft, and turn it into an advantage by becoming a motor for continuous technological and ideological evolution. Apart from humanity as a whole, civilizations such as India have always included a cleft in it, and perhaps modern America is moving in that direction fast.

The Last Iteration has been tentatively named "A New Dualism", and its goal is one of social control - one that resolves a problem by inspiring and re-channeling human social forces towards a new purpose and greater satisfaction and justice. This re-purposing would go hand in hand with cleaning up the corruptions that indicate that the old order is running into several limiting conditions or stepping on unseen triggers - a dangerous "I didn't know the gun was loaded" condition that could threaten survival. I have called it "Dualism" because it is the full ripening of what began with the Fifth Iteration (Cartesian) and is able to fully work with two ontological realities seamlessly.

In the various anti-corruption movements or 'revolutions' today, there is a discernible move by different nations to complete their own incomplete iterations, or remove obstacles from the ones they have attempted. Some are proving to be more smooth and successful at progressing than others. What gives? 

A progressive characteristic may have something to do with the underlying self-definition. The more abstract and dynamic, the smoother and more flexible. The more prescriptive or history-centric, the more reaction and conflict one can expect. Rajiv Malhotra's discussion of History-Centric traditions versus non History-Centric culture is relevant here.

A famous mantra from the Vedas and Upanishads. It was supposedly also quoted a lot by The Buddha to his disciples:

चरन् वै मधु विन्दति चरन् स्वादुम् उदुम्बरं 
सूर्यस्य पश्य श्रेमनं यो न तन्द्रयते चरन् |
चरैवेति चरैवेति ||    
~ ऐतरेय ब्राह्मण 7-15-5

One translation:

"The moving one wins nectar, 
The moving one gets delicious pickings. 
Look at the superiority of the Sun
Which is never tired of moving. 
Keep moving, Keep moving."
~ Aitareya Brahmana 7-15-5

Feb 22, 2013

Moral equivalence - Exterior manifestations vs. Undercurrents

Anti-corruption movements for political reform and social justice seem to have one thing in common - seeking a better moral leadership for things like "justice" and re-directing the national sense of purpose. Various ideologies are moving into this space, each vending its version of justice and purpose, its iconic personalities, its enemies, its solutions. Some of these are presented as purely political-economic ideologies, some as religious, some as social ethics. But the question of what is moral is really interesting, and ultimately focuses on a personal exemplar: historical, epic, mythological - or more honestly its usually some mixture of all three, no matter which culture one examines.

In this regard, how does one adjudicate what is a superior morality? The personal exemplars of morality from different civilizational contexts are all complex personalities. Some of the exterior actions and words attributed to the same persona strike me as seductive and others repugnant, some as inspired and others fantasia, some as sterling boldness and other as fork-tongued cunning. Only if I can find a way to appreciate the subtleties, can I create a valid purva-paksha (comparative counter-proposal) to think about it "objectively" - or at least according to a supra-subjective scale of truth. I feel a need for this, because public discourse is swamped with the usual wishy-washy politically correct "no criticizing religion" discourse in India (or the West). Too many times the people who moderate the national discourse pass off a false moral equivalence by a practiced sleight of hand.

I was watching a religious debate between Robert Spencer and Nadir Ahmed, on "Does Islam teach violence?". Here's an excerpted part dealing with "rape":

While the two sides competed on selective statements, neither presented a logical argument about moral undercurrents, context, and actions itself. Admittedly, Spencer came out on top because of the sheer weight of evidence of legalized slavery, rape and violence that forms the self-vaunted track record of Islamist political history as well as present day news. But like most apologists, Nadir Ahmed points out that this is all an aberration from the pure example set by the core of Islam - the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) - in whose persona Islam's legal permissions unite with his personal integrity. So statistical record aside, it is worth looking closely at this apologia - because it means that if the core is morally pure and yet complex, then Islamism can re-invent itself, keep evolving and come to the forefront of proposing the most sound moral and yet practical solutions to society's material, social and spiritual problems.

First I have a consideration about permissiveness and restraint as advised by moral authority, especially religious moral authority: Even though slavery, rape and violence was practiced by the Prophet's own companions with the Prophet's personal sanction in the aftermath of wars, yet these can be rationalized as the inevitable concomitant of all war. As it is, war is a cauldron of human insanity, of tooth and claw, of reaction more than conscious action. Some reactions may be noble, but oftentimes not. No one can deny that excesses of violence during wartime occur in all civilizations. But does this imply a moral equivalence between excesses committed by, say, jihadis in the name of a religious ideology versus, say, an Anders Breivik?

A valid question here is whether the role of religious sanction is to buttress the "rationalizations" of these excesses (which are themselves a product of a process of insanity), or to warn against it, or to treat its aftermath. Religious sanction for acts of insanity can remove all natural vestiges of guilt that may hold the human back, or force him to think of alternatives. This is a tricky question, because false guilt can be a killer in times of insanity (such as war) and is considered a sin in most religions. But there is something to be said for real conscience, too. Does religious sanction mitigate the effects of the excesses of human insanity? Or does it merely help dissipate the surface effects after actually encouraging its widespread perpetration? I must throw up my hands on this one, because this consideration must again defer to the subjective details of Present Time context.

