Mar 6, 2014

Head, Heart & Connectedness: Browsing the marketplace of identities

I was wondering why a disproportionately large number of Hindu political thinkers identify themselves as "atheist", while that does not seem to be the case with Hindu spiritual leaders and teachers. Are they contrapuntal considerations of the same truth-stream? What are the risks involved?

At least over the last 100 odd years, the "atheist"and "theist" labels have been used to analyze Indian religious and philosophical systems. Those are Western Christian labels, of course. But even before that, the "astika" and "nastika" labels were used within India to categorize different sects. Astika were those sects that accepted the "authority" of the Veda (can be theistic or atheistic schools), while nastika were those that did not require the Vedic word as evidence (again, can be theistic or atheistic schools).

I think intellectual categorizations (created essentially for the purpose of debate) are often taken too far, and they obscure the big picture, knocking the student off center as he tries to fit himself or herself into this or that category.

Rather, categories are best used by the student to understand various phases of his own experience as an integral individual approaching completion. He/she may wax and wane through various categories, but always remains an entity at the intersection of all categories (and transcendental to them) rather than trying constantly to belong to one or the other category or label (उपाधि).

In the same vein, this astika/nastika and also the theist/atheist division are themselves false dichotomies introduced as exclusive categories at some point into the socio-political discourse.

If Sikhism is called nastika just because Guru Nanak poetically or rhetorically coaxes us to give up being obsessed with the words of the Veda, then the Bhagavad Gita must also qualify as a nastika text:
याम् इमां पुष्पितां वाचं
प्रवदन्त्यविपश्चितः ।
वेद-वाद-रताः पार्थ
नान्यद् अस्तीति वादिनः ॥
कामात्मनः स्वर्ग-परा
जन्म-कर्म-फल-प्रदाम् ।
भोगैश्वर्य-गतिं प्रति ॥ 
"Men of small knowledge are much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heaven, good birth and karma, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more to religion than this." - Bhagavad Gita 2:42-43
Here, Krishna denigrates the Vedic karma-kanda, or at least those who remain confined to the karma-kanda worldview. The BG isn't considered anti-Vedic; it's one of the prasthana-traya in Vedanta. But this passage is no less denigrating than any verse from the honorable Guru Granth that brushes aside those who remain addicted to Vedic karma-kanda. So if Sikhi gets classified as 'nastika' (and therefore non-Hindu), then does that make the Gita a nastika text, too?

Similarly, is the Bhagavad Gita the epitome of Hindu theism? Or does the Gita leave the door open for atheism? Krishna seems to be quite comfortable with atheism as an alternative route to better spiritual ability, at least at a preliminary point in the process:
अव्यक्तोsयम् अचिन्त्योsयम्
अविकार्योsयम् उच्यते ।
तस्माद् एवं विदित्वैनं
नानुशोचितुम् अर्हसि ॥
अथ चैनं नित्य-जातं
नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम् ।
तथापि त्वं महाबाहो
नैनं शोचितुम् अर्हसि ॥ 
"It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body. If, however, you think that the soul [or the symptoms of life] is always born and dies forever, you still have no reason to lament [because you know it is destined to end anyway], O mighty-armed." - Bhagavad Gita 2:25-26
So since the Gita has no problem with its disciple NOT believing in any metaphysical existence, doesn't that mean that it is OK with, both, atheism or theism? Or rather that those words from Western categories have a very limited significance within the Indic context?

This sort of categorization or labeling is practically nonsensical, in my humble opinion. Rather, a nastika or negating condition is an inherent part of the Vedic understanding of Existence and how to DEAL with it constructively. My 2 cents on where such classifications and dialectic devices fit into the larger picture:

Example from Vedic Source
सत्यम् / याथातथ्यम्  (Satyam)

The condition of immediate creation without persistence, and is the condition of existence which exists at the moment of creation and the moment of destruction, and is different from other considerations in that it does not contain survival.

कूटस्थ अनादि – Highest or fundamental eternality.
स पर्यगाच्छुक्रम् अकायम् अव्रणम्
अस्नाविरं शुद्धम् अपाप-विद्धं
कविर्मनीषी परिभूः स्वयंभूर्
याथातथ्यतोsर्थान् व्यदधाच्छाश्वतीभ्यः समाभ्यः ।

“Such a person must factually know the greatest of all, the Personality of Godhead, who is unembodied, omniscient, beyond reproach, without veins, pure and uncontaminated, the self-sufficient existence as is, who has been fulfilling everyone's desire since time immemorial.”
– Isha Upanishad, mantra 8
यज्ञः (Yajna)

