Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Who Cares? When You Do.

A Brief Note on False Consolations, Better Worlds, and Santa's Proper Job
I'm grading undergraduate papers today and must finish them---there are plenty left in this pile. I read every word because it's my job. I am a creature of duty. How quaint, eh? I was also glancing into Hitchens who I admire so deeply that I don't feel any need to agree even when I agree. He's that good at _his_ job. The quotation at the bottom of this little tirade will get me through today.

I will be more compassionate and understanding than their poor writing warrants reminding me that we make whatever goodness there is in this world. They are learning something writing these papers---well, hopefully---and I am revisiting old lessons about life. A better world is a made world, an invented world, a world that is created and we alone are its creators. We flawed, imperfect, confused, mixed up humans. So much the better.

One of the better ideas promulgated by some few Hindus---at least insofar as such a thing can be said at all---is that there really is room for those of us, who like Hitchens says, detest religion for saying things that are not only false consolations but become testimonies of human vanity, being both false and inexcusable.

I've long gotten past the idea that people---in fact, many people---need these kinds of "consolations," just to claim some thing is "divine" or that we are human for them. People will say almost anything to get by, through, and into feeling better about a world that on its own terms promises nothing and delivers without any of our pleadings in mind.  We make our nests; we live in them.

For the record, there is nothing, not.one.thing. in Rajanaka that Appa ever taught me (or that I have said over these many years) to suggest that the world has us somehow in its care or cares about us. She mothers us by providing, not by caring. WE must do the caring of each other and that seems to be much more to the point. That mother nature is blind, pitiless, and indifferent to everything and that we _might_ survive and flourish on _its_ terms is, in truth, the real comfort to me. It gives Momma a break that she doesn't need and it places the responsibility on us to make life worthy of living.

I don't want the universe or god or any damn thing else knowing or looking out or having a f'in plan, which of course it doesn't, can't and never has. Santa can kiss my ass too. Instead I want the burdens of care placed solely on us: we humans must decide to care, care and invite others to care. That doesn't make us divine anymore than it makes us human. (Plenty of humans don't act like they care whatsoever, thank you, Mr President.) But it does make it possible to be something that nature alone does not insist we be. That could be a "new" or better definition of "divine."

But on this point Hitchens nails it again:

I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with "you" in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.
--Christopher Hitchens

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Ayyappa, Ayyappa Vrata, and the Gift of Living A Brief Note About Pilgrimage as Practice

It's 12 days to India now. This morning I vowed Ayyappa. So a few words about what that means, at least to me. Pilgrimage seems like such a religious thing, such a construct of anachronism and folly, even cultural appropriation. And we all know how dangerous that is, personally, politically, one can hardly breathe without stealing or borrowing something. Not even the air that we breathe.

Pilgrimage seems so not of today but for the superstitious. For me it is anything but that, not because I am immune to superstition but because I want to think about life and need _more ways_ to think and feel being alive. So let's talk now about one of the gods, an important one in Rajanaka lore. Ayyappa you may have heard something about from me. Here's a bit more.

In linguist's terms the word "Ayyappa" is a compound back formation, which means it's made up of two words and, in this case, _which_ words is subconsciously, deliberately, or accidentally ambiguous.

First the easy part. The -pa ending can be both the Dravidian (Tamil, etc.) contraction of appa, meaning father, daddio, big cheese, that guy with a lot of affection because that's why it's shortened. It can also be the IE (Vedic, Sanskrit) verbal root /pa, meaning to protect, to guard (like the literal door guardians called "dvārapāla-s" and other comparable words). So if we take "Ayyappa" as a kind of manipravala (literally what we call a jewel-jewel word, mani is Skt for "jewel," "prabala" is Tamil (also likely a shared word or borrowed?) for coral=jewel, then it is a combination word using both Skt and Tamil and _that_ is also _another kind of_ sammelana, a commingling word (Skt concept) that uses multiple intimations and meanings assigned from two different languages (or more). We can discuss both maniprabala language and the rich, complex notion of sammelana further at another time. Just to be very brief "sammelana" is what makes Natarajar appear so masculine _and_ feminine and still _more_, other, broken, and wholly possessed of all of that, all at once. Got that?

The first part of the word "Ayya-" is similar as a jeweljewel sammelana, thus it could mean the Tamil "ayya" or "aiyar" which is an honorific of appa plus the deep Skt influence of arya being pronounced in Tamil. When a Tamil addresses a man, particularly older and respected, he is called "ayya" or "anna" for older brother, or ayyar where the extra -ar ending means to convey respect as in the nominative formation of Natarajar in Tamil. Thus Ayyappa means not only the god who you recognize as the "third son", the golden child, who is lord of ghosts and "learned in Dharma" (called in Skt "Dharmaśāsta), he is the respect we offer to the recognition of "protection." Let's move on to that idea.

One who protects is truly "learned in Dharma" in the true sense of all of Dharma's complexity regarding shadow and light: the very best of us fail, don't see all, can't finish knowledge, and all the rest that is hidden; the very best must make deeply compromising choices, make mistakes, and can't perfectly get it right. Mythically, of course, Ayyappa is the son of betrayal and of consoling love of his mother. He is the bastard son of Vishnu and Shiva. And most of what is said on the internet has little to do with the ways Rajanaka tells these stories. We'll have more time to tell more stories, including Ayyappa stories. Sometimes we call him Aiyannar. The words actually are not confusing but they are complex.

Dharma means that there is an armature of decency, character, and empowerment in creating meaningful boundaries and making difficult decisions with clarity, humility about "rightness," and wise reflection on the realities of unforeseen possibilities. Dharma tries to make good on a world that has not decided it is good or isn't good or is indifferent to goodness but for what we can make. "Studying" that is called śasana, being learned is called being a śasta, and such a state of wisdom takes provenance, time, study, reflection, failure, and continuing work.

Hence Ayyappa is Dharmaśasta. He is the warm, embracing protection that _respects_ the depth of Dharma as it holds us and keeps us safe in world that is never, ever safe, much less from ourselves. To respect respect itself is critical but Ayyappa is also feral, furious, the lord of ghosts, consorts with the darkness of the forest; as a child he is abandoned by his parents, raised by a tiger-pawed sage who is morphing into primal danger, and keeps the company of all that is imperiling and filled with risk, fugitive terror, subject to all that is capricious, unpredicted, stochastic, and relentlessly endangering.

Ayyappa is wild in the truest natural sense: primally aware but not always successful, keen to be instinctual but capable of that strange way humans alone (among things we know) can _learn_ but can't conquer. He resides most at home in the depths of the forest and the forest is the unconscious. Everything originates there, in the unconscious, and Ayyappa is present every step of the way towards every surface, revelation, appearance, and form. What does it look like when the furthest reaches of the unknown manifest? It looks like you.

Ayyappa is the place, the thought and feeling, the ways we connect to honoring, respecting the gift of a brief, mortal life that ends and begins. To become further attuned, to touch that source we go to our forest of feelings and into the great matrix of thought. We go to the places where he is she, she is them, all is, and where every difference is real and respected but where separation can never be so real that we are separate.

One thing is two and more, two and more reside in one, but two is never other to itself. Duck, rabbit, duckrabbit, etc. But to see is to try to see more. Because there is always more, there is no end, no liberation, no finality to learning and growth, there is death and in the meantime love and savor life. Truly, come to respect and protect and honor being given the gift of life---as far as you can, with power and privilege further paid forward. And so we honor, -pa, we protect, -pa, and we call it by the name we all hope to deserve "ayya," which then means that others see your character and your desire to do good and be good. "Ayya" is when people love you for what you have to offer, who you really are, it is when you are seen and acknowledged for being, just for being, and that is certainly good enough. Ayyappa means reveling in what is worthwhile and worthy, and that is your humanity itself.

So when we take on an Ayyappa vrata, a turn or vow to Ayyappa we try to create a context for those feelings, ideals, aspirations, and acknowledge that we are grateful to be alive. This means we will have to make ourselves _feel_ in body, mind, heart---and make ourselves touch what is uncomfortable, discomforting, extracting something from the "vow." What are you prepared to do about "it"? Whatever "it" you decide that to be? That is the nature of the vow. And the object of the vow is to become more Ayyappa, more of what it could mean.

