Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fire and Ice

I woke this morning thinking of the famous nine lines from Robert Frost that most of you will recognize.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Of course I was thinking about a world on fire and far too much melting ice. I was thinking about an America that I can no longer recognize but for the ways hopes and dreams are under siege. And I was taking it all personally because the actuarial tables suggest that under ordinary circumstances I can expect about 7,655 more days as a sentient being.

As a student of yoga I think it's always the best and worst of times. The world is always coming to some or another end, so Frost's Armageddon is nothing unusual, at least not to anyone who spends his days thinking about Nataraja's dance. I think that's pretty much all I think about, one way or another, though that metaphor may not reach as far into your experience. There are any number of ways of talking about this but every end is a beginning, a next and a more.

How we feature ourselves in a world that is always fire and ice is what Rajanaka call "yoga."

We are all obsessive beings because that is the only way to continue living. There is no "moderation" but by the imposition of a narrative that addresses the needs and consequences of our thoughts and actions.

Life is in a contest to sustain a mean that is always in crisis, always under assault, always demanding and answering to the proximate circumstances of the given. We humans are 98.6 degree creatures and the smallest variant puts us in immediate danger. Rather ironically, our homeostasis produces opportunities to act in ways that may not support our future but that too is part of our human story. We aren't really naturally adept at producing "goodness" except for the ways crisis becomes more relevant. Other living creatures seem to have more reliable instincts for survival while we have a greater concern for what is possible.

To address our needs and desires, that is, to meet the mean of sustainability, we don't seek the mean but instead seek the boundaries. In other words, to create sustainability (the mean of homeostasis) we're going to use methods of fire and ice, we're going to need to participate in creating _some_ crisis to address the crisis at hand. We measure out those things giving priority and finding ways to ameliorate what would otherwise overtake us. This is the part of adulthood that reveals how inept and competent we can be: we're inside systems, worlds of information that we don't control and to which we are subject. How we attend and what we can do depends on more than our bodies and wits though it depends on those too.

We act _engaging_ the issues of living, whether those are past, current, or future. Such engagement with ourselves Rajanaka calls "yoga."  By "yoga" we don't mean we will do things effectively or somehow for our "good," but we do suggest we could do everything better if we are able to apply ourselves more attentively. We're not alone in the world and we can't always help ourselves.

What you want becomes our question because there's always something to want. Desire is not merely a problem we continually solve---and desire surely isn't something we can really ever aver---but rather desire being what we are places demands on us to answer to it. We will become a form of our desires, for better and worse. We don't always answer in ways that promote our self-welfare or that of others, but we are capable to the limits of circumstances. Just what constitutes "better" from worse is no small matter, for that is the issue with which any competent yoga must contend. What we eat, how we live, what we do with our bodies, minds, and emotions becomes the definition of a life lived in whatever "yoga" or engagement defines us.

Rajanaka begins with a simple premise: crisis is the ordinary state of affairs constantly being addressed both consciously and unconsciously. We are never beings without needs or wants. We are always beings in search of meeting those needs and wants. We are resourceful beings because we want to survive, nay, to flourish, and so to have needs and wants met, whether or not we are advancing our welfare personall, in the relationships we require, or under the circumstance in which we find ourselves.

We seek relief from crisis in every breath and naturally driven by those stresses, we're looking for methods, intentions, understandings, and actions that we can use. We call all of those things "yoga" too.

We're complex insofar as our desire to flourish is not some addendum to survival as such, it is part of our nature. We want pleasure but there's no necessity to aver pain unless pain defines itself as an aversion. We're more likely to assume patterns that lead us from moment to moment whenever those kinds of behavior suit us---water flows down and so human beings take paths to resist less even if those paths create more problems or fail to address the crisis effectively. But what we want will not only define us, it will invite us to create a life of desires met, filled and unfulfilled. What we do about that will make all the difference.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Right as Rain

Rajanaka, Right as Rain
The Rest is Someone Else's Yoga

You may know all of this but so what. I may not give a hoot about my past or future lives---and even less about "liberation"--- but that doesn't mean I'm past repeating myself. None of us are. That's the point. Here's some simple Rajanaka for a Friday.

