Friday, October 30, 2009

the greatest rock performance ever?

i am possessed. who knows when or how this will end....

see me feel me, the who, woodstock, 1969

if you think about it, roger daltry should look like an idiot: with the big hair, that ridiculous fringe, and the elvis-esque "moves". but damn it if he doesn't pull it off. and then some.

"the origin of love" (hedwig and the angry inch)

ok, i went and done it. the pandora's box is open. i blame kullervo for posting his "favorite songs ever" on his blog. but i guess i can't really blame him. i took the bait. i bit down - and now i am hooked. i'm not sure if i can stop. oh, who am i kidding. of course i can't stop! i'll probably wake up in the middle of night in a panic with yet another "greatest rock song ever" to add to the list. but for now i will simply, and reverently, add Origin of Love, from the rock opera "hedwig and the angry inch":

runners up

everlong, foo fighters

burden in my hand, soundgarden

i don't want to wait, paula cole

semi-charmed life, third eye blind

what can i say, it was a good year (96-97)! i honestly don't like third eye blind, and i'm a little embarrassed to admit that i consider the "dee-doo-doo-doo-dee-dah-dah-dah" song one of the greatest rock songs of all times. i guess that's why i threw in the cover version. i almost didn't use this one, but then i saw she's got tibetan prayer flags in the background....

possibly the two greatest rock songs ever

Stars, by Hum

"She thinks she missed the train to mars,
she's out back counting stars...."

jack straw, grateful dead

"jack straw from wichita,
cut his buddy down"

check it out: the annotated jack straw

Monday, October 26, 2009

"By This Sign We Prosper" (Heart of Darkness, Part One)

Heart of Darkness:
Part One:
"By This Sign We Prosper"
Part Two: Christian Demographics Fun Facts
Part Three: Doing the Lord's Work In Rwanda
Part Four: Conflict and Genocide: Lessons from Rwanda
Part Five: Preparing the Way for Genocide in Rwanda

A Brief History of Monotheism in Africa

Most Africans (90+%) are either Christian or Muslim. And most live in countries that are overwhelmingly (80-99%) one or the other.

Islam is predominant in northern and eastern Africa, and this has been the case since the early days of Islam, over 1000 years ago. For the most part the Islamic conquest of those parts of Africa simply amounted to a transition from one monotheistic theocracy (Christendom) to another (Islam).

A minority (about 10%) of the Egyptian population remained Christian even after the Islamic conquest. Other than Egypt, Ethiopia was the only remaining Christian stronghold in Africa after the spread of Islam, that is, until the rise of European colonialism. One estimate is that there were only 9 million Christians in all of Africa as late as 1900 (only about 7% of the total African population of the time). Today there are close to half a billion Christians in Africa, somewhere between 40 and 45% of a total African population of around 1 billion.

The vast majority of Christians in Africa today are Christians because of only one reason: European colonialism. The history of monotheism in Africa is really very simple. First, Christianity was imposed by force from 324 to about 600 AD. Then Islam was imposed by force, starting a little after 650 AD, and the vast majority of those forced to convert to Islam were descendants of those who had already been forced to convert to Christianity. Then, in a process that had it's early beginnings as far back as the 1500's, but which dramatically accelerated in the late 1800's, the European Great Powers imposed Christianity by force, but almost exclusively in the non-Muslim parts of Africa.

It is interesting to note that the European colonialists were so circumspect in their missionary activities in places where Islam was already well established. This was a "professional courtesy" that the Muslims, in their youthful exhuberance, had neglected, for the most part, to extend to their brother monotheists during their own early conquests in Africa.

The Crime of the Congo

It is worth pausing to consider the magnitude of the great cultural genocide that has been accomplished in Africa in just slightly over a century. In that short time, the spiritual traditions of hundreds of millions of people has been nearly completely eliminated. These ancient traditions were still intact, although already under siege, in the days when my great grandparents were young. This was done by modern industrialized nations and by modern "denominations", not by black hooded medieval Inquisitors or Crusading knights on horseback.

What happened in the Congo provides crucial insights into what happened throughout Africa during this period of intense Colonialization and equally intense Christianization. In 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium established the Congo Free State, which was neither "free" nor a "state". It was a corporation, and Leopold was the only shareholder! It was a corporation with it's own private army, and it "owned" a territory 76 times larger than the nation of Belgium itself!

In 1905, Mark Twain wrote the satirical King Leopold's Soliloquy. On the front cover of an early edition there was a picture of a cross and a machete above the motto: "In This Sign We Prosper". In that same edition, the following text, in the shape of a cross (as below), faced the frontispiece:

The illustration on the frontispiece itself shows a flag waving bearded figure (Leopold) standing atop a large pyramid, the sky above filled with dark clouds and lightning flashes, and the ground below populated by neat rows of headless skeletons, all holding hands:

In the Soliloquy, Twain portrays Leopold as clutching and kissing a crucifix while bemoaning how unfairly he has been portrayed in the media because of the increasingly widely-known (at the time) violence of his "Free State" in the Congo. Leopold protests (to himself) that he is "oozing with piety at every pore" and that he has been solely concerned with the spiritual well-being of his 25 million Congolese subjects, whom he wishes to "lift up ... into the light, the light of our blessed Redeemer, the light that streams out from his holy Word, the light that makes glorious our noble civilization ...."

