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.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Faith in Belief, but Unfaithful to Faith, Baby You Can Drive My Car

I often jest that I was born without the God-gene. I say this because as I have told that story a million times, no one I know has tried to _believe_ in God more than I. I study believers now for a living likely because I'm still working out my own failure to have faith as faith or belief-as-faith. Is this just a deficiency _in me_? That was how one professor explained me to others. I was "tone deaf to religion," he said. I replied that I didn't much like to sing from the Protestant hymnal anymore. All I refused to do was believe his thesis, not the one about me but about faith.

Now, I never discount the importance or the power of belief, including my belief in that power or its importance. The distinction I will focus on here is between belief-as-faith and faith-in-belief. This one will take a minute. Take a seat, you're in for it a bit.

Briefly, belief _as_ faith reduces matters to assertion, opinion, and is at the heart of confirmation bias, which means that evidence, reasoning, and _changing_ one's mind have little efficacy in the processes of creating convictions. This is faith as such, faith in having faith, faith because you have it. I would contend that I just don't, so if it only takes one counter example to upset a monism, a one truth for all claim, then I offer myself as that example. I did this in the first important graduate seminar at Harvard and my rejection of the faith thesis has always left me uninvited to the next faith-fest. What happened was I was the only one who wholly rejected the thesis of the professor, the Chair of the Study of Religion at the Veritas-U, who wrote the book called "Faith and Belief." He happened to be teaching that seminar and he held my future in his faithful little hands. I was not being petulant (only), I was being honest. He almost got me thrown out, in fact, he tried and I refused to leave. He also wore his pants up near his chest. I could not believe anyone who looked like that. But that's another story. I'm probably still working out that wound too, but I would contend that in the spirit of the black swan, I was the exception that defeated his thesis. Allow me more.

Belief-as-faith is really the claim that faith is not belief at all but a kind of quality of feeling. Again, I lack that feeling having spent a lifetime looking for it and trying to believe this argument for faith as some sort of positive we _need_. This same professor told me ---and my doctoral committee--- that it would be better if i just went over to comparative linguistics where clearly I had a future. Religion, not so much, he said. I replied that I loved studying religion not because there is such a thing as faith but because people believe there is. Faith is just belief of another kind, not another kind of thing or feeling. And if it is that special feeling, I ain't got it, so how's dem'apples about it being universal to all humans. I'm not so stupid as to think that I don't get it, I believe not all of us have faith. But all of us have beliefs.

Now, I also knew somehow that I eventually needed a job in academia or I would be playing for short change at the Ramada Lounge on Friday nights forever. I couldn't take the hours. Not that there is anything wrong with that. So I maintain there is still room for faith, so long as it's faith in beliefs. We gots (not really) to have some of that, though I would contend we can almost live without that too. Problem is, it's just too dry to take that more purist path of fact, you end up with only Quine and maybe Putnam as your philosopher friend and everything is nothing but an equation. One and one needs to make three if you're after more poetry, as the Boss reminds us.

Faith in belief, I would argue, is when the evidence leads you to put your heart in a fact, an idea or value, or a person who you have good reason to believe. Since people have a need, likely an evolutionary need to believe, we can expect that they will believe _something_.

Hitchens argued, rightly I think, that the qualify of belief needs to be commensurate to the quality of critical thinking. That is, that what we believe must be alchemized in the crucible of more than personal experience and opinion but also of public learning and standards of verifiability. The problem, such as it is with this kind of distinction, is that a belief valuable enough to earn our public trust requires not only skills in methods of critical thinking, but is by definition subversive of belief itself. I'm not even talking about the innumerable perils and idiocies that follow from monisms ---truths that claimed to be one, and so incontrovertible because there is no second option. I'm merely pointing out that the best quality beliefs ---the ones that warrant our faith--- must leave room for being replaced, undermined, questioned, and subject to eradication when necessary. A belief you can't reject at some point isn't worth having. A faith that commends belief you can't reject just won't do, no matter who tells you.

Put another way, unless the equation of belief is allowed to be provisional, in some important way _incomplete_, and so subject to reevaluation, it is reduced to belief as faith. You can believe because you want to, need to, are told to, because the consequence of being different is painful or disorienting. All of these emotional components of belief are soundly rejected in the Gita, which is a book about having belief. It's not like you need good reasons to believe, that is not Krishna's point (or usually). Rather it is about the way the credibility of a belief, faith -in- belief is a helpful feature of learning because it fosters the necessary experimentation with belief _and_ gives you something you can say honestly you believe is _true_.