Yesterday's post featured a picture of shower cap boxes from Indian hotels---the singular common feature I have discovered. ALL hotels give you a shower cap. The _real_ reason is that you have come back as rain. And that's it, just as rain, less literally, more metaphorically. Let me explain.

I'm working on the Camps right now, particularly East, and other things, like finishing the Gita commentary are on simmer. What I love best about Rajanaka is how it dispatches certain claims or matters that otherwise dominate the conversations of yoga---that is, all traditions Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, even Sikh. So here is a bit of why Rajanaka is not quite like everyone else I can think of but is more like where things came from or, at least, with early Vedic worlds that invented the word "yoga."

To wit, Rajanaka gives no hoots nor pays much attention to two issues that, in some way or another, dominate all of the worlds of all other yogas: (1)recurrent death and (2) its end, its solution, which is better known as "realization," awakening, perfection, liberation, etc. Just how Rajanaka dispatches these is a bit nuanced but, um, not really. The result is an honest assessment: Rajanaka is close to complete heresy within all ordinary yoga contexts because it seizes (and stops) at Vedic goals. "Vedic" does not mean what Vedantins say in this case: Vedic means live, prosper if you can, die, repeat but without _really_ knowing you are repeating, just in the process of live now, do good, and don't fuss for eternity.

First, about this whole samsara thing. Vedic worlds don't use this term and are not concerned as are the later traditions. To wit, everyone that lives dies and everything that is living came from life and so from death. How much _persists_ from death in the process is something most other traditions are keen to discuss---hence they wonder aloud about who you have been and who you will become, where you are going from _this_ birth forward. Rajanaka does not spend much time on those kinds of contemplations.

In the Veda you came from families, you die and go to the ancestors, and if you are lucky the living remember you (because that's a nice thing) and what happens next is that you literally return as rain. Put simply, does the rain know itself? So neither do you, you are the rain returning as rain, isn't that enough? Why do you think you have to be someone? You came from memories, you make memories, you become a memory---but largely it's about what you can do now, with this body and life, and the rest is just recurrence that makes _now_. So while others spend quite a bit of time using the ideas of the past and your post-death prospects to inform this life, Rajanaka spends its time on living now and leaving (most of) the rest to eternity. Indian texts use past births and future births to motivate, cajole, inform, invite, and direct the current birth. Rajanaka is less interested in this process as a source of psychological motivation. Materially this is a more interesting topic than ever given what we know (and do not yet) about the units of recurrence aka DNA.

Second, what happens at deaths past and present into the future is usually informed by claims of extrication, excision from the process, extinguishing the process itself (this is the literal meaning of "nirvana.") Rajanaka ignores this and so upsets the _reasons_ for yoga that others posit. To wit, _why_ are we enjoined to do all this stuff that, say, Patanjali says we should do to ourselves regarding the body, arresting thought, what we should think and think about? Well, it is for his kaivalya (only-ness) of the "experience" of an eternal self (atman) that is a feature of the eternity itself that is the changeless Purusha. Why does Shankara tell us we should study, we should fathom the "true knowledge" of the Veda? It's not to figure out how to grow rice or even get children to behave: it's to tell adults that they are immortal. Why does Kashmir Shaivism want us to see ourselves as Shiva? So that we can be ecstatic in our unconditioned Self that is invulnerable to the changes that are merely material comings and goings. Why do the god-lovers (bhaktas) go on pilgrimage? To obtain liberation and prosperity from the god's grace. In other words, all of these yoga traditions have some or another religious goal---and are explicit about how this goal informs what they tell us we should do everyday with our bodies, minds, thoughts, and relationships. Rajanaka keeps many of the practices---we like to do many of the things these traditions tell us will "liberate" us---for the sake of living a better life here and now. These practices improve living rather than advance us towards or result in liberation.

