'If one cannot muster a state of godlike detachment, a sense of impotence is the next best protection from despair.
'India is too big. The problems are too immense. What vanity to think ones own actions coudl make any difference to the swelling flood. The sheer volume of it suffocated every good intention. Here, Life mattered, lives did not...
'To achieve that famous serenity, which is now India's principal export (the frightening, vaporous serenity of the New Age movement), one needed to view individual lives as insignificant, mere vehicles for DNA.
'To achieve the long view, one steps further and further back from lives as they are lived, to that more tranquil position from which one sees only a crowd. From that perspective, human beings become a species, worth preserving.
'But take another step back and it is no longer necessary to preserve the species. There will be another one following us, after all.
'Until the view lengthens to such an extent that the world disappears and one is left only with the cold reaches of space, in a private pas de deux with God.
'Was it possible to accommodate the contradiction between action and, being, to incorporate both long view and short view in ones being, to be both reflective and active, detached and involved? Davidson, page 203, Desert Places
Robyn Davidson, Desert Places pages 200-202Quote
'If one sees a man, overfed and crammed with gold, holding a cringing 12 year old by the arm and beating him with a large stick, then flinging him to the floor like a bunch of rags, then turning to the white guest, and smiling obsequiously but without shame, because what he has done is in the order of things, is his right, while the bunch of rags crawls off to weep in the corner of a cement room on his blanket on the floor, and falls instantly asleep because he works for the fat man 20 hours a day and is malnourished and exhausted. And if no one says a word and makes any move to stop it, (including myself--Davidson) because the servant belongs to the fat man and anyway it is the child's fate and anyway, would the ones intervention change anything?
'If a highly educated and powerful Brahmin bureaucrat explains to you, seriously and passionately, why untouchables cannot be allowed into higher government positions because "for centuries they have handled excrement and it has entered their minds"
Or the wife of a diplomat, who announced to her book-besotted sixteen year old niece "You must marry rather than educate yourself because if you are educated, you will not adjust to marriage."
'I knew' wrote Davidson 'that it was fruitless to engage in such a conversation (challenging any of this) because what was conspicuous to me was invisible to him and vice versa.
'In such a state of mind (after writing in fury all night at the horrors she witnessed during day and could not change) Davidson says
'In such a state of mind, I might visit Bishan's people down in the nearby village and experience only that unique Indian warm and sweetness, hear only the laughter, and be able to say, as an American acquaintance said after a 2 week holiday in India, by air conditioned bus, that 'the poor looked so happy'
yet (speaking for herself, Davidson continues)
'I would be able, to conveniently forget that in this 'happy' village suicide is extremely common, that only the last month a woman had hanged herself in the forest. Her family, to avoid being charged with murder, had paid many thousands of rupees in bribes to the police, and many thousands of rupees in bribes to the doctor signing the death certificate, and was now entirely destitute, trapped by one twist of fate over the abyss of which every Indian, rich or poor, is acutely aware.
Davidson goes on to write that the corruption is wholesale.
'The village people themselves, when given a chance, also participate in various forms of extortion on the principle that if the rich and privileged can get away with it, and the politicians and the judges and police and the forest officers and the administrators and their own sarpanch, why shouldn't we?
'And this moral corruption has spread so deeply and widely that there seems no way to get rid of it by any means other than a conflagration.
'It is not enough now to find a group to blame...the British or the politicians (vile and craven though they often are) or the industrialists or the bureaucrats--because everyone participates at some level.' Davidson..201--202)
Is that the kind of emotionally disconnected life that people really want to live?
The answer may be yes. Look at the popularity of iPods. (I call 'em 'ear worms'). Great way to split off and dissociate from one's surroudings.
On a more serious note, if you can, try and get a copy of Arthur Koestler's book, The Lotus and the Robot.
Around 1958, Koestler made a trip to India and then to Japan. He had been affected by both the Spanish Civil War (where he narrowly escaped execution as a POW) and by World War II. Koestler had been a dedicated Communist and finally faced how dehumanizing it was and repudiated his connection to the Party. This too had painful consequences.
So Koestler went to India and to Japan to see if the best minds amongt the Hindu and Japanese Zen elite could offer any answers to questions that mattered to thoughtful Westerners who were troubled by the dehumanizing evil that had been unleashed by both Stalin and Hitler.
To his dismay, Koestler found there didnt seem to be any answers.
