Monday, January 22, 2018

Phantom Memories: Hoarding, Archiving, and More about Darshan

I collect memories, among other things. Pretty much nearly all things. I don't have a problem with "things." I openly admit to liking "nice things" though I often doubt my adhikāra to have them. I might be unqualified for some nice things ---either because I know I can't afford them or because I will certain stain that white t-shirt the day I wear it. I might also be making you already uncomfortable with "things" and "keeping" but there are lots of ways to live and love. Tolerance isn't about liking what someone else does, it's about dealing with it.

When I mention something like keeping a this or that, my wife Susan coughs uncomfortably and whispers, "Hoarder..." She has a point. It's hard for me to part with things that matter to me. A _lot_ matters to me. Things, little things, seemingly inconsequential things, memory things and material things are often ways I keep track. Of course, lots of folks purge or take up Zen or act out their inner Protestant unconsciously because it's so very American to do that ---that part of you that thinks everything must go, throw it out, buy only Scandinavian or Shaker furniture, eat raw, leave no trace, no things.

Renunciate yogas have always been the most popular in the West--- Vedanta, most Buddhisms--- precisely because they are shadow forms of our collective Protestant past. We are being told without our consent that possession is a problem to solve. Let me make this more uncomfortable: I think of most interpretations of "Kashmir Shaivism" and "Tantra" as shadow consolations for trying to stay in the world with things but telling yourself that things aren't really things at all. I'm not buying it. Things matter because we too are thing in the world. If you want to reduce that to your consciousness, go ahead. You're still in the business of collecting so long as you are alive. What in the world matters to you? What do you want to want? Those are question swe can ask and revisit, and collect. How _you_ answer that question is what I think _your_ yoga is about. If you want less, go for it. Collect your selves as you see fit.

I call this empty-is-better view the murti-free existence and, personally, I want nothing to do with it. I have 330 Million gods, goddesses, demons, and demigods, at the very least. Everyday there are more. I'm also sentimental to the core and as I get older even a bit nostalgic. I'm wary of nostalgia in ways I am not of sentiment. Sentiments are pretty much all we got. The best part of nostalgia is that it invokes a certain kind of pain and lamentation into the mix of loss and the past. I'm good with that. I'm not trying to "get over" my losses. I know I have room for those too. I'm not looking to "go back" so much as "make room." There's always more room. More mind, more feeling, more soul, more music, more art, more memories.

So I keep things, usually as memories. Ticket stubs, notes and postcards, I rip off the color codes on the bottom of cereal boxes that I really like ---the color codes, not the cereal. It's a good thing we have a barn. I give a lot of stuff away and even sell stuff. Meh. It's about the memories and the people and the gods. Oftentimes giving away things is the best part of having them. Give away the good stuff, not the left overs. That's a fine teaching of a god called Ucchista Ganapati, another story.

Like I said, rarely do I have the thought that I want to "go back" to some way anything was before. That strikes me as a simple violation of the arrow of time and my deep distaste for wishing for a world that can't be and the fact that there are no do overs or take backs. This is at the heart of the paradox to embrace too. Time waits for no one, says Rishi Mick, and we need to move forward to learn from mistakes and continue to grow. There's just too much that I haven't yet collected that I need to get to. I haven't read all of that French Lit that I love or every last word of every Platonic dialogue or every single line of 99,000 lines of Mahabharata in Sanskrit. I'm working on it. I got _more_ stuff to collect every single day.

For those of you who think this isn't "yogic" or "spiritual", I would merely respond that your tastes for abnegation and renunciation do not, in fact, describe the whole of "yoga traditions." I'm still collecting darshan ---see that piece I wrote from the other day---and there's _no end to that_. There's only _more_ darshan. Seeing, being seen, repeat. You'll have the rest of eternity for oneness aka being dead.

Darshan isn't a check list; it's about how there isn't really one of anything. If there were only one then you wouldn't experience anything you could call experience. I leave that to mystics, I'm not interested. But I do think you collect lots of ones. Darshan is not "I've been to that temple, seen that god..." It's not a trip, it's pilgrimage: go, see, return, repeat. It's not a check list or a bucket list. It's the idea that doing it again--- what "it" is for you--- is what makes you human.

Darshan is how you collect your body, mind, your soul and drive into one moment for just a moment. Repeat. Recurse. Let that moment be an invitation to the next moment when one thing only matters to you. Then let go and let all the rest matter to you--- because that's a normal life--- and you'll be ready for darshan again because there's nothing more uncomfortable than having to rewrite a memory that insists on bringing the all of you to the experience.

Samadhi with your eyes open is not supposed to be a permanent state or a one time happening. It's supposed to be all the forms of time, the punctiliar, linear, repetitive, and recursive: these being the four simplest ways to talk about the experience of embodying time. But that's another story. Experiences to collect should be things that you love and that cause movement, jostling inside, often causing some real discomfort or awakening of a shadow. We can't learn unless we are willing to be moved and that includes in ways that upset the entire apple cart of being. That process doesn't guarantee we will learn but learning doesn't happen without it just sayin' yo.

So the other day, Susan and I, inveterate homebodies, extroverted introverts, and vice-versas, went to see the new Daniel Day-Lewis movie, Phantom Thread. I would watch Day-Lewis read the back of his morning cereal box and find that interesting, so the movie as plot, etc., could matter less to me. Day-Lewis darshan is a story and a moment unto itself. But it could have been a really horrible movie it wouldn't have mattered because it was also just a thing we did, a memory. I didn't keep the receipt from the fast food joint that provided our repast afterwards, that being a step too far. What exactly is a step too far? Good question. Actually walking out of the theatre I apparently dropped the ticket stub and a kind person stopped me to ask if I'd dropped something. Right next to a trash can. I said thank you and put the stub in my pocket.

When we got home I took the ticket stub and I put it in a _second_ copy (or is it a third?) of Fagles' Odyssey translation. Maybe someday I will open that book again, long after I've forgotten about leaving it there, and I will remember the day, the date, the movie, the weather, life. Phantom threads of memory are darshan of another kind. Whoever gets all of these books after I'm gone is going to find a lot of stuff inside them.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pilgrimage to India: Darshan, and the Practice of Living All In and As If

It’s been forty years since I first traveled to India.  I went first as a student, as a pilgrim knowing almost nothing, as a seeker of the heart looking for what I knew not.  I’ve gone back now more than thirty times over that period, sometimes for stints counted in years, and I hope to go back again and again, every time the opportunity appears.  For the past fifteen years or so I have led pilgrimage for others to join in the practice of darshan and immerse in the richness of the culture. 

I ask the people who come on our pilgrimages if they are willing to act “as if” they are Hindus.  That’s not phony.  There’s nothing fake about it, nothing pretend.  Rather “as if” is a way of being when you are trying to make sense of who you are, what you could be, and what the world is offering and expecting.  “As if” may be a way of learning, it can be a form of serious and sincere participation, and it can also be a form of protest.  In America right now, I think we must continue to act “as if” we are the nation we say we want to be, we say we can be, we aspire to be.  Being an American is a prolonged study in “as if” and to be American is, as I will explain, much like being a Hindu pilgrim.  You’re going to need to contemplate who you are in “as if” terms if you are to create any real integrity.  To be American in the age of Trump we’re going to need more “as if” before we sort out further what more it means.  I think “as if” really means we are doing all we can knowing that there is more to do.

