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.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The action is not addressed to the oppressors but the witnesses

One of the things that struck me about Jodi's claim that she can't see any coherent alternative was the sense of inevitability that it embodied, as if the institution of Christianity or religion could not possibly disappear. Yet historically we've seen all sorts of institutions and religions disappear, and new things emerging in their place.
Additionally, you seem to be suggesting that the very awareness of this, the very awareness of the contingency of institutions, accelerates this process and opens up new potentials for engagement that would not be there without the thought of contingency. Reason must come to see itself as a contingent formation within history, which isn't to say that reason is somehow undermined or dismissed.
I have a tendency to think of a number of these issues in terms of populations, in much the same way that a biologist or an ethnographer might look at processes of speciation. One of the things I've found interesting in this discussion and the original post has been the tendency to focus on the *content* of the discourse, its propositions, whether it grounds itself or not, etc., and to evaluate it academically or intellectually in these terms. What seems to be forgotten in this is that discourses are populations or ways of life that are more or less intense or present within a historical setting or society. That is, we miss the dimension of these discourses as material realities that people live. Materially Christianity has been tremendously successful in the United States. There are churches on nearly every street corner, they own multiple television networks, speech addressing them is present in nearly every major governmental event, there are mass mailings that go throughout the population, they publish a tremendous amount of inspirational and fictional works, etc. It can, of course, be pointed out that the vast majority of Christians are not fundamentalists as Adam rightly points out. But what Adam seems to miss is that the content of a position erases itself in its actuality, reducing itself to what is most immediately present, i.e., the signifier "Christian". As a result, when legislation is enacted its inward content might very well be "nutjob fundamentalist" material, but it is supported by the larger population as this content erases itself and all that is heard is the signifier "Christian". That is, the distinctions disappear. As a result, those moderate secular Christians end up unwittingly supporting fundamentalist policies and public officials as they assume that the signifier has the same content as their own use of the signifier. Hence we cannot strongly draw these distinctions at the level of their material practice.
The question then becomes one of how new populations can be produced, new material forms of subjectivity traversing the social field, new speciations, etc. This is not a question of sterile academic debate where we wonder over whether this or that is grounded, or whether this or that is formally identical to religion, etc. Rather, it is a question of how to get certain strands of communication as material reality out there in the social field. This, for instance, is why I see books like Richard Dawkin's God Delusion or the Left Behind books as far more powerful than an ideological critique by Zizek or others in effecting change. When you see such a book advertised on the major news networks, spoken of in popular press, etc., you also see that the themes of discourse are changing. It's not a question of agreeing with Dawkins or whether he has a particularly sophisticated view of religion, and so on. Suddenly entire populations of youth find themselves with a vocabulary to voice thoughts that might have before been vague and undeveloped, and apoligists find that they must respond-- which entails making concessions --and the discourse shifts as a result. Rather, it's a question of how the field of forces is modified by the emergence of such things that must then be responded to at very basic and public levels outside the academy. I'm not expressing very well what I'm trying to get at here. Perhaps I'm trying to say that it's less a question of whether the position is true or false or the cleverness of an argument, but more the question of the relationship between a communication and an audience, and what potentials there are for producing a new species, subjectivity, or population. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 01:50 PM
Anthony you're correct, I'm talking about liberating the non-religious kernel from the religious flotsam in Jesus' religious teaching. And so yes, I'm certainly talking about a disfiguration. I think Jesus says some non-religious things of value such as loving ones neighbor, defending the marginalized, turning the other cheek, etc. I don't see why any of this need be connected to the Paul Bunyan stories that came to be attached to him. Certainly you weren't thinking that I would somehow ever become supportive of religion, did you? The most you might hope for there is a bit of mild tolerance for it as it isn't going away any time soon. I will also, of course, feel that some of my religious fellows are well meaning and have the right political and ethical aspirations. But that doesn't mean I'm suddenly going to begin seeing belief in divinity and the supernatural as a legitimate stance. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 01:56 PM
