Monday, November 25, 2013

Vikas Swarup


In the framework of Europalia India, a string of institutions including my Alma Mater, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, hosts a series of exhibitions, performances, films showings, conferences and lectures. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal was to speak in Brussels and Leuven, but he didn't show up, being detained in a sex scandal. The next day, on Thursday 21 November 2013, the speaker in Leuven was Vikas Swarup, philosopher-psychologist by diploma and diplomat by profession, but best known as the writer of the novel Q&A. This book was first published in Dutch translation in 2004, well before the English original came out. Unfortunately, I had (or made) no time to read his novel, until I saw its filmed version, Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire directed by Danny Boyle.


The Accidental Apprentice

He mainly talked about two more recent novels, for which he also has film contracts now. The Accidental Appentice is about a talented girl forced to work as a salesgirl, who gets a surprising offer from a rich businessman: he wants her to become the CEO of his empire, on condition that she can pass the seven tests of life. Like Q&A, it is a fast-paced social thriller, but this time about the lower middle class rather than the real poor.

To a question about forced marriage, involved in one of the tests, he clarifies that unlike arranged marriage, really forced marriages are relatively rare in India. Either way, love does not enjoy much respect. The institution of arranged marriage goes hand in hand with the caste system: if you let youngsters choose for themselves, their hormones or their emotions will rarely dictate a choice of partner from among the same caste. But as modernization spreads, such customs as having your partner chosen by your parents are gradually falling by the wayside. But then, in a country of 1,2 billion, there are still cases, as there are of child labour and other abuses.

Corruption? Yes, corruption exists. But in 2005, a very far-reaching law was passed, the Right to Information Act. Every law or decree and every government contract or contract bidding has to be published on the internet. You can go to court if you see information according to which you should be given the contract.

Involuntary donations of organs? The donor can only be a family member, according to the law. But there is a loophole: the altruist donor, the friend of the family, and it is surprising how fast an altruist donor can appear once money is involved. So, the main problem is commercialized voluntary donation, though a few cases of involuntary donation cannot be ruled out.

In the book, one character, Nirmala Behn, is inspired by Anna Hazare, a Gandhian crusader. He sat on a fast for the Lokpal (ombudsman) Bill and gathered a lot of popular support. But many people considered it blackmail of an elected legislative body by an unelected activist.  People supported his cause, not his methods. If you die by fasting unto death, you are, in fact, contravening the anti-suicide law. We have to take the anti-corruption cause to the level where it can really make a difference. Therefore, Hazare’s companion Arvind Kejriwal floated his own political party.

Reality shows and abuse of young women who want to be stars?. Reality TV has taken over India. Everyone fancies himself as a superstar. In my hometown of Allahabad, 2 teenage girls from a village wanted me to introduce them to Danny Boyle. What are your credentials? In the past, fame was a by-product of talent, now fame is sought for its own sake. Singers go up in price once they have appeared on television. Yes,O reality shows are more influential than in Europe. India is a nation of wannabes.


The Six Suspects

Another novel is called The Six Suspects. Viki Rai, son of the UP Chief Minister, is a criminal. He drives six people to death in an accident, but when the case goes on trial, his father buys off the witnesses. A second crime goes on trial, but the only witness dies before the court can hear testimony. In a third trial, the case drags on for 7 years, the witnesses renege, and Viki is let off again. (It goes without saying that real-life politics offers ample precedent for these mistrials.) He celebrates the acquittal in a big way. At midnight the lights briefly go out, and when they  switch on again, Viki is found to have been shot.

Six people turn out to have a gun on them and are treated as suspects. Four of them are regular Indians, though with a peculiar individual story. One of them has Indian citizenship, but is a freshly arrived tribal from the Andaman islands – from the Stone Age to the modern world with its disco parties and its guns. And one is a traveller from Texas (where nearly everyone has a gun), a disappointed collector of a mail-order bride, for whom the photograph of an actress was used, the same one who happens to be one of his fellow suspects. So, a promising plot.


