Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mumbo-jumbo scholarship

INDIA, ARYAN PATRIARCHY AND DRAVIDIAN MATRIARCHY Ray Harris I've recently discovered the work of Giti Thadani, an Indian lesbian academic. In her books 'Sakiyani: Lesbian Desire in Ancient and Modern India' and 'Moebius Trip' she describes an India quite different to the India of the modern conservative politician concerned about morality and preserving Hindu traditions. integral world
In previous articles I've examined Islam and Christianity. Now I feel ready to tackle Hinduism. But first let me make an admission. I'm very sympathetic to what I call Advaita Tantra, nondual Tantrism, particularly as expressed in Kashmir Shaivism (KS) and some schools of Vajrayana Buddhism. This does not mean I'm not critically aware of what can only be described as the mumbo-jumbo of Tantric esotericism. Any scholar of Tantra will tell you that many of the texts are obscurantist and difficult. Yet, such esotericism gave rise to some remarkable philosophy, both Hindu and Buddhist.
Another admission: I spent five years living in an ashram where I had a number of profound experiences. It doesn't matter if these were 'real' or not. I'm actually still undecided about there being a metaphysical reality distinct from physical reality. Modern techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) have shown conclusively that meditation changes the brain. When Buddhist monks say meditation makes them happier they are not 'imagining' it. The work of Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison has shown more activity in the left prefrontal cortex of meditators than non-meditators – the left prefrontal cortex is where feelings of wellbeing are located (activated). Other studies have shown how meditation affects the areas of the brain that deal with notions of self and other. As these studies continue FMRI will no doubt reveal that we have considerable control over our own thoughts and mental and emotional 'states'. In other words – meditation works. (What I would like to see is FMRI studies of fundamentalist Christians in prayer and a comparison with serious meditators, now that would be interesting!).
If meditation can make people happier then it has value in its own right, independent of whether or not it proves one or other metaphysical theory. In fact we may be seeing the beginning of a science based, rational philosophy of meditation. If we seek pleasure for pleasure's sake then why not meditate because it is good for us? Forget all the religious accretions.
Okay, so before I digress too much let me also confess that whilst I lived in the ashram I had time to study Indian philosophy to some depth, particularly KS - a philosophy that is very compatible with modern scientific theories of cosmogenesis. For example KS posits a 'singularity' (so called because it is nondual), which self-expands and limits itself by creating spacetime (called niyati and kaala in Sanskrit). The paradoxes of modern cosmology are compatible with the paradoxes of nondual philosophy. There was no time 'before' the expansion because there was no 'time'. There was no 'inside' and 'outside' the singularity because there was no 'space' as we understand it. Of course, KS often described these things in mythic language, but I can assure the reader that the process of understanding the philosophy of KS involved stages of understanding compatible with the findings of developmental psychology. These things can be read in rational and integral ways. Now, I'm not suggesting in any way that KS proves modern cosmology or vice-versa – they are quite different fields of inquiry. No, what I am saying is that KS is more compatible with modern science than the Abrahamic religions that posit a God (often anthropomorphic) that sits outside spacetime and magically creates and destroys the Cosmos. KS is technically atheistic - nondual logic demands it...
Tantra is unique in its frank use of sexual imagery. Spiritual realisation is depicted as the union of male and female, with the goddess afforded a primary position as the creative force (eros) of the cosmos. In KS she is called mahashakti, the 'energy' of creation. I won't go into a description of Tantra here. I believe most of my readers will already be familiar with it, and if not, a google search will have to do. What I want to do here is mention two things:
  • First, Tantra has given great respect to women adepts. Tibetan Buddhism tells of one of Padmasambhava's consorts, the Lady Tsogyal. Hindu Tantra acknowledges several great female siddhas and yoginis and the goddess is afforded supreme status.
  • Second, Tantra deliberately sought to transgress the religious rules of the Arya. Left-hand Tantra intentionally advocates using the five banned substances of the Arya in their rituals...
In her studies and travels Thadani shows that the Arya has suppressed the goddess. This has been done in both petty and more profound ways. An example of the petty was the number of times Thadani came across naked statues of the goddess covered by a piece of cloth by the local Aryans, embarrassed at her nudity.
The more profound suppression involves the systematic distortion and rewriting of Indian history. Thadani has given numerous accounts of where the feminine of the original Sanskrit has been translated as masculine. She also encountered temples where the goddess had been mutilated and either replaced by or turned into a masculine god. One of the more amusing attempts to rewrite goddess mythology concerns the goddess Kali. There are many examples of artwork showing the fierce Kali standing on the corpse of Shiva with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. In the Shaivite and Shakta traditions the exposed tongue simple represents her fierce, defiant aspect and the iconography is about her dominance of Shiva. But in the Aryan retelling the tongue is said to represent shame – Kali is showing remorse for accidently stepping on her 'husband' Shiva... Ray Harris, February 2007 Harris lives in Australia and can be contacted at: rharris6@bigpond.net.au. Ray has written about Christianity (see his essay "Christianity: The Great Lie") and Islam (see: "The Many Faces of Islam", among many others in the Reading Room), this time he addresses Hinduism.

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