RMF Summary: Week of February 27 - March 4, 2012

February 29
NG (March 2012): The Journey of the Apostles
Vishal comments: I am forwarding this note of protest that I sent to the National Geographic magazine today immediately upon seeing their issue.  The article starts with a picture of Christian tribals in Odisha with an inflammatory caption. Thereafter too, there is another picture of an Indian Christian who 'suffered for Christ', and usual nonsense on Christianity saving low caste people in India...

February 29
Develop a strategy to answer back
Arun asks: The New York Times has published several articles based on a new book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards," by William J Broad. The latest is here:...
"Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise. "

-- I don't want to promote Broad's book, or help him sell more by stirring up a controversy. However, some critical analysis will be needed, I think. I'm going to assume that his book will contain all kinds of errors and misinterpretations
(e.g., sutras don't name any specific asanas, so those asanas didn't exist, e.g., yoga was stripped of its sexual baggage and republished by Indian nationalists, and so on).

-- So what is the way to make sure (assuming there are such mistakes) that such a book does not become general wisdom?.."

Ram responds:
"Rajiv has given an excellent clue about handling western style descriptions of dharmic/Indian events and activities which give only a part of the meaning of these untranslatable words. I have been using this methods to good effect
recently, by pointing out that in our tradition some words have several meanings at different levels, and choosing just one meaning is wrong.

For example, my friend who is of Indian descent, has been saying that the Shiva lingam in the Hindu mandirs is a phallus, and that Hindus are worshipping.... I found this to be a gross misrepresentation, and told him that ... they went up to the murtis to do arti, but were seeing it as a symbol of Shiva, or a symbol of the manifest universe etc.

He was not convinced until I showed him the Wikipedia entry (below) which showed 16 meanings for the word lingam, only one of which was phallus ....He now understands that Hindus can see the lingam in many ways, ... My friend, who claims to be a Hindu himself, has now stopped with his favourite story.....

Nagaraja recounts a story of Adi Sankara and Mandana Misra:
"...Adi Shankara stands in front of Mandana Misra's house and says Bhikshan dehi. But, Mandana Mishra wants to taunt Adi Shankara and the conversation goes like this.

MM - Kuthaha Mundi (From Where? Shaven (Implying Where are you coming from oh shaven one? - shaven used in a derogatory sense))

AS - Agalath Mundi (Shaven from Chin and above, twists the question to mean From where onwards are you shaven and answers)

MM - Kim Sura Peethaha (What? you want to drink liquor?)

AS - Sura Shwethaha (Liquor is white, twists the question Kim Sura Peethaha to mean What? is liquor yellow?, based on a different meaning of the word peethaha)

The conversation continues like this and Mandana Mishra cannot continue his satire and comes to the point. Once they sit for a proper argument Adi Shankara then provides straight arguments to the point based on his knowledge of Tatva.

What Rajiv ji is set out to do is similar to a part of what Adi Shankaracharya has done (objective, calm arguments to establish certain truths) and Adi Shankaracharya's heroics offer many lessons to do this."

bluecupid shares a link:
"A good [rebuttal] to Broad's sweeping generalization can be found here;

Raj says: I guess this confirms that yoga has entered stage 4 of the u-turn.

Rajiv's comment: Yoga like most other dharmic items has been simultaneously in stages 2, 3 and 4 for many decades. Each stage has its own champions, and they perform like good cops versus bad cops in mutual tension. This is how enzymes operate in mutual tension to end up digesting the food. Most folks cannot see this big picture and hence run around glorifying the good cops.

BD defines specific boundaries which anyone wanting to be a good cop must be asked to cross explicitly and publicly. It forces a hard test, so the person cannot vacillate or pretend there is no difference. It clarifies why he cannot have it both ways. Naturally, this is very discomforting to those who have
become settled in sameness. I have many angry critics attacking me for disrupting their sameness comfort zone

Karthik responds to Arun:
"I had emailed Rajiv about this book a few weeks ago, on the evening I heard William Broad being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's "Fresh Air".