Thus, the Rajanaka hat. Rajanaka is not directed towards any such religious goals, that is, goals about _solving_ the human condition and arriving at some "real" finality. Rajanaka likes living, thinks it a strange blessing and an interesting chance, and focuses on living well---whatever that means. Rajanaka doesn't use any such ultimate goals---or any goals that are not merely conditional forms of living conditionally, mortally---to provide motivation or prospects.

To wit, Rajanaka is only about living a mortal life with wellness and prosperity in affirmation of all of its conditions. Rather than solve those conditions (i.e., end suffering, claim immunity, etc.), Rajanaka embraces our conditions---and without claiming there is anything more or further to gain. Live long, prosper, and it's really up to you to decide what "prosper" means. This is why Rajanaka is not so much a "Hindu" yoga as it is a kind of throw back to the Vedic life, which only hinted at death and rebirth (who can resist?) and had no notion of an unconditional goal or immortal relief. Live, love, die, rise as smoke, come back as rain. That's it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

America's Delusion about Religion

"Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. Their content may include a variety of themes (e.g. persecutory, referential, somatic, religious, grandiose).[…] Delusions are deemed bizarre if they are clearly implausible and not understandable to same-culture peers and do not derive from ordinary life experiences. […] The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends in part on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity." --DSM V.

It appears that most people _really need_ degrees of delusion just to make it through the day. Life presents far too threatening a story.  So we calm ourselves with whatever we need.  We tell stories about the supernatural because naturally the facts are just too hard.  To start with the facts---at least as far as we know them---and move forward is too stressful. Best to ignore and then just deal later? Well, that's a default to being religious all the time: put it on when you need it? We cope, that's what humans do. So what's "bizarre" isn't that a given delusion "is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence."  What's bizarre is that we all seem to agree that if we call that delusion someone's "religion" that it gets a pass, that we're not allowed to call it bizarre or delusional.

Nowhere else in the civilized world does religion occupy the same privileged political place as it does in America. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." How does this confer power to religious beliefs that others do not share? The real danger of Kavanaugh and our "conservative" justices is how they will allow religion to inform the law, that is, what we are supposed to share, not merely keep as our private delusion.

Let's be clear.
Wrap up your favorite superstition or claim to ethical superiority, impose it on others, call it "religion" and it's demanded that we "respect" it. But that's not quite right, as Flying Spaghetti Monsters demonstrate. Your particular superstition has to be validated by a mass delusion, not merely your own and if millions cower in obedience then it can change the course of society. Religion is merely cult with a mob, much like dialect is to language---if you only have a few dozen agreeing with your mass delusion then you're a cult. Otherwise, put on the magic underwear and expect others to take you seriously.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Fact and Metaphors, When Your Religion Is Your Metaphor and When it is Not

As I work through again---for the 330 millionth time---the Gita and a host of traditional commentaries I am reminded how history and culture determines meaning and the complexities of conversation. When you have a lifetime of study, particularly the languages, you're always asking that very human question: What do they mean? If this is what it says, _how_ do they mean it?
I was also reading about certain Christianities  yesterday and their particular needs and claims. Later in the day I engaged a very Catholic friend of mine, educated, serious, and still very Catholic. By that I mean she said to me, "What if I told you I take these beliefs seriously? That He _really did_ rise from the dead? And the rest of it." I did my level best to keep that Spock eyebrow from rising to the point of "...fascinating," which was Spock's way of saying, "you gotta be kiddin' me." So what _is_ literalism? What is metaphor when claims are treated as facts? Fascinating.

Yesterday I wrote a piece, not wholly well-received, in which I argued that everyone---whether they admit to it or not, and however they try to deny it---has a "religion." I wasn't arguing for any traditional religious identity but only that religion is the duck in the duck test: it's whatever makes you waddle, quack, wear feathers (think it could be golf: your yoga lifestyle, and even Cuban heeled boots---and I'm not even kidding. Well mostly not.) If you have deep feelings tied to values and convictions, likely too you have community, then I'm ready to call _that_ your religion. But it still raises the question, how does your religion _work_ for you, that is, how does it tell its truths. We call claim the feeling and the experience of _truth_ but what we think truths are depends on how we think they operate, how they _work_.