Slumdog Millionaire

Well, anyway, what followed was question time. I asked Vikas Swarup whether he was disappointed or otherwise not so happy with the changes Danny Boyle had made while turning the novel Q&A into the movie Slumdog Millionaire. He acknowledged that changes had been made. Upon signing the contract, the representative of the movie crew had promised him that “the soul of the novel” would be respected, a sure way of saying that its body would be distorted. But he took this as normal and fairly insignificant. In reality, the changes were highly consequential and significant for Boyle’s agenda and perhaps for what western audiences have come to expect from a film located in India.

He explained how he had named the protagonist Ram Mohammed Thomas, representing every street kid in India, while Boyle had changed this into Jamal Malik, a fully Muslim name. He communalized the plot, with Jamal’s mother being killed by Hindu communal rioters and a Rama impersonation presiding over the violence. Boyle turned the protagonist into a poor hapless Muslim and the Hindus into the bad guys. In this context, blinding a child-beggar to make him earn more by singing a Hindu religious song (a practice of which even the missionary sister Jeanne Devos says she has never come across an actual case during decades of social work in Mumbai), and of course not a Muslim song, adds to the image of Hinduism as gruesome. Briefly, he turned an innocent story into an anti-Hindu story.

The fact that the writer, as a somewhat secularized Hindu, representative for dozens or even hundreds of millions of similar Hindus, fails to see the hostile intention and the very partisan effect of this manipulation, says a lot about the silly and ultimately suicidal mentality prevalent among Hindus. Only a community of sleepwalkers could willingly come to the humiliating situation of the Hindus in India and the flood of anti-Hindu slander in the media.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Hindu Republic of Nepal?


“Upcoming elections in Nepal. The rule of law for a democratic and peaceful process”: on 13 November 2013, the Brussels-based European Institute for Asian Studies held a conference to prepare us for the second elections for a Constituent Assembly in Nepal. In 2008, the Nepalese people had already elected a first Constituent Assembly, but it did not succeed in working out a Constitution acceptable to the required majority of its members. After five years, the Supreme Court demanded its dissolution and subjection to a renewed popular vote. So, on 19 November, the citizenry of Nepal gets another shot at creating a successful Constituent Assembly.

The conference was chaired by the EIAS’s vice-chairman Dick Gupwell, and featured a number of human rights-minded Eurocrats. However, all eyes were on Ms. Mandira Sharma of the Advocacy Forum (AF) of Nepal, who has worked for democracy in Nepal for decades, and should at last be approaching her goal. She described the political situation in her country, dominated by two major political parties, the Maoists and the Congress. A fringe group splintered off from the Maoists calls on the voters to boycott the upcoming elections and even promised to sabotage them by using violence.

In 1959, Parliamentary democracy was briefly tried, but called off after a year. Instead came Panchayati Raj, rule by the village councils. This sounded like a good indigenous alternative to “Western” democracy, but in fact it had the same flaws as the Parliamentary system. The village councils elected a single person to the district council, which then elected a single person to the national level, so contact with the grassroots was lost, and effectively, the autocratic king could do as he pleased. However, the aura of the king Birendra as a supposed incarnation of Vishnu was shattered when his son Dipendra killed the whole royal family during a dinner party in 2001. His brother Gyanendra tried to revive autocratic rule, but untimately had to hand over power to the politicians including the Maoists.

The major problem, according to the Nepalese people, is not famines or defective infrastructure. It is not any problem that can be solved by a policy, but is the lack of trustworthy and competent politicians. The incapability of reaching a consensus about a Constitution is but symptomatic for the fissiparous mentality among the political class. Then there is the corruption, a familiar problem to Indians, with convicted criminals as election candidates. The AF lays a special stress on cleaning the election process by eliminating these rotten apples. Specific for the Nepalese situation are the veterans of the guerrilla struggle with a record of human rights violations. The Maoists want immunity for them, i.e. impunity for the crimes they have committed in the service of the “people’s war”.

