Saturday, January 27, 2018

Globalization and Religious Identity

Humanity is engaged in a conversation between faith and faithlessness and there are many shades of gray between the two. Opposition is not the answer, but synthesis.

This is one of the reasons I like Jordan Peterson. He is arguing in favor of Western civilization, by which he means the theistic Christian tradition. He argues from biology and psychology to show that the basic tenets of Christian religion are integral to the evolutionary process and reflect biological elements in our makeup that stretch back millions of years, way before humanity awakened. And that we should thank our lucky stars that in the modern west especially we get to play an eminently playable game. In other words, all facility is there to make your life meaningful.

It is a complex argument with many strands, but the conclusion derives from the Western countries' material, technical and social success, which can be attributed to the way that their culture evolved as a result of the specific ideas that its mythologists, poets, artists, theologians and philosophers developed. Because the pragmatic test of success is how those same ideas predominate globally due to their capacity to build competency, and such competence is the ultimate measure of achievement and the key to not just winning in the universal game of hierarchy and social status, but to survival itself.

And, the corollary to that is that other cultures and societies have failed to achieve the same kind of efficient and technologically competent societies because of some deficiency in their mythologies, theologies and philosophies. This is clearly why Peterson is admired by the so-called "white nationalists" or white supremacists and male activists and so on.  He says the achievements of culture including religion are not to be scoffed at. For those of us who have adopted a non-European religion that not only professes to be superior but contains many overt criticisms of the modern West, Peterson is perhaps a good place to start in our attempt to understand our adopted culture and its history (both long term and recent) and to assess its value, positive or negative. If we want to move the needle forward on Vaishnavism and make it a force for good in the world, then we must understand very closely how it works in the world. What are the practical effects of bhakti on the character of mankind and is that how humanity progresses toward a greater Good and a greater Truth?

Cultural Superiority

The debate about cultural superiority and inferiority is fraught with the problem of prejudice: Are they not all equal? The question can be framed as: Are the mythologies, theologies and philosophies of a culture consciously produced as tools of power and oppression, or do they represent something more profound and representative of higher forces that also lead to evolutionary success, the ability to survive and reproduce?

Jung would have it that these are the products of the collective unconscious, which push us towards a higher state of being, i.e., evolution.

India has had a different kind of evolution ruled, perhaps Peterson [I think Peterson is following a Weberian kind of view here, in contrast to Marx.] would say, not by a responsible work ethic, but by a mystical rejection of the world. I think that it is necessary to clarify that, because he seems to recognize that there are some who follow a contemplative or mystical life and I really don't think he would be totally against it. I haven't heard him comment on Hinduism much, but he certainly does not like New Age much, and Hinduism especially in the West tends to be in that ballpark. He is not a fan, I would think, of any otherworldly religion, although he no doubt would recognize the role played by visionaries, the Zarathusthras.

But what was Prabhupada's attitude to the West?

When Prabhupada made the decision to leave ISKCON in the control of his Western disciples without a way for any of his godbrothers to play any kind of meaningful leadership role, he was saying, in effect that, "Yes, I accept globalization. I think [like Bhaktivinoda and many of his contemporaries, like Bankim Chandra and then most prominently Vivekananda] that India might be actually improved by the Western influence, even in matters spiritual."

The blind man and the lame man working together was the image he imprinted on his disciples. He implied that the work ethic and scientific mindset that his Western disciples manifested were not only compatible with Hinduism by being used in the service of preaching, but were in fact a fulfillment of its doctrines about karma-yoga and bhakti-yoga.

One of Prabhupada's early letters written when he was in Montreal was an appeal to other religious leaders to form an alliance of theistic religions. In other words, he was able to see common cause with other theisms, namely Christianity. He decided not to pursue it: superficial feel-good ecumenism was certainly not the solution he was looking for anyway. And it is not so surprising that the still world-dominant Christianity would not have given much thought to the proposals of the insignificant leader of a bunch of shaved-headed teenagers dancing and chanting with drums and cymbals in the streets.

If East and West are to meet exclusively on conditions of complete surrender, i.e., as a pure question of power dominance, it is unlikely to lead to much good. But for an appropriate synthesis to take place, it is necessary to understand the practical social and psychological consequences of the different religious approaches and doctrines, especially our own.

