Swami Agehananda Bharati
on Hindu Fascism & Western Infatuation
The hedonistic element is an integral part of the quest of the seekers of emancipation withheld from them by the "people over thirty," the churches and all the Sunday school catechisms. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, badly translated by Evans‑Wentz, is attractive to them because its uncanniness, its “way‑out” message does not reject sex, it does not forbid pleasures.
Alan Watts once suggested that in another fifty years or so, people in India will drive around in cars, live in suburbia, and play baseball, whereas people in America will sit in caves in Oregon and in the Rockies and meditate on their navel and on atman and nirvana. This was meant to be a facetious, but forensically useful exaggerationstill, the trend is certainly there. Nothing annoys and frustrates a modern Hindu more than witnessing Europeans and Americans grow beards, wear beads, and do yoga. At my university, an Indian scholar was hired a couple of years ago to teach a course on India's ancient history. Toward the end of the term, three students came to him and announced they would be going to India shortly, to visit the holy city of Banaras, and the yogis in the Himalayan foothills. Prof. G. got quite angry. "Why you want to visit at those dirty places? Why do you not visit Bhakra Nangal Dam and Damodar Valley and Bhilai Steel Plant?" The boys replied that there were oodles of steel plants and power dams in the States, but there were no temples and yogis, and there was no quest for nirvana in America.
This discussion epitomizes a trend. The modern Indian has problems of self‑representation and cultural self‑assessment. He knows that the West, in the anti‑war and anti‑establishment strivings of its youth, is turning for guidance to the East. He also knows that those in real power in the East cannot give such guidance, since they reject the yogic ways as superstitious, responsible for India's backwardness. Yet the modern Hindu stresses the uniqueness of the Hindu tradition, including yoga. Over the past forty years or so, modern Hindus have developed a strange dialectic of dissimulation. They claim, and perhaps believe, that all the hardware, the technological equipment and the scientific know‑how of the West was not western in origin, but was Indian, many thousands of years ago. They adduce the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and other ancient texts which do indeed mention strange contraptions flying through the air, and weaponry that kills thousands at once. All this is then said to have happened 20,000 years ago, and archaeological argument against such a possibility are summarily rejected as misguide occidental propaganda. Modern Hindus tend to admire Hitlerfirst, because he was a leader of the Germans, who have the closest link with India's legendary past; second, he spoke of Aryans and selected the svastika, a sun symbol of great sanctity in all indigenous Indian religious traditions, as the emblem for his party; nextthis sounds funny to orientalists and Sanskritiststhe Germans supposedly know Sanskrit much better than anyone except the Indians themselves (Sanskrit is thought to be taught in high schools and German, as a language, is closer to Sanskrit, they believe, than any other non‑Indian speech!) Etically, all this is incredible nonsense; but emically, it is now part of a defensive parlance in India.