The King ends his soliloquy by comforting himself with the knowledge that his misdeeds in the Congo will go unpunished for two reasons. First of all, whatever "excesses" may have occurred are more than offset by the tremendous spiritual benefit derived from the conversion of the Congolese to the One True Faith. Second of all, Leopold realizes that when it comes right down to it, his fellow Christians and fellow Europeans are too ashamed by what they themselves have been a party to, so that when evidence is presented to them they will "shudder and turn away .... certainly that is my protection ... I know the human heart." Following this there is another cross shaped section of the text:

And following that there comes a "Supplement" added with the explanation that "Since the first edition of this pamphlet was issued, the Congo story has entered upon a new chapter." This "new chapter" was the result of the revelations emanating from King Leopold's own Commission of Inquiry. The Supplement ends with an interview titled simply "Ought King Leopold to be Hanged?".

Mark Twain wasn't the only well known writer to speak out on the issue of the Congo. In 1909 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published his The Crime of the Congo, which begins like this:
There are many of us in England who consider the crime which has been wrought in the Congo lands by King Leopold of Belgium and his followers to be the greatest which has ever been known in human annals. I am very strongly of that opinion. There have been great expropriations like that of the Normans in England or of the English in Ireland. There have been massacres of populations like that of the South Americans by the Spaniards or of the subject nations by the Turks. But never before has there been such a mixture of wholesale wholesale expropriation and wholesale massacre all done under the an odious guise of philanthropy and with the lowest commercial motives as a reason. It is this sordid cause and the unctious hypocrisy which makes this crime unparalleled in its horror.
The Horror .... The Horror ....

It is a thankless business, quantifying human suffering. An even more unrewarding task is that of measuring and assessing the magnitude of human evil. Just how bad was "the crime of the Congo", and just how bad were the criminals who perpetrated it? It is crucial to point out (for now in passing, but in a later post in much more detail) that the most vocal critics of King Leopold were often (like Twain and Conan Doyle) to be found among the British and the Americans, whose savage policies towards the native inhabitants of the New World are unmatched in the annals of Genocide. Today comparisons between Leopold and Hitler are sometimes made, and such comparisons are hotly debated by knowledgeable and impassioned proponents on both sides. But what about comparisons between Andrew Jackson and Adolf Hitler?

The appalling fact is that much of the early 20th century rancor over the atrocities in the Congo was simply part of the cynical political maneuvering of colonial rivals: articles of cookware, all found in the same kitchen, all owned and operated by the same cook, all accusing each other of being foul, fiendish, infernal articles of cookware. The uber-sanctimoniousness of the screeds by Twain and Conan Doyle was only partially due to the very real horrors committed in the Congo by the Belgians. But, as I just promised, I'll have to return to the hypocrisy of the accusers later.

Belgium lurched into the Scramble for Africa very late in the game, but they lost no time in demonstrating that when it came to conquest and exploitation, the small nation of Belgium could run with the big dogs. Estimates in terms of human lives lost as a direct result of Belgian colonialism during the heyday of the Congo Free State vary from 3 to 10 million (between 2% and 8% of the total population of Africa at the time). One estimate is that the population of the area under the control of the Congo Free State declined from 30 million to only 8 million between 1885 and 1908!

In his 1995 book King Leopold's Ghost Adam Hochschild actually attempted to identify the original model for the character Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Hochschild found that there were multiple candidates among the sociopaths in Leopold's employ, including more than one man who decorated his garden with the skulls of his victims. That was not the main point of Hochschild's book, though. In the Introduction to the book, Hochschild describes reading, in a footnote, a casual reference to Mark Twain's involvement in "a worldwide movement against slave labor in the Congo, a practice that had taken 5 to 8 million lives." Hochschild was stunned by the fact that he had never heard of either these atrocities or "the worldwide movement" condemning them, even though he had been a writer and researcher on the subject of human rights for years!

In his Personal Afterward, written after the initial publication and reactions (both praising and damning) of his book, Hochschild also spoke of the initial resistance he faced in getting the book published:
When I began working on it, it was surprisingly hard to get anyone interested. Of the ten New York publishers who saw a detailed outline of the book, nine turned it down. One suggested the story might work better as a magazine article. The others said there was no market for books on African history or simply felt Americans would not care about these events so long ago, in a place few could find on a map. Happily, the tenth publisher, Houghton Mifflin, had more faith in readers' ability to see connections between Leopold's Congo and today.
Not only has King Leopold's Ghost now sold hundreds of thousands of copies (not bad for a history book!), it has also been translated into a dozen languages, and it was the basis for an award winning documentary by the same name in 2006.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A visit from the Princess of the Wisdom Lake

Just finished an amazing weekend well spent at the P'howa retreat sponsored by Dungkar Ling in Honeybrook, PA. The retreat was led by Chagdud Khadro, who, for my money, is a living breathing emanation of Lady Tsogyal. This was the very last stop on her 2009 North America teaching tour.

What is P'howa?? I couldn't begin to describe it in words, but the song Remind Us by Over the Rhine really captures and expresses how I am feeling right now as I bask in the glow.
Remind Us
I don't know where this is going
I'm taking a ride on a wing and a prayer
Follow me there
We'll both be surprised
If we forget anything
Hopefully nobody will remind us

Can't bear the news in the evening
We're going to bed and we're going to war
All of this for
Anyone's guess
If we forget anything
Heaven forbid someone would remind us

Sinners and saints, priests and kings
Are we just using God for our own gain
What's in a name
Open your eyes
If we forget everything
There will be no one left to remind us

I don't know where this is going
I'm taking a ride on a wing and a prayer
Follow me there
We'll both be surprised.
Remind Us by Over the Rhine

Friday, October 23, 2009

on retreat again

to the tune of "on the road again":

Illustrious Tara

Please be aware of me

Remove my obstacles
And quickly grant my excellent aspirations

"I'll probably be remembered for the pies, and that's all right"

One of my childhood heroes, Soupy Sales, has died. Alas.

Soupy was often accused of using sexual innuendo in his children's show Lunch With Soupy Sales. He not only consistently and adamantly denied this, but had a standing offer of $10,000 to anyone who could ever present any evidence, whatsoever, that he ever introduced "blue" material in any of his kids' shows. No one ever even tried to collect the money!