Part of Trumpism is that it is prays upon the emotional manipulation that clouds belief and so turns almost entirely to belief as faith when it believes at all. This makes all news "fake" that does not meet with approval or affirmation in the moment, suited entirely to whatever is being projected as satisfying. Krishna again has some sound advice about not allowing your beliefs to be a matter of meeting your immediate desires but this is impenetrable to those who _need_ to believe more than they are willing to _work for_ a belief. Never underestimate how folks would prefer things to be easy, how little they will work for their beliefs. Belief is hard-won content and that's not the same as feeling good. Krishna really hammers you on this one.

The truth of a belief doesn't depend on your believing it. I could believe, for example, that the nominative and accusative neuter singular in Sanskrit takes the same endings in both cases. This is true whether or not I know that fact, or _even understand that sentence_. Others know it and I could know it too, so I could believe it only if I knew what that sentence meant. But when I can believe that to be true it is because I worked for that knowledge, one way or another. _How_ you believe is matter not only of what you know but of what you are willing to work to achieve. Everyone hates work. Believe me. That's why we need to think about this distinction between belief-as-faith and the harder work of faith-in-belief.

So lemme repeat to see if the point is clear enough. Faith in belief is work, it's the opposite, if you will, of just believing, Some things you don't want to work too hard for. I'm okay with that. I didn't need to go to St John's College to do the "Is the earth really round?" experiment because I believed Mrs Robinson, my second grade teacher. She was belief worthy but not only because she was a sweetheart. I was convinced that _she'd_ done the work and I was blessed merely to believe. Faith in belief is belief earned through an honest, complex effort of examination and cool-minded assessment. We assess the facts for ourselves, but in fact we also assess _people_. We think, "I believe her and I don't believe him." Those assessments, as we have also recently learned quite explicitly, are tests of one's own character. People like the current Governor of Alabama are failing those tests right before our eyes. Now how does that affect your faith in people?

The more cool-minded a belief becomes, the more passionately one believes it because you think you have reason, that you _know_. THIS is the key to "bhakti", at least in the Rajanaka use of the term. A cool mind --- like beliveving the redoubtable second grade teacher that the world is round---brings a passion for the belief and for the person, the group, the institution, the fact you are believing.

Bhakti is feeling the truth of a belief not because you believe it but because you have faith that your belief is worthy of belief. It needs to be worthy of _you_, of the tests of your own heart and the candor that can only come from a cool mind hot on the trail of that belief. That belief could be wrong, so figuring out how you would know _that_ is more important than believing itself

Throw all of that worth and "worthy of" away and you have Trump and by that I mean one has to forsake every intellectual skill along with the content of belief for the sake merely of believing. Put another way, more scary indeed, you want to believe someone who wants to _use_ your belief rather than ask you to_ test his_. This can feel satisfying only if you never learned the difference between belief +as+ faith and the kind of belief that _makes you_ have faith. We test not our faith but our beliefs. This means we have to _learn_ to test beliefs and be invited to do that, no matter how heartfelt the conviction or who we are being asked to believe. People may certainly disappoint, even shock you because they do things that rattle your faith in them, and that's because you had reasons for that faith, you _believed_ stuff that you thought you had assessed correctly, or you now have new information or are willing to face the information.

So I guess I don't really jest, I mean it when I say I don't have the God-gene. I cannot manage any degree of belief-as-faith, much less have faith without belief that is not hard work. My faith is never hard work because that's work I did when I was asked to believe. I am relieved to discover that my belief that every argument I have ever heard for believing in God is far less believable than those that reject those claims. Not believing is faith in belief because faith as belief only tells you that you have faith, _and nothing else_. Faith as faith is then another monism, another utterly useless oneness that bears only on how it makes you feel because thinking becomes secondary. I am faithful to the beliefs that I have _worked hard_ to arrive at, not because those beliefs _must_ be true, but because truth is more than what we want to believe or are told to believe. Truth is earned the hard way: by learning, testing, revising, sometimes rejecting, repeat.

Bhakti traditions are complex because it's natural and easy to reduce belief to faith. But there is such a thing as Rajanaka bhakti, and that is faith in beliefs that, however they may be revised or even disappoint, you have to work some to believe at all.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Our American Thanksgiving with A Side of Yoga

Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is perhaps our most American of holidays, even more so than the 4th of July. This is because it is as much an invention of mythologies that we use to conceal our more complex and painful truths as it is an expression of simple and genuine human possibilities. We gather not to claim freedom but in undissembling acknowledgment that life shared is itself a grateful wonder.