Maoist leader and former Prime Minister Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal, r.2008-09) declared during the armed struggle: “I hate revisionists”, i.e. non-revolutionary Marxists, who have “strayed” from the revolutionary path. Yet it seems that he has no qualms with having become a revisionist himself. He agrees that multi-party elections are the only viable way for Nepal.

 None of the speakers at the conference mentioned religion, eventhough this had been a central issue during the political take-over. Until 2008, Nepal welcomed visitors to “the only Hindu Kingdom in the world”. The Hindu state religion was abolished along with the monarchy.

When I enquired about religion, I was told that it is not much of an issue anymore. It may seem like that to campaigners focused on corruption and democratic institutions. Or those who engineered the removal of Hinduism from its official position may have had an interest in making uninformed Westerners believe that it was no longer an issue. At any rate, for the powers behind this conference, it seemed to be very important, as there is more here than meets the eye. Of the 8 organizing NGO’s in the Nepal Dialogue Forum for Peace and Human Rights, 3 are already recognizable as missionary outfits by their very name, while two others may have the same agenda and at any rate have names that knowledgeable people will immediately recognize as anti-Hindu. Thus, “Adivasi Coordination Germany” contains the tell-tale word Adivasi, “Aboriginal”. This term was coined in the British colonial period as a pseudo-indigenous term conveying that the tribal populations are “aboriginal” – and hence the non-tribals are not. This is an utterly dishonest projection of the American situation, with Amerindian “natives” and European settlers, onto South Asia; and much beloved of Maoists and missionaries. The dreamy people attracted to human rights campaigns wouldn’t know the real agenda of those who smuggle such words into the discourse, and can safely be employed as useful idiots. Another word the anti-Hindu forces like to propagate, and that is not so innocent in their mouths, is that they want Nepal to be a “secular” democracy.

According to a poll in 2011, 63% of the Nepalese people were in favour of a “Hindu democracy”, 34% wanted a “secular democracy”. (Insights South Asia. Nepal Survey 2011 Results, SADP/Gallup, presented by one of the speakers) That is a very clear majority in favour of a Hindu democracy. If Nepal is going to be a democracy, the first test will be whether it will get its democratically desired Hindu state.

I bet it won’t, because the Nepali Hindus are not organized as such, while their enemies are. And if at all the Hindu opposition proves insurmountable, it will be bought off with a token concession, since its leaders (if they come forward at all) do not know the difference between mere words and tangible power. For decades they have sleepwalked into this situation, and there is no sign that they have awoken yet. Ms. Sharma informed us that one political party “wants the King back”. The monarchy cannot and should not be saved; it was all along a big mistake to tie Hinduism to the person of the King, and even to venerate him as an incarnation of Vishnu. There was no movement thinking through a viable Hindu alternative to this feudal hold-over, and there still isn’t one.

Like in the case of the California textbooks case (2005-09), I will get some hate-mail from Hindu activists for daring to state the fact of the massive Hindu defeat in Nepal. They insist on fooling themselves that they are going from victory to victory, when in fact they have been stumbling from defeat to ignominious defeat. If ever you hope to score a victory, the first  thing to do is to acknowledge your shortcomings, the defects on which you have to improve.

The one consolation is that Hinduism is still present within the dominant parties. Also, a religion promoted by the state will become weak, as witnessed by the state of Hinduism after centuries of royal patronage. So, it may revive its inner strength during the coming long years of non-Hindu rule. 

(14 November 2013, published in Centre Right India and in Hindu Human Rights)

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Aryan debate: isoglosses, asymmetrical expansion

On the, 8 November 2013, I answered some objections:


Talageri's chronology of the Rg-Veda is based on Oldenberg and other Western scholars, as he himself explains and specifies whenever the issue comes up. But for that, it is necessary to read his book, not a review. That e.g. book 6 is older than book 3 may not be universally acknowledged, but that the family books predate the others is a widely shared opinion, which I learned in university in the eighties, from AIT believing-professors and before the Aryan question became an issue again. And in this scheme, the elephant is mentioned before the Afghan animals, of whom the camel is only one.