As far as developing a strategy goes: could we write en masse to NPR (specifically, Terry Gross)? We would need to outline what, specifically, we found objectionable about the views aired in that interview and why, in the interest of fairness, "Fresh Air" ought to feature a balancing viewpoint. The transcript of the Broad interview is available here:.."
February 29
Chance for philosophers of dharma ethics to interact with western sc
A scholar named Chris[] is doing his philosophy dissertation on comparative ethics. He is a sophisticated philosopher but weak in dharma. He read BD...
March 1
Why Digestion is different than Assimilation
Rajiv Malhotra writes a blog to respond to critics who say that: everyone has been always borrowing from other cultures, so "whats the problem". We carry this with very little editing, but register [it's free] and read the original post in the e-group to fully understand the context and complete message. As always, the highlighting, emphasis, etc have been added in this (HHG) blog.

"There are several other examples of civilizations becoming digested by some other civilization. Many symbols, rituals and ideas came to Christianity from the so-called pagans (pre-Christian Europeans), but these pagan faiths were demonized and destroyed in the process. Native Americans gave numerous riches to the European colonizers - including potatoes, tomatoes, material wealth, fertile lands - but these original discoverers and citizens of the Americas lost their way of life, and have ended up in museums as exotic artifacts, or as drunken people living on isolated reservations. Egyptian civilization was digested into Greece, and before that some of the African civilizations had been digested into Egypt. In each case, the side getting digested was compromised, marginalized and eventually ceased to be a living, thriving civilization. Today, before our very eyes, Tibetan civilization is being digested into China....

 I want to differentiate between this kind of digestion and the way Greek civilization has been assimilated into "Western" classics without losing track of the sources. While many Indian thinkers, texts and ideas got digested into so-called "European Enlightenment", and the Indian sources replaced with Western ones, the same is not true of Greek civilization. It is fashionable in intellectual circles and in the academy to study and cite Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and numerous other great classical thinkers of Greece, who are now regarded as a part and parcel of the "West". But in classical times, the Greeks did not see themselves as a part of Northern European culture and referred to the northerners as the Occidental "other", while Europeans referred to the Greeks as part of the "Orient". Here lies the difference between Indian and Greek civilizations relationship with the West: When the modern West was formulated, Greece was included as a part of it. Hence, there has been no need to replace Greek sources with other substitutes. But when India was mined for source materials, it remained in Western eyes the non-Western other. India was too different, too far and too massive to be included within the West. Hence, Indian sources of interest were mapped on to Western substitutes. This is why the academy today does not teach Kapil, Bharat, Kautilya, Bharthrhari, Panini, Patanjali, Nagarjuna, Shankara, Abhinavagupta, and dozens of other greats on par with Greek thinkers. The Greeks are part of the West's imagined selfhood while the Indians are not. Therefore, I use the term "assimilation" to describe the experience of Greece, contrasted with digestion. The book explains this distinction further.
 I also want to explain that Indian civilization spread across much of Asia, but in a manner that is different than imperialism, colonialism or conquest. While many Asian nations sent their brightest students to places like Nalanda university in India to bring back knowledge, this was never imposed from the Indian side. At a time when India had the material resources and power to do so, it never tried to appoint governors or tax collectors in another country, or replace their names, language and identity with its own. In other words, there was no digestion of others that would cause them harm.
 I return to the issue commonly raised that every culture has borrowed from others, and hence the same kind of digestion is being done by everyone. Why am I making a case out of the digestion of Indian civilization into the West, some people ask? My response is that there is a difference between digestion and assimilation. Most examples people cite are about assimilation, not digestion, because the source tradition does not get destroyed during the process. When there is an asymmetry of power between the parties involved in the exchange, the implications of exchange depend on this power equation. For instance:
  1. Native Americans also borrowed many things from the white settlers - horses, liquor, guns, for instance. But the natives lacked the power to destroy the white culture. The borrowings in the reverse direction had an entirely different implication.
  2. One can cite examples of Indians learning from Westerners and assimilating these ideas as part of Indian ways. However, India did not take over the global language, institutional apparatus, discourse and grand narrative of history. Indian siddhantas (philosophical theories) did not assume the status of universalism in the same manner as European thought did. Hence the implications of Indian assimilations are not the same as those of digestion by the West.
  3. When women entered the American workforce in the 1960s, men had the power and the women's imitation of men at work was not because women were digesting men. Women did not have the power to do so. Hence, while there was women's mimicry of men, it was assimilation and not digestion.
 Secondly, who says that I oppose all those other kinds of assimilation from being the subject of scholarship? The fact is that the history of ideas as written by Western historians is filled with how the West influenced others, rarely the other way around. In fact, even since Hegel, world history has largely been depicted as the story of what the West did to itself and to others, as though the non-West lacked agency. Therefore, it should not be seen as a problem if some works like mine focus on the flow of influence in the opposite direction. I do not oppose works that bring out assimilations (and even digestions) in which the West is not the predator. Let many directions of research flourish and interact. I do not wish to monopolize the discourse on the history of ideas, but merely wish to add one more dimension to it, ....
 In Being Different, I discuss that large aspects of today's global culture are in fact founded on the values and beliefs that emerged under Western domination of the world in the past 500 years, and these in turn are founded on the values and beliefs that emerged from the unique historical and religious experience of the peoples of European origin. When all collective identities are discarded and all boundaries challenged, the result is not a world free from dominance but one in which the strongest and most aggressive identities along with their versions of history and values prevail....."