Let make this point in a simple, contestable binary: we _treat_ truths as if they are facts OR as if they are metaphors. Facts don't need to stay true, they can be revised by better facts, but so long as we feel, operate with them as if they are facts, then we measure them by the results we want, we experiment with them to test them against other facts. Think of "facts" as the shortest distance between you and what others should agree to. For example, it takes the principles and facts of quantum physics to make your cell phone work because its signal _really does_ go through walls. We may also deliberately resort to metaphor---we could also call that indirect thinking or what my teacher used to call "the long way around" in contrast to facts. In this case the thing in question (person, place, thing, the noun) is symbolic and functions to tell a story. A myth then is at its best when we know that it is a lie told in the service of a deeper truth, that is, when we know it's not functioning like a fact. I've lectured on this obsessively for the past 20+ years of Rajanaka in public and since ever as a religion professor in the quiet confines of the classroom, so I think you got the point.

When I say "metaphor," I might as well be saying "myth," but not in the usual pejorative sense that we nowadays use the word "myth," because I mean it is a gateway to an experience of truth, deeper truth, which means that ideas, images, and relationships have consequences. What we think and feel _matters_ to us and it will guide how we act towards nature, society, each others, and how we treat ourselves. Facts matter. Where are those separated children? Myths matter. Justice is blind. Again, I think we're not confused about the difference this difference makes but we are not clear about what's fact and what's myth.

Yesterday I also wrote a piece about how I have more than one religion. At last count, at least three. I would regard myself a Hindu but that's in light of the fact that on February 9th 1964 at 8:12pm the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, opening their set with All My Loving, and I found my true religion. It is rock n' roll. And I'm not kidding. I said I had a third religion but I'm conflicted. (That was a joke.) I wrote that rambling paragraph about the religion of rock n' roll to make a point, and it wasn't about my tastes in music or lifestyle passions. I wanted to look like, talk like, think like, write music like, _be_ all FOUR Beatles, but that too isn't my point.

My point is that here in the 21st century it's hard to impossible to take much about religion as fact. (Fact as defined above.) Jesus rose from the dead. Krishna manifested his cosmic form. Moses talked to the bush. God spoke through the Prophet. You get the idea. Science is real because facts do their job. That truth may be incomplete, unfinished, even _untrue_ because it is found out to be incorrect or just wrong or we were lied to, but that is not the same as metaphor---and you know it. So are these claims _both_ fact and metaphor? My Spock eyebrow raises and if you say "yes," then I must say "fascinating," because I must take you at your word.

People _really do_ believe things that you, in your own heart and mind, think are _not facts_ but rather myths that guide their lives (somehow, to some degree). So we must take, say, evangelical Christians at their word _and_ we don't have to condemn any beliefs that don't impact by imposing on others. Putatively, there is room in the world for not-facts, or to put it bluntly, falsities, things that are not factually true but aren't necessarily a menace. Metaphors can menace too but only if people turn them into behaviors that become delusional fantasies in the world. Dressing up as Spock isn't a problem for me unless you think you're really mind melding with me. Then I think you've gone a step too far.

When I wrote that Rock n' Roll is my religion I was putting myself in good company. No less than Stevie Van Zandt makes the same claim, and I think for many of the same reasons. But I have a few other points.

In the 21st century your religion is about metaphors and symbols because otherwise it's factual nonsense, or most of it. You can live _by_ factual nonsense and it can guide you morally and practically to live a worthwhile life, one that doesn't even hurt others. Go for it, if that's what you want. The rules of 21st century facts _still apply_ no matter one's literal religious fantasies or what they do for you.