Ayyappa has gender but no gender, more gender, less gender, any way and every way we are called to respect life, the fury all living things experience being _alive_. And then Ayyappa is all that acknowledges that life's treasure, it's gold, it's ghee and adornment, it's beauty and wonder is fragile and durable, powerful and vulnerable, the sammelana that happens when two things become three.

One and one is two in the worlds of śāstra (learning), one and one is three in worlds of poetry and myth (the poet is kavi, Ayyappa is called kaviraja, poetic sovereign), and then it all goes forward and back from there, without any required purpose, end, meaning, or goal. It just goes. Ayyappa asks who do you want to be, who do you imagine or wish you were, who are you---all at once.

So now 12 days before I breathe in India again, I take an Ayyappa vrata. This means I will demand a few things from my body, do and deny a few things to make me feel more, be a normal person outside and an Ayyappa inside. Until I reach India then I get to be just a little more Ayyappa on the outside too. Who do you want to be? What do you want from a brief, moral life? Ayyappa is not the answer and offers only answers but much more importantly is all of the questions. What questions do you ask? Could you? Can you? That is why you take an Ayyappa vrata.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Is Rajanaka "religion"? A Note to a Friend

I wrote this first as a personal email to a friend for whom I have very deep regard. He happens to be a colleague, a college professor of history, so the tone here is meant to speak to our common concerns and shared educational values. He raised serious and basic questions about Rajanaka and especially about Rajanaka pilgrimage. I almost immediately turned my reply into a more for-everyone response. It's typically lengthy. In addition to being deeply accomplished and a gifted critical thinker, he's also sorta' new around here and I will never tire of trying to describe and explain what Appa so patiently taught me more than 40 years ago about Rajanaka. If any or all seems familiar to you, I hope it too inspires beginner's mind and opens all again to inquiry. Aappa wanted simple things first: dignity, education, support, affection, and respect. But he never thought those things were easy. The easy stuff is learning things anyone can learn, like some Sanskrit or the names of all of the gods.

Let's talk about this basic question just for fun not because all good conversation is fun but because no one else in the world needs to take this question seriously other than, say, me. Any of you who use the word "Rajanaka" have always made your own peace with its meanings precisely because that is what "Rajanaka" is _meant_ to be.

Appa encouraged me (actually it was as close to an imperative as anything he ever "suggested") to create my own sensibilities and meanings. So what is left if most is left up to you? That's a question within, behind the question that we began with. If you don't care or don't use the word "Rajanaka" other than to refer to what we do here (or what Appa or I have said), I'm only presuming we are true friends, that being all he ever hoped of me.

I'm going to take this in two pieces. First, the ways Rajanaka is _like_ religion and uses religion(s). Second, how Rajanaka is most decidedly _not_ like religion or like most religions I can reference. Since I'm, you know, a professor in a Religion & Classics Department, I'm presuming the ability to function with a bit of "outsider-ness"---in the profession we call this "etic", the view from "outside" a social group---while I'm also "emic", couldn't be more of an "inside" than this. Much of this will bore you. Because, really, who cares? It's axiomatic that I never assume anyone should or will care about ideas I find interesting.

Like a religion...

*Provenance and Tradition
Rajanaka originates in conversations rooted unambiguously in Hindu worlds. Think of this as concentric circles or our proverbial matryoshka dolls, which is how to best understand all forms of Hinduism. Working the dolls from the inside out, that is, from the particular which means the "lineage" out towards larger segments of tradition tells the story most accurately. (You never learn to generalize by learning things in general.) Rajanaka begins within the larger Nataraja Chidambaram setting, including its principal conversants being raised in that environment of images, ideas, myths, rituals, customs, and values. This already makes Rajanaka an outlier among Shaivisms of south India because Nataraja is unlike other gods and temples: it decenters the sanctum, does not privilege the linga as image, has its own rules (far, far more "liberal" than others), has no direct association with any ideology or theology, and creates no authority for source material or interpretation. The temple runs on custom, not doctrine: this is crucial because it invokes orthopraxy (do it) over orthodoxy (believe it, say it).

Sitting side by side the Nataraja center, co-equal such as it is, is the Great Goddess, the Tantra of Auspicious Wisdom or Shrividya, which has no direct historical connections with the temple other than that it's ubiquitous among Shaiva-Shakta centers across south India. Within any ordinary definition of Shrividya as doctrine or ideology, Rajanaka is heresy, an outlier, very much not like any other lineage I have studied (i.e., hundreds in text and anthropology). Where Rajanaka is like other Shrividyas is in conceptual symbolism and practices---all of which are interpreted by _every lineage_ to suit themselves. We do the stories, images, many of the pujas (not all, others don't do ours), practices, etc. that are common to nearly all Shrividya. Rajanaka begins within this context at least four or five generations before me---Appa spoke with clarity and familiarity about three sets of elders in the lines (parampara) of transmission (i.e., conversation over the same material). All of these conversants created a sammelana, that is, a commingling of the complex of Nataraja myths (plus temple lore, associations) and Shrividya.|

So Rajanaka is a parampara, just like other traditional lineage teachings, and one that has a central body that comes from geography, canons of philosophers and those employing imagery, myth, ritual, and practices (things we do like darshan, puja, meditations). It's a strange form of Shrividya with a Nataraja source, that's the simplest provenance solution. Appa extends back three or four generations and there are real names and real persons associated with that learning and "passing along." We are not based on a mystical claim or a reclamation theory (i.e., revival after loss, like all the neo-Kashmir Shaivisms). Does Rajanaka itself go back further than, say, about the middle of the 18th century? I have no historical information about that. Appa said that because it evolves in _every generation_ because it uses contemporary ideas, it's more like evolution via natural selection---it changes with the mutations that survive each generation. This is, I think, the wisest description of our continuities and connections. See the list of ways we are _not_ like religions for a further comment on this matter.

The details of the content of Rajanaka traditions are what you have all been learning in seminars and camps and pilgrimage for the last nearly 20 years now. I’m on Rajanaka year 41 and let’s say year about 44 of committed studies in Hinduism and the comparative study of religions.

To summarize, first, like other Hinduisms, Rajanaka has a history within the complexities of history, geography, language, social organization, ideologies, and practices. The most important take away is that Rajanaka does not adhere or draw its teachings or interpretations in concordance with any historical figures, schools, or canons. Rather, Rajanaka puts itself in conversation with these sources and finds itself largely at odds with basic and foundational claims. Why? First, it is the nature of a Rajanaka conversation to desist from any dogma or doctrine that avers the critical examination. Critical thought is, by every modern definition, a secular enterprise. More about this shortly. Second, Rajanaka takes what we might call "the Vedic attitude," which unlike later Hinduism has _no_ concept of final liberation, the "realized being" (pick your term here: buddha, siddha, et.al.), or mystical states that somehow exempt us from the terms of our limited, mortal condition. The Veda declares "give to me, I give," and so creates the "attitude" that life is for living, with all its imperfections, incompletions, successes and failures. Rajanaka _uses_ Hindu canons of myth (textual and oral), ritual, etc., but interprets them wholly from within "Vedic attitudes." Lots of detail here to reference later.

Rajanaka also draws deeply from certain other religions, particularly Buddhism. Appa was far more learned than any of his predecessors in Buddhism, Confucian and Taoist traditions, basically in the history of religions. He incorporated a great deal from this material as he did from western and secular literatures. You don't find this in other traditional Hinduisms but it is not terribly uncommon in what we call Neo-Hinduisms and other kinds of Perennialist formulations.

Not like a "religion"...
*Method and Purpose
Rajanaka method is grounded on secular humanistic inquiry that focuses on empirical processes of "argument." To wit, our "famous" triadic referencing of ask _any_ question, follow evidence where it leads, and always attempt to undermine your best argument with other arguments. Knowledge is provisional, unfinished, incomplete, and works within the confines of what is generally understood to be modern "scientific method." As far as I can tell, this has been a founding principle, meaning that Appa always described Rajanaka as method rather than any doctrine. As one scientist recently put it, "The history and purpose of science has been to supplant itself, throw out old paradigms as they reach a crisis and are supplanted by new ones. This never happens in theology."

