Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Devi

The Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (Creator, Sustainer, Destroyer/Renewer) are themselves believed to be created, sustained and renewed by the Great Goddess and Mother of the Universe, the Devi.

"Maya, the legendary Goddess, sprang from the One,
and Her womb brought forth three acceptable disciples of the One:
Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva."

-Hymns of Guru Nanak, eka mai (16th Century)

Though Sikhism is often seen as a patriarchal religion,
Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, did talk about the Goddess.

Myth, Religion and Culture

Myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the
cosmos pour into culture.
-Joseph Cambell

Myth is the ark which carries the knowledge of what it takes
to remain human, set loose upon the vast sea of time.

Mythology, religion and culture are inextricably intertwined. Because of this, rationalists often point to what they call the sheer absurdity of myths in order to ridicule the world's religious traditions. However, it could be argued that it is the very preposterousness of the stories connected to the origins of the world religions that makes them so valuable. They are a kind of antidote to rationalism. They are not realistic; they are hyper-realistic. They present us with hypothetical situations that we could never experience, in a literal sense, in the 'real' world but without the contemplation of which, we cannot be fully human. Perhaps the great myths are the most precious dreams of the Self which dreams the world. Through these dreams we start to doubt our ego-selves and become real.

Religious fundamentalists are literalists: they are unable to absorb the poetic, speculative, imaginative dimension of mythological and religious texts. Rationalists who ridicule the sacred mythologies from which the world cultures sprang, are often guilty of the same literalism.

Friday, September 26, 2008

In Defence of the Bard

The powerful spirit Ariel (the imagination), no less than Caliban (the passions), is mastered by Prospero (the Self)

A book has been published recently by a well-respected Shakespeare 'scholar' claiming that the Bard was a racist. The argument hinges on the misconception that the character Caliban, in The Tempest, the slave of the magician Prospero, is black.
It's amazing that someone considered to be an expert on Shakespeare obviously hasn't read the play in depth. There is no evidence anywhere in the text that Caliban is black. To the contrary, he is described as 'freckled' - a trait that could indicate 'Celtic' origins. Caliban's mother Sycorax is from Algeria. Many Algerians are fair-skinned and blue-eyed, indeed Shakespeare describes Sycorax as 'blue-eyed'. Super-Saharan North Africans are not generally categorised as 'black' even in racist demographics.
At the End of the play European, 'white' Prospero virtually admits that Caliban is his son. Prospero earlier calls Caliban a "thing of darkness", but this is a reference to his moral state not his skin-colour. Caliban inhabits an island somewhere in the Mediterranean, and was himself a castaway there. To say that he is a black native of an island colonised by European Prospero is a bit of a stretch. European characters in the play are also described as 'slaves', so even if Caliban is black, which he almost certainly isn't, it can't be argued that the play characterises only black people as slaves.
Having said all this, the plays attributed to 'Shakespeare' were probably written by several different people; so who are we talking about here anyway?

The difference between intellectualism and scholarship is highlighted by this case. Scholars delve conscientiously into the truth behind texts; intellectuals hitch a ride on academic bandwagons by regurgitating other people's writing out of context.

Monday, September 22, 2008

"If you learn how to make fun of yourself your ego will go down."
-Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

"it was myself"

"... one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called 'petites madeleines,' which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim's shell. And soon, mechanically, weary after a dull day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was myself. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could not, indeed, be of the same nature as theirs. Whence did it come? What did it signify? How could I seize upon and define it? I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic. It is plain that the object of my quest, the truth, lies not in the cup but in myself. The tea has called up in me, but does not itself understand, and can only repeat indefinitely with a gradual loss of strength, the same testimony; which I, too, cannot interpret, though I hope at least to be able to call upon the tea for it again and to find it there presently, intact and at my disposal, for my final enlightenment. I put down my cup and examine my own mind. It is for it to discover the truth. But how? What an abyss of uncertainty whenever the mind feels that some part of it has strayed beyond its own borders; when it, the seeker, is at once the dark region through which it must go seeking, where all its equipment will avail it nothing. Seek? More than that: create. It is face to face with something which does not so far exist, to which it alone can give reality and substance, which it alone can bring into the light of day. And I begin again to ask myself what it could have been, this unremembered state which brought with it no logical proof of its existence, but only the sense that it was a happy, that it was a real state in whose presence other states of consciousness melted and vanished. I decide to attempt to make it reappear. I retrace my thoughts to the moment at which I drank the first spoonful of tea. I find again the same state, illumined by no fresh light. I compel my mind to make one further effort, to follow and recapture once again the fleeting sensation. And that nothing may interrupt it in its course I shut out every obstacle, every extraneous idea, I stop my ears and inhibit all attention to the sounds which come from the next room. And then, feeling that my mind is growing fatigued without having any success to report, I compel it for a change to enjoy that distraction which I have just denied it, to think of other things, to rest and refresh itself before the supreme attempt. And then for the second time I clear an empty space in front of it. I place in position before my mind's eye the still recent taste of that first mouthful, and I feel something start within me, something that leaves its resting-place and attempts to rise, something that has been embedded like an anchor at a great depth; I do not know yet what it is, but I can feel it mounting slowly; I can measure the resistance, I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed."

