Sunday, January 29, 2006

Towards a New Poetics and Politics of Being

It was an early morning. I had woken up at 4: 30. Before going to bed at 11: 30 the previous night, I was looking at Eleanora's book shelf and was happy to see many books of poems and novels. Eleanora had picked me up from the Italian small town of Ferara at eight thirty the previous night and was driving me to station that morning for me to be able to catch a train to Venice. There was a deep silence all around. I said: "Elenora! It seems you are a great lover of poetry." Eleanora said: "Yes, I am! I love poetry; poetry comes from human heart." The last night during our late dinner Eleanora had shared with me her involvement with the local branch of Attac Italy. Eleanora had told me that she was attracted to Attac because here she found a new mode of doing politics. I asked Eleanora: "What is the relationship between your love for politics and love for poetry?" In the midst of the dancing chorus of rains, Eleanora said, "For me both deal with human heart. Politics is not only about acquiring power. It is touching and healing human heart so that our existence can be lived with the tune of our heart spontaneously and in loving relationship with others."
Eleanora does not speak English and we had our discussion with the help of her Italian-English dictionary by her side in the dinner table. On our way Eleanora told me that she teaches "little people" in a school about environment. Her expression of "little people" for children reminded me of Gilles Deleuze who urges us to realize the creative possibilities and transformation in language when one speaks a language as a foreigner and even when one speaks ones" s own language as an outsider. Eleanora's translation of children as "little people" suggested to me that possibility. In Eleanora we find a new poetics and politics of being and becoming, a poetry and politics of self-cultivation and public participation. It is a poetry and politics of human heart which transgresses the familiar dichotomy between self-development and social commitment. We find this in many people across the globe who are striving and struggling for making possible another world. Helena is a leading figure in Attac in Sweden and Europe. She is completing her studies in international development at the Peace and Development Research Institute at the University of Gothenburg, at the same time as she is fighting for a better world beyond the imperialistic logic of contemporary corporate globalization. She and Attac want a democratic control of contemporary multinational economic forces which are guided by the sole motive of profit maximization. She, as well as friends in Attac Sweden, want Sweden to take a unilateral step in third world debt reduction.
Helena and her teacher and friend Hans have developed a notion of confrontative dialogue as a mode of engagement for critical conversation and collective action. During our meetings, Hans elaborated this: "The contemporary notions of dialogues are geared towards an apriori consensus or consensus as a goal. But we do not want consensual dialogue nor confrontational violence but confrontational dialogue. You can confront and at the same time be dialogical. You confront the other person with your position in order to help the other person also clarify her position. You are able to see from where the other person is coming."
Confrontative dialogue calls for not only argumentation but also listening. It also calls for self-cultivation. It is not satisfied with just a villainous construction of the other: the need for transformation here is as much personal as structural. It is no wonder then that Helena, a practitioner of confrontative dialogue, also practices meditation. She has also been a practicing Buddhist for the last years. Becoming a Buddhist was certainly an interesting turn in her life as she had begun her university studies in order to be a priest. Helena feels that many a times critical global justice movements are easily satisfied with a villainous construction of the other such as the World Bank and George W. Bush. But for her the enemy is as much inner as well as outer. Hence the opposition between politics and morality that underlie many critical thinkers today such as Jürgen Habermas is inadequate for her self-actualisation.
I was so happy to meet with a kindred spirit and seeker in Gerardo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, just a week after my recent meeting with Eleanora and Helena. I had gone to Sao Paulo to take part in a seminar on participatory democracy jointly organized by UFMG, a university in Bel Horizonte, and the city council of Sao Paulo. In my presentation I had talked about spiritual cultivation in the process of democratic participation and this immediately established a bond between us-- myself and Gerardo, as also between myself and many of his co-workers in the Participatory Budgeting Council of the City such as Paulo and Fathima. Gerardo is a young man, only 20 years now. He has finished his first degree in international relations and has been working with the participatory budget council of the city of Sao Paulo for a year. Participatory budgeting is an instrument and mode of popular participation in the spending of the money in projects that people themselves prioritize and formulate. It embodies a spirit of permanent mobilization and suggests the possibility for a democratic control of the economy. During our meeting, Gerardo told me: "I was born into a Catholic family. Over the years I have also opened myself to Buddha and Gandhi." I could not believe my ears when my friend, so young in age, told me: "The only thing you can be radical about is love. I started with spirituality and then came to politics. I want to do something concrete. There is no final solution. The final solution lies in being together."
During my recent journeys I have been touched by my meeting with another young person who embodies this ideal of welfare of all in a silent but inspiring way. Pratima is in her late 20s and works in an integral school in the tribal hinterlands of Ayodhya in the district of Balasore, Orissa in India. Integral schools are alternative educational experiments inspired by Sri Aurobindo and Mother's vision of integral evolution of humanity. Pratima was born into a Brahmin family and has a college degree. She has not got married. She teaches and stays in the integral school in Ayodhya and is not only a teacher but also a mother to her students. Many of her children are tribals and Dalits and they come from the neighboring hamlets where tribals and Harijans live. The village has a Government upper primary and middle school but these are located in the center and amidst caste neighborhoods and the children from tribal and Harijan hamlets do not feel welcomed in this school and are subjected to many humiliating comments not only from fellow students but also from the teachers.
But as the principal of the integral school in the village, Pratima invites them not only to the school but also to her heart. Most of the children here suffer from skin diseases and in the evening Pratima not only takes extra classes but also cleans their wounds. It was an unforgettable experience for me to sit besides Pratima one evening as she was cleaning the chimney glass for her evening class in the school which does not have electricity and hear her share her feelings: "I no longer feel my body as separate from their body." In her sadhana and struggle the mobilized categories of identity politics of Brahmin and Dalit are breaking down as she, a fair looking Brahmin girl, cleans the wounds of tribal and Dalit students. Pratima draws inspiration from Sri Aurobindo and Mother and in her silent, persistent and joyful work provides us the glimpses of transformation of religion and spirituality at a time in India when fundamentalist forces, in the name of religion and caste, are finding pleasure in burning others alive rather than touching each other's bodies and experience our common humanity.
Eleanora, Helena, Gerardo and Pratima embody a new poetics and politics of being. They are struggling for achieving another world, a world which can be truly "ours" in a meaningful way. Their aspirations and social struggles can be better understood and appreciated in what Fred Dallmayr, the soul-touching seeker and theorist of our times, writes about the calling of achieving our world at the contemporary juncture in his "Achieving our World: Towards a Plural and Global Democracy":
" (...) achieving does not suggest a form of technical construction or social engineering; rather, the term here has the connotation of practical labor or engagement - a labor in which the 'achieving' agents are continuously challenged (or called into question) by what needs to be achieved. (..) If the goal of 'achieving' involves the simultaneous transformation of achieving agents, [..then] the world can be 'ours' only in a highly complex and mediated way - assigning to human beings only the task of responsible guardianship rather than mastery or possession."
Eleanora, Helena, Gerardo, Pratima and Dallmayr urge us for a new poetics and politics of being and going beyond the contemporary logic of violence, terror and cynicism. But do we want to listen and take part?
Litterature and explanations
Global Transformations: Postmodernity and Beyond, Ananta Kumar Giri
Conversations and Transformations: Towards a New Ethics of Self and Society., Ananta Kumar Giri
Dalits are also known as untoucables. Brahmins are the high-casts in Hinduism