If Rajanaka is a "theology" inasmuch as it uses and talks about gods (demons, etc.), then it is a science and artistry dedicated to the gods. The god are us, we are every character in the story. But the author has a point: religions do not generally desire or claim to "throw out" their old paradigms and, by the way, don't let the Buddhists fool you about this either. They too, even in their most subversive forms of doctrine, claim doctrines, not merely heuristic devices. For example, all Buddhisms claim enlightentment, buddhas, and magical powers, even Zen and Theravada based versions. There are nowadays "secular Buddhisms" that share much in common with Rajanaka's secular methodologies and humanist concerns.

*Evolutionary Identity and Individual Interpretation

Not only does Rajanaka leave it up to you to think and feel and put things in your own perspective, it's method encourages that kind of inquiry. If you wander off the reservation of secular method, I get nervous about what you might claim but it's a principle too of secular method that our personal madnesses are personal and so can't really be verified or refuted. Try not to be too crazy and do your best to stick to what we think we do know--it's the method of asking that makes us us and that's wholly "secular." Rajanaka changes with every generations' acquisition of more information, better evidence, more critical arguments. It certainly has changed dramatically in the past 40 years and has especially become more inclusive of the finding of critical thinking: history, language, science, etc.

Rajanaka takes up secular argument as its method not because its perfect, flawless, or incontrovertible but because none of those things apply. "Argument" (this is a technical term, it's not quarreling) is simply what we think is better than other kinds of evidence finding and inquiry. Arugments are replaced with "better" arguments and we think we can do that because human beings learn, albeit always imperfectly. No perfection, no finality, but a real commitment to "at present this is the best we got..." and that makes for some kind of truth. There's no higher truth, nothing but our hard-won human efforts to learn.

*Goals and Outcomes

Religions promise or claim things that Rajanaka does not advocate or express much interest in. Things like afterlife or much of what is deemed mystical knowledge is not on the docket. Other typical claims are more overtly rejected. For example, to claim a superior human state that solves the problematics of the human condition (with all its flawsn and shadows) is outrightly rejected as anachronistic and morally suspect. To claim that someone is somehow exempt or relieved of full human accountability, is immune or beyond foible or flaw in any way is dangerous and _de-humanizing_.

This means that about 99.9% of all claims for buddha, siddha, guru, etc. are regarded as religious assertions and, more importantly, are _deeply suspect_ for their implications. Abuse, misuse of power, structural privilege and prejudice certainly follow from even the most innocent interpretations of these basic concepts. Of course there is real human achievement, deep respect for learning and obvious needs for hierarchies of merit---but it is much like the American experiment as Thomas Paine put it: "the law is the king" and that means it can change, that its interpreters are often deeply flawed, and that no one beyond its ideals or merits.

Rajanaka uses "Dharma" to mean an ideal that of "laws" that must be constantly subject to reappraisal, evolution, and revision. Imperfect as we are, we are trying to make things fair and use principles of human equality. When Appa invited an American teenager to live in his orthoprax south Indian Brahmin home he was making a cultural, political, and religious statement. His religious statement was revolutionary and largely apostasy by any conventional standard. He looked at us as _human beings_, nothing more and never less. Rajanaka's goal is a life well-lived and life deeply loved. Making that opportunity possible for others and one's self is our goal. How you decided to love your life is something Appa _wanted_ to affirm---just try not to impose your preferences and consolations on others as far as possible. Appa taught freedom and thought of that as socially secular and individually about liberty. I think this is why he spoke so much about the American experiment and tied it to the ideals of India's independence, quite fully aware of the hypocrisies, foibles, on-going failures and future perils (and abuses).

Rajanaka invites moral character based on the notion that serving others' opportunities for personal development invites us to live as far as possible in the dignity and integrity of our values and ideals. It's complicated because we are all imperfect and so much is hidden from, within, and by us. We are creatures of light and shadow: Rajanaka invites us to interrogate and integrate those basic human circumstances and possibilities.


Rajanaka focuses on "indirect" sources of experience within its secular agenda. That is, we are particularly interested in mythology, poetry, literature, art, music, and human endeavors like pilgrimage, ritual, and embodied experiences (including yoga, anything that you would regard to be "spiritual" including reading or meditation). Our interest is twofold: first, to create a deeper _evocative_ human experience of _feeling_ as for resource of character and in relationships. Second, it is to work _within_ the provenance of traditions to respect and honor those with whom we participate and from whom we learn. Pilgrimage presents a particularly important example.

To take a Rajanaka pilgrimage is to enter a conversation of cultural appropriation and shared engagement. We go to south India and try to dress, act, eat, and share in and with Tamil culture as far as possible. Tamils almost universally applaud and receive this "appropriation" by westerners as deeply honoring and emotionally moving. I have heard hundreds of ambient conversations in Tamil about how our presentation is elevating, honoring, and even inspiring. But it is what this "appropriation" does as well to us and for us. Rajanaka see the world as a stage and invites us to play roles that invite deeper participation, all the while hoping not to create deeper offense. (Invariably someone somewhere will take some offense. So? Choose wisely how you engage, that is always the Rajanaka way.)

Appa thought I should "act normally" when I came back to America and basically honor my own heritage, take notice of when being unnoticed serves well. He wouldn't have said anything if I wore Indian clothes to work here but I guarantee you that he wouldn't have done that anymore than he would do puja, seek darshan, or go on pilgrimage in anything but appropriate traditional Indian dress. In our home in India, I always wore "normal" traditional Tamil dress. He would go to his university job in western clothes, as I would in Indian _unless_ he was going to a puja or temple, then he would dress appropriately for that too. In short, he did the appropriate thing and that was a judgment call, usually not a hard one.

There's a word for this in Sanskrit that we use: ācityā, which literally means "to the very boundaries of awareness" but can be translated as "appropriate." We are all appropriating _something_ all of the time. The idea here is to be respectful of others _and_ to _evoke within one's self_ the feelings that arise when one dares to create roles in life and live them with integrity. I don't invite my students at the university to use my first name nor are they permitted to attend Rajanaka events (until they graduate). I am trying to take roles and relationships seriously but also respecting context, provenance, and the ways humans use and offer_power_. If one wants to do _Rajanaka_ pilgrimage in India _with me_ then there are "rules" that apply to everyone so that we can share experiences of pilgrimage. If one has another goal or idea then they are free to do it in another context.

If 'dressing up' for pilgrimage makes you feel uncomfortable then that's part of the process and the role, just like darshan as a practice is likely to make you feel very very strange. Appa said that we westerners get more from pilgrimage and darshan precisely because it makes us feel uncomfortable while Indians see it as something not to question in the same ways. He also chuckled when I said that I make some Indian folks a bit self conscious and replied that this is part of the "theatre of memory" that churns us from the source of feeling that originates in the unconscious. It is to churn the unconscious that is at the heart of all Rajanaka learning and practices. What comes up from those deep and dark places is the light that illumines the self and the many selves we inhabit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Two Games, But Only One Set of Rules, Bhagavad-Gita 4.42 Applied

Democracy is a messy and compromised game but that's because it's not supposed to be played dirty and become corrupt. We take sides, do what it takes to win, but not win at any cost, especially in ways that inflict real harm on others; we're supposed to relish winning, not become vindictive, malicious, or spiteful. We're testing ourselves, not our beliefs alone but our willingness to act, to stand to live with ourselves and stand in a life that does not promise to be fair or just. How will we stand?

We're supposed to play hard, play the game to win because we care, because we believe that's the way to play best. We believe too that that's the best way to play the game, even when our opponents know how to use what we care about to their own faithless advantage. We can decide not to be noxious, vengeful, or punitive. So, what difference does this difference make when there are actually two games and still we play as if there is one set of rules? What do we make of that?

It's not hard to fathom even if it's challenging to do, that's a point that should never be lost on us. It is first to try to imagine what it is like to be the other person. Virtue begins a human task that founds itself in the powers of empathy and imagination. These are things that make us decisively human because we are asked to care both about our own feelings _and_ someone else with whom we deeply disagree. What will we do if we win?

Our current president assumes every opposition must be met with resentment and retaliation. His party's leadership philosophy is ironfisted and pitiless, not merely tough and realistic.

