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Dedicated to “Bharat” and “Dharma”

Gurudev Tagore on being a “Christian Hindu”..

Courtesy the indefatigable Sh SV Raju, editor of Freedom First, comes this excerpt re. the recent controversy triggered by Goa Dy CM’s statement about his being a “Christian Hindu”. Read on (emphasis added)…

Francis D’Souza will be glad to know he is in good company, in fact distinguished company!

When I read this I was reminded of an article..first published in…Quest in 1961 on the occasion of the 150th birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore. In his article Atma Parichaya -(Introducing Oneself)–(written in Bengali and translated by Buddhadeva Basu) Tagore said something similar to what the Goa’s deputy CM is quoted as having said and for which he refused to say ’Sorry’ and thereby has incurred the wrath of a padre.

Gurudev Tagore said inter alia “…I was born into the Hindu society and have accepted the Brahmo sect; if I wish I can go over to another sect, but to another society I cannot belong… With the history of no other society would I have this sense of identification? We can transfer a fruit from one basket to another, but on a different branch we cannot grow.

“Do I than claim that I remain a Hindu even if I become a Christian? Certainly I do, and to me this is quite beyond dispute. No matter what the orthodox Hindus may say about it, Kali Charan Banerjee was a Hindu Christian, and so was Jnanendra Mohan Tagore before him and Krishna Mohan Banerjee as well. These men were Hindu by nation and Christian in faith. Christianity was their complexion, but in substance they were nothing but Hindus. There are thousands of Bengali Muslims whom Hindus perpetually label as non-Hindus, and yet the truth about them is that they are Hindu Muslims.

… “The words “Hindu” and “Muslim” do not have a similar connotation. Islam is a particular religious creed. But Hinduism is not. “Hindu” is a term for the consummation of the Indian nation... From long ago has it come down to us , passing through centuries and the same sunlit horizons, carrying along with it the same rivers and forests and mountains, and saturated with that sequence of attacks and responses which constitute the history of our mundane and spiritual lives. In that word is contained all that we are in our bodies and our souls. From this deep flowing stream no one is cast aside simply by virtue of his having become a Christian – neither a Kali Charan Banerjee nor a Jnanendra Mohan Tagore.
“The nation is larger than the creed and goes much deeper too; changing one’s beliefs involves no change in one’s nationality. The nation to which I belonged when I believed in the mythological story of creation is still mine, although I believe in the modern and scientific version of that story.

…“It will be argued that a Muslim is a Muslim for all that, whether in China or Persia. Not that I know much about the Chinese Muslim, but I dare say that he is in many ways quite different from his Indian counterpart, although there is a certain agreement in religion. …

And so goes on Tagore with his Atma Parichaya, which I found an absolute learning experience. Having read Tagore I could understand what the Goa CM was trying to convey. If you wish to read the full article reprinted in two parts, please visit www.freedomfirst.in , select archives and click Nos. 530 and 531 to read “ Introducing Oneself (Arma-Parichaya)” by Rabindranath Tagore. The text excerpted above is from FF No. 531.

Somewhat Related: A nationalism rooted in Sanatan Dharma

August 11th, 2014 Posted by | A Hindu Identity, An Indian Identity, Conversions, Missionaries in India, Hindu Dharma, Political Ideology, Sanatana Dharma | 2 comments

Hinduism is 100% anti-Socialist!

Dear All: This is a “lazy post” – i.e. a collection of excerpts, courtesy my friend and FTI colleague Sanjeev Sabhlok. For the past several days, Sanjeev has been running a series of posts and excerpts on his blog on the link between Hinduism and Capitalism, trying to demonstrate that Hindusim is not only compatible with capitalism but actively encourages it and Hindu ideals do not confirm with socialist ideas. From his post titled, 2 excerpts to get convinced that Hinduism is 100% anti-Socialist!, read on (emphasis, by Sanjeev):

It is deplorable that it is not widely known in India that Hinduism is totally inconsistent with the socialist ideology. Some wishy-washy attempts to link Hinduism with socialism have been attempted (such as Vedic socialism), but these are ALL wrong. There is simply no way that Hinduism operates a socialist regime.

…Therefore an analysis of Hindu capitalism would begin with the social contract and role of the state; then the role of individual, and thereafter consider other institutions. I can already see a book emerging clearly in my mind! After I finish The Discovery of Freedom.

Note that the original design of the NON-HEREDITARY caste system was not as pernicious as it turned out to be. Its existence highlights a key design failure of the Hindu law givers (they did not realise the huge moral hazard that lies within such systems). Had the original law makers realised what was going to happen 1000 years later, they would have backed off from the idea of varna, and talked about occupational expertise and division of labour, instead (both of which underpin the caste system, along with issues of “race”, etc.).

