Monday, October 03, 2005

culture wars 3: Reality and the gods

A fellow blogger, the enchantingly inquisitive explorer Irina points out that she keeps forgetting about the role play part. That’s because, I suspect, aside from the particularities of my caricature of the Hindus, the language used in the last post was very familiar as it has been in vogue of late amongst some very “respectable” pundits and more popular bloggers.

So, I’ve agonized over whether or not I should continue the role-play. There is enough incivility as it is already. I decided that I would continue just for one more post while toning it down a bit. I’ll atone for the nastiness as best I know how. In the meanwhile, I take heart in that our Iranian Nazi-wannabe-in-residence—no hyperbole, as he does truly fancy himself some National Socialist—calls me, in his eminently learned, articulate way, another Jew influenced S@#T while also happily reproducing the last post in full!

So I continue today with another reminder that if you are easily offended, you should please move on.

Since no genuine petty-spirited, acrimonious “anti-idiotarian” rant is ever complete without those two omnipresent, unimaginative cries of “where is the outrage,” and “that’s hypocrisy,” I am going to proceed with the latter first.

As a Persian nationalist, it does occur to me that I am uncomfortable being surrounded by so many nuclear weapons that can potentially wipe out all life from the surface of our planet. The Pakistanis have them as well as our Northern neighbors and Israel among host of others. But I am now merely fixated on India. Especially, as they’ve voted against my objectives in an international arena when I expected from them otherwise.

So I go on to argue that I really don’t have any problems with the Bombs per se, but merely with who controls them. Those Indians can be so hypocritical since they not only have nuclear reactors themselves, but also many Bombs and missiles and yet, they have the audacity to reject another nation’s need for peaceful nuclear energy.

How can we trust those hypocrites, given that their sense of reality is nothing like us? How can any of us ever hope to understand those Indians? To prove my point, I then invite you to join me in briefly examining one of their ancient texts-- the celebrated Bhagadva Gita!

This Book, in the grand tradition of the epic of the Mahabharata, begins with a picturesque account of the battle scene between two families, the Kuuravas and the Pandavas. Two conventional armies arrayed against one another in battle:

[t]he many-shaped banners of your men, king of the people, bearing royal insignia of gold, sparkled like fires. The shining rainbow color of your troops and the others were bright as in Indra’s mansion. (1.5)

But there is nothing “normal” about these two armies. Appearance is a mere illusion. And the moment our hero, the famed Arjuna, pauses to think things through, the essential logic of the conflict presents itself with heart-wrenching clarity:

The Partha saw them stand there, fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, father in law, and god companions in both armies. Watching all his relatives stand arrayed, he was overcome with the greatest compassion. (1.26)

So now our Arjuna has a dilemma about fighting and begins to have second thoughts. Arjuna’s “limbs” begin to “falter,” his body begins to “tremor,” and his “hair bristle.” (1.30)

Arjuna is now effectively paralyzed:

The very men for whose sake we want kingship, comforts, and joy, stand in line to battle us, forfeiting their hard-to-relinquish lives![…] I do not want to kill them, though they be killers, Madhusudana, even for the sovereignty of the three worlds, let alone earth. (1.33)

He has become a stranger to his universe and the split between the world of appearance and that of reality is too much for him to bear. In other words, something in the world of appearance deeply disturbs him and divests his real world of meaning. He has a crisis of faith.

The root of his problems appears to be the following:

With the destruction of family the eternal family Laws are destroyed. When Law is destroyed, lawlessness bests the entire family. From the prevalence of lawlessness the women of the family become corrupt, Krishna: when the women are corrupt, there is class miscegenation, and miscegenation leads to hell for family killers and family…Woe! We have resolved to commit a great crime as we stand ready to kill family out of greed for kingship and pleasure. (2:40)

Even on the basis of this limited excursion, you could probably intuit that my next move could be in many different directions. I can go on to highlight the beauty of the text in myriad ways. I can point out how the text can resonate with us given the anguish of political life in modern societies. Or I can emphasize a narrative that highlights our common human predicaments which appear not to have changed much in eons. Or many other approaches—traditional or hip and coolly (post) modern.

I could also probably see it as another example of how humans no matter what culture they grow up in have always strived to understand the meaning of human suffering in their own unique ways.

But no!

I am now too blind by either fear or loathing to notice the similarities. I am too closed minded to learn anything new. I am now out to make the Indians look as “alien” and “abnormal” to our “normal” sensibilities as possible. So I go on to highlight the class miscegenation bit.

I am an “anti-idiotarian,” you see. All the wisdom of the world for me is limited to those few books I normally read and the language I am most comfortable using in the particular country I inhabit and my time zone. I am too lazy to be inquisitive and too obnoxious to sympathetically engage with “other” texts. That’s multiculturalism you see. It is almost as nasty as those Hindus to me.

Multiplicity petrifies me. And--horror of horrors--those Hindus are dazzlingly diverse. Some are theists, or believe in personal salvation while others are not or don’t. All I am interested in now is to show you how the Hindus either are adamant believers in a cast system or that they have this odd notion of a dispassionate, disinterested conduct. So I am going to demean their gods now in order to accomplish what I set out to do.

