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.