Secondly, Nadir Ahmed focuses his defensive argument against "rape in Islam" repeatedly on one single exemplary episode: This is the Hadith (narrations from the personal life of the Prophet) of Safiyyah, where the Prophet meets Safiyyah bint Huyayy and takes her as a wife. Some context: Safiyyah at the time was a 17 year old Jewish girl captured from the Banu Nadir tribe just after the Battle of Khaybar. In Islamic law, female captives of war are legitimate slaves ("right hand possessions"). Safiyyah was the only surviving member of the Banu Nadir tribe's ruling family. Safiyyah and another woman, Reyhanah, were brought as an offering to the Prophet by a few devoted companions. Reyhanah shrieked and cried, and the Prophet said, "Take this she-devil away from me!". Presumably, she may have become the slave-girl or perhaps the wife of another. But Safiyyah remained silent in the Prophet's presence, and that was taken as a sign of acceptance. She submitted to Islam and to its Prophet, considered by all those around her as the most desirable husband in all of Creation. The Prophet consummated his marriage to Safiyyah shortly thereafter, but in her marriage she never bore him any children. Later in life, Safiyyah was often taunted for her Jewish origins by the other wives of the Prophet. Some debated whether she had the status of a wife or a slave-girl, but it was agreed that she was a legitimate wife. Doubts about her sincerity in accepting Islam and suspicions that she would avenge the death of her family are recurring themes in the Sirah Rasul Allah (earliest biography of Muhammad). 

Nadir Ahmed points out that in this episode, the Prophet has demonstrated by his own personality that he avoids rape, prefers marriage to slavery, and prefers non-violence to force, even in the immediate aftermath of a battle. He could have had his way with the other woman brought with Safiyyah, but his innate nature could not find a screaming, unwilling woman a desirable partner, or even a slave. 

The message of the apologia is that the Prophet Muhammad did not delight in forced conquest, but was pleased only by voluntary acceptance and submission. This is evidence of a certain kind of nobility of character, a humbling and awe-inspiring restraint - in the aftermath of a successful abduction and in the wake of a shocking victory in battle. The Prophet is restrained and dignified when he looms over another.

One cannot find fault with this logical argument - unless one chooses to be irreverent to the stature of the Prophet of God, which now looks like a rather nervous, foolish and vain position considering the definitive overwhelm of historical circumstance - in Safiyyah's case and all cases of war, terror or general chaos in past and present times. Death itself is an inevitability for everyone, in whatever form it comes. Either one can be humble and 'realistic' about it, and find peace in submission - and the ecstasy that will come from it, sooner or later. Or one can be irreverent. These are the only two choices, it seems, in terms of affective states and their cognitive modes.

There is something fascinating about this logic, and its context of operation is like a seductive vortex. In that vortex there is to be had, both, a kind of passion and a peace, a vigor and a resignation, a succumbing and a release. An offer of security in surrender.

There is something metaphysical about it. Is it the anticipation of a Divine opening and further exploration, or is it the definitive Titanic thud of a closure of the past? Does it raise its servants into freedom and independence? Or does it keep its slaves in the pleasure of perpetual co-dependence? What kind of entity is the priesthood - brAhmaNa or dasyu? That would tell me what kind of dAsa the devotee is. 

Such considerations floated across as I turned Nadir Ahmed's persistent, hammering argument, his devotion and his reverence over in my heart and mind. I was also reminded of something anyone who has been immersed in Hindu culture to any extent cannot help recall: 

In the epic Ramayana, we have one examplar in the great King Ravana of Lanka. The glories of his admirable qualities are described at length in the Ramayana. He was Brahmana, and a man of superior wisdom and distinguished mystical realization. He had created a Stairway to Heaven, an elevationist meme abounding in Islamic Gnosticism, too, and which has as its product a salvationist meme for the mass of grateful devotees.  His self-mortifying devotions and austerities were intense and often moving, a rendezvous at suicide cliff, sometimes  a brilliantly macabre sado-masochistic ecstasy. And yet he was just, humble and pleasing in so many ways! A man of talent, passion, wisdom, and a deep sense of his own unfulfilled destiny, he had pleased the Lord Shiva and achieved many revelations and benedictions. 

His ambition burgeoned, and with it a beautiful nation, of wealth, justice, power projection, and numerous ardent citizen devotees. A courageous warrior, from whom his roving lieutenants borrowed their boldness in war. In fact, just such a set of his bold lieutenants had been engaging in tactically brilliant bouts of surprise warfare against the Rishis and tribes of Bharatavarsha, including the young self-exiled scion of a ruling family of Ayodhya, Rama. They ambushed the pagans wherever they found them, raided them, defiled their heretic sacred spaces as it deserved to be defiled, and generally wrought the wrath of Ravana's God upon these tribes. 

In the aftermath of a few such skirmishes, Ravana abducts Sita herself, the chaste wife of the pagan king Rama, and takes her back to Lanka. There, she finds herself in miserably pleasant environs - the Ashoka Vatika, the Grove of No Sorrow. Surrounded by palatial gardens, Ravana's co-wives and concubines tell her of the glories of their husband and master - the most eligible husband in the three worlds, as a matter of fact, and taunt her for her unyielding and patently unreasonable stubbornness. 

His Majesty the King Ravana would periodically come visiting, to give her the opportunity to submit to his love, but Sita struggled to maintain her chastity, sometimes even suggesting that her husband Rama would come to her rescue. As irrelevant, irreverent and insulting as this was, Ravana maintained his dignity. He would not force himself on her, but preferred that she submit willingly. Only later - after a surprise visit by one Hanuman (who intruded covertly but departed with some disturbing fanfare), an agent of Rama - did Ravana include an ultimatum to Sita. But clearly, taken in the proper context, he procured her in an act of war and deception, but would not possess her against her will. 

Of course one could say that Sita's free will was being tested by the change in her environmental context - physical abduction as well as the constant suggestions of those that surrounded her. While Ravana did alter the context that was operative on Sita's free will, one cannot accuse him of running roughshod over it. It was beneath his present dignity and power. Ravana gave her that opportunity to give herself to him willingly, even as he loomed over her. 

Perhaps an unfavorable view of Ravana's treatment of Sita would be that while the exterior manifestation of Ravana's behavior seemed noble and reasonable, there was always in his life the undercurrent of a dominance-slave mentality at best and total nullification at worst that wrought circumstances around him.

Context determines the Value of any action. But in adjudicating the moral value of an action, even more important than the exterior Context is the personal Karmic Undercurrent that creates that context in the first place. Often I find myself acting out against my own dogmas in the clutch of circumstances that I know I have played a part in creating: a case of "My Kar-ma ran over my Dog-ma", no doubt. A self-fulfilling end-times prophecy is another classic case. That perspicacity would also be needed in calling out a false moral equivalence between one act and another from different persons, cultures, times and places. 

I still don't know if there is any moral equivalence between Nadir Ahmed's logic of Muhammad's (pbuh) proposition to Safiyyah and the Ramayana's logic of Ravana's proposition to Sita, or whether there is a moral equivalence between acts of violence or seduction by Islamists and those of Christians, Marxists, or the newly emerging "Hindutva terror" as highlighted by Rahul Gandhi and Home Minister Shinde. Its a tricky question and has many subtle, contextual issues.

But it did occur to me that in India, the ethos of Dharma is illuminated and energized by the sun of its Mythos. Conscientious discrimination (viveka) cannot but bask in its reflected glory.

Feb 20, 2013

Psychohistory vs. Dumb Dialectics

In the Itihasas and Puranas of India, history is treated in a way that befuddled Western historians 200 years ago. The time-linear historical vector was only one thread, which was woven into an epic narrative, which in turn had its origins in a faraway but all-illuminating mythos. Western historians like Max Mueller initially rubbished this as fecund imagination not fit for historical data - after all, he pointed out, its absurd that they speak of an ancient history stretching far earlier than 5000 years (when the world was created according to authentic Biblical scholars)! That's become a joke now, but little has been done to re-evaluate this civilization's heritage from its own point of observation. Further, this innovative treatment of history is not an eccentricity unique to India. The great Persian poet and historian Ferdowsi, author of the epic Shahnameh, also speaks of these three threads: tareekh - time-linear historical events, hamaaseh - the epic heroic narrative between good and evil), and the asaateer - the mythological legends that encapsulate the collective psychological source of his civilization. This mythology sits on the horizon of conscious memory and time immemorial. Taken together, they help the civilization evolve by carrying forward the lessons of historical experience while maintaining its own essence and integrity, its soul.

Psychohistory is a modern discipline that attempts to study the psychodynamics behind historical patterns, past and present. Using the insights of process philosophy and psychotherapy, along with the research methods of sociology, anthropology and ethnology, it tries to understand the emotional origin of the behavior and choices made by social and political groups and nations as they happened in the actual context of their own times and places. A special angle of analysis is interpersonal relations according to the culture of that time, place and technological environment. Gender relationships and social divisions are re-organized differently based on the technological and cultural horizons in which society has to survive and operate most efficiently.

Psychohistory is fairly common sense, and is important because all too often we wrongly superimpose present day values onto a past circumstance and make an emotional judgment about it. A poetic observation that evoked religious awe in geocentric minds in millenniums past may prompt a supercilious wisecrack in classrooms today - but that would be a willful failure to appreciate the context and therefore the substance and validity of that work emerging on a different horizon. Its similar in the case of interpersonal and social relations in different eras and climes. A hierarchical social division that served well and harmoniously in feudal-agricultural times will certainly become unjust if it persists beyond its usefulness into the present day and age, but that doesn't mean it had the same effect in that earlier age.

Needless to say, one's Point of Observation can make all the difference in one's own affective states, and the cognition and action that can proceed from it. Awareness and education, as well as a general sense of contentment, self-esteem and detachment about life goes a long way into being able to find the optimal Point of Observation in any situation.

The present dispensation in India and the system it has nurtured is not just nationwide but pan-subcontinental and even international in terms of its primary dynamics. Its Point of Observation is not Indocentric. Chacha Nehru uvaacha: "I am an Englishman by education, a Moslem by culture, and a Hindu by accident." Fortunately or unfortunately, he was a child of the times for someone from his background. (Fortunately or unfortunately, other leaders like Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi or Sardar Patel were of a different hue and had a different perspective, though they didn't live to personally steer the Executive happily ever after.)

The current dispensation uses the same political methods that survived from the British colonial machinery and the Islamist powers that went before: extra-national allies, subversive elements, internal wedges and  external buffers to contain any resurgence of the core. Moreover, it tries to ideologically and culturally inoculate the civilizational core against its own essence; sort of 'Bollywood'-izes it. It thrives on perpetuating general poverty while encouraging the formation of rich new oligarchies and interest groups that pledge loyalty. This leads to competition for resources and quotas, amid widening inequality. Its ideological moles then frame a victimhood narrative to deepen the cleft, and its other allies use it to win converts from the core toward the cultural periphery, or towards a subversive movement, or to the outright antithesis.

