May 29, 2014

The Hindus by Wendy Doniger

The Hindus by Wendy Doniger
An alternative history

[This book got couple of awards in India, but later got banned for religions reasons -]

Sanskrit (perfect, artificial) is based upon an implicit comparison with Prakrit (primordial, natural), the language actually spoken.

Sanskrit texts usually regard women and hunted animal as primary objects of addiction, and the senses that cause addiction are likened to horses.

A.K. Romanian pointed out, speaking of his father: “ I and my generation was sic/troubled by his holding together in one brain both astronomy and astrology”. But some of the most interesting developments take place in the combination of the two cultural lobes, whether we define Brahmin and non-Brahmin, written and oral, or male and female. One medieval Hindu philosophical text defined a great teacher as someone with the ability to grasp both sides of the arguments.

Another metaphor for this sort of double vision is the dark shape visible on the moon: many American and European see the face of a man in the moon (whom some Jewish traditions identify as Cain, cursed to wander) and other cultures see a woman, a moose, a buffalo, a frog, and so forth. But most Hindus as well as Chinese, Japanese and Aztecs see hare.

The ancient Persians (according to Greek Historian Herodotus, c.430 BCE) would debate every important question first drunk, then (on the next day) sober or as the case may be, first sober and then drunk.

Harvard Professor Roman Jacobson notoriously objected to Nabokov’s bid for chairmanship of the Russian literature department: “I do respect very much the elephant, but would you give him the chair of zoology?”

Since early Buddhism and Hinduism grew up side by side in the same neighborhood, so to speak, historians of Hinduism have often piggyback ion historians of Buddhism, a religion that has for the most part kept more precise chronological records,; the historians of Buddhism figure out when everything happened, and the historians of Hinduism say, “Our stuff have happened around then too”.

Individuals have ideas and those ideas are often quite different from the ideas of other people living at the same time and place. This is particularly important to keep in mind when we search for the voices of marginalized people, who often achieve as individuals what they cannot achieve as a group. People are not merely the product of a zeitgeist.

Only after 17th century did a ruler use the title Lord of the Hindus(Hindupati).

There is no Hindu canon. The books that Euro-Americans privileged (such as Bhagavad Gita) were not always so highly regarded by “all Hindus”, certainly not before the Euro-Americans began to praise them. Other books have been far more important to certain groups of Hindus but not to others.

British Raj used the term, ‘Hindu’ to characterize all things in India (esp. cultural and religious elements and features found in the cultures and religions of India) that were “not Muslim, not Christian, not Jewish, or hence not Western.” Indian Supreme Court in the Hindu Marriage Act (1955) ruled that any reference to Hindus shall be constructed as including, “any person who is Buddhist, Jaina or Sikh by religion’ as well as ‘persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion”, a blatant appropriation that most Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists would resent bitterly.
It also defines a Hindu as someone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi, or Jew, but who is (in addition to a Sikh, Buddhist, or Jaina) one of a rather arbitrary selection of people whose marginally made the court nervous: “any person who is a Hindu by religion in any of its forms or developments, including a Virashaiva, a Lingayat, or a follower of the Brahmo, Prarthana or Arya Samaj.”

From the eastern sea to the western sea (the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal), the area in between the two mountains (the Himalayas and the Vindhyas) is what wise man call the Land of Aryas. Where the black antelope ranges by nature, that should be known as the country fit for sacrifices; and beyond it is the country of the barbarians. the twice born (the upper class and particularly Brahmins) should make every effort to settle in these countries.

The Rig Veda was preserved orally, but it was frozen, every syllable preserved for centuries, through a process of rigorous memorization. There are no variant readings of the Rig Veda, no critical editions or textual apparatus. Just the Rig Veda. So much for the fluidity of orally transmitted texts. Correspondingly, the expected fixity of written texts dissolves when we look at the history of the reception and transmission of the Mahabharata, another enormous Sanskrit text, but one that was preserved both orally and in manuscript. In contrast with the Rig Veda, this text changed constantly; there are hundreds of Mahabharata, hundreds if different manuscripts and innumerable oral versions.

