Friday, August 11, 2006

Rumi's Mirror

What will you offer Him? What gift is best when He wants for nothing, and the worlds are but dust to Him? Would you carry water to the sea or bring light to the sun? Rumi says, "Bring Him a mirror." But even this is not fitting except that you become the mirror. Surrender to Him what He gave you; your life, your will, all that you are or ever will be. The one who offers this becomes the gift and one with the Giver.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fact and Truth

Science and religion are qualitatively different forms of knowledge. The standards by which religion is judged should not be applied to scientific inquiry, nor should scientific inquiry be applied to religious belief. This is possible by shunning literalism in religion and rejecting finality in science. You weigh gold to determine its value in price. But such scales are useless to measure its worth in human lives. To say that the world's origin according to current science conflicts with the world's origin according to ancient faith is to understand neither science nor faith. To claim that man's origin according to science contradicts man's origin according to religion betrays an assumption of unassailable finality in scientific inquiry and of literal truth in religion. Such assumptions undermine science and mutilate faith.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Six months in.

At six months on this blog, I’ve determined more clearly how The End of Reason came to be, at least broadly. This blog was intended as an opportunity for self-reflection in the process of writing, and I expect in six months I’ll be able to wrap it up and close it down. I expect to finish Breaking the Wheel by January 2007. How am I so certain?

I’ve made the arguments I’ve wanted to make and have, partly unconsciously, put them in the order I want to make them. That’s done. Yet BTW remains a work in progress. What does this contradiction mean? At more than 30,000 words, BTW is essentially complete. I’ve spent the last day outlining the text as it exists today, with the basic form of organization in place and appropriately outlined; I now have a template on which to drop subsequent observations and stories that will strengthen these arguments, drawing on various sources of Hindu religious tradition. If I were to die tomorrow, the book would basically be complete. But another six months will make it a far better, slightly longer, and moderately more entertaining, book.

And then what...?


The number of different versions (oral and written) of the Mahabharata and particularly the Ramayana, can be troubling to students of Hindu religion. But it's so strange, from a strictly semitic point of view, to see essentially religious texts that are never in, and will never be in, canonical form. Among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, the texts (Torah, Gospel, Quran, respectively), whether viewed by adherents as literally true or not, are often considered infallible written revelation (although containing legends and stories not far removed from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata). It is at once limiting of Indo-Aryan religious tradition and likewise liberating. The downside: for example we have no original source material in Buddhism that can be confidently considered "original" religious revelation contemporary with the Buddha; yet at the same time we have a richness of interpretation and flexibility even with texts like the Bhagavad Gita (a chapter of the Mahabharata). I think this is one of the reasons western intellectuals fall in love with Indo-Aryan religion and philosophy; it is broad enough, and ill-defined enough, to allow the most modern (and often faddish) accretions in religious and philosophical thought, to fit (e.g., Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to name a positive, TM to name a neutral, and various forms of New Age mumbo jumbo to name a negative).

The real benefit on the Indo-Aryan side is that, while fundamentalism remains a problem, Hinduism and Buddhism are not good soil for the development of particularly venomous fundamentalist sects. This is partly due to the virtual impossibility, outside of the Vedas, to adhere strictly to a literal interpretation of text, since multiple, sometimes contradictory, versions abound. The downside, of course, is that Hinduism and Buddhism can be treated by outsiders as cafeteria religions and abused to such an extent that they cease to function as religions at all and are subsequently viewed as “guidelines” for the Jonathan Livingston Seagull types who infect circles of modern western and westernized intellectual elites.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

He Stretched a Plank

Several days ago I was watching television and several stories from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas were recounted. I had used at least two of the stories from this gospel as teaching tales in my book, The End of Reason. But there were other stories and one story, in particular, had eluded my grasp and I did not understand it. The story went that Jesus, while still a boy, was helping his father Joseph. Joseph had received an order from a rich man to construct a bed of specific proportions. When Joseph placed the wood in pairs before him, he found that one plank was shorter than another and that the bed could not be built. Seeing this, Jesus placed the planks next to each other. He grasped one end of the short plank and stretched it so that the length of the plank was now identical to the one beside it. Joseph wondered at this miracle. As this story was recounted, I understood at once what it meant.

In the workings of the world, men have specific expectations of God and fall into disbelief when God does not work in ways that they imagine He would or should. We are all of us subject to these expectations, though we should detach ourselves from them to see the truth of things. We expect, for example, Christ to heal the blind and raise the dead just as the Jews of his time expected Christ to become king, raise an army, and drive out the Romans. But this story, that he stretched a plank, seems odd and unnecessary; surely another plank could be found of the correct size. Yet the story, though it may be literally true, makes sense from a particular perspective. Such is the operation of God in the world, and this story is a parable of it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


I was recently referred to as Imam Shawni. An Imam, whether meaning a prayer leader or a Muslim scholar, is a title of respect and, as such, should not be used to refer to me. I have never received nor ever accepted such a station and am in no way worthy of it. I am the least of the believers. I’ve written some pretty books. Yet it is often wiser to say nothing at all. Consider the better fate of Zachary, the father of John the Baptist:

“For three days his tongue was locked; silence from that sage was His sign, for what tongue can move without His leave?”


Rewards may come from scriptures, from sacrifice, from austerity and charity. But the reward that is most pleasing is attained only through renunciation of worldly rewards, through wisdom and faith, and these are open to those who know Him and who obey Him and follow the path He has revealed in the age for which He revealed it.

Heaven awaits those who worship heaven; and Hell awaits those who worship Hell. Yet heaven and hell shall pass away. Those who delight in the higher nature, desiring the higher nature are requited. Those who delight in the lower nature, who desire the lower nature, are requited. But these rewards have their ending in time. Worship Him and the reward is eternal and you find liberation. He is the Word and the source of the Word. He is the Voice and the One Who sees all. You may find Him within you, for He is everywhere always present. He is the throne, and the One Who sits in the throne. He is the scepter, and the One Who holds out the scepter. He is a river to His people, and the source of all waters. He is the kiss and the One Who kisses, the embrace, and the One Who embraces. He is at one moment Rama, at another He is Krishna, at another, the Buddha. Today He is Muhammad. Yesterday He is Jesus or He is Moses. Tomorrow He is King of Glory, Ancient of Days; the One you worship is not another than the One I worship. Soma brings illusion, but the Soma of His grace brings liberation from illusion. If He offers, drink deeply and give no thought to the opinions of men.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Always alive in Him, they do not find Him until they are dead to themselves.
Always alive, but sleeping, they do not awaken until they wake to Him.
Always free from this world, they are prisoners until they let go of the world.
His living creatures wander in death, and imagine they are alive.
His sleeping children revel in dreams, and imagine they are awake.
He has set them all free, but still they cling to the chains of this world.
The world does not bind them, except that they bind themselves to the world.
These self-imprisoned ones imagine that life is death and death is life, for they lack perception.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Rains

After Rama defeated Vali and restored Sugriva’s wife and kingdom to him, Sugriva said, “For what you have done, my life is in your service; my people and I will fight in your cause to restore your wife to you, as you have restored mine to me. I will fight under your banner and with you as Lord. We will defeat Ravana. Do not doubt this!”

Rama thanked Sugriva, but said, “I have restored righteousness to you and your people and I will lead you in war against Ravana that righteousness will be restored to the world and that I may ascend my throne. But the season is late. Winter is upon us and the rains will fall without pause. I will not lead you to fight Ravana on muddy roads and swamps. But when the rains have stopped, come to me in the forest and I will again appear before you and we shall then find Ravana and destroy him.”

Sugriva said, “I will obey exactly as you command. I am your servant and, when the rains have stopped and the trees and flowers green and blossom again, I will return to your home in the forests and put my treasures, my armies, my very life at your disposal.”

Months of rain passed while Rama awaited the end of the winter. At last, the rains ceased and the creatures of the forest reappeared. Cranes and swans returned to the waters. Fish spawned and flowers bloomed. Day and night, which had been silent for months except for the steady fall of rain, now filled with the sounds of spring. Rama awaited the fulfillment of Sugriva’s promise, but Sugriva did not return, nor did he send his army, nor even a single messenger.