So the further issue we face is how to do deal with a game that is actually no longer a game at all---when the situation no longer involves playing by the same rules. If we are playing two very different games it's tantamount to suicidal, isn't it?

I think we must not lose the plot, _our_ plot, or give up on the rules of the game. Test your character everyday to show up ready to play. Don't give in. If you're not up to it today, rely on your friends to do as much. Come back tomorrow, they will need you as you need them.

Try to hold yourself to a standard that is ever so slightly out of reach, even for yourself, but not so remote that you can't see yourself both succeeding and failing. Don't work so hard that you can't play again tomorrow or if you do, make sure there's someone else on watch too. Don't give up so easily that you hate losing more than trying again. Know what your opponents will do when you decide who _you want to be_ and they will use _that_ to exploit you, wrong you, abuse you. But don't take up their jobbery or demoralize yourself because the game isn't fair and your opponents are powerful and dishonest. Courage is not virtue, it is what you need to create virtue. We create virtue from character but we become virtuous when we are willing to pay the costs.

You will need to wield the weapons of understanding knowing how you can injure or compromise yourself if you do, even when you do carefully. But brandish you must that self that dares not to forget: a life of character is as powerful as you are vulnerable. Try to remember always to care about more than what is only present now even as you stand wholly in the present.

tasmad ajnana-sambhutam
hrt-stham jnanasinatmanah
chittvainam samsayam yogam
atisthottistha bharata

"So you must cut with the sword of knowledge this doubt in your heart born of ignorance. Commit! Stand up, inheritor of the world!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Chapeau to A Friend

You may notice that if I am ever quoted I rarely comment and try not to endorse that kindness with a "like." This morning one of you did as much, and beautifully so. I write here to make a few points likely well-understood, so apologies if I bore you. I hope you know that I am flattered and not at all ungrateful for the shout-outs. I am deeply honored when you cite something you heard or read. But the reason I don't always acknowledge those citations is that I want those experiences to be yours. This is what _you_ heard or these are the words _you_ read.

I mean to honor _you_ for your experience and choose, as far as seems reasonable, not to "interfere." Unless there's some egregious mistake, I will leave your memories to you. I will try to let your experience come through. There's no catechisms, no repeat after me. Appa was insistent that this was how we learn more creatively. He would time and again ask me to put matters in my own forms, even if that included citing him or using a quotation. He was keen to "get it right" but he was just as keen to invite your own understanding.

It's an important feature of Rajanaka that we affirm more autonomy of experience in relationship, that intimacy demands that we strive to protect another's autonomy. When you speak about or for Rajanaka you will notice too that, for my part, it belongs to you. I'm not keen to "control" or "manage" anyone. The ethos of autonomy and self-empowerment has a greater priority than any form of "management" over what is or is not "Rajanaka." And _that said_, I still acknowledge full responsibility and mean to do right by you or others, which is why "Rajanaka" is also technically copyrighted. More embrace the paradox, as you would expect.

We experience our experience of the world. This is a premise common to even the most objectivist schools of Indian thought and it is the cause of much conversation, particularly around the term "māyā." Since māyā refers to the ways we take our measure---that common etymology in Proto-Indo-European is /ma, from which we get "measure," "meter," etc. But when we see things, we see ourselves making the world from consciousness. Bees see bee-world, pandas see panda world, humans see human world. But human world is different from all other worlds. Why?

Human worlds cannot be extricated from something that, so far as we know, only humans do, that is, use language. I won't rewrite Steven Pinker here but will recommend The Language Instinct. My point here was to tell you a story from class yesterday.

In one of those professor homilies that I routinely give about what it means to be in college, to acquire an education, I made a routine comment. As we grow up and continuing well into the process of science education we learn that words refer to "things." Those things can be ideas as much as feelings or objects but we are taught that there is a world that appears before us that all of us share. The purpose of language is to draw this process into greater clarity. Early Wittgenstein argued that the ideal propositions put that relationship in a one-to-one and isomorphic relationship. In other words, when we really get it right we make the direct and proper correlation between the word and the thing. Wittgenstein spent most of the rest of his life refuting this point for which he was so famous---and much to the chagrin of his mentors Russell and Ayer. (Shall we someday read his Tractatus together? We could do that, you know.)

But what makes language so much more like the Indian premise of referring to consciousness experience _as the things_ we experience is also a part of the transition that needs to be part of learning to learn. As a caveat, learning how to learn is heart and soul of being educated in contrast to merely well-informed or exhibiting "intelligence." This is a complex process because it involves an integrated self---one that is engaged somatically, emotionally, with all facets of our being human. But it crucially involves language. "Language" here too becomes a much more complex category since it will involve matters well beyond and, importantly, sometimes without words at all. Dance, music, mathematics, yoga asana are all forms of language learning, all taking on the shapes of their own "words" that must reference _other "words"_ to be meaningful. Learning how to learn without words is itself a _part of language learning_ when we redefine the parameters of language itself. That said, words no longer refer merely to things but now to other words.

Let me say that again because this was the point I made in class (for the umpteenth time) and this time it was met with an unusual incredulity. I think that is part of the problem in our new education: we are failing to make clear to young people that _words do not refer to things but to other words._ Of course this doesn't mean that words don't refer to things, it means that we must turn to other words to understand the words we use to express "things." We are creatures of consciousness, a peculiar kind of consciousness (as far as we know) that _depends_ on words in ways other creatures do not. Such a process of referencing the process of words---that we are _always_ talking about the words we are using to explain other words---means that the interpretive matrix is never separate from the references we think we are making. When I say "apple" I mean the word "apple" refers to other words as much as it references the fruit on the table.

We never master words anymore than we master consciousness. The task before us is to know that the world we experience is human-made by language that we inherit, adapt, and employ to meet our needs or fulfill our desires. Learning how to learn is the yoga we call Rajanaka, which means that we're always in unfinished worlds and lives, entering further into undiscovered territories. How we see words creating the relationships of meaning will tell us what kind of world in which we are living and help us create invent the worlds in which we aspire to live.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

On Saubhagya Sampradaya and the Sunday Homily

Every kid who was ever made to go to church hated the sermon more than any other bit. Not only did we have to sit through _all those words_, we had to act like they were important. Pullleezze. A homily is a shorter sermon, usually an explanation of "scripture." The definition of scripture, leaving aside it etymologies that have to do with "writing," is actually "never has so much been written or said about so very little."  Nearly everything thing about preaching is maudlin, prating nonsense, and that's when the sermon is good.  But I still can't help myself.  It must be some deep wound I'm working out, some piece of my dark shadow that is looking to relive what I did to myself for no good reason.  If you need your moral edification from a sermon you're in way bigger trouble than you think.  I don't do it for that.  More or less, I sermonize to see if I understand something I think I understand, but may not.  Why you might like 'em is totally beyond me.

With this in mind you are prepared for far more words than are ever necessary, the requisite fake solemnity that spares you any parental aftermath punishment for laughing at all this ridiculousness, and a certain kind of incredulity regarding the grown ups who make you listen to reallystupidshit and must somehow know this too. Now I say all of this, which is likely to offend someone or another, and my parents _never_ even made me go to church. I sent myself. WTF was that about? What kinda'akid does that? The result is that I now mean to torture you occasionally as I self-tortured myself with an old fashioned Sunday homily. Praise the 330 Million. Or not. Caveat: never ever ever take anything too too seriously unless you have to. When you have to, do that, but otherwise mostly laugh it off, roll with it, let it be no more than it needs to be. Onward.

Today's homily is just that, a few paragraphs about some Sanskrit words and ideas that are _nothing_ like what I endured in church. But it's still a homily and that's always a little annoying. Enjoy.


Appa often referred to Rajanaka's relationship to Shrividya, the goddess traditions of Auspicious Wisdom, with the more common older term "Saubhagya Sampradaya." This is how Jayaratha in his brief notes on Vāmakeśvarimata and others from the contemporaneous Kashmiri tradition refer to the Traipura-s, the followers of Tripurasundari, the Beautiful One of the Three Cities. "Saubhagya" means prosperity, good fortune, bounty, and beneficence. The -bhagya bit is a noun form that you will recognize in Bhagavan, bhaga, and other words that mean to share, to enjoy, to bless, to make blessed---these are all in some sense food-words, that is, about being nourished, satisfied, soothed (the opposite of hangry), and feed. The prefix su- means "good" the way its opposite dur- (or duh. as in duhkha or suffering, literally "bad sky") means "bad" or "detrimental." When make the vowel heavy by gradation from su- to sau- then it means made of or possessed of, in this case goodness. So "saubhagya" means especially well nourished, truly contented or assuaged, well-soothed, taken care of, brought to good fortune, enjoying good fortune or prosperity.

