Saturday, November 12, 2005

Politics and Spirituality

Ages ago, as a late teenager I visited Calcutta, the burning ghats (outdoor cremation beside the river), a rich man's house with all sorts of European art objects and 50 beggars outside waiting for their daily meal.

What struck me, then and later, was the passivity of their religions: life is dreadful and the best outcome is to get out of it. Withdrawal-- from life; I never had any positive relationship to such a faith.

In recent years I've come to see that Buddha and the other faiths, at their best are not about 'getting out of life', but about getting out of the seamy side, the fallen world, the kingdom of Satan that Jesus refused in the wilderness.

But I still missed the activity, the love, the justice; Gandhi seemed like more of a christian than a hindu. However I perceived that for most people Buddha (and the others) was a creative response to the dismal economic world where they lived.

Islam was (is) a political religion. It tells people what to do. It was born when Mohammed's ideas rescued the warring tribes of Arabia and made them one great victorious tribe. But, as I've said before, they fell victim to the power principle just like Christianity had done (and continues to do); oligarchy replaced the egalitarianism of pure Islam. And the people became passive.

In the 13th century the Mongols swept through Asia and a good part of Europe. They took over what remained of the Arab Empire. With no religion of their own many of them became Muslims, but it didn't much affect their political (and military) activity.

"They had two chief political objectives: world hegemony and the perpetuation of the ruling dynasty, which justified any cruelty... they believed that the greater the ruler's power, the better the peace and security of the state. The decrees of all the monarchs remained in force as long as the family was in power, marginalizing all other legal systems. All the top jobs in government were given to members of the family and their local clients and proteges.." (Armstrong, Islam 98). (Can you think of any more recent political power that might apply to?)

One of the refugees from the brutal depradations of the Mongols was Rumi (1207-73), the founder of the whirling dervishes. A good Moslem, his poetry, his ideas, his spirit closely resemble those of Buddha and all the other inner directed religious views of the world, including much of Christianity. Was he the outcome of that vicious political and military system within which he lived?

"Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne.
Yet that scaffold sways the future, And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow keeping watch above His own."

Where is our Rumi?


crystal said...

Hi Larry. I really like Hinduism and I think it's worth a closer look. It's different from Buddhism, though they have stuff in common. Wikipedia says ... Hinduism's aspiration is best expressed in the following mantra:

"OM Lead me from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality."

... not so different from what we aspire to :-)

Larry said...

You're sure right, Crystal. I haven't studied it, but I know and respect a lot of Hindus.

Jon said...

Two great starting points, if you decide to follow up on that, would be to read Paramahansa Yogananada's Autobiography of a Yogi, and then the Upanishads. (I recommend either the Juan Mascaro or Eknath Easwaran translations.)

Twyla said...

What a fantastic post. Left me wanting more.

Larry said...

Just hang in with me, Twyla; there will be plenty more, God willing. Your stuff is pretty compelling, too.

Twyla said...

Hey Larry - tell about the picture on your profile? Is one of them you? The one sitting with his leg up is yummy. Oh, those good old hippie days. :)

Larry said...

The picture was taken ca 1984 when the boy in black was graduating from VA Tech. The old geezer in the back was me. The bearded gent was Paul, our oldest (he was indeed a hippie until he was 30, when he shaved his beard and went to work for Wachovia Bank). The kid in the front was Rob, maybe in college by then. (he's the one who worked at the White House.)

Enough of that! for now.

I_Wonder said...

Larry, thanks for this post!

Larry said...