Lakshmana was indignant and angrily accused Sugriva of impiety. He said to Rama, “He was ever grateful when you killed Vali, but this gratitude was only a show. Restored to wife and kingdom, he has forgotten you, though only through you was his kingship possible. He bowed so sincerely, his monkey hands clasped together, but like a monkey, he has busied himself with other things, forgetting his benefactor, his friend, his God. I will seek Ravana’s kingdom myself and you and I will destroy him and his supporters and rescue Sita. This is within your power, O Rama. But I promise that once this is accomplished, I alone will return to Kishkinda and cut the throat of that ungrateful monkey, slaughter his army, and burn his kingdom to ash for his insult to you.”

Rama said, “All of these things you say are within my power. But what you propose is not pleasing. Lakshmana, I know Sugriva has erred; that he has failed to keep faith with me and has forgotten his promise to me. Go to Kishkinda and remind him of his promise; if he repents, I am forgiving and he will keep my friendship. If he is obstinate, repenting only his promise, then return to me immediately that I will know he has become my enemy.”

Lakshmana’s anger was not cooled, but he obeyed his brother and journeyed from the forest to Kishkinda, the city that Sugriva ruled. At the gates of the city, Lakshmana found Hanuman, the best of monkeys. Lakshmana demanded from Hanuman an explanation. Hanuman said, “I remember Sugriva’s promise to you, and the monkeys of Kishkinda have kept faith with Rama. But I have not been permitted in Sugriva’s presence for many months. He does not leave his bedchamber, but keeps company with women who serve him day and night. He is fat with food; his lusts and whims are satisfied; he drinks only the wine of forgetfulness and indolence. But let me try again to speak with him; I will announce that you have arrived and that you are at the gates of his city, acting as Rama’s emissary, awaiting the fulfillment of that forgotten promise.”

Lakshmana was satisfied with Hanuman’s apology for himself and for the monkeys of Kishkinda, but, hearing the reason Sugriva had not fulfilled his promise, he became even angrier at the monkey king of Kishkinda.

Hanuman would not be barred from Sugriva’s bed chamber and, throwing Sugriva’s guards aside, he boldly approached Sugriva who lay upon his bed, the women around him scattering before Hanuman as leaves before a great wind. Hanuman scolded him, saying, “You are tardy, king of monkeys. It is spring and Rama wonders where you are and what has become of you. Lakshmana awaits at the gate of the city for you to present yourself, welcome him, and to tell him why you have not fulfilled the promise you made to Rama.”

For a moment, Sugriva did not respond. But a look of horror dawned upon his face. He leapt from his bed and took Hanuman by the shoulders. He said, “Rama forgive me! What have I done?” At once Sugriva, with a guard of honor trailing behind him, rushed to the city gate and, seeing Lakshmana, burst into tears and fell to the feet of Rama’s brother. He said, “Faithful Hanuman has waked me from a long dream. Forgive me for my error. I have no excuses to bring before you. Lead me to Rama, and let him do with me as I deserve.”

Lakshmana’s heart was moved by Sugriva’s words; his anger slipped from him as rainwater from a leaf. He said gently, “Rama will surely forgive you; he has told me himself that if you will keep your promise to him, he remains your true friend and your supporter.”

Sugriva, immediately gave orders for the disposition of his army, and sent his finest soldiers as scouts to find Ravana’s kingdom. Then, he threw off his kingly robes and dressed as an ascetic and, with only Hanuman in attendance, followed Lakshmana back into the forests to face Rama.

Sugriva hung his head, barely noticing the beauty of the trees and flowering plants. With every step, as they approached the mountains where Rama waited, Sugriva’s heart became heavier still. But Rama appeared suddenly from the thick forests at the foot of his mountain home. He was smiling, with his hands open. He embraced Sugriva, then Hanuman, and then Lakshmana, and said, “Welcome, king of monkeys.”

Sugriva opened his mouth to beg Rama’s forgiveness, but Rama interrupted him, saying, “Sugriva, the rainy season was longer than usual and has delayed our plans. But now you are here, and your promise to me completely fulfilled.”

Sugriva began to cry and said, “O Rama, you know the truth and how I failed you entirely.”

Rama said, “King of Kishkinda, do not abase yourself or be troubled now. What has passed has passed and I am and always have been and always will be your friend. You do not need to explain yourself, for I foresaw this moment before you ever made your promise to me, before you were even in your mother’s womb. Now you are here before me; your determination to assist me greater than ever, your loyalty to my cause complete, your friendship to me unassailable, your love for me beyond question. When I sided with you against Vali, did you think this moment was hidden from me? This is a joyous meeting and I welcome you with delight.”

Saying this, Sugriva’s heart was eased and joy and happiness filled him; he said, “All that time I spent, having forgotten you in my ignorance and hedonism, all the pleasures I enjoyed were nothing, not even a spark beside the sun of this moment.” When Hanuman heard these words, at that moment Rama entered his heart and the fresh green forest shone with the glow of Paradise.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Testimony of the Buddha

Aurangzeb said, “You say that Rama died and the world strayed. Then Krishna arose and restored religion. And Krishna died and the world strayed again until Buddha appeared. You have spoken of Rama and Krishna at length, but have said nearly nothing of the Buddha. Tell me, if you can, which stories and scriptures of the Buddha are authentic and how they are consistent with the journey of Rama and the teachings of Krishna.”

The boy said, “If you had listened to me, you would not ask this question. You would yourself know the truth of the Buddha and acknowledge his station. You would yourself cast away the accretions of tradition, the manipulations of monks, the dissimulation of doubters. You would see him emerge, calm, at peace, tolerant and wise from the thousand myths that have descended upon him like a black rain.

“Find the truth of Buddha in the stories of Krishna and Rama, for these are stories he told to his disciples. After the Buddha ascended, Ananda, his cousin and closest disciple, said, ‘He told us of Rama and Krishna that we may learn a little of him. He recounted their trials, their troubles and teachings that we might recognize them in him and him in them. They are the past lives of God among us; they are his past lives and his future lives; for he descends among men from time to time to renew dharma, to establish justice, and to show us the surest path to self-annihilation, which is union with God. As many times as he has appeared among men, so too will he appear in the future. Though he was my cousin, Siddhartha Gautama who walked among men and was a man like me, so too was he the Buddha who walks among us in every age. Seek him out in every world of his worlds. This is dharma.’”

Aurangzeb said, “Yet the Hindus and the Buddhist agree on little doctrine. Hindus worship a multitude of gods, neglecting God. And Buddhists worship no gods, neglecting God. How do you explain it?”

The boy answered, “I have explained it to you again and again. I will not deny that some Buddhists are godless, and others worship too many gods. But the essence of the Buddha’s teaching emphasized liberation from the fruits of action. There are many disciplines, hallowed by time and tradition, that are intended to shake off the vision of maya, like so much dust, from our earthly bodies. Yet consider how many the years, how hard the austerities, how painful the deprivations that men undergo, and yet men remain prisoners of samsara while those closest to God, motivated by a single desire to be near Him, who by this choose His will over their own and extinguish all other desire, they are in an instant transported to Him and are in union with him. Ascetics may see these devotees as children but playing. Consider the gopis, the women closest to Krishna. Laughing they have broken the wheel. Praising, singing, and loving Him, they become not his consorts, but his true friends and companions. They smile upon him, and he upon them. And for this smile, ascetics would offer up their lives and all pleasures, and yet even with this offering may not obtain that smile from him that the gopis attained through love. Love is often maya, yes. But love of God is the key to His treasury.

“As for the various scriptures belonging to the Buddhists, they do not know that the Ramayana and the Mahabharata themselves are his testimony. Ananda said of the Buddha, ‘The wise are right to say that the Vedas are best understood through the study of the actions and words of Rama and Krishna, for He is Rama and He is Krishna and He Himself is the Vedas. To seek Him is dharma. To find Him is to find within yourself the atman. To obey Him is to break the wheel of samsara. To love Him is to achieve union with Him.”

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


The boy then recounted a story of Ravana. “Ravana was born with ten heads, or so the story is told. When Ravana was young, he was a devotee of Shiva and undertook thousands of years of terrible penance. He purified himself and performed this tapasya, hoping to please God and earn merit in His sight. After many long years, however, Ravana received no blessing or acknowledgement. Therefore Ravana struck off one of his heads and, staunching the flow of blood, continued to fast and meditate for another thousand years. Again he received neither blessing nor acknowledgement. Striking off his second head, Ravana continued his tapasya undaunted. Again and again, over thousands of years, Ravana repeated this act until, his single head remaining, he prepared to strike it off. But before he struck that final blow, Shiva appeared to him.