Ananta Kumar Giri is on the faculty of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.He can be reached at:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Recovering Religion

R PANIKKAR The Times of India Saturday, January 28, 2006
Although the etymology of the word religion is closer to the meaning of dharma than it sounds to modern westernised ears, the prevalent political use of the word in the West today (spreading also over the planet) has restricted the meaning of religion to a very narrow sense, which has led many countries to defend privatisation of religion as something appertaining to the individual in his private conscience. Religion, unlike science, for instance, is still interpreted as a sect. The discussion about religious education all over Europe is ravaging many countries because education is taken as sheer information or, worst, indoctrination, and religion as a more or less arbitrary set of rules dictated by a particular organisation to foster proselytism.
Here I see an important contribution of Indic culture: To enlarge and deepen the sense of religion by recovering the original meaning of the very word. The West has forgotten its roots and almost lost its own tradition as if Europe were born during the Industrial Revolution or at least at the Enlightenment (the name of which is already revealing). We in Asia should not be too proud either, because the impact of modernity is not minor. On the other hand, traditionalism is not a priori a positive asset. We need viveka, discernment. Dharma, from the root dhr (to carry, gather, sustain, unite, protect), is that which maintains and sustains the peoples as the Mahabharata says; it is the cosmic order of the entire reality: rtena, rtam, dharunam, dharayantha, "by the cosmic order the dharma is supported".
It all boils down to overcoming rationalism by introducing again the tripartite anthropology of body, soul and spirit — sariram, manas and atman, very roughly speaking, because Indic culture also distinguishes cit, jiva, etc. The Indic spirit, not constrained by the individualising modern mind, includes in dharma the ultimate order of the universe and its understanding as human religiousness. This is different from universal religion in the narrow sense of some contemporary Hindu currents, uncritically imitating western fundamentalism, and closer to what Tagore called the 'Religion of Man'.
As we are speaking in English it may be proper not to give up the word religion and recover its pristine meaning. The almost sectarian notion of religion is a consequence mainly of two factors: The abuses committed by religious institutions in the name of religion, understood as a particular straitjacket which one has to don in order to be moral and reach salvation, and the individualistic trend of western culture which confines the person to the individual. Man is a person: a knot in a net of relationships. The individual (the knot) would dissolve without a net. The West tends to catalogue everything so as to gain intelligibility, uniformising differences by quantifying reality. A paramount example is modern science as a system of individualising phenomena in order to distinguish and master them.
The very word religion (not to speak now of dharma) is polysemic and has a rich etymology: it connotes re-eligere (Augustine), the effort to re-unite oneself with and choose the divine as symbol of human dignity; relegere (Cicero), as cult and honour to one's own source, the Divine, with which we are connected by our free will; and re-ligare (Lactantius) to relate and bind oneself to God by a bond of knowledge and love. As I have tried to explain elsewhere, the word religion implies the consciousness of our manifold and constitutive bonds; our links with body, soul and spirit; our links with the entire humanity; our links with the earth and the whole creation; and our links with that Mystery, one of whose symbols is the Divine. A religious person is someone who is conscious of all his connections with the entire universe, aware of all the links which relate a person to the whole reality, a fellow being of the universe.
It may befall the present Indic culture to rescue the pristine meaning of that word from the monopoly of institutional religions and to restore the liberating character of authentic religiousness. Indic culture and its notion of religion prove sufficiently that religion (if we prefer, religiousness) is not tied to any organisation, although it implies an institution as a sociological complement. The word religion, in fact, connotes both the consciousness of all our links and the awareness that those bonds are not shackles that imprison us, but are rather bonds that allow us to be what we are: Conscious beings in intimate connection with the entire reality.
This very idea stands behind the Buddhist intuition of the pratitiya-samutpada and is not alien to the Hindu notion of dharma. The rest is superficiality. We should distinguish between pluralism, that respects diversity, and syncretism, that mixes up everything. One thing is relativism, which blurs all differences, and another relativity, which is aware of the intrinsic relationality of the entire reality — some of whose symbols are anatta, karma and trinity. The cultural imperative of our time, the mutual fecundation of cultures, can occur at this ultimate level only. Excerpt from a lecture by the writer, who is a religious studies scholar.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who control our lives?