Nevertheless Soupy Sales was a subversive, like all great comedians. But his was a gentle, if "zany" (and literally "in your face"!), subversion. To this day, Soupy Sales trademark pie-in-the-face is used by non-violent protesters the world across to get their point across with humor and style.

Happy Mole Day

The mole is much more than just a geeky Chemistry concept, although it is that. It is also an initiatory gateway that one must pass through. It's very much like a Zen koan. Once you "get it", well, you know for certain that you have gotten it. It might take a few (or even several) false starts. You might try to fake it, but you can't fool anyone who really knows what a mole is.

I can think back over my years of (over) educating myself and identify several other terms/concepts/phenomena that, at least for me, provided the same kind of "AHA!" experience that can accompany learning about the Great Mystery of the Mole.

In phonology there is the phoneme.

In calculus there is the limit.

In computer science there is recursion.

In marxist economics there is value (surplus, use and exchange).

In magic there is sympathy.

In unix there is the file.

In european history there is Charlemagne.

In chaos there is sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

In protein x-ray crystallography there is anomalous scattering.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sweat Lodge survivor's story

Beverly Bunn is the first person to speak publicly about the recent tragic deaths of three participants in a sweat ceremony gone horribly wrong in Sedona Arizona.

I have personally participated in two sweat ceremonies, and I never witnessed anything remotely like what Bunn describes (scroll down for links to news stories about her interview). Both of the ceremonies that I participated in were extremely rewarding experiences. They were also both done by very different groups using very different approaches. But one thing was made absolutely clear to all participants: anyone was free to leave the sweat lodge at any time. In fact participants were encouraged to leave if they felt the urge to do so, and we were explicitly encouraged not to stay just out of pride or a desire to "tough it out". Another thing that was the case for both of the sweat lodges was that the groups were small - less than 15 people. And in at least one of those sweat lodges there was at least one person who did leave, and this was absolutely no problem.

The bottom line is this: if you are participating for the first time in a sweat ceremony with a group that you are not intimately familiar with, make sure you are clear about the logistics and the ground rules. Use your own judgement, but as far as I am concerned (and my experience is very limited) I would never participate in a ceremony in which the leaders did not make it clear that leaving at any time is OK, and that this is logistically possible. The size of the ceremony is also very important because those who are leading the ceremony need to be able to keep track of each person to guarantee that everyone is OK at all times.

According to the only eyewitness account that we now have of the sweat ceremony lead by James Arthur Ray in which three people died, these basic, common-sense guidelines were not only ignored, the opposite was done. I have no idea of the veracity of this one person's testimony, but I also have no reason to question that person's sincerity or memory. According to that one account there were clear signs that many of the participants were in serious trouble, including at least one person who was vomitting and two people who were unconscious and unresponsive. Multiple online sources have the original AP story: look here and also here.

At this point I could care less about trashing James Arthur Ray or taking cheap shots under the heading of "cultural appropriation". The important thing is for people to be educated about what can be a very valuable spiritual tool. Any kind of serious spiritual practice (especially when you start throwing around the word "warrior") is for people who are ready and able to think for themselves and take responsibility for their decisions. There are no guarantees. People fall over dead walking down the street. And the quest for enlightenment is not really suited for the risk averse. But even warriors try their best not to get themselves killed needlessly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

kd lang + issa = aural ecstasy

two of the most beautiful songs by issa (jane siberry) are performed here by kd lang:

the valley

love is everything

there are some really nice videos of issa on youtube, too -- but i seriously think kd's versions of these two songs are better than the versions by issa that are currently available. but if you ever get the chance to see issa live and she does "love is everything" solo on the piano, well, cherish it. i got that chance a couple summers ago when issa played at the lotus music festival in bloomington. i got there late and i really couldn't believe my ears when the usher told me "it's almost full, there are only a few seats left in the front row." it was like CHURCH, people didn't want to sit in the front row!

Heather Graham's Viral Video Pitch for Public Option

Heather Graham is a Pagan, and she is also, literally, the embodiment of the Public Option in MoveOn's new ad:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ghee Lamp How-To Video

In honor of Diwali, here is a video posted on youtube by a devotee of Dattatreya Siva Baba:

Friday, October 16, 2009

but you don't really care for music, do ya?

kd lang:

john cale:


Kate's Meow
(she disabled embedding - but just click on the picture below to play the video):

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hallelujah, it's Xena!!

File this one under "W" for "Who Knew??"

I am something of a Hallelujah aficionado. More than once I have spent hours listening to covers of Hallelujah on youtube. Lucy Lawless does an absolutely amazing job here. The sound quality is less than perfect, but it is still spectacular. Srsly.

Still More On Cultural Appropriation

While looking for some freeware for my Mac I stumbled upon this abomination: a program for playing "raga-based" Christian music!!!! This crime against all that is good is actually from an outfit that calls itself "AsramSoftware", which in turn is run by a bunch of Christian Missionaries working in Bangladesh.

The horror .... the horror .....

"The Buddha, Sri Aurobindo and Plato": An Interview with Sita Ram Goel

The following interview with Sita Ram Goel was first published in The Observer on February 22, 2003.

Who are you? How do you define yourself?

I am a Hindu
, which to me means the inheritor of the oldest and the highest spiritual culture known to human history. Although I have been in service and business to earn my living, I define myself as a writer. I started as a poet, became a novelist, and have ended as a commentator, on cruel, crude and imperialist ideologies Christianity, Islam, and Communism.

Could you explain your spiritual and culture background, your evolution?

As a young man I was influenced by Vaishnavism, Arya Samaj and Mahatama Gandhi. In college I was under the spell of Marxism and became a Communist.

In 1949, Ram Swarup cured me of Communism, and after that I returned to Hinduism. I have been strongly influenced by the Mahabharata, discourses of the Buddha, Sri Aurobindo and Plato.

My masters have been Vyasa, Buddha and Sri Aurobindo, as elucidated by Ram Swarup.

What does the idea of Paganism mean for you? Are you a Pagan? A Polytheist?

'Paganism' was a term of contempt invented by Christianity for people in the countryside who lived close to and in harmony with Nature, and whose ways of worship were spontaneous as opposed to the contrived though-categories constructed by Christianity's city-based manipulators of human minds.

In due course, the term was extended to cover all spiritually spontaneous culture of the world - Greek, Roman, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, native American.

It became a respectable term for those who revolted against Christianity in the modern West. But it has yet to recover its spiritual dimension which Christianity had eclipsed. For me, Hinduism preserves ancient Paganism in all its dimensions. In that sense, I am a Pagan.

The term "Polytheism' comes from Biblical discourse, which has the term 'theism' as its starting point. I have no use for these terms. They create confusion.

I dwell in a different universe of discourse which starts with 'know thyself' and ends with the discovery, 'thou art that'.

Could you explain your position towards monotheism and the main differences between semitic religions and Hindu traditions?

The literal meaning of monotheism, namely, that God is one and not many does not interest me.

What bothers me is the monotheism known to history: Christianity and Islam, religions which have prompted aggression, massacres, plunder, pillage, enslavement and the rest. Histories of Christianity and Islam tell the full story. Honest gangsters do all this in a straightforward manner, "I want your land, your wealth, your women and children and you yourself as my slaves. Surrender or I will kill you." Dishonest gangsters have done the same in the name of the 'only true God'. God is not needed by them except as an alibi. Communists have done the same in the name of History, and the Nazis in the name of the Master Race.

Christianity and Islam do not need any supernatural scaffolding for doing what they have been doing. The mainstay of their monotheism is gross materialism.

I do not regard Christianity and Islam as semitic. The semites of west Asia were Pagans with pluralistic religious traditions before the Biblical God appeared on the scene. I, therefore, call both Christianity and Islam the Biblical creeds. Both of them have their source in the Bible.

And as I do not view them as religions at all, I refuse to compare them with Hinduism. I have found it quite apt to compare Christianity and Islam with Communism and Nazism.

What about the negative role of Christian missions in India?

Christian missions in India have been the Devil's workshop to use their own language. I need not tell you about the 'science' of 'missiology'.

Christian missionaries had perfected the art of manipulating human minds quite early in the history of their cult. of their cult. The amount of mischief they have done defies description.

They have received a help from the Communists. I am not going into the history of Christian missions and the various mission strategies for converting Hindu India.

(Muslims were 'spared' because of fear for their lives). Here I am taking up their role in the present.

As soon as they sensed that the anti-Hindu coalition was cracking and a Hindu reawakening was around, they became hysterical in their anti-Hindu tirades. I have in my possession a 400-page script of a study sponsored by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, which presents the Hindu movement as Nazi.

We hear the same refrain from the powerful and extensive Christian media in India and abroad.

In the Ayodhya dispute they have joined the Muslim-Marxist brigade in crying 'wolf', while concealing the fact that thousands of mosques and hundreds of churches stand on the sites of deliberately demolished Hindu temples and have been built with temple debris.

It is mostly Christian missionaries who are responsible for the negative publicity which Hindus have been getting in the West recently.

They have immensely financed the media-power in India, and can mobilise any number of mercenaries and hired hoodlums.

And their men are everywhere in the media and academia of the West. It was a shocking experience for me to read an article in The New York Review of Books written about Ayodhya by the South Asia correspondent of the Time magazine a few years ago.

He had invited me for presenting the Hindu case on Ayodhya.

I had given him documented studies on what happened to Hindu temples under Muslim rule.

Also a study by Koenraad Elst on Ayodhya. But he [the Time correspondent] ignored everything in his article and, after quoting from a few books cooked up by well-known Communist writers hired by the Muslim lobby, he dismissed the Hindu case as bogus! There are many other scoundrels like him functioning in the Western media and academia.

The mischief created by Christian missionaries and their mouthpieces In India and the West has to be known in order to be believed.

Mother Theresa is a part of this gang, presenting India as a starved, diseased and corrupt country to her Western audiences and collecting fabulous sums for the missionary machine.

I met her briefly in Calcutta in 1954 or 1955 when she was unknown.

I had gone to see an American journalist who was a friend and had fallen ill, when she came to his house asking for money for her charity set-up. The friend went inside to get some cash, leaving his five or six year old daughter in the drawing room. Teresa told her, "He is not your real father. Your real father is in heaven." The girl said, "He is very ill." Theresa commented, "If he dies, your father does not die. For your real father who is in heaven never 'dies." The girl was in tears. My friend came back and gave her the money. She departed. He saw his daughter in tears, and turned towards me.

I reported the dialogue. He was furious, and said, "Had I known what sort of a bag she is, I would have thrown her out. I am not a Christian. I was never baptised. Nor do I care for Christianity. I was only moved by her appeal in the name of the poor, and gave her some money. I hope she does not come again, and try to poison my daughter's mind. "

The closed mind of Mother Teresa was revealed a few years back in an interview published In India Today, a prestigious fortnightly (then, now weekly -ed) which had devoted a special issue to her. One of the questions put to her was: "Where would you have been between the Church and Galileo?" Came the reply, "With the Church. " That is a measure of her intellectual equipment.

But Western establishments have built her up into a colossal myth with Nobel Prize and all.

Who is your tutelar God/Goddess? Why?