The typical Communist ideologue (generally mistaken for a 'historian' at all our elite universities) uses a dialectic based on a deeply flawed psychohistory: It takes something that is an oddity or injustice in Present Time context, and superimposes its present sense of absurdity, grievance, or deprivation on history in a way that completely distorts the vastly different circumstances of that historical process. This retrospective distortion magnifies the grievance or ridicule, and makes the "burden of history" too painful to bear. The resentment is then used for push-button politics, mobilization and social engineering. Without a doubt, this social "reformer" is actually the angel of death as far as the civilization is concerned. Since he can't pick up the threads of the past in present time, he cannot help it evolve into the future. He can only try to nullify it as a step to "year zero".

More insidiously, after allowing the body politic to be periodically wracked by violence, the dispensation then encourages a maudlin sentimentality and a wishy washy "synthesis" culture from the thesis and antithesis. What's interesting about these periodic bouts of 'Aman ki Asha' is that it always initiates this "synthesis" by using the cultural preferences, dogmatic core and hackneyed accusations of the periphery and the subversive as the starting point (thesis), with the native core viewpoint (usually a travesty of psychohistory) framed as the flexible, fungible, or downright illogical and unjust 'other' (antithesis).

But this is a devious misapplication of dialectics: It is an epistemological observation that if the human mind is first possessed of an untruth, and is then confronted with a truer piece of data (true to the self), it first rejects it via a process of Othering. Any synthesis subsequently formed is of less truth value than the newly introduced data, though it may be better than the untrue figment that was used as the starting point. Its a positive outcome for the less civilized parasitic horde, but a net negative outcome for the more civilized host nation if it internalizes this "syncretic" culture.

If the ruling dispensation primarily addresses the periphery, the subversive and the outright antithesis of the Dharmic core as the point of departure for the evolution of Indian civilization, what occurs is not evolution but devolution. This social-engineered punctuated equilibrium is a slow death spiral for Indian civilization in stages...wherein the final nails in the coffin will be hammered in by enthusiastic and well-intentioned native deracinates who consider themselves as belonging to the core, but don't know any better.

Perhaps the first task is to reorder the political and educational discourse, and capture the dialectic initiative with a vigorous purva-paksha (clear statement of difference, what we are not). The work of people such as Rajiv Malhotra is very relevant in these times. Along with that, the core Dharmic forces need to create an all-inclusive and all-encompassing responsibility for society that outflanks the periphery and reduces it to an island, that pulls the carpet from under the feet of the subversives, and that defeats the untrue antithesis on the strength of demonstrated evidence.

Some related thoughts in this speech by Swaminathan Gurumoorthy on globalization and India:

Feb 18, 2013

Who's "communal"? - 'Asmita' politics vs. identity politics

Normally, politicians speak in terms of Vision, Agenda, and Propositions. But most national democracies are relatively monocultural or small. In a diverse 'civilizational core state' like India, there is another important factor to address: Identity.

In December 2012, Narendra Modi's state election victory could mark a watershed in many ways. One was that this was probably the first major election where the main contender did not campaign on caste or communal lines. Rather, NaMo had made a greater creative Identity the cornerstone of his new politics much earlier - the politics of Asmita. Asmita is Sanskrit for the inspiration, dignity and work that springs from pride in one's Identity, and he called it Gujarati Asmita - which he significantly joined with a pan-Indian Asmita, and subsequently one theoretically based on a Dharma that promotes good values across humanity. In creatively enthusing a greater Identity, NaMo had transcended the petty identity politics that others have thrived on. He backed that up with a dynamic socio-economic vision and agenda.

In contrast with identity politics, Asmita politics is integral and invites more people to participate in it. When a greater all-encompassing identity is created, it is up to others whether they want to share in its inspiration and contribute to it, or whether they prefer to turn their backs on it and remain separate. In order to be able to invite and utilize more people in its projects of life and living, the Asmita politician must be able to select talents and resources where available, and redistribute them where needed. This is part of the larger system that we know as Varnashrama.

The Chaturvarna (4 Varnas) are functional divisions of a completed Cycle of Action, comprehensive in all respects of Life. So what is the significance of Varna, its actual purpose, and what does it mean for moral leadership, values and pragmatism in society? Sourced some of the material from here - The Order of Time. Check this article in particular: Q 5.1 What are the divisions and content of a balanced life? (Do a search for "varna" to get to some directly relevant paragraphs.) And then this article: Q 5.2 Interests of the Soul

The system of Varna is interlocking with the Ashrama divisions. Both together propose a system objective: "How do we guarantee and understand that interests of the soul should prevail over the interest of the ego? Simply balancing good with evil within ourselves with a clock and calendar is just part of the solution. To the solution there, of course, must also be a clear moral leadership."

The issue of moral leadership is important in answering the first question (bolded). But moral "leadership" can soon degenerate into religious or ideological "authority". That's a dwindling spiral, and an entity loses creative enthusiasm and becomes dull, or merely argumentative. This is true whether it is a religious authority like in, say, Iran; or whether it is a political ideology and rhetoric of "democracy" as in the US. The organizing principle becomes subverted by the ego to impose its static "solution" on everyone. It could degenerate into a stultified intellect (powered by the ego) driving a robotic machine (society and the individual). India's earlier "caste system" was a case in point for a while after it outlived its utility.