If Franklin had had his way and the turkey had become our national symbol I somehow doubt this naturally patrician creature would have become our national food. Would we really eat the symbol that means to capture our lofty collective imagination? Instead we have the President “pardon” one in a ritual that reminds us that that could be any of us, or at least most of us but those powerful enough to pardon themselves.

Among the first generation immigrant American families that I know, Thanksgiving is nearly always their favorite holiday, no matter what other religious or birthplace remembrance warrants sentiment or honor. Whatever you eat, this holiday is about sharing food, and that might be so human an endeavor that we couldn’t even be without it. Freud was wrong, you know. Sex is not the first category that defines us. It is food.

The Veda proclaims in both celebration and guileless reflection, “The eater of food and food indeed are everything here.” (Shatapata Brahmana,, for those in graduate school.) This is no mere culinary metaphor, I submit to you. This is a description of life organizing itself around our most primal terms dehi me dadami te, “give to me, I give to you,” (Taittiriya Samhita,, or as Ovid put it, “dō ut dēs,” “I give so that you give.” We summon the deities for favor. We eat and unlike the fishes, we are not meant to each other.

The contrast in Sanskrit could not be clearer, “give to me, I give to you” is decidedly not the matsya-nyaya, the law of fish-eat-fish. We are called to something better in order to be human. In the beginning when the creator god Prajapati was fatigued from his battles with death and the demonic, he asked for food. As the Brahmana further declares, “Therefore even now when one who is afflicted gets better he asks for food. Then they are hopeful for him [thinking], 'He asks for food; he will live' " (SB (Gratitude for B.K. Smith for the reference here.) Food is more than mere necessity, it is life itself. But it can be more than that too.

I think this is because to eat together, perhaps with friends or strangers, requires a moment of truce, a momentary détente that places long-standing grievance and simmering discord on hold in favor of more liminal understanding. We can’t really turn these situations into more than a moratorium on our wounds because food doesn’t mean reconciliation. Everything that nourishes also wounds. Even if food also needs to be a form of care and more than an intermission within a life of work and toil, food rarely solves problems as much as it raises issues.

If you are, in truth, not at peace today but holding an armistice party with at least some of the day’s participants, I wish you all the dissembling decency you can muster as a way of making your way to the place of raging calm within. Keep your issues simmering, at least for today. If you are fortunate enough to share company in which there is only the usual human tumult and jangle, then we might consider more about our thanksgiving.

So just two more matters of the mind here to offer a little food for the soul.

First, food is wealth and a successful meal is not only the hero and heorine’s reward, it may be the very evidence of their extraordinary effort and victory. Gratitude to those who cook and clean. The ones who live, eat. The rest may receive their pardon but to go hungry is suffer. Personally, I doubt we will see the Trumps serving it up at a food pantry today as we did the Obamas and Bushes. We live in more troubled times and we should expect that from the way food is a spoil of victory when it could be instead an expression of collective values. I hope we come together today understanding more deeply how much we need to create these values. Let us make the wealth of food something we never hoard but instead offer as gratitude in a world in which too few share life’s bounty.

This leads us to our second point. Food is power, and there are winners and losers here too. The Sanskrit tells us that “everything here lives on food.” (SB, and the Taiitiriya Upanisad (2.2) puts the matter beautifully, starkly, clearly: “They who live on earth, live by food alone, and in the end they return to it.” One way or another, no matter how carefully you tread or how principled your choices, something died today so that you could eat. Few celebrations of life demand that we celebrate with death, but food leaves us no choice. Those with power can share it or, eventually, have it taken from them, which leads us back for one last look at our American Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving deescalates our feuds around a meal and a day and asks of the company we share to be good company on this day. We will be lulled to sleep from shared abundance and hopefully warm pie. We will need endurance and generosity, sometimes just to make it through the event and, under the very best of circumstances, because we hope it does not end.

But, of course, we know it must, not so that we can go consume the next thing in our law of the fishes society but so that we can perhaps remember that what we need, what we demand ---give to me--- comes with a far richer calling, one befitting a holiday of gratitude. It comes with “I give to you.” Make rage a giving heart and suddenly the world becomes a better place. I am grateful for how you have made that clearer still to me over this past year. May we gather again and again to offer and to receive all that is needed, valued, and powerfully life-affirming in a world that shares its bounty.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Money, Sex, and Power Revisited

The Rajanaka Mission
Living From the Core, or Saturday's Sermon

We live in a time when moral diversities challenge every notion we have of ourselves. These situations are as real as our need to find the inner field, the place where we engage the battle for our soul and search for our moral core. By "moral diversities" I mean that our global acculturation requires degrees in history, sympathies and empathies we didn't know we needed or could possess, and serious considerations of power, authority, and leadership that raise every issue of identity and value.