Hitchens, Dawkins, and others always maintain that people who believe factual nonsense are always dangerous and prone to sticking others with the consequences of their beliefs, especially politically.  But is this always true?  I would largely agree with them because beliefs do have consequences. Think about the current battle for the open Supreme Court seat. But it's still possible to have religious beliefs taken to be fact that aren't so imposing or interventionist in others' lives. If you can keep your fantasies---literal or metaphorical--- less intrusive, I'd be grateful.

My religion not only contains metaphors and uses facts (like February 9th 1964) it _is_ metaphor. When religion _is_ not about metaphors but is metaphor that's a whole'nother story. Rock n' roll is metaphor--- it is filled with stories, myths, rituals, and players about freedom, rebellion, love, peace, fury, beauty, loss, death, cars, sex, you got it. My religion needs to be metaphor because I have facts, and particularly science, for other things I need. Religion you need too for a life lived as you love it. Science is not its enemy unless your religion claims facts. Science and religion work find together so long as you try keep a naga's worth of space (that's as much room as a snake needs to move) between them and then work that seam, keep that naga moving. Ha! Metaphor never ceases because we're going to need it to explain facts. And vice-versa. Hold that paradox. Carry on.

Love your life and all of your metaphors will be keys to your "salvation" even if there is, well, factually speaking, no salvation. So while you are loving life on this mortal road to death, find the way you like to really live. That will involve making what you do---say, yoga, rock n' roll, political activism, golf, going to sci fi conventions, really anything you really really care about---your religion. And you can have as many religions as you like because metaphors, unlike facts, don't demand that others take you as seriously as you take your metaphors.

Monday, June 11, 2018

About the Things You Love, What Desires Are Your Nature?

It’s okay to love things you love almost as much as people. You may think you don’t need poetry until you need it. Then nothing else will do and for a moment it will be poetry that you love. This is not the same thing as being in love with poetry and that’s more where I’m going with this.

In each of us there are things that we don’t reach into out of human necessity but that we crave, we want, we desire because you can’t tell your story without them. Of course, Mandela taught us we can live without every kind of thing we love if we learn to love what we know is true. There’s so much courage and wisdom in that that few but Buddhas will grasp its mystery. Such courage born of depravation should not be the rule, only the indispensable exception. Let us return the subject to being merely mortal rather than wish the travails of sainthood upon ourselves.

You know what you love and if you don’t have something, I’d bet you do but might be shy to say it because some will think that loving what you love takes away from loving people. That zero sum view won’t ever go away so I think you can’t worry if you are misunderstood. You’ll know the things you love when you do you don’t imagine what it would be like to live without them but instead spend your life living in them. Notice the plural here. Some folks have a singular, others have a hobby for everyone in the room, as McCarthy puts it.

So we don’t have to have but one passion because things don’t demand that so we need not demand that of things. "Things" here don't need to be material objects, they can human inventions like poetry, music, it really just means what you love. I'm not interested in the elitist bit either, I mean, it could be something others think is frivolous or silly. The point is that you care.

What we learn from the most dedicated and talented is that they too often have more than one love and loves they will not surrender, not ever, because then they just wouldn’t be at all without them. There may come a day when I can’t ride the bike, do the grammar, or play the music but there will never be the day when those things aren’t what I am really doing. What's going on inside me isn't just what you see anymore than it's what going on inside you. Except that you're going to it with what you love too.

I tell you about mine here not to suggest what you should love. That’s either too personal—and who am I to tell you to love something because I do—or it’s too much a part of woven cultural identity, like food. Bourdain taught us that to accept another’s food is to accept them. These are teachings we must all try to fathom, even make true in our lives.

 But there’s still more to love that we do not share so much as we choose for ourselves, because there’s always room for more. And that means things that you love that don’t make their demand on others so much as they do on you.

Of course, these things too will make demands on those you love because they have to live with how you tell your story. We can only hope to be loved that much because once we are in the world of “mine” that is something we can share _with_ but not something we will abandon if told. Even those we love will find that hard to tolerate. We can love things to addiction or worse because it's never easy to know when to stop when you're in love.