This poor record of "authority" is not an argument against the role of "leadership" in general. As we observe and participate in an "anti-corruption" movement in India today, this point will repeatedly come up. In Iran, the struggle for freedom from religious dictatorship is hamstrung because there is no viable alternative leadership with the required level of moral authority. The opposition leaders are merely "reformist" ex-Islamists. Same case in the US today, which could use a unified direction and re-calibration of values and Asmita, rather than political correctness based on identity politics.

Public education ("presentation of philosophy or standards") of the masses is therefore an important part of political economy and moral leadership: media, universities, cultural and competitive activities. The West puts a premium on its control of the media, its university network and control of academia, and the blatant use of the "Coliseum culture" to manage its populations. But how can one use this same organizing and educational principle to ensure that the interests of the soul prevail over the interests of the ego?

First, we can define fields (or scopes) of work:

It goes without saying that at the level of scientific "observation", "law", etc., whatever is observed or legislated may be true in one of these scopes, but not another. What may be true for a society may not be true for the individual. What may be true for one aspect of an individual may not be taken as true for the individual as a whole, etc. Clearly, any definition of Varna or Ashrama that is at the level of "legalism" cannot be a comprehensive definition, but is limited by spatio-temporal and cultural coordinates.

Within any field of work, there are levels of commitment:

In Sanskrit, different words are used for different calibers of teachers. An "adhyaapaka" is one who has some specialized knowledge that he can deliver to students. A "shrotriya" is one who is familiar with a much wider context of that specialized knowledge, and so never misses the forest for the trees. A "pravaktaa" is one who not only has all this, but is a personal believer in the subject and walks the talk in his life. It is not merely an academic "intellectual" interest, but he works with it. An "acharya" is one who has realized the end phenomena of the subject.

One can create such a status mapping, based on ego-inclinations and life-phases, and each would have its own set of values, easily recognizable in society:

The identities assumed by individuals can be further mapped based on their life situation and lifestyle choices:

From the above, its pretty clear that Asmita politics must have an interlocking co-operation with other aspects of Life, and its movers and shapers ought to demonstrate that internal harmony, either in themselves, or as part of society. That harmony signals a moral leadership that is important in society - to balance enduring values with the circumstantial demands for vigorous pragmatism in dealing with external and internal challenges, threats and opportunities.

Feb 14, 2013

Blasphemy and Multicultural Democracy

Lots of news on overt and covert religious politics and the national Constitution. Why only debate constitutional law? Its time we scrutinized different religious canons, too.

Paradoxically in modern times, national and international politics is being shaken by "rageboys" of all stripes ticked off by acts of sacred offence such as blasphemy. Free society has insidiously become hostage to political correctness that must not cross lines. Since the government's priority is to avoid a disruption of law and order, it automatically means that the group that threatens the most violent tantrum will have its way. This subverts the spirit if not the letter of the Constitution, as stated in the Preamble. So it may be useful to examine root causes here and perhaps work out a more mature society through understanding.

What are some of the canonical definitions of sacred offence in different religious traditions? In the popular religious mindset there is a distinct separation of the sacred and the profane, an abyss that can be bridged only by rituals that restore purity, or by devotions that transcend it and humble the self in respect to the flock. How tolerant a religious tradition is would depend on the relative emphasis given to either of these - ritual loyalty versus transcendental devotions and humble service to humanity - and at a communal level as well as the individual.

Yet, priestcraft and religious politics depends so much on the perception of this abyss in the popular mind for its own relevance, that it is often at pains to reinforce this concept of separation. Disgust, anger and fear are most usefully employed in this respect, as are expressions of attachment.

Sacred offences canonically include sedition, obscenity, facetious treatment of duties or devotions, etc. Blasphemy can be considered a special case of a sacred offence - it is an offence of expression against some sacred authority that is idolized by a community, which could be a person or a text. In contradistinction to democratic authority, religious authority is typically more concerned about offences of expression and criticism rather than freedom of expression and criticism. Both are important and each has its legitimate place in the Constitution. Therefore a semantic examination is necessary in order to dovetail.

The treatment of blasphemy and sacred offence by a religion can tell us a lot about the relationship of its context and contents. Jesus challenged the Jewish order: Was Man made for the Sabbath, or the Sabbath for Man? Is religion supposed to be a 'managed solution' that comes as a package of bundled contents that need to be implemented independent of context? Or is it an 'unmanaged solution' where the contents are to be continuously customized to the scope and context of its application? Maybe a bit of both?

In Indic religions, there are two ruling concepts - Brahman (something like a 'Supreme Being') and Dharman (something like 'pragmatic ethics'). The Vedanta Sutras (Uttara Mimamsa) begin with athAtO brahma-jijnAsa, whereas the logically anterior Mimamsa Sutras (Purva Mimamsa) begin with athAtO dharma-jijnAsa. Religions based on Dharma point to the fact that there is only One Way, and all viewpoints must connect or dovetail with that Way. They freely acknowledge the multiplicity of viewpoints and forms, while also denouncing certain 'viewpoints' as spurious. Whereas religions not based on Dharma will also say that there is only One Way - and that is to abandon other spiritual applications, and install and execute their own managed solution that comes bundled with an ideological affiliation, communal membership and notions of purity and duty.

Let's take a comparison of two sects, one Dharmic and the other non-Dharmic. Here is one such set of blasphemous "offences" that form part of the credo of a couple of Vaishnava sects. They are excerpted from the Padma Purana. As you can see, the doctrinal aspect is very subtle. (Also note that these sects have traditionally been missionary sects, so its a worthwhile comparison.)