Here are the two snippets:

a) Jayram V. has this to say:

Hinduism therefore is not suitable for a political ideology that would strive to establish a socialist society based upon forcible restriction of the freedom of individuals and sharing of wealth. India tried unsuccessfully to inculcate the ideals of socialism among Hindus. Those who tried to rub it on the Indian masses over looked the fact thatsocialism and communism contradicted with the fundamentals of karma and maya and therefore would never succeed in the country so long as the roots of Hinduism were intact in the soil. The idea of free enterprise goes well with Hinduism because it is very much in harmony with the theory of karma. Free enterprise is natural to Hinduism. So also the theory of survival of the fittest.

b) Mario Gómez-Zimmerman has this to say:

The Capitalist Structures of Hinduism

We must keep in mind two characteristics of Indian culture. First, the typical Western split between the religious and the socio-economic realms is very limited in Hinduism, as it is indeed for most Oriental mentalities; practical social morality is supposed to agree with religious and philosophical precepts. Thus, codes of law which presumably derive from the latter can be regarded as part of Hinduism. Second, as there is no central religious authority to establish orthodoxy, the teachings of recognized spiritual masters are usually incorporated into Hinduism. In addition, let us state that we will refer here mainly to traditional doctrines and practices.

In order to identify if Hinduism fits into a capitalist or socialist framework, we will look at three basic issues:

  • the caste, or Varna, system,
  • theologico-philosophical issues regarding property (outside the sacred texts), and
  • some socio-historical facts or events.

An understanding of the caste system is crucial to understanding Indian social and economic structures and practices.

….Such a system does not merely reflect a division of labor; it is rooted in the notion that man attains fulfillment only by performing his duties, which consist in developing his natural potentialities. In truth, the system only entailed a ranking or hierarchy of labors resulting from different capacities, not a distinction in the context of human dignity or worth, which was the outcome of vested interests and human shortcomings. Buddhism actually did not oppose the Varna system itself, only the belittlement of those considered inferior, averring that anyone, including Sudras, could reach enlightenment.  [Sanjeev: the original caste system might not have discriminated, being merit based, but moral hazard overcame its intent. It was bad design.]

The Varna system was considered–and still is, although in a way more akin to its original design–a pre-requisite for every good society, and the axis of social life. For example, in the laws of Manu, the most important Dharma-Sastra, the duties and functions of the castes are listed and their corresponding right and wrong practices pointed out. In one of the most important passages, it is said that the Vaisya must exert himself to the utmost in order to increase his property in a righteous manner, which includes providing others with food. Manu’s code endorses market practices, although it provides regulations above all for the market of labor.

As it is true for all the great religions, Hinduism warns human beings about the dangers of accumulating wealth, and at times demands them to renounce it. But in all cases, wealth is attacked because it is likely to subject man to dependency, fostering egoism, greed, and avarice, and not for being an evil in itself. In fact, wealth is considered a good to be pursued within the spheres of worldly affairs, trying at the same time to remain detached from it, which is the way to spiritual evolution.

(In India, throughout the centuries) the play of particular economic forces was not over regulated and, more significantly, the individual was considered to have rights before the state.

…The above points to several conclusions that reveal capitalist structures in Hinduism:

The socialist concepts of equality and a classless society are completely rejected by the Varna system. All too rigid as it was (at least theoretically), it would appear at first sight as a statist construct–so common under any socialist scheme. However, such a system constitutes an ontological need of a society rooted in the cosmogonical myth mentioned in note 1. The way it was implemented, the system limited many freedoms, but it also allowed each caste not to be fused within a general standard and to be free to live its own way. Of course, endogamy and other features of a caste system do not exist in capitalism. Nevertheless, with the allowance of greater social mobility and the recognition of equal human dignity for all, capitalism has indeed modernized the Varna system.

Central planning and regulations were implemented according to higher parameters set by Hinduism’s worldview, which were accepted by the collective conscience as traditional goods, with the state being, at least ideally, an instrument. [Sanjeev: this is based on the social contract idea, very clearly known in Hinduism! but the fact that this is a basic Hindu concept is apparently not known to the writer of this article].

the state was never a mechanism to subordinate the individual good to that of the society, which in short defines a socialist worldview.

Hinduism never denies the right to property; calls to renunciation fall outside the legal sphere. The attainment of wealth, although embodied with a social function, is considered a praiseworthy personal achievement. In fact, there is also a need in capitalism that economic activities project to the common good.

…Although subjected to regulations, man always enjoyed in India enough freedom over what he had created.

…What characterizes socialism above all is that it takes the person as a means, while the recognition of the individual as an end, and thus as subject of inalienable rights, is the most distinctive juridico-economic structure of both capitalism and Hinduism.

Also read, “Hindu capitalism – a vibrant, innovative, and TRULY FORMIDABLE form of capitalism from which this brief excerpt:

From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, much of the European trade depended on financing by Indian capitalunder the control of large-scale merchants(Appadurai 1974; Arasaratnam 1980; Basu 1982; Brennig 1977; Chaudhuri 1978; Furber 1951; Lewandowski 1976; Subrahmanyam 1990). Not surprisingly, the relationship was always strained on both sides.[20]
From the European point of view, Indian brokers held entirely too much power and, moreover, often employed it in competition with the Europeans themselves.
By 1680, European merchants were already attempting to alter the indigenous system by insisting on dealing with groups of merchants operating like their own joint stock companies rather than with individuals with privileged claims on their European patrons and monopolistic power over native producers (Brennig 1977: 338–340; see also Arasaratnam 1979; Subrahmanyam 1990). But these efforts to circumvent the Indian mercantile elite were by and large unsuccessful in that even the joint stock companies continued to be dominated by a small number of highly powerful “chief merchants” (Arasaratnam 1980).
Pl read and share widely.  It is very important to challenge the existing narrative and counter distortions and mis-perceptions about Hinduism’s support for socialist, statist ideas. Comments and thoughts welcome. Also read (somewhat related): Hindutva and Liberalism

August 22nd, 2012 Posted by | Debates & Discussions, Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Hindu Dharma, Indian Economy | 16 comments

Hinduism for Dummies – A Book Review

When Dr Srinivasan first mentioned the title of his recent book “Hinduism for Dummies” to me, I must admit I was somewhat skeptical. Being a student of “Hindu” culture, religion and history for the last several years, I was not at all sure that a such a vast and complex belief system as “Hinduism” can really be explained in the simple “… For Dummies” format.