"In fact, you would have to erase much of his teaching to get at anything like a ground for ethics of the decent, procedural liberalism the Enlightenment bequeathed."
I always find it odd when you say things like this. I would claim that the Enlightenment has bequeathed many things... For instance, I would see Marx as a culmination of the Enlightenment. It's a little jarring for someone as steeped in Deleuze and Guattari as yourself to have such a difficult time with the concept of creative repetition or a repetition that is not a repetition of the same. I perpetually get the sense that you think I'm defending a position like John Locke's (your remark about Voltaire seemed to suggest this), or a form of rationality like Descartes'. It's more a question of a certain type of spirit and less a question of the content for me. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 02:00 PM
And, of course, Jesus is not the ground of anything... He happened to say some things that I believe are true. Talking of any man as the ground of anything is the whole problem. This is why I side with Socrates over Jesus. Socrates says "ignore me and evaluate what I say". Jesus says "I am God therefore obey what I say". I think this simple difference distils the entire difference between the religious tradition and the philosophical tradition and why they're not ultimately compatable. Jesus, no doubt, was deluded as to his identity and authority, but we, of course, can use our critical subjectivity to determine whether he nonetheless said some true things. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 02:04 PM
Yes, I am convinced that your approach to religion is essentially politically, intellectually, and ethically useless, much like Voltaire's. I value your insights on other things, but religion is not one of them. Love your enemies is not a truth one comes through by way of reason. Posted by: Anthony Paul Smith March 25, 2007 at 02:19 PM
"Love your enemies is not a truth one comes through by way of reason."
Sure it is. It is an exercise in rhetorical warfare at the level of political practice. Take Gandhi. In practicing non-violent protest and allowing themselves to be brutalized by their followers, they earned the sympathy of the witnesses of this violence. That is, the action is not addressed to the oppressors-- though perhaps the unwillingness to strike back horrifies them too --but the witnesses. In doing this, the witnesses come to side with the victims and the power of the oppressors is diminished. Socrates makes similar points at the end of the Apology. All of this strikes me as very reasonable political praxis.
You would have to make arguments as to how you see my remarks on religion as politically, ethically, and intellectually useless. Politically I'm discussing moments in history where fighting against religion in highly religious environments has been successful, thereby undermining the canard that it must simply be accepted. Moreover, I'm troubled by the way in which religion has so often been used as a tool of the oppressors. Here Zinn's opening chapter in the People's History is priceless. These issues would be related to ethics as well. Moreover, I'm simply refusing the common thesis that there can be no ethics without religion or that ethics somehow come from religion. Finally, intellectually, I'm bothered by the way in which religious belief has so often been anti-intellectual and inhibited intellectual development. The Middle Ages put Europe behind for about a thousand years. You can disagree, of course, but really you should make an actual argument rather than simple assertions. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 02:35 PM
Sinthome, "You can disagree, of course, but really you should make an actual argument rather than simple assertions."
It's a blog comment box. If you believe your words have gone past a slightly complexified assertion this is purely fantasy. And, of course, I have my own reasons for disagreeing. The reasonable question always in conversations like these remains "Is it worth my time to write them all out knowing full well it likely won't really change anyone’s views?" Frankly I think you are very convinced and even the discussion of empirical evidence to the contrary concerning the role of religion in intellectual and political life in the middle ages will fail to persuade you of anything other than the average historical summary found in most history of philosophy books.
Non-violent protest is not love. The purpose of Gandhi's movement was not to love the British but to defeat them. Instrumental reason of this sort is not at work in the Gospels. Posted by: Anthony Paul Smith March 25, 2007 at 02:48 PM
It's unclear whether the historical Jesus claimed to be God. It's also unclear that the intellectual "lag" in the middle ages was due to "religion" rather than to a really tenuous political and economic situation. The authority of the pope varied from decade to decade; certain parts of Europe were able largely to ignore it, etc. And on the other side, a lot of the accomplishments of Islam -- in astronomy, for instance -- were motivated by religious needs (precision in locating Mecca for prayer purposes, etc.). Overall, your non-dialectical and ahistorical approach to these questions is astonishingly unconvincing. Posted by: Adam Kotsko March 25, 2007 at 03:01 PM

