Thursday, December 27, 2018

Shaktatantra conference in Sanchi

Buddhism was far away at this sacred place of Buddhism, where the very different approach of Shaktism was in focus. Very interesting conference, esp. for those who know little about Srividya and related esoteric subjects. No time for a export, but  I may niet down the questions or remarks that were triggered in me.

1/ When a question was raised about the contrast between the "patriarchal" Vedas and "woman-centred" Tantra, the panelists correctly said that positing such a contrast was already an interiorization of a purely modern prejudice. While correct, what was missing from the response was the only thing that can really put down such misconceptions, viz. an argument of authority. In support of this mistaken but populair claim, Wendy Doniger had been cited as authority, a prominent case of "underinformed but overopinionated"; against that, I volunteered a reference to Prof. David Gordon White, who in his book Kiss of the Yogini argues that the claim is wrong and that the Vedas already contain many Tantric themes. Mind you, Hindu activists tend to locate him as much in the enemy camp as Doniger, but he happens to know the Tantric material and so his conclusion is fairer to Hindu tradition, true to the data rather than to the lens of (a fashionably applied) psycho-analysis.

2/ When Prof. Lorilia Biernicki discussed  texts where the usual Tantric role division was reversed, with the male pole being likened to the body and the female to consciousness, I remarked that this answers to a social reality. Traditionally, women were seen as immersed in time-consuming worldly pursuits like preparing food and looking after children and other needy people, while men had a more regular life with time for yogic pursuits. But a common fact of life in Western yoga circles is that it is women who engage in yogic practice whereas their men pooh-pooh these "flaky pastimes" to focus on material pursuits instead.  So male ~ material, female ~ spiritual.

3/ When Prof. Jeffrey Lidke discussed the neuroscientific research about certain brain areas and mechanisms corresponding to certain states of consciousness, including synesthesia ("hearing smells", "seeing sounds"), I admitted that this was exciting and innovative stuff, but perhaps not so relevant. In the Samkhya worldview, which has permeated Hindu philosophy in general to some extent, there is a strict separation between Purusha, pure consciousness not immersed in the objects of consciousness, and on the other Prakrti, nature, which includes every single instance of object consciousness, both sensory perception and its digestion (Manas), and the awareness and elaboration of mental objects like memories and imaginings (Buddhi), which even includes synesthesia and other altered states of consciousness. The goal of yoga is not an altered state of consciousness, it is only a zero state consciousness: Purusha, "the seer resting in his own form", as Patañjali says. The Pofessor agreed in essence, but pointed out that this concerns Shaktatantra, not Samkhya-Yoga or Vedanta.

4/ A similar remark was provoked by Prof. BVK Sastry's discussion of some of Tantra's many complicated categories, like the ten Mahavidyas, the six or seven Chakras, the six Kañcukas or veils between the individual and the universal planes, etc. The oldest known definition of yoga, in the Katha Upanishad, simply says that it consists in closing the senses and stilling the mind, yielding the highest state. It was and is all so simple in the beginning. Hasn't Hindu civilization made an unnecessarily complicated, huge detour? Same answer: this is the Tantric view, which is a different one.

5/ Prof. Shubhada Joshi related the whole Shaktatantra topic to Indian Marxism. As an honorary member of the Kumarila Bhatta Samiti, i.e. the Indian society of ex-Communists, I listened attentively to her rattling off a whole string of Marxist names, who happened all to be Brahmins. This included Debiprasad Chattopadhyay (philosopher specialized in ancient Indian materialist worldviews), CPI leader SA Dange and a few more, and could have included prominent names like Communist Party founder MN Roy, Kerala CM EMS Namboodiripad, Bengal CM Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Nepal PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) and many other leaders and ideologues of the various Communist factions. This made me wonder, and ask her (alas, no time for much of an answer), if there is not something congenial between Marxism and Brahminism. Original Brahminism was austere, and very different from common Hinduism with its sentimental moralism and its idol-worship in temples, as autobiographically testified by RSS Sarma in the Telugu novel The Last Brahmin. Contrary to popular devotional Hinduism, philosophies like Samkhya and Mimamsa were godless in their own way. Wasn't it somehow natural that of all Hindus, it was specifically the Brahmins who felt disproportionately attracted to Marxism?

6/ Chinese-American Prof. Robin Wang expounded on the female principle in Daoism, and compared it to goddess worship in India. But more starkly than even she had outlined, the two views are quite different. In Hinduism you get assertive and combative goddesses, like tiger goddess Durga killing the demon, or Kali chopping off heads. They are the type over whom Western feminists go ga-ga. But Chinese goddesses like Nüwa, Xiwangmu or Guanyin are more traditionally feminine, somewhat like Our Lady in Catholicism. The whole lore of Yin and Yang, the female and male principles, does not say the two are interchangeable, nor that Yin is something like Yang as feminists would wish. On the contrary, the Yin principle is celebrated as submissive and following and soft (e.g. in Laozi's famous veneration of "the spirit of the valley" cited by Prof. Wang), as the opposite of the Yang principle. The whole Yin-Yang dichotomy is sexist par excellence, and there is nothing bad about that.


Aniketana said...

On point 5.

Even when Buddhism was at peak, those who were at the peak of criticising Hinduism(/Brahmanism) were converted Brahmins (like Dharmakirti), right?
One who brainwashed Jinnah (who had opposed Khilafat movement) to fight for a Muslim nation was Mohammad Iqbal, who was a converted Brahmin (He was also intolerant towards Ahmadias. Jinnah was more inclusive). Most of the separatist leaders in Kashmir are converted Brahmins as well.

According to Marxist text books, Brahmins are oppressive. But I feel, converted Brahmins are more dangerous. Their sharp debating skills joins an aggressive combatting ideology. Combination gets toxic. The first target of this converted group is always Brahmins. May be they feel intimidated, these are the ones who wage ideological battle from Hindu side.
While Shudra communities wage battle in more masculine way (like how they resisted court rule on Sabarimala), ideological battles are left for Brahmins. Be it Kumarila Bhatta or Subramanian Swamy.

Propaganda against Brahmanism (oppression) is going on from past two centuries with the support of rulers or ruling government. Still it has not been able to erase the undercurrent of good will towards Brahmins from other communities. How come?

Gururaj BN said...

"Wasn't it somehow natural that of all Hindus, it was specifically the Brahmins who felt disproportionately attracted to Marxism?" - I had always wondered how come all the leading and early communists were Brahmanas? Now, you have hinted at a probable answer!

Arun said...

Perhaps Brahmanas were the first to take to English education (e.g., per Dharampal's works).

Prabh Rangi said...

Bliss is beyond zero point of silent mind: above zero pt. of silent mind r realms of being and states of consciousness that are of immense delight and objectively greater pleasure, beauty and enduring happiness than anything that could ever be described.

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