Ravana, overjoyed, stayed his hand and knelt before the object of his devotions. Shiva said, “You may complete your tapasya by cutting off your head. But if this is not pleasing, I will grant you a boon for the nine heads you have already lost.” Ravana thought a great while and, placing his sword in the dust, said, “Grant me invincibility against devas and rakshasas and all other celestial beings.”

At once granting this wish, Shiva disappeared from sight as suddenly as he appeared. Ravana abandoned his austerities and, with his terrible power, became ruler of the rakshasas and waged war on the devas.”

Aurangzeb said, “This story is absurd, as are all your stories.”

The boy said, “You say this because you do not know the meaning of the story. You hold a bottle full of wine and demand how you can drink the bottle itself. You hold a handful of cooked rice and wonder how you can eat your hand.”

Aurangzeb laughed at this. He said, “Then tell me the hidden meaning of the story.”

The boy answered, “Rather than putting down his sword, Ravana would have served himself better by leaving his last severed head in the dust at God’s feet. His austerities were not complete. He had not achieved the goal, which was to please Shiva, but substituted his own desire for God’s desire for him. In his worship, he attained his own ends, not God’s. Ravana’s heads, which were the emblems of his ego, stood between him and the atman. With ease and tranquility Ravana had surpassed all devas and rakshasas. He had walked through nine doorways of sacrifice, performing what no other could perform so easily. But he could not open that final door and was blind even to its existence. Had he completed his tapasya and struck off his final head, he would have achieved union with God. But he squandered this in order to possess a moment’s mastery over the transient world. Ravana, demon king of Lanka, seemed the most powerful creature. But he was himself merely a creature and when he was defeated, neither his invincibility nor the sacrifices he had performed to achieve it, were of any value. He could not strike off his head to find the atman because he loved himself too much. He could not abandon the illusion of rank and power in the world because he bowed down to the world. He could not break the wheel of samsara because he worshipped the wheel. He possessed wisdom, but was unwise; he was knowledgeable, but knew nothing of himself; he was a worshipper of God who neither heeded God’s law nor acknowledged God’s manifestation in Rama. His invincibility did not avail him, nor did his wisdom advise him nor his knowledge inform him.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Atman (continued)

Aurangzeb said, “You Hindus are worshippers of the self, which you call the Atman.”

The boy said, “Let me speak to you a little of the Atman

“For countless ages Uma dwelt in the pavilions of holiness, beneath the canopy of God’s love and protection, her hem purified of worldly illusion, her face unseen by gods, men, or demons, Behind the realm of appearance and disappearance, she arose from her palace and all who saw her were intoxicated by her beauty, by the scent of her perfume, and by the sweetness of her voice. The devas knew she was the maidservant of God.

“One of the devas, Vayu, who is the god of wind and father of both Hanuman and Bhima, approached Uma and asked her about the nature of God. Uma did not answer but demanded to know what power Vayu possessed to dare ask this question. Vayu, who was very proud, said, “I am among the mightiest of the devas. I can blow away any object in the world, however far and for however long I please.”

“Uma placed a single grain of dry rice before Vayu and said, ‘Show me this great power.’ Vayu exerted every effort, but could not cause the rice to budge. Winds that could have torn the Himalayas from their roots did not cause that grain of rice even to tremble. Vayu gave up and was astounded, but before he could speak, Uma said, “You can understand as much of God’s nature as you can move this grain of rice. Your power is not yours, but His. You yourself are not yours, but you belong to Him.”

“Vayu knelt and pressed his fingers upon Uma’s feet. She raised her hand and said, ‘Go in peace. You may yet find Him in yourself, but only after being rid of yourself. Within you there is not room for you and Him together.’

“Who puts on filthy rags and imagines them a kingly robe? Who wars with his brother over the rotting corpse of a whore? Who places upon his head a crown of dung and calls himself king? Such is the man who knows nothing of Atman.

“Those who understand this will rise out of samsara and achieve release from the world and its temptations, its mad and shameful passions, its defilements and illusions.

“O king, what we call Atman is the divine within every man. We are made in His likeness. We are forged as cups of iron in the furnace of His love, filled with the wine of His essence. This is the likeness. We may know something of Him from within ourselves, as we may know something of the sun when it warms the body. From His vineyard, He pours forth liberally. Drink from the cup of yourself, not for the sake of the cup, but to taste that wine which is more precious to the believers than their own lifeblood.”

Sunday, April 2, 2006


I've been struggling lately with the concept of Atman; not my own understanding of it, but my ability to express my understanding in words that make sense without one comment directly contradicting another. For the sake of recording and remembering this problem for future reference, and to compare my ultimate resolution of the problem to the original evolution of the prose, I'm incorporating my current notes into this blog. These notes have not been organized, but are based on relatively random thoughts as I read through portions of the Upanishads.

All possession, including reputation and attainment, are gone by morning. All pride is lost, all senses deprived, all knowledge sundered, all achievements forgotten. Do not put store in these things for as quickly as they come, they go. A man, drunk with wine, achieves a moment of bliss; but bliss flees with the dawn.

Between your individual self and the Universal Self, which is the Atman, the difference between them is as darkness and light. The Atman is not the self if by self you mean the man that you are or the life that you lead, for these in fact are at variance with the Atman. If the individual self is not tamed; it runs wild without direction, without purpose. He cannot die to himself, but lives again and again, finding no peace, no escape from attachments or from the wheel of samsara. Forget this illusion of yourself, this living falsehood, and know your true Self and achieve that better life, which is union with God.

He is the goal; know yourself and this is both road and destination, door and palace, throne and king.

Shut your eyes to what you imagine you are and find Him within yourself. Die to yourself and live within Him. Without this, you die as many deaths as you have desires and yet you are reborn into desire as often as you die. That is the road to misery and is the wheel of samsara. No intellect can unravel it. No scripture can make it clear. But He has placed this sign of Himself in the lotus of your heart. Give up your knowledge and know with His knowledge.

Do not partake of the fruits of action nor drink from the wine of those fruits. To accept the reward of your actions is to be paid in full and that reward is fleeting and desire is only further inflamed. For the one who eats, for a moment it is enough until that moment passes; when is there ever enough?

The wise say the Atman is the Brahman and that the Brahman is the Atman, making no distinction between the two. But this understanding is not subtle, and the Atman and Brahman both are not grasped by logic or intellect; their meanings are subtler than any subtlety and hidden behind many veils. Words cannot describe it for by describing words place limits. But who will understand my meaning if I am without words, if I am silent?

If the Atman is a droplet, He is the well of fathomless waters. If the Atman is a flicker of light, He is the sun. If the atman is a looking-glass, He is what you find reflected. Attachments and desire obscure that glass. Cleanse it and be free and reveal what is in your heart.

After Ravana’s defeat, Rama and Sita were crowned in the city of Ayodhya. As a gift for Hanuman’s loyalty and friendship, Sita gave him a string of pearls. She said, ‘These pearls are more precious than any others in the world. With these you may remember Rama.’
Years later, Hanuman was seen unstringing these pearls, trying to open them up, grinding them into powder. The people of Ayodhya said, ‘Do not destroy those pearls. They were given to you by Sita.’ Hanuman said, ‘I am opening them to find Rama within them.’ The people did not understand and Hanuman said, ‘Rama is everywhere in everything, even in my heart.’ The people laughed at him and said, ‘Show us what is in your heart; we too would like to lay eyes on Rama.’ Innocent of their mocking, Hanuman agreed and opened his chest before their eyes, revealing the face of Rama.

Hanuman had no use for pearls, except that they might bring him nearer to God. He had no use for his body, except that God dwelt within. Hanuman is the temple. No mosque is holier than yourself, but it must be washed of worldly defilements. Sacrifice all things at the altar of the Atman. The Temple of Hanuman is in the likeness of a looking glass. See what is in it, worshipper. But if, with pride, you have fouled it, you will see nothing. Though the Atman within you is shining, you are blind to it.

This illusion of your self, complete in itself, existing in time in the world, is a veil over your true self. These are different things, who you imagine you are and the hidden mystery within you, which is the spirit of God. There is your Highest Self, though even this name deceives. To realize that self, you must lose yourself entirely, releasing the bonds that tie you to this world.