I’m home again now, ready to start a new semester teaching and learning.  I still love being a college professor, I mean, if you have to have a job.  I’ve been more than lucky and all I can really say about this good fortune in life is that I try to understand privilege and opportunity.  I came to know what I wanted as a young man and I’ve never stopped wanting the same thing ---with all of my being.  That’s not the only way to live a meaningful life, for sure.  But it’s been quite the ride.  India is not +everything+ to me because I want even more than that.  Whatever your life’s passion, I hope you have hundreds of passions that ignite you, things you love and can’t stop doing or wanting.  Life’s no zero sum game.  We just run out of time.

But what I know about myself is that I have never wanted anything more than I want India.  And I want everything that India has offered, more still, and I mean to give back.  That’s crucial to me but that’s also not anyone’s business but mine.  What we can share with others , makes all the difference in life.

We just returned from India and had a wonderful time, albeit arduous and tiring as it was fun and enlivening. It's been many years now for our Rajanaka pilgrimage, and this pilgrimage is precisely what we do. No yoga asana or spas or beaches for us.  We meet people, go to temples for the practice of darshan, meet people, go to temples for the practice of darshan.  Repeat.  (More in a moment about darshan.)  We are keen to go in traditional dress observing the most traditional protocols, avoiding some of the larger, more touristy monuments for those Hindu temples that are true south Indian pilgrimage centers. Our goal is darshan and people are darshan too because everything is a "seeing" and being seen experience: everything is darshan until the very moment of darshan in the temple. This warrants some explanation.

It’s important to pause here for a few words about "darshan," which literally means "seeing" and being seen. The practice of darshan arrests the mind into singular focus, places the body in often uncomfortable positions (spoon up, lean in…), and it compels the heart to race into a kind of fury, chaos, and wonder that is difficult to explain but from doing it, and doing it, as it were, "properly." Think of it this way: our whole cognitive and somatic being allocates our attentions, regulates and assigns meaning to our environments, in terms of both inside and outside awareness.  We are, as William James and James Joyce understood, have millions and millions of conversations, conscious and subconscious and unconscious, all at once.  This is what it is to be a living human being and our task is to participate as fully as we can.
We are meant to experience millions of impressions at once, organize them and be organized by them so that we can act and react.

Now enter a place where the mind and the senses are hyperactivated and put on full alert, full throttle, pedal to the metal-- like a Hindu temple. Taking in all of that information (and _everything_ we experience about the world, about ourselves, in fact everything is "information"), now turn that process to _one_ particular focus and goal--- this would be the sanctum of the temple where resides the image, the mūrti, the solid body material form of the deity. Look at the god in the temple, watch for the lamp, pay attention wholly, fully, completely. What happens? Well, hear me say, "Look! Peer in!! Lean in!!" I may even guide you closer.  And then with a host of other small instructions we urge you to keep your attention just for a moment.  Of course, that's not all: there are other millions of small matters of names and birth stars and the touching this and that, and also _not_ touching this and that. This hand, not that hand.  It can be a lot for those unfamiliar. And that is part of the point. You take 330 million feelings, ideas, sensations, and actions and instead of turning inside _only_ to "shut down" the myriad feelings and "distractions", you allow them _all_ to re-focus on that one moment when the lamps wave before the image.

Darshan is meditation, "single-focused consciousness" or samadhi but _with both eyes open_, and it is with the whole body---usually trembling or in some awkward, uncomfortable position--- with the mind reeling in a whirlwind, and all the senses on fire.  Darshan does not mean to calm the storm but rather find the eye of the hurricane and stay in its midst: darshan does not halt the storm so much as create the eerie strangeness that is its center.  Stay in that center even though you can’t .  Stay “as if” you are wholly present when being present is more than you can fathom and can be.

"Samadhi with your eyes open," is what my teacher called darshan. For traditionalist Hindus it is a rather familiar as a practice but what it can do to anyone who takes it seriously provides a rich intellectual, complex emotional, physical, social, cultural, spiritual transaction. After all, you must have the ardor to make the visit and come "properly." For us that means that women wear traditional saris and men wear dhotis wrapped south Indian style.  We make that happen, hopefully with minimal hassle or effort.  Virtuosity is making the difficult look easy, and that’s our goal.  For us there is no compromise, and it can all be _a lot_ to ask of people but you get expert help.  That’s what we all need, a little help from our friends.

We've learned to do this pilgrimage with people who have no experience and no idea what to do. We teach them, they trust us, they bring open minds and hearts, they are gracious and wonderful in their assent--- and we never, ever, ever tell you what to believe or to think or to feel. Our focus is on our ortho-praxy, our "correct actions" so that you don't need to have any paticular orthodoxy.  Belief is in the doing.  I will know you not only by what you say but by what you really do.  Just do this practice "properly" ---and we will show you how--- come on this often very challenging journey and _see what happens_. Our goal is to make it just comfortable _enough_ so that you can enjoying learning--- and real learning is neither comfortable nor completely safe.  Life needs to be safe _enough_ and that is no small matter.  Honestly, I think we are good at that because our leaders have the experience, the decency, and real affection for those who try. Our folks get with the “as if” because they come to learn that that is how you arrive at who you want to be. You may love this practice or may be just a one off experience for you. But it _will_ change you, and that's no small thing.

A bit more.  Is this pilgrimage a "Hindu" practice? Of course it is. It's been described as "full frontal Hinduism," and we make no bones about that. But Hindus have never demanded more from you than your full participation ---and no one ever asks you what you believe or tests your faith. It's do as we do, act in all the “as if-s”,  and see what happens. Do as the people do and participate with them in their ardor, their passion, and their remarkable culture. The key is the ardor---the tapas, the care for the genuine effort it takes to participate fully in the journey with culture and social terms fully in place. (Keep this idea in mind, we’re going to return to it.) There are lots of ways to visit India but we mean to go “all in” and we know how to do that along with the “as if.” You can come along. This can be an experience for you, if you want to make that journey.  You will need to be “all in” and “as if” at the same time.  This is crucial.

In every place we visit I wish you could hear, as I do, the ambient conversations in the Tamil language. People are not only surprised that a group of westerners (we have had many folks of south Asian origins on our pilgrimages) come _as we do._ The women are the stars, of course, because their perfectly wrapped, beautiful saris are _always_ complimented and always noticed positively. Tamils are delighted, proud, and, dare I say, impressed at the effort, the care, the honor done to them. For our part, let's be clear, we do our best to be deeply respectful _and_ to leave behind everywhere we go our gratitude to the local people, especially those less fortunate.  We commit to the culture and we mean to offer something back.