I find it foolish to believe that there is one or two or a thousand gods out there who control our lives and script our destiny. If he wishes for me to pray to him to change my circumstances and destiny then he must be hugely egoistical, self-centred and prone to flattery- hardly the attributes of somebody I would like to respect, leave alone pray to. - Ajay Jaiman (The writer is CEO of a children's website, First published as op-ed in Hindustan Times on 21 09 02 posted by Arti & Ajay Jaiman Saturday, September 21, 2002 @ 11:42 AM

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

A Celebration Of Faith

Multiculturalism is not denial of religion By AMULYA GANGULI
The Times of India Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Multiculturalism is under attack again. After Samuel Huntington followed up his clash of civilisations theory with a warning about the US losing its core Anglo-Protestant culture because of the influx of immigrants of various faiths, two British clergymen expressed the same fear about their country losing its identity. If you take the Christian faith out of British identity, what have you got left, asked George Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury. Earlier, the Ugandan-born archbishop of York, John Sentamu, said that multiculturalism has seemed to imply, wrongly for me, that let other cultures be allowed to express themselves but do not let the majority culture tell us its glories, its struggles, its joys, its pains.
All this hand-wringing is the result of the tendency in Britain and the US to avoid referring to Christmas and use non-religious words instead, as President George Bush’s cards greeted their recipients on the occasion of the holiday season without mentioning Christmas. But a misunderstanding is involved here. Since the white Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic are still not accustomed to the concept of a multicultural society, they believe that the use of Christian terms will offend the non-Christians among them. The whites probably also believe that the Christian symbolism might be interpreted as a reassertion of their sense of superiority, which has long characterised their behaviour towards the blacks and browns, especially as colonial masters.
But if they are serious about retaining their multicultural label, they may well turn to India for a lesson since the multi-culti system, as V S Naipaul derisively calls the concept, has prevailed in this country for centuries. Unlike in the West, where it is virtually equated with atheism, multiculturalism in India is a celebration of religions, not their denial. What is more, with the growth of the advertisement industry, more and more occasions are being marked for festivities from Valentine’s Day to Karwa Chauth, not to mention Diwali, Christmas and Eid.
Yet, this is nothing new. Even the Mughal emperors (though not Aurangzeb) observed Diwali and Nauroz, the Parsi new year, and if Aurangzeb banned these, he banned music, poetry and dancing, too, along with the drinking of wine and the consumption of opium. The tradition of different communities participating in each other’s festivals lasted till the early 20th century with Hindus routinely taking part in the Muharram processions. Indeed, it was to wean them away from this practice that Tilak started the Ganesh festival in Maharashtra. It was apparently to emphasise this aspect of communitarian life in India that Gandhi had passages read from the holy books of all the major religions before his prayer meetings.
The belief, therefore, that multiculturalism and secularism mean keeping a distance from religion, if they are not positively antireligious, is incorrect. While secularism implies that the state should be neutral in the matter of religion, multiculturalism in India means nothing other than a joyful cohabitation of people of all faiths. It is obvious that India has achieved this sense of tolerance and accommodation over centuries, going back to the edicts of Ashoka, underlining the essential doctrine of controlling one’s speech so as not to extol one’s own sect or disparage another’s. Seventeen centuries later, Akbar reinforced this ideal. As Nehru pointed out, neither was a Hindu; one was a Buddhist and the other a Muslim, but it was India speaking through them.
That India was a land of harmony where everyone could live his own life was known in the neighbourhood. So, when the Zoroastrians of Persia felt that their religion was in danger from the invading Muslims, where else could they go but to India? And when, 12 centuries later, the Tibetans felt similarly threatened in their homeland, they chose India. It is this essence of every religion thriving in a multicultural polity which is being misinterpreted in the West. What the official group there seems to believe is the need for the virtual obliteration of all religions, and especially the dominant one, so that a nondenominational national personality can emerge. Inevitably, this attempt, which has been described as silly by the British clerics, has led to a backlash in favour of core values.
There is little doubt that the situation in Europe and America has been complicated by the paranoia about Islamic terrorism. But even if this threat did not exist, the racial complex of the whites would have made it difficult for them to accept large numbers of coloured aliens in their midst. Yet, they are fighting a losing battle because borders cannot be sealed in today’s interdependent world. Nor will it be easy either to coerce the immigrants to submit to the compulsions of the core culture or to erase all religions from public life. Both attempts will create tension instead of eradicating it. The best course, therefore, is to worship all the gods with gusto. The writer is a political commentator .