I have no use for God. In fact, the very word stinks in my nostrils. This word abounds in the Bible and the Quran, and has been responsible for the greatest crimes in human history.

On the other hand, saints who have used this word in a spiritually wholesome sense have seldom warned us against its sinister use; most of the time they have been confused by the criminal use of this word, and have confused others. I do not feel the same way about the word 'goddess' because the monotheist who happen to be male chauvinists, have not used this word for their purposes.

In fact, the only thing which softens me towards Catholicism is the figure of the Virgin Mother even though theology has not permitted her to soar up to her highest heights.

Having been a student of Hinduism, I find that our tradition knows no God or Goddess as the creator and controller of the Cosmos.

The Vedas know no god or goddess in that sense, nor the Upanishads, nor the six systems of philosophy, nor Buddhism, nor Jainism. It is the Puranas which speaks for the first time of a paramatman (Highest Self), or a purushottama (Highest Persona). But that is not the extra-cosmic and blood-thirsty tyrant of the Bible and the Quran.

We do have in Hinduism the concept of ishtadeva, the highest symbol of a person's spiritual aspiration.

In that sense, I am devoted to Sri Krishna as he figures in the Mahabharata, and the Goddess Durga, as she reveals herself in the Devi-Bhagvata Purana. I feel free and shed all fear when I meditate on them.

They promise to clean up the dross that I carry within me.

They prepare me for battle against forces of darkness and destruction.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Yes, Virginia, "Cultural Appropriation" Really Does Exist

By opening the whole territory between Tennessee on the north and Louisiana on the south to the settlement of the whites it will incalculably strengthen the southwestern frontier and render the adjacent States strong enough to repel future invasions without remote aid. It will relieve the whole State of Mississippi and the western part of Alabama of Indian occupancy, and enable those States to advance rapidly in population, wealth, and power. It will separate the Indians from immediate contact with settlements of whites; free them from the power of the States; enable them to pursue happiness in their own way and under their own rude institutions; will retard the progress of decay, which is lessening their numbers, and perhaps cause them gradually, under the protection of the Government and through the influence of good counsels, to cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community ....

And is it supposed that the wandering savage has a stronger attachment to his home than the settled, civilized Christian? Is it more afflicting to him to leave the graves of his fathers than it is to our brothers and children? Rightly considered, the policy of the General Government toward the red man is not only liberal, but generous. He is unwilling to submit to the laws of the States and mingle with their population. To save him from this alternative, or perhaps utter annihilation, the General Government kindly offers him a new home.
[U.S. President Andrew Jackson, Address to Congress, December 8, 1830]
I was on my way to a Zen Meditation retreat in Kentucky when I heard the news, on the radio, about the deaths during a "Spiritual Warrior" workshop in Sedona, Arizona, led by James Arthur ("As seen on Oprah, Larry King and The Secret") Ray.

The Temple where the Zen retreat (not the Spiritual Warrior workshop) was held had been built in the architectural style of a traditional Korean Buddhist temple. The adoption of this design was done at the urging of Zen Master Seung Sahn, one of the leading figures in modern Korean Buddhism (in fact, he is considered one of the "Great Soen [Zen] Masters of Korean History"). The precise location of the Temple itself was determined using Feng Shui, in which Zen Master Seung Sahn was an adept. The retreat was led by an american, Zen Master Dae Gak (who has been my Zen teacher for almost 20 years), who received his training to be a Zen Master under Master Seung Sahn.

So there I was, an American of European ancestry going to Kentucky (of all places) to participate in a Korean Buddhist religious ritual. A significant part of the retreat consisted of traditional Buddhist chanting done twice a day. This chanting was done mostly in Chinese (actually Sino-Korean, the liturgical language of Korean Buddhism, similar to classical Chinese). Even more important were the daily talks given by Zen Master Dae Gak, who (as is usually the case for Zen teachers) uses the "koan" literature from the Sung Dynasty in China as the basis for his talks.

Was I engaging in "cultural appropriation"??

Obviously not.

Both Buddhism and Geomancy (Feng Shui) came to Korea from China. Both underwent significant changes in Korea, but I would argue that at least in the case of Buddhism (my knowledge of Feng Shui is vanishingly small), the essence of the Buddhist teachings was preserved (and in some ways perhaps even strengthened) in the process of adapting them to Korea. Of course the Buddhist tradition had originally come from India and had already undergone significant changes in it's transmission from India to China. For more on Geomancy in Korea see, for example, the book The culture of fengshui in Korea: an exploration of East Asian geomancy by Hong-key Yoon. For more on the tradition of Korean Buddhism see, for example, the website of the Jogye Buddhist Order, the largest Buddhist denomination in Korea.

Buddhism is one of the great "success stories" of world religions. Starting in what is today the nation of Nepal, it spread to the west as far as the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria; south to island that is today known as Sri Lanka; east to China, Korea, Japan; and north to Tibet and Mongolia. It also spread throughout the Indian sub-continent and from there to Southeast Asia (including where the nations of Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia are today).

But unlike Christianity and Islam, Buddhism did not engage in a spiritual scorched earth policy as it spread. In India people continued to worship their old Goddesses and Gods, often while simultaneously following the teachings of the Buddha. In Tibet to this day people still practice the ancient Bon religion which long predated the arrival of Buddhism (in fact, the modern Ri-Me movement of Tibetan Buddhism explicitly promotes the simultaneous study of Bon and Buddhism). In East Asia Buddhism developed syncretic forms in combination with Confucianism, Taoism and more ancient traditions (such as Shinto in Japan or Shamanism in Korea), but in addition to mutually influencing each other, these traditions also persisted in institutionally distinct forms. Not one religion, anywhere on earth, has ever been "extirpated" in the name of Buddhism.