There is a widening gap between the actual mystical efforts of the more engagé cultists in occidental countries and the actual efforts of modern Hindus who articulate their concern with religion and its workings for the individual. If we sample the student population of an Indian university, and the student population of an equally large American or European university, it will be seen that there is a considerably higher percentage of Euro‑American students who actually do engage in yogic exercise. Indian students of orthodox background, rural or urban, perform some minimal religious observances during their college days. Meditation in the mystical context, however, is supererogatory from the standpoint of the official religion; and this holds true for the Judaeo‑Christian‑Islamic as well as the Hindu world. The matter is different with Buddhists, since in theory at least there is no observance other than meditation aiming at mystical consummation, nirvana. This is one of the more irritating things in modern Hindu discourse with other people: yoga and other esoteric wisdoms are talked about, the monks and the other gurus of the Hindu Renaissance are listened to and quoted, but their votaries do not really meditate. They talk about meditation. This also holds for modern monks whose professed job it is to meditate. (pp. 127-128)
The professional mystics in India are almost all monasticsthey have obtained ordination in orders which enjoin celibacy. For our analysis, there are two basic types of sadhus. The first type is the grassroot‑sadhus: men of varying degrees of theological learning, from the most powerful theologians concentrated in certain regions of India, and resident in the various well established monasteries across the land, to the poor, almost illiterate mendicant sadhu who wanders from village to village, communicating modest religious material to the people. The second category is the sadhu of the Hindu Renaissance: ordained monks who speak English, and whose main audience is middle‑class urban Indian. It is from this latter group alone that the internationally known swamis are recruited. Monks of the first category do not leave Indiaeven those who could well afford to. Their audience is strictly Hindu. Whatever their personal motivations, often suspected and impugned by the Hindu population, their aim is to keep Hinduism alive. It is decidedly not the teaching of mystical practices, it is not the spread of yogic culture and meditation. Some or many of these monks of the first category may be mystics, but this is not what they regard as their homiletic subject; they speak about the good life in Hinduism, about the mythology, about the duties of people in the world; more recently they have propounded political views. In fact, there is a strong correlation between the new Hindu nationalism with its fascist elements and the oratory of some of these vocal, well informed, often erudite monks. (p. 171)
This monk and in fact almost all the roaming sadhus are dead set against drugs. I have the feeling that the local authorities look at these men with some pleasure, since initiands, many of whom are recruited from the psychedelic scene, tend to renounce drugs as their price for obtaining initiation. Mahesh Yogi, of course, lost the Beatles and some other disciples, in part at least because he insisted that LSD and marijuana were bad. This is a highly incongruous, paradoxical situation: grassroot sadhus in Indianot the learned monks, but the itinerants of Northern Indiaconsume bhang (cannabis) without any qualms, just as do laymen in many parts of the northern plains. But the swamis who go abroad don't, for they are urban boys, middle‑class, college‑educated menand middle‑class city people do not take bhang at all. Not because it is supposedly unhealthy or dangerous, but because taking bhang is tagged as rustic, superstitious, and old‑fashioned.
One swami reportedly said about LSD that it was "God come to the West in the form of a drug." This oft‑quoted statement is quite atypical. It was ascribed to Mahesh Yogi, but he denied it. I have the suspicion that it was concocted and put into the mouth of some swami by people who prefer to meditate with drugs rather than without.
The revolutionary outlook, the politically radical stance which most of the young espouse, becomes strangely paralyzed once they get into contact with the Indian swamis. Or rather, its dialectic is suspended for the time being. When Mahesh Yogi addressed a very large audience on the Berkeley campus of the University of Californa, some students asked him: What, Sir, should we do about our parents who do not want to understand what we are doing? "Your parents are like God to you, matrdevo bhava, pitrdevo bhava," the Maharishi quoted from the Upanisad. "And what about the draft?" "Your country is like a father to you, and a father is your godyou must serve it with all your heart." There was icy silence. Once the roaming swamis' philistine, uncritical, and dormantly Hindu‑fascist view of things becomes known to a larger number of people, their success may well be halted.
There is Zen, and there are new creations of eastern mystery. I shall not deal with them, since they do not interest me. Let me just say that their operation in the western world should be studied and reported by a sociologist or an anthropologist who is himself a participant observer of the cult. (p. 185)
To the majority of the brahmin teachers, life is a mixture of pain and pleasure, though pain prevails. The Buddha, more radical, said, No, life is misery, it is disease. because it is attachment, addiction; shedding attachment is easier said than done; and what it boils down to is very similar, in the final analysis, to the curative devices of the sister‑traditions. Doing good deeds is a delaying tactic. Rebirth as kings or as directors of the executive board, entrance into Indra's no doubt delightful heavenall this comes to an end, leaving longing and attachment alive. But bodhi is the only cure since it is permanent; not only because, by Buddhist definition, everything that is is impermanent, but because once this state is reached, the doctrinal contrasts permanent ‑ "impermanent" lapse as totally unimportant.