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Religious narcissism

Gurcharan Das The Times of India Sunday, January 15, 2006
Last month, I visited the 'post-secular world'. I found myself sitting next to a group of white Americans on a train from Washington to New York, who told me blandly that I would go to hell because I believed in abortion and evolution. I had heard that Bush's America had turned religious, but I could not imagine how much till that morning. I was their captive for three hours, and they decided to do their good deed and try to convert me to their faith.
Jurgen Habermas, one of the most influential thinkers in the West, explains religion's return, especially in America, in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity. He says that people have traditionally found solace in religion when threatened and the emergence of 'post-secular societies' is a reaction to terrorism after 9/11. The religious values of love, community, and godliness also help to offset the global dominance of an ethic of competitiveness and acquisitiveness in the capitalist In post-reform India too, I have noticed that the young are increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of work and material success, and have begun to seek refuge in various sects of bhakti.
This fundamentalist post-secular America is so different from the one in which I grew up. During my college days in the sixties, I read the great modern thinkers and I learned that reason was superior to belief (Hegel); that God diminished man's sublimity (Feuerbach); that religion was an 'opiate of the masses' (Marx); and there was no 'future of an illusion' (Freud) because 'God was dead' (Nietzsche). I returned to India expecting the world to gradually turn secular with the spread of modernity. But the India that I came back to was, arguably, the world's most religious place. I worried that religion made Indians passive and accepting, and turned them away from the pressing problems of society when we needed an active and engaged citizenry in democracy to fight society's injustices. So, I turned for inspiration to the third goal of classical Indian life, to dharma or right conduct, rather than the transcendent goal of moksha. Dharma was secular while moksha was religious.
Over time I have discovered, however, that a secular life based on the noble end of dharma cannot substitute the mesmerising power of moksha. Secularism is a noble but limited ethic — I don't think it can replace religion. In a similar vein, Habermas explains that many of our modern ideals, such as the intrinsic worth of all human beings that underlies human rights, stem from the religious idea of the equality of all men in the eyes of God. Religious idealism and biblical justice, he reminds us, also infused the civil rights movement in America in the 1960s. Were these invaluable religious sources of morality and justice to atrophy, he is doubtful whether modern societies would be able to sustain these ideals on their own.
Religion's return, however, does present an undeniable danger and risk in a post-secular world. Hence, in a recent lecture, 'Religion in the Public Sphere', Habermas spoke about the commendable idea of toleration, which is the foundation of modern democratic culture. He called it a two-way street. Not only must believers tolerate each others' beliefs, but also the atheism of non-believers. Disbelieving secularists, similarly, must value the convictions of religious citizens. Only those religions who can suspend the temptation of theological narcissism — the conviction that my religion alone provides the path to salvation — are welcome in our rapidly changing, post-secular world.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Make every breath a prayer

Makarand Paranjape DNA Saturday, November 19, 2005
It is better to pray than to write about prayer — unless writing itself becomes prayer. As Sri Aurobindo put it: “It is far better to become than to worship.” Worship that results in no inner change is futile; it is far better to become, to realise, to transform ourselves, than to pay lip service to some ideal. The Upanishads declare that the knower of Brahma is Brahman. Thus, there is an identity between being and knowing. The Gita tells us to use the Self to uplift ourselves. Then what, after all, is a prayer? It is, to go by its etymology, an earnest request, entreaty or supplication. It is a humble or sincere request, an utterance in praise or thanks, a confession. It may also be a set formula, ritual, petition to someone or something more powerful.
So, there is a prayer that one utters in deep need or desperation, there is a prayer of thanksgiving, there is also the ritual prayer, part of a daily routine, and there is the praying that is continuous and unconscious, as Mahatma Gandhi called it. All these make up our praying self. This self, who, if scientists like Vilayanaur Ramachandran, the director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, are to be believed, is part of the ‘God module’ installed in our brains.
Like many other adolescents, at that impressionable age, I too had turned an atheist, or at least, an agnostic. Natural laws and rational means to understand them were all we had. But, over the years, I have become more and more of a believer, though my sceptical temperament hasn’t quite changed. I do pray both ritually and unconsciously. I pray to connect, to be in harmony, to gather my scattered mind. I also pray to express thanks, to ask for help, to confess my inadequacy. Before eating, I like to pray to consecrate the food.
Prayer reminds me that I am nothing without that higher consciousness, call it God, or call it by another name. Prayer is the recognition of this inter-connectedness. When I feel cut off or bereft, I find my prayers are the most abject and heartfelt. The prayer of thanksgiving accompanies the return of self-acceptance. It’s a sigh of relief at the knowledge that one is loved and wanted by the Beloved.
In the ultimate analysis, my faith is strong in the certainty that every breath of mine — or for that matter of any living being’s — is really a prayer. I may not be aware or conscious of this all the time. Indeed, I may be forgetful in my self-denials and delusions. But the Beloved can never forget me, even for a moment. This is the knowledge and realisation in which my praying self finds its succour and satisfaction. (The writer is a professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

