Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cosmos ex Natura 3: Vedantic and Buddhist Cosmologies

Images from Indus valley, including Shiva in lotus posture as
Pashupatinath - Lord of the Animals (centre)
and sacrificial images suggestive of Kali (right).

The religion coming out of the Indian subcontinent is rich and diverse, overflowing with both male and female deities and deeply absorbed in a contemplative tradition that runs back, long before the Vedas, into the Indus valley planter cultures of Harappa and Mojendaro.

It is here that one can find images of a Shivaic godhead complete with trident, sitting meditative in lotus pose, as Pashupatinath or Lord of the Animals, the shepherd king consort to the dark Dravidian planter goddess Kali-Ma, the creatrix and destructress of all beings, gorging bodies in her mouth, whose name is time, who also beckons far back into ancient roots in the fertile crescent, in chthonic deities, like Ereshkigal and whose bloodied sacrificial offerings continue to remind us of the ancient power of the Goddess, whose resurgence, spells out a newly wholesome message of female emancipation.

From these very early roots, long before the Aryans brought the Rig Veda and their own brand of worship of the warrior god Indra down from the steppes, has sprung the tradition of transcendental contemplation that has left its mark echoing through the Upanishads and lays the sacred ground for both Jainism and Buddhism as contemplative religious paths.

Shiva and Shakti, another manifestation of Kali as youthful sexual goddess, in consonance with Inana and Dumuzi of Sumeria, come to spell out one of the most sumptuous, fertile and perplexing religious cosmologies spawned by human culture.

Tantric Genesis in the deep coitus of Shakti and Shiva

In the Tantric origin, like the Eden story, everything comes down to sex, but this time sexual union is the creative source of the entire universe, for the very beginning is reality in a state of complete sexual fusion – a contemplative fusion between mind and body, in which everything is a state of holy and complete bliss.

As the partners retreat from coital union, Shakti, as the physical aspect begins to dance the dance of Maya or illusion, in which the conscious mind of Shiva now perceives all the diverse interacting material forms of reality and all individual sentient beings become fully absorbed in the separate phenomena of the complex interacting reality we perceive around us. Tragically the subjective mind thus loses sight of the cosmic unity and becomes distracted by material phenomena, ultimately becoming a plethora of conscious beings lost in egotistical engagement with the physical world.

Three fundamental attributes differentiate the Tantric cosmology from the monotheistic one:

Firstly the universe is founded on complementarity, and one in which both the sexes, both as woman and man and as Goddess and God, are integral, co-eval and interdependent, rather than a universe formed by an absolute hierarchical creator God.

Secondly the cosmology articulates clearly the root of the existential dilemma and mystery in the complementary relationship between conscious experience and physical nature, which are barely differentiated in the monotheistic description, founded on a covenantal dialogue with God and the historical trials and tribulations of human frailty in the face of God’s designs.

Thirdly, because Shiva and Shakti represent cosmological principles present in all of us, rather than separate deities aloof from fallible humanity, the contemplative quest provides us with a path back to the condition of cosmic integration, because the process can be reversed, in the first person, by the individual following the path back to the primordial condition.

The cosmos as a dream in the mind of God: Vishnu, the sustainer,
dreaming reality in the form of Brahma
appearing as a lotus emanating from his navel
overlooked by Lakshmi the faithful devoted wife.

However, this is only one of many cosmological dialogues in the Indian tradition, some of which veer as dangerously into hierarchical male dominance as monotheism itself. Alongside the Tantric origin we have the image of the entire history of the universe being a dream Vishnu is dreaming as he lies on a boat in a lake with his consort, with the phenomena of reality emerging from Brahma – a lotus blossom emerging from his navel. Vishnu also forms a trinity, called the trimurti in which Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are creator, sustainer and destroyer.

Elephanta: The trimurti of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva reflect a similar trinity of An, Enki and Enlil of Sumeria. While Enki masturbates to fertilize the primal waters, Krishna likewise fertilizes the womb of the universe.

From an even more fundamentally patriarchal perspective we have Krishna, the ultimate male cosmokrator, cum gigolo, planting his transcendental seed into the primal chaos to give rise to the universe, in a manner reminiscent of Enki of Sumeria, who masturbated to fertilize the waters and give forth the fertility of Sumer from a purely male procreative urge.

This patriarchal fertility take-over extends to the cosmological dominance of conscious spirit over material nature. In the Geeta 14:3 Krishna (an incarnation, of Vishnu the sustainer, who forms a trimurti with Brahma the creator and Shiva the destroyer), declares to Arjuna the wisdom beyond knowledge, that the sages neither die nor are reborn when the universe is recreated, for it it is He who fertilizes the womb of the cosmos:

The eternal cosmos is My womb, in which I plant the seed,
from which all beings are born
O Prince! O illustrious son of Kunti!
Through whatever wombs men are born,
it is the Spirit itself that conceives, am I am their Father.