So, enter Krishna. Who is He? What kind of a God?

Krishna is the creator, the sustainer, as well as the destroyer of the world. He is the “foundation of Brahman,” (12.27) and under his “tutelage” are born all creatures “standing or moving” (9:10) Krishna is the “eternal source of all creatures” (9.40). Krishna is the Alpha and the Omega of existence—the syllable OM. (9.18) As such, the world is “stung” on him and “all creatures exist in” him (9.5)

And He is also the author of the society of four classes, a society created to reflect the three Gunas-forces, or constituents-of nature. A person, or an embodied soul, is said to be as good as his/her faith, which is of three types, “satva, rajas, or tamas” (17.3) Remember those millions of poor. That’s their nature working; I go on to point out. They deserve what they get.

I can try to explain many things a bit more. Or at least reflect a tad more carefully. But as an intellectual, I want to have just the right mix of clarity and opacity, so my dear readers remain mystified about my level of “expertise.” Any, old trick just as long as it works to discourage everyone from independent thinking. Real thinking, I mean, will put me out of business. What’s really going to happen when we finally figure out what is required to cultivate and practice desiring to grapple with difficult problems and questions on our own?

It’s all in the nature of the game, you see.

So, I use just the “right” dose of scary, unfamiliar phrases to tantalize others while at the same time letting myself feel important. So, I am going to leave it at that for now and return to examining what Krishna tells Arjuna to cure him of his paralysis in order to help him regain “his wits” (18.74) and to re-join the battle.

Krishna counsels Arjuna to get a grip on himself. Arjuna should not be despairing because compassion is not the appropriate emotional response in this context. There are simply no justifiable causes for sorrow. Krishna adumbrates four reasons why Arjuna should not be “sorry for either the living or the dead.” (2.11)

The self—the embodied self—is eternal, “never was there a time when I did not exist, or you, or these kings, nor shall any of us cease to exist.” ( 2.11) Just as there are cycles a body goes through-childhood, youth and old age-so too does the self go through cycles of rebirth, and in doing so, takes “passage to another body.” (2.13)

Given the imperishable nature of that on which our “world is strung”,” there can be no meaningful way of speaking of killing and being killed:

He who thinks that this being is a killer and he who imagines that it is killed do neither of them know. It is not killed nor does it kill. (2.18)

Second, just as it is natural for the body to go through different cycles, so too is natural for that which is born to die and for that which dies to be born again. This transformation is inevitable and should therefore be no cause for grief, “for to be born death is assured, and birth is assured to the dead” (2.27)

Third, if the self happens to be an embodied baron, then he will have to conduct himself in accordance with the Laws of barons and not waver. Hence, sorrow is still an inappropriate reaction here. The agony Arjuna is feeling is merely a distorted reaction to a win-win proposition, “either you are killed and will then attain to heaven, or you triumph and will enjoy the earth.” (2.37)

Last, but not least, in a move that should be familiar to practically every one of my readers, since we hear echoes of it all the time these days, Krishna argues that Arjuna’s refusal to fight could be viewed as an act of cowardice, which would then lead to the questioning of his abilities as a warrior, resulting in the vanishing of the glory of his name and in an “undying shame”:

Your ill wishers will spread many unspeakable tales about you, condemning your skills-and what is more miserable than that? (2.36)

In Krishna’s universe, all players are “in bondage to the Karma of action” and should act “to hold the world together.” (3.26) The embodied souls of the society of four classes here should strive to perform their acts in accordance with the prescribed Laws, with no desires or emotions, utterly disinterested, and without any expectation of rewards or fruits of their acts (18.2-4)

They should all mind their own business and dedicate themselves to their own tasks since “one’s own law imperfectly observed is better than another’s law carried out with perfection.” (18.47)

In short, if an embodied soul were to follow his natural tasks and relinquish all his acts to Krishna, he would find through Krishna’s grace the “eternal abode with is ultimate peace” (18.57) By Krishna’s grace, even if an embodied soul were to embark on a path of butchery—so long as he butchers with a “disposition not dominated by ego,” and “understanding not obscured,” he “does not kill and is not bound by his act were he to kill off these three worlds” (18.19)

From here my next move is really simple enough. I want you to forget about different textual interpretations. I ask you to be oblivious to nuances, subtly, poetic ambivalence or allegorical readings. I’ll encourage you to overlook diversity. Let’s also ignore the desires, fears, anxieties, and all those normal contradictory human impulses and emotions of real, living, breathing concrete Indians. We’ll simply continue to think of “them” in abstract. A caricature, so utterly devoid of all particularities and individualities.

So finally I will ask you: Are you going to trust the Bomb in the hands of a people who are dispassionate about butchery of their own families? Do you feel secure while such a destructive arsenal remains in their hands of those who are expected to have no compassion, and feel no grief?

Do you feel safe knowing weapons are in the possession of those who are encouraged to not feel sorry for “either the living or the dead?” Those for whom there is no meaningful way of talking about killing or being killed? And those who are not bound by their acts were they to kill off the entire world?

Now, we can finally close the circle.

Where is the outrage about the Hindu Bomb?

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