Ellen looks at 'the human tendency to recognize sameness'. This is an interesting perspective, and we carry this in some depth with limited editing:
"By way of introduction, I teach Hinduism and Buddhism ... ...although I have not read Rajiv Malhotra's text yet, I am in agreement (to some extent) with the essence of his basic thesis on difference. Having said that, I want to introduce yet another way of looking at 'religion'. Bear in mind that scholars of 'religion' are really not concerned with the same issues that practitioners are and this is why 'insiders' often have debates with or have taken objection to their work. But, I need not go into detail here, this discussion has raised so many issues with academia on its own that it is not necessary to rehash the objections and central points again and again. What is important to point out, I think, is that within the scholarly study of religion  -- as the saying goes -- we teach 'about' religion, we don't actually teach religion -- and this might be the crux or source of the central objection. In order to do this we attempt to explain and interpret 'religion' as a phenomenon using the methods of the social sciences (and most insiders don't always agree with this approach). But, please bear in mind, this is true equally for all religions, not just Hinduism.

Having said that, I want to introduce a new way of understanding religion, but certainly not the only way. That is to say, through the lens of cognitive science or the study of the mind/brain. It seems to me, that when we look at the human mind/brain we see more 'similarities' than 'differences'.  ...

This is true not only for neuroscience but also for cognitive linguistic theorists who debate Noam Chomsky's notion of a universal grammar that is triggered by linguistic environments at birth. In other words, we (i.e., humans) don't arrive in this world at birth as a tabula rasa. ...

Cognitive theorists are looking at religion as a deeply human phenomenon that expresses itself, like language, in myriad ways. To this end, cognitive scientists are generating a wealth of empirical data based on analytical and applied research, and their efforts lend a new and vital theoretical approach to the field of religious studies. It is my view that the cognitive science of religion has several critical areas of mutual (and beneficial) intersection with Hindu and Buddhist religion (particularly the teachings of the great yogis and mahasiddhas) including critical discussions on the nature of consciousness, the role of the nervous system in religious experience and claims of non-duality (advaita). In this way, science and religion have a role to play in levelling the playing field where religions are concerned, at least in my view.

The question is not, as I see it, one of difference per se, but rather how does the mind/brain generate religious experience and why? In the case of the great yogis, this is an exceedingly important question given the embodied nature of religious experience and the role that mind plays, for example, in meditation (including such states as turiya, samprajnata and asamprajnata samadhi, etc.). I once asked a great yogi the central question raised by cognitive philosophers. That is to say, 'how does matter become conscious?" In turn, he looked at me and did what any great yogi would, he turned my question on its head (into a headstand of sorts!) and said, "no, Ellen, the question is, how does consciousness become matter?" Either way, it is clear that for both sides consciousness is the key. And it is clear, at least to me, that on this subject humans are more alike than we are different.

There is an excellent and what I consider to be a beautiful quote from an amazing scholar of psychology named Merlin Donald who writes:  ....

....why humans aspire for a sense of unity and cognitive integrity in the first place. ... it is intrinsic to our evolutionary, biological self.  It is written in to our genetic structure. The explanation is that simple. It is human to do so!
I have added this simple thread for your consideration. I realize you will have to debate and tear it apart. But I do think it is worth considering seriously.