People have different beliefs and behaviors and no matter where we stand as persons, it is no simple matter to claim the moral high ground, insist on intervention, or engage the moral war of choice that claims someone's cause. How we invite ourselves into other peoples' lives has never been more complex ---and I believe that "never been" because we are less than a nanosecond from nearly every corner of the globe. And, of course, the globe is burning, flooding, and being devastated by human beings. How do we recognize anything like universal humanity but from how we are able to see each other in a context, a culture, and a circumstance?

We need more, not less, education to consider our values and choices. No one is exempt from the poignant and painful shadows that hide and command us from deep within our terms of life. No soul is left unscathed, all of us warrant the Buddha's compassion and the Christ's merciful acceptance of the pain that we will all feel. And because we must be better than perpetrators of pain we need to learn how to search deeply for _all_ that lies within the soul, all of our better and all of our worse. We need tools and resources for living in relationship with ourselves, nature, culture, each other.

Yoga traditions have far too often focused ---and, it is not too exaggerated to say, only focused on creating quietist resources for introspection and inner serenity. Modern postural yoga has, in my opinion, gone further than any previous tradition to extending the soul project into the body. But let us be honest, only so much can be accomplished from feeling. We need to be able to _work_ with feelings to understand and address with thinking our experiences.

Yoga has given us plenty of good advice about this, especially from those sources that _refuse the retreat_ into meditation or quietism. No one is ever surprised that I think we can cull more from the Mahabharata and Iliad than we will ever receive from Patanajli, Visuddhimagga, or Abhinavagupta. None of these sources are particularly interested in how we live _in_ the world, much less the battle for a moral core that will contend with living. They all promise some or another supernal state that exempts rather than engages the irresolvable problematics of mortal, conditioned life.

What we learn from the great resources of mythology and particularly the epics is that we must take seriously how people will choose from the menu that reads money, sex, and power. This was as true in 8th century BCE Greece as it was in 400 BCE India and no one needs examples from our current world to consider how depraved and venal we humans can be. Not to be reductive, but the core of the matter can be summarized in this triad: money (being everything that costs us in labor, effort, and living), sex (everything everyone wants from desires that is sensual), and power (everything else that is its own aphrodisiac and its own form of delusion because life always ends in death, no matter what you think comes next.) No one is immune from these needs and requirements of a 21st century life, no matter your personal situations with money, sex, and power. You gotta' have some.

The majority of yoga traditions create their own juxtaposition as antidote. For money, it is renunciation or principled indifference; for sex it is abstinence or divine internalizations; for power it is command _over_ the world by having absolute interior control and mastery (think: YS third book as typical). This prescription works if you are willing to accept that quietism is paramount, social justice is not the truest shadow of cultural achievement, and power leads to goodness because the quietistic life demands as much.  I wish you luck with this prescription because, for me, it's just another way to check out rather than stay checked all the way in.

The best feature of the ascetical yoga traditions ---and this includes all of those neo-Vedantin Advaita traditions that preach some or another moralism and everything we'd think of as "Tantric", like Kashmir Shaivism---is that they do indeed understand that the world _is_ power and that power is the underlying feature of _all_ else: dharma, artha (wealth), and desire (kama). Their offers of liberation are invariably liberation _from_ those human conditions or at best liberation from the worst of those human conditions leaving only the good stuff. Thus they promise us light without darkness and so Dharma without corruption, and all the rest of the idealism that we will never in truth realize.

Christians understood these same issues and the more honest Christians offer some or another version of poverty, chastity and obedience as their money, sex, power alternative. We need not quibble over different Christianities here and while we might take notice of hypocrisies today that defy even the meanest credulities, there's no joy to be found in pointing out how depraved people can be for the holy trinity of money, sex, or power.  Can we learn to act differently given our needs?

Rajanaka's primary mission is to provide a resource of education to anyone who wants it or more of it, just as it is to help young people in India get an education. I'm happy to let others tell of the virtues of quietism or make promises of unconditionality. I want to help people learn to think, teach them _how_ to think not _what_ to think, and create _resources_ that empower us to live lives of value, intimacy, and creativity.

This is the Rajanaka alternative to money, sex, and power. Value is the price of success and failure, and it's focus is a dynamic viability and the precarious challenge of dynamic equilibrium. At different times in our lives we need different resources. How much is enough? How do we manage these acquisitions and needs? Intimacy is defined by the complex relationships we need to make connection with the world and inside ourselves. Don't just fight off your demons, invite them to lunch and feed them so that you can learn to live with them, both you and them will leave less hungry. And creativity---we could call this "artistry" if we think about this as what you want to be and who you know yourself to be---this is the very core of power. You become powerful in your creativity and by your creativity. Go there, all the time, reach towards, draw from it as an inexhaustible resource.

The goal of a Rajanaka life is to learn how to love _all_ of your life, from light to shadow, from success to failure, from achievement to regret--- somehow life's blessing is never to be diminished or underestimated. Bringing other people the blessings, privilege, or opportunity we have had for ourselves is our outreach, our "mission." Our hope is a good conversation, which requires intelligence, endurance, serious doses of tolerance, and honest standards of candor.

Appa respected privacy _deeply_ and never demanded confession, contrition, nor did he offer any absolutions. But we must learn to live deeply with ourselves because that is the only hope we have for living with others. How we learn to live in world that promises pain, irresolvable human conflict, and inexplicable wonder and joy becomes all the richer when we have _learning_ in art and science, in literature and language, in mythologies, creativities, _artistries_ of the heart and mind, in the _great human endeavors_.

We invent the worthy impossible, we aspire to the auspicious boundaries, we make life fun, beautiful, gracious, and honest because we know how hard it really is. And to learn from the humanities is a crucial part of those aims just as it is _as important_ to learn from and about the sciences.

Leadership is not the same as mere power and authority though it is difficult to accomplish without both. So lead with the heart and from the soul's core. We almost always know right from wrong, so be that person that leads with what's right and you will learn to live with your wrongs. But never leave your good sense, your _learning_, or the conversation behind. We need each to act from that moral center and however flawed and regretful we may be, we can excavate that core so that there is no rot or malignancy, and from that place of decency we may carry on. Carry on. Rage calmly.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Everybody Loves Rudra But No One Wants to Admit It

Everybody Loves Rudra
But No One Wants to Admit It

What I am about to write is not good for business.  I tell myself that almost every time I come to this page where I know I have sympathetic listeners.  But I know it's true.  We human beings do not like our truth drenched in acidic facts and you can't tell me that you don't like the puppy story that ends _every_ broadcast of the nightly news.  What we _want_ to be true and what we sorta'kinda' have to admit to ourselves is true is a fundamental breach, an incongruity that makes us really not like incongruity.  Oh for the world to be more like a south Indian coffee: hot, sweet, satisfying, and accessible so long as their is milk available.

What I mean too is that we like to think of ourselves more like the Buddha: the world suffers and we must be compassionate.  We don't like to think about how rage, anger, and seige motivate us to our better angels or to our exigent needs.  We're not sure about Rudra.  How could we be?  He's not sure about you either.  I'm telling you, you love Rudra.  It's just hard to admit it.  He loves you but only if you take out the wrecking ball.

I come by this kinda' naturally because I got beat up on the streets of Jersey and then got beat up again at Harvard.  I am sure you have your story too.  But don't we all wish it were more like, "I left home because I needed to find a deeper truth, suffered some of my own accord, sat under a tree and got enlightened, then spent the rest of my life helping people." (Apologies to the Buddha for being so hard on him here, but you know, it's heuristic, skillful means and all that)  So you mean, you too aren't the historical Buddha?  Shazam, Goober.  Neither am I.  It goes more like this,

"I was raised out of steel here in the swamps of Jersey, some misty years ago
Through the mud and the beer, and the blood and the cheers, I've seen champions come and go
So if you got the guts mister, yeah if you've got the balls
If you think it's your time, then step to the line, and bring on your wrecking ball..."  (N.B., Boss time break here, my favorite kind.)

It's Rudra time.  Get out your howlin' wolf, let it bleed, there _are_ tears in heaven.  Start there.

We prefer to to flourish but fail to admit that we feel this comfort because there is some safety net beneath us, we want to be comfortable enough because we need that comfort to believe we can flourish.  This is a mistake we all make.  We don't like discomfort, strife, or crisis not only because the are all too real but also because we want to reject their being _the ordinary state of affairs_.  I sort of never tire of reminding that the best part of the Gita's argument is that we are need to _notice_ what is going on _first_ and when we do, well, it's a call to arms.  That makes me sound like I am celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution (which it so happens to be) but it's not the same.  There's no violence being advocated, only vigilance and determination to take the world to be as threatening, precarious, and downright predatory as it is to we fragile (but oh so resilient) human beings.

The call to arms is called in Mahabharata the "call to the yoke," and there you have it.  If you live in a house of lac (see the Mbh story about arsonist murder attempts), you had better make sure that the Kidde Corporation's fire extinguisher that was just recalled is not the one sitting ready for _that day_ when in fact it _is_ just that one that was just recalled.  (Nothing like a true story early in the morning about fire extinguishers, eh?)  So it's surely sure that the call to the yoke ---that old fashioned warrior's summons to get the kids in the car, make sure there's gas, and head out with the dog on the roof (thanks, Mitt), is just moments away.  Do _you_ know where your car keys are?

Here's the take away, and it's important.  Hate does not win.  Violence is always the very last resort.  But anger and rage, however they bring their own consequences, are valuable, important facts of human nature.  By wide margins in last night's election results Democratic voters said that their vote was _against_ Trump and motivated by anger, dismay, and determination prompted by rage.  Victory is sweet, is it not?

Knowing what you are for is a luxury position and the sort of thing that gives you pause and makes you debate yourself and those you like (and don't).  Knowing more clearly what upsets you, what turns on the rage, that is of course easier but also _much more problematic_ because it's a short step to thinking less and feeling more.  That feel, don't think is going to cause real problems you don't want.  If you doubt me on that reference Arjuna at the Gita's opening and just exactly what Krsna says to him when he is all a puddle and starts making up his own reasons for things. If you find yourself doing that thing, then that thing you're doing, don't do that.

So what we need is rage with serenity.  Rage on, calmly.  Put your intelligence is that space of peace and remember that the binaries of emotion ---like this, hate that--- they "come and go" and are _just part of the story_.  Deal. Cope. Endure.  MAKE DO.  That is the first thing put first.  "This is the teaching according to the Reckoning (Samkhya)..." and that comes _before_ you can hear "the teaching that yokes to your intelligence," also known as yoga.  When you get there, to yoga, you find that in the center of peace is rage but that that rage doesn't debilitate you and that it brings with it _all of your intelligence_ (buddhi is the word) and discernment (more buddhi).

Rage with intelligence and you will rise to the occasion.  Otherwise you can just go sit beneath the tree and when you get up pretend that being nice will solve everything.  Good luck with that.  Rage can do you wonders.  So long as you don't screw it up.  That's the key.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Lying and Leveling, A Rajanaka Experiment in Living

Over on Rajanaka Storm I wrote yesterday about Lying and Leveling with People.  You can find that archive here:

The thesis there was more political inasmuch as the choice is LIE BIG to (1) get the meme into people's heads ("Medicare for all!!"), (2) force the argument forward with promises you can't keep, and (3) deal with the consequences of not being able to deliver on those promises because you knew all along that it was based on bullshit or simply too impractical, not real enough.  Or the alternative, which is LEVEL with people: this is what's possible, this is what's likely going to happen, this is at least for now what we know and what we can say is most likely.   This line of thought also presents a different kind of chance to talk about our deeper processes of self-inquiry, our needs and hopes and dreams, what "mystery" means, and how Appa taught me Rajanaka.

Rajanaka began with two critical agendas.

First, Appa having been reared in the most orthodox worlds of caste and tradition was determined to change things.  He wholly and vociferously rejected the social and cultural prejudices of his society.  He would tolerate no such oppression and spent his life speaking out against caste, sexism, homophobia, racism, and injustice against the oppressed.  When he got involved with purchasing the Srividyalaya school he did so because he knew it could become a focal point for social change and a platform from which he could reach into the community.  Inviting me to live in his house was politically and culturally risky, not only for him, but for his whole family.  But Appa wanted a better world, little by little and again and again, he said, we would _not_ stop doing some good.  I have often asked myself how this man, born an orthoprax brahmin in a village in 1936, raised without a father from infancy, how did he come to these values?  This is another story to tell at greater length.

Second, Appa was equally determined to go toe to toe with Indian philosophy and religion.  Let me put it bluntly: he thought most of what was said about bondage and liberation was utter nonsense.  The crux of his objection was that it was founded on Big Lies.  Sure the diagnosis of yoga traditions is irrefutable: this embodied, mortal condition is going to suffer and its temporality is problematic by nature.  Who can argue with samsara?  Certainly Appa didn't even as he reminded us time and again that we are the lucky ones, we made the cut, we survived, and we're here to be grateful for life itself, and to give something back.  People will hurt. So what are you going to do about that?  But the Big Lie comes with the claims to liberation because no matter how you cut that cake liberation means liberation-from the terms of the human condition.  You can arrive at an immunized samadhi, you can claim Oneness that dissolves the dualist experience, you can say you have powers over the experiences of suffering, you can say you are god or that you know god or that having become one with the Unconditional you have arrived at an ultimacy of exception, invulnerable from the world's travails and free-to act from this place of "liberation."

Appa thought this was quite the sell, much like I argued yesterday about politics.  In other words, people seem to need to hear these kinds of stories and claims about liberation, about freedom from suffering, some razored edge distinction between "pain" and "suffering" as if we can't avoid the former but most certainly can be exempt from the latter.  People want there to be answers, a god, a method that really does exempt us from the facts of embodied life and its terminal conclusion.  To put it another way, a good life followed by extinction seems just not good enough for most and everyone wishes there's more and something else.  Rajanaka isn't here to dissuade you or deride your needs or attack your feelings.  Everyone has to tell the story she or he needs to hear just to make it through the day ---we need to be compassionate and gracious to peoples' beliefs.  And life itself is fraught with depth and mystery that leaves _all_ knowledge unfinished, incomplete, and partial.  What we don't know, can't know, and aren't going to find out is as real as all that we think we do.  What we can find out about ourselves is hard work and demands from us commitments to learning and practice, to criticism and painful evaluation.

One of the principles of Tantra has always been its various claims to secrecy and exclusivity.  There are initiations, secret mantras and decoder rings (like you get only from Cracker Jack), and other stuff that is supposed to make you feel Really Special.  You can even nowadays get Certified and use a Capital Letter too in words like Divine and Consciousness and think there are Tantric credentials and stuff.  Like you got something Really Special that somehow isn't what the rest of us already have but don't know it?  I'm not confused by the claims, just not all that interested.

So here is where Rajanaka wants to cut out the Lies that we tell and may even NEED to tell in politics because we need to get people's attention, more than just us.  Rajanaka thinks leveling with you is not necessarily something you want or will like.  Rajanaka doesn't want you not to have what you want or need.  So Rajanaka's idea of leveling with you may not be for you.  I'm kinda' thinking that if you are here and have tolerated these sorts of ideas this many years, you're more or less good with these sorts of ideas.

The Vedic world ---the one before all of the bondage and liberation models--- taught us to live healthy and prosperous lives, be generous and relentlessly committed to justice, decency, and compassion for all living things.  Who could disagree?  At death we return to the ocean of memories from which we emerged and what "survives" death is largely undiscussed.  Appa said that we won't remember our memories after death even as you become memory.  He was being nice, but what he was saying is that we don't survive death but in the form of living memories and information (like DNA) that we won't experience.  We're, umm, dead.  And that's not so bad, I mean you weren't too upset about not living _before_ you got here, right?

But as for these states or claims of any sort that somehow give you power _over_ suffering, exemption _from_ suffering, and then tell you you are somehow going to be immortal in ways that exempt you from death well, as far as Rajanaka is concerned: this is not leveling with people.  Leveling with people is not popular.  It has certainly not been a great business model.  It's easier to sell smoke, mirrors, and certificates. It's harder to love a life that is limited, mortal, and always conditioned, fersure.  It's not even religion to sell anything else, especially if you don't include some claim to the Big Enchilada ---call it enlightenment, whatever, it's liberation.

So if we are not free-from death, much less suffering, then what do we have to live for?  First, each other because you didn't get here alone, aren't alone, and you'll likely leave behind you plenty that bears your imprint.  Second, living to love this life is a complex, messy, unresolvable endeavor but oh so worth it.  There is beauty and nature, there are the astonishing achievements of human culture, from science to mythology and art, and there is your own heart's desire.  Whatever you think is your heart's desire, Rajanaka has a simple message: there's more, way more, always more than you have yet found in this mortal coil.  Stay in the conversation of exploration, never let up, ask every difficult question, and to fullest extent of your very being, try to level with yourself too.

Monday, September 11, 2017

A Spiritual Life Inside the Maelstrom? Dialing 9/11 and Accepting the Invitation to Choose

When we let others choose for us, we need to know that choice will keep us safe or at least make an investment in our present goodness. It's going to be some time before we get to vote again in America for any palpable hope for collective change. So today I'm taking some warm advice from Charles Blow who writes, "...give a bit more space for the activities that celebrate the creative imagination and that express the long tumultuous span of the human condition." 