I frame the issue for myself in personal terms because that makes the point that these may not be your loves, and obviously not important to you. But there’s something that’s important to you that isn’t your loved ones or your community or culture, even your food or what you want in sex. I hope your list is long. Mine is but those who know me easily see what’s made me and made my list. YMMV is always good advice. I take mine in wheels, words and music because I have largely failed at other things I wish I were better at doing, which would make me love them more. It really is harder to love something that you can't do well-enough to tolerate your own doing. Like swimming or beets or something.

All this rumination started this morning when I asked myself a stupid question. Well, if not stupid then one that I find obvious and don't expect you find necessary. When you put yourself together you'll see that the first question here is not nearly as good or as important as the second question. Here's my two.

Why is Sanskrit is like rock n’ roll? Because who wouldn’t do this if they could? And because not everyone can. Or at least not like Mick and Keith. But don’t let that stop you. I think that's the point of this whole exercise. Don't let anything stop you from loving your life. Especially you. And if others find reason to comment or offer their doubts, listen closely and decide what to do next. There's room to retreat a few paces back just like there's room to plow forward. Take stock of the earth you're plowing but keep plowing.

If what you love is yours then sometimes you may not know why you're doing it and nonetheless you'll keep on. It's not always up to you. The slope steepens to obsession and addiction and the host of other shadows that can overcome you, so the task is to know yourself as the Bard, and so be true. None of this is easy but then it wouldn't be you.

Remember Rilke who never tires of telling you to be you.
“All things consist of carrying to term and then giving birth. To allow the completion of every impression, every germ of a feeling deep within, in darkness, beyond words, in the realm of instinct unattainable by logic, to await humbly and patiently the hour of the descent of a new clarity: that alone is to live one’s art, in the realm of understanding as in that of creativity.”

Friday, May 11, 2018

Years Measured in Mahabharatas

I taught the Mahabharata in seminar this past semester. I teach it every year in bits or parts. Sometimes I go all in, like this past semester. There was only one assigned book. Volumes and volumes of Mahabharata. It's a quixotic, romantic, futile task that invariably fails to do what you planned or imagined. Just the way I like it. You come out of the Epic the way you enter it: always more not less lost at sea, with more never fewer irreconcilable conflicts of interest, more made by karma and making karma than any effort to renounce could create. But because you can't get it "right" doesn't mean you'll only get it wrong.

That is the wonder of the Epic's Vastness, a word so important in Sanskrit lore that it warrants the capital offense and perfectly describes the joy and frustration of living a life measured in Mahabharatas. To live with the Vastness you have to want to be made of it, with and without your consent. Wherever you are in the Mahabharata will be enough if you are not in a hurry to be anywhere else. In that sense, it's the gateway to self and more selves, it's India and right here, home, it's that ocean of consciousness that we are privileged to experience as living souls until we return to more ocean.

In preparation for papers students come to meet with me on several occasions to prepare, discuss, and review. They had to have an interest, a clue, that's all, then we'll figure out how to sip the ocean from a clay cup. The alternative of drowning is to be prevented at all costs--- and I'm there to make sure that doesn't happen. You're never safe when you're at sea and in a life measured in Mahabharatas, you're never not at sea. Two students in particular had the temerity to ask a bit more about my relationship to the work, the job, the subject, both prefacing their questions with a fair humility. They were really asking about themselves, so I answered a bit more than is my usual want.

As a policy my college professor self evades these sorts of personal questions because it is not my job to talk about me or my relationship with India. There's nothing the public media won't reveal. But I don't talk much about it and the reason for this is simple. If I reveal myself students will be less inclined to speak from their own hearts and minds, fearing that they may offend or displease me. They have come to college to find their own voices, and I am there to facilitate, not to determine. They are in their own ocean and I may guide the way and provide some safe harbor, but it not for me to decide their destinations or command their obedience.