We who organize and lead the trip take care of that, you as a pilgrim get to focus on having an experience of culture, of the people who want to meet you and share a few words or a picture, of yourself. Sure, there’s a lot more to explain than this but darshan has been my life's passion and at the heart of my professional interests too--- to explain, to share, to describe Hindu ways, ideas, images, culture. Darshan is an experience of “all in” and “as if” and there is nothing quite like paradox to churn one’s innermost being.  What is better in life than to invite others to share in your passion? To get someone to care, even for a moment, about what moves your heart and inspires your mind? I mean to stack up obsessions and interests, where each deserves a room in a mansion made of complex desires, whole hearted dedications, and unyielding intensities. It's a privilege to share the things one loves most in life. It's really that simple.

Now all of this was something of a prelude to two points that are far less comfortable but strike me as important.

First, on this last pilgrimage we made a point of going to several places that have serious entry restrictions. There is a sign at the entry to the sanctums that says in no uncertain terms, "No tourists," or sometimes "Hindus Only" beyond this point. We do not come as tourists. We come as Hindus. We are all in and as if Hindus, just like everyone else. There is no racial, linguistic, religious test for being "Hindu". There is no conversation, no attestation, and neither caste nor birth is justification for exclusion. To "be" Hindu is in this case to come +for the practice of darshan+ and to come _properly_, willfully, knowingly for that practice. What you believe is your own business. What you seek is what everyone else is also doing and there is no litmus test but orthopraxy, acting properly and aiming to practice darshan. I am happy to say now that years of practice, honoring local custom, and treating people with deep respect has won us our place.

People see us and recognize us in India. We are well-known as a group throughout south India and we are, dare I say, truly liked and respected.  I never forget how grateful I am to the people and to those who have come with us and made this possible.  Like I said, it’s been more than 15 years for our trip and 40 plus years for me personally.  We talk to local authorities, befriend the priests and temple leadership, talk to local people as much as we can on the streets and in the temples, we explain that we have come for darshan and that we mean to do it right, and we have now in every case been granted access and entry.  This is not because we have come once or twice.  This is because we have come year after year, we have made ourselves known, and even when having been rejected before, we accepted the local decision with quiet dignity, promising to return and try again.  We never argue; we don’t need to. We come as pilgrims and I am happy to say that we were wholly accepted everywhere we went, with truly open arms.  Our dress, our manner, our effort will not change. 

When you are asking for something that is meaningful and important to the local people, to the culture, and it can be hard to accept their choices when things don’t go your way.  But we are so grateful for India’s generosity and hospitality and the Tamil people have offered us everything.  We are guests, but so is everyone else in the temple.  We are “foreigners” and so sometimes clumsy or inept but we come with open hearts and pay close attention to what is expected and required.  We want our pilgrims to feel the welcome and the wonder that we who lead the way feel inside ourselves.  It works.  It works because Indian people have been so very, very kind, inclusive, and generous to us.  “Hindus only” really means that if you come with your heart’s desire, perfectly willing to accept the rules and expectations of culture and authority, you may well get your heart’s desire. It’s not a guarantee, it’s just a process of all in and as if.

This takes me to my second point, which is to say a few words about inclusion and exclusion, about how doing what is right confers on us a sense of being, of belonging, of participating fully.  You can skip this, if you’ve had enough but I think it’s important.

America is in the midst of an ugly, disturbing, and very real politics of exclusion and unwelcoming.  Everyday we read of deportations and threatened deportations of hundreds and thousands of people who have lived here for years and years, many of whom have had no experience of any other country.   We read of whole families with American born children sent “back”; we read of shameless bigotry thinly veiled in this new “immigration policy.”  I am horrified, ashamed, and I want to be bewildered but there is really no time for that.  We must understand what we are doing and what we want.  We must act.  Are we really willing to become the people that exclude?

You know, there are days when I feel like we should just give back the Statue of Liberty because apparently we just don’t mean it anymore.  You know the important part, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” 

Now I am no immigrant to India but I am certainly tired and yearning to breathe her air and be among her people.  I am a guest who has been made to feel welcome.  I know it can be difficult for folks to accept foreigners anywhere in the world and I have felt the sting and felt the grief of exclusion.  But I have accepted those terms as simply part of the story and I don’t resent or attempt to control others’ choices.  It’s a complicated matter for some but, you know, we are people and we can win each other’s hearts if we are honest and decent and, dare I say, caring and compassionate.  This is a lesson I have learned thousands of times in India.  And here at home. 

America is not about any one religion, language, or ethnicity.  I have written a lot about this lately but I want to say that just returning from India again, there is a point to be made about inclusion, about feeling welcomed, and about what it means to be allowed to participate. 

If we say that America is our list of immortal, wonderfully contradictory ideals and values, we would have to admit too our hypocrisies, failures, and shadows.  That’s been an important subject too of late.  But what if, just for a moment, we leave aside the complexities and incongruities that appear when we ask who we say we are, who we say we want to be, and what we actually do.  What if we are all in and act as if. 

If for a moment we can say that being an American is a doing, a practice rather than a belief or conviction, then we are reframe our current situation too with some different insight.  You see, I just came from a place where conviction or belief is in truth less a matter of public discussion than behavior and doing.  Being “Hindu” in a temple, as I argued above, is acting with seriousness and sincerity, abiding by the rules, taking up the practices that we share with others.  No one asks what you believe even if they notice that you are different. 

Well, how about that?  How about the fact that people when they enter America they are entering a kind of sanctum of all in and as if, all with some kind of decorum and awareness.  The matter of the law is paramount, but there is more than that: there is the all in and as if.  We abide and in our laws there is a great deal of freedom about those matters of decorum too.  We Americans are not bound by any single decorum but that we do not violate the law; our ideal is to be equal under the law.  Of course, that does not really happen--- that there is bias, prejudice, injustice, and failure must not be understated.  But let me make the point: to be an American is to be here and to be living under the law.  To be an American is an all in and as if proposition.  That there are people not living as citizens or as legal immigrants is a matter we should take seriously.   Every society has rules and needs them.  So we’re going to have to do what is good and right because there are human lives, real people involved.

But the point is simple: when you are living here you are effectively an American when you are all in and acting as if.  When you recognize the law and live within the decorum that the law provides--- you have rights, freedoms, and choices--- then you are effectively an all in and as if American.  “Law abiding” does not mean that everything you do is legal because, well, let’s be honest about that.  You didn’t speed today in your car?  Not even a little?  You report every single dime of taxable income?  Right.  I thought so. 

But people, people cannot be illegal; they cannot be illegitimate even if they are not wholly sanctioned by the law as we currently have written it.  People are always all in and what we want to know is where is the the rest of their as if.   So we are going to need to change the law, clearly, so that we can accept that being an American is living here under the terms of a complex social and political contract.  Again, I want to emphasize that our social contract is not any one’s idea or cultural reference, much less ethnicity or language.  Our social contract is made with freedom and with the ways we live and express ourselves within the context of our rules. 

And this is the parallel I wanted to make about our being Hindu pilgrims in India.  What makes us “Hindu” is that when we are in India we abide, we care, we live as far as possible as pilgrims, we go all in.  We are all guests on this earth, and some of us are really trying to get along and treat each other with respect and care.  We’re all going to need some as if, just to be honest.  So too when you live in America you are a guest here living under the terms of our collective efforts.  When you are unwelcomed, excluded, and told to leave, that you cannot enter again, well, that is a feeling and a fact that dehumanizes us, reduces us.  That cannot be allowed to be America. 