Illusion gives rise to attachments that draw you away from the Atman. Look within and you will find God enthroned. But instead you turn away and wander in the wilderness of illusion. How far have you wandered and yet come not a step closer while ‘He is closer to you than your jugular vein.’

You may say that the Atman is you, and this is true. But likewise you may say that it is not you; and this also is true. To achieve the realization of the Atman, you must die to yourself. By ego, action, and illusion you are drawn away. Let go of all these things and you will come to the end of reason. Yet when we speak of reason’s end, we mean the true outcome of reason, not its extinction. By reason we learn that the mind cannot grasp Him nor word describe Him. Reason gives us knowledge and establishes, by its own proofs, its own limits. Through reason, we learn of reason’s inadequacy, and this is the greatest achievement of the rational intellect. Know that you cannot know Him, and your knowledge has born fruit.

How then can we know Him, if not by reason or intellect? By two means: in the appearance of the messengers of God and by the command, ‘Know yourself to know God.’ The mystery was born within us and lives within us at all times, hidden even to ourselves in the lotus of the heart. You know the Hadith. God has said, ‘Man is My mystery and I am man’s mystery.’ He lodges in the heart. Give up the pretence of yourself and find Him within yourself revealed. God is the Atman; the Atman is God. But this does not mean that you, Aurangzeb, are God. No, Aurangzeb is in the way. Renounce him and find God within him. The Atman within you, as within all men, is His gift, His grace. In the Quran it says, ‘Within you are the signs of God. Can you not perceive?’ And likewise is it not written in that holy book, ‘God shows His signs to men both in the world outside and within themselves.’ These verses are sufficient proof that, though Muhammad does not say the word ‘Atman,’ yet speaks of it clearly. Yet so few have achieved this perfect detachment and many are known to us by name. Muhammad, Moses, and Jesus are known to your people. Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha are known to mine. These are men who loosed the bonds of attachment to all things and who revealed God from within themselves, for within us He resides. To achieve that state of perfection is not possible, except by His grace, and many struggle throughout their lives to achieve union with God, to become aware of the Atman, to be ruled by the Atman. But gold is not valuable because it is common, but because it is rare. Yet most who claim to possess this gift have merely deceived themselves, and this is another veil between them and their goal; what they think they have achieved is, in fact, a new obstacle to them and the way is barred.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Remember the death of Viradha, a wicked demon. When Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita entered the Dandaka forest, this monster appeared to them and blocked their way. He was awful to behold; his eyes were black and sunken, his mouth a bloodstained gate into hell, and his bloated crooked body was covered in the skins of men and animals. He was as large as a storm cloud and his voice, like thunder, shook the ground and the trees of the forest. His eyes fell upon Sita and lust swelled his heart. He said to Rama, “Who are you?”

Rama was not afraid and said, “I am Rama, son of Dasaratha. This is my brother, Lakshmana. This is my wife, Sita. We are…”

Viradha interrupted Rama; he took hold of Sita in his monstrous hand and said to Rama, “You and your brother may go back with your lives. This one I will keep as my own.”

At this, Lakshmana became enraged and brandished his bow. But Viradha only laughed, saying, “I have been granted a boon by Brahma. No earthly weapon can harm me. So put away your bow and escape with your lives. This pretty one is my pet. Are your lives so worthless that you would trade them for the price of a mere woman?”

Rama said, “Whatever boon was granted, was granted in my name. I may rescind such a boon at my pleasure and I am not asked of my doings.” Rama and Lakshmana each fired two arrows at Viradha; they streaked across the sky like meteors. One pierced his swollen belly. Two severed his crooked arms. The last struck off his head and Viradha fell dead where he stood. But before their eyes his corpse was transformed and a beautiful youth stood before them in Viradha’s place. He knelt at Rama’s feet and then at Lakshmana’s and Sita’s, pressing the dust upon his forehead. He said, “Lord, I have been transformed, released from a curse. I have been living as a demon, evil in word, act and intention. You have lifted me from that curse by killing me. For whomsoever God punishes in this world, he is freed from punishment in the next. I am free of my sin by your grace and you have granted me forgiveness at the point of your arrows. Forgive me, Rama. I was blind before, but you have lifted the darkness from my eyes and washed the evil from my heart.”

Rama held up his right hand and said to the youth, “Go in peace to the world beyond. I have heard your pleas; I accept your repentance and rescind your debt.”

Thus, see how Rama is the arbiter of right and wrong. See how Rama repays those who trespass against dharma, who act evilly in the world. See how such evil rebounds upon itself and how good redeems it entirely.

After Sita was abducted by Ravana, Rama and Lakshmana were attacked by the demon Kabandha. Kabandha possessed enormous arms that could reach into the three worlds and with these arms he took whatever he pleased. This was a tremendous power, and Kabandha abused this power often. He stole what did not belong to him. He grasped men and animals, taking them into his mouth to sate his unyielding appetite. And he wrecked the sacrifices and austerities performed by others. Kabandha took hold of Rama and Lakshmana and told them, “I am hungry for your flesh. If you have erred or are angry, make peace with the world for in a moment you will be food for me.”

Rama and Lakshmana, however, were no easy prey. With their swords, they hacked off Kabandha’s arms at his shoulders. The demon howled while blood poured copiously from his mutilated body, drenching the earth. Kabandha said, “You are Rama for only God could overcome me with such ease. Listen to me for a moment. Hear me out, O best of men. Once I was as beautiful as Lakshmi, your wife, and as strong as Indra, your servant. But because I was proud and foolish I sometimes shed my handsome form and took on this loathsome aspect. With my grotesque arms, I harassed the world until one day I angered a sage who cursed me to remain in this form, unable to transform into my original self. At first, I thought nothing of the curse, for this body allowed me to act always as I pleased and no one could stop me. But at last I grew weary of this body and even of my own behavior. I had indulged my many appetites for so long, I could no longer control them; they mastered me and I became their slave. But I took solace in the sage’s curse, for he had promised that I would be released from this punishment when Rama appeared and hacked off my arms and immolated my broken body. I ask then, Lord Rama, to destroy me entirely. Build a pyre for me and cast me into the fire. To die at your hands is my sincerest wish.”

Rama and Lakshmana fulfilled Kabandha’s request and Kabandha took on his previous form and ascended into heaven. Rama’s seeming punishment was, in truth, the sweetest blessing.

With this, now you might understand what Rama meant when he arrived in Lanka and called Ravana out to fight, “I have come to punish you, to put you to death. Show me your courage for which you are famous. I have heard rumors of it, but all I know of it is that you deceived me and carried off my wife to satisfy your lusts. Come out warrior. My arrows will purify you and, with the blows of my arms and with the edge of my sword, I will make your blood holy that you may perform your final ablutions in it. Do not be afraid. Death at my hands is inevitable for all creatures and to be desired.” Ravana trembled but answered, “My life is not yet in your hands.” But Rama said, “From the moment you were born, your life has belonged to me. But it has been for you to decide how I would take it. When you abducted my unwilling wife, only then was the matter decided. Already I have devoured your life, Ravana, and the lives of all these warriors. Come out, King of Lanka, and face me. Though I deprive the world of life, few are blessed to look into my eyes as they die. Though I stand always in the presence of all creatures, few perceive me as directly as you do.”

With the tip of his arrow, Rama set the world aright. Rama saw all of this according to dharma and was himself at peace, even as Kaikeyi rejected him and sent him into the wilderness. Rama obeyed and never spoke harshly to her, never faulted her nor humiliated her and forgave her readily when she sought his forgiveness. See, Aurangzeb, in the examples of Viradha and Kabandha how Rama acted. He sought nothing from the fruit of his actions, except to maintain dharma. Because Viradha and Kabandha understood who Rama was, they died seeking his blessing, even as they died at his hands. At first, Valin could not understand, but when understanding swept over him, he likewise blessed Rama, though Rama’s actions, to others, seemed shameful. Surpanakha however found no relief, for though her mutilation revealed her true self, she still saw nothing of herself and lived on in willing blindness. Likewise Ravana was proud and arrogant and even as he faced Rama’s power, he thought he could overcome dharma and thus he died again and again even to this day. Through this, you might understand the meaning of samsara.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Shadow Play (2)

In Kerala, where I stopped briefly, I saw a shadow play of the Ramayana. But the day was warm and, as my eyes gradually dimmed, the shadows took on wondrous shapes of many colors. My mind drifted and I dozed to the sound of Rama’s wedding and exile, Sita’s abduction and rescue, Ravana’s defeat and death, and Rama’s coronation.