This same bid for sanity is as well the very heart and soul of the yoga called "Rajanaka." No astral tales of wistful enlightenment or claims of an ennobled exemption from our human situation. No strategies promising soporific peace. Instead an invitation to the conversation welcoming the bounty of mortality as the ostensible gift we can all share. I am ravenous for the real, for the colorable world of many colors. What do you want? Ask yourself that, not to become the follower of any "path" but instead to find your own heart and to choose for yourself what you want from life.

But do choose. Choose a way to live in these troubled times that does you and the world some honest good. Remember how choice is a human privilege we must not diminish or imprison in fear or anger or ideology. We must make choices that can shape shared futures, not merely our own. What risks are worth such a gambit? That being human _together_ is indeed our best hope? Find a way for yourself to celebrate that human condition, no matter what more you want. That's a plan we can all measure and practice without taking anything that isn't on offer to everyone. Apologies that this little sermon turned up on Monday. But today is Monday, September 11th.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Weather, the News, the Dream

Hurricanes, you mean another one?  Don't be lulled by the flavor-free names, there's another after this one.
Then there's news about that guy. Every single day it's just more insane.
And now we have Dreamers who have to worry about dreaming in this life?
It's not so much about facing the facts as it is living in them.

I’ve been hearing a lot about death, devastation, and possible armageddon lately. Some of these cats who've died aren't that much older than I am now. And I’m taking this all very personally. So rather than ponder news we thought unthinkable, let's make this personal.
I need to ask you something.
I want you to do me a favor.

Don't pass me first on the way to oblivion.

I've studied immortality my whole life, professionally even, and I suppose that's why it generates such a splenetic inner conversation. There's no doubt that my lifelong interest is my own shadow's reflex to the greater certainty of annihilation.

Why is it so hard to allow ourselves the feeling that we simply cease to exist? What's the fuss and anxiety about while we're still living? I still study religion because I'm interested in avoidance and the ways we humans will do just about anything to give ourselves the slip. In India the masterpieces of consolation are astonishingly understated, usually involving ineffable alternatives that perfect, annihilate the annihilation, and otherwise promise a promotion to "bliss" when you’re finally up to it. Western monotheisms play a different gambit, usually involving some impressive sounding next life.

When it's all a mystery of some Knowing Eternal, refuge is in the invisible. We've learned while living that invisible things have meaning, like when we feel love. I’m for that. Why should we desist from efforts to describe in detail what we can't know but feel? As for the Almighty Boss, the western traditions make him (always a him) more demanding in the here and now than I could ever honestly tolerate. I'm all for following the rules, so long as we say we make them up. His rules? Not so much. I’ve never been a fan of The Man.

What exactly are the rules? These are always more open to interpretation than religious like to admit. But they have a solution to that: claim you are the Commander's counsel, or better, his authorized agent, his dealer, that you control the warranty. This will let you claim the Great Unknown as familiar territory and let you say that you know a lot about it. You might also get to wear a really cool hat. Think Pope or Dalai Lama. These superintendents of El Jefe tell us he the cares deeply about all sorts of stuff that we can't quite connect to either oblivion or eternity, like who we sleep with, what we eat, and what sort of hat you may not wear. If you're gay or somehow not in the pre-approved lot, there’s more than your credit score you can’t know. You may find it harder to buy a wedding cake than you ever imagined in this life.

My favorite versions of the Honcho tell us that he loves us so much he has plans to barbecue us in a kind of treacle that promises Him an everlasting flavor beyond our comprehension. So be good, or else. Love him, or else. And on a really good day, just plead for mercy and say yes to that dress you'll only wear when everyone else alive can still see it.

My point is simple enough, there's just a lot of fear. Not just the usual insurmountable anxiety because there's a real coda and then an ending but because we spend a lot of time programming in more fear about what's next _right here_ in the land of the living. We want inoculation and spend our time catechizing fantasies. I’m going instead with the ruse that living now is all the difference I can make.

I will do my level best to resist your explanations of eternity that's anywheres near as good as living but I won't resent them either. Everyone needs a way to get through this world with love, mercy, and a whole lot of tolerance for beliefs that make no sense when you’re willing to admit it. What I won't do is accommodate your religion if you're homophobia, or your need to force women to do your will, or your plans for war include me. We've seen the consequences of voting Republican and they aren't pretty.

I’m not sure I'm cool yet with oblivion, pretty sure that that's what on offer, and I’m going to ask now for two favors instead of one. First, if you love your life now, I am sure, really sure we can be friends. The second one was what caused me to write all this in the first place. Please don't pass me first on the way out. I have had enough of that for a lifetime already.