The word "sampradaya" is an easy etymology. Two prefixes: sam- means to collect, to put together, to exalt, to celebrate, to make whole; pra- means to bring forward, to take apart, to advance, to fall or lean towards or into. "Dāya" is a noun form from the verbal root /dā, to give, offer, make a gift. A "sampradaya" means tradition because it is the collection that carries forward, but it also has the sense of that which pays forward (as we use that term nowadays). When you pay forward you reach into the past, collect what is valuable and make it a gift to others: this is the _purpose_ of tradition. It is not to create dogma or catechism that keeps people in line; it's not about merely preserving the past or holding on to the anachronistic. Rather it's about collective value, advancement, and offering: this is how Appa described it, and that changed everything I thought about "tradition."

What makes Rajanaka different than most other Shrividya traditions is that others usually say that the _real_ saubhagya is liberation, some exalted state of identity with the essential power that is the goddess such that the Self is now no longer confined or bound by the terms of samsara. This is---how shall we put it?---typical liberation theory stuff. Appa was keen not to talk about this, which was his way of respecting others' viewpoints without endorsing them. This supreme state of liberation, the majority contend, then becomes the experience of the everyday, which is the goddess in the form(s) of the world. So, like the Kashmir Shaivites, this is a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too sort of claim. So much for the majority's opinion. What say Rajanaka?

Rajanaka takes the more this-worldly approach to such saubhagya inasmuch as there is no claim to some ultimate relief, extrication, or liberation from any particular bondage or samsara claim. We will suffer in this mortal life and there is no unconditional relief somewhere or somehow, there's just life. Further, the liberationists will contend that their liberation not only solves suffering ultimately but that it relieves the burdens and bondage of the shadow, of the problematics, regrets, losses, and pains, seen and unseen, known and hidden.

Rajanaka's idea is that in saubhagya we learn how to incorporate, adapt, integrate, and include the shadow, the pain and the loss, the known and deeply concealed forms of inextricable and oh so mortal existence. To wit, there is no liberation either in some ultimate sense or from the shadow's continued presence in mortal life. Rather, there are ways to continue to "enjoy" the struggle, the strife, the incomplete and unfinished business, the broken, missing, and extra pieces of a life that we want to be "well-lived."

And that's the take away from this Sunday sermon. What is Rajanaka's saubhagya-sampradaya? Rajanaka is a life well-lived---with all its slings and arrows and outrageous fortunes and misfortunes. This is saubhagya. The tradition, the sampradaya, as participation invites us to reach into the value of provenance in our own experience and pay it forward to make one's own life a gift to others. That's when we will experience others for who they are, for better and for worse, as beings of light and shadow, just like everyone else.

As for "liberation," well, you are most free when you feel and fathom the boundaries of a mortal life---revel in human accomplishments and acknowledge every human error. Savor the rasa, the flavor and feeling, of each breath for what it has to offer, love your life even when that seems near impossible to do. Rajanaka doesn't promise what can't be delivered in this world and has no views of any other. So dream like you'll live forever and live like there's always more life yet to live. Happy Sunday. Now go do something fun.

Monday, September 3, 2018

A Note about Cultural Appropriation Since Nearly Forever

In 404 C.E. or thereabouts a Buddhist monk named Kumarajiva was abducted at the command of the Chinese emperor and forced to spend the rest of his life in exile from his native land, his personal freedom restricted. He was tasked to translate texts from Sanskrit and other central Asian languages into Chinese. Kumarajiva was apparently of Chinese and Central Asian parentage and possessed unusual fluency in languages and culture.  His translations of the Lotus Sutra and other principal works of the Mahayana canon---nearly all of which came from sources composed in India, in Indian languages, and translated along the Silk Roads into other central Asian languages---shaped the course of Chinese Buddhism.

 Most of these "original” Indian sources did not survive in India---but did survive in translations because Tibetans, Chinese, and others “appropriated” them. I once spent a good bit of time working these texts back into the "original" Sanskrit in an effort to understand what they might be saying in English. In turn, many of these same sources moved from Chinese translations into Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese, again usually by the efforts of Buddhist missionaries and canon-seeking appropriators. Everyone in this story is taking something from someone and making it their own.  They are changing things too.  They aren't always "faithful" to the originals.  Not by a long shot.  They are doing what they want with them every step of the way.

What all of these folks wanted over the course of many centuries were resources: ideas, values, practices, images, art, literature, and culture that they did not “invent” nor could they claim to be their own. They appropriated. They begged, borrowed, stole, kidnapped, bargained, bought, sold, plagiarized, sometimes were caught giving back to those they appropriated from, and often times not. They occasionally honored and coveted such work because they cared deeply and other times they were little more than grifting and profiteering. The history of civilization is the history of appropriations, for better and for worse. There is power and privilege, privation and exploitation everywhere we look. What we see today is neither strange nor new. It might be a step too far to ask but where would we be without it?

Sir Aurel Stein, a philologist of real accomplishment, was also party to stealing the great fresco wall-paintings at the caves of Tung-huang in China. Those stolen paintings hanging in Europe are the only ones that now survive because the Chinese Red Guard destroyed the remaining in situ cave paintings during one of their cultural revolutions. Hundreds of manuscripts in the Sanskrit tradition still exist today because western scholars cared enough to copy them, steal them, borrow them, and share them and no one in their right mind with an honest assessment of history believes this material would have survived if the colonialist scholars had not taken an interest. Those bent upon denouncing these colonialist interests in the Sanskrit language often seem just as disinterested in actually learning it.  So it goes. The world is complicated place. There’s plenty of blame and censure to go around. What we count as virtue when there is this much pain from the past and present could well invite more future collaboration and reconciliation. Motives matter and the past can’t be changed. But I can guarantee you that the world ahead is in for at least as much “cultural appropriation” as it has ever been. What is at stake is how we decide to share resources we all want, no matter our motives.

I’ll take this right to the limit too. Without cultural appropriation where would we be? There’d be no rock n’ roll, no Beatles and no “British invasion.” Little Walter was learning and covering Stones’ songs while they were covering his past work. Didn’t Queen Aretha sing about being a natural woman while Carole King and Gerry Goffin wept in pride for their composition? Personally speaking, I would be even more upset about this than even the losses within my chosen profession had there been no “cultural appropriation.”  For the past forty years I have worked hard to learn everything I can about the religions and languages of south Asian and have been teaching those subjects for more thirty years at University.  It’s a profession to learn about history, culture, and related materials and I’ve been compensated for what I know.  Do you teach yoga too?  I’ve tried too to give back in money, time, effort, and love and I’ve been roundly blessed and cursed for that too. I’ve meant to be sympathetic and serious, to commend and condemn when it seemed right; to support and to criticize because that’s an honest thing to do. There have been successes and failures. We’re all trying to figure out right from wrong; we’re all liable to err and some even try to learn from their mistakes. We might have to beg, borrow, steal, buy and sell some of our soul to do those things too. If we’re trying to do good we pay forward, we try to give more than we take, and make sure those around us leave better off than they came. But what’s fair value? What’s fair?  We could talk about that.

As we seek deeper forms of collaboration built on respect and differences of opinion, there will undoubtedly be disagreements and contest. The powerful will need to relinquish some power and share more honestly their privileges and perks. In academia I think we can say that that pursuit of justice is at least underway. There are no guarantees of success and we could just as easily go backward. America is in the midst of that very regression into tribalism as I write. But we will need to be more willing to understand the complexities of civilization-in-the making when others “take” or “use” or “want” our “stuff.” If we are going to live in greater global conversation, we need to be prepared to be offended by speech, by other people’s actions and intentions and religions and whatever it is they do, and so be prepared too that we will offend and be found wanting in our own desires and aims. The alternatives are far less appealing if we decide to cut ourselves off, lock ourselves in, or try to suppress the processes of civilization.

I would rather risk being offensive and to be offended by someone’s speech or beliefs than live under censorship and tyranny. But of course, one person’s justice is another’s oppression. Are we so incapable of seeing another’s point of view? As much as we appropriate from one another, we share in the gifts of human imagination. What is art but the ability to move hearts and minds in the uncanny ways we share a common humanity? We’re going to need to figure out how to live with each other’s calumny and faults--- and how to act responsibly and pursue justice when we are violated and wronged. But be sure of this: we’ll all be appropriating, one way or another because humans learn from other humans. What is stake is character and decency and how we will offer respect to differences that both edify and defame will be the measure of our humanity.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Sing Along, "It's A Very Good Place to Start..."

Words mean what people say, how they use them; it matters by whom they are said and for what purposes. Words are social, political, and always powerful because humans care about them. The dynamics of words are as complex as our humanity because we are the only species that we know uses them to make the world more complex, more complicated. We talk about clarity, simplicity, and the rigors of expression but we want nuance, shade, implication, and suggestion. We don't just want things to be clear; we want them to be meaningful. And that's not always the same thing, not by a long shot.

In Sanskrit cultures there are worlds and reams of rules about this meaning and usage thing, and as much by subject---the rules for word usage in logic are different than poetry and _specified_ by each body of tradition. The word "rupa" means one thing in Buddhist philosophy and quite another thing in erotic Sanskrit poetry. We don't know meaning just from context, history, and usage. We work with meaning because it takes work to stay in the fray, to persist in the struggle _for_ meaning. There are whole literatures devoted to the study of subjects, meta-subjects like criticism to poetry, and all of them turn back to language, to its complex uses, to what we _want_ from meaning. Never underestimate desire in any human endeavor. What we want is rarely as simple as we want it to be.

There's an important distinction to be made here because in words we attempt to bridge what we want---things we might feel or need or hope, wish, or imagine---with what we say and can be said. I submit that the reason there is so much serious discussion about ineffability---what can and cannot be said or even _ever_ completely said---is because Sanskrit traditions are so deeply devoted to the idea that things can be _properly_ said. Thus, even when we know there are limits, boundaries, and realities of ineffability, we can also describe and properly explain the limitations themselves.

This is what the great philosopher Shankara does, for example, when he describes how his concept of Self cannot be fully attested by the meaning of words and yet can only be grasped when we have the proper understanding of how works _can_ work. His theories of metaphor take up volumes as he labors to explain what words can and cannot do. No one in Indian literature ever gives up on words, not even those who espouse quietism and ineffability. Arguably, Patanjali gives you 195 sutras about stanching, occluding, and halting the processes of thought---but even that's a lot of words about what words and thoughts _do_ for us, even if it's said in little itty bitty threads of ideas. Not even the most devoted mystic can remain completely silent.

I have argued over the last 20 years to the "yoga community" that we should honor the complexity of meanings of the word "yoga." Does yoga really have many meanings or is it just used in many different ways? That's yet another kind of question. I won't rehearse much more of that here because you've all likely heard long seminar rants that rail against reductive thinking and how we devalue history and tradition when we try to make "yoga" mean one thing or two, or limit its scope of uses. But that too is a process of meaning: meaning without limited scope invites more than ambiguity, it invites meaninglessness.

So for example if "religion" encompasses everything including politics, economics, art, philosophy, as it seemingly does in ancient India, then what _is_ it in comparison to those things. When something means everything it means less. So words can have power capacities to _encompass_ and _include_ and work to expand the possibilities of meaning _and_ they need boundaries and limitations to function at all. Once again, Rajanaka teaches us to embrace the paradox. To create more meaning, we have to find boundaries. And only then can you begin to address the issues that come with deeper desires.

This leads me back to "yoga" in a more personal way and for that I ask your advice and for your input.

We have always suggested that wha we need is a seat at the table of yoga. I walk into yoga studios many times in a year---well, hopefully 'cause I like the work---but I don't teach asana. And no one is fooled that asana is why yoga studios exist, or at least how they remain businesses. Many are keen not to use the word "asana" anymore because that too is too estranging in the modern yoga business. A yoga studio without asana is what exactly? An "ashram"? A classroom for learning? Learning what? Yoga? What's that? And so we go 'round.

But it's increasingly plain that story-telling, philosophy teaching, meditations, the stuff we do, whatever we what to call what Rajanaka does has been called "yoga." But folks don't really call what Rajanaka does "yoga" because they sorta' know that's misleading by any modern standard. They (you?) call it "teachings," one comes and gives and receives "teachings", and they use this language because they want these "teachings" to imply more than instructions, directions, or information; they suggest there is some kind of guidance and, more importantly, edification. We are _better_ for "the teachings" in ways that knowing how to put together the toilet handle (our needs repair) is a decidedly different kind of instruction and has different meaning, different purpose, vastly different intent. Or maybe even the more dangerous instruction "come to the front of your mat..." is not quite the same "teaching"? The idea here is that _this_ yoga implies its purpose is to edify your character, implicate your moral being, that it asks you to want a deeper part of you to go more deeply towards you. That's some pretty heady stuff for the word "yoga," at least the way it's used _now_ and in a world where _everyday_ it more means postures, exercise, asana, you know _exactly_ what I mean. Yoga once made those demands routinely. Times change, words change with the times.

Everyday nowadays I struggle with the compound "Rajanaka Yoga" because _is_ it yoga? Do we continue to fight for a seat at the _bigger table_ of yoga's meanings when we admit as well that "yoga" means exactly-what-we-know-it-means? Or do we give up on the word and no longer make the complexity case for meaning---that is, "yoga means lots of things, let's work on that..." Truth to tell, I haven't decided. For these many years the Rajanaka website has called it "Rajanaka Yoga: A Tantric Tradition of Auspicious Wisdom," which nods not only to the complexity of yoga but to "Tantra" (what's _that_?) and then encodes in the Sanskrit compound "Shrividya" for "Auspicious Wisdom." There's obviously a lot going on here that could warrant further explanation.

Given just how far Rajanaka deviates from the mainstream schools of Shrividya I struggle everyday with even that elemental identity. Rajanaka was first explained to me as "Auspicious Wisdom" and that led to sixteen years of ceaseless study and conversation with my teacher. That has continued now for 40+ years. We still look at the same stories, images, and at least foil with the ideas even when we disagree (umm, adamantly) with the mainstream (umm, 99%). So what is still being accomplished by calling it "Rajanaka Yoga"? Are we looking for a seat at a table _that no longer exists_? That is, the one where yoga _really does mean_ more than you-know-what? Are we trying to make a case for a bigger table when "our kind of yogas" were there long before modern associations with you-know-what?

What do _we_ want from these words? And more importantly what is conveyed when we use them because words aren't important just because they mean things to _us_ but because they mean things to others too. Words are not private matters, as Wittgenstein so aptly proved, and they are more than the just the case even when they are all that is the case. In human worlds, how we use words to describe ourselves is no small matter. Think of how words implicating gender implicate us or what it means to call oneself a "liberal." Or a "yogi"?

Yesterday I wrote that the word yoga is up for grabs on the interwebs because when an influential and wide-reaching platform uses it _in certain ways_ then that matters. Rajanaka is not that influential, we don't move _vast swathes_ of opinion even when we have done our share to create meanings and introduce words for contemporary yoga worlds. We've done a lot of that, with and without acknowledgment. So I wonder and, yes, I struggle with "yoga" because we are _once again_ finding ourselves not only a minority in an ocean of views with _much_ bigger fish, we know those other fish are hungry and we look like lunch. Those other big, hungry fish are called today "yoga."

Yoga may yet swallow us, that is, we may be eaten, digested, and assimilated into its Leviathan that is you-know-what-yoga, so the question remains do we run for our lives, do we attempt to persuade our predator (i.e, the usage of the word) not to eat us, do we stay around to make our case for a seat at a table (in an ocean, mixed metaphor alert!)? Do we just call it "Rajanaka" and drop "yoga," "Tantra," and even the deep code of Auspicious Wisdom?

You know I usually vote for stay the course. I am a keeper of flames, a lover of provenance, and more like Vishnu in persistence and a steady the course course than any rock n' roll chaos loving storm maker would ever wants to admit. Don't lose the plot. Don't pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Just do _your_ thing. Rilke taught us not to care for the critics but to make our art. Hitchens taught us to read our critics and respond and never fail to respond. Rajanaka says yes to both. Embracing paradox never goes away, does it?

But if I may, let me draw another analogy. Stay with me, this is worth it... We're a lot like the steel racing bicycles hat I truly love. What you need to know is that these are not only out of fashion, they are largely obsolete in the pro ranks. They aren't used anymore when once they were definitional. In fact, they are no longer really a thing at all and if they were once _the_ thing, the anachronism is now consigned to words like "retro" and "vintage."

I'm fond of "vintage", not much "retro" because _I am_ vintage, I don't have to pretend or reinvent or retro anything. I'm happy to keep making and riding our own steel bike, the Rajanaka bike, because it's beautiful to me, it works brilliantly, and I like it just just fine. It's not static, it continues to move and progress, I hope. I have no intention of going with the trend or giving up what I love and regard and have always _tried_ to evolve. But to evolve and to grow is not the same as to follow the fashions. My steel bikes are not static things, anymore than Rajanaka but they are not _the thing_ anymore, not by a _long shot_. So, it's important with words, like it is in the world, to know yourself by knowing as well what others understand and do, and what things _mean_. What say you?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

On Putting It Out There

Hindus put their gods and goddesses, their demons, and expressions of light and darkness on the outside so that they can take them inside. Vedic deity is unseen and moves invisibily. Hindus turn this around: they put it into form and beauty, that is, the same word in Sanskrit, "rupa." When you put yourself into form and beauty, that's Rajanaka. It doesn't matter if your particular outside-in is "Hindu." What matters is putting yourself "out there" you see more of yourself, to make a life of modest artistry. Your provenance and perspective are the keys to progress.

I've always been reluctant to talk about Rajanaka as such and instead just tell the stories, offer up our take, explain the material as thoroughly, honestly as possible. About 90% of Rajanaka is just telling the truth and for my part that's about having had immersion in the culture, languages, the critical and historical education required to do the work. Rajanaka is truly more method than content though it's easy to see the content as voluminous, encyclopedic, and never ending, because it truly is. Once we become comparativists and perennialists then the subject opens to far, far more than south Asian studies. Academia doesn't much approve of that latter agenda largely because it doesn't reward the specialty and so the "profession."

When you sat with Appa, you felt a grounding, that clear sense of commitment to _the work_, which he loved and which I loved when I was with him. He often "drifted" into other subjects---topics far afield from the particular text or story we might be working on. I never stopped him or tried. Now I realize how lucky I was, that he would compare across cultures and history very challenging material, that he would endlessly pursue our common humanity---sensitive to cultural difference but willing to take those risks and experiment with ideas and feelings.

I never felt this way in any other professional or educational setting. In other contexts of learning, like Harvard, one _never_ actually _loves_ the work, one _does_ the work and you _might_ survive. If you do love this kind of environment (and I know people who do), I listen like its French to me: I attend to about every fifth word. For me, well, I survived, I still survive and it's easy to keep up with their schtick, but what it takes to like it is beyond me. Forensics is a cold business, a cutthroat, self-absorbed, insular business and personally scholarship as such is just another kind of special neurotic obsession. It's neurosis with skills and self-importance. I try not to be angry about it but for my own regrets about choosing this _as_ a profession. Lord knows, I'm not capable of anything else. My own favored forms of neurosis are _way_ more fun than academics.

With Appa you felt his character, his warmth and deep commitments to justice, to humanism and humane being, his honesty and candor always coupled to his care and patience and indulgence of human travail. Really, I have no notion of supernatural saintliness---because I think of that as nothing but nonsense---but Appa gave you a pretty good idea of what saints could look like if they are real humans with real flaws, regrets, and shadows woven within a fabric of light. But here I go again talking about Rajanaka, and I'm doing that because I wonder---and I ask this with real honesty---if this _interests_ you? I mean I would be happy to tell more stories about the learning, about him, about how he woven his interests, curiosities, tastes, and feelings into a life, into a person.

I try not to make Rajanaka anything other than your thing. But here is my point: what you love to do, what you care about, even little things, if you have your heart in it and it speaks to your humanity, then share it. When you do, that's Rajanaka. I'm trying to do a bit of that on Instagram. Mostly just things I have right in front of me. (Look here if you like: @profdbrk) Having decided that being a Trump-Twitter-troll is not particularly edifying, I don't tweet back to the imbecile (though I confess it is occasionally fun). So I'm taking a few pictures everyday of stuff---old bike bits, camera stuff, junk, books, things with provenance, things I've kept that tell stories. Whatchu'got? Things we keep can tell us how we connect inside and with each other. Put out there, take it in. If no one else cares about it, that's okay too. Make yourself an offering.  And while you're at it, tell us about the things you care about and about remarkable people you've met: artists, makers, humanists, anyone you know that you think we might like to know.  That's Rajanaka.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Provenance and Progress, Seeing At Once Behind and Before

I'm often asked about Rajanaka's sources and traditions, it's provenance. And it is to provenance to which we often appeal when I describe the relationship between Rajanaka's historical relationships to south India and Srividya and it's very forward-looking, progressive values. Appa was not content to use only the sources of Indian tradition when he knew quite well that knowledge belonged to all human cultures. He believed we must evolve and change, and that we could be both revolutionary and claim provenance.

This complementarity was the very heart of Appa's heart. He was deeply committed to rooting and valuing the past and, at the same time, _fully_ dedicated to a progressive, innovative, even pioneering future. To reach into the past was no matter of nostalgia. Sundaramoorthy was not one to ache for some chimera of utopia, attempt fabrication or settle for less when it came to understanding and criticizing sources. He had no notion of a golden age, no need to invent a past to romanticize our human achievements or by-pass our shadows and failures. As a brahmin and a privileged male he was keen to see himself and his tradition as important players in the history of oppression and to take responsibility for that past. That shadow of provenance was part of what motivated him to bring about a more evolved present and envisioned future. Still, Appa was not about to give up the past; such costs would not justify abandonment. There is no reforming the past and no revisionism could withstand the truth. But there is the possibility of bringing the past forward. And _this_ is what he meant when he used the word "provenance."

So first, if I may, a bit about this perhaps unfamiliar word.
Provenance usually refers to a place of origin, particularly applicable to a work of art, an archaeological specimen, or concept. For example, in Charles Eliot's Buddhism and Hinduism, A Historical Sketch (see vol. 3 of 3), he writes, "The Garuḍa may itself be of Persian provenance, for birds play a considerable part in Persian mythology." We find a proximate etymology in the Middle French, provenir, which means to come forth, arise, originate. "Provenance" would be a present participle form (the endings here being cognate to Sanskrit formations which mimic the possessive suffix, just fyi). We can find even more provenance by taking provenance further back to the Latin prōvenīre to originate, which adds the pro- prefix to the verb venīre, which means to come. But nothing about the etymology tells us about the _sense_ of the word.

An intimation of provenance is not merely that things have traceable origins but that there is authenticity, genuineness, a sense of transmission, value, and continuance in practice, trade, or comprehension. Thus to have provenance is to claim sensibility, substance, and faithfulness. When things have provenance we mean to confer a value of constancy and worth---they have made the cut and persisted. Now, of course, things need not have provenance to have value since that is a measure made by other criteria such as efficacy or relevance. Be that as it may, Rajanaka is a humanism that speaks to the present because it takes the past seriously.

Historically speaking, Rajanaka goes at least three generations deeper than my Appa. I can trace it to sometime in the middle 18th century in south India. How much further in forms that resemble the present? I wouldn't venture to say. What Rajanaka's ancestors thought about the sricakra, the goddess and Shiva's complex mythologies, and the rest, I can only guess. I would be happy to explain more about Appa's teachers and how these teachings passed forward as well as textual sources, though those I caution are more important to western notions of authenticity than India, which regards oral tradition the core of provenance.