There may be similarities but there are also important differences between our theism and that of the so-called Abrahamic religions, just as there are between those three, as well as internally within them. And of these, we Krishna converts should be more interested in the differences between the culture of our origin and that of our chosen destiny.

In this connection, it is also important to ask why ISKCON has in general gravitated to serving the Hindu community, who find the philosophy of Vaishnavism somewhat closer to what they are familiar with, rather than Western seekers. Jordan Peterson is showing in a very important way WHAT the seekers are looking for a profound way. Can an other-worldly religion be the answer?

It has been my feeling that a religion that is not socially and materially successful cannot survive. A religion that cannot build strong communities that perpetuate the unifying rituals and beliefs, and develop them within the circumstances of their surrounding societies, cannot possibly survive. This requires adaptation, but such an adaptation must be based on a profound understanding and experience of the highest goals of the tradition, otherwise it simply merges into the broader dominant culture and contributes little to it.

This is a job that has barely been undertaken and is not one that is popular with Krishna bhakti institutional leaders for a variety of reasons. Mainly because as soon as you use your intelligence independently, you become a problem for a dogma-dominated institution.

The problem of authority based social organization

One main criticism from the Enlightenment that has been levied at India, is that the doctrine of fidelity and obedience to the guru stifles independent intelligence. Jordan Peterson correctly says that obedience is better than chaos and that independent intelligence is by no means a generalized characteristic in any society. Nevertheless, independent intelligence is what makes adaptation and evolution possible. Conservatism makes traditions possible, but it can also stifle adaptation and that results in death.

My thesis is that having Western people converting to Hinduism forms a kind of bulwark against the total Westernization of India.

ISKCON forms a kind of buffer in that way, but the irony is of course that it is functionally a creation of Americans applying their intuitive knowledge of the pragmatic American way of life and work ethic to the matter of spreading this particular spiritual culture, once they had been convinced that they were following the oldest and wisest and truest culture of spirituality in the world.

Globalization means to enter into a dialogue with the rest of the world because ultimately your survival depends on it.

I was struck by Bhaktivinoda Thakur who argued in one place in Sajjana Toshani that India was an old civilization and its citizens should allow the British to run the place while the Indians tended to their pursuit of "old man things," by which he meant bhajan and which I understand to mean preparing for death.

Bhajan and preparing for death are really not two different things and that is the core message of the Bhagavatam. Swami Veda Bharati also thought much about Bhishma's iccha-mrityu. He considered yoga to very much be the science of dying.

And the argument is that you die to live. Even as you live, if you live as though life were a preparation for death, and that you can die saying you have fulfilled your life's function in God's eyes, then it has been a furthering of the evolution of the human species towards the Good and the True.


Anonymous said...

Ah... The Good The True The Beautiful

Anonymous said...

The 'gushing horse' Karl Marx and your so-called "mystical rejection of the world" is a joke, each as fake as the other. Your so-called Karl Marx, the son of Rabbi הירשעל‎ (hirshel), whom in true Talmudic fashion is responsible for some of the greatest genocide on the face of this planet; you above all people should understand that...

Prem Prakash said...

Peterson does not impress me. I'd propose it is the social freedoms outlined in documents such as the Bill of Rights that have made modern Western societies so vital, not the Abrahamic religious tradition. I think it can be argued that the Abrahamic religions have caused more harm than good owing to their unique mythology based on original sin, a belief the soul experiences but one lifetime, an intrinsic misogyny, and a monotheistic, angry and vengeful deity. The holy trinity of this tradition -- sin, guilt, and fear -- may or may not have produced economic benefit, but it has caused immense psychological and cultural harm.
I'd also argue that India's trend towards world-denial as a religious ideal occurred to a great extent as a result of foreign ideas. The Buddhists certainly didn't help, but the focus on the transcendent at the expense of the imminent was pounded into Bharat by the Muslim and British invaders, and their destruction of the culture resulted in an over-emphasis on renunciation by men living in isolation from women and children. The native Vedic and Dravidian cultures were much more pantheistic and appreciative of a comprehensive experience of spirituality, e.g. kama & artha.

Anonymous said...

And so begins the howl of Europa as the banshee sing in the death throes of its awakening to the enemy within, god help them all when Europa awakens:



Magical Mystery Tour said...

In the true spirit of your post "Globilization and Religious Indentity" Jagadananda Das, one will hope readers take a leap of faith to watch this:

And also as many of the following: