Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness

In a recent blog entry, following up on a discussion on gay rights, Advaitadas commented on the famous preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
His gripes with this statement, a statement that on face value would seem self-evident and foundational to our society, are manifold. Some of the perspectives in the review are regrettably rather poorly thought out.

Conditioned Fathers of Nation

The first objection of the rebuttal, straight out of a text-book as it were, reads as follows: 
"Actually, this is not an authoritative statement in principle because those who drafted this constitution are of course conditioned souls, who are prone to mistakes, inattentiveness, deceit and imperfect senses."
In the authors' view, it seems evident that "conditioned souls" are unable to produce anything factually authoritative owing to their blundersome nature. Even if the aeroplane flies, even if our understanding of the laws of physics and principles of engineering add up to the expected result, it is important to understand that the aeroplane flying on the sky is unauthorized. Even with the imposters at flight control declaring he's authorized for a take-off.

The Perfect Verdicts

Wishing to reach certain knowledge, the author — like millions of his Hindu bretheren — turns to his infallible scriptures, the shastra.
"Comparing this statement with the verdicts of shastra was amusing, because it turned out to be not-so self-evident at all."
It should be interesting to create a society modeled on the basis of the ancient dharma-shastras — take, for example, the famous Manu-smriti. Never mind the fact that they were compiled by people whose credentials are wholly unknown to us, and at times long gone, adherents commonly hold them to be timeless, authoritative and definite.

Since the said genre of scriptures is so obviously outdated, being written for a wholly different social context, we are essentially left with nothing "authorized" for the contemporary situation, nothing with a broader range of information, anyway. Of course, there is no scarcity of reformers who claim to have understood the timeless message and its necessary contemporary application. Now, who authorized and de-conditioned them? Jim Jones, have company.

Might it, therefore, be wiser to settle for general values that seek to give everyone equal opportunities (note emphasis) for adhering to a belief or disbelief of their choice, giving them the freedom of choice for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness in their way of choice as long as it doesn't infringe on others' rights. I'd say that looks like a pretty damn good deal, on paper anyway.

The prospect of an "authorized system of governance" sends shrills down my spine. Would you rather have a Vedic king and a forced caste system, a Japanese Solar Emperor with hordes of Samurai troops, pharaoh Ved-anxt-amun the heir of Osiris and prince of the underworlds, or Mullah al Taleban with the sword of Allah? They are all authorized by their own conflicting heritages.

All Men are Created Equal

This statement was the unjustified object of massive nit-picking. The arguments are two-fold, one discussing the aspect of creation, other the concept of equality.
1. No one was ever created. ... The jiva is beginningless and thus never created.
Now, it is rather unlikely that the founders of the United States were bent on saying that all units of the Hindu soul were created, equal or otherwise. After all, it does clearly say that "all men are created equal". In the Puranic theory, the creation of men occurs at a stage of creation called visarga, following the primary elemental creation (sarga).
2. No one is equal, created or otherwise.
I would argue that the uncreated could well be equal. However, to the equal — what does the word equal imply in the statement under scrutiny? Does it mean that everyone earns the same amount of money, is as beautiful, intelligent and physically fit as everyone else? It seems, again, rather unlikely that this is what the founding fathers had in mind. Created equal then means created to be given equal opportunity.

Now, the meaning of giving equal opportunity is obviously not as clear-cut when we speak of diverse individuals, rather than a mass of people. We're skating again on this dreaded arena of subjectivity. Where have gone all those beautiful truths, the absolute revelation endowing us with the right to abstain from progressive thought?
"Regarding equality on the material level, no Barack Obama is going to turn each homeless bum in Harlem into a Beverly Hillbilly. Inequality is intrinsic. Even communism failed to bring equality to even a single nation."
And exactly so. Therefore, rather than imposing a single standard — of absolute equality, or any other absolute for that matter — we need to face the problem of giving equal opportunities for diverse men to pursue life, liberty and happiness in their desired way. Let a hundred flowers blossom, behold the garden's beauty in its diversity, every flower given a chance to prosper in its own nature.

The inalienable rights, basis for the concept of equal opportunity, are of course outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As evident, the basis of equal opportunity is a relative concept intrinsically tied with our times, due to evolve with the progress of humanity. Perhaps Advaitadas can next tackle the unauthorized Declaration of Human Rights for us.

Wars, Abortion and Right for Life

That someone should contend inalienable right for life is beyond me.
"What about the lives that were lost in all the US interventionalist wars, and that are lost now since abortion was legalized?
That there are shortcomings in the observance of the ideals is hardly surprising. No doubt, a good political analyst would write a book on the intended consequences of the U.S. foreign policy in terms of saving and improving life.

Abortion was, in fact, legal when the Declaration of Independence was drafted in 1776. Laws against abortion began to appear in mid-1800s and became prevalent after the turn of the century. The re-legalization of abortion is then hardly in contrast with the intentions of the statement in question.

The ethical justifiability of abortion, and at its root the debate on "what makes a person and when", are more complex issues than a few lines would cover. Is semen person? Is the freshly fertilized embryo a person? And moreover, when examining religious arguments on when a person is present, we must look at the scriptures as a whole and ask some pertinent questions.
"The soul is made to enter into the womb of a woman through the particle of male semen." (BhP. 3.31.1) "On the first night, the sperm and ovum mix, and on the fifth night the mixture ferments into a bubble. On the tenth night it develops into a form like a plum, and after that, it gradually turns into a lump of flesh or an egg, as the case may be." (BhP. 3.31.2)
Now, we know that in the Puranic theory there are souls in plants and animals as well. The killing of plants in particular is sanctioned. Now, would it be more wrong to kill a bubble of fermented mixture or a tender daffodil? Would you spare an old oak tree or a form like a plum? According to the text, the first sensations occur during the embryo's fifth month.  90% of abortions take place within the first 12 weeks.
"Can the US government insure or protect Life? Hardly. 'For those who are born, death is sure.' (Bhagavad Gita 2.27)"
It's not that the life insurance company is there to protect you from dying either, you know. The idea here is to give all men an equal right for life while it lasts, and seek to protect its unnatural termination by diverse means.

Absolute and Relative Liberty

With liberty, we are again contrasting the concepts of absolute and relative liberty. Advaitadas tackles the absolute:
"Freedom is an illusion. In this world we serve our families (by having to maintain them), governments (by paying taxes) and our senses. In the spiritual world we serve Krishna, but there is no freedom anyway anywhere."
There is (bhaktas close your ears) a twilight zone between the material and spiritual worlds, inhabited by mayavadi demons, rascal scientists and other humbugsters, all merged into one homogeneous blob of liberated consciousness free from mayas of all flavor.

The concept of liberty should be understood as follows: All men have an inalienable right to pursue their lives as they see best, within the boundaries of law, and no-one has a right to restrict this without consent.

Families and other obligation-demanding social groups are generally founded on consentual agreement of cooperation for the attainment of a greater good. Otherwise, the concept of liberty is seen in effect for example as the rights for free speech and fair trial, which I'm sure we all appreciate.

Pursuit of Happiness

The final aspect, almost as if it were the factor giving a meaning for the rest, is an inalienable right to pursue happiness. Regrettably, the author seems to find no happiness in the world.
"Any enjoyment which arises from the touches of the senses are just sources of misery. They have a beginning and an end and thus a wise men does not rejoice in them." (Bhagavad Gita 5.22) 'This world is miserable and temporary.' (Bhagavad Gita 8.15) As the Christian founders of the American state must have known from the Bible, this is the valley of the tears.."
The concept of happiness does not, of course, entail only pleasures of the senses. For example, for Advaitadas pursuit of happiness would mean having a cozy small home, enough money to support himself, and peace to chant and meditate as he wishes. To others, there may be a wide array of sensual, intellectual, musical or political ventures equally meaningful.

If we were to not grant diverse individuals their inalienable rights for pursuing happiness, only the mainstream happiness would survive, and I very much doubt Advaita's flavor would survive. Whether or not each individual quest for happiness meets its end, and whether an unrelated theology favors it or not, everyone has a right to pursue their ideals.