I was wrong. Make it “very wrong”.

Because Dr Amrutur Srinivasan has achieved something remarkable in these 300-odd pages; something that I have not come across before. Without a doubt, this will count as one of the best books that can help someone understand “Hinduism” –particularly someone who is not a “Hindu” or has not grown up in a “Hindu” family or in the Indian milieu.

But even those who are intimate with little-known aspects of this complex philosophical and cultural “way of life” will find this book useful as a reference while responding to questions or to the curiosity of their friends or younger ones in the family.

The Book is divided in six parts, starting with Introducing Hinduism, then moving through the Hindu Pantheon, the Sacred Texts, the Rituals, Rites and Festivals before getting deeper into Hindu philosophical thought. It concludes with the delightful “The Part of Tens” section (Ten Common Questions, Ten Prayers and Ten+ Mandates) .

The sections are fairly stand-alone and therefore navigating through the book does not have to be a straight linear path. Meandering through the different sections and getting a flavor of them would be very worthwhile and enjoyable for the average reader, I think.  The first section “Introducing Hinduism” is probably the best place to start though.

It starts with an excellent introduction. The first few lines are worth quoting (emphasis added):

There are a billion plus Hindus around the world today..Still, Hinduism is not a household word in the West today. Mainstream Hinduism does not proselytize. Hindus have no interest in making you see their way because Hinduism’s fundamental belief is that God has many names. Hindus believe your way must be just as good, and that you and they will meet at the end of the journey. Hinduism lets you be. With such a detached outlook, no wonder the faith remains a mystery to most.

There are delightful nuggets of information scattered throughout the book – for example the “nugget” about Prabhasa, Vasishta and Nandini the Cow and how Prabhasa eventually “suffered” for his crime in the Battle of MahaBharat – as Bhishma – only attaining salvation after the War! Or the nugget about how Somerset Maugham took the title of his best-selling novel, “The Razor’s Edge” from the “Katha Upanishad” – from a specific passage that alludes to the path to salvation being as hard to tread and difficult to cross as a razor’s edge!

Dr Srinivasan has managed to unravel the complexity of “Hinduism” and overlay it in an easy-to-understand and very readable way. I found the explanations simple and lucid in style – particularly well suited to a student of Hinduism or to a young child. And it is worth noting that Dr Srinivasan has managed to do this without losing the essence of our ancient traditions.

Some themes and topics could have been dealt with in greater detail (such as the note on the festival of MahaShivratri) and it would have been helpful if the index was more comprehensive. But these are otherwise minor quibbles in what is an excellent compendium which will prove useful to large number of practicing Hindus – especially those living abroad – who may not have access to “in-house” knowledge that still dwells amongst our elders and in extended families in India.

For those who may not be familiar with his background, Dr Srinivasan is the primary founder and first president of the Connecticut Valley Hindu Temple Society. He regularly functions as a Hindu priest performing a wide variety of pujas (worships), weddings, and other ceremonies. He has written a book on traditions and rituals connected with Hindu weddings and another on the Yaksha Prashna.

Dr Srinivasan deserves kudos for this attempt to explain an extraordinarily complex subject as “Hinduism” in a lightly-worded (in the best sense of the term) 300-odd pages. I found the book engrossing and a delight to read and I am going to pass it on to my daughter after I am finished with it.

*Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book for this review.

Other Book Reviews by me: Nandan Nilekani’s “Imagining India” and Sanjeev Sabhlok’s “Breaking Free of Nehru

Related Post: Reading the MahABhArat: DharmaRAj and Yaksha Prashna

April 21st, 2012 Posted by | Hindu Dharma, Hindu Festivals, Personal | 10 comments

On Yoga, Tantra & Distortion of Ancient Indian Traditions..

At least some of you must have read an extraordinary piece in the New York Times earlier this week provocatively titled, Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here. In that piece, William Broad made a number of assertions – some misleading, some just plain wrong including the remarkable assertion that “(Yoga) began as a sex cult“(sic)!  Thankfully, rebuttals were quick and fast in coming..Most of them highlighted Mr Broad’s false premise and his apparent ignorance about the origins of Yoga, its spiritual aspects as well as the tradition of Tantra. Below, excerpts from three of the best rebuttals that I have read (so far) on this matter. I have not come across any rebuttal from the established scholars of Hinduism and Yoga yet but hopefully we will see something in the weeks to come. Please note that emphasis has been added in these excerpts. Read on..

*** Excerpts from “Sex & Yoga (Again!): A Broad, Distorted View of Yoga History by Ramesh Bjonneson ***

…It is a fact that Tantra, and thus yoga, has historically and accurately been linked to sexual rites and practices. But it is not correct, as science writer for The New York Times William J. Broad recently claimed in an article, that yoga “began as a sex cult.