It is the consideration which introduces a vector change in an As-Is-ness, and therefore time and persistence, into an As-Is postulate in order to obtain persistence or continuity, i.e. Dharma.
ऋतं च मेsमृतं च मेsयक्षमं च मेsनामयच्च मे जीवातुश्च मे दीर्घायुत्वं च मेsनमित्रं च मेsभयं च मे सुगं च मे शयनं च मे सूषा च मे सुदिनं च मे यज्ञेन कल्पितम् ।

“May my Rtam, my immortality, my freedom from decay, my life, my longevity, my freedom from non-aligned (unallied) forces, my freedom from fear, my happiness, my inactive rest (lying down safely), my beautiful dawn (rising), and my lovely day be created (kalpita) by Yajna.”
– Yajur Veda, 18.6
ऋतम् (Rtam)

It is an apparency of existence brought about by the continuous alteration of an As-Is postulate. When agreed upon, this is called reality.

प्रवाहत अनादि – Eternality of flowing from source.
अनृतम् / मिथ्या (Anrtam / Mithya)

It is the effort to handle, or gain control over, or gain freedom from an Is-ness by reducing its condition through the application of force. It is an inferior apparency and cannot entirely vanquish an Is-ness.

It is likely to eventually succumb and become subsumed under that existing Is-ness. (Therefore, the creation of a new, bigger Is-ness via a fresh Modified-Is-ness is the wiser option if the intention is really abrogation.)

The skillful application of an opposing Not-Is-ness is essential to serving the persistence of the Is-ness.
ऊँ इति सत्यं नेत्यनृतं । तद् एतत् पुष्पं फलं वाचो यत्   सत्यं, स हेश्वरो यशस्वी कल्याणकीरतिर् भवितोः पुष्पं हि फलं वाचः सत्यं वदति । अथैतन् मूलं वाचो यद् अनृतं तद् यथा वृक्ष आविर्मूलः शुष्यति स उद्वर्तते, तस्माद् अनृतं न वदेद् दयेत त्वनेन । पराग् वा एतद् रिक्तं अक्षरं यद् एतद् ऊँ इति तद् यत् किंचोम् इत्याहात्रैवास्मै तद्रिच्यते स यत् सर्वं ऊँ कुर्याद् रिञ्च्याद् आत्मानं स कामेभ्यो नालं स्यात् । अथैतत् पूर्णं आभ्यात्मं यन् नेति,   स यत् सर्वं नेति ब्रूयात् पापिकास्य कीर्तिर् जायेत, सैनं तत्रैव हन्यात् । तस्मात् काल एव दद्यात् काले न दद्यात् तत् सत्यानृते मिथुनी-करोति, तयोर् मिथुनात् प्रजायते भूयान् भवति ।

“’Yes’ (Aum) is affirmation and ‘no’ (na) is negation. And affirmation is the most beautiful fruit   and flower of language. Whoever speaks the flower and fruit of language will become a famous ruler with a spotless reputation, i.e., he who speaks positive affirmation. However, the root of language itself is negation. Just as a tree whose roots are exposed must dry out and perish, so too must a human being dry out and perish if he allows negation to be sounded, for he exposes his own roots. Therefore, he should not allow negation to be sounded, and instead should exercise caution. Truly, ‘yes’ (Aum) is a forward-looking, an outgoing syllable. Whenever he says ‘yes’ (Aum) to someone, he gives something away. And if he were to say it to everyone, he would not leave enough for his own needs, for he would have given himself away completely. But ‘no’ is a syllable turned in on itself, a full [remaining syllable]. If he were to say ‘no’ to everyone, his reputation would be loaded with curses. And this would crush him on the spot. Therefore, there is a time when one should give and a time when one should not give. In this way he makes a united pair out of affirmation and negation, and through this pair he becomes more than he was before.”
– Aitareya Aranyaka 2.3.6

Bhakti, as the very substance of consciousness, is transcendental to "beliefs", and cannot be bottled in any philosophy, theistic or atheistic. Of course, ideas can give it shape and form, protect and direct it, and help to grow and develop one's ability to have more bhakti. Ideas depend on scale and perspective. So also, it looks like the Gita, or Hinduism in general, is a very different approach to "religion" or "philosophy" as defined in the Christian West or in Islam. It is bigger than "beliefs" and operates at a different level than mere affirmations and/or negations (and their attendant philosophical justifications).

It may be that Hindu spiritual leaders concern themselves more with higher echelon processes like SatyamYajna and Rtam, while Hindutva politicians seem focused on defence of a sense of control or freedom from an overwhelming effect, especially by the application of Anrtam. Wisely or not - that will depend on the deference and sincere relationship of the "rational" or "religious" Hindutva politician to true spiritual leaders and their long-term vision. Time stands poised like a hooded cobra over ideological and material politics, either to strike dead, or to serve and protect.

