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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cosmic timing

My earliest foray into Eastern spirituality was with a group called Ananda Marga, which in Sanskrit means "path of bliss."

It was in the summer of 1972. I had just started graduate school in Economics at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The university and town were in the midst of a renaissance of sorts, with a large "hippie" culture, an intensely active music scene that ranged from folk, rock, country, bluegrass, jazz and blues. The "African American" fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi held its annual "Kappa Carnival" at SIU, bringing a burst of soul music, a parade, and other cultural events. The renowned architect, inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller taught at SIU for a number of years, and geodesic domes he designed could be seen in various places in the area.

Ananda Marga had signs posted around town, and I went to a few of their "Kirtans," gatherings on Sunday evenings where Sanskrit mantras were chanted, along with a few "yippy-skippy" songs like "Happiness runs." The main thing I remember was the group doing a circle dance while chanting "Baba nam kevalam," which means "Baba's name is the only name." It's sort of like "There is no God but Allah," or "Jesus is Lord." The "Baba" referred to was Srii Srii Anandamurti, a former Indian railway employee who developed a social philosophy based on yogic principles.

I only went to the Kirtans a few times, and went with the group on a couple of its Sunday volunteering excursions, supposedly helping poor families. I don't remember actually doing anything - just showing up at a couple of farms where the residents were poor.

My only other involvement with Ananda Marga was to be given a mantra by a visiting "acharya" from India. The acharya was dressed in orange, with an orange turban, and had the most piercing, hateful eyes I have ever seen. It was almost comical. The mantra was given in a secret ceremony, and I wasn't supposed to tell anyone. When my big moment came to receive the mantra, the acharya, in a very arrogant, unfriendly manner told me it was "Brahma." He instructed me to say "Brah" on the in-breath, and "ma" on the out-breath.

It was a big disappointment. I thought I was going to get some esoteric mantra like "Aditya Hridayam punyam sarva shatru vinaashanam," that Ram Dass introduced on the radio lectures I listened to on weekends. Anyone who knew anything about Hinduism or Yoga philosopy would know that Brahma is the creator aspect of the Hindu trinity. There was nothing secret or special to me about saying, in effect, "The creator, the creator." Now it doesn't seem like a disappointment. It's an honored name. I just don't use it as a mantra.

The Ananda Marga group got a bit strange over the three years I spent in Carbondale, and I stayed away. A group within the group, known as "Prout" began to grow, and an elaborate initiation process was instituted for adherents who wanted to become "members" of Ananda Marga's corps of teachers who evangelized. A woman I knew had a complete mental breakdown after going through the initiation.

A few years later, when I was involved with another spiritual organization, Siddha Yoga, I heard a few reports of members of Ananda Marga being involved in "terrorist" activity, mostly in Australia (for a weak reference, click here). Some followers of the path of bliss set themselves on fire. The reason for the "terrorism" was that Anandamurti was in prison, and part of the mythology of Ananda Marga was the perceived injustice of his incarceration.

I haven't thought about Ananda Marga much over the years, but the "terror" attacks in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) brought the memories back. What started out (in my experience at least) as a small group of spiritual seekers in the "party town" of "Illinois" became a violent international organization engaged in acts of "terrorism."


The Siddha Yoga ashram in Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India. It is now known as Gurudev Siddha Peeth.
An incident that happened when I was at the Siddha Yoga ashram of Swami Muktananda in Ganeshpuri, "India" also came to mind in the past few days. The ashram complex was walled-in, keeping intruders out, but the ashramites went outside the gates often to shop and hang out at the tea shops in the area.

One day some students from a nearby Muslim university appeared in the area around the ashram, and began harassing some of the "Western" women who were staying there. I didn't witness it, so I don't know what they were doing, but it likely involved grabbing and pushing. When word reached the "enforcer" at the ashram, an Indian man named "Venkapa," he went out with a few helpers, corraled the Muslim students, and beat theme severely, mostly with a cane-like stick he carried with him at all times. From what I heard, he beat them unmercifully. The status of Muslims in India is pretty low, and any excuse to treat them badly was irresistible.

These two episodes are instructive in a number of ways. The Ananda Marga example shows how a group of well-meaning people seeking spiritual and social advancement can devolve into what we commonly understand as "terrorism." The incident with the Muslim students is an example of how two (really three if you count the "Western" women) self-identified different groups of people can see others as inferior, immoral, and worthy of disrespect and mistreatment.

I had a friend during my Siddha Yoga days who was a Muslim from Bombay. He was a computer engineer, and lived in the SYDA ashram in Ann Arbor. This may seem like a contradiction, but he wasn't a devout Muslim, and, being from "India," was well aware of the value of spiritual teachers and meditation.

My friend, whom I will refer to as "Mohammed," told me that Muslims everywhere said of "American" women that "They're all whores." I found this stunning, but remembered my friendships with "Iranian" and "Pakistani" students when I was in graduate school, and realized this was true. Muslim societies are "conservative" by our standards, and modesty in dress, speech, and behavior are all expected and enforced.