My Hindu friends in India have taught me time and again the difference here.  They have allowed me to be as if so that I can go all in.  They have invited me to be all in so that I can live as if and be human for it.  I have been excluded and accepted their terms but I have also been graciously, warmly included because I have come to love them, their place, the culture that I wish to share and hold dear.  And when people are here in America, I hope to extend that same feeling to them.  I mean to treat them as if they are Americans because that “as if” is really quite good enough when it means you are being offered the chance to participate.  We’ll sort out the rest, and we need to.  But the lessons of inclusion, participation, and caring decency must come first.  The rest may be details and we’ll need to attend to them too.  If you’re here, I mean to welcome you first as if and then we’ll sort it out the all in.  Thank you, India, again for the life lessons.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Other Worlds or Is This the Only One

"The ragged sparks blew down the wind. The prairie about them lay silent. Beyond the fire it was cold and the night was clear and the stars were falling. The old hunter pulled his blanket about him. I wonder if there’s other worlds like this, he said. Or if this is the only one."
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage International) (p. 334).

There is a social media field called Rajanaka Storm because I've always contended that my "spirituality" can't be separated from politics. But by that connection I have never meant any particular policies, party, or leadership. I have meant a process of thinking. It is not what we think that makes us “Rajanaka,” Appa said, it is instead how we go about learning and thinking. I am reasonably sure that he would not agree with all of my opinions about life but he would not dispute that I have learned to think and to adjust my actions in the ways that Rajanaka teaches. After all, the field of Dharma _is_ the field of the Family, and this means that all thinking, even the methods of thinking, have political implications. The basis of my bias is that where we do our law, our duty, our principles and values is in the practical world of relationships, both proximate and exotic.

We need a two step here, so think about the image of Dancer.
(1) Step One: We need to learn how to think. This is the most essential of essential Rajanaka teachings. Rajanaka is a method of learning. I will explain more below.
(2) Step Two: We need to know that when differences emerge, both in the ways we think and what we think (and feel and believe, etc.), that these difference are real. They may bring us closer together and they may take us further apart be that in friendship or in other kinds of human relationships. Dealing with those differences is, in truth, as important as pursuing our essential shared humanity. The paradox is real and our advice is to embrace it; the problems that emerge may not be solvable, so do decide what you are going to do if that is true. Some things we “fix,” some things we can’t, so how do we live with that? Rajanaka teaches we must somehow learn to live with ourselves and with others we must learn what we can and cannot do to live with them. We must try to learn what we will and will not tolerate from ourselves and from others. Now repeat Step One.

Relationships all appear on different fields, in fact, multiple fields with multiple selves that are both fractals and fragments of the self. These fields are the place of Dharma, which means that’s where we try to hold it together in the middle of the utterly unrelenting storm that is called life. The fields are complex in form internally but they can be measured in spatial terms as proximate and exotic. A proximate field is what you think of as “home,” whether or not you are comfortable or even safe there. It’s simply what’s more near by, more urgent to your urgent attentions, it’s wherever you are now at “home.” “Home” is not some nice thing you necessarily like, it’s what you know to be familiar, whatever that is. Exotic fields put you out there either physically or mentally outside the familiar. The exotic makes us feel and understand that we are in something unfamiliar, no matter our degrees of awareness.

Whether the field is proximate or exotic, we humans tend to respond in the same two ways that describe most feelings: we move either towards or away. We cannot just stand still, there is no still. There is no neutral. One way or another you are moving towards or away. You are involved in there being more or less space between yourself and your other, even if that other is yourself. You need that space. You don’t want to be unified or one because then you can’t move, you can’t change, you would already be dead. Rajanaka rejects monism and exalts in the beauty of difference because difference is a fact that we mean not to eliminate. To eliminate differences is the definition of monism. What you actually can’t do, you may want to understand you shouldn’t actually try to do. A world without differences is not one you live in or want to live in. Every living thing shares the very same DNA. You can from that sameness, use that sameness as a way of thinking, but the beauty of the world depends on there being something different, even if it is merely the arrangement of the same DNA. Even identical twins are different.

When we move towards we tend to romanticize and attempt some form of empathy. Our understandings get blurry because we do not share the exotic others' experiences. When we romanticize that other our empathies can confuse our more honest assessments--- or we are told not to judge or, worse, that we can't imagine, can't understand, and are reproved into silence. So much for empathy working both ways. Moving towards is never easy. I warmly recommend keeping your hands to yourself, even metaphorically. Caution in difference is a not only natural, it is part of the respect we need to have no matter how much we embrace another’s difference.

When the exotic other is turned into otherness then they become an object, a thing to vilify, some idea or behavior or value from which we dissociate. This can be very poorly informed and formulated without serious evidence and critical thinking (i.e., ignorantly) or it can be, with great wariness and efforts at self-awareness, be based on more critical evaluation. We are _going to judge_, no matter what we say about being "non-judgmental." "Non-judgmental" is more usually how we describe an emotional need than a process of thinking and coming to terms with our actions. All things are really different from ourselves by definition---- including ourselves within--- and so we have complex responses, both emotionally and intellectually. We can be an exotic other to ourselves and this too will create a towards and away response.

After all, how do we learn about what we are not when all we have is what we are? How do we get to anything unfamiliar if every thought and feeling is proximate? Our only resource is the familiar and the things nearest to us may not seem to help. This means that we have to go further out from our most familiar categories, from the circles of proximate understanding. Ironically, it is when we look for more shared categories that are further away from our proximate self that we learn about our humanity. (Irony is always a good sign that you are onto the Rajanaka’s yoga.) The basic Rajanaka principle at work here is that if it is human, then it is possible to have some kind of understanding, however incomplete and provisional. Sometimes we have to reach deeply into ourselves and, at the same time, away from the familiar to see what is not-us. The further we reach away from our familiar, the more likely we can find what is shared. See the irony? This is, as Appa would put it, a great yoga.

Dealing with the exotic other is threatening because it is perfectly natural to feel that that which is not-you is going to eat you, or at the very least change you. It’s perfectly ordinary to resist the unfamiliar; think about the first time your parents gave you beets if you never had them before (or can’t remember, or just don’t feel like). It takes time to learn for oneself what it is about the unfamiliar that we like.

Part of the virtue of the romantic self is to give things a chance. That is part of the peril too. Part of the unhappy fact of otherness is that when you do your homework you might have to say, oh, no, not that. Think about finding out that some people eat their enemies. Are you prepared to accept cannibalism just because it is someone else’s long cherished custom and belief? I thought not. How we learn about exotic otherness is indeed a great yoga that takes time, critical skills, and evidence-based understanding.

There’s another Rajanaka principle too here worth our moment regarding exotic otherness. It’s more or less: when in doubt pause--- create more field--- and err if you must accept the peril of error, then error on the side of an acceptance and non-intervention. As the deeply flawed Jefferson once said that if you are not picking my pocket or break my leg, I may need to leave you to your preferences and choices. Yup, live and let live. Seems trite until you have to do it. In fact, the more the other’s view is not yours, the more one consider the good neighbors, good fences approach. I said “consider,” not take. Rajanaka is about weighing considerations, not about having fixed or certain approaches.

Appa was keen on having a lot less to say about things he didn’t study or understand until he’d really applied himself. Then his instinct was first to err on the side of indulgence, generosity, and disinterest. Had he not done that, how would I have come to live in his ultra-orthodox Brahmin household? There were things about my American life that were disinteresting to him. Had he known about everything I’d done by the age of 20 he might not have let me anywhere near his family! I jest, but not really. So by “disinterest” I mean that when he didn’t need to have an opinion, he let things well enough alone. This is because we live in many fields at once. I had what he called my “American life” too. He insisted we all have many fields and on those fields we have many selves.

Let me offer another example. So having studied Levitical Law-based Judaism, I can have some understanding of belief and behavior and I can simply not view those beliefs and behaviors as having any bearing on my own life but insofar as I share a civic relationship with such people. That civic relationship may have enormous consequences on my life, such as war in the middle east. But how we tolerate our differences may mean that we have to be less interested in any thing but our civic field. We can have a political field that we share that is not personal field of belief. But how? At what point do we need civic laws, not religious ones to govern us? Think: baking wedding cakes in the town where everyone pays taxes for every public service. Think about the people of Alabama deciding who represents them. I’m actually okay with seating Roy Moore in the Senate. I’m just as okay with calling him a bigot and fighting every last view he takes with every fiber of my being. The alternative is expulsion. When do we resort to that? Last resort.

But let us not lose the point: people can be exotic and unless we have need to invest in them we are not obliged. You are free to be curious or incurious. Rajanaka merely says that it’s best to have as well informed an opinion as possible to decide how you may then want to respond. I can walk away from the advice given in the Sermon on the Mount and think to myself (as I do), “this is terrible advice” (for a host of reasons) and still manage to not make myself a burden to others in proximate relationships. That is, I can live with my Christian neighbors and have entirely different values so long as we abide by the same rules of civic behavior. We have methods for deciding those civic relationships and they require leadership and participation. Don’t expect any of this to be fair or reasonable. No one gives up one inch of their field when they believe it is only theirs to have, not yours to share. So my offer is classic pluralism, to give it a name, though I am sure it will fail in the realpolitick of otherness. There will be strife even on the most peaceful field of co-existence.  This is unavoidable and part of being human. Yudhisthira knows this too even as he wishes it were otherwise. If you need your own personal Rama, I think you can have that but be prepared for that savior to fail you in one way or another. Before we move on to more proximate otherness examples we need to make another important point.

Rajanaka has been shaped by a relationship that is by definition an exotic otherness What I learned from my teacher and his traditions came from his experience as an Indian of a certain time in history, a Tamil, a Brahmin, a yogin, a Tantric--- albeit for him as a true revolutionary and dissident within his own world of proximate otherness. Appa’s near-world, his proximate otherness is an important key to understanding him. More importantly, it is the key to understanding that Rajanaka is a method of learning and a method of thinking, not a body of doctrines as such. Our method is our doctrine, if you will.

Appa looked at all of those things I listed above about himself, along with a thousand other variables in his life and self-creativity, and offered criticism and dissociation as a means of working through his self-formulated persona. He was a ­critic, not a follower or believer. He was contrarian, not conforming, advocating, or inculcating. He looked at familiar and exotic ideas to create a field. On that field he created by the method of contrariety the space of identity and difference. You need both to see yourself. You need both at the same time. In practice, he didn’t merely react and respond to his culture and up-bringing, he formulated himself in nearness with it and put critical space between what he understood to have inherited and himself.

He brought me ---an exotic other--- into his home on little more than his own instincts to trust me to behave appropriately in a completely strange situation for everyone involved. We flourished because we adapted to one another and because we found room for our differences, though I confess they were indeed very few. He knew I would adapt and adopt faster than others around me would learn but I think they learned from me as I did from them. He just made a field where we could do our work and live together.

What I learned was that being contrarian ---a critic and a self-critic--- is how I might cope with being a human in which differences make all the difference. Such a strategy, which is about how to think rather than what to think, makes me more tolerant, more indulgent ---remember to err on the side of generosities. I am sometimes stronger for the powers of tolerance and sometimes weaker for the admission that I am not prepared to invest further or I am all too prepared to push back. Contrariety teaches us not to disdain the other except as a last resort but no matter what to take the other as seriously as we take ourselves. You will know people for what they do, for how they act, for their generosities especially but not solely.

Let me land this plane on some recent politics to make a case that Rajanaka is far more than my opinions or any one person’s opinion.

Rajanaka means how we decide using our contrarian skills of evaluation can tell us what we want and who we believe ourselves to be. I fancy myself a liberal and rarely the kind of progressive that insists that others follow my lead or move according to my views or values. I am far less interested in telling others what to do than I am in letting them, as far as possible, do what they want. This strategy has serious drawbacks and you might not be able to enlist me in your cause if I think it is more important to be liberal than to be progressive. I had to do this everyday living in India. In a situation in which I was an “other” (and always will be), I err on the side of it not being my business to tell folks what they can and cannot do with their lives. I am eager to help when asked. But I am deeply wary of imposing myself and always looking for that line I do not want to cross into someone else’s worldview or on their field. I fancy my view like the old hunter in that McCarthy quotation.

I have carried that same boundary-making with me home to America. If I am disinvited, for example, into a Hindu temple in India I may be deeply offended ---happy to explain why I am---but I think I can understand their needs. It’s just not that important to me to be excluded no matter how I may dislike their ideas and choices. I can be there or I can go to another field. Hopefully there is another field where someone can go, just to live. The situation of exclusion may hurt my feelings, it may offend me, but I need to know what the rules are to know how I will respond to those rules. I need to know how to stand on the field or I need to find another. Refuse me a wedding cake because I am having my version of a Hindu wedding when you are profiting on my taxes too, umm, no, for that I will go to court because we have to share this field. Leave me out of your church or club and I may not care. We are always deciding what is okay and what is not.

America is not a culture, it is not a language, it is not any ethnicity or religion, even though it is all of those things compounded and in complexities. To be “American” is to be here under the law and behind those laws are our propositions and behind those propositions is our dedication to them. Lincoln nailed it really at Gettysburg. Can we for a moment leave (for just a moment) how deeply flawed he was too? Or maybe not. Maybe that is the point too. Maybe the point is that all things, all ideals, all hopes and wishes and dreams are flawed and the people who have them are flawed too. Maybe we just decide what we can stand or where we can stand.

Let me put this again in Rajanaka terms. We are not Americans for any reason but that we share fields of Dharma. The American Dharma is supposed to be those value propositions about life, liberty, and the happiness pursuit. We are bound to disagree about what those mean and we are not even going to agree about how deeply we have failed to meet those ideals, either in theory or practice. The whole set of propositions from the Rajanaka contrarian point of view is contradictory, likely impossible, in truth wrought from impossibility and contradiction itself, and let us not even consider too much further here how historically complicated and confused. We are not going to live up to these values or ideals because our historical shadow has created structures that can only change when we are serious about having even more uncomfortable conversations. No one likes those and, more pointedly, few are even capable of having them.