..So, what’s the distorted science behind Mr. Broad’s sweepingly broad distortion of truth and thus of yogic history? His logic goes something like this: we know that Tantra has something to do with sex. We also know that all Tantric yogis have vaginas and penises. Therefore, all Tantric yoga was originally about sex and all yoga started out as a sex cult. That’s not science, Mr. Broad. Rather that’s avery broad distortion of science.

…And here’s the part of the article which uses the wildly distorted logic to spread his half-truths:

Hatha yoga—the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe—began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devoteessought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness. The rites of Tantric cults, while oftensteeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex. One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse. Candidates for worship included actresses and prostitutes, as well as the sisters of practitioners.

In other words, the logic goes something like this: because-guns-kill-people-therefore-all-gun-owners-are-killers or  because-tantric-yogis-have-sex-therefore-yoga-started-as-a-sex-cult! Is that science, Mr. Pulitzer Prize winner? Nope. That is junk science. And in logic and rhetoric, we call this a fallacy. A myth. A misleading notion. An erroneous belief. Everything but science.

But since these historical falsehoods are written in The New York Times by an esteemed science writer and also the author of the new book “Science of Yoga”, these “facts” will be believed by millions and thus distorted forever more by its liberal and rational readers who, like most humans, are prone to distortions and sensationalism. Especially when “the facts” are in print. Indeed, that’s the power of “news that’s fit to print”, as the New York Times motto states.

William J. Broad proclaimed on Fresh Air with Terry Gross that he had spent five years researching yoga for his popular book. Perhaps heread all the wrong books? Perhaps he got so fascinated with that small percentage of Tantra that’s truly about sex that he got all bent out of intellectual shape? Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps he simply had an agenda, and he simply used his research to fit that agenda?

…I think Mr. Broad also has been a shallow student of everything yogic and Tantric. Because, if he had indeed taken thetime to do his research properly, and, even better, interviewed people who actually practice Tantra, then he would have learned something entirely different. He would, for example, have learned—as in Buddhism, where yogis also (surprise) sometimes have sex—that Tantra is as vast a subject and a tradition as Buddhism, with an even longer history. Indeed, scholars and practitioners often speak of Hindu and Buddhist Tantra todescribe two vast historical and cultural strands of Tantra as two giant trees covering a vast array of branches and schools.

Most importantly, Mr. Broad would have learned that neither of these traditions in Buddhism and Hinduism are considered cults of sex, neither by scholars nor by the broad majority of its practitioners. He would also have learned that Tantra is actually older than both Buddhism and Hinduism. Yes, the Pulitzer Prize winning science writer obviously missed this widely acknowledged part of yoga history.

In other words, just because it is widely accepted that the Buddhist guru Chogyam Trungpa had sex with some of his female followers,Buddhism is hardly a sex cult, is it Mr. Broad? And even more relevantly, just because there are known Tantric rites involving sex, the vast majority of Tantric practices, just like life itself, are not related to sexual practice.  Esteemed yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein, whom Mr. Broad should have studied better, estimates that only about 5 percent of Tantra involved sexual practices. Moreover, Hatha Yoga, which Mr. Broad rightly claim was developed by Tantric yogis was not, however, primarily a sexual practice “involving poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts” as indicated in his New York Times article.

…As mentioned in George Feuerstein’s book, Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy, it is widely acknowledged among pundits and yogis in India that there are two streams of Indian wisdom traditions, namely the Vedic and the Tantric. It is hotly debated which of these is oldest and if both are indigenous to India, but there is vast agreement that Tantra has contributed the most to what we today know as the practices ofyoga. In other words, all practices related to meditation, yoga postures, breathing exercises, kundalini awakening, chakras, mantras, etc., are all considered Tantric.

In addition, Tantra is generally divided into three distinct branches, of which only one engaged in ritualized sexual practices. Why? Simply because sex is considered a natural part of life in Tantra (no big sensationalist surprise there!), and thus it did not require special techniques, but rather what was required was awareness—sacred awareness, which is what Tantra really is all about, the transformation of consciousness, the cultivation of spiritual awareness in everything we do, without suppressing or neglecting the body’s gifts and needs. That’s why some aptly call Tantra “the yoga of everything.”

.. Tantra is a rather vast universe of traditions, practices and schools of thought. But William J. Broad obviously missed or, perhaps,rather got lost in this vast universe we call Tantra or Yoga. I am not surprised. Too much sex on your mind can certainly lead people ofinfluence, especially men, astray.

…In the rest of the article, Mr. Broad rehashes some of the sordid allegations of illicit sex by famous yoga teachers and self-proclaimed gurus..Even though Mr. Broad seem to think there is an important connection here, the problem with sex in yoga has actually very little to dowith sex in Tantra. Illicit sex is a human problem. Illicit sex by people in power—be they politicians, teachers, corporate leaders, priests, or self-proclaimed gurus—is largely an emotionally-starved-male-in-power problem. That, and not Tantra, is broadly the real issue, Mr.Science.

*** End of Excerpts ***

Do read the article in full..and don’t miss the comments section. Next, some excerpts from an informal rebuttal exposing the factual errors (in blue font, italics)in Broad’s piece (again, emphasis added)…

*** Christopher Wallis on Factual Errors” in NY Times Article – Excerpts ***

1.) “Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult…” Hardly. Mr. Broad is simply displaying his ignorance here. In fact, yoga as we know it began as an internalized ritual practice of activating sacred powers in the body through mantra, mudrā, and visualization, as has been shown by Christopher Tompkins and others. There was no sexual component (though that later development in some streams of the tradition, it was never central to the practice)

2.) “Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. Not quite. Hatha-yoga never was a branch of Tantra; it was a discipline that drew on inspiration from the Tantrik scriptures. It is true that there were some sexual practices in mainstream Hatha-yoga (e.g. vajrolī mudrā) which were NOT found in any tantras.

‎3.) “In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness.No, devotees sought to realization that those aspects (Shiva and Shakti, i.e. spaciousness and energy) were always already fused, in fact expressions of each other. Insight into this truth does give rise to ānanda (bliss) as a by-product, but ānanda was/is not the goal — insight or true seeing is the goal.

‎4.) “The rites of Tantric cults, while often steeped in symbolism, could also include group and individual sex.This statement is highly misleading because it implies that sexual practice was part of the Tantrik mainstream. It was not. Sexual practice (couple and group) was an infrequently performed rite of relatively fringe Tantrik groups, and in those rites, sexual pleasure was NEVER described as the goal. Intensified awareness was the goal, and the rite is said to be forbidden to those performing it out of physical lust.

5.) “One text advised devotees to revere the female sex organ and enjoy vigorous intercourse.I can think of two texts which might be construed in this way, but unless Mr. Broad can read Sanskrit, I doubt he consulted them. Because he did not consult the original source (he cites NO sources in this piece), he is obviously unaware that in the Brahma-yāmala, the practice in question is aimed not at “enjoying” intercourse, but rather indefinitely postponing orgasm in order to gain supernatural powers. In the other text (Tantrāloka 29), the purpose of the practice is the cultivation of meditative awareness, not physical pleasure. (I’m just telling you how the tradition represents itself.)

6.) “[Hatha yoga] used poses, deep breathing and stimulating acts — including intercourse — to hasten rapturous bliss.Bliss was not the goal of hatha-yoga either. Freedom and release from suffering (moksha) was explicitly stated as the goal. Intercourse, when performed as a hatha-yoga practice, did NOT involve orgasm, which is obviously pleasurable, so…

7.) “In time, Tantra and Hatha developed bad reputations. The main charge was that practitioners indulged in sexual debauchery under the pretext of spirituality.” Incorrect! My god, doesn’t anyone do RESEARCH anymore? They did develop bad reputations for two different reasons: Tantra become associated with rites of black magic in the popular imagination, and Hatha-yoga was given a bad name by India’s British rulers because of the prevalence of Hatha-yogis who were warriors who resisted the British (see Mark Singleton’s work for this). Of course, there were occasionally charges in premodern India that some people used the Tantrik teachings as an excuse to get drunk and fornicate, because of course that did happen, cause that kind of thing will always happen (I discuss this in my book, Tantra Illuminated). But the fact that the teachings were sometimes misused in that way doesn’t change the fact that that was not the original intent of the teachings! Does the misuse of Jesus’ teaching to justify things he didn’t condone make him a fraud? Hardly.

8.) “Early in the 20th century, the founders of modern yoga worked hard to remove the Tantric stain. They devised a sanitized discipline that played down the old eroticism for a new emphasis on health and fitness.” Well, this part is true.

9.) The Goraksha-śataka, a source text on hatha-yoga, says that one is only successful in practice if he is moderate and restrained in eating and sexual behavior, and totally dedicated to his yoga. (verse 54) This is a SOURCE text. Doesn’t sound like a “sex cult” to me.

*** End of Excerpts ***

The third excerpt – from an article by Jason Birch, goes deeper into the history of Tantra (once again, emphasis has been added)..Read on..

*** Excerpts: “Getting the History Right – Yoga in the New York Times” by Jason Birch ***

Williams Broad’s recent article…contains historical inaccuracies which undermine his argument and integrity.  He claims that Haṭhayoga “began as a sex cult”.  This bizarre statement is based on his mistaken belief that the sexual practices of Tantra were adopted by Haṭhayoga, and these practices included the postures and breathing exercises which have become central to modern yoga.

…Much of the terminology in the early Haṭha texts derived from Tantra, but two great innovations had occurred.  Firstly, Haṭhayoga had discarded the complex metaphysics, doctrine and ritual system of Tantra.  This included any transgressive practices of consuming meat, alcohol and ritualized sex.  And secondly, the focus of Haṭhayoga was almost entirely on the practice of yoga rather than other methods of liberation…

…Broad’s comments imply that sex was central to Tantra’s ritual practice.  This is not true.  Ritualized sex was not practiced by all Tantric sects and, when it was practiced, it was but one component in a complex ritual system, which was built on the use of mantras, visualisation, mandalas, mudrās, contemplation, worshiping a deity, making offerings into a fire, etc.  The rich diversity of this religion is lost in Broad’s comments and I would encourage anyone who is curious about Tantra to read Alexis Sanderson’s articles, which include the textual, epigraphical and archaeological evidence behind his statements.   

The only sexual practice described in some of the above-mentioned Haṭha texts is Vajrolīmudrā, in which the male Yogin absorbs, via his urethra, a mixture of his semen and a female yoga practitioner’s sexual fluids.  The aim of this practice was not “rapturous bliss” but the retention of sexual fluids, which was believed to bring about greater strength, a longer life, a pleasant smell to the body and freedom from disease.  These benefits could also be achieved through chastity and other mudrās, so Vajrolīmudrā was not central to Haṭhayoga and half of the aforementioned texts omit it.

Far from describing the practices of a sex cult, Haṭhayoga texts generally advise male yogins not to associate with women. After all, Haṭhayoga was usually practiced alone in an isolated place… Contrary to Broad’s claim, I know of not one instance in a Haṭha text where a posture or breathing exercise is said to bring about sexual arousal.

The underlying flaw in Broad’s argument is that he presents no evidence, scientific or historical, that Haṭhayoga practices cause sexual arousal.…ne must wonder why Broad has attempted to link yoga techniques with sex scandals in the way that he has.  Some journalists do think that controversy benefits all and to this end are willing to ignore or cherry-pick the evidence and throw out the truth.

*** End of Excerpts ***

To round off, two final (brief) extracts…The first one is from Does Yoga Really Drive People Wild with Desire? by Maia Szalavitz:

…the fact that yoga gurus from Woodstock’s Swami Satchidananda onward are frequently caught with their pants down probably says less about the practice than it does about men, women and power. While yoga might improve your libido, fortunately it’s not likely to make you uncontrollably driven to cheat. And when considering connections between behaviors like sexual impropriety and yoga — or associations between drugs and certain side effects or other reported outcomes — it’s important to remember that correlation isn’t necessarily cause.

The second one from Sandip Roy, “Yoga’s dirty secret: It’s all about Tantric sex, baby“:

When it comes to yoga, as the Hindu American Foundation, tirelessly repeats the crux of the problem is the way the West has reduced yoga, the spiritual practice, into yoga, the sequence of physical asanas. Mark Morford, a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a yoga teacher reminds us, “Yoga is a physical, spiritual, energetic, wildly interconnected practice that can transform every aspect of your world… Oh, and by the way? It also makes your genitals tingle nicely, too. Bonus, really.”

Anyway just as yoga is about more than your bhujangasana, Tantra is about more than your perfect orgasm. All those Tantric sex workshops are based in as much wishful thinking as all the hair growth clinics and penis enlargement ads. Morford writes: “I’ve been studying Shaiva Tantra myself for years now, most recently with one of the finest scholars in the business and we have yet to have a single wild orgy or virgin sacrifice. I know! Total rip-off!”

Hopefully this helps set the record straight…Please do share widely…and do add any other links that you may have come across..Comments and thoughts welcome, as always…

Related Post: Take Back Yoga. Also read: Super Brain Yoga – I want to trademark this! and High-Tech Pranayama

Somewhat Related: On Puritanism, Sex Addicts and Temples

March 2nd, 2012 Posted by | Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Hindu Dharma, Khajuraho, Spirituality & Philosophy | 7 comments

On Cow Slaughter etc..

This post has been some time in coming – and I am penning my thoughts on something controversial after a long time. It was prompted by the recent decision of government of MP to increase the punishment for cow slaughter. As many of you would know, the issue of cow-slaughter is not a new one.  In fact, the demand for a ban on slaughter of cows is more than a century old – and was first raised in modern times by Swami Dayanand Saraswati and the Arya Samaj. It has been suggested that the British inadvertently strengthened the “Cow Protection Movement” by decreeing that the cow is not a sacred animal and can be slaughtered. I have my doubts about this “theory” but here is the reference:

In 1888, a high court in Allahabad ruled that cows are not “sacred” animals as defined in section 295 of the Indian Penal Code and Muslims could not be held accountable for slaughtering them. (1).

There are accounts from colonial times of Muslims slaughtering cows during Bakr-Id festival although there is no religious decree to support cow slaughter (In fact, the Supreme Court in Mohammad Hanif Qureshi Vs. State of Bihar in 1958 had held that the Muslims had no religious right to kill cows on Bakr-Id).  Although some argue that the cow was merely used as a symbol for mobilizing Hindu opinion by Arya Samaj and other leaders of the movement, the fact that it spread rapidly over large parts of India in a day and age where communication and travel was very difficult is indicative of the underlying strength of emotions towards this animal.

In the 1870s, cow protection movements spread rapidly in the Punjab, the North-West provinces, Awadh and Rohilkhand. Arya Samaj had a tremendous role in skillfully converting this sentiment into a national movement. The first Gaurakshini sabha (cow protection society) was established in the Punjab in 1882.(2) The movement spread rapidly all over North India and to Bengal,Bombay, Madras and other central provinces.

It has been mentioned that

Signatures, up to 350,000 in some places, were collected to demand a ban on cow sacrifice.(3)

The strong sentiment around cow-slaughter – and Mahatma Gandhi’s strong views on the matter – led to its inclusion in Constitution under Article 48 (Part IV; Directive Principles of State Policy) which states that: (the) State shall preserve and improve the breeds and prohibit the slaughter of cows, calves and other cows and drought cattle.