The buzz in the news media is about the suspected "terrorist" group behind the Mumbai attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba (read about it here). If this group can be rooted out, rounded up, killed, jailed, tortured ala the Bush criminal regime, and "defeated," then the problem of "terrorism" will be a step closer to being resolved.

Good luck. As long as people are inclined to see themselves as different from others, and organize around those differences, "terrorism" will continue to be a threat. Countries as "advanced" as the "U.S." can fall prey to the basest emotions, with hysteria about "others" creating a mob mentality that leads to aggression of the most foolhardy kind. Like the invasion and occupation of "Iraq." A totally criminal operation, the "war" had the support of 90% of the "American" people when it was started.

The only way "terrorism" will be successfully reduced (it will not be eliminated any more than teenage sex) is to reduce the sense of difference. In "Israel," for example, the real problem is people seeing themselves as "Jews" (or "Israelis") and "Palestinians." Being neither, it is easy for me to see the folly of these indulgences in difference.

I don't see myself as anything - not "Irish," not "Scot," not "American," not "Buddhist," not "Taoist," not "Hindu," not "Catholic," not "Midwestern," not "White," and not "leftist" or "rightist." Though I use my left hand in writing, throwing, kicking a football/soccer ball, and bowling, I am not "left-handed" as an identity. I bat, shoot a rifle/shotgun, and play guitar right-handed (it's my excuse for mediocrity). In "India," where we ate sitting cross-legged on the floor and ate without utensils, I learned to eat with my right hand, and now do it naturally when the situation arises. I have to admit that I'm closer to seeing myself as a "left-hander" than any other identity, but I haven't felt inclined to start a cult of "leftys." It would be kind of nifty to have a cult of people who call themselves "Lefty." "Hey, Lefty, tell Lefty over there to get to work!"

Of course, another way of reduce the sense of difference is to create a world economic system where the vast disparities between rich and poor are alleviated, if not eliminated. The rich have had more than a fair chance throughout history. They have wasted it, and we now see the result of their greed, avarice, and profligacy.

It may be the greatest benefit of the Obama presidency that these paranoid identities will start breaking down. By his genetic background alone he is breaking down barriers between people. He is already showing that he has the potential of being our greatest president ever, and he hasn't even taken office. I wouldn't have thought I would be so optimistic about any politician, but Obama is very different. He has grown so much in his life that he is a model for all humanity. He of course benefits greatly from the contrast with the president he is replacing, but I believe Barack Obama's arrival on the world scene is a historic phenomenon of epic dimensions. His sense of timing is cosmic.
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Here's a tune that shows our common interest. It's from the "Playing for Change" project.

And of course, John Lennon.

This song suffers from overexposure, but it still matters.

Elvis Costello.

Here's some Al Green.

This Canned Heat song fits.

One Love from the "Playing for Change" feature on Bill Moyers Journal.

This video shows a bit of the old party atmosphere in Carbondale.

To read the "Australian" government's "terrorism" policy that developed partly as a result of an Ananda Marga bombing, click here.

For an analysis of the connection between "terrorism" and organized crime, this interview is worth a listen.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello and Happy Holidays.

You state: "
I don't see myself as anything - not "Irish," not "Scot," not "American," not "Buddhist," not "Taoist," not "Hindu," not "Catholic," not "Midwestern," not "White," and not "leftist" or "rightist." "

You may not see yourself that way, but notice the complete lack of right-wing sources of information in your list of sites, and the presence of many divisive left-wing sources. Many of those sources portray progressive Democrats as "us" and Republicans as "them".

For example, I doubt you have the read the following article:

Myths and Facts

and no doubt few progressives will bother to read it.

One's source of information is EVERYTHING. For example, during the Reagan adminstration in the 80's, the inflation rate was reduced from double digits in the late 70's to low single-digit rates. After Reagan left office, Democrats were polled and one question asked was whether inflation had increased or decreased during the Reagan adminstration, and the vast majority of Democrats thought that it had increased.

Long before Bush, media outlets in the middle East had protrayed the USA in a negative light. There are numerous thugs in all parts of the world who profit from creating "us" and "them" dichotomies, and people halfway across the world are easy targets.

Remember the President who attacked Iraq, citing their weapons of mass destruction? That was Bill Clinton in 1998:

President Clinton Iraq Speech in 1998

I have not the slightest doubt that most of the progressive outrage about the Iraq war would never have occurred, if the exact same actions (and I mean exact same) had been taken by a democrat such as Gore.

In fact, we will get a chance to observe whether that is true, as Obama plans to escalate the war in Afghanistan.

I point out all this, as someone who is an Independent, and makes a point of getting information from "both sides of the aisle". As such, it is bizarre to me to watch each political side say "Our guys are good and those other guys are evil", when it is clear that most politicians are pond scum - regardless of party (the Governor of Illinois is just the tip of the iceberg).

With all your "us versus them" web site sources, it seems hypocritical for you to criticize others for that.

PS I leave it as an exercise to you and your readers to research the fallacy of the " terrorism is due to poverty " theory. There should be hundreds of articles on the net from several years ago debunking that idea (hint - most terrorist leaders' net worth equals that of everyone reading this article combines).

12/24/2008 6:52 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Wow. On Christmas Eve too. If you happen to read any of my other posts, you might notice that one of the principal themes of this blog is in debunking the myth of the horizontal spectrum of "left" versus "right." The "spectrum" doesn't exist, and therefore the extremes of the nonexistent spectrum also don't exist, except of course in the minds of the deluded.

What is normally thought of as "leftist," if it has any meaning for the advancement of civilization, is what I call bare minimum. For instance, a single payer health care system, like the VA, is a bare minimum system. The high-tech, pharmaceutical medical bias that is practiced at the VA as well as everywhere else in this country, is not a bare minimum, but something to be re-evaluated, and at least recognized as a method, with limitations and biases.

What is normally thought of as "right wing," can truthfully be subsumed under various syndromes of mental illness and criminality: war zealotry, religious zealotry, crony capitalism, paranoia, "racism," jealousy, resentment, and willful stupidity. I don't link to anything "right wing" because these various pathological and criminal conditions are undeserving of serious attention, except in terms of education, health care, and law enforcement.

I might read Myths and Facts one of these days, but time is something I have to ration, so I'm in no hurry.

My main source of information, you may have noticed, is my own life experience. I weave it into what I write, along with pertinent information gleaned from news sources and websites that I find useful.

I pretty much have the notion that the Divine is everything. Correlations between the criminal Reagan regime and any seemingly positive economic effects are incidental at best, and can just as easily be correlated with his massive deficit spending, an aconservative practice.

Defending Bill Clinton ranks among the lowest priorities I can think of. I like the fact that he plays the saxophone. It pretty much stops there. Again, I don't look at the world in terms of black-white, shirts-skins, "Democrats"-"Republicans," "left"-"right," or "Progressives" versus "Conservatives."

I haven't contended in this blog that "terrorism" is due to poverty. It is a contributing factor, but the most significant cause of terrorism, which I thought I made pretty clear, is the sense of difference, of groups developing a paranoid identity separate from society at large, or of anointing themselves as elites that are self-justified in acting on behalf of the whole society. "White" supremacists, for example, claim to speak and act on behalf of "white" people, whether the "white" people accept their representation or not.

The Bush criminal regime can be looked at in the same way: a self-defined elite that felt justified to steal two elections, invade other countries, kidnap, imprison, torture, kill, and maim people based on their own self-justifications.

I was planning to write a bit about the errant governor of "Illinois." He's actually pretty average as a crooked politician. The difference is stupidity. If you look at the ambassador appointments made over the last eight years, and compare them to campaign contributions, you will find a typical correlation. No one has died from Blagojevich's criminality, unlike his predecessor, or our current head of state.

Whenever someone named "Anonymous" makes comments on my blog, I take it pretty much at face value. Nobody made a lengthy comment, attempting identity as somebody. Actually, all you need to do to be somebody is follow Jesse Jackson's advice. You certainly don't need to feign independence.

12/27/2008 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Vithoba said...

Jack, old friend, you have way too much time on your hands these days.

1/07/2009 1:20 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Time is a relative thing. In one sense, too much time, in others, not enough. For instance, in the slow march towards enlightenment, liberation, realization, or Nirvana, it seems I have all the time in the world.

As for writing this blog, I squeeze it in when I can, and when something festers. The writing part is easy, but the overall process is grueling - editing, repairing typos and other errors of grammar, etc. Sometimes it's once a month, sometimes more often.

I only knew one Vithoba. It's good to hear from you. I tried to look you up a while back, but failed. Ah, the times we had, maintaining our dignity and sense of humor under some weird circumstances. Sometimes I miss it - the promise, the exotic, the sense of community (however dysfunctional), the Camelot vibe.

Anyway, I hope all is well. Here's a song for old time's sake.

1/07/2009 6:45 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

It seems the post from "Vithoba" might actually be from someone other than the person I used to know. Someone with presumptions to power, perhaps. Maybe even presumptions to higher consciousness.

It's one of the hazards of assumed identity. You can lose touch with who you really are.

1/10/2009 8:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jack,

It was me, Hugh Perry, that sent the comment from Vithoba. It was just a joke that you had too much time on your hands.

I hope you're doing well, it seems you are. I'm re-married, retired and living in an RV, traveling around the country.

Michael is 32 now, married, PHD in Economics from UoM. Rick is out of college, also Economics. Take care.

6/04/2009 5:12 AM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Wow. I'm continually humbled by erroneous surmises. I'm not Buddhist enough about the five precepts. It's great to hear from you. Your sons, economists. Such an irony. I hope they are great ones. We need a few.

Congratulations on the retirement. I have to work a while longer, probably another year. That is, of course, should I live so long. The RV life sounds pretty good. I hope the gas expense doesn't wreck your travels. I would try to hit all the national parks.

We thought we were in the catbird seat, those many years ago. Followers of the one true path. Sometimes I miss the certainty, the comfort of assumed knowledge and wisdom. It wasn't a bitter lesson, though. I walked away saying "Thanks, see you."

Anyway, well done. We're lucky if we get through life in one piece, so to speak. Times being what they are, we need to count our blessings. Stay well.

6/08/2009 7:53 PM  

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