Let me end with a scene from the vastly successful Bollywood film 'Dulwale Dulhania Le Jayenge' to make my point using a different approach. Baldev's pigeons, as it turns out, were the same everywhere -- in Traflagar Square and in the Punjab. It was his 'mind' (or his culture) that created the differences. Nature is One. So, too, Simran (the lead female character) prays both at a her family altar as well as in a church. Why? The pure mind sees no difference. And I think this is why we cry at the end of the film -- Baldev realizes advaita through love -- through prem -- when he opens his heart." 

struth91 responds:
"... For the sake of clarity, lets use the term 'spiritual experience' or 'mystical experience' as opposed to 'religious experience' for the sense of cognitive integrity or larger consiousness, as described by Ellen....

While Ellen is correct in stressing on the commonality of humans striving towards this 'spiritual experience' - religions are certainly not all 'equal' or the same in their support for such activity. In fact, BD repeatedly brings up the point that Christianity and 'history-centric' religions in general have historically been antogonistic towards this 'mysticism' and there is the well-known history of mystics being marginalized and persecuted in the Abrahamic tradition. In contrast - Dharmic religions view spiritual experience as
an inner science and the the entire goal of religion is to facilitate such a state.

By providing scientific validation to the thesis that striving towards cognitive unity is a fundamentally human need and goal - Ellen provides support to the conclusion that this individual striving should be recognized as a basic human right. There is a need to debate whether religions that impose dogmatic, exclusivistic or history-centric restrictions on a basic human right can be allowed to propagate and destroy the more individualistic and inner-science oriented faiths
through 'push' sales techniques." 

Nagaraja adds:
"....The underlying voice in your conclusion seems to be that the 'difference consciousness' creates a divide, an unpleasant and uncomfortable feeling which can be overcome by a 'sameness consciousness' or a 'consciousness that overlooks
differences" creating unity which is a pleasant and comfortable feeling. Please correct me if I am wrong. My contention is that while this aspiration for unity and pleasantness is good, there is another way of achieving it which the Rishis have shown and our previous generations had mastered. That of acknowledging the differences and respecting them... " 

Rajiv adds a moderating comment here:
"I started a new thread [this is carried in a separate post, see the egroup link at the bottom of this post] because this misunderstanding by Ellen also explained below is a very common one and a very serious one. It inflicts many well intended and supposedly well informed dharmic people including many acharyas and swamis who teach Vedanta = escapism. Lets migrate to that thread so its not personal about Ellen. But I do thank her for opening this up here."

Desh comments:

Honestly, I find Ellen's arguments completely jumbled up - ...Here is why:
  • For one thing, she takes the One-ness of consciousness and extrapolates it to one-ness of mind. There is no one-ness of mind or thought. That is purely individual. Consciousness is NOT the mind. Let us not be IRRESPONSIBLE about using the buzzwords as we like. Mind/Belief/Religion are NOT the same as Consciousness/Experience/Spiritual.. and you cannot use the concepts from one context interchangeably.
  • Religion is of the mind, not consciousness. Its god is a defined god (deliberately in lower case) - with specific characteristic... and therefore limited and restricted - it has NOTHING to do with Infinite.. All the talk of One-ness, Infinite in Religious or Theology is schizophrenic nonsense. 
  • Spirituality starts where physicality and finite ends. Spirituality is not a "mind-game", it is an experiential process.
  • Religion is belief-centric, Spirituality is experience-centric. Lets understand it from Gita's example - in the second chapter, Krishna asks Arjun to go fight. He refuses point blank. Instead in third chapter beginning he complains about he is confused between Jnana and Karma. And in the 4th chap beginning he asks directly "How do I know what you are saying is Truth?" Not once in entire Gita does Arjun say even ONCE that "I believe you". Instead when he sees the Universal self of Krishna he finally says "I KNOW this to be the Truth". Knowing via experience VS Believing someone.
  • We have confused our limited "love" for Spiritual Love. The DDLJ Baldev's example to speak about Spirituality looks cute, but is nonsensical...When the Quality of one's love for her Beloved transform to become hopeless yet unrelenting, then it begins to get into a position to take her beyond the physical.
Sandeep responds to Ellen:
" > The question is not, as I see it, one of difference per se, but rather how does the mind/brain generate religious experience and why? <

I think this question has already been answered in Yoga texts.  Spiritual experience occurs due to suspension of thought.  The energy (Prana) which was occupied in thinking is first recovered in order to transfer consciousness into the subtle body.