It has also been mentioned that when this issue was being debated in Parliament, many wanted a total ban on cow slaughter but this was opposed by Nehru and thus a compromise was reached by including it in terms of Directive Principles. I do not have sufficient references (also see #164) to back this up but hope to find links to debate/discussion in Constituent Assembly on this matter. However, it appears that during the debate in the Constituent Assembly at least some Muslim Members (Mr. Z.H. Lari and Syed Mohammad Saidulla?) were willing for cow slaughter prohibition to be kept as a Fundamental Right.  Regardless of the deliberations in Constituent Assembly – and since then – the cow continues to be an object of great reverence and is widely considered sacred – cutting across castes and regions in India.  Laws banning slaughter of cow and its progeny have been promulgated in almost all states in India except Paschim Banga, Kerala, Nagaland and Meghalaya (the latter two have a predominant Christian population). The ban on cow slaughter was in news last year too when the government of Karnataka passed a law that prohibiting the slaughter of buffaloes along with cow and its progeny (a law protecting the cow was already in force in Karnataka since earlier).  And as noted above, this has been in news once again prompted by a move by the government in MP to seek punishment of up to 7 years for slaughter of cow (note the punishment is not for consumption of beef but for slaughter of cow).

The  cow and bullock have a venerated place in the ancient traditions of Bharat. The cow  is referred to by various names in the Vedas including Aditi, KamaDhenu and Aghnya (that which cannot be killed). Other than its milk and by-products, a cow has numerous “economic” uses. Cow dung is known to act as an anti-septic and reportedly acts as an air purifier when burnt. It also acts as a coolant when mixed with mud and applied to walls of dwellings. There is also some evidence to suggest that the chemical composition of cow-urine may have medicinal properties (and may play a part in cancer therapy).

One of the many names of Bhagwaan ShriKrishna’s is “Gopal” (Protector of Cows).  Muhammad Ghori was apparently pardoned by Prithviraj Chauhan when he asked to be treated like a “cow” (unfortunately I don’t have full & reliable references). There are records to suggest that Akbar issued firmans prohibiting cow-slaughter to respect the sentiments of the large Hindu population during his reign. This “ban” continued during the reign Jehangir and ShahJahan. The cow may also have been one of the triggers for the uprising against the British in 1857.

Before we proceed any further, it would be instructive to read the judgement of the Supreme Court in the landmark case on this matter, Mohd. Hanif Quareshi & Others vs The State Of Bihar(& Others), April, 1958 (emphasis added):

So approaching and analysing the problem, we have reached the conclusion (i) that a total ban on the slaughter of cows of all ages and calves of cows and calves of she-buffaloes, male and female, is quite reasonable and valid and is in consonance with the directive principles laid down in Art. 48, (ii) that a total ban on the slaughter of she-buffaloes or breeding bulls or working bullocks (cattle as well as buffaloes) as long as they are as milch or draught cattle is also reasonable and valid and (iii) that a total ban on the slaughter of she- buffaloes, bulls and bullocks (cattle or buffalo) after they cease to be capable of yielding milk or of breeding or working as draught animals cannot be supported as reasonable in the interest of the general public.

Note that while the Directive Principles are unenforceable by themselves but constitutionality of laws is usually examined in the light of directive principles.  Even stronger than the 1958 ruling, is this conclusion from a (relatively) recent judgement by the Supreme Court (from 2005) in the case of State Of Gujarat vs Mirzapur Moti Kureshi Kassab (emphasis added):

In the case before us, we have material in abundance justifying the need to alter the flow of judicial opinion.…Independent India, having got rid of the shackles of foreign rule, was not even 11 years old then. Since then, the Indian economy has made much headway and gained a foothold internationally. Constitutional jurisprudence has indeed changed from what it was in 1958, as pointed out earlier. Our socio-economic scenario has progressed from being gloomy to a shining one, full of hopes and expectations and determinations for present and future. Our economy is steadily moving towards prosperity in a planned way through five year plans, nine of which have been accomplished and tenth is under way. We deal with the findings in Quareshi-I seriatim.

Finding 1 :…So far as the State of Gujarat is concerned, we have already noticed, while dealing with the documentary evidence available on record, that fodder shortage is not a problem so far as this state is concerned and cow progeny, the slaughtering whereof has already shown a downward trend during the recent years, can very well be fed and maintained without causing any wasteful drain on the feed requisite for active milch, breeding and draught cattle.…the documentary evidence available on record shows that beef contributes only 1.3% of the total meat consumption pattern of the Indian society. Butchers are not prohibited from slaughtering animals other than the cattle belonging to cow progeny. Consequently, only a part of their activity has been prohibited. They can continue with their activity of slaughtering other animals. Even if it results in slight inconvenience, it is liable to be ignored if the prohibition is found to be in the interest of economy and social needs of the country

Finding 3 : 47 years since, it is futile to think that meat originating from cow progeny can be the only staple food or protein diet for the poor population of the country. ‘…The real problem, facing India, is not the availability of food, staple food and protein rich diet; the real problem is its unequal distribution. The real challenge comes from the slow growth of purchasing power of the people and lack of adequate employment opportunities. ….It will, therefore, not be correct to say that poor will suffer in availing staple food and nutritional diet only because slaughter of cow progeny was prohibited.

Finding 4 :…For multiple reasons which we have stated in very many details while dealing with Question-6 in Part II of the judgment, we have found that bulls and bullocks do not become useless merely by crossing a particular age. The Statement of Objects and Reasons, apart from other evidence available, clearly conveys that cow and her progeny constitute the backbone of Indian agriculture and economy. …This Statement of Objects and Reasons tilts the balance in favour of the constitutional validity of the impugned enactment. …

In the light of the material available in abundance before us, there is no escape from the conclusion that the protection conferred by impugned enactment on cow progeny is needed in the interest of Nation’s economy. Merely because it may cause ‘inconvenience’ or some ‘dislocation’ to the butchers, restriction imposed by the impugned enactment does not cease to be in the interest of the general public.

The former must yield to the latter.…The Bombay Animal Preservation (Gujarat Amendment) Act, 1994 (Gujarat Act No. 4 of 1994) is held to be intra vires the Constitution.

Let us now look at the “rational” or “liberal” argument against a ban on cow slaughter:

1] That Hindus ate beef in the past – as mentioned in the Vedas. The first point against this argument is the fact that there are contradictory statements within the Vedas regarding “beef eating”. Very likely, these are the result of incorrect and improper translation (e.g. see this post on Agniveer.com) and therefore cannot be relied on as being authoritative. But even if one was to assume so – for the sake of argument – this is a bad argument because not all past practices are carried over to current times (neither should they be; e.g. past practice of not dining or marrying outside the “jati”). The second (important) point to note (and ask) re. the Vedic references is: are these references really laudatory – and praiseworthy – or are “beef-eaters” looked down upon? Furthermore, most (all?) references are to the meat of the bull – not cow; and even of there were references to cow, they refer to a sterile cow; also see part II of the post on Agniveer)

2] The second “liberal” argument against a ban on cow slaughter is that the state shall not dictate what I can and cannot eat; that the only reason the state can impose its views on such matters is if you harm others in this process, or if doing so will harm the environment. A good illustration of this argument is in this post by Sanjeev Sabhlok (also FTI colleague):

If eating beef is not lethal and it doesn’t kill others, then there is no cause to interfere in the freedoms of others to eat beef.

Now substitute “eating beef” with “taking drugs” or “having multiple wives” – and you will begin to see why this argument looks somewhat shaky. Freedom cannot be absolute – and is usually circumscribed by prevailing social norms and expectations. If such expectations overwhelmingly treat the cow as an object of reverence – or if there is general social revulsion towards slaughter of a particular animal – perhaps there is case to be made for a law banning slaughter of cows?

It is obvious that cow-slaughter arouses strong emotions in people. Bear in mind that people elect a government (in a democracy) to make/propose laws and take decisions that represent the collective will of the society (in addition to maintaining their safety and security). In a democracy, laws will usually be a manifestation of how the society wishes to govern itself (including in the form of a Constitution) – and are usually based on traditions and norms. If the society and the community wishes that the slaughter of cow ought to be prohibited in a land where it has been worshiped and held sacred for millennia, is that not a good reason for having such a law? Unless public opinion change to such a degree where such a ban becomes irrelevant?

I am tempted to point out that another argument (which is sometimes) used in this discussion – along the lines of “let society decide on its own to not eat beef, if it so wishes, but governments should have no role to play in this” – would mean government should have no role in banning untouchability or demands for dowry, right?

Please note that a nuanced argument can be made supporting a ban on cow-slaughter while maintaining neutrality with regards beef consumption (this would mean – for instance – that restaurants are free to import beef and serve it to their customers).  Anyway, enough food for thoughts for now, I guess. I will stop at this point – with the caveat that my thoughts on this matter are still evolving. Therefore, happy to be challenged, contradicted and of course supported!  Comments and thoughts, welcome as always

P.S. While I am broadly supportive of the government’s bill in MP, I worry seriously about the apparent “presumption” of guilt and putting the onus on the accused to prove his or her innocence (these are also the reasons – among others – on why I worry about the Communal Violence Bill and an all-powerful “Jan Lokpal”).

References/ Supporting Documents (the three below, courtesy Wikipedia; have not been independently verified):

  1. “Religious Nationalism, Hindus and Muslims in India”, Peter van der Veer, pp. 83 and 86, 91 and 92 ISBN 0520082567
  2. “The Making of an Indian Metropolis, Colonial governance and public culture in Bombay”, 1890/1920, Prashant Kidambi, p. 176, ISBN 9780754656128
  3. “Vishnu’s crowded temple, India since the great rebellion”, pp. 67-69, Maria Misra, 2008, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300137217

Here is a richly linked and referenced web-page on the history and background to this question and the matter of cow slaughter

Here is an unusual case for eating beef – from a Hindu perspective and a case for cow slaughter – from an economic perspective (this also has an excerpt that suggests Swami Vivekananda reportedly favoured beef-consumption).

Surprising Find of the Day: the following quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi (December 1927):

As for me, not even to win Swaraj, will I renounce my principle of cow protection.

Related Posts: If Muslims revered cattle – excerpt and  Of “Sacred Bulls”, Divinity & Development

Also see: This is funny.. and the Deoband fatwa on “beef-eating

P.P.S. I was not aware that certain types of meat consumption is banned in Australia (so I guess Hindus are the not the only ones who are irrational!):

RSPCA Australia believes the consumption of cat and dog meat should be expressly prohibited in statute. Cats and dogs hold a specific place in Australian society as companion animals. Eating cats and dogs is therefore offensive to mainstream Australian cultural values. RSPCA Australia believes that state governments should follow the lead of South Australia and create specific offences for eating cats and dogs...

Additional (suggested) Readings: Eating less meat may help save the planet and Eating red meat may be really bad for you..

February 8th, 2012 Posted by | Debates & Discussions, Distortions, Misrepresentation about Hinduism, Hindu Dharma, Human Rights and Legal Issues, Politics and Governance in India | 55 comments

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