In his time, Rama was the best of creation, born the oldest of four noble brothers; he was the incarnation of Vishnu; he was the presence of God on Earth. Rama was the favorite son of King Dasaratha of Ayodhya and was trained by Vasishta and Viswamithra. In a test of strength, he broke Shiva’s bow and strung Vishnu’s bow and in this there are signs to understand. He captured the heart of Sita; she was his wife and his dear companion. After Rama came of age, his father stepped down from the throne to see Rama crowned in his place. But Kaikeyi, Rama’s stepmother, conspired to give the throne to her son, Bharatha. Calling upon Dasaratha to fulfill a promise he had once made to her, Kaikeyi sent Rama into exile for fourteen years. And though the people, and even her own son, cursed Kaikeyi, Rama was obedient and fulfilled his father’s promise. Renouncing the luxuries of the palace, Sita and Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, followed Rama into forest exile. There they lived for many years as ascetics until Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, abducted Sita.

To reclaim his wife, Rama killed Vali, who was king of the monkeys, and crowned Sugreeva king in his place. Hanuman, a servant of Sugreeva, set fire to Ravana’s city on the island of Lanka, returning to Rama with news of Sita’s whereabouts. Under Rama’s command, Sugreeva and Hanuman led their army against Ravana. When Rama defeated the demon king, Sita proved to the people that she had been faithful. At the end of his fourteen years of exile, Rama returned to Ayodhya where Bharatha had ruled not as king, but as Rama’s regent. Rama was crowned in his father’s city and restored peace in his family, making Bharatha his heir and granting Kaikeyi the forgiveness she sought saying, “Though you contrived against me, God made it for good. You are as much my mother as the one who bore me, therefore accept me again as your son.”

When I awoke, a sliver of moon was setting in the west. The greater part of its surface, untouched by the sun but bathed in the light of the Earth, glowed dimly and ghostly white. I saw in that moon the whole of the Ramayana; that splinter so well illuminated, bright like a struck match, and above it the full surface. I thought, “I will not let the brightest part distract me; I will look with deeper perception and see the whole of it, the entirety of it.”

Sunday, March 5, 2006

The Shadow Play

In Kerala, as I dreamed during the shadow play, I saw Hanuman and he spoke these words to me.

Hanuman said, “Near the end of Sri Rama’s life as I kneeled beside his deathbed, tears like the Ganges pouring from my eyes, a ring slipped from the king’s finger and rolled to the floor. Where the ring rested, a tiny hole opened in the Earth and swallowed it up and the ring disappeared from my sight. Sri Rama said to me, ‘Hanuman, you are my ancient friend and my faithful servant. Please will you find my ring?’

“I said, ‘The Earth has taken it; I will find it and return to you.’ At once I shrank down and slipped through the tiny hole in the ground in which the ring had disappeared. For ages I fell but when I reached the end of the world I found myself in a deep cavern poorly lit which was the throne room of the King of Ghosts.

“That king was terrible to see, more terrible than Kumbhakarna, or Indrajit, or Ravana enraged. For the first time in my life I trembled. From the darkness he emerged, gigantic, yet barely discernable. I saw only his eyes and his teeth as he spoke. The rest was blackness.

“The King of Ghosts said to me, ‘You are in my domain and you are in my possession. Whatsoever has passed away comes eventually to me, for I am the keeper of all memories. They are like flowers robbed of sunlight; I watch them fade, wither, and vanish into dust.’

“I said, ‘I am in Rama’s service and you not permitted to detain me. You, like all devas and rakshasas, like all men and monkeys, all creatures in the earth living, dead, and yet to be born, are in his service.’

“I made out in the dim light that the King of Ghosts pressed his palms together in homage. He said, ‘What command does he bring me? I will fulfill it, though I am among the least of his servants.’

“I said, ‘I have come to find his ring. It slipped from his hand and fell here, into this cavern.’

“At once, the King of Ghosts brought before me a great golden tray covered with unnumbered rings. They were all nearly identical, and I sifted through them with my hands. I said, ‘I can’t tell if any of these are Rama’s, or even if they all are.’

“The King of Ghosts said, ‘Whenever an incarnation of Mahavishnu is about to ascend into heaven, his ring falls here. These are all his, and yet not any one is his. When you return to Rama, you will not find him waiting. But keep searching as he commanded you.’

“My heart was broken and I said, ‘How can I search when now it's too late? I failed to find his ring as he commanded me and now I have lost him as well. What will I do?’

“The King of Ghosts said no more, and I returned to the king’s room. Vasishta, the king’s priest, saw me and he said, ‘Rama has ascended and is again with God.’ But my mouth would not open and I bathed Rama's sandals with my tears.

“I left the kingdom and lived a long time in the forests, chanting Rama’s name, hiding myself from people. I wandered for ages, again as though falling into darkness, meditating upon my failure to fulfill Rama’s final command to me.

“One day I came to the forest of Vrndivana and saw Krsna braiding Radha’s hair by a gentle river. I turned toward them, but Krsna approached me without delay and embraced me, as though recognizing me. He smiled and said, ‘O Hanuman, my ancient friend, my faithful servant.’ At the sound of his voice, I could barely speak. I fell to his feet and, clasping them, wept without shame. Krsna lifted me up, embracing me again and laughing joyously. ‘Why are you crying? Don’t you see? You have found the ring at last, the ring I told you to seek.’

“At that moment, I was in paradise.”

When Hanuman finished speaking, he opened his chest with his monkey’s hands and he revealed to me what he enshrined in his heart.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Two Masks of the Buddha

I’ve been reading some scholarly monographs on the subject of the Ramayana and, in one, came across an essay on Buddhist Rama traditions and stories. The essay’s author noted several textual sources of Buddhist Rama stories; one in particular was the Dasaratha Jataka which was not only a Buddhist version of the story of Rama, but has been posited as the earliest written version of the Ramayana yet known, earlier even than Valmiki’s classic version. Suddenly I recognized the possibility that while Hinduism accounted the Ramayana as originally “Hindu” in origin, the Ramayana might, instead, have come out of Buddhist tradition. Valmiki, rather than being the original author of the work, or even the first to put down on paper the oral tradition of the Ramayana, was instead simply incorporating and recasting the Ramayana into the Hindu tradition. If the Dasaratha Jataka is an original written source of the story of Rama, whether it preceded or followed oral traditions, it opens an important insight into Buddhism and makes more credible the belief that the Buddha was himself the original teller of the tale. This is probably not the case, but elements of truth can be found here.

It is unlikely that we can uncover a true original version of the Ramayana. The stories of Rama have been told throughout South Asia for generations and have been colored by local variations that bear only a resemblance to Valmiki’s version of the story. Finding the original source of the Ramayana is not likely possible today, as the stories and their origins are hopelessly tangled together, receding from one another and returning intertwined, retold, redacted and recycled to fit local tastes and customs. The Dasartaha Jataka appears to be one such redaction. However, if the stories of Rama’s journey are a thousand tributaries, it is fair to ask which version was the original river. Can that original version be discovered? Were the original tales strictly oral? Were Rama stories told originally only to entertain? Were Rama stories told to illustrate political, social, or theological points? Many scholars agree that Valmiki’s version is possibly the closest we will come to that original source. Yet it is almost as certain that the Buddha told stories of Rama, as teaching tales, to illustrate important points (and probably told stories of Krishna as well). No one, for example, would argue that Muhammad “wrote” or even “revealed” the Book of Genesis, yet the version of the story of Joseph that appears in the Quran was a teaching tale that imparted important lessons to Muslims both then and today.

I raise this because I feel almost certain that the stories of Rama and Krishna and the Buddha are largely valuable theologically; yet only the Bhagavad Gita seems to contain any part of Krishna’s original teachings in a form that makes sense. What Rama taught, or if he taught at all or simply presented his life itself as the teaching, we cannot know. The same is true of the Buddha. Is the Dhammapada all we have to go on? Is there more that can accurately be said to reflect the original teachings of the Buddha? Or are stories like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata the closest we are likely to come to knowing what the Buddha even said or ever taught his students? Surely these stories of Rama and Krishna formed the context in which the Buddha taught and in which Buddhism developed. But is it also possible that the original teachings of the Buddha receded into the mists of stories of Rama and Krishna? If so, then my attempts to reconcile Semitic religion with Indo-Aryan religion is curious modern reflection of the Buddha’s probable attempts to reconcile his own teachings with the Indo-Aryan religious traditions that preceded it. Some undoubtedly resisted such reconciliation, particularly individuals with a vested interest in maintaining Vedic superiority and the class superiority of the Brahmin caste with it. Ironically, Hinduism reabsorbed Buddhism by proclaiming the Buddha an avatar of Vishnu whose mission was to mislead and confuse weak-willed Hindus, as though the Buddha was born to play Iblis’ role. In the meantime, so much of original Buddhism has been lost, muddied, or mutilated, that going back to those Indo-Aryan traditions and stories of Rama and Krishna appears to me the only effective way of acknowledging the Buddha’s rightful station, even if his teachings cannot be uncovered with any certainty.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Teaching Stories

Between work and other distractions, I’ve been slow about posting. But then, this was not intended as an exercise in writing random daily thoughts. I’ve preferred to wait until I’ve had something I wanted to say, relevant at least to writing this book. Of course, I keep changing my strategy for tackling the work and am well over 10,000 words into The Temple of Hanuman, which tends to limit my options. But I only have about two-thirds of the stories from the Ramayana that I plan to use and, in the meantime, am looking for pages of notes that I’ve misplaced. I expect they’ll turn up, unless I’ve inadvertently thrown them away. Nevertheless, this is all a wonderful testament to my lack of organization and my inability to keep my thoughts focused on more than a few things at once.

As I’m going through this process, I’m remembering more clearly how I wrote the three books comprising The End of Reason. Many years ago, I read Sufi teaching stories collected and translated into English by Idries Shah and published by The Octagon Press under such titles as The Hundred Tales of Wisdom and Tales of the Dervishes. My interest in Sufism was piqued by these inoffensive little books and helped warm me up to original source material like Rumi’s Masnavi and Fihi Ma Fihi, Attar’s Conference of the Birds and Sadi’s The Rose Garden. The process was similar (though not quite simultaneous) to my introduction to world music beginning with Peter Gabriel’s soundtrack Passion, which led me to Passion Sources, which led me to original works of both modern world-fusion music (e.g., David Parsons, Stellamara, Vas) and traditional world music recordings upon which the former genre is based. Of course, there’s very little in the way of modern “world fusion” literature, even counting my own work or vastly better-know authors like Kahlil Gibran or Edward FitzGerald. But if popularity were my aim, I would have given up in disgust and disappointment some time ago.

Originally, I wrote original stories and recast traditional stories independently of any broader narrative structure. Many of the stories within In Herod’s Keep were written this way and only later did I create the conversation between Herod and John in which those tales were organized and integrated. The Madness of God was written differently; the idea for the narrative structure was in place; only then I scoured Sufi literature, Jewish mythology, and Christian apocrypha for stories that I could use, or bend, to Iblis’ arguments. The Men Who Have the Elephant was written not as a narrative structure in which teaching stories could be framed but to reflect upon and to wrap up the arguments made in the two previous works. Moreover, these three parts grew out of one another. The Madness of God nearly ended up as a long section within In Herod’s Keep and was conceived after much deliberation on John’s arguments relating to theodicy. The Men Who Have the Elephant, meanwhile, was written as commentary on the two previous works and to offer something of a resolution.

The Temple of Hanuman is being written much like The Madness of God. In general terms I’d already conceived of the work and who and what it would probably cover and already knew where I wanted it to go. In the meantime, I’m collecting stories from the Ramayana (and will collect stories from the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, and the Gitagovinda). These stories once collected, refashioned, and retold are the hinge upon which the dialogue of the book will turn. My focus must necessarily be on these original works first; from them I will draw out the stories I need to support the arguments I make.

Friday, February 3, 2006

Rethinking Krishna

The Temple of Hanuman is developing quickly, far faster than I expected. Because it is the first of what I anticipated would be three parts, and because The End of Reason is constructed similarly of three parts, I didn’t expect the Temple of Hanuman to be longer than 20,000 words. I’m already nearly halfway to that point. I’m relatively satisfied that the Temple of Hanuman is moving in the right direction thematically, though there is room for improvement over the current draft. Yet I’m becoming increasingly uneasy that the exclusive focus in the Temple of Hanuman on stories of and relating to Rama will not have the impact that I need of it. I’ve fought the urge repeatedly in the last weeks to slip in references to Krishna from the Gita Govinda and the Bhagavad Gita. Issues that Aurangzeb raises are not, in my view, adequately answered by reference only to the Ramayana (whichever version: I rely primarily on Valmiki but am finding the Kamban version a useful perspective on some of the stories and am enjoying the somewhat amateurish but occasionally inspiring televised version [in 78 parts] which relies on those and many other versions of the Ramayana.) In fact, the arguments that I’m making relying exclusively on reference to Rama could be much strengthened by adding references to the life and mission of Krishna. I could not only strengthen arguments I’m already making, but adding stories of Krishna will improve the work as narrative entertainment, and will allow me to address head on issues of caste and reincarnation, which are not a focus of the Ramayana. Introducing references to Krishna, however, would add a level of complexity to the work that may be difficult to manage. Consider that Hanuman is remembered as Rama’s servant, not Krishna's. But this complexity would add a new dimension to the work that allows me to make what I feel is the most crucial argument: to borrow from the Quran, I can argue more persuasively, “No distinction do We make between any of His messengers.”

Adding references to Krishna will eliminate the need for the second of the three planned books and will cause the Temple of Hanuman to run twice as long as the planned, but not realized, last book of Breaking the Wheel that was to include coverage of the Buddha. I suspect that my decision will be to include stories of Krishna in the Temple of Hanuman and forget the second of the three books and likewise to eliminate the third book altogether, and save stories of the Buddha either for a later work or ultimately to pull those references into the Temple of Hanuman. At the moment, however, my focus is getting stories from the Ramayana down on paper and in some kind of order to make coherent arguments about the nature of religious revelation. In short, now that I’ve made some progress, I’m feeling that my original plan for the work was probably the best plan and that the plan I developed later, breaking the books up by religious figure (book one-Rama, book two-Krishna, book three-the Buddha) was merely my attempt at that time to approach the problem of integration by avoiding it entirely. In retrospect, the plan was flawed and I’m likely to abandon it. Unless, of course, I change my mind again. In the meantime I plan to finish the work with reference only to the Ramayana and then, in the second draft stage, begin incorporating and integrating stories from the life of Krishna.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

The Limits of Dharma

What caste are you that you are cast out by His command? What obligation will you fulfill if, by fulfilling it, you are distant from Him? You cannot uphold dharma if in your actions you have rejected Him or if by your actions He has rejected you. There is no dharma except that you must obey Him. If you turn away from His command, you have strayed from dharma, though you may be the author of every righteous act and the father of every virtue. O doer, surrender the fruits of what you have done. Give it in the way of charity, but do not be proud in your liberality, for this is not submission. If they accuse you of idolatry, they are right, for by accepting the rewards of your actions, you have achieved your ends and not His. There can be no “you” remaining; you cannot offer what you have also consumed; such an offering is pollution itself. O widower, cast yourself into the pyre as the moth to the lantern. Let yourself be consumed in fire. Give up all hope for yourself and cast away worthless ambition. Do not seek His pleasure for some mean reward; serving Him is sufficient reward for you.

Remember the names of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva and see that they are in truth One word, One voice, the One unalterable as He alters, invisible as He invests every atom of creation with His command, unknowable even as He is the source of all knowledge. From the lotus of His navel, He has created the universe. By the ceremony of cord, see how your actions are connected to Him. Perform your duty, honor the righteous who came before you, even as you seek a path like theirs; forgive the unrighteous, even as you repudiate them. Be careful that the cord not wrap around your neck. It is better to break the cord of duty than to be stillborn. It is better to cut the thread of tradition than to be bound to tradition’s corpse. Do not imagine that you are always aware of your duty or that your father’s obligations are necessarily yours. This is the first law of dharma: seek Him out in the world. Purify your heart and with the eye of detachment, find your way not on the basis of what your fathers’ have done, but according to His will and His command. This is the first law of dharma: seek Him out in the world. You will find Him if you but look to Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha and discover that they are in truth One word, One voice, the One unalterable as He alters, invisible as He invests every atom of creation with His command, unknowable even as He is the source of all knowledge.