Absolute and Accommodating Solutions

There are two approaches to managing the human situation, the absolute and the accommodating.

The absolute approach seeks the implementation of an infallible, unchanging truth, and with its establishment the coeffective elimination of lesser, relative solutions. Absolute truth evidently depends on the presence of an absolute truth-maker and truth-affirmer, and in theistic models where a deity is the ultimate affirmer, the presence of an absolute mediator. The utopian house of cards falls with the presence of asymmetric cards, the non-absolute and conditioned individuals, the subjects of a totalitarian regime.

The accommodating approach seeks to facilitate, rather than to control and manipulate, the diverse approaches to life and happiness in a manner that provides for smooth co-existence. Unlike the absolute, the accommodating is ever-evolving and never final, a relative solution tied with its times, never a final truth unto itself and for its own sake. While the absolute leaves no room for improvement by its very nature, the accommodating takes pride in its incompleteness, seeking perfection instead of declaring its presence.

Don't go looking for a solution you can worship. Look for a solution that works.


Nir said...

So, Ananda, what impels you to frequent blogs composed by a Hare Krishna fanatic and then make commentary and critique? It's quite amusing that you are still loitering around Hare Krishna blogs and arguing with Hare Krishna people in written response on your own blog.
Aren't there any Buddhist bloggers that you would better spend your time with instead of doing the vantashi practice of lingering around a Hare Krishna blogger and trying to show some defect in his thinking?
Did you really cut your ties with the Hare Krishna people or do you still feel some need to revisit that which you supposedly left in the dust bin of history?

There just seems to be some bitterness here and some attempt to not merely reject the Vaishnavas but to deride and decry them as well.

Is there really anything positive in such negativity?
Does negativity ever really produce positive substance?

Brian said...

Nice posting. Do you know about this edition of the Gita?

Anonymous said...

to Nir: then why are you here? You are asking him a question that you should ask yourself.

Nir said...

To Anonymous:
I am on a mission from God. I was sent to this planet by the Supreme Being Yickdlop to spread the good news of Salvation through a process called "self-lubrication" and I am trying to make Ananda Baba my first disciple.
I hope that clears up any confusion.

Anonymous said...

to Nir: "Does negativity ever really produce positive substance?" again ask that yourself....what are you trying to prove anyway?

Nir said...

Anonymous said:
"What are you trying to prove anyway".

Well, I never felt I was trying to prove anything. I am just foolin' around on the internet having a little fun and making a little joke now and then.

I am not out to prove anything on this blog. I am just voicing some observations and seeing what happens.

Does somebody have to be trying to prove something when he writes a comment on somebody's blog?

Anonymous said...

I have not given up on Krishna Consciousness, but I am in agreement with this post.

We should think for ourselves and not accept the authority of old books blindly. The risks of people aligning themselves with 'armies of the pure' is ofcourse that killing, exterminating or demonizing the impure is like weeding your garden, cuttting down the tall trees, the final solution, dehumanization.

Fundamentalism is never innocent, but is the seed of disaster.

Anonymous said...

I stopped mingling in religious debates, because I have turned out to become completely obnoxious.

I can't control myself when I hear someone talk about something with an absolute certainty on the basis of something that is by no means certain.
I have turned into a Richard Dawkins/ Christopher Hitchens-style person. I started to appreciate scientific research with all its limits more and more, because it is so much more honest then people just stating things.

Love, equality, purity and fun are meaningfull to me, but not in the way religionists are using it.

I like your example of not being able to take someone's advice if that person is not backed up by scripture, a parampara or is not a vegetarian.
On youtube there is a movie of Ravindra Svarupa (I think) telling someone to only start a debate with him when following the four regulative principles.
That means not having played with your weener for a substantial amount of time and not having eaten grains once every two weeks.
That makes debating stuff tough though, impossible even, since most of us play with our weeners. It means we are excluded from any meaningfull debate and anything we might have to say is.... not listened to.

The pure have decided who is impure... the others.

Sri Krishna said...

Greetings from the always-sunny Goloka! Just dropping by for some rather transcendental commentary before resuming my flute- and lila-related activities. I have but two questions.

Q1) Ananda, what would it take to make you my worshipper again?