That's the thing about "cultural appropriation". It really does exist, but it is merely one aspect of a much larger phenomenon: cultural genocide. Where cultural appropriation genuinely occurs one will find that it is part and parcel of a wider effort at eradicating the very culture that is being "appropriated". This "appropriation" is like the charming practice of early Christians who destroyed Pagan Temples and then "appropriated" bits and pieces of what was left over for their Churches.

The charge of cultural appropriation made against James Arthur Ray actually has some merit to it, but not because he is a New Ager wanker pretending to teach things that he knows nothing about (although that is true enough). James Arthur Ray is involved in cultural appropriation because he actively and proudly promotes the culture that enriched itself on the savage exploitation of the native americans. That culture is called Capitalism, which, in turn, is simply one of the modern faces of Christendom. For the inextricable linkage between Capitalism and Christianity see the works of Max Weber (for example, his Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) and, more recently, Rodney Stark (for example, his The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success).

In fact, the whole "self-help" movement is deeply rooted not only in the ersatz pop-psychology bilge that is the essence of Capitalist "culture", but in the very teachings of Christianity itself. While this is most easily seen in the perfect merging of Calvinism and Capitalism found in the non-scriptural credo, "God helps those who help themselves" the connection goes much deeper. The difference between Max Weber and Rodney Stark is that Stark sees the much deeper connection between Capitalism qua Capitalism and Christianity qua Christianity.

For his own part, James Arthur Ray is not ambiguous concerning his relationship with Capitalism. He promotes himself, literally, as the "Master of the Entrepreneurial Mindset". You can't make that shit up. Also see the immediately preceding post in this blog On the Personal, the Political, the Pathetic, and the Commoditization of the Spiritual and especially the paper by political scientist George Davis quoted in that post, and the many helpful references found in Davis' paper.

Finally, below is a very relevant excerpt from Sita Ram Goel's Catholic Ashrams: Sannyasins or Swindlers? In that book Goel examines the more subtle tack taken by some Christian missionaries in India after the spectacular failure of more aggressive tactics. In particular Goel takes on the phenomenon of "Christian Ashrams" and the more general phenomenon of so called Indigenization. The following is Chapter Two of Goel's book, Indigenisation: A Predatory Enterprise:
The precedent cited most frequently by the literature of Indigenisation is that which was set by the Greek Fathers when they used Greek cultural forms for conveying Christianity to the pagans in the Roman Empire. Fr. Bede recommends this precedent to the mission in India. "The Church," he says, "has a perfect model of how it should proceed today in the way it proceeded in the early centuries. Christianity came out of Palestine as a Jewish sect. Yet within a few centuries this Jewish sect had taken all the forms of thought and expression of the Greco-Roman world. A Christian theology developed in Greek modes of thought, as did a Christian liturgy in Greek language and in Greek modes of expression; a calender also developed according to Greek and Roman traditions. Surely all that is a wonderful example meant for our instruction of how the Church can present herself to an alien world, receiving forms into herself while retaining her own Catholic message."1

Another expert on Indigenisation is more explicit about what the Church had done in the Greco-Roman world. "As we reflect on the process," writes R.H.S. Boyd, "by which Christianity in the earlier centuries became acclimatised in the Greek world, and by which it made use of certain categories of Greek thought, we are struck by the double face of its acceptance of 'secularised' Greek philosophy and philosophical terminology, and its complete rejection of Greek religion and mythology. Greek religion was gradually secularised. Philosophy was separated from what had been a religio-philosophic unity. The religious content - which had already been deeply influenced by secularisation right from the time of Aristophanes and Euripides - developed into a cultural, literary, artistic entity 'incapsulated' and isolated, except in the Orphic and mystery traditions, from that living, existential faith which transforms men's lives."

There is no evidence that Greek culture had become secularised before some of its forms were taken over by the Church. The history of that period stands thoroughly documented by renowned scholars. The record leaves no doubt that it was the Church which forcibly secularised Greek culture by closing pagan schools, destroying pagan temples, and prohibiting pagan rites. In fact, the doings of the Church in the Greco-Roman world is one of the darkest chapters in human history. Force and fraud are the only themes in that chapter. But facts, it seems, have no role to play when it comes to missionary make-believe.

In any case, Dr. Boyd has convinced himself that "there is at present a rapid process of secularisation going on within Hinduism". He finds that philosophical Hinduism in particular has become "demythologized". "It would seem, therefore," he continues, "as though Hinduism were already started on the path followed by Greek religion. And so we are led to the question of whether or not it is legitimate for Christian theologians to use and adapt categories of what still purports to be religious Hinduism, and yet is very largely secularised. What, indeed, is the real meaning of the word 'Hindu'? Does it describe the fully mythological Hindu religion? Does it describe certain philosophico-religious systems? Or is it simply a synonym for 'Indian culture'? We shall find that some Indian Christian theologians, notably Brahmabandhab, have believed that Christianity was not incompatible with cultural, secularised Hinduism."

Legitimate or illegitimate, compatible or incompatible, the literature of Indigenisation provides ample proof that several Hindu philosophies are being actively considered by the mission strategists as conveyors of Christianity. The Advaita of Shankaracharya has been the hottest favourite so far. The Vishistadvaita of Ramanuja, the Bhakti of the Alvar saints and Vaishnava Acharyas, the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Vichara of Raman Maharshi are not far behind. For all we know, Kashmir Saivism and Shakta Tantra may also become grist to the missionary mill before long. Missionaries working among Harijans are advocating that the Nirguna Bhakti of Kabir and Ravidas should also be accepted as candidates for service to Christianity. The more enterprising mission strategists recommend that different systems of Hindu philosophy should he used for tackling different sections of Hindu society. In the upshot, we are witnessing a keen contest among Indigenisation theologians for acquiring doctorates in Hindu religion and philosophy. Christian seminaries in India and abroad conduct crash courses in the same field. Christian publishing houses are manufacturing learned monographs, comparing Hindu philosophers with Christian theologians - ancient, medieval, and modern. And the same operation is being extended to other spheres of Hindu culture.

