Three Articles, One Post, One BEING

Like many classes these days, my graduate courses have an online discussion component that encourages students to respond to the week’s readings in a central location so they can come to class already interacting on the topic. My Indian Religion and Ecology class has also done this, and many of the discussions have been quite good.

In keeping with my new habit of posting the work I am doing for my classes, I thought I would put here on my blog some thoughts about readings from Week 7 of this class.

Our professor, Pankaj Jain, assigned the following materials for the week to continue a focus on life practices of folks living along or near the great rivers of India.

-Pankaj Jain, Ten Environmental Teachings of the Hindu Tradition
-Pankaj Jain, The Dharmic Method to Save the Planet
Chris Deegan, “The Narmada: Circumambulation of a Sacred Landscape.”In Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water . Eds. Christopher Chapple and Mary Evelyn Tucker.
-Ranchor Prime, Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth.

Here, I will only touch on the first three articles with a small bow of the head toward the beginning of Prime’s book. I hope to put up a reaction to more of that book later this week.

So… Beginning with our good professor’s pieces, I was happy to see that they were published in popular venues and not behind the prison enclosure of expensive academic journals. If philosophizing is not made available to the many, most will continue to believe that philosophizing is only for experts. (Besides what Antonio Gramsci writes in his Prison Notebooks concerning the “Philosophy of Praxis,” see the recent work of  Robert Frodeman and Adam Briggle‘s latest piece in the New York Times as well as their forthcoming book, Socrates Tenured).

But let us leave the medium and move on to the message…

For me, “10 Environmental Teachings…” should have been the first piece we read along with Lynn White’s “Origins of our Current Ecological Crisis” (1967)–a key article in the birth of environmental ethics. Prof. Jain’s piece summarizes and gives direction to a good portion of what we have been thinking together in the course and would give anyone reading this a good idea of what we are up to as a class.

I do critique, toward the end of the text, his word choice of “asceticism” to speak about how we discipline ourselves. I am not sure the word is needed to encourage restrained behavior for a sustainable life. While it derives from the original Greek ASKEIN–which just means “to train”–in the history of EuroAmerican culture, the term becomes equated with practices that go beyond the basic needs of simple living. (Nietzsche’s critique of the ascetic priestly temperament in The Genealogy of Morality has not encouraged a neutral reception when the term appears in print.)

Of the two articles in the Huffington Post, I found “The Dharmic Knowledge…” most encouraging. For many years, I have been teaching students that being-in-the-world is a kind of striving for our proper response. That striving often contains struggles, things and habits that we must overcome as well as push back when folks disagree with us.

However, in American society where we are encouraged to treat everything we want to overcome as a “War against…”—as enumerated by Prof. Jain—we have developed the intellectual tradition of treating every struggle as a war. Categorically, it is true: War is struggle, violent struggle. But not all struggles are wars.

Thus, Karl Jaspers—who studied himself a great deal of Indian and Chinese philosophy—encourages loving struggle. Surely Gandhi in his civil disobedience  borrows ahimsa—non-harm—from the Jain religion as a variation of loving struggle over war. Of course in our striving there will be moments of disappointment, even sometimes righteous anger, but it need not be fed to become violent struggle.

Haruman Shows His Devotion to Rama and Sita, who are his very heart

As I am pondering a great deal over devotion to the divine-itself and to the divine-in-all-beings, both of Prof. Jain’s articles highlight how many Indian practices approach diverse habits of devotion. I was surprised then that among the key Sanskrit terms introduced by him, he did not highlight bhakti. The notion captures not only practical ritual and traditional knowledge structures toward the divine in all beings but a kind of love through interconnection as well. It is more than devoted (fanatical) follower as the term might sometimes be used in America. It is love between beings devoted to the divinity in each other.

This is incredibly important because dharma is only a superficial duty without bhakti. Moreover, can we claim that karma really will be dissipated without responsive dharma from profound bhakti?

After asking this question, I find Chris Deegan’s article on parikrama and the Narmada River the best article we have read all semester. Besides it’s clarity, Deegan does not shy away from “washing over us” the Sanskrit terminology needed to think more closely alongside our brothers and sisters from that tradition.

In my first response essay for this class, I pointed out how both St. Francis of Assisi and Gautama Buddha were mendicants, or wanderers. The very meandering nature of spreading gospel/dharma was what made friars and bhikus more open to Natura/Prakrti. It also allowed them to see the early signs of “ecological crisis. Here, with the parikrama there is again the notion of this wandering.

Is wandering, then, dharma or bhakti? It must be both!

As Prof. Jain implies in his articles, exploration of our relation to the divine-in-all-things, our response to the power-of-being, Brahman, is our dharma. Deegan upholds this while demonstrating as well that every wandering is a form of loving activity–bhakti–fidelity:  devotion not only to the river but to the pilgrim’s own atman and the divine-being of friends and all other beings for whom the parikrama is undertaken at the tirthas , the openings onto another realm of comprehension.

Our UNT colleague Irene Klaver has done similar work on the River Meander in present day Turkey. When the area in the ancient world was filled with Greek city-states that traded   along the waterway, its famous wandering course gave rise to using the river as a metaphor for not getting to something straightforwardly, or meandering. This is important to the written history of philosophizing because it is said that Thales first inquired after nature in Miletus, a city located at the mouth of the Meander. You can find other projects she has done with rivers at the website for the Water Project where she is founding director

To wrap up this entry, let me just dip into the first pages of Ranchor Prime’s Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth. Prime begins with a marvelous connection to be made between wandering and wondering. The tale concerns a cobbler, a sage, and the god Vishnu. [You can read the whole story here that is the basis for what Prime recounts in his book.]

Narada, the sage and teacher who is great friends with Vishnu, wanders all over the universe in a kind of parikrama of creation, ready to engage with all beings about Vishnu. A simple cobbler lives a stationary life beneath a great banyan, on the other hand, and does his dharma every day following his craft, making shoes. (Another great irony of the man: he makes a means of transportation.)

After Narada–who had assumed the man to be a rather simple fellow–engages with the cobbler at the behest of Lord Vishnu, he suddenly realizes that the crafts an is quite wise.  The exchange between Narada and the cobbler show the latter fellow to be a great wanderer, but someone who wanders by his wonder at the divinity-in-all things, never leaving his work place beneath the great banyan .


One last thing I want to mention before I wander along myself concerns a concept found in the thinking of my teacher’s teacher Karl Jaspers: periechontology, getting-at-being-from-around-the-edges. The wandering wonderment of profound bhakti from responsive dharma very much requires such a method (meta hodos: way-beyond) the mechanical practices of our everyday lives.


“NO” wandering in my head

off limits to myself

memories misty in fancy morning

–put this together with that–


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