This 'soggy cake' excerpt is the most famous part of the immense text by Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past.
Proust's personality is what in yoga philosophy would be described as tamasic, predominantly of the lunar channel of the subtle body. In his writing he dwells on sleep, memories, the past - characteristics of the Ida Nadi. In this passage, the narrator experiences a momentary awakening of the Kundalini energy, in which he feels the sense of invulnerability and joy resulting from the cessation of thought, but because of his tamasic nature, this awakening subsides as his awareness moves from the eternal present into the past.

Each of us has a tendency towards either the tamasic (lunar, passive, of the past) or rajasic (solar, active, futuristic) temperaments. One of the most important techniques of yoga is the balancing of the human psyche so that it operates less in the tamasic or rajasic channels, and more in the satvic channel -the centre/present/reality.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Progress has peopled history with the marvels and monsters of technology but it has depopulated the life of man. It has given us more things but not more being.

- Octavio Paz, Mexican writer/poet and diplomat.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Machine of the Mind

In an article in the latest issue of Parabola magazine, the writer Nan Runde explores a theme recurring in Science Fiction - the collective machine mind.
In the TV series Star Trek: the Next Generation, the crew of the starship Enterprise is repeatedly beset by The Borg - a collective machine entity that is also an agglomeration of humanoid automatons sharing one consciousness, one will, one mission: to assimilate the technologies and biological distinctiveness of other races.
As we see human ingenuity increasingly transferring power from human beings (subjects) to objects, we fear a near future in which the individual will be assimilated by an artificial intelligence, a machine consciousness that will usurp our humanity.
For Teilhard de Chardin, the increasing mechanization and mass-mindedness of our race are signs of regression: a sinking into matter instead of the 'upsurge of consciousness' of which humans are capable. This regression is a movement towards the evolutionary dead end of the insect hive mind.
The antithesis of the hive is what Teilhard calls the Hyper-Personal. In his view, our most important contribution to the human community is not our scientific discoveries or our ideas or our works of art, much less the material acquisitions of our lifetimes, but 'our very selves and personalities'; not what we have done or made but the centers of our consciousness, from which our actions and creations spring. When asked why he did not devote himself to karma yoga (good works) Sri Ramana Maharshi replied that the greatest good deed one can do for the world is to attain Self-realisation oneself. This seems selfish until one realises that Self and world are one, and the idea of separate individual agency is an illusion produced by ego.
The ascendancy of the collective [in the negative sense of mass-mindedness, fads etc] in our culture is due in large part, paradoxically, to an overemphasis on the individual, since egoism, as Teilhard remarks, inclines us to confuse individuality with personality.
We tend to assert our individuality by setting ourselves apart; but only in community can we become truly ourselves, only by transferring the center of our being outward, from self to other.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Healing Force

This is a photo of a massive gilded statue of Athena Parthenos (Parthenos means 'virgin' in Greek) in a full-scale replica of the Athenian Parthenon, built in the US (where else could they afford to do that?).

The serpent is a symbol of wisdom and healing, often associated with the Goddess in the ancient world, but the association between serpents and healing is found even in the patriarchal Judeo-Christian tradition. Moses healed the sick with a brazen serpent, here depicted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel ceiling:

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi has explained that the healing Kundalini energy, which ascends the spine during the experience of Self-realisation, is a serpent-like energy but not literally a serpent. The innate healing force of the body has been symbolised in humanity's collective unconscious by the serpent, because it lies dormant in the sacrum bone at the base of the spine as a coiled energy and, when awakened, moves in a serpentine manner. Also, snakes were once thought to have regenerative powers because they shed their skins. This echoes the rebirth experienced by the yogi through Kundalini awakening. These, however, are simply symbolic associations. Similarly, the Holy Spirit may have dove-like qualities but is not a bird.

The Kundalini is also considered to be a feminine divine force, a reflection of the Adi Shakti, the primordial creative manifestation of the supreme Self. Adi Shakti is the wife of Sadashiva, who is the embodiment of the Self in Hindu mythology. Hence the connection between the Goddess and the serpent.

The Caduceus - entwined serpents symbolising western medicine.

Read more about the realtionship between the Goddess, the serpent and healing here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygieia

Medicine, Gustav Klimt

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Solzhenitsyn 1918 - 2008

When he defected to the West in the 1970s, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (who died recently) was expected to embrace Capitalism wholeheartedly, and endorse the West's program of pursuing the great Enlightenment dream. Instead, it seemed as if he opposed Bolshevism, not because it differed from the West, but because it is western. He saw Bolshevism and Capitalism as two versions of the same thing - materialism.

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either -
but through all human hearts.

- A. Solzhenitsyn
Of their mystical experiences, mystics report that the duality between matter and spirit dissolves. While in the state of mystical union, even the most commonplace object is perceived as the Self. There is, therefore, nothing instrinsically negative about matter itself, negativity comes from the mind's attachment to matter. This is materialism.