One of the lessons of the Mahabharata ----there is no source more Rajanaka in the sense of offering principles and insights regarding human nature--- is that the villains, who happen to be proximate others (they are cousins in the story!) are nihilists. They will burn down the entire kingdom with themselves in it just to stop their cousins from having any place in the same kingdom. Their villainy is in fact a pathology, it cannot be cured, it cannot be reasoned with, it is impervious to argument and even to compassion or indulgence. They just want their cousins morto, as Frankie Five Angels Pantangeli said emphatically to Michael about their sworn enemies. They are coming for us and we while we argue amongst ourselves, they are picking our pockets and breaking our legs or worse. What are we willing to do to ourselves to deal with them before we are morto.

Let me translate into Rajanaka-political-speak: they are going to kill us, and we may want to think about that seriously. Are we at this point with the current Republican Party? Do they want to destroy everything “we” value, and especially us? I think they do. I think they are doing a great job doing that. I think they are winning at that bigly. I think we are doing bullshit to stop them and are burning down our own house instead of listening a bit more closely to Five Angels. I think that we are also mostly powerless to stop them until we have more political power. Our efforts to gain political power seem to me deeply flawed and under current Democratic leadership and values, will fail. Call me grim. It’s just how I see it. Honest is hard.

But is this really “my” house that is being burnt down? Well that would mean I am also a part of the viable opposition, the resistance that is the Democratic Party. To believe there is another viable opposition fails to understand the structure of the political field, how it works right now in America. Two parties. Choose your evil, please. Democratic leadership is now nothing I find myself in agreement with, either ideologically or practically. I am now an other in what has been a lifetime of self-perceived self. I feel the same way about the word “Hindu.” I am a Hindu but one so unlike others that I don't much associate or identify and I won’t play in their sandbox anymore but in ways I can tolerate about myself. I expect there to be proximate otherness, I expect discord, dissent, and anger inside every family. I don’t expect we need to agree. I do think we share some notion that the other ---in this case the Republicans--- are a nihilist cult. Maybe we agree. I’m not sure.

So I conclude with two points.

First, as I have said so many times that my face is as blue as Krishna, there is no purity, there is no moral high ground. There is only the confrontation with self and other. That was the reason to write this piece, to make that clearer. What are you willing to tolerate?

Second, I find myself in disagreement about more than tactics but also this self and other problem. I am willing to see a difference between Franken and Moore such that I would not exile Franken from leadership but I would exclude Moore. Is that morally compromised? Of course it is. There is no one among us who is not, that is essential to the thesis. But you may differ in opinion deeply with me. I can live with that, no matter what you may think now about me.

Rajanaka hones your self-critical criticism so that you can live with yourself, cope with yourself, hold the strife of self in some kind of asymmetrical possibility of just carrying on, trying to do what you think is plausible in a difficult world of light and shadow.

YOUR contrarian self ---the one that contends and compares and makes calls and judgments based on your best self-assessment--- may deeply disagree with me. Please, go right ahead. In fact, the leadership of the Democratic Party has already made that choice for me. I see their choice falling right into the hands of the villains. I think they fail to appreciate the nihilism of those villains. I actually think the Republican Party are really villains. Working with them is some kind of necessity of the civic discourse unless and until there is revolution in the streets and that never works out well. I am as committed to non-violence as ever. I also think I don’t belong in that Democratic Party kula. Why? I am not going to be lead by these Democrats no matter how much I share in certain values and policies. I will likely vote with them because they are unfortunately in my opinion the last bulwark against Republican nihilism. My own sense of contrarian self cannot find room in what is clearly their room. I don’t share the field because that means going to battle with their leadership. Not any more. Emotionally, all I want to do is scream at them and tell them they are being had, fools for what they do and how they are doing it.

So that’s enough to leave myself out of what is now their conversation, no matter how they may welcome me into the room. I prefer not to support their leadership. I do hope they win, they are the closest proximate other that I can tolerate and the villains, well, they are going to kill us and the planet sooner than later.

When we like one another, actually when we love each other, we are really just tolerating each other’s otherness. Sometimes we really like that otherness, other times not so much. That’s another way to look at love that isn’t much like the “love everyone” idea. Rajanaka doesn’t require that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Rather it requires that we love enough to find out what we can live with and what we come to understand we cannot or will not live with. Rajanaka is about figuring out how to live on your field knowing that you are never alone on any field, including the one inside yourself. Do you share the field? Do you find more room so you can live with some space? To know yourself in that kind of contrariety, that kind of strife that won’t dissolve into just love is what I learned keeps me alive. I love living, and I hope you love your life too. It’s not easy to do, no matter how grateful you are for the grace of having been born human. Step onto the field that lets you live and love your life, that was Appa’s hope for us.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


I was reading Milosz this morning before returning to three hymns to Rudra in Rg Veda. I take notes to myself. They may or may not make it into that book, or _those books_ I keep promising. Who would care? I ask myself this in single every word.
"Reader, be tolerant of me. And of your- self. And of the singular aspirations of our human race… I insist on the freedom, on my right to browse at will among the basic texts that are the inheritance of centuries . . . "
---Czeslew Milosz

IN the great mythos Rudra and Siva become RudraSiva. We are prepossessed of that compound. We cannot see both at once;that would reduce one to the other, to monism. There is not one of anything in nature and nothing worse than oneness if there is to be a “culture” that permits us our differences and insists on freedom. Rudra and Siva appear in fractals and fragments because that is what we can see. It is at once rage and beauty, terror and auspiciousness. We call that Nataraja.

To see Nataraja we learn to recognize his terms as our own. Symmetry would reduce RudraSiva to simplicity; oneness may not be wholly forsaken--- How would we know? Why would we pretend to know?--- but we will never see it again. That is not what is in store for human life. We are too terse, too pithy an expression of nature’s great engagement. Culture will never triumph over nature nor will human life advance into harmony with nature. That is precisely what can never happen. Nature demands nothing of us even if life insists from this source of being to persist, to survive, yearning to flourish when it enjoys the luxuries of freedom.

Rudra is indifferent to his own cataclysmic force, Siva emerges to organize freedom so that we might see the need to create culture’s raw possibilities. We study Rudra as the patterns of existence to penetrate these possibilities of our identity with Siva. Rudra is, as Milosz puts it, “nature’s reckless indifference” and Siva our irreconcilable desire to fulfill an essential human need: to situate all things on a field of dreams we do not control but must somehow claim as our own, just to live. 

For this we will need both Rudra’s myths and Siva’s rituals; Rudra without Siva leaves us like bare trees in winter, withdrawn into an icy slumber that rages inside without appearances. But Siva’s promise in return isn’t merely the lush fecundities of spring or summer’s prodigious indulgences. There can be tender sensibility only in the embrace of a beloved indulgent of every flaw. Rather Siva is met on his terms when we enter the chaos of forest’s trees and a complexity so rich that it cannot be counted, for he like the leaves on the forest’s trees, there are too many and each reaches for its own light without regard for the whole.