Silence and inner self

Sonavi Desai DNA Sunday, December 18, 2005
Profound experiences leave us speechless. When we are moved by deep emotion we we grow silent. It is only through silence that we are able to discover our inner self and experience Being. Silence is an essential practice in every mystical tradition. Through silence one enters the realm of contemplation and meditation. Silence creates an atmosphere of calm and stills the mind. In fact, the sages called munis would take a vow of silence. Their intention was to channel all their physical and mental energies into their spiritual quest. Mystics are able to hear the voice of the Almighty because they have stilled their minds and tuned themselves to listen in silence. As Ramana Maharshi said, "Silence is also conversation."
We require a high level of concentration to work efficiently. This concentration can only be achieved through silence. When we are quiet we are able to gather our thoughts and focus on the task at hand. Any creative activity too requires silence. The most profound work of a musician or painter is born of silence. All superficial elements are brushed aside and the artist is totally in communion with his inner self. Silence, however, must not be confused with inaction. It does not mean merely refraining from speech. A quiet person may appear tranquil on the surface but may be in a state of tamas, which fosters dullness and negativity. Positive silence arises from the state of sattva, which is a balanced state of inner calm where the mind resides in awareness. Such a person is centred and is awake, energetic and creative. If silence has to benefit us it must be practiced at both the physical and mental levels. Moments of silent reflection are invaluable; it is in these moments that we find clarity and peace of mind.
Sri Aurobindo said: "Silence is all, say the sages/Silence watches the work of the ages/In the book of Silence the cosmic Scribe has written his cosmic pages/Silence is all, say the sages."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Atheists seem ready to believe anything

Richard Dawkins's latest attack on religion is not worthy of a great scientist. Madeleine Bunting
The Hindu Tuesday, Jan 10, 2006 © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
By all means, let's have a serious debate about religious belief, one of the most complex and fascinating phenomena on the planet, but the suspicion is that it's not what this chorus wants. Behind unsubstantiated assertions, sweeping generalisations and random anecdotal evidence, there's the unmistakable whiff of panic; they fear religion is on the march again. There's an aggrieved frustration that they've been short-changed by history; we were supposed to be all atheist rationalists by now. Secularisation was supposed to be an inextricable part of progress. Even more grating, what secularisation there has been is accompanied by the growth of weird irrationalities from crystals to ley lines. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the problem when people don't believe in God is not that they believe nothing, it is that they believe anything.
There's an underlying anxiety that atheist humanism has failed. Over the 20th century, atheist political regimes racked up an appalling (and unmatched) record for violence. Atheist humanism hasn't generated a compelling popular narrative and ethic of what it is to be human and our place in the cosmos; where religion has retreated, the gap has been filled with consumerism, football, and a mindless absorption in passing desires. Not knowing how to answer the big questions of life, we shelve them — we certainly don't develop the awe towards and reverence for the natural world that Prof. Dawkins would want. So the atheist humanists have been betrayed by the irrational, credulous nature of human beings; a misanthropy is increasingly evident in Prof. Dawkins's anti-religious polemic and among his many admirers.
This is the only context that can explain Prof. Dawkins's programme, a piece of intellectually lazy polemic, which is not worthy of a great scientist. He uses his authority as a scientist to claim certainty where he himself knows, all too well, that there is none; for example, our sense of morality cannot simply be explained as a product of our genetic struggle for evolutionary advantage. More irritatingly, he doesn't apply to religion — the object of his repeated attacks — a fraction of the intellectual rigour or curiosity that he has applied to evolution (to deserved applause). Where is the grasp of the sociological or anthropological explanations of the centrality of religion? Sadly, there is no evolution of thought in Prof. Dawkins' position; he has been saying much the same thing about religion for a long time.
There are three areas in his programmes where the lack of rigour is most striking. First, Prof. Dawkins is featured in Jerusalem; the point is that religion causes violence and most of the world's conflicts can be traced back to faith. If only they didn't have segregated schooling in Israel and Palestine then peace could emerge. Likewise in Northern Ireland.
Let's leave the political scientists to point out the absurd simplification of these political struggles over land, rights and resources, but take a wider point. Human beings develop collective identities — ethnic, nationalist, religious or political — and find in them a sense of belonging, of personal identity and solidarity; the problem is how, at points of competition and threat, those identities flare up into horrible violence. Pinning all the blame on religion blindly ignores the evidence; the Rwandan tragedy was about ethnicity, the Holocaust about a racist political ideology. Crucially it fails to grasp the modern phenomenon of fundamentalism and how religious identity is being mobilised in an attempt to carve out positions of power within a rapidly globalising world; this kind of violent religion is a political product of rapid social and economic change.
Secondly, Prof. Dawkins mounts a charge of "child abuse" against religious education; it manipulates childish minds, inculcating in them a terror of hell and damnation. On this argument, I'm with Prof. Dawkins for a while; he's right that many religions have a horrible habit of using fear to shore up their authority. But that's only part of the story — religion can also provide children with a deep sense of confidence from the teaching that they are each precious in the eyes of God, of reverence for their gift of life and of ethical bearings.
His conclusion is that no children should be exposed to religion until they are old enough to make a choice; anything else is indoctrination. But this is quixotic; how can they ever make any choice without knowledge and how can they ever have knowledge without running into Prof. Dawkins's allegation of indoctrination? Furthermore, the concept of a child to be kept a blank slate, free from parental influence, is absurd — or does it just apply to religion, and if so, why? What about the many ways in which parents shape children (so constraining many choices) for both good and ill? Isn't the point that children should be encouraged to develop thoughtful, inquiring minds and a strong ethical framework — and that this is possible both with, or without, religious belief?
Finally, Prof. Dawkins returns to the old complaint that religion "cuts off a source of wonder"; he once famously described the medieval view of the cosmos as "little" and "pokey." It's a revealing comment because it exposes a remarkable lack of empathy for how people in other ages or cultures imagine the world. That seems a terrible poverty of his imagination. Just think: when most people's radius of experience was a few miles, the world must have seemed a vast, deeply mysterious entity.
That lack of empathy also lies behind Prof. Dawkins's reference to a "process of non-thinking called faith." For thousands of years, religious belief has been accompanied by thought and intellectual discovery, whether Islamic astronomy or the Renaissance. But his contempt is so profound that he can't be bothered to even find out (in an interview he dismissed Christian theology in exactly these terms). If this isn't the "hidebound certainty" of which he accuses believers, I'm not sure what is.
Let's be clear: it's absolutely right that religion should be subjected to a vigorous critique, but let's have one that doesn't waste time knocking down straw men. It's also right for religion to concede ground to science to explain natural processes; but at the same time, science has to concede that despite its huge advances it still cannot answer questions about the nature of the universe — such as whether we are freak chances of evolution in an indifferent cosmos (Prof. Dawkins does finally acknowledge this point in the programmes).
Prof. Dawkins seems to want to magic religion away. It's a silly delusion comparable to one of another great atheist humanist thinker, J.S. Mill. He wanted to magic away another inescapable part of human experience — sex; using not dissimilar arguments to Prof. Dawkins's, he pointed out the suffering caused by sexual desire, and dreamt of a day when all human beings would no longer be infantilised by the need for gratification, and an alternative way would be found to reproduce the human species. As true of Mill as it is of Dawkins: dream on.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Auroville: a utopian future?

Out of all the temples, palaces and holy sites belonging to cults we stumbled upon during our travels, Auroville had the deepest impact on me. I cannot really put a finger on why this is the case, perhaps due to the megalomanic grand narrative of it all, or its out of place futuristic architecture. The area, typically and literally in the sticks, is dedicated to the principles of Sri Aurobindo Ghosh’s teachings, still tangible in the thriving community set up after his death by his chief disciple Mirra Alfassa, the Mother. Ghosh, an early 20th Century Bengali nationalist set up an ashram in Pondicherry to practice his philosophy of a peaceful community. Auroville, or the „City of Dawn“, came into existence in 1968 and still attracts people from all corners of the world.
The Charter reads: "To live in Auroville one must be a willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness"... Auroville belongs to "humanity as a whole... the place of an undending education, of constant progress... a bridge between the past and the future... a site of material and spiritual researches." The community hosts its own schools and workshops, and is, I believe, more or less self-sufficient. Thousands of Indians have found work here, and in some ways, when interviewing inhabitants, one gets the impression that some things may not need a marketplace to work proper – just a framework of life to adhere to, albeit very different from the individualism we celebrate today in the West. On the other hand, the community does not share its treasures with the outside world very openly.
For example, in order to be able to explore the huge area freely, visitors should sign up for kibbutsi-style living amongst families in the community. A small sacrifice perhaps, or none at all considering the architectural landscape and scope for relaxation. The 30m high globe called Mathrimandir, pictured below, stands at the centre of Auroville and functions as a meditation room with a lotus bud shaped foundation urn and a crystal, apparently the largest in the world. A backpacker we met recommended Auroville’s guest houses at the beaches but, while a bit tempted, we played it safe and signed up for a guest house run by the ashram in town instead – possibly the best value we got during the journey. I guess we figured out where the money comes to fund the future of Sri Aurobindo’s dream. There is a marketplace after all. posted by K70 Sunday, September 25, 2005 @ 11:12 AM

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Spirituality in theory and practice

In a brief meditation this morning, I found again that the poetic imagination brings theory and practice together into the communicative action of language. This is poiesis (mis)understood:
Too many people have their spiritual lives crippled by their naive acceptance of a typical modern presupposition: that theoretical learning and practical learning are independent and mutually exclusive experiences. For the spiritually handicapped, learning degenerates into two distinctly separate types of knowledge:
  • 1) merely theoretical knowledge gained from movies, books, lectures, and one's own personal experience of cognitive or (a)gnostic reality, and
  • 2) merely practical knowledge gained from applying theoretical knowledge to particular embodied events.

For the spiritually handicapped, learning about a vision quest by physically going into the wilderness is a practical experience, whereas learning about a vision quest by hearing someone speak about the vision quest is merely theoretical. However, for the shaman, alchemist, or magician, practice is always the practice of theory, and theory is always the theory of practice, the two are mutually constitutive. Language speaks/thinks being, and being is always already being spoken.Of course, for the spiritually crippled, theory and practice may not appear as mutually exclusive opposites; they may appear as part of one mystically homogenized unity, oneness, sameness, or identity, to the exclusive of all difference and plurality. In either case, what characterizes this spiritual ineptitude is the lack of transformation in the person. You can say everything is one, you can say it is all different; and if you are spiritually crippled, you use whatever you experience to reinforce your sense of safety, to reinforce your sense of ego, your sense that "everything is alright and everything is going to be alright."

To be spiritually adept, rather inept, implies that you never use experience to reinforce the safety of your habits, rather you let experience transform your habits by cutting through them to let the mysterious light of nature shine through. The adept artifex reads the book of nature (liber naturae) and lets the light of nature (lumen naturae) shine through this reading onto the essential Being of all beings.A good way to measure spiritual ineptitude vs. spiritual transformation is by exploring the way people identify or do not identify with the myriad entities and levels of reality. Most people identify with their own bodies enough to go to the bathroom instead of pissing on themselves, but most people don't identify with much else than their own body or consciousness. When spiritual transformation occurs, people identify more with other being past, present, and future. Very rarely are there fully enlightened beings who hate learning about history and hate planning for the distant future. For instance, the Buddha was very much concerned with the ancient traditions he inherited, and he was equally concerned with how the dharma was going to be transmitted throughout millenia to come.

Another instance, Sri Aurobindo's spiritual awakening was evident in his efforts to make social, economic, and political plans for a future spiritual community. Another instance, upon learning about the sitting meditation that became known as 'zazen,' Dogen worked to build monasteries and write rules to help guide future zen monastic communities. Or if you think Gandhi or Ram Dass are good examples of spiritual awakening, you can see it in their tireless efforts to bring political and social peace to people of divergent spiritual backgrounds. Consider the axiom of Mahayana Buddhism, that one's own liberation is not as important as the liberation of all beings. Hermeneut (hermeneut) wrote,@ 2005-12-23 13:09:00

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The beauty of Nature is its mystery

Shreepal Singh
Man is exploring the universe. He is able to get out of earth and travel extraterrestrial places. He has touched moon with his hands and peeped into the interiors of universe. Everywhere man has found compounds made of atoms and atoms made of atomic particles. Basically, it is search of physical world and this physical world, so far as he has been able to know, is infinite. However, he is not going beyond material world in his search. He has no tools to go beyond material world. He is not capable with his mind to go beyond matter. Nature has set a limit to the capacity of human mind, as his mind is not the supreme tool produced by her. And, Nature has not yet finished her task of producing still better tools of knowledge and she is still at her work of evolution.
Beyond physical world, there are other worlds also and man knows the existence of some of these extraphysical worlds and makes attempts to study them. Behind atomic particles, there is a world of subatomic particles or waves and this world must be having its own shape, rules and place in the scheme of things. Also there is a gravitational world behind all material particles that must be having its own symmetrical structure and place in the universal scheme. We know that water is a compound of Hydrogen and Oxygen but it is basically different from these two gases. You look at the snowy mountains and compare them with Hydrogen and Oxygen, and you find that they are qualitatively different from each other, though ice is made of these two gases. There is a barrier of quality between the two. One can never experience the reality of ice, by simply having these two gases. Though we know that ice is but a compound of these two gases, these two gases are in themselves nothing but a certain atomic structure of atomic particles. And though these atomic particles are likewise a definite structure of subatomic particles or waves, yet ice, gases, atoms and subatomic particles or waves exist with their separate individual identities. One can go deep down into the microworld and find independent structures in hierarchy ad infinitum. There is a barrier of quality difference between any two of levels of this hierarchy. Likewise, one can go out in the macroworld and find similar independent structural hierarchy ad infinitum.
Once some scientists thought that with the discovery of atomic particles, the physics will see its end and there will be left nothing in the material science for scientists to discover. But Nature is not that simple. The beauty of Nature is its mystery. It is endless, in structure, in quality and in operation. It is not only the material plane but also the planes that are beyond it that can be descended into by man, and they are ad infintum. Though none of them is primary, all have their independent identities. There is a world of desires and impulses that is real with its individual shape, quality and rules. Also there is a world of thoughts with similar attributes. And, then there are many more worlds in the scheme of creation. Eastern wisdom accepts the existence of these subtle worlds and its leading lights, like Lord Buddha, Lord Jesus Christ, Milarepa, Nizammuddin, Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo and many countless others, vouschafe the truth of these worlds on the basis of their personal experiences. 26 Dec 2005 @ 03:38, [Shreepal, a Concerned Global Citizen]

Friday, January 06, 2006

Study humanities, be human

RADHIKA SRINIVAS The Times of India Monday, January 2, 2006
The dawn of this millennium has seen the gradual alienation of man from humanity. While technology has made path-breaking progress, the human race is at the crossroads of existential angst. The demands of a self-centred upwardly mobile society, the shift in family values across cultures and easy availability of technological innovations are slowly desensitising the individual. Terrorist attacks, petty power struggles, manic depression and workplace stress are only some indicators of such a fall-out. Today, increasingly, there is a need to inculcate stabilising factors in human existence. The perils of science can be addressed by the wisdom of the humanities.
It is in this context that a study of subjects in the humanities gains significance at the engineering undergraduate level. The goal of engineering education is to prepare graduates for effective and responsible careers as practising professionals. The ultimate objective of instruction is, therefore, to be of service to humanity. Technology has made this possible. The marvels of innovative engineering design are near miracles. Loss of sight, hearing, limb or organ are no longer dead-end catastrophes; space and time are virtual concepts cutting across geographical and time barriers. Yet, a study of an engineering student's background reveals that he has little exposure to critical thinking skills, communicative ability and the economics and management affecting a business set-up.
As an educationist looking into engineering Fred C Morris says: "The ever-increasing influence of the technological upon the social and economic order has intensified the long-standing need that the engineer be better educated in the humanities so that he will be better able to accept his responsibilities". Engineering design and science subjects should necessarily dominate the engineering curriculum. Each branch of engineering offers its unique contribution in its make-up of theory and practicals. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that 'soft' skills such as ethics, economics, language and communication, legal and management aspects are necessary and crucial to holistic education. While the outcome of engineering subjects can be measured through designs, experiments, procedures and products, the contribution of the humanities in the evolution of a student can only be perceived in real-life situations in real time — as freshers seeking anchors in unfamiliar surroundings; as troubled teenagers seeking counsellors; as job aspirants seeking grooming for interviews, seminars and discussion forums; and as aspirants for higher education seeking those vital recommendations.
Daniel Goleman, a writer on issues of EQ, points out that young engineers are not good at teamwork, sharing data, helping out and receiving feedback. Such workplace skills help foster a vision and strengthen a youngster against a storm of obsolescence. These life-coping skills can only be provided by the humanities. As Martin Luther King said: "Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men". The humanities can only be taught as an on-the-job human skill through interactive sessions.
Discoveries, inventions and innovations in the present advanced scientific age demand constant knowledge enhancement; the resulting stress, angst and personal limitations require continual ministration. Teaching engineering subjects requires research and breadth of knowledge; imparting values and skills needs expertise and depth of wisdom. Excellence in engineering quality is achieved when both, the process and the product, are given relevant treatment. Engineering education is the process which places the product, the engineering student, before an industry that forms the lifeline of the economy. The process of education needs attention if the product is to be of value. The study of humanities is a value-addition to a degree in engineering education. Through counselling, mentoring, lecturing and training, the discipline transforms the student as he meta-morphoses from the confines of a rigid curriculum to the freedom of innovative learning. The writer heads the Humanities Department at VJTI, Mumbai.

To one who outmeasures space, outlasts time

Sudheendra Kulkarni The Indian Express Sunday, January 01, 2006
All of us, in our thoughtful moments, have wondered how tiny we are in this universe that stretches to infinity and how short-lived we are in a timeline that stretches to eternity. It’s so humbling a thought as to make some minds conclude that life is without any meaning and without any purpose. But the same thought can produce a cathartic spiritual experience revealing to us that we are, after all, not dispensable in the architecture of the universe, nor irrelevant to its little-known but undeniable design. Could it be that a part of us does not really die after our death? And aren’t we linked to an unbroken chain of life before our birth? To think so is to affirm that, for man, life is not merely a continuum but also evolutionary with a purpose. And history is the process through which mankind, if awakened, can realise that Great Purpose.
All religions have tried to create this awakening of the divine in man. They urge us to develop a worshipful attitude towards the Timeless (Akaal), which regulates all life in Time (Kaal). It is only our ignorance and arrogance that make us behave as if there is no tomorrow, as if there is no Higher Power surveying what we think and what we do in our transient physical existence. Of all kinds of arrogance, the one fed by political power creates the highest intoxication and produces the greatest harm. World history is full of tales of power-drunk kings, badshahs and fuhrers who thought that their empires would never crumble and that Time would never make their takhts bite dust. I am often mesmerised by the concept of ‘‘Akaal Takht’’ in Amritsar’s Golden Temple. It refers to the takht or the royal throne that is everlasting. Now, whose power and padshahi is everlasting in this universe? Of God alone.
In his poem ‘‘Who’’, Maharshi Aurobindo describes the Timeless One:
In the sweep of the worlds, in the surge of the ages,
Ineffable, mighty, majestic and pure,
Beyond the last pinnacle reached by the thinker
He is throned in His seats that forever endure.
New Year’s Day is hence a time for bringing the lost sense of awe back into our humdrum lives; for letting our imagination wander from micro to mega reaches of space and time and realise our connectedness to both; and for offering a grateful prayer, in Aurobindo’s words, to ‘‘the One, who outmeasures Space and outlasts Time’’. Write to