Moreover he declares that the law(s) of nature are fundamentally flawed:

Purity, Passion and Ignorance are the Qualities
which the law of nature bringeth forth.
They fetter the free spirit in all beings.

The Bhagavad Gita portrays the existential condition as a necessary state of holy war, even against one’s own kin and teachers, because in the midst of the battlefield, Krishna teaches Arjuna that in one’s pure unswerving devotion to himself as godhead, and renunciation from the egotistical pulls of gluttony and desire, no act in the physical world, however destructive, is sinful. In an allegorical sense of course this is a call to do battle with reality in the name of devotion to the ultimate Godhead, couched in the manner of a teaching in meditation and yoga of action.

Krishna as cosmokrator incites Arjuna to holy war against
kith and kin in the name of the indestructibility
of the sages who come to realize his true God nature.

But this is the same type of unswerving devotion that led early Christians to offer themselves to the lions rather than recant their faith and leads young Muslim men and women too today to commit violent atrocities in suicide bombings of the innocent, including women and children in the unswerving belief that this struggle, or jihad, is ordained by al-Llah and that they will immediately come to see his face in heaven, and if they are male, have the pick of fragrant virgins in paradise.

The Gita is a call to holy war even more uncompromising than those of Jihad and Crusade, because it is couched in a battle without pity or reason against one's own kin and teachers alike. It is clothed in the deception that the battle is justified, because it is couched as the jihad, or struggle, of the soul to reach the dispassionate independence of the eternal sages. This is both dangerous and a fundamental genocidal deceit, because it is the very claim Krishna is making as cosmokrator, beyond even the transient womb of the universe, that is used to justify actions which, from any natural, social, or ethical perspective, are wholly destructive to survival, to kinship, and to the passage of the generations (2:19):

He who thinks the spirit kills, and he who thinks of It as killed are both ignorant. The Spirit kills not, nor is It killed. It was not born; It will never die: nor once having been, can it ever cease to be: Unborn, Eternal, Ever-enduring, yet Most Ancient, the spirit dies no when the body is dead.

Really it is Indra the Aryan war god speaking in the guise of transcendental Krishna, so as to finesse the patriarchal mutual defection of warfare on claims of being the absolute godhead. This is clear in the running conversation (2:2):

Why yield, just on the eve of battle,
which does no credit to those who call themselves Aryans,
and only brings them infamy and bars against them the gates of heaven?

Despite Radha and Krishna being worshipped as a dyadic duo and the belief the God's power in the world comes through his consort, the dyadic complements arise only as a secondary result of the impregnation of the universe as womb vessel by the sacred seed of Krishna as Godhead, thus perpetuating the myth of male as creative essence and woman as mere earthen vessel.

Despite the followers of Krishna sometimes also perceiving him, along with other male deities, in the dyadic form of Radha-Krishna, in a pseudo-Tantric pairing that some Vishnavites believe is essential to his power, this pairing of opposites is only generated once Krishna's primal procreative force has entered the transient womb of the universe. The natural complementarity of the sexes is thus kept secondary to ultimate male power.

Little wonder then that we find followers of such movements have subservient female supplicant wives and why India is plagued by the caste system, bride-burnings, killing of the girl child and consignment of the widow to the funeral pyre, or a life of penury begging outside a charnel house on the Ganges.

At its cultural zenith, the Vedantic tradition produced the Upanishads (to sit down near), which free the Soul or atman from its bondage, in becoming one with the eternal cosmic Self or Brahman, which can be realized through the Yogic paths of devotion and meditation, forming one of the most penetrating cosmological insights about the nature of conscious experience, to which all traditions since owe a debt of gratitude.

The Upanishads free the Self from the confines of the creator deity, in a dialogue, as much with Death, as with God:

Death said: The word the Vedas extol, austerities proclaim, sanctities approach - that word is Om. ... The Self knows all, is not born, does not die, is not the effect of any cause, is eternal, self-existent, imperishable, ancient. ... The Self is lesser than the least, greater than the greatest. He lives in all hearts. When senses are at rest, free from desire, man finds Him and mounts beyond sorrow. Though sitting, he travels, though sleeping is everywhere. Who but I Death can understand the God is beyond joy and sorrow. (Katha-Upanishad 2)

Although the self is still couched in the patriarchal, we are now in a spiritual territory of sitting near the guru attaining realization, rather than violently at war with one's cousins, as Arjuna was in the Gita.

Into this rich and fertile tradition came a new innovator, who unlike many religious founders, from Jesus to Muhammad, set up a middle path, founded on peaceful coexistence and extreme non-violence, although many of his followers have also tarnished the path with intrigue bloodshed.