Little by little the simple becomes complexity, RudraSiva does not need our permission. We have been brought along for the brief, confounding journey of self. We are here to see him as Nataraja, possessed by a dance that he does not control anymore than we fathom what occurs as we are pulled inexorably by the whirlwinds of that dance.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Facts We Don't Like, Things We Explain for Reasons

Michele Moses, a professor at UC Boulder, wrote, "Agnosticism is an ideology of unknowability, the conviction that is it epistemologically impossible to determine whether or not there is a deity." I am likely taking this citation out of context so no criticism is meant, nor do I mean to reference the author but to make a point about what she says. My point is simple: we tell the stories we prefer to hear or need to tell when the facts are too tough to accept, either for ourselves or for others. Allow me to make the point with the example.

I regard this idea as an apologetic to those who don't want to look more carefully at the evidence we _already possess_. Most agnostic claims are not about epistemology of indeterminacy, as is asserted, but are substituting for saying a more disagreeable thing, something that would cause people you like and respect to feel uncomfortable. This is much like _many_ things we say, not just about God or agnosticism. We give ourselves reasons that aren't about evidence or arguments but instead about how our ideas make people feel.

Why do I single out this case for the "careful people's tender sensibilities as underlying subtext"? Because, as Darwin himself understood long before he grasped the relationship between physical, geological, and biological time, long before Crick, Watson, and Franklin worked out the unit of life, and for the _first_ time, every argument for a deity is simply incommensurate with the way life itself evolves and selects. Nothing that lives comes from _any_ form of reality that is more complex than itself. Things become complex from simpler things. So the existence of a God that is somehow knowing, conscious, and superior does not follow from the _evidence that we know explains life_. There are dozens of other good reasons but the facts are in and they are overwhelming. On the order of the earth is round, in a not round way, but round, not flat.

The argument here works two ways. First, "as far as we know" is a lot of knowing. There are facts that we are not likely going to reverse. In this case the contrasting claims are also incommensurate, you can't have one if you have the other, that's how the facts work here. Second, sooner or later, like when Andromeda crashes into the Milky Way, the facts may change, or we find better facts. But the facts of Darwinism have not only not been refuted they have withstood the amazing facts of Neo-Darwinism and contemporary science--- and those folks, well, they know a thing or two. People tell themselves the stories they can live with. No one need object to that unless we are talking about the facts that we understand to be true.

Let's go back to this point for a moment: people tell themselves the stories they can live with. What I mean is that either the teller prefers to tell the story so that she or he can feel better about what they are saying, or they telling it to someone who will be better off for the way it is being told. I think agnosticism arguments are a good example of this. People want there to be God even if they say they can't know--- agnosticism. They would rather not deal with fact that their agnosticism is "way around," a bypass on the highway of facts, and they would rather not think about the implications of the facts that are so, well, difficult to grasp and unpleasant in some way to feel.  People want to think they don't know or can't know because human facts are provisional that we don't know things for sure, because there is no "for sure." But just because there is no "for sure" doesn't mean we don't rally know things. We need to tell the stories we tell for reasons that are not irrational but instead appeal to emotion needs.  Truth is not only hard to grasp, it is hard.

All knowledge is revisable, all is provisional, all is human and so fallible, because there is also no proof of there being any other sort of knowledge. All we have is the best we know and that's not the same as saying we can't know or that we don't know. Instead, Professor Moses makes an easier path emotionally because, after all, it's easier and safer and more satisfying to say that we can't know when, well, the facts speak to our discomfort. This idea of agnosticism isn't irrational, it really can make people feel better. It's just not true.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Once Upon A Time Spinoza Knew Everything, or Maybe Not

You Know One When You See Or Maybe You Don't

There is no argument about what is “real” yoga that is not agenda bound to religion or politics. A word’s meaning is found in its usages. In the 21st century West the meaning of yoga in popular usage is beyond dispute. “Yoga” refers to modern postural practices (do we even need to call that “asana” anymore?) and to the related wellness and fashion industries (“Do you like my new yoga clothes?”) I’m writing here to consider what more and what else the study or practice of yoga might mean, not by reverting to definitions and sources in Sanskrit (and other related languages) but more generally, if that is possible. Let us assume that “yoga” can also mean “deep and serious engagement,” and please leave it at that for now. I’ve written quite a bit about definitions of yoga, this is more about the future.

Yoga historically has always been captive of issues involving class, race, gender, all of which suggest correlative matters of privilege and opportunity. Once that is recognized within this conversation we can move forward with other issues that would be of concern, if only we took them as seriously. What yoga has never been and could be is more my concern.

Yoga’s Requisites: Privilege, Aptitude, Commitment, Time and Teachers, and why PACTT is hard.
Let's start with the idea that there are a lot of people who aren't that smart and try not to confuse that with opportunity or privilege. Thank you, Mr President. Some people don’t want to engage life either seriously or deeply because they just can’t. Such persons can be elected President of the United States, so far be from me to suggest that all persons “should” be yogins . Other folks want other things from life and we need not judge further. Let everyone be happy with whatever they want to spend their time doing. If that’s their “yoga” we still haven’t come to my starting line.

Some people never had a chance, and never will have a chance to create a deep engagement with learning.  That's just plain tragic and we need a world revolution to fix that. I await goodness to prevail. I don't think we should wait to help people who might want a better deal, we need to help them. Don't get me wrong here, it may sound patronizing or condescending but a lot of people can't or won't help themselves, and they need help. Some, just to live.

So let’s just go to people smart and lucky enough to help themselves who have the requisite privilege, no matter how they use their time, assess their aptitude, or go about learning. We’ve established that “yoga” now is mostly just in hot rooms stretching because that's what most people mean when they say the word "yoga."  No need to get too upset or excited about that.  I know many of you like that kind of yoga too. I'm glad you do. I don't personally want to do any of it, I like to exercise in other ways. What's left to do?

What's left to do with life if you have the privilege, time, commitment, aptitude, and teachers? That has always been the honest question in the history of yoga. The Buddha was first a prince, not a person struggling to make a living. Privilege of some sort has always been a prerequisite. Let's take care of the struggling and the needy, and let's ask ourselves what we could do more.

You likely have an A(ptitude) even if you don't have as much of the PTCandT. I want to start there because I actually think that is true. No one likes to talk about aptitude because it’s difficult to measure and immediately becomes politically charged. After all, someone is measuring someone else. Let us assume most people are smart enough to learn more deeply about nature, culture, and their own personal experience. For a lot of complex reasons, some get a pretty raw deal and others just need a chance, and most don't get that chance. We’re back to Marxist Yoga 101 and this is no small issue but it’s still not my point.