But I mention this because Koestler was struck by one feature of Indian life in particular--the staggering levels of noise and the utter lack of privacy. Even the temples were noisy. He stated that he found it easier to find contemplative peace and quiet in New York City than in India.
Worse, those in the Indian spiriutal elite, including MK Gandhi had the attitude that if one was a sufficiently spiriutual person, one would not be bothered by this ambient noise.
Though Koestler did not use the term dissociation (the term did not exist in the 1950s), it appeared to him that all too often in India yoga and meditation were used to split oneself off from a problem or from a painful situation, rather than encountering that situation and then examining ways to solve the problematic features of that situation.
(To Solea,, please dont be content with my thumbnail analysis--I have my biases. I recommend you get hold of Koestlers book).
There is another book by Jeffrey Masson, whose family followed Theosophy and who even had a kind of guru on the premises--Paul Brunton. In 1956, young Jeffrey and his father visited India...so you can get a second perspective to supplement Koestler, who travelled there just 2
I want to quote something Masson wrote about his reactions as an 18 year old to India, and his response. For it seems to illustrate what Magic called 'spiriutal bypass'. First, young Jeffrey arrived in Bombay/Mumbai--the same place Koestler stayed when first in India. Masson, who unlike Koestler, had already been practicing Theosophical Hindu meditation had a coping strategy:
'This was my first trip outside of Europe and the United States' Jeffrey Masson writes. '..and my first visit to a Third World country. I was not prepared in any way for the reality of India, fo rthe poverty and human suffering that I glimpsed for the first time in my life from the window of the taxicab driving past some of the world's biggest and poorest slums. The only way I knew to deal with this sudden descent into the real world was to immerse myself even more in the shadow world of spirituality. The appalling poverty and disease I saw when I arrived in Bombay did not really exist: it was Maya, an illusion. What you see is not what you get. What you see, the sufering you preceive around you, is unreal, a philosophic illusion ("the external world is a joke and a very poor joke at that", and therefore not be attended to.
'India was particularly well suited to the spiritual insularity I had developed. It too suffered from some of the same debility, so we were well matched. Indian philosophy long ago solved the puzzle of human suffering by depriving it of reality. The philosophers were constantly discoursing on a cosmic double standard. Suffering, misery and unhappiness were defined as such only form the lower(Masson's italics) point of view. From the higher point of view, there was no difference between the wealthy man and the beggar. It was, needless to say, extremely convenient as a balm for any conscience that threatened to erupt when faced with the suffering all around. THis powerful rationalizing phrase---which parallels many other spiritual traditions---was invented by a priviliged Brahmin class to distract (dissociate? C) from the poverty and misery created by this same class.'
My Father's Guru:A Journey Through Spirituality and Disillusion by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Though I had read about it in books, the din and noise and profanity in Indian places of worship came as a shock. I found that there is more peace to be had in Manhattan than in any Indian town or village, temple or shrine. (Koestler was there in the late 1950s!)
'If the temple was an historic monument, the atmosphere was that of Brighton Pier; if it was a modest local shrine, the scene was that of a family picnic. The voices were shrill and unrestrained, children would caper all over the place with mothers and sisters yelling after them; obeisance was shown to the idol, but no reverence, the feeling of sanctity was completely absence. I began to suspect that I had never encountered a people as uncontemplative as this nation of Yogis. (Koestler, The Lotus and the Robot, page 17)
In a subsection 'The Perils of Distraction' Koestler commented
'I must return once more to the noisy profanity of the temples.
'The absence of privacy (in India) shich characterizes life in the family, makes itself even more storngly felt in the attitude to religion. In the joint household, a man is rarely alone with his wife; in the temple he is never alone with his God. If he wants to be alone with his god, hemust become a hermit and retire to the Himalayas. Hence the prominent part the cave dwelling hermits play in Indian lore.
'The West however misunderstood their significance by regarding them as typical representatives of a nation that values quiet meditation above everything. In reality, they are the exceptions, the rebels against the debasement of religion who take to the wilderness because Indian society is inimical to teh contemplative life...
It is interesting to note what Gandhi had to say on the subject. In 1924, after one of the periodic outbursts of religious hostilities, he wrote in an article:
"Hindus and Muslims prate about no compulsion in religion. What is it but compulsion if Hindus will kill a Muslim for slaughtering a cow? SImilarly, what is it but compulsion if Muslims seek to prevent by force Hindus from playing music before mosques? Virtue lies in being absorbed in ones prayers in the presence of din and noise."