Fr. Bede is not bothered by considerations of legitimacy or compatibility. What concerns him most is the need of the Church. "We are faced," he says, "with a tradition of philosophy and mysticism, of art and morality, of a richness and depth not excelled, and perhaps not equalled, by the tradition of Greek culture which the Church encountered in the Roman Empire. What then is our attitude towards it to be? It is clear that we cannot simply reject it. The attempt to impose an alien culture on the East has proved a failure. There are no doubt elements in this tradition which we may have to reject, just as the Church had to reject certain elements in the Greek tradition. But what is required of us is something much more difficult. It is an effort of discrimination, such as the Greek Fathers from Clement and Origen to Gregory of Nyssa and Dionysius the Aeropagite undertook, not merely rejecting what is wrong but assimilating all that is true in a vital act of creative thought."

This is not the occasion for an evaluation of the philosophical calibre of the Greek Fathers. Those who have taken the punishment of examining their performance without wearing theological glasses, tell us that even at their best they were no more than practitioners of petty casuistries. What comes in for questioning in the present context is the Christian claim that Jesus scored over Zeus simply because some theological text-twisters tried to pass Judaic superstitions as Greek sublimities. The history of Christianity in the Roman Empire is not an obscure subject. The careers of many Christian emperors, popes, patriarchs, bishops, saints, and monks are proof that the contest between paganism and Christianity was decided not by philosophical cajoleries but by brute physical force.

The mission in India had no scruples about using force whenever and wherever it had the opportunity. It changed over to other methods only when it could wield the whip no more. The latest method sounds soft but is no less sinister. "Indigenisation," say Kaj Baago, "is evangelisation. It is the planting of the gospel inside another culture, another philosophy, another religion." What happens in the process to that "another culture, another philosophy, another religion" is not the mission's concern.

Fr. Bede give the clarion call. "In India," he says, "we need a christian Vedanta and a christian Yoga, that is a system of theology which makes use not only of the terms and concepts but of the whole structure of thought of the Vedanta, as the Greek Fathers used Plato and Aristotle; and a spirituality which will make use not merely of the practices of Hatha Yoga, by which most people understand Yoga, but of the great systems of Karma, Bhakti and Jnan Yoga, the way of works or action, of love or devotion, and of knowledge or wisdom, through which the spiritual genius of India has been revealed through the centuries." Mark the words, "make use". The entire approach is instrumental and cynical. Yet Fr. Bede calls it a "vital act of creative thought". The whole business could have been dismissed with the contempt it deserves or laughed out as ludicrous but for the massive finance and the giant apparatus which the Christian mission in India has at its disposal.

As one surveys the operation mounted by the mission under the label of Indigenisation, one is driven to an inescapable conclusion about the character of Christianity: Christianity has been and remains a sterile shibboleth devoid of a living spirituality and incapable of creating its own culture. This spiritual poverty had forced Christianity into a predatory career from the start. It survived and survives to-day by plundering the cultures of living and prosperous spiritual traditions.

Christianity's predatory nature is loathsome to pagans who have inherited and are proud of their own culture. Yet it is quite in keeping with Jehovah's promise in the Bible. "Just as the Lord your God promised to your ancestors, Abraham, Issac and Joseph," proclaims Jehovah, "he will give you a land with large and prosperous cities which you did not build. The houses will be full of good things which you did not put in them, and there will be wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive orchards you did not plant."

The Bible preserves a graphic and gory record of how the descendants of Abraham and Issac and Joseph helped Jehovah in fulfilling this promise. They appropriated the lands and properties of the pagans with a clean conscience. They were convinced that they were only taking possession of what already belonged to them by the terms of a divine pledge.

Christianity claims that Jehovah switched his patronage to the Church militant when the latter-day progeny of his earlier prophets became disobedient and killed his only son. It was now the turn of the Church to redeem the divine pledge. The history of the Church in many lands and over many centuries shows that it did far better than the preceding chosen people. It deprived the pagans not only of their physical possessions but also of their cultural creations. The condottieri who carried out the operation in the field of culture are known as the Greek Fathers.

It should not be a matter of surprise, therefore, that the mission has started singing hymns of praise to Hindu culture. That is the mission casting covetous glances before mounting a marauding expedition. What causes concern is the future of Hindu culture once it falls into the hands of the Church. The fate of Greek culture after it was taken over by the Church is a grim reminder.

Hindu culture grew out of Hindu religion over many millennia. The once cannot be separated from the other without doing irreparable damage to both. The Christian mission is bent upon destroying Hindu religion. Hindu culture will not survive for long if the mission succeeds. The plundered Hindu plumage which Christianity will flaunt for a time is bound to fade before long, just as the Greek and Roman cultures faded.

Let there be no mistake that the Christian mission is not only a destroyer of living religions but also of living cultures. It promises no good to a people, least of all to the Hindus.

[Postscript: And if you haven't seen the movie Magnolia, well, why the heck not!?!?!?]

On the Personal, the Political, the Pathetic, and the Commoditization of the Spiritual

James Arthur Ray, the leader of the recent "Spiritual Warrior" workshop that ended up killing two people during a sweat ceremony gone horrifically wrong, is one of three people identified in The Secret as, and I am not making this up, "philosophers". The three are:

John Demartini
Bob Proctor
James Arthur Ray

"Philosopher" is just one sub-category of the 24 "teachers" credited as part of the spiritual juggernaut that is The Secret. One "teacher" is identified simply as "The Miracle Man", another as a "Visionary", one a "Metaphysician" and one as a "Past Life Plant Therapist" (OK, I made that one up). I guess the makers of The Secret just asked people what they wanted to be identified as. I would have said "astronaut".