Curiosities and Commitments
So you should assume aptitude and privileged opportunity, because would that be you? You can also leave out the excuse that what I’m talking about is for the very few really, really smarty pants. The supersmart often don't get the issue because they are devoted to one thing, like science or piano or something, or because they have other personal issues that come with having a strange gift. I am not one of those great souls, not in any way, and I am happy to admit it. Some people look really smart because they have been lucky enough to be well educated and they continue to educate themselves seriously despite the pressures of capitalism and family. This is pretty rare. Most people do not read serious books after college. (This is a fact we can unfortunately prove.) They give up, don't have the time, or don't have the teachers they need.  They likely never learned to read difficult books, even if they did go to college.  Ouch.  But that is true.  Further, curiosity seems to dwindle and where’s the commitment? Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? The yoga I’m talking about asks a lot of us. It’s not easy and not going to get easier.  What do you want to do?

Most people are smart enough to be educated even if they think they can't do math (humanists) or think they can't write (scientists). I hear both excuses all the time and they are both bullshit because people are not dumb. What they more likely don't have is the socio-historical privilege, the commitment, the time, or the teachers they need if they wanted to learn. Add to this some distinctively American issues that include (but aren't limited to) (1) we are doers and not thinkers and (2) we love money more than anything else (*it’s hard to eat without it), and (3) we are "free" as adults, which means we usually terrible learners because no one likes to be told what to do unless they think they are doing the telling. We wouldn't have issue #3 if we could fix issues #1 & #2, but we can't.

There is a lot to know in life and I try to stack up curiosities the way I do obsessions. I want more and more of them. If every obsession deserves its own room then I’m gonna need a mansion, no, more palaces than the British monarchy. But if only this were the problem. The problem I’m focusing on centers on time, commitment, and teachers. We don't have enough, but we have to make more.

I don't blame people for not knowing enough about everything or knowing a lot less then they really need to take the serious facts of nature, culture, and individual conscience to heart. We need a lot of resources to be an informed 21st century person. That is what I am calling "yoga," the "informed 21st century person," and as all yoga of yore proposed, you have to have the whole package: privilege, aptitude, commitment, time, and teachers. Such beings are rarer than crow's teeth and, honestly, always have been. It’s a tough alchemy. But if you can decide for yourself what you want to do with your life, then life’s about making the choices you need to make and want to make. Learning is hard, it takes time, and there is so much to learn that it's pretty much impossible to get good at both science and humanities nowadays. I think there is no serious yoga without difficult learning. The commitment part is this: we must try. Spinoza, it is said, once knew everything there was to know but that was 1660, and it's, you know, 2017. Times have changed.  The world is a bigger place, outside and in, than Baruch Spinoza living in Holland.

We've all got more than we can handle and most of us know very little.  We want to reduce complexity to simplicity and want things to be easy, but they aren't. Add to that what life brings, like the roof needs fixing, the kids are sick, the dog needs a walk, keep going, there's always something to stop you from learning. We need the equivalent of at least two complete BA degrees devoted to both humanities and sciences, if we want to stand a chance in the 21st century and that’s just the beginning of yoga. You are going to need more than that and the proverbial PACTT to just keep going.

It has taken me almost a decade to catch up on _some_ of the elementary science education that was either done poorly or that I skipped to do other things. I have a long way to go but I can read and will. I have plenty of privilege, the commitment, and while I am running out of time, I like the work. I can even access some teachers for free. Yeah, that's real privilege in the 21st century, I know. But it all depends on where you are in your life and what you want. There’s no point trying to do Hawking’s physics if you can't do the basics of the math. We need teachers.  More teachers who will help us do difficult things.

Any 21st century version of life in the privileged world that does not take science seriously is seriously stupid. Scientists have not spent much time, nor seem to care must about the implications of their findings. Or they are too busy doing sciences and don’t spend any time with humanist issues. There are exceptions, Dawkins has dealt with what natural selection means to our old ideas, especially religion. Most philosophers and psychologists ignore the relationship between humanist concerns and science too because they are too busy imagining that they are scientists. Humanist concerns start with feelings, ideas that are metaphorical rather than factual, the arts, especially things creative, social relationships and individual experiences of success, failure, abuse, wounds, recognition, and human relationships.

To be Humanist and Scientist Is No Small Potatoes
Humanists generally don't take their _own_ implications seriously enough--- capable as they are with fiction, myth, art, etc.---they rarely consider more than their creations, they don't do the more speculative, harder social and psychological analysis in light of the science, they just move on. Usually they don't know the science ---especially cognitive science, psychology, biology, evolutionary bio, etc. There are exceptions but folks like Robert Bly who have tried to see the poetry, myth, and ritual in depth psychology and basically through the Jungian legacy are few, far between. And those that do are usually deficient in science learning, so there's that too.

And there’s another piece of this that is so bad for business I shouldn’t even mention it. So instead of evincing curiosity in real science we find plenty of modern yoga interested in pseudo-science and charlatanism, like astrology, about 99% of Ayurveda, healing stones, you name it, it's just more magical bullshit. Don’t mistake me, astrology on the comics page as amusement or read mythically would be fine but people take this stuff seriously, even when they say they don’t. Some people really think that Mercury’s retrograde is changing their lives. We can study that as a sociological fact or as a feature of someone's psychology.  We cannot take the subject seriously as a subject.  

No one is calling out “yoga” for advocating superstition and nonsense rather than being interested in serious science and humanism. This problem is not just modern. About 99% of “Tantra” is just more nonsense and a furtherance of the well-oiled con game known as religion. Again, I like magic crystals as much as the next guy. I just know it’s for the same reason I like my lava lamp and other stuff that just amuses me. No excuses, but those tarot cards are bullshit and while I’m mostly okay with saying it’s fun I am more honestly concerned you take it for more than it is. I’m not trying to suck the fun out of life, not at all, I too like to be entertained, but that is not the same as educated.

Sometimes talking about nonsense is a ploy to talk about serious stuff, though likely there’s just more nonsense than we’d like to admit. My Indian uncle was an astrologer and he knew two things about it: first, that it was bad for business to admit it was bullshit and second, that his job was to get people to talk about serious things using astrology as a ploy. If buying magic stones gets you thinking, fine. Can we also think about more serious things, please?

To be a 21st century yogi we need a full throttle science education and we need to be humanists, deeply read and widely read, capable of comparison, and above all else skilled in critical thinking. Critical thinking is what links the humanities and sciences. It's simple enough (and it is truly nothing more than Rajanaka Yoga 101): (1) ask every question, the more disturbing or confounding the better; (2) follow the evidence, the processes of evidence, wherever they lead and be prepared to re-evaluate, revise, and change your mind; (3) look for the subversive fact, the black swan, understand that all knowledge is provisional because it is both incomplete (always) and may be subject to revision (anytime). The rest is data. The data is the world: it is our natural world, our social reality, and our individual experience.

Rajanaka loves myth, analysis, poetry, storytelling and artistry. But it's just as committed to facts, to science. The yoga we call “Rajanaka” is too quixotic and impossible: it is to be a well-informed 21st century person. That is not going to be easy.  That may not even be possible.  I don't care.  We should try. And what we must be committed to is getting serious about the humanist and science concerns we want to have in conversation. That is going to be our 21st century conversation and it is yet to be had seriously enough.