Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Immanence v. Transcendence: a false dichotomy

[This is the first part of a three part series. Here is Part Two, and Part Three.]

Of the Isha Upanishad, Gandhi-ji said that if
all the other scriptures ... were reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse of the Isha Upanishad were left in the memory of Hindus, Hinduism would live forever.
Fortunately we have not only the first verse, but the whole of this marvelous teaching. Other translations might be more technically accurate, but in my opinion Eknath Easwaran's is the most beautiful:
The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all.
The Lord is the supreme Reality.

Rejoice in him through renunciation.
Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord.

Thus working may you live a hundred years.

Thus alone will you work in real freedom.

Those who deny the Self are born again

Blind to the Self, enveloped in darkness,

Utterly devoid of love for the Lord.

The Self is one. Ever still, the Self is
Swifter than thought, swifter than the senses.

Though motionless, he outruns all pursuit.
Without the Self, never could life exist.

The Self seems to move, but is ever still.

He seems far away, but is ever near.

He is within all, and he transcends all.

Those who see all creatures in themselves

And themselves in all creatures know no fear.

Those who see all creatures in themselves

And themselves in all creatures know no grief.

How can the multiplicity of life
Delude the one who sees its unity?

The Self is everywhere. Bright is the Self,

Indivisible, untouched by sin, wise,

Immanent and transcendent.
He it is
who holds the cosmos together.

In dark night live those for whom
The world without alone is real; in night

Darker still, for whom the world within
Alone is real. The first leads to a life

Of action, the second to a life of meditation.

But those who combine action with meditation

Cross the sea of death through action

And enter into immortality

Through the practice of meditation.

So have we heard from the wise.

In dark night live those for whom the
Is trancendent only; in night darker still,
For whom he is immanent only.

But those for whom he is transcendent
And immanent cross the sea of death

With the immanent and enter into

Immortality with the transcendent.
So have we heard from the wise.

The face of truth is hidden by your orb
Of gold, O sun. May you remove your orb

So that I, who adore the true, may see

The glory of truth. O nourishing sun,
Solitary traveler, controller,

Source of life for all creatures, spread your light

And subdue your dazzling splendor

So that I may see your blessed Self.

Even that very self am I!

May my life merge in the Immortal

When my body is reduced to ashes.
O mind, meditate on the eternal Brahman.

Remember the deeds of the past.

Remember, O mind, remember.

O God of Fire, lead us by the good path
To eternal joy. You know all our deeds.

Deliver us from evil, we who bow

And pray again and again.

OM shanti shanti shanti

Iran: what's goin' on?

For my money the place to go for real journalism on what is going on in Iran is good old In addition to the fascinating analysis piece by UC Irvine Prof (and world-music rock-guitarist) Mark Levine that I already blogged about, here's what else they have to offer right now (there are also two non-Al Jazeera pieces by Robert Fisk if you scroll down):

The latest on today's opposition protest in Tehran:

An analysis piece on why the US govt isn't crazy about either side in the election dispute:

A video piece on the increasing censorship in Iran:

An unsigned analysis piece largely based on quotes from Robert Fisk:

Another unsigned analysis on the "deeper power struggle" between Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani:

And much more.

Speaking of Robert Fisk, here are two (very) recent items by him:
Iran's Day of Destiny (from the UK Independent)
Extraordinary Scenes: Robert Fisk in Iran (from the australian "abc news" website)

I know some people might find the whole idea of actual news and analysis written by actual professional journalists just so, you know, 20th century. But I am basically a luddite and a reactionary, when it comes right down to it.

I do wish was still around. Sniff ... sniff. Man, they were the absolutely the best leftish meta-news site ever in the history of teh internets!!

Iran on the brink?

Mark Levine is a musician with a degree in Comparative Religion who also happens to be a Professor of History at the University of California at Irvine. As a rock guitarist he has performed with Mick Jagger, Chuck D, Michael Franti and Doctor John. He is also fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian, Italian, French and German. Someone really needs to tell this guy that no one likes a show off!!!

Anyway, Levine has a piece right now over at Al-Jazeera online in which he poses the musical question: will the current turmoil in Iran turn out to be more like Czechoslovakia in 1968, or more like Czechoslovakia in 1989??

But since this blog is largely focused on classical Paganism, and on ancient Pagan philosophy in particular, let me zero in on one particular aspect of what Levine has to say:

It seems that the Iranian elite has been caught similarly off-guard, and is still trying to read its own society to understand how broad is the societal discontent reflected in the mass protests.

This calculus is crucial - in some ways more so than whether the results are legitimate or, as some claim, electoral fraud.

It will determine whether the Iranian power elite - that is, the political-religious-military-security leadership who control the levers of state violence - moves towards negotiation and reconciliation between the increasingly distant sides, or moves to crush the mounting opposition with large-scale violence.

A lot depends on what the elite thinks is actually happening on the ground, and why the alleged fraud unfolded as it did....

What seems evident as the crisis deepens is that Ayatollah Khamenei, who most commentators have long assumed holds near absolute power in the country as Supreme Leader, is in a weaker position than previously believed. The collective religious and military leadership, along with the Revolutionary Guard, will likely have a lot of input into determining what course the government takes.

And it is certainly questionable whether these factions have shared core interests during this crisis, as the Revolutionary Guard - from whose ranks President Ahmadinejad emerged - is both culturally more conservative and economically more populist than much of the political and religious leadership.

The religious establishment is itself split into hard-line, moderate and more progressive factions, each of whose members are tied to factions within the economic, political and security elite, producing a complex and potentially volatile set of competing and contradictory loyalties and interests.

Ahmadinejad's and Khamenei's decisions in the coming days will be telling.

In other words, it appears that Iran might be experiencing (possibly in the very beginning stages) the classic precondition for revolutionary change: a split in the ruling class. Plato first pointed out the crucial role of divisions within the ruling class in Book VIII of his Republic:
Clearly, all political changes originate in divisions of the actual governing power; a government which is united, however small, cannot be moved.
In this section of the Republic, Plato is especially critical of oligarchy, "a form of government which teems with evils". Plato considers oligarchy to be the form of government natural for those who "honour and look up to the rich man, and make a ruler of him, and dishonour the poor man." Plato says (or, more precisely, he writes in the Republic that Socrates said) that choosing political leaders based on wealth is as stupid as choosing the captain of a ship on a similar basis, while "a poor man were refused permission to steer, even though he were a better pilot?" The inevitable result for such a ship is shipwreck, and even more so is the case for a society that picks its rulers in such a way, for
such a State is not one, but two States, the one of poor, the other of rich men; and they are living on the same spot and always conspiring against one another.
If anything, "oligarchy" describes the United States of America at least as well as Iran! The two main differences, however, are that in the USA the people don't care (or are at least complacent), and the rulers are united.

[All pictures are from Mark Levine's extremely excellent flickr photostream.]