Colin Masica's contribution to Aryan + non-Arya (1979) contains a claim that ushtra meant Buffalo in Vedic and camel only in the MBh. That is certainly disputed, but let's assume he is right. In that case, he proves the same thing as Talageri: an Indian animal early, an Afghan animal late. So, for what it is worth, the movement suggested is India to Afghanistan, not the reverse.

There is no funnel theory of the isoglosses in Talageri. HH Hock projects this approach onto Talageri, and then sets out to refute it. Talageri has most of the IE languages take shape after leaving India. He  should not have tried to put this process on a map, as we really don't know,-- though in that respect he does no worse than the many scholars who have attempted similar scheme elsewhere on the map, such as the much-quoted C Carpelan + A Parpola's situating the whole genealogy of both the Uralic and the IE families on the map of the Wolga area. He also underestimates the substratal influence of the native European languages in making the incoming IE dialects quickly grow apart into different languages. But otherwise, his treatment of the isoglosses is fine, and solves questions which the many existing genealogies of the IE language groups and their account of the isoglosses have failed to do.

Meanwhile, observation among Indo-European linguists teaches that while those competent to defend the OIT can be counted on one hand, those capable of defending the AIT are, in spite of massive institutional support, not much more numerous. Precisely because the AIT is the established theory, students are spoonfed the AIT framework without questioning it. In their later work, they all just assume the AIT and its concomitant chronology without, for that, being capable of refuting alternative frameworks. Thus, many cite the centrality of the steppe Urheimat within the IE expansion area as an argument in favour; whereas even a layman can see that the application of this same principle would make Panama or so the homeland of Amerind, Zambia or so the homeland of Bantu, Turkmenistan the homeland of Turkic, mid-Siberia the homeland of Russian, Libya the homeland of Arabic, etc.

One German professor who tried to argue this point, said that Austronesian (which is deemed to have originated in its northern corner, viz. Fujian/Taiwan, and not at all in its centre) was given this homeland following the criterion of greatest diversity, which should be greater near the homeland. Fine. But the Wolga region is by no means the area of greatest diversity. For a millennium or so, the only IE language spoken there, for thousands of miles at a stretch, was Scythian Iranian. Later, just as lonely, it became Russian. Areas of far greater diversity are any areas where two IE language families border each other, and especially the Balkans, meeting-place of Slavic, Germanic, Romance, Albanian, Greek and Indo-Aryan (Romany). Secondly, the southward expansion of Austronesian contrasting with the total absence of a northward expansion (which the professor attributed to the presence of the strong Chinese) illustrates my point, viz. that the factors determining the direction of expansion and constraining it, may be of many kinds, but are rarely geographically symmetrical. That is why Bantu expanded southeastwards from the West-African Sahel, into areas fit for agriculture and animal husbandry, and not northward into the Sahara. And that is why it was perfectly possible for the Indo-Europeans to expand from NW India all the way to the Atlantic coast, rather than symmetrically in both directions from the Wolga area.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Drugs and yoga



(written in July 2013, published on 7 November 2013 in Bharat-Bharati))


A meeting with like-minded people


Very recently, I met several yoga initiates who told me of their experiences with ayahuasca, a “plant teacher” which they regularly took. For me, this was a blast from the past. Thirty or more years ago, I have taken LSD trips about a dozen times and two mescaline trips. Like a few friends, but unlike most contemporaries, I saw these psychedelics as a spiritual way rather than as a form of recreation. Nowadays, the accepted term would be “Shamanism”, a Siberian-cum-Amerindian tradition involving vision quests and journeys in the spirit world.  

Like many of my then friends, I quit the scene by age 25. By now, age 53, I was so completely out of it that I didn’t even think to myself of mind-altering substances as the explanation for a few strange things I saw about the people concerned. It was to my surprise that I heard the true story. Since one of them has wondered in my presence whether to keep on combining regular ayahuasca use with daily yoga practice, I have given the matter some thought.

Let me clarify first of all that I am not inclined to moralize about this. Those people and their motives are so recognizable to me. I am one of them, thirty years down the line. I also need not go into the medical drawbacks of drug use: these are together people who are in no direct danger of suffering the irritability or worse that I have seen in some users. Nonetheless, I am already showing my hand by adding that if I had remained in this scene, I would never have achieved what I have achieved now.

One reason why this revelation surprised me, is that by now I had become firmly convinced of the power of yoga to make these shortcuts to some kind of zero experience unnecessary. From Woodstock on down, numerous people have abandoned the drug scene upon initiation into yoga. As a yoga adept was introducing hippies at Woodstock to yoga, he explained: “Now the drugs do it for you. Then, you do it yourself.” On the other hand, I have to admit – and remember only too well – that there is a grey area of being attracted to both alternatives. When I was first initiated into Kriya Yoga by Swami Hariharananda and his Dutch assistant in Amsterdam, more than thirty years ago, I was actually in Amsterdam to buy drugs. I saw the poster announcing the initiation, went there quite unprepared, and my life changed profoundly. It still took a few years before I had quit the drug scene altogether, though. I also learned that the Swami had picked up his Dutch assistant, who by then had become an accomplished yogi, from the Indian gutter where he had landed as a drug addict. Once you discover yoga, it mostly means you choose the exit from the artificial paradise of mind-altering substances.


Patanjali’s definition


As Patañjali’s classical definition says: yogaścittavṛttinirodhaḥ, “yoga is the cessation of the motions of the mind”. It is as simple as that. By contrast, the complicated visions and sensations unleashed by psychedelic drugs are, as much as our everyday experiences, cases of “motions of the mind”. Yoga is not about visions and sensations, but about mental silence and peace.

Maybe that doesn’t sound very adventurous. Drug-taking is only rarely done to “escape from reality”, as the bourgeoisie thinks. It is mostly done out of adventurousness, because everyday life is rather boring while spirit journeys challenge your attention. Also, there is a curiousness for the world beyond that the “plant teacher” is revealing to you, a warm enthusiasm. So, the abstract proposition that instead you could opt for a way to silence and peace might seem dull by comparison. But this changes radically when you meet accomplished yogis, like Swami X and Swami Y [names withheld as I don’t want to associate respected people with my controversial self], who led the retreat where I met the people concerned. There you find and feel that nothing compares with yogic bliss.

Yoga is a way of turning inward. The sensations given by ayahuasca are not an external affair, one that can be seen by outsiders. This might give the impression that it is comparable to yoga. But by yogic standards, these “inner” sensations detract as much from pure consciousness as any outward experience would. Whether you are adventuring outdoors or sitting in your armchair enjoying the effects of ayahuasca, in both cases your mind is preoccupied with the sensations you encounter, not with the Self.


Shamanism and Yoga


But am I not being insulting to the Shamans and the spiritual traditions of their peoples? Many communities know of no higher state than that achieved with the help of “plant teachers”. For many thousands of years, varieties of Shamanism were the main religion of mankind. In China, the revival of openly practised religion is bringing to the fore Shamanic practices at the popular level, like people becoming channels for ghosts during exuberant public festivals. Daoism is in fact an evolved form of Shamanism; when a Daoist priest is ordained, he is given a list of spirits that he is empowered to command.

In India too, popular  religion still has many elements of Shamanism, such as ecstatic dancing. The Paraias (in English usually spelt Pariahs, the proverbial untouchables) are a community of drum-makers and drummers. They use the archetypal Shamanic instrument, nicknamed “the Shaman’s horse” because it is their vehicle on journeys in the spirit world, to whip themselves into a Shamanic trance. In that state, they are consulted for predicting the future. This penchant for the paranormal is still in evidence in a low-caste Indian community which we are all familiar with: the Gypsies, whose women are known as fortune tellers.

In recent centuries, purity-conscious Brahmins used to keep these Shamans at a distance (and vice-versa) because these were deemed to carry the world of the dead with them, with which they were known to communicate. However, at a longer distance in time they were some kind of Shamans themselves. The ninth book of the Ṛg-Veda is devoted to soma, “pressed juice”, the product of an uncertainly identified plant. The most popular theory identifies it as ephedra (whence ephedrine, a type of amphetamine or “speed”), but we are not sure at all.  Some modern moralistic Hindus deny that soma was a plant at all, they say the word soma referred to a yogic state. Others say it was the fluid state of a metal during the fiery stage of metallurgy. I am aware of these theories but till now, the “plant teacher” explanation is the most common and consistent by far. The juice is described as conferring a state of great clarity, incidentally also a property ascribed to ayahuasca, said to make its users “see through” situations and other people. Since man wanted to sacrifice to the gods the very best he had, soma was among the goods thrown into the fire in order to “feed the gods”; Indra is said to be a great consumer of soma.

So, with a little exaggeration: before the Brahmins, heirs of the Vedic seers, became dry scholars, they were tripping poets getting high on soma juice and composing drinking carols now known as Vedic hymns. A remnant of it is what I witnessed when I stayed at Banaras Hindu University during the Night of Shiva (Śivarātrī, an annual festival): very scholarly professors getting high on bhaṅg, a cannabis brew. Another remnant is perhaps in evidence in Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra: whereas the Buddha lists truth, non-violence, non-stealing, chastity and non-intoxication as his five basic rules (pañca-sīla), Patañjali’s list of five basic rules (pañca-yama) is identical except that it replaces non-intoxication with non-covetousness. Apparently Patañjali didn’t want to go as far as to categorically forbid intoxicants. He also admitted that taking drugs is one of the ways to attain siddhis, “achievements”, i.e. special powers. Especially clairvoyance is said to be an effect of the mental state conferred by plant teachers. But then, these siddhis only detract from the real goal of yoga.

Till today, you can see some Sadhus smoking their chillums full of marihuana. But rather than taking them as role-models, you should be aware that they only exemplify the freedom which Hinduism grants to its followers. These men can do their thing, but they are of low rank in the natural hierarchy. Gurus who intoxicate themselves with alcohol or drugs are not taken seriously. It is a bit like consuming meat: the majority of Hindus do eat meat, but they venerate vegetarians and rank them as more virtuous. So, even those who cannot do without their chillum, do realize that their intoxication is only a phase, and that they still have a long way to go.


An evolutionary view of yoga


As we have been taught, according to Mircea Eliade, yoga is an evolute of Shamanism. I am aware that among many Hindus, this view will not go down very well; nor among modern Westerners. Hindus will object that yoga is eternal, that the Vedic hymns were an expression of a yogic state, and that it is blasphemous to derive yoga from anything else. Westerners, who recently have been taught to approach every subject with the dogma of equality, will object that this evolutionary view establishes an inequality: Shamanism is the childhood stage, yoga the next, more mature stage. Still, I stand by it.

The ordinary people in India are the same as the people everywhere else, but the tradition to which they are exposed is – dare I use the word? – superior. The difference is that they know they have the example of liberated masters living in their midst. For them, venerable beings are not just talked about in sacred books, they are alive and nearby. The people may not practise yoga themselves but they know they can turn to yogis, who radiate the fruits of their meditation to their surroundings. It simply feels very good to be in their company once in a while. India is not so great in some respects, but at least it has this cardinal virtue: whereas people in most places are like orphans left alone, ordinary Hindus are like children playing in the park while their mother is watching.

Hindus like to boast that the evolutionary theory is already present in the series of Viṣṇu’s incarnations: fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion, then a dwarf starting the sequence of human beings. We see in this system that lower animal species are followed by higher animal species (fish, reptile, mammal), then half-men and then full men. So, they should make no problem in applying the evolutionary model to their own tradition. It has been found that some motifs of the yoga tradition are already known in other, even reputedly “primitive” cultures. Thus, the practice of meditation was also known among the Greek Stoics, who sat every morning for “staying in the present” (i.e. preventing the mind from wandering to memories of past experiences and plans for the future). The concept of kuṇḍalinī, an energy working its way up the spine, is also applied in Chinese energy-work (qigong), where the “microcosmic orbit” (xiaozhoutian) is practised: the energy is led by the breath/attention upwards along he spine, then downwards again. But even among the distant cultures of the San (Bushmen) and the Australian Aborigines, the awareness of the rise of heat in the spine is known.  So, whatever its precise history in India, kuṇḍalinī yoga is only a mature form, developed in India, of a reality intuited among a number of divergent peoples. It is a knowledge that, once developed, people in all countries can profit from.

Similarly, the yogic value of non-violence has an interesting prehistory. When eating animals was abolished, sacrificing animals was eliminated with it. But earlier, when animals were indeed sacrificed, explanations were constructed why this was not really slaughter, why it was better for an animal to be sacrificed rather than just eaten. While some violence was deemed necessary to bring the proper sacrifices to the gods, the priests were at the same time embarrassed to inflict this violence on the sacrificial animal. This was but the Indian form of a phenomenon also witnessed among the Amerindians and other Shamanic cultures: hunters begging forgiveness from their prey for killing and eating it. So, Hinduism shares a certain inspiration and outlook with the Shamanic cultures, but it has taken this a step further: while other cultures still kill and eat animals eventhough they say sorry, Indians (or at least some norm-setting classes of Hindus)  have abolished animal-killing altogether and taken to vegetarianism. Admittedly, India was helped by its climate, which allows for eating vegetables all year long, whereas natives of Canada or Siberia in their cold climate have had to await modern times to acquaint themselves with the vegetarian alternative. Even in this respect, I would venture to utter the S-word: India’s climate is superior.

So, India has started with a Shamanic culture, preserved much of it, but has gone beyond it in some respects. This way, experts on the inner life went from “making spirit journeys” to meditating. They went from drug-induced altered states to mental stillness. From Shamanism to yoga.

Liberal Westerners will hold it against you if you dare to see an inequality between Shamanism and the yoga system. They cherish this new dogma that all worldviews are equal. And they can get nasty when you posit an inequality between two worldviews. Well, no matter, for the inequality is real. Children do not go from primary to secondary school  because they feel like trying something different, but because, in their natural urge to expand and learn, they understand that secondary school is more advanced. So also, methodically developing peace of mind is more advanced than conversing with spirits.




In our post-Christian society, it was perhaps inevitable that people went back to pre-Christian cultures to explore Shamanism. It is also a pleasant break from humdrum existence to have a vision quest, go to a sweat-lodge, dance sky-clad in the forest under the full moon, spend the night lying in your own grave, and indeed take ayahuasca. But now we have to move on.

Ken Kesey, the writer of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest as well as an LSD pioneer, was arrested after the state of California outlawed the use of LSD. According to Tom Wolfe, who wrote a book about Kesey’s exploits (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test), he was allowed to shorten his incarceration in exchange for giving a speech on TV explaining to his followers why the LSD experiment had lasted long enough. He said that LSD had functioned as a door, an exit from the highly conditioned existence in bourgeois society. But once you have opened the door, you don’t stay there to play with it. You go in. And so, he told his audience, it is time to leave the door behind, to throw away the ladder that brought us up, and to go beyond. 

Well, if he didn’t say that, at least he should have said it. I am at any rate willing to repeat it. To the people concerned, my message would be: I love you, I even understand you, but you would be wise to move on. Especially now that you have such a promising alternative.

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