I shall suggest that an inversion of the common referends for "sick" may be the answer to handling the mystical situation as therapy. The identification of the mystical life, of the zero‑experience and its concomitants with what is forbidden in any sphere of social life, religious and secular, is not only part of its attraction for seekers at all times, and especially for our own counter‑culture, but the knowledge of this parameter of the illicit in a somewhat complex but discursively clear manner, will lead us to the more methodical use of the mystical experience as therapy in future days.
Orientalists and their lay followers today have been puzzled about a specific type of statement frequently encountered in the holy writ of India. In the Bhagavadgita, the Lord Krsna says that the consummate yogi cannot do things wrong; even if he kills, he doesn't, because he does not identify with the body or the mind which kills. This has given rise to ideas both naive and dangerous. It accounts for the latent Hindu fascism which, fortunately for the world, has no power except in India. If there were no way to apply and interpret these dicta of moral inversion, the orientalist profession might better have withheld these texts from an ideologically naive public. So far, it is the spiritually minded and the weird alone in the western world who intuit the gigantic power which would be unleashed if people at large took Krsna's advice seriously. For if they did, Hitler would be in his own. With the phony mysticism that floated around the Nazi fortresses, the top leaders might have vaguely absorbed these teachings. It is not impossible that they got hold of some translations, and, seeing themselves as Arjunas and Krsnas, acted the new Aryan heroes who made their own rules, and who believed that murdering might not be murdering after all, and that they as superior hierophants were doing what Krsna had suggested. This sounds monstrous when said in the West, but I have heard it dozens of times enuncianted by gentle Hindu scholars who would not kill a single fly or eat a single fish. I will present what I regard as the only possible, remedial way of reading Krsna's and the other holy supermen's advice for potential supermen, cutting through the morass of a potential cosmic insanity and suggesting how the mystical rule must be understood as an instrument for individual therapyas a cure from disease which only the mystics have so far seen as a disease. They are wrong in their ideological generalization, but right in their auto-diagnosis and their auto‑therapyand, hopefully, the light in the center will yet shine forth cleansed of the pompously glib and quite dangerous guru mania.
Mysticism in its motivation and in its pursuit constitutes what is illicit, anathema in any specific social and religious tradition. It is illicit even in the case of a monistic Vedanta environment, which ought to be more congenial to the mystic's efforts, since its doctrine of numerical oneness does not require any interpretation in order to be doctrinally acceptable. However, things are not that simple even in the test case of monistic Vedanta: in this tradition, it has been one thing to restate the monistic formulae first uttered long ago by the consummate mystic, the canonical seer, the rsi, but it is quite a different thing to generate this statement, together with its total and radical eclipse of all social rules, as part of one's own experimentation.
The mystic merges, his ecstatic, often eroticized report is much more than an analogy to him; he does ithe actually transgresses the rules of his society, he elicits within himself the keenest pleasure, and if successful, he creates what no husband, lover, or lecher succeeds in doing: he makes orgasm permanent, uninterrupted. The intimacy with which he handles his body, his mind and other minds, and auxiliary objects around him to achieve and stabilize this state, is forbidden in all societies. The mystics in the Vedantic tradition used well established, respectable codes when they talked about the experience, codes provided by the tradition, codes which implied, to their audience and to the world, that they were talking metaphor. When they spoke about the embrace of the beloved woman, they quote sruti and they imply a Vaihingerian "as if" in all they say and teach; when the sufi talks about hemp, wine, and embraces, his audiences read his statement as metaphorical, as a series of "as ifs." (pp. 199-200)
SOURCE: Bharati, Swami Agehananda. The Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. Santa Barbara, CA: Ross-Erikson, 1976. Excerpts: pp. 127-128, 171, 185, 199-200; footnotes omitted.
Swami Agehananda Bharati (1923-1991)
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Uploaded 19 December 2006
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