It is a revealing passage. Logically, Gandhi ought to have admonished his Hindu brethren to abstain from making 'a din and noise' in front of Moslem places of worship; instead he admonished the Moslems to tolerate (LOVE WHAT IS? C)what they must regard not only as a nuisance but as a desecration.
'The justificiation for this curiosu attitude is found in (Gandhi's)next sentence, as a Hindu, the notion of hushed silence in the House of God, common to Christian and Moslem, was alient to him: "Virtue consists in being absorbed in one's prayers in the presence of din and noise."
Gandhi was expressing a basic principle of Hindu education in its emphasis on concentration, on teh quasi Yogic power of shutting oneself off from any outside distraction. By an effort of concentration (Koestler has Gandhi imply) everybody ought to be able to live in his own Himalayan Cave in the midst of the turbulent household.
It looks as if these extraordinary powers had been ascribed to the individual as a compensation for the denial of privacy.
'It was all right for Gandhi, who could withdraw into himself in the midst of a crowd, and it was probably all right in a traditionalist society which discouraged individualistic tendencies.
But to the young University student, the person with artistic or intellectual or religious aspirations, the denial of the right to privacy, and the concommittant demand that he should make up for (the lack of privacy) by 'concentration' means a frightful mental strain.
The Lotus and the Robot, pp 141--142
'You (Westerners) have developed the head, the head did not keep pace. With us it was the opposite, it was with the development of the heart that we have been concerned in India'. When Vinoba Bhave said this to me, I accepted it as a truism, as most guilt ridden Westerners do.
'The first half of the statement is certainly true (Koestler had the Nazi concentration camps and Stalin's state orchestrated famines in mind, as also the problems of the newly developed nuclear weapons).
'But,' continues Koestler, 'what evidence is there for the second?'
'If 'heart' refers to charity, the Oriental attitude to the sick and the poor is notoriously indifferent, because caste, rank, wealth and health, are per-ordained by the laws of Karma.
'Welfare work in the slums and care of the poor in general was and still is, the monopoly of the Christian missions in Asia. Gandhi's crusade for the Untouchables and Vinoba's crusade for the landless are modern developments under Western influence--Gandhi himself acknowledged that he was inspired by Christianity, Tolstoy, Ruskin and Thoreau.'
The Lotus and the Robot, page 280
(Note: Fine charitable work has been done by the Ramakrishna Order, but its founder, Vivekananda was also Western educated and was part, not of classical Hinduism but of a movement termed Hindu Reform or Hindu Renaissance. C)
The Lotus and the Robot, page 17
At the same time I also suspected that something essential was escaping me, and that I must be mistaken. (Koestler wrote this last set of lines assuming he was in some way failing...he had come to Asia optimistically hoping Asian would have something meaningful and helpful to say about the problems that concerned Post World War II westerners. He realized there was no answer and by the end of the book wrote that he no longer felt he had missed anything.
Next, Koestler interviewed one of the leading figures in the Hindu hierarchy--the Shankaracharya of Kanchi:
Koestler asked this question: 'Where then, can an individual meditate in silence and enjoy the feeling of being alone with his God?'
His Holiness replied: 'In almost every Hindu home, and in riverside structures, there is a place of daily worship. We can obtain in it the seclusion and silence needed for meditation.'
Koestler then says to the reader:
'It would have been impertinent to contradict the saint by telling him I had visited some of these 'riverside structures' and private shrines in Hindu houses. About the former, the ghats (bathing places) and shrines of Benares for instance, the less said the better; the latter are usually the size of a larder or simply a corner in a bedroom. There would be a small figure of Krishna or Durga with some wilted daisies in front of it, and some oil prints of the Monkey God on the wall.
'But in the average cramped and crowded Indian habitation, that shrine offers no privacy whatsoever. A saint of course, would feel at peace in the midst of any din and noise.
'But,' says Koestler, 'I was concerned with the average person.'
Lotus and the Robot, page 60.