Interestingly, two people are identified as Quantum Physicists, and both of them actually are that: Fred Alan Wolf and John Hagelin have Ph.D.'s in physics (Wolf from UCLA, Hagelin from Harvard). (If Fred Alan Wolf knew the secret to success, btw, he would not be hanging out with these low-brow sleazebags. But you gotta pay the mortgage, I guess.)

James Arthur Ray's "philosophy" appears to be a mish-mash of the teachings of P.T. Barnum, Dale Carnegie, and Professor Harold Hill. Here are some representative quotes taken from his website:

"The real key to creating the life of your dreams is achieving true Harmonic Wealth®."

"You simply (and deeply) want to make more money and become more successful."

"You've come to the right place [if] you want to double, triple, even multiply by ten the size of your business."

"Since the beginning of the Journey, I have increased my monthly commissions 100%." [from a satisfied customer]

The following is taken from a fascinating paper by George Davis (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marshall University in Huntington, WV), Pop-psychology and the Spirit of Capitalism: Self-Help, and the Work Ethic as Neo-Liberal Governmentality (a paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association, March 2007, Las Vegas, NV):
Understood as a governmentality, neo-liberalism represents a rather distinct approach to social and political life. Although neo-liberalism shares traditional liberalism’s concern with the ways in which individual freedom might be maximized, where traditional liberalism posits the market as simply one domain of freedom among others, neo liberalism “extend[s] the rationality of the market . . . to areas that are not exclusively economic” (Foucault 1997, 74). Neo-liberalism, in effect, crashes the barricades that separate the economic from the social and political. It breaks down any distinctions between the market and other possible domains of modern life and considers all facets of human existence governable by the same economic logic or rationality. Perhaps Gordon (1991) puts it most succinctly when he explains how this logic of the market now
concerns all purposive conduct entailing strategic choices between alternative paths, means and instruments; or, yet, more broadly, all rational conduct (including rational thought as a variety of rational conduct); or again, finally, all conduct, rational or irrational, which responds to its environment in a non-random fashion . . .
Economics thus become an “approach” capable in principle of addressing the totality of human behavior, and consequently, of envisaging a coherent, purely economic, programming the totality of governmental action. (43)
Where traditional liberalism imagined the state functioning only as the ultimate arbiter and regulator of market freedom (e.g. Smith 2000, 779), American neo-liberalism reverses this relationship between state and market and offers the organizing principle of free market as “the organizing principle for the state and society” (Lemke 2001, 200, emphasis mine). The individual commitment to self, work, and personal responsibility that Max Weber christened the Protestant ethic seems an important foundation stone in this neo-liberal worldview (see Taylor 1984).
Foucault 1997 is: “The Birth of Biopolitics.” In Paul Rabinow ed. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Essential Works of Michel Foucault Vol. I. New York: New Press, 73-80.
Gordon 1991 is: “Governmental Rationality: an Introduction.” In Graham Burchell et. al. eds. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality.Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1-52.
Lemke 2001 is: “’The Birth of Biopolitics’: Michel Foucault’s Lectures at the Collège de France on Liberal Governmentality.” Economy and Society 30 (2): 190-207.
Taylor 1984 is: Sources of the Self. New York: Cambridge University Press.
For any other sources or references please see Davis' original paper linked to above.

Friday, October 9, 2009

On Retreat

when it's like gnawing on an iron spike, without any flavor, then you must not falter in your intent -- when you get like this, after all it's good news.
[Master Ta Hui (1088-1163), from Swampland Flowers, translated by J.C. Cleary, p. 44]

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"In This Sign You Will Conquer"

In the year 324 Constantine became the first Christian Emperor of Rome. Immediately he, in the words of Timothy D. Barnes in his Constantine and Eusebius, "forbade the erection of cult statues, the consultation of Pagan oracles, divination of any sort, and sacrifice to the Gods under any circumstances ... precisely the activities which constituted the essence of the traditional religions of the Roman Empire .... and Constantine ordered all copies of [Porphyry's] Against the Christians to be burned, prescribing the death penalty for any who furtively retained the work." [pp. 210-211]

The ensuing relentless persecution of every single religious tradition other than Christianity (in parallel with an equally, if not even more, violent campaign against all "heretics" in the Christian flock) had, in hindsight, predictable results (although nothing like it had ever been attempted before on such a scale): In the words of historian J.B. Bury:
In a hundred years the Empire had been transformed from a state in which the immense majority of the inhabitants were devoted to pagan religions, into one in which an Emperor could say, with gross exaggeration, but without manifest absurdity, that not a pagan survived.
It is important to note how quickly Christians (1600 years ago!) jumped to the "gross exaggeration" that all other religions had simply ceased to exist!

In 1553 Richard Eden wrote, in his A Treatyse of the Newe India, that when Columbus first encountered the native inhabitants of the western hemisphere, they were "naked, without shame, religion or knowledge of God." In the same year Pedro Cieza de Leon described the north Andean indigenous peoples (of modern day Peru) as "observing no religion at all." (For references see Jonathan Z. Smith's essay Religion, Religions, Religious). I think I'm starting to see a pattern......

And just today, a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America declared that a war memorial erected (on public land) in the form of a Christian cross is perfectly acceptable as a way of honoring all war dead, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. In fact he said that any other conclusion would be "outrageous".

I think we should thank Antonin Scalia for his honesty and his forthrightness in expressing himself. He is not saying anything different form what Christians have been saying for 1600 years: theirs is the only religion that matters, and anyone who doesn't like that, well, they just don't matter.