सतां निन्दानाम्नः परमं अपराधं वितनुते
यतः ख्यातिं यातं कथं उ सहते तद्विगर्हाम् |

This relates to etiquette and blasphemy, but is focused on the 3rd person singular, as a general rule for the individual and any faith tradition, rather than at a communal level or at the actions of another person: "The greatest offence is to blaspheme the Good/Truthful Ones who had dedicated their lives to the propagation of the Holy Name. How can one bear to then degrade them?"

शिवस्य श्रीविष्णोर्य इह गुणनामादि सकलं
धिया भिन्नं पश्येत् स खलु हरिनामाहितकरः ||

Now this is about doctrine, and is very subtle! At an exoteric level, this doctrinal point speaks to the oneness and difference of competing "gods" of different religious communities. (In more esoteric terms it speaks to ontological categories beyond the scope of this article.) The sentence can mean two opposite things depending on whether the word nAmAhita is broken up as "nAma ahita" or "nAma Ahita": "One whose intellect sees the Attributes and Names of Shiva and Vishnu as separate from one another... he has indeed done a disservice to the Name of Hari -- OR -- ...he has indeed performed/offered the Name of Hari!"  Here the concept of simultaneous difference and non-difference is alluded to, and requires spiritual maturity and experience to see this. 

गुरोरवज्ञा श्रुतिशास्त्रनिन्दनं
ततार्थवादो हरिनाम्निकल्पनम् ||

This one is about discipleship, mental attitude and doctrinal understanding: "To disobey the orders of the spiritual master. To denigrate the Shruti literature and shastras written in pursuance of the Vedic version. To believe in rationalizations and mental interpretations of the Names/Mantras. To consider the glories of uttering the Name/Mantra to be a product of the faculty of 'imagination [...are all offences]'."

नाम्नो बलाद् यस्य हि पापबुद्धिर्
न विद्यते तस्य यमैर्हि शुद्धिः||

This one flatly condemns specious rationalization of unethical behavior on the basis of the 'greater good' of propagating or glorifying what is sacred: "To commit sinful activities on the strength of chanting the Holy Name of the Lord. Such a person's intellect [or mental map] is itself sinful. Even Yama (Lord of Death) cannot purify him!"

धर्मव्रतत्यागहुतादि सर्वशुभक्रियासंयम् ।
अपि प्रमादः |

This one asks the practitioner to rise above ritual and spiritual or material ambition and be in Present Time: "To consider chanting of the Names/Mantras as similar to vows, or duties, or ritualistic activities offered for religious fruitive purposes (like heaven, or wealth and success, or for one's ancestors, etc.) [is an offence]. (i.e., spiritual grace is not to be considered the product of some actions, behaviour or affiliation). Being inattentive or distracted while chanting also [is an offence]."

अश्रद्दधाने विमुखे 'पि अशृण्वति
यश्चोपदेशः शिवनामापराधः ||

This one is specifically about interactions with those who do not subscribe to one's faith tradition: "To instruct or preach to an unwilling, uninterested or faithless person about the significance of the Holy Name is an offence to the auspicious Name (or Shiva's Name)."

श्रुत्वापि नाममाहात्म्ये यः प्रीतिरहितो 'धमः |
अहं ममादि परमो नाम्नि सो 'प्यपराधकृत् ||

This one is a warning on the label, that if an egotistic attitude to religion persists, then it leads one to perdition, not heavenward: "In spite of having heard/read so much about the significance of the Holy Name if one is still lacking in affection for It, then one is a neophyte. In spite of hearing so much if one is still involved in "I" and "mine" and other material attachments, then one is only committing offences against the Holy Name when one chants."

Let's take a non-Dharmic Abrahamic tradition such as Islam, which tends to be in the news a lot. First, the legalistic fiqh position can be easily researched. Scurrilous remarks merit capital punishment. There is a command to spread the faith, by word and if necessary by annihilating inimical priesthoods. Refusal by the non-believer to accept Islam when it has been explained to him/her incurs the wrath of God. Apostasy by a believer or someone that was born into a Muslim family is punished by death - in fact an apostate is fair game and the killer gets spiritual merit (sawaab) for the kill. Non-adherence to the moral injunctions by believers gone astray is severely punishable, and God has exterminated entire tribes and races in history for precisely that through war and pestilence. All this and more can be easily researched and is often alluded to.

But this is only the outer shell, the legal framework of the culture, and any good Muslim scholar will tell you that there are vast gray areas that form the pulp and substance of the religion, that make these guidelines an extreme survival measure rather than the norm. It is also noteworthy that the RigVeda also contains plenty of war and injunctions to make war on opposing priesthoods and so forth, yet the Vedic tradition as a whole had an Upanishadic side that was entirely contemplative and gave a new semantic to the faith. Islamic culture has 'Sufism', of which there are two types - First those Sufis who work in tandem with the jihadis, and are founts of morale and lend significance to the act of jihad. When the European colonialists used a policy of 'Guns and Bibles', they were only emulating the 'Swords and Sufis' policy of Islamic empires. Another type of Sufis are the more contemplative type, the introspective. This is the soft side and usually when Indians think of 'Sufi', perhaps that's what they imagine. For comparison, let us take a look at some popular traditions from one of them on sacred offences:

As told by the great Afghan teacher Hazrat Ebrahim Adham:

مردم به او گفتند که -- ما هرچه خدا را میخوانیم که فرموده است ادعونی استجب لکم (بخوانید مرا تا اجابت کنم شما را) ما را جواب نمیگوید و حق تعالی راستگو است. فرمود -- زیرا دلهای شما نرده است. اول میدانید که خدا هست و بندگی او را نمی کنید!  و دوم اینکه قرآن را می خوانید ولی بکار نمی گیرید!  سوم آنکه  می گویید که رسول خدا را دوست دارید و متابعت او را نمی کنید!  و چهارم اینکه آرزوی بهشت دارید لیکن کاری برای آن نمی کنید!  و پنجم اینکه میگویید که از آتش جهنم می ترسید ولی تن خود را به آن گرو داده اید!  و ششم اینکه می گویید شیطان دشمن ماست اما با او همراهی می کنید!  و هفتم اینکه نعمت خدا را می خورید اما شکر او را بجای نمی آورید!  و هشتم اینکه به زبان می گویید که مرگ حق است و هیچ کاری برای آن انجام نمی دهید!  و نهم اینکه از خواب که بیدار می شوید به غیبت کردم مشغول می شوید و عیب برادران خود را می گویید بجای اینکه عیب خود را اصلاح کنید!  و دهم اینکه برادران و دوستان خود را دفن می کنید و اهمیتی برای خودتان ندارد! پس تا زمانی که این اخلاق زشت با شما باشد دعا شما اجابت نمی شود تا این که توبه کنید و از آن باز گردید

The people said to him: "No matter what we beseech the Lord as per His own saying in the Qur'an "ad'ooni ist'ejaab lakum" ('Call upon me and I shall reward you'), he doesn't answer us, yet His True Highness is truthful." He instructed: "For your hearts are the balustrade...
  1. You know that God exists but you will not submit to Him.
  2. You read the Holy Qur'an, but you do not live by it.
  3. You say that you like God's Messenger, but you do not follow his sunnat (Way of his life).
  4. You say you like paradise, but you do nothing to obtain it.
  5. You say you are afraid of the Fire, but you lend your bodies to it.
  6. You say that Satan is your enemy, but you agree with him.
  7. You consume God's blessings, but you do not give gratitude.
  8. You say with your tongue that death is certain, but you do nothing before it comes.
  9. After you awaken from sleep, you start gossiping and seeing other people's faults, but you ignore your own shortcomings and faults.
  10. You bury your brothers and friends, and you value them not, i.e., when you cry, you cry for yourself, not for them."
What I find interesting here is that it has a hammering quality that it borrows from its tradition, though it is urging the reader to think. Yet, it can be construed as one urging even greater re-dedication to one's vows and duties without any re-evaluation. Lastly, it offers no guideline on interaction with those who do not share one's faith tradition. It is focused on the individual, but not the communal.

Feb 13, 2013

Human command potentials and roles in Civilization

The following is an attempt to abstract certain cultural and political memes that can be used to analyze the condition of a nation that is a civilization's "core state", and its consequent positive or negative value for the planet as a whole. Consider a diagram of concentric circles, each representing a degree of concern and ability to affect (or be at cause over) one's self and the environment.

Below is my understanding of some characteristics of these, along with some memes I can discern from the RgVeda. Corrections, additions, etc, are welcome.

In a "Vedic" sense of scales of "knowingness", an integral planetary civilization spectrum would also include a 'cleft' between its core and a deracinated periphery, or a subversive current, or even an outright antithetical ideology. That tension is part of what keeps it evolving through technological and ideological iterations.

Because genetically, culturally and in other ways India is a microcosm of humanity and a confluence ('sangam') of sorts, this also applies to pan-Indian civilization. Perhaps Indian civilization would actually encompass all of these -- but in a particular balance in its optimal condition. Therefore, it would be an interesting exercise to apply the above table to India - probably the most diverse and yet unified civilizations of all time, with a recorded cultural continuity to boot.

But what constitutes the 'core' (#1 in the table) of a civilization? Is it the ruling dispensation at any point in time? Definitely not. Every civilization has a soul, a presiding presence through time that has a defining keynote purpose and value for itself, the rest of humanity and the global environment.

Thus, one would have to first agree on what is the 'core' culture of a civilization before one can use the table. For it is possible that #3 is not at the commanding heights of political power, and is in fact in retreat or cornered on its own turf. In that case #3 may look like the subversive #5, but that is not the case. Rather, it is the opposite, where #5 is part of the dispensation, its agent in society, and a vested interest that uses the dispensation to continue to make inroads or to feed itself parasitically. And the true #3 is the party on the backfoot, or a network surviving by compromise.

Corruption, underhanded deals and treacherous extra-national alliances are a feature of such a situation, where the parties in #5 are vested interests in the ruling dispensation and #3 is cornered in his own home. Therefore, this macro view of India or any other nation as a civilizational building block is important in order to analyze root causes in the various anti-corruption movements today.

It is also especially interesting to discuss the table w.r.t. the current political-cultural dispensation in India, since it appears to be on the cusp of a new civilizational iteration now. Which way this iteration goes could be decided by howmany of us understand where we are coming from, what our purpose is, and what is at stake for us and for humanity as a whole.