There are three energy channels Ida, Pingala and Sushumna collocated with the spinal cord.  In normal circumstances, the breath moves through left and right channels - Ida and Pingala.  All methods of Yoga aim to divert the breath from the side channels into the central channel so that it connects with the universal energy (Mukhya Prana) which can be contacted through the Sahasradala Chakra at the top of the head.

Cognitive theorists are too pre-occupied with the brain. They should pay attention to the spinal cord as well. " 

Srini comments:
"...This is a comment on the argument used for justification of a certain way of studying religion/philosophy and not on the intentions of the person.

...."we teach 'about' religion, we don't actually teach religion"
Does that mean non-belief and/or non-experience in a topic gives a person the right teach "about" it? Or is it like Deepak Chopra saying I teach "about" Quantum physics not actually quantum physics. I don't have to point out what true quantum physicists think about such people.
....I do think the contributions of such "scholars" is valuable ..."

Rajiv's response
I must clarify what Ellen meant, I think. Teaching "about" something is a third-person view, whereas practicing it is a first-person view. Both are valid and complement each other.The important point is that religions defined by a text rather than by embodied experience can be and usually are interpreted using third-person techniques known as hermeneutics. An expert need not be a practitioner because its a matter of interpreting what the text means. This is like a lawyer interpreting what a contract says. (These texts are seen as covenants or contracts given by God.) Indians must understand that this is the result of history-centrism and shortfall in embodied knowing in those traditions. So if that text (a historical record) were lost, man would be doomed as there would be no way even in principle to recover it again. Not so in the case of embodied knowing - thats the whole point of chapter 2."

Kundan adds:
"To add my two cents to this post, I would say that the West has been in a parasitic instead of symbiotic relationship with Indian Thought. It has enriched itself by appropriating the thought while simultaneously destroying it in India and suppressing the influence in its home soil.

We are opposing a parasitic relationship that the West has forged and we do not have anything against a symbiotic relationship. True to the Indian principle, we will encourage a symbiotic scholarly exchange that is based on mutuality and parity of power. " 

March 1 

comment on Being Different
Rajiv: This comment posted on Patheos.com where my book is being discussed at their Book Club. I enourage others to participate.
Indrani comments "... As someone born into the Dharmic Traditions in the Caribbean where my ancestors have lived hundreds of years and where my internal and external space was bombarded by the oppressive presence of persons and institutions that were forcibly, selfishly, and exclusively promoting their Judeo-Christian ideology, I have spent all of my years in a constant struggle to BE myself  and to SEE myself in the world around me. I have struggled with the issues that BD so brilliantly articulates for people like us who are born into and live most of our lives almost in a Twilight Zone of sorts. 

This text bridges the gap between the academy and the masses. It brings the distillation of ideas from a hardcore scholarly level down to one that most ordinary folks can understand.

The text should be prescribed reading for people trying to understand why they find it difficult to "belong" in hegemonic societies, and for those who exercise the hegemony so they can appreciate the violence that they are perpetuating and perhaps do something about it.

People like me are better able to find our bearings in a Judeo-Christian and western world, when we read BD. This text, in a way, sets up important navigation directions for the interface between  Dharmic and Abrahmic traditions. It is a jewel in the Samudra Manthan."

March 4
Please Post : Re: Mutual Respect...
Pankaj posts: On Mutual Respect As the term implies, there has to be both reciprocity and respect.... please note that the Jews do not convert and it may be possible to take a  Position of mutual respect with them, provided they accept. Also note that in India we have not had problems between Hindus and Jews because of religious injunctions or basis in society, strongly supported by the fact that both the sides do not seek to convert each other."

[we will carry the discussion in this thread below in a separate post because of the many comments posted]
March 4
A common misinterpretation of Unity Consciousness
Ellen's recent thread illustrates the common notion that non-duality is escapist from the mundane world on multiplicity. This became the handle with which...

No comments:

Post a Comment