A final note on differences between Indian and Western attitudes about privacy:
If anyone thinks that Koestler's view point is rare or eccentric, Captain Richard Francis Burton made a similar observation in the 1850s, though he expressed it in language much different from Koestler. Burton was a hardy man, an explorer, a career soldier. But even he had this to say--and he said it despite loving India and being far more willing than the average Englishman to acculturate--to the point of learning the languages and going under cover disguished as one of the locals:
'...we English have a peculiar national quality, which the Indians, with their customary acuteness, soon perceived, and described by an opprobrious name. Observing our solitary habits, that we could not, and would not, sit and talk and sip sherbet and smoke with them, they called us "Jangli"--wild men, fresh caught in the jungle and sent to rule over the land of Hind.
'Certainly nothing suits us less than perpetual society, an utter want of solitude, when one cannot retire into oneself an instant without being asked some puerile question by a companion, or look into a book without a servant peering over one's shoulder, when from the hour you rise to the time you rest, you must ever be talking or listening, you must converse yourself to sleep in a public dormitory and give ear to your companions' snores and mutterings at midnight.
Burton, Richard F: A Personal Narrative of the Pilgrimage from Al-Medinah and Meccah, Volume One, Dover Reprint, first published 1855, the Dover Edition being a reprint of the 1893 memorial edition.
And in his book, The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism, published in 1970, Agehananada Bharati did an anthropological examination of nondual realization and the social roles in India (and the Indiophile West) associated with valuing such experience, questing for it, and the social roles of seeker, experiencer, and guru.
'Once the modern Hindu householder has done his preparatory observances (commitment to a vegetarian diet if he has not done so, abstention from sex--Bharti noted that the only yogis who are women are widows)..and has settled down to asana, the visible parts of his yoga are exhausted, it is these visible "actonic chains" as Marvin Harris would calle dhtem which establish a man (in the recognized social role) as a lay yogi.
By about this time, his family has reserved sufficient time and space for him, to do virtually as he wants. A niche or room in the house is tacitly given over to him, and no one will enter it from then on. It is expected that he will devote ever more time to his meditation, and if this process continues for a number of years, the man will be known to people in his locality as a yogi, a teacher.'
(Bharati The Light at the Center page 163)
This might still be little privacy and quiet by Western standards but is a very great amount by Indian standards.
So...social context is important here. A coping strategy of 'tuning out' through spiritually rationalized bypass of a noisy, suffering social context that one has no personal resources to escape from or remedy, might be
the equivalent of valium, and a means of adaptation--to that particular social context, where people are already very, very related with one another.
But in the West, where it is harder to maintain relationships, and where we are already quit often alienated and need more face to face engagement, rather than suffering from social overload as is the case in India, importing Indian methods of spiritually rationalized disenagement and bypass of suffering might increase our Western forms of narcissism and disengagement/alientation, rather than healing these.
These questions have to be asked. I am not saying dont do yoga, but be prepared to fine tune yoga so that it will actually remedy Western forms of malaise and selfishness---rather than increasing these.
ET and BK have combined western forms of hyper-individualist captialism, with disregard for suffering and by discarding two key features of Western spirituality at its best:
*Love your neighbor as yourself/you are your neighbor's keeper
*The inherant dignity of the ordinary unenlightened human person
For America especially is not a densely populated ancient civilization as India is. America is still socially a frontier, a land of wide open social and physical spaces, where we need help connecting and lending a helping hand, not yet more encouragement to isolate and look out for Number One.
A friend who grew up in farm country said that in her area, if you saw a neighbor's cow in trouble, you climbed under the neighbors fence, checked the animal and then called the farmhouse to alert them. They would do the same for you. Thats the frontier mentality at its best.
Not let the suffering animal lie there, love what is, and fail to phone the neigbhor.
Literally the one respectable way to get some personal space, both in terms of time and physical space, and allowances for introversion is....in the Indian context, to become a yogi, a hermit, first at home and then more radically in some cases, by leaving home and looking for seclusion.
So...in compensation for the lack of privacy and vast suffering in Indian life, a particular kind of spiritual practice and set of mental and emotional escape hatches within that spirituality, seem to have come about--socially and spiritually sanctioned bypassing via 'concentration' that may often have been dissociative, and thus not a strategy that would have led to remedying the misery that led one to split off from it using yoga or nondual word spinning with through logic dissolves all problems into illusions that can be ignored or--loved for 'what is'---rather than being questioned and seen as something to be remedied.
If we had kept loving infections diseases for 'what is', we wouldnt have had immunization strategies, or antibiotics and a lot of us, perhaps including BK and ET would not be alive today.
And....many of us are now alive today to argue the issue and many more, on RR.com
Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 09/20/2008 07:23AM by corboy.