Feb 12, 2013

Dogs: Legalistic ritualism vs. Epic freedom

Some anthropological attitudes are shaped by ancient beliefs and culture, and it becomes insanely irrational when the theory and reason behind it is lost. I found this an interesting comparative study in piecing together a case in point:

Probably the worst place on Earth for a dog is the Middle East and North Africa. Admittedly, this is mainly due to Islamic hadith traditions about dogs being possessed by devils, and due to shari'ah laws that require several ablutions to restore ritual purity after contact with a canine. Still, many great Afghan and Persian Sufi wanderers loved dogs and even shared their meals with them. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), too, loved dogs at one time. As he and his followers were once marching off to war, he reacted protectively when one of his soldiers was cruel with a pregnant canine lying by the wayside. But undeniably, a famous hadith narrates that on one occasion the Prophet had been expecting a visit from the Archangel Jebrail, who arrived three days late. Surprised by this, the eager Prophet wanted to know why. To which Gabriel said that neither He nor Allah ever enters a house in which a dog resides. Muhammad immediately kicked a puppy hiding under his bed squealing out of his quarters. Later he narrated to his followers many other things about dogs, mostly negative. Black dogs especially were surely possessed by devils. Shari'ah does allow one to use dogs for some specific purpose, such as to guard the fields. But without a doubt, no prayers are answered if a dog is in the home. It could really kill one's chances of entering heaven, and there is no lack of mercy in kicking them out. Some historians also point out that the Prophet was exasperated by people who worshiped other contemporary deities popular in that region, such as the Goddess Hekate - one of whose heads is canine - and because of which female canines were superstitiously considered good luck in that culture. They indicate that this competition against other cults explains the Prophet's targeting of dogs in society, particularly females. These may be interesting speculations, but whatever their validity, the upshot of it all is a rather cruel vilification of an entire species that obtains in the present day and age.

Probably the second worst place for a dog is India, especially northern India. That's partly due to the influence of Islamic culture in those parts. But is it also partly due to Hindu traditions about ritual purity, or how contemptible a creature it is? All these interesting Arab ideas are echoed in another famous episode in a different tradition - the Mahabharata - but with a decisive twist (quoted at the end). A different civilization, one more ancient and more vast - and most importantly, one not deracinated from a continuous, recorded, cultural context.

In Vedic tradition, dogs certainly are a hindrance to ritual purity, such as around a Yajna. That is logical and hygienic, then as now, whether its a religious protocol or in the home. But apart from this protocol, dogs seem to not only be tolerated, but much loved and admired. It may be possible that as the ages rolled past, an obsession with ritual purity may have caused a degradation of the status of dogs as something that threatens one's spiritual prospects. Its the same moronic attitude that later also lead to "women" and "wealth" being looked down on as a distraction.

I'm taking a few quotes out of "The Dog in the RigVeda", by Edward Washburn Hopkins. Its worth reading in full.

Dogs seem to have been a part of the average household in Vedic Hindu culture. Here's a nightly benediction:

सस्तु माता सस्तु पिता सस्तु श्वा सस्तु विश्पतिः ।
ससन्तु सर्वे ज्ञातयः सस्त्वयं अभितो जनः ॥ ~ ऋग्वेद ७.५५.५

"Sleep the mother,
May father sleep,
Sleep the dog,
May the chief of the clan rest,
May all one's friends and acquaintances sleep well,
And all those gathered around here!" ~RigVeda 7.55.5

In the RigVeda, a famous Rishi is named Shaunaka, which means "son of a bitch" (okay, its "dog's son"). Also, it turns out that "dog's tail" (kutte ki dum?) is a respectable name, and a Brahmin gave this name in three different forms to his three sons: Shunakshepa, Shunahpuccha, Shunolaangula. For his sake, I take it they were all incorrigibly good.

In the RigVeda, Dogs were considered the companions and allies of Man. Dogs are part of the homestead, and not just on duty outside or to herd sheep - rather, she is so intimate that she pokes her familiar head into the dish at mealtimes and has to be struck aside and reproached as a selfish creature.

The chariot of the Maruts is drawn by dogs. Dogs are used for hunting. A visiting chieftain gifts a kennel of 100 dogs to his host, and it is gratefully acknowledged. The dog is never spoken of with scorn, and is deprecated only when he barks or offends by too great an eagerness - and then the prayer against him implies familiarity rather than contempt. However, eating the flesh of the dog is frowned upon and treated with contempt in Vedic culture.

Saramaa is the "devashuni", the Dog of the Gods, and Rudra goes about accompanied by his own dogs. Sri Aurobindo proposes that Saramaa also symbolizes the spiritual Intuition - She is the special nose that senses the depths of the subconscious and tracks down what was once known and now forgotten.

Finally, the story of Yudhishthira's ascent to heaven is instructive, and ties up the legalistic ritual with the epic character. The monarch Yudhishthira is ascending to heaven with his brothers, wife and his dog Dhruva. The way up is long and one by one his human companions quit and fall behind, but his dog stays with him to the end. At the entrance to heaven, the angel appears:
"Enter O King!"
Yudhishthira replies, "But not without this faithful dog."
"Desert the dog; there is no lack of mercy in doing so," the angel reassures him.
The King is humble but clear, "Thank you, but I will either not share in your heavenly world, or share it with this faithful attendant."
The angel states matter of factly, "There is no place in heaven for men with dogs."
Says Yudhishthira: "To desert a faithful friend is as great a sin as to slay a priest."

In the end, the angel at the portals to heaven was pleased. Dharmaraj had passed a test - The ceremonial impurity attached to the dog is united with the epic freedom of regarding the dog as a "friend". Dharma is forever sookshma, subtle.