What I see as the core of Rajanaka is the strange and rather everyday relationship that is made between provenance and progress. Appa was keen in every way to move things _forward_, be that in ideas that would include science or critical studies in the humanities, or in social progress and change that would revolutionize society to foster justice. As I've said briefly in seminars, I am sure that teaching _me_ by inviting me into his ultra-orthodox household was a principled example of his Rajanaka teaching.

We studied ancient, even timeless, mythologies, rituals, philosophies, and yet he would never allow them to sit comfortably in some sanctified, wistful bathos. He insisted we upgrade the program at every possible opportunity. Why shouldn't women or gay folk or anyone have a chance to live and study and love as they wish? Why should tradition be reduced to recalcitrance, marooning us in a delusional past when there are so many frontiers we must explore and boundaries to reach?

One of my only regrets is how few of you met this visionary soul---though I tell you those who have will repeat as much about his graceful percipience. To look deeply into the past and to look forward at once, that was Appa's Rajanaka. He cared that at one time we might call it "Tantra" or "yoga" and "Hindu" but he would not have cared that those appellations would require revision and reconsideration. Look both ways at once. That's the true beginning of it all. Rajanaka's provenance continues in you. Thanks for that. Really, a lot.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

On the Originals: the Sublime and Ridiculous

For many years so many of you have asked me about learning Sanskrit, sort of aching for the originals. I get that, there is so much I love composed in Sanskrit (and other Indian languages) where the taste is so much more pungent, soothing, profound in the original once one has enough context and exposure. Got 40,000 hours? That's usually what I say in reply.

That's what it will take to have enough exposure to make the difference that the language skill's difference _really_ makes. Oh, and then you have to spend a lot of time in culture to fathom how what people say, what they say they do, and what they do are really never the same thing. Anyways, there are times when knowing the original isn't sublime but rather deeply disheartening and disturbing. Much the same can be said about every other tradition's foray into things religious.

I was sitting here reading a Tantra in Sanskrit this morning and I realized that it's not the parts that I don't understand that I find disturbing but the ones that I do. (Mark Twain said the same thing about the Bible.) The "problem" here is historical, not cultural, the work is anachronistic, too much of it founded on assumptions or insights that are simply no longer true. Further, like so many religious artifacts, it's claims to truth do not operate _primarily_ in metaphor or symbolic thinking---they actually think this stuff. The ridiculous is presented as sublime. And thinking it otherwise is buying into their ridiculous.

Call me dense to the sublime but after a lifetime of reading this stuff, I am not uncomfortable saying this. What's "disturbing" about all that isn't the mere bullshit proclaimed but the dangerous fact that so many are still willing to buy into this kind of religious nonsense. Can we keep it a bit more real and read it for the metaphor please?

Lemme be clear: It's nonsense because it's founded on assertions, claims, private experiences, because it fails every single test of shared evidence truth and claims incontrovertible truth and reduces reality to personal "facts." This is why religion and delusion have so much in common. I won't specify the particular material's pratfalls---you're going to have to trust me that it's beyond the pale of contemporary credulity. It's just not the 11th century anymore. Thank goodness.

To Embrace the Shadows of Integrity: Love, Loyalty, and the Real News

Appa once said that not every teaching is a blueprint for life, things to learn, assess, and apply. Some teachings are cautionary themselves tales. In other words, the teaching does not merely _offer_ a cautionary tale, it depends on our wilingness to apply its value with some caution. I have in mind here how we love and commit, how we feel loyal and supportive of one another.

These virtues and tests of character are not _only_ teachings: they require our caution because commitment too has its shadow. When we trust and feel deeply in the embrace of decency and integrity we move more easily, like we do in a well-lit room. But when leadership means to make the shadow of integrity it's method, it's operative force and energy, we cannot help but be affected by it. 

It occurred to me that one of the many reasons these are such challenging times is that things that we must cherish for their value and virtue are being used for the very worst of reasons or are otherwise attacked. Thus "loyalty" is both used to exploit its power and value _and_ loyalty is questioned, doubted, and made the enemy of decency. There's nothing new about this. Fascism has its obvious ways, Hannah Arendt, Orwell, and countless others have been keen observers. But if I may say a bit more?

We respect people with deep and heartfelt convictions because, no matter what we might think about their ideas, it is when they are made in good faith, with honesty and integrity, that we come to know someone. It is a lens pointing directly into character that focuses our attention because any such "belief" translates into intentions, actions, and outcomes. We are all guilty of some degree of hypocrisy and fakery but it is that test of character we embrace as grounding our spirit and our path.

Our Rajanaka way leans into tolerance, acceptance, and looks to listen and honor difference---it's another one of those 51/49 matters, where we come to grips with a useful, important bias that serves us. We _want_ more of the one---tolerance of others' convictions---than we want to believe their views lead to corruptions. But here we arrive at the first juncture of painful recognition.

Those now governing us and so setting our collective tone and establishing the ethos of leadership and social endorsement are at once dogmatists, unyielding _and_ willing to punish or ignore others' for their values and convictions (think: Pence). Worse, they are also shameless narcissists (think: yeah, that guy). In the latter, dogma is nothing more the next moment's full throated toadyism, abdicating every judgment or grasp of reality for something so obsequious and unctuousness that we often feel literally sick. Such flummery is accompanied by a kind of stridency and sanctimoniousness that brings chills down our spines for the way servility is masked by certitude (think: Huckabee-Sanders). For our part, we want and _like_ trustworthiness, loyalty, and commitment to one another, but the kind of violation we are living through forces our values into their malevolent gumbo---and we are left to sort it out. What I mean to say is that since we are _all_ in this world together, we cannot help but grieve and question and wonder about our own bonds and fealties because the very _notion_ of a healthy loyalty is under attack. Loyalty, which we cannot live without, is being used for purposes that are meant to divide us from our very selves and debauch our better angels.

So what can we do about it?
We can hold fast, but not too tightly.
We must assess and judge but not without a willingness to change our minds and follow the evidence where it takes us.
We can and must always try to fathom that tolerance is not the same as endorsement and that convictions strongly felt do not make for truth.

A conviction can, of course, be truly felt and argued without being true. But it is that hope and aspiration for truth that can be shared and demonstrated that must continue to move and motivate our conversation. Every time someone says "don't judge" remember how that can also debauch the truth, not merely support tolerance. Ah, a cautionary tale.

When we report all beliefs as true we can easily succumb to false equivalence. Our individual testimonies must be tested in the crucibles of shared evaluation: it's either raining outside or it's not, look out the window to find out, but please don't report both are "true" because there are opposing opinions. A beautiful mind is a cautionary tale.

We love our tribe, our folks, and the company we keep but this too can be reduced to an identity politics and that is as insidious on the left as it is on the right. You know the love of identity is becoming a problem when you reduce yourself to but _one_ identity. Nothing can live in but one way; admitting complexity may feel uncomfortable and invite compilation, but identity without complexity is too straight a line, not enough twist or turn. Loving someone for who they are is not the same as offering or demanding fidelity just because they are more or less like ourselves. There is such a thing as criminals we love---but have to lock up to be safe, and some of our own feelings are that way too. We're gonna need some Dharma and some wisdom to tell the difference between what's tolerable and what we must not tolerate in ourselves and others. And then ask what we can do about that. This is not only challenging us, it's being made a feature of our current leadership's manipulation; thus the abuse of "truth," the "law," and the difference between "fake" and real news.

So lemme land the plane.

What is under assault are not only the things we need and want, what is being abused are our most cherished and most fragile values. We _need_ loyalty, good faith, and commitment and those values are being used, manipulated, and abused for the purpose of undermining our own feelings and expression. The very notion of character itself is under siege and while we must try to hold true and steady, we must also recognize the peril. When Trump decouples truth from words and feelings we need, this is not a bug, a failure, this is a _feature_ of his debased and dishonorable nature. To grasp that there are such persons in the world is hardly encouraging and we wish there weren't.

But alas, to be better selves we will have to come to grips with how easily people are led into the worst of what is truly the best of us. We humans can love one another with fierce commitment. Let us not forget its value and its perils, how that teaching is a cautionary tale itself, and how that need for loyalty can be used both for good and manipulated to undermine its own value. So it goes. To live with integrity is to embrace its shadow. Carefully. Rage on, calmly.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Fire and Ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Right as Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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