After the river Ganges flowed over Shiva’s locks, it reached the three worlds. This sacred river flowed at once among gods, among men, among demons. Though they have called this river by a thousand names, still it is One, it is the Ganges. Likewise, though He has walked among us with different names, performing different duties, teaching different lessons, consider that He has always performed only His will. The teacher does not teach a single lesson to his students, but teaches them differently every day according to their capacity and according to His goal. Why do you squabble and chatter among yourselves and vaunt one lesson over another? Do you not see the source of those lessons? Honor the source of the Ganges, not the little part you have found or the first tributary in which you have been cleansed, as though no other tributary existed. The river extends far beyond the grasp of your vision. By His work, men perceive the illusion of the many, but He is and has been and always will be One. Do not doubt this.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Temple of Hanuman-Excerpt

The boy said, “I do not ask you to turn your back upon Islam, for it is the religion of God. I ask only that you look with clear vision, with a dilated heart, upon the way of Rama, King of Ayodhya, and you will see within his life and his works signs of God made living. God reveals Himself to all peoples through many prophets and teachings; tawhid requires that you acknowledge not only the unity of God but also the unity of His messengers.

“O lord, fear and desire, attachment and short-sightedness and illusion prevent men from obtaining what is best for them. Look through the lens of perception, with the eye of detachment, and see to those distant shores before you hastily deny that such shores exist. The world is far greater than our feeble minds perceive. Acknowledge that greatness while you are alive, though your denial will have no effect on its existence. Look, brave king of nations, and you will see clearly and perceive the beauty of God’s design and the operation of His will and the work He performs among all men, not just among your own tribe.

“Dasaratha, king of Ayodhya, fathered four sons who were loved by the people. They were the noblest sons ever given to a father. But the king loved nothing in the world more than Rama, his oldest boy. Even in his youth, Rama was handsome, wise, and strong, more even than his noble brothers. Rama possessed every virtue, loved and obeyed his father, and was a wise exponent of dharma. Rama was just and merciful and performed every duty and fulfilled every obligation. Rama knew no other path and was unacquainted with fault or failure, but was quick to forgive the faults of others. He sought no pleasure except to honor and serve his family, his teachers and elders, and tirelessly looked after the welfare of the people of Ayodhya.

“In looks, Rama was a vision to every eye. His hair was the color of the raven’s wing, his eyes bright and lotus-shaped, his face shining, lighting up the eyes of others as the sun and moon light the sky. He was so handsome that, upon seeing him, the people of Ayodhya neglected their precious idols. They said, ‘Rama is, in every way, more worthy of veneration than any work of art, than any worldly masterpiece. We will pray to Mahavishnu through remembrance of Rama, for he is truly the face of God on Earth.’

“In warfare he had no equal. His skill with the bow was unrivalled and he could ride horses and elephants with ease and grace. Had the gods and demons banded together to overcome him, they would have failed, for Rama was the strength of God on Earth.

“But Rama was most loved by his father. Dasaratha could not imagine the world without Rama and was overcome sometimes with fear that Rama might leave Ayodhya. Kausalya, the king’s wisest wife and the mother of Rama, consoled her husband saying, ‘Rama will never leave you unless you ask him to go. He is completely devoted to you and would do whatever you command, no matter how difficult and painful.’ Dasaratha replied, ‘I will never let him go.’

“One day, while Rama was still a young man, Viswamithra came to Ayodhya and sought an audience with the king. When Dasaratha heard the name of that venerable sage, his heart filled with joy. Viswamithra was no common ascetic. Once he had been a mighty king, possessed of great wealth and power. But because he sought inexhaustible wealth and irresistible power, he threw off the mantle of kingship and the yoke of worldly possessions and became an ascetic, performing fearful austerities to gain the favor of the gods. He gave up the couch of repose for the cold ground and a stone pillow. He traded his beautiful consorts and their sweet caresses for scraps of bark that scratched his flesh. He swapped an army for the strength only of his own arms and legs. He said, ‘I have given up all things that many men spend lifetimes to acquire. But what they seek leads only to suffering and blindness. What I have gained is far more precious than all the treasures of every king and all the conquests of every army. I have communed with Mahavishnu, the One God absolute from Whom all things have sprung and to Whom all things revert and upon Whom every god and demon is utterly reliant. God has shown me why I was born among mortal men and what duty I must perform. I am in God’s service. This is my single desire: to conform to His dharma, for there is no other dharma but His.’

“With his ministers and courtiers in attendance, Dasaratha greeted Viswamithra in his audience chamber. The king pressed his palms together in greeting and offered the sage water to refresh himself. Viswamithra thanked the king but turned away the water with his hand. He said, ‘Noble king, I do not come on my own account, but because God has sent me. I prefer my austerities and my solitude. I have come to ask a favor of you.’

“Dasaratha said, ‘I am honored by your presence and am blessed among men to have spoken with you. You are famous among the wise and I will personally fulfill your request, whatever it is. Who could refuse the request of one so holy and so pure?’

“Viswamithra said, ‘I have purified myself to make a sacrifice in the wilderness. However, before I can complete this sacrifice, I must perform certain rites upon the altar. Yet two demons have obstructed these rites by their presence. I am, of course, sufficiently strong to cast out these demons, but cannot do so in my state of ritual purity, for violence is unclean.’

“The king said, ‘I understand you completely. I will lead my army to the place where you are performing this sacrifice. We will destroy these demons for you and you may complete your sacrifice.’

“Viswamithra said, ‘No, you do not need to trouble yourself to assist me, nor do I wish to keep your army from their duties here in Ayodhya. I need only the assistance of one.’

“Dasaratha said, ‘Then I shall come myself and will defend your sacrifice personally. I am old, but will risk my life to assist you.’

“Viswamithra said, “No, I cannot keep you from your duties here as king.”

“Dasaratha said, ‘Then who shall I send?” But the king’s face blanched. He suddenly knew what the sage desired. When the name of Rama fell from Viswamithra’s lips, Dasaratha lost consciousness. After his ministers revived the king, Dasaratha pleaded with the sage. “No, O brahmin. Take me instead. Rama is still so young and I cannot bear that any harm should come to him.’

“Viswamithra became angry at this refusal. He said, ‘You have given your word!’

“Dasaratha said, ‘Rama is too young and inexperienced. He cannot face these demons. Take me in his place and I will put these demons to flight.’

“Viswamithra stood up from his seat beside the king and said, ‘Enough. I had expected the promise of Dasaratha to be worth something. Since it is not, and since I have failed in my mission, I will leave you and your family in peace.’

“The king, recognizing his duty, stood up and said, 'Master of dharma, I will fulfill my oath and will entrust Rama into your care. I ask only that his devoted brother, Lakshmana, accompany him.'

“Viswamithra smiled and agreed to this, saying, ‘Your love for Rama is honorable. No harm will come to him and he will return to you. You’re wise to follow dharma, for His way is irresistible. It is better to swim with the current, than flail and drown, for in either case the river has its way. But one day you shall be parted from Rama again and he will not return to this city while you live. Beware your attachment. See that separation from him as the illusion that it is. Break the wheel of samsara and you will be reunited with Rama forever.’

“O emperor, see in Viswamithra’s austerities and his sacrifice of all things to follow the way of God a clear path for you. You need not give up crown and throne, but you must give up your most precious notions if you are to see through the illusion. See in the fulfillment of Dasaratha’s promise the straight way and a road to true understanding. You have caught a scent of salt air, but this is not the same as a view of the ocean.

“O king of the world, surrender the thing you most cherish and abandon fear. Give up your narrow view of Islam; it is the view of a student. You have overcome many enemies and obstacles and have mastered the world. Your strength of will is famous and your name will be remembered. Now you must choose how it will be remembered, with pride among your descendents or with regret. Master yourself and you will see the truth of Rama’s station through the true prism of Islam. If your pride prevents you, then you will persist in error and your works will be to no good end and you will be a prisoner in the wheel, a victim of samsara.”