Animals play important roles in the Hindu religious imaginary, but as actual living creatures and as the key to important shifts in attitudes to different social classes. Three animals - horses, dogs, and cows - are particularly charismatic players in the drama of Hinduism. The mythological texts use them to symbolize power, pollution and purity respectively and link to three classes of classical Hindu society: Kshatriya or rulers, particularly foreign rulers (horses), the lower classes (dogs) and Brahmins(cows).

Most Hindus have not cared about straight opinions (orthodoxy) nearly so much as they care about straight behavior (orthopraxy).

“The Ganges though flowing from the foot of Vishnu and through Shiva's hair is not an ancient stream. Geology looking further than religion, knows of a time when neither the river not the Himalayas that nourished it existed and an ocean flowed over the holy places of Hindustan. The mountains rose, their debris, silted up the ocean, the gods took their seats on them and contrived the river, and the India we call immemorial came into being” - E.M. Forster, A Passage to India.

The Indo-European maps is linguistic, link using languages together in a family (a rather dysfunctional family, but a family) that is distinct from, for instance, Chinese or the Semitic languages (Hebrew, Arabic) or more significantly for Hinduism, Tamil and other South Indian languages in the group called Dravidian. The majority of people in India speak an Indo-European language (76%) with Dravidian language speakers accounting for 22 percent and remaining 2 % taken up by Austroasiatic, Tibeto Burman and tribal languages.

“Once upon a time”, the story goes, “blue-haired, blond-eyed people from the north drove their chariots into India and beat the hell out of the dark-skinned people who lived there”. In 1903, Bal Gangadhar Tilak argued in his “The Arctic Home in the Vedas’, that the Aryans had composed the Vedas at the North pole and on the journey south, divided into two branches, one which went to Europe serving colonial powers, favored theories of cultural interaction involving invasions or colonization and the theory that the Vedic people invaded India still has general currency.

The paradigm of this model is Latin, which did indeed diffuse outward from Rome to all the lands that the Romans conquered and that therefore speak the so called Romance language. :Linguists then constructed,. on the Roman model, an earlier family of tree of languages, diverging from the center, in this case not from Rome but from the Caucasus, somewhere east of the southern Urals, in southeastern Russia, perhaps on the shores of northern Black Sea or the Sea of Azov. *This is where as well as we see, someone - probably, though not certainly, the India-European people - probably domesticated horses, an event of great significance for the history of Hinduism). Therefore the Indo-European people were also called Caucasians.

The two powers that built the greatest empires in India, the forces of Central Asian Turks and of the British Raj, first entered India not as military conquerors but as traders and merchants, but in the end, it took force majeure to establish and maintain the control of the subcontinent.

Four classes of society come from the appropriate parts of the body of the dismembered Primeaval Man. His mouth became the priest (the Brahmn, master of sacred speech); all Vedic priests are Brahmins, though not all Brahmins are priests. His arms were Raja (the Kshyatria); his thighs, the commoner (the Vaishya) and his feet - the lowest and dirtiest apart of the body - the servants (Shudras).

Agni and Soma connect in many ways. As fire and liquid they are complementary oppositions that unite in the concept of the fiery liquid, the elixir of immortality, or ambrosia; Soma is the fiery fluid and Agni the fluid fire. As ritual elements, the embodiments of the sacrificial fire and the sacrificial drink, they are invoked more than any other gods of the Rig Veda. Their mythologies join in the image of the sunbird, a form of Agni (the fire bird) who brings Soma to earth.

“Why do you inquire about the father or the mother of a Brahmin? When you find knowledge in someone, that is his father and his grandfather.

There were probably adherents of what were to became the six major philosophical schools of Hinduism: Critical Inquiry(Mimamsa), Logic (Nyaya), Particularism (Vaisheshika), NUmbers(Sankhya), Yoga and Vedanta.

Originally they were triad, dharma, artha and kama., known collectively as the Trio. For assonance, one might call them piety, profit and pleasure. or society, success and sex or duty, domination and desire. Every human being was said to have a right, indeed a duty to all these aims, in order to have a full life.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata mark the transitions from the corpus of texts known as shruti, the unalterable Vedic canon, to those known as smriti, the human tradition. The texts of the two great poems, originally composed orally, were preserved both orally and in manuscripts form for more than 2000 years.