Q2) Do you feel those years spent chanting the maha-mantra have assisted you in any way?

Your Godhead

Ananda said...

Nir: "So, Ananda, what impels you to frequent blogs composed by a Hare Krishna fanatic and then make commentary and critique?"

The GeeVee episode took a fair decade plus of my adult life. As such, I still find myself contrasting values and beliefs of the past with my current understanding, and as I process my history, I prefer to recontextualize and reinterpret rather than discard.

The issues themselves are universal enough. The kind of rhetoric you see in some of the fundie GV blogs is no different from Bible-thumpers all world round. I use the GV context to illustrate the dynamics of a common principle for two reasons:

1. It has a richer, or at least a more elaborate basis in its canon and offers many venues for re-interpretation.

2. It is a context both I and much of my audience is quite familiar with. Those unfamiliar will take it for one fundie movement among others, and look for the universals in the text.

I have made no contracts on cutting all ties with GV or any such — I merely choose to not be an active orthodox believer in the GV doctrine.

Nothing rises in vacuum, GV included. I have taken quite a bit of time to research and understand its roots and their potentials, whether it be in the tantra, the advaita, the sahajiya or the sufi domain. In discussing the aspects that carry meaning to me, I feel no need to meticulously avoid mention of GV.

Ananda said...

Sri Krishna said... Greetings from the always-sunny Goloka!

How do you do, Krishna. We now also process blessings with credit card and direct bank transfer in amounts under $100, please seize the opportunity and be a good god-head.

Q1) Ananda, what would it take to make you my worshipper again?

A seven digit figure in hard currency and a signed contract outlining special priviledges, renewable on a five-year basis, quarterly five digit blessings enclosed in a "Thanks for worshiping" card.

Q2) Do you feel those years spent chanting the maha-mantra have assisted you in any way?

I hate to break the news, Mr. Sincere Godhead, but you ain't the only god with a name in town. Of course chanting for you was cool, but has since been taken over by other engagements better matching my carefully designed profile.

Thanks for stopping by, and we appreciate blessings anytime.

Nir said...

It's obvious that Ananda Baba never tasted the nectar, felt the bliss or realized the truths of the Gita or Bhagavat. Considering that, who can blame him for turning away and seeking something else?

I would be a liar if I said I could relate with him. I can't. I have tasted the nectar, felt the bliss and realized practically the harsh but stark truths of the Gita and the Bhagavat.

Krishna consciousness is a tangible transcendence that can be experienced by the faithful, simple and sincere. I would be a liar if I said I have not experienced the wonderful effects of chanting the Maha-mantra.
I have and I do on a daily basis.
The effects of chanting the Maha-mantra are simply amazing. It is the greatest satisfaction of my life and I am addicted like a junkie is addicted to heroin.

Nectar is the most addictive of all addictive substances. Once you taste a particle of a drop you will never want anything else.

I am truly amazed and very sorry that Ananda has never experienced the bliss and nectar of the Holy Name of Krishna.

Gopala Krishna is the love of my life. There is no one as beautiful and attractive as him.

I would be a liar if I said otherwise.

Anonymous said...

To Nir: WOW!!! Congrats! Not even the Goswamis have tasted what you seem to have. They were lamenting and crying to get a drop of nectar someday or in some life even......

I am amazed how well you write though seemingly you are in full trance.

Nir said...

What the Goswamis said about themselves and what those who know better said about them are two different things. If you pay attention to what the followers of the Goswamis said about them then you will know that they were surfing the Pipeline of the Ocean of Nectar.
I am just body surfing on some little waves.
The Goswamis were hanging TEN on the tsunami waves of the ocean of nectar.

Anyone that thinks the Goswamis weren't drowning in an ocean of nectar is just seriously misguided.

Nir said...

Srila Prabhupada said "chant Hare Krishna and be happy".
Is it a crime to say that I chanted Hare Krishna and it made me happy?

Prabhupada said chant and be happy.
I am having trouble accepting that anyone who chants Hare Krishna will not realize some tangible bliss in chanting Hare Krishna.

What are we chanting for?
To be miserable?