With Rajanaka I have had the privilege to reveal more than I ever do at college. My regret is I think we would all learn more together ---and have so much more fun---if we could really figure out how to spend more time learning with each other, more closely, more deeply. We _need_ more time if we're going to grow in the learning. I try at once to give you honest scholarship _and_ opinion because I believe you will take what you like and leave the rest, as you should. There are no litmus tests, no requirements, not even a suggestion of dogma though it's plain that most of you understand after these many years that I'm not shy to comment on most anything, sometimes with better or less informed ideas. I try not to spoil a Rajanaka by going too, too far off our shared India markers. (No, Douglas will not drown us in political vitriol just because he can do that on Facebook. I have actually had hosts assure their students of this...though I am less sure they are confident I will provide.)

For these two college students I tried to reach a bit further. They are both from India, not Americans of the south Asia diaspora. They both grew up and went to school in India, having just come to the States for college. And they were both, how shall we say it? Taken away by what we did in our Mahabharata class. By that I mean a process of close reading, very critical interpretation, and a careful application to our lives as such. We had some overview and I left most of that to them. We covered almost nothing in comparison to what is there. How could you? But they'd never heard anything like this at home, and how could they? Not even the most learned folks in India spend much time doing this sort of work and it is _work_, it is not something that comes merely from culture or assimilation or from just being one is knowing one.

We are all born with code, and process, and develop lenses that determine our visionary possibilities. But we also acquire and create lenses that shape awareness and cultivate selves. We are made and we make, but it's never a simple or symmetrical process. The complexity and asymmetry is always individual. We each learn how to learn and those kinds of skills are not easy to acquire for anyone. These factors will decide how you learn a subject, an anything you can learn.

Well and good, they replied, but how is it that you (meaning me) know _so_ much about India? I again replied that foremost it was my job, my profession, I _learned_ and paid my dues. Provenance is a word they needed to learn about. They pressed again because it seemed to them clear--- I give them courage points for calling me out--- that it is all rather obviously far more than my profession.

My reply then went something like this.
I am not _from_ India. But I am wholly _of_ India.
This means that _everything_, positively everything at every moment of waking, dreaming, and dreamlessness in my experience is filtered through India, both there and here, outside and inside, in life, in books, in imagination and worldly being. It took me a long time to understand more about the depths of that personal complexity, the complications and confusions that necessarily appear--- what Appa called living in many worlds, and how we each bring our limitations and possibilities. But our limitations create boundaries that allow, indeed force the need for some recognition of every larger circumstance. We all do this, it's what it means to evolve a self in the course of a life. How we do this, well, that will make all the difference.

We are all the sum of _all_ of our experiences, much of that hidden in shadow and the unconscious, and more still that comes through the complexities of a life we create and that creates us. India _made_ me because I was lucky enough to step in as a young man, meet people who welcomed me, then loved me, and spend a life of what I call now "having never left." When did you go to India first? That's a question I can answer factually though I'm pretty sure that the mythic answer cuts more deeply. But when did I leave? I never left. I couldn't leave if I wanted to. India made me and if that's a bit unusual for a kid from Jersey---another place I left but never left--- what I can say for certain about my job is that it's an honest and sometimes challenging profession. It's also true that I have willfully, self-consciously made it a point in life that my profession would not make me, at least insofar as I have a say in the matter.

Lucky me, I am no longer much "of" the academy though I'm pretty sure I can fake it convincingly on demand. Sometimes. And that difference provides all the difference I need to keep boundaries clear and safe enough, if not entirely honest. I am professional enough to have earned my place, and accept the consequence of being less professionally ambitious. The academy wants from me something I have not offered it for more than 20 years now. This is another feature of a privileged life. It costs me too. Svaha.

But India is _how_ I live because I cannot live without it. The work as such--- the Sanskrit, the reading, the talking--- is _not_ my reason to live, because I don't need a reason. When you really love something you really don't always love it. You may say "today I am going to do this" but what else would you do? Who else could you be? How you _feel_ about it, on a given day or in a particular moment? That's far more complex than saying, "I love what I do." I don't always. Thank goodness for that. Life doesn't make you love everything, even what you are or what you do, not all the time. I couldn't stand that.