A friend commented on the "atheist" posturing of several Hindutva leaders (BRF):
""Atheism" or describing oneself as "atheist" while being "Hindutva leaders" comes out possibly of both a linguistic as well as philosophical difficulty. 
Linguistic - because one feels pressurized or an urge not to identify with what passes currently for "theism" or the "theist" version of contemporary "Hinduism". They are reacting against the conventional imagery of "theism".  
"Philosophically - because the primary language of expression, required also for the very necessary political mobilization on all fronts at both internal Desh "educated" levels as well as abroad [spiritual as well as material] is English. That is an extremely inadequate language to accurately describe the insights from the core of Vedic or post-Vedic explorations.
Theism-atheism, god-no-god-beyond-god, ityadi - all are inadequate descriptions of the concept of the spiritual matrix of reality/world/universe/life from the core of "Hindu" thought that transcends all of those hard-boundary mutually exclusive categories. Now how to explain that in "English"?!!! So better stick to "atheism" as the label. 
"Having said that, some of the "leaders" might be desperately resolving their own issues of feeling the need to distance themselves from what they have subconsciously been conditioned to look down upon as "superstition" [a la selective and pseudo moralism of the later Abrahamic], and atheism is a convenient shield to defend oneself from having to sympathetically look on those "superstitions" as sometimes little understood or non-long-forgotten ancient insights and symbolic representations of those insights in natural processes and life. 
"People here have found my attitude towards RJM [Ram Janma Bhumi] building a strange contradiction to my supposedly otherwise "rational" no-ritualistic attitude. But I navigate this minefield without any dilemma. I have not formally worshiped at any pilgrimage or temples, but I have done the "parikramas" keeping the "hardship" aspect in mind with full respect. Even if I do not always participate in rituals, I deeply sympathize and have my respects for the underlying symbolisms. They are my ancestors own, almost often a poetical rendering of deeply symbolic insights into nature and life. It is crucial to respect the rituals and understand their full import as a coded passing on of our ancestral civilization's understandings at their times.  
"Hindutva leaders should take a neither-reject-nor-accept attitude to the past accumulation of such stuff. There is no need to feel ashamed of them, nor is it necessary to get bogged down in the formal magical enchantment of the rituals and their symbolisms, and have a deep appreciation as to what they stand for, and how they really should be looked at and that regard and appreciation passed onto the next generations in one unbroken continuity of ever-increasing philosophical insight."
I think so , too. Hindu political thinkers are making a statement rejecting western categories. But its still interesting why they choose "atheism" as the most convenient label. They often introduce themselves as such. Perhaps it is a ruse to avoid being equated with other "religious fundamentalists" such as the inevitable comparison with Pakistani Islamists, or with heavily funded Evangelicals that a running amuck in vast swathes of India. Or is it because the Abrahamics have decided among themselves that they have a monopoly over what they call "monotheism", and so the Indic is turning away in disgust at being shut out, and rejecting the Western 'theism' itself? Or is it because they are distancing themselves from their own confused inability to make sense of the Hindu Pauranic traditions? (I remember reading Arun Shourie ji's book on Hinduism [a person whom I otherwise have the greatest respect for], and I couldn't believe the shallowness of his "rational" critique, pointing out so-called "conrtadictions" without being able to offer any perspective, like it was nothing more than priestcraft over a rather ignorant and superstitious civilization.)

In his classic 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire', Edward Gibbons devotes considerable attention to the religious-philosophical currents prevalent at the time of the beginning of that decay. In it, he points out the dry, speculative, aloof and cynical philosophical trends that were fashionable among the educated elites in stark contrast with the devotional and somewhat superstitious attitudes of the masses whom they looked down upon. This internal cynicism and disconnect between the intellectual and emotive streams within the people and the body politic as a whole was a symptom of the beginning of the end of true creative energy in that civilization.

नास्ति बुद्धिर् अयुक्तस्य
न चायुक्तस्य भावना ।
न चाभावयतः शान्तिः
अशान्तस्य कुतः सुखम् ॥

"One who is not connected [with the divine through a spiritual process] does not have a sound transcendental intellect, and neither does he have a steady flow of feeling in his heart. There is no tranquility and contentment without a steady and full heart, and without peace how can there be happiness?" - Bhagavad Gita 2.66

Whatever be the case with Hindutva political leaders and thinkers, in my humble opinion the inclination to identify with "atheism" and their aloofness from the kumbha-mela of popular Hinduism could backfire in other ways - at a civilizational level - if their intellectual stances and hearts are not tempered with a real adherence and connection to the processes of spiritual development. In this respect, it appears that only Narendra Modi appears to stand apart from the others at this time. In a marketplace of identities, his Asmita seems a bit more connected than any other.