[They continue to do so; a travelling bard in a village in South India recently told an anthropologist that he knew the whole Mahabharata by heart. In 1950, Kamal Kothari sent one his best singers from the Linga caste to adult education classes. He learned to read, but from then on he needed to consult his notes before he sang. As Kothari remarked, “it seems that the illiterate have a capacity to remember in a way that the literate simply do not. Plato in the Phaedrus, remarks that when people have writing, their memories suffer attrition]

Jains and Buddhists had been conversation partners, friend or foe, with Hindus since the 6th BCE. But from the early centuries CE, the Abrahamic religions joined the conversation, first Christianity, then Judaism and then Islam.

According to the apocryphal Acts of St. Thomas (perhaps from the first century CE), the apostles drew lots and the Apostle Judas Thomas, who was a carpenter, got India. When Jesus appeared to him in a vision that night, Thomas said, “Whithersoever Thou wilt, our Lord, send me; only to India I will not go”. Jesus nevertheless eventually indentured him, for twenty pieces of silver to an Indian merchant who took him on the palace of the ruler of Gandhara, sometime between about 19 and 45 CE. After a second voyage in 52 CE,Thomas landed in Kerala or Malabar and there established the Syrian Christian community that thrives there today; he then travelled overland to the east coast, where he was martyred in the outskirts of Chennai.

As usual, the interchange went in both directions; in exchange for the goods and ideas that the Christian brought to India, they took back, along with Kerala’s pepper and cinnamon, always in demand in Rome, equally palatable stories - elements of Ashvaghosha life of the Buddha (in the second century CE), such as the virgin birth and the temptation by the devil - that may have contributed to narratives of the life of Christ.

May 24, 2014

The age of Atheists by Peter Watson

The age of Atheists by Peter Watson
How we have sought to live since the death of God.

After centuries of religious strife, after more than 200 years of deconstruction of the factual historical basis of the Bible, after a plethora of new gods has been emerged in the most unlikely, mundane and prosaic of ways and places. There is a website listing more than three thousand supreme beings - humans everywhere seem to have learned next to nothing.

It seems plain that improving conditions of existential security erode the importance of religious values but - and here is the rub - at the same time reduce the rates of population growth in postindustrial societies. So rich societies are becoming more secular in their values but shrinking in population. In contrast, poorer nations remain deeply religious in their values and will also have much higher fertility rates, producing ever larger populations (and therefore tending to remain poor). A core aim of virtually all traditional religions is to maintain the strength of the family, ‘to encourage people to have children, to encourage women to stay home and raise the children and to forbid abortion, divorce, or anything that interfere with high rates of reproduction.”

Transcendence vs. poverty:
In the first place, we can say that the original secularization theory was right all along but many societies did not follow the same industrialization/urbanization path as did the West. Second, and conceivable more important, we can now see that religion is best understood ‘as a sociological rather than a theological phenomenon.

We find, first that it is the established churches - those with the most elaborately worked out theologies, to be replaced by as often as not by transcendence- that are losing adherents, to be replaced by evangelicals, Pentecostals, ‘health-and wealth’ charismatic’s and fundamentalists of one kind or another. In 1900, 80% of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and the US; today, 6-% of them live in the developing world.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge wrote that: “One of the most striking results of the Pew Forum (research centre) is regular survey of happiness is that Americans who attend religious services once or more a week are happier (43% very happy) than those who attend monthly or less (31 %) or seldom or never (26%).

James Q. Wilson succinctly summarized a mountain of (social-scientific) evidence: “Religion, independent of social class, reduces deviance”.

Nietzsche famously insisted, “There are no facts, only interpretations”. In Nietzsche’s new world, without a beyond or a hereafter, life has no purpose other than to live in the grand style, using the will to power to achieve an intensity of experience such than we would like those intense moments to go on and on and on.

“We are youth. Our blood cries out for heaven and earth and not for cells and worms. We want to dream. We want ecstasy. We call on Dionysus and Ithaca”

[Gifford lecturers are one of the most distinguished lecture series in the world. They are the legacy of the Scottish judge Adam Gifford who died in 1887 and intended to encourage a perpetual lively debate on science and all questions about man’s conception of God or the Infinite.]