All of this, I told these two students, is for better and worse. You are in the process of seeing through your own lens with greater effort---and of acquiring and being made by forces you don't wholly control. Who you want to be is not entirely up to you. It never is. Who you choose to become is a different kind of question. While that too is not solely up to you, it's because nothing in life you create can you create alone. There is always more story than you can learn. There is always more worth telling again and more still you'll never get to.
"So life is like Mahabharata, Professor?"
"Just so."

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Inverted Shadow and the Power of Tapas

Lying is like “cultural appropriation”: everyone does it, everyone needs to do it because borrowing, stealing, and imitating is as old as humanity and has led to all sorts of valuable things. When we know what we are doing when we are lying we can make necessary amends ---like give credit where it is due or share the wealth or just be honest about lying.

The irony of truth telling should not be lost on us. We need the truth as badly as we need to lie because things aren’t always true to be good and not every bad is just bad. When we tell the truth we use the light to understand the darkness. When we lie we create darkness that may help but always hurts--- or at the very least admits the greater vulnerability that always accompanies light and shadow.

What we need to contend with light and dark the great playwright Kalidasa calls “the measure of truth in matters in which there is doubt.” At stake is how we measure and at least as much awareness about the differences we need to notice and acknowledge. To wit, we are always judging the value of things, ideas, and actions, which is why being “non-judgmental” at best means “acknowledging one’s bias” because never for a moment are we actually not-judging. Even “it makes no difference to me” is a judgment. When you come to actual non-judgment you’re going to need help tying your shoes and all sorts of other stuff.

The inverse of lying is not just truth: reality is more complex, less binary. The inverse of lying is sometimes more correctly trust. When we trust we make ourselves vulnerable to others’ choices, we accept their intentions; we may applaud or be compelled to forgive their actions as a consequence. Our trusts can be compromised and betrayed. We can use trust as a self-delusion or to satisfy an emotional need; we can simply be mistaken and acknowledge that a trust broken was a rational error of judgment. We can be conned because we trust. In fact, without trust we can’t be conned because we’ve relinquished all confidence in others.  That, I submit, is a sad state of affairs that no one should have to suffer.

So it is not merely a matter of truth or lying, it is a matter of who and how we trust--- in ourselves, in others, in the process of trust-making and the consequences of trust-failure. It’s important to be vulnerable to what happens because we trust, because we need to trust. That kind of vulnerability I call the “inverted shadow.”

For definition’s sake let’s call the shadow everything hidden from us and everything we hide. It is filled with unknowns and regrets, uncontrolled consequences, faults and things for which we are not the least bit culpable. The shadow holds what we don’t know and all that is uncomfortable, often painful, difficult to admit, sometimes impossible to recognize without help and the complex emotional and critical means of self-inquiry. But the inverted shadow is the recognition that we not only must come to a deeper appreciation of our “hiddens” but that we must put ourselves in further peril for the unwanted consequences that come with the pursuit of light. When we trust we "pursue" the light, with all of its consequences.

When we trust we nurture the light, we burn more brightly, and we can be burned. But we can neither illumine nor burn brightly if we do not risk being burned. It’s more than just being willing to accept the consequences of disappointments and losses. The inverted shadow is actually putting one’s self in peril because there is no trust that cannot fail. With that trust we take the measure of the shadow that gives us a far better appreciation of the value that comes with illumination.

In Rajanaka I was taught to live in the fire that both illuminates and burns. The truth may illumine but it always burns. Sometimes being "burnt" is the price of living in the fire. Burn brightly, Appa would say, and know that when you do, you will sometimes suffer for what the light creates as shadows. This is what Appa meant when he used the Sanskrit word “tapas.” And so the more brightly we burn, the more shadow we will cast. The choice to live with value is a choice that burns with truth and illumines the lies we tell.