Aurangzeb said, “Your pretty stories are wasted on me, child. I have no more to do with samsara than I do with dharma. What did Muhammad, peace be upon him, ever say of these things? He said nothing; therefore they have no meaning to me.”

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Parsing the Shahadah

I wrote “The End of Reason” to understand the unity of God. I was attempting to reconcile the contradictions inherent in monotheistic faith. I focused primarily on theodicy. How I dealt with that question is already described in the book itself, and I won’t bother to repeat it here. I was attempting to vindicate the absolute “Oneness” of God with the existence of evil. My understanding of that “oneness” or “unity” of God and how I chose to define such unity and address it in “The End of Reason” were strongly influenced by “tawhid.” “Tawhid” is a core belief in Islam that “there is no god but God.” It forms the first of two parts of the Muslim “shahadah” (declaration of faith). The second part of the “shahadah” is the statement that “Muhammad is His prophet.” Only recently did I discover that the idea of God’s unity actually extends to both parts of the Muslim “shahadah.” The second part, while often overlooked, is the key to fuller understanding not only of Semitic faiths, but Indo-aryan ones as well.

The second part of the “shahadah” is not a mirror of the first. While there is unquestionably no god but God, the second part is not a declaration that there is no prophet but Muhammad. It is simply an acknowledgement that Muhammad is to be counted among the prophets of God. In some cases, the second part of the “shahadah” can be more precise and explicit and might include not only the statement that Muhammad is God’s prophet, but that Jesus is God’s prophet and that Moses is God’s prophet. While the first part of the Muslim declaration of faith absolutely precludes the existence of any god except God, the second part does not disclaim founders of prior religious traditions. If one takes “tawhid” seriously, the “shahadah” requires an acknowledgement that there are more prophets than Muhammad. It is an implicit declaration of the unity of God’s chosen ones—His prophets.

This unity of God’s prophets is not to be dismissed as one more interpretation of the significance of the “shahadah.” The Quran makes it clearer still. “Verily His ways differ every day” (Quran 55:29). At all times and in all places, God is engaged in some labor among men, though that labor may seem, to mortal eyes, very different from time to time and from place to place. What God has wrought among the Semites may have a different appearance than what He has wrought among Indo-aryans. Yet this is God’s work nevertheless. Consider the evident differences between Judaism and Christianity or between Christianity and Islam. These closely related faiths are born out of the same history in the same part of the world among peoples with closely related cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Yet there are times when these faiths seem to diverge significantly from one another in their focus, in their commandments, in their practice. Given this, one should expect a truly radical difference between these faiths and Hinduism and Buddhism and Taoism, where the linguistic, cultural, and historical links to Semitic civilization are far more tenuous, not to mention geographic distance and isolation. Yet this is God’s work nevertheless.

In the second surah of the Quran, Muhammad reveals that, “Of all these apostles We have favored some over others. God has addressed some of them, and the stations of some have been exalted over the others” (Quran 2:253). This, of course, explains why we know so much of Jesus and Muhammad and comparatively little of Adam or Salih. However, this statement does not mean that some prophets are “better” than others, for in the second surah only thirty verses later Muhammad reveals that, “We make no distinction between any of His apostles” (Quran 2:285). Thus, while some are better known to us than others, and unquestionably some are not known at all to us, they equally represent God as His messengers. Through them, He performs His work and this work appears to differ among them. Yet they are all God’s messengers and this is all God’s work nevertheless.

Until I came to this realization, more than a decade ago, I was not able to accept the validity of Islam or the station of Muhammad as God’s prophet among the Arabs. I was born into a culture with little understanding or appreciation of Islam and where libelous comments about Muhammad are circulated as though they were facts. Ironically, those who would deny Muhammad because of some action he undertook or some judgment he made never worry much about the striking consistency Islam has with Judaism, at least in terms of scripture. God is capable of wrath and is to be feared. Those who would deny Muhammad’s station on this basis likewise must renounce many of the Old Testament prophets who acted similarly. Jesus did not seem to act as Moses did or as Muhammad did. Yet Christians embrace Moses and deny Muhammad. It must be remembered that the people among whom Moses and Muhammad arose were very similar culturally—they were barbarous tribes of semi-nomads who regularly practiced child sacrifice in the first case and female infanticide in the second. No surprise then that Moses and Muhammad dealt severely with them. Had Jesus arisen among people at that state of civilization, I suspect he would have acted no differently.

Once I understood and could reconcile the seeming differences among His messengers with the unity of His messengers, then Muhammad’s station became very clear to me and I emerged from the wilderness of my many doubts. Nowhere in the Quran, in the Torah, or in the Gospel is this reconciliation impossible. These faiths possess enough depth to embrace one another and likewise to embrace the Indo-aryan faiths with which I am concerned in “The Temple of Hanuman.”

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Temple of Hanuman

I’ve come to some conclusions about both the content and the organization of the work tentatively titled “Breaking the Wheel.” My intention remains to reconcile, as far as this is even possible, the indigenous religious faiths of the Asian subcontinent with the semitic faiths of the West, which are endemic to the Arabian peninsula and the Levant. More specifically, I plan to address the question of Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha as incarnations of Mahavishnu (also known as Ishvara or, alternately, as the trinity of Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva), the one God and the ultimate reality of Indo-aryan religious belief. My assumption is that Mahavishnu is God as we understand Him through semitic faith.

An aside: I have hesitated to refer to these different religious cultures as semitic or aryan respectively, only because the use of such terms is bound to concepts of racial “purity” and cultural “superiority” which have no real substance or support. I certainly do not subscribe to the belief, on one side, of a “master race” nor on the other to the notion of a “chosen people.” Such ideas of racial superiority are flatly wrong; they are repugnant and deserve our contempt. I refer to semitic faith or aryan faith only in terms of cultural, linguistic and geographical differences, not in terms of racial differences, which exist primarily in the imaginations of lunatics and imbeciles.

Because Rama, Krishna, and the Buddha emerge from the fog of history at different times and in different circumstances, I plan to treat each of them independently of one another. In other words, the work will be broken, like the End of Reason, into three parts. The first part will deal with Rama, the second with Krishna, and the third with the Buddha. I also plan to use this organization to build arguments about the meaning of exclusively Indo-aryan concepts of moksha, karma, nirvana, et al. But I will do so chronologically. Thus, the section on Rama will not touch upon Krishna or the Buddha. The section on Krishna may touch upon Rama as a point of reference, but not upon the Buddha. And finally the section on the Buddha may make reference to Krishna and Rama as a means of tying up the loose ends of these religious traditions; to bind them more closely together while acknowledging the unique lives and missions of these messengers of God. I do this partly for convenience, partly for narrative structure, and partly because I believe that individually they did not have a universal message for all mankind, but had specific missions in their times and places. While many of the truths that they espouse are universal, their missions were nevertheless focused on the times and places in which they lived.

Much the same can be said of Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. For example, Moses betrayed no wish to convert the people of Egypt to the Hebrew faith; Jesus was clear that his mission was to gather the lost sheep of Israel; and Muhammad taught a broad tolerance for other faiths, despite the reality that Islam had superseded all prior religious revelation. Of these three, Muhammad clearly anticipates universality of faith, but he is, not coincidentally, more recent than Moses, Jesus, Rama, Krishna, or the Buddha. Moreover, Muhammad’s mission was to the descendents of Ishmael, who had fallen into idolatry and infanticide and who would not have responded at all to discussions of moksha or the symbolic possibilities underlying belief in reincarnation. These were not issues among the Arabs. If Muhammad had a message for believers in Indo-aryan faiths, he certainly would have delivered one. So, one can either believe that Muhammad had a universal message that inadvertently omits any reference to the religious faiths of more than half the rest of the world, or one can believe that Muhammad was simply unaware of such faiths and thus the oversight was God’s, or one can acknowledge that Muhammad’s mission was to believers in the semitic faiths (i.e, that his message, while filled with universal truths was local in intention and application). In fact, converting huge swaths of humanity was no more on Muhammad’s mind than it was on Moses’.

This would all seem to argue against my attempt to reconcile varying religious traditions, particularly the semitic faiths with the Indo-aryan faiths. But I am not arguing that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity lack the possibility of being universal in application. Certainly it is possible, though not necessarