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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.

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.