Apparently, Ananda is a rare exception of someone who chanted Hare Krishna and become miserable.

Most people who chant Hare Krishna experience some tangible pleasure from it.

Ananda obviously did not and that is just very weird to me.

Pitambar das said...

He thought it was a sort of training course, an educational course, that after a suitable amount of book learning theory and practice, that he would become qualified. He created a persona, convincing the community that he was an advanced devotee. Even thinking that he deserved more individual attention from guru because he was more advanced, more qualified than the humble, meek ones.

Apparently, he never really did have any real taste for the holy name, never did develop a relationship with Krishna. Interesting, that, because some of us know that Krishna reciprocates accordingly.

He (and one or two other bloggers) put so much emphasis on shastra, and the discussion of shastra and the acaryas' books, and became so attached to it, and so attached to ritual. It seems they never quite realized what "Give up all manner of religion and just worship me?" means.

If ever anyone ended up illustrating the validity of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswat's position on raganuga bhakti and siddha pranali, and his opinion of babajis, this one did. Ironical.

Where's the love?

Anonymous said...

Actually I went through a similar rejection, reevaluation of the GV-ideas/society as Baba did.

I really do understand his allergy. It becomes stronger if you yourself were part of it in an active and convincing way. He is an insider, like I was. Only he travels in the open and I prefer to travel in anonimity.

His points of rejection are valid and inside the tradition there are no answers and very few places where you can discuss this openly without being looked at as a weirdo... a weirdo is someone who doesn't go along with the mainstream fundies.

I still believe in God and I like the idea of a dancing God of Love. That is appealing to me. But for the rest I don't know.
And as for chanting... I have never tasted anything, no trance, no bliss, no love, no relation, no revelation.... nothing but a dry mouth.
I was told it is anarthas and aparadhas, and for those anarthas to be removed I need to chant more, but then again namaparadha leads to hell. So I thought it was better to stop.

I do enjoy kirtan though. Totally.

Ananda said...

Apparently, Ananda is a rare exception of someone who chanted Hare Krishna and become miserable. Most people who chant Hare Krishna experience some tangible pleasure from it. Ananda obviously did not and that is just very weird to me.

I have never said having become miserable of it. Chanting Hare Krishna is a doable religious practice that can grant certain levels of ecstasy arising from a concentrated mind and shadow-feelings of divine love, but it isn't unparalleled, not at all.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Advaita, shampooed and conditioned as he is himself, does not hesitate in throwing his two cents on matters he clearly isn't prepared to opine on. Materially AND spiritually, m'fraid.

Nir said...

Ananda said:
"Chanting Hare Krishna is a doable religious practice that can grant certain levels of ecstasy arising from a concentrated mind and shadow-feelings of divine love, but it isn't unparalleled, not at all."

end quote

So, Ananda Baba, what "religious practice" do you know of that brings paralleled or superior bliss to chanting the names of Krishna?

Krishna himself recommends pranyama in the Gita, but the Gaudiya gurus say it is not practical in this age.
Ancient sages attained self-realization through pranayana, but they also had lifespans of 10,000 years.
So, without having 10,000 years to practice pranayama, what do you recommend as being as effective as chanting the transcendental names of the Supreme Entity?

Sri Krishna said...

Big K here again, dropping by via my transcendental PC connected to your worldly so-called "inter-net".

Why do you refer to chanting as "shadow-feelings", I wonder? (Although I should know, being the supreme being and all that)

The Blue Guy

Sri Krishna said...

p.s. When in doubt, chant



Pitambar Das said...

Nir said:
So, Ananda Baba, what "religious practice" do you know of that brings paralleled or superior bliss to chanting the names of Krishna?

No answer so far.

Pranayama is good with yoga, good for meditation, good for the body, good for the mind, and that all helps with good chanting.

Anilrai said...

Sri Krishna said:
p.s. When in doubt, chant



hare krishna hare krishna krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama hare rama rama rama hare hare

Ananda said...

The whole of the "whence a bliss equal" will be addressed elaborately in a section of the first essay of the upcoming GeeVees series. I need to move my ass and get some writing done.

The Self said...

This is wonderful.

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