Buddha, having followed a path of extreme asceticism, declared a more moderate position of renunciation of worldly desire as traps of the ego, setting out a notion of mortal sentient beings escaping the shackles of a life of suffering caused by attachment to desire for worldly pleasures, possibly spanning many cycles of birth and death in an ongoing round of reincarnation, driven and affected by karma, both in this life, and across many lives.

This cycle of suffering is avoided by becoming one with Buddha nature in nirvana, which, cutting through the spiritual materialism of the objective notion of Self, is neither Self (atman - an essence of things that does not depend on others), nor non-Self (anatta - the absence of limiting self-identity in people and things), but rather the still centre of the cyclone of the turning world, in a cosmology of redemption through meditation in the abyss of conscious existence, without need for any God.

However, in addition to remaining silent on whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite, on unity or separation of the body and the self, complete inexistence of a person after nirvana and then death etc., Buddha also denied that the self existed or was reincarnated. Rather there is only an agglomeration of constantly changing physical and mental constituents or skandhas (form/matter, sensation, perception/cognition, volition, and consciousness, as cognizance or ground experience). Thus the concept of karmic reincarnation remains both controversial and ambiguous, being merely a self-perpetuating dynamic of transient features.

Moreover the central thrust of Buddhism, like all patriarchal religious paths, remains centered on the supremacy of the conscious condition over the transient material phenomena of samsara, or illusion, inherent in the natural world, and the source of suffering in the first place. Thus the Buddhist dharma, or path, consists centrally of renunciation of sensual and physical desires, and with them, the biological foundation of genealogy, survival, and the diversity of life.

The mortal condition is tragic and a true cause for suffering and compassion. But the viability and fertility of life and of sexual life is central to the sanctity, vitality and creative meaning of the entire process, not a condition of mere imperfection and suffering. Thus renunciation is only a remedy for the maladies of ego not a royal route to enlightenment.

Because all sentient beings are entwined in this existential condition the connectedness between us is as pivotal as our equanimity in the face of our mortality. Renunciation is merely a symptom of a need to escape obsessions, rather than an elixir of enlightenment in itself. Social interconnectedness, love and sexual engagement are just as essential as renunciation, to provide a life of ecstasy and fully-embodied meaning, health and wholeness and for the passage of life to flower anew on the planet.

Some Buddhists realize the importance of the Tantric truth of interconnectedness in the sexual rite of Yab-Yum or Father-Mother and in the Bodhisattva ideal of bringing enlightenment to all sentient beings., although the ideal of personal renunciation and the emphasis on conscious redemption over the physical wellbeing of the planet still dominates.

Buddhist sexual yoga of Yab-Yum or Father-Mother

Despite the central void of the Buddha non-self, Buddhist's do describe the cosmos just like the many layered heavens and hells common to monotheism and fertility and astronomical religions. There is a highest perfect heaven, then a lower imperfect paradise, next the human condition - a central arena for realization, then the animal realm driven by base instincts, next the hungry ghosts on the borders of hell, and finally a hell of torment. Only in the human realm can one become enlightened and escape the unholy life cycle of samsara, so the other realms become shadow lands.

There are major issues here. The universe is distorted into an enlightenment machine for humans and humans only, with the other life forms simply becoming degraded repositories of an essentially human consciousness. Sexual life and the life cycle has again become degraded to an distracting obstacle to enlightenment, manifesting the gross aspects of samsara, in a manner similar to the downfall of natural paradise and woman in the Fall from Eden, to become the bestial nature from which the base instincts of sex betray us in the eyes of God.

Renunciation impedes our relationship with nature as much as our interconnectedness. Although Buddhists are taught not to take the life of any sentient being, Buddhism tends to see all biological organisms merely from the subjective perspective, as sentient beings caught in the wheel of karma. Buddhist thinking thus tends to judge biological values of life, death and the ecology purely in terms of its effect on the karma of sentient beings in the cycle of reincarnation, not their biological importance for our survival, their beauty, rarity, or the genetic vulnerability of the organism, or its species.

Although some writers portray Buddhism as intrinsically green in its principles, and some branches of Buddhism embrace nature and its mysteries for their capacity for enlightenment, this confusion between sentinet beings and biological reality can lead to an incapacity to deal with ecocrosis, to protect rare species from highly invasive ones and to value nature as highly as consciousness. Bringing the life force back into the realm enlightenment would thus be a win-win situation.

Following chapters turn the tables on this situation, showing that we need to consider how the biological parameters defining the fertility, sanctity and diversity of life shape the nature of conscious experience and the underlying natural principles necessary and conducive to the ongoing fertility of life, before trying to formulate any religious or moral imperatives.

By better understanding the dynamics and complexity of the natural cosmological process we can realize ourselves more completely what the outlines of the existential condition must correspond to in the physical world and thus realize a truer and more meaningful understanding of the complete, whole psycho-biological existential condition encompassing both consciousness and the natural world.

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