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Black is a color. Race is a social construct

Let’s say that within the Limbic System which controls the emotions, and instincts, feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual behavior one particular type of cultural human being took from their environment those Deep Cultural Structures (Nobles) that suited their world view and developed their societies around them. For example, the African who culturally matured in a “relaxed” warm hospitable environment where Nature provided for their needs would have time to focus on and develop their emotions, not worry about feeding themselves thus limiting fighting and also have time to enjoy their sexuality in accordance with what they were close with and respected, Nature. They would develop a sense of community and sharing as well as embrace connectivity because they needed the group to survive within Nature's bounty. The spoken Word was law. Group think!
On the other hand, the European, who culturally matured in a “hostile,” cold ice age environment would have little time to deal with their emotions (in fact they would be a hindrance for their survival), have a difficult time finding resources to feed themselves therefore fighting and weapon development for resource acquisition and control would be a prominent part of their cultural world view. Their sexuality would be confined to the warmth of their caves and because of the confinement would probably increase the opportunity for sexual “experimentation” for inter-group and/or inter-gender relationships. Therefore, they would be more aggressive, protective of their space/resources, xenophobic, technocratic, replace Nature with things artificial and develop deceptive practices for manipulation of the Word for their protection. All leading to Individual think, or at best later, the small controllable “nuclear family thinking”
Similar to the carry over from our early cerebral biological development, I’d say the humans cultural development was also coded and evolved from the environment to create such behaviors. That would mean that today, if we could find out which person would embrace which code of the aforementioned behaviors, than we could very well issue an “African or European” cultural card, depending on their embraced of their ancestral Deep Cultural Structures.
As I see it, the only hindrance to correct coding would be hypocrisy or deceit. For instance, one person from either cultural group, if they wanted to claim African status, could feign “Group think,” when their ultimate goal is to achieve individual advantage. This may be because it’s a part of their ancestral cultural thought and behavior or their own has been hidden and they have adopted another through the adaptation to foreign ideology. For those of us who can't get beyond the idea of skin color or the concept of race, this doesn’t negate the fact that we can issue a “Blacker than me” card once we learn to identify our own cultural behavior and through observation issue them to those who more closely follow their ancestral Deep Cultural Structures which ever one they may be or which ever culture they claim.
Footnote: In this reality, an Asian could be more African than a modern day African if the African has adapted, adopted, as well as practiced, another cultural thought and behavior. Remember Africans, in so called "prehistory," laid the foundation for many of today’s world cultures. Posted by AFRICANVOICE.COM at Monday, March 12, 2007

Friday, March 02, 2007

"White" refers to their advanced spirituality and has nothing to do with race

The Great White Brotherhood is a term used in some metaphysical and Theosophical literature, as well as in Ascended Master Activities, to be an association of enlightened Spiritual Beings, in or out of incarnation, who continue to take an interest in the spiritual development of the human race. The Ascended Masters are believed by some to form such a college.[1]
Originating in the teachings of H. P. Blavatsky as developed by C. W. Leadbeater, Alice Bailey and Helena Roerich, the term Great White Brotherhood was further developed and popularized in 1934 with the publication of "Unveiled Mysteries" [2] by Guy Ballard's "I Am" Activity.[3] This Universal Brotherhood of "Immortal Saints and Sages" [4] who have gone through the Initiations of the Transfiguration, Resurrection, and the Ascension[5] was further popularized by The Bridge to Freedom, The Summit Lighthouse, and The Temple of The Presence. [6]
The Great White Brotherhood is perceived as a spiritual organization composed of those Ascended Masters who have risen from the Earth into Immortality, but still maintain an active watch over the world. The Great White Brotherhood also includes members of the Heavenly Host (the Spiritual Hierarchy directly concerned with the evolution of our world), Beneficent Members from other planets that are interested in our welfare, as well as certain unascended chelas. [7]
The Ascended Masters are supposed to be joined together in Service to our Earth under the name of the Great White Brotherhood. The use of the term "white" is supposed to refer to their advanced spirituality (i.e., that they have a white colored aura) and has nothing to do with race. The later versions of Blavatsky described the masters as [8] ethnically Tibetan or Indian (Hindu), not European. Recent research indicates, however, that this description was used by Blavatsky to hide the real identity of her teachers, some of whom were well known Indian rulers of her time. [9] Library > Reference > Wikipedia

The people of the Christian West (i.e. the United States) had been so poisoned against Muslims

Professor Stanford J. Shaw zs"l 1930-2006 A Personal Appreciation by Shelomo Alfassa (December 24, 2006)
I was deeply saddened to have learned of the death of Professor Stanford J. Shaw at the age of 76. Professor Shaw was an Ottomanist, a world renowned expert on Jewish life in Turkey during and after the era of the sultan. Although I had never met the professor in person, we had struck up an Internet friendship that had lasted many years. As a Turkish Jew and a lover of Ottoman Jewish history, I found a deep appreciation for this man that spent nearly his whole life researching, writing about and focusing on my people. Professor Shaw contributed such a tremendous wealth of knowledge to the body of history on the Jews of Turkey, that the debt of gratitude that is owed him can never be repaid. His academic work strengthened our understanding of what Jewish life was life under the sultan, from as early as the expulsion of the Jews from Spain to as late as the development of Ataturk's modern Republic...
Professor Stanford Shaw was not afraid to challenge the Armenian claims of genocide at the hands of the Ottomans. Shaw stood by his position, one shared by many others, that the wars that the Ottoman Empire faced were brutal to people of all races and various ethnic groups. After studying in the Turkish archives, he took the position that there was no directly intended genocidal attempt and that all parties were liable for the high numbers of deaths due to the vicious warfare that occurred. Professor Shaw realized that the people of the Christian West (i.e. the United States) had been so poisoned against Muslims by wartime propaganda that it was easy for the Americans to jump on the 'blame the Turks' bandwagon. Because of his opinions, Shaw's house in California was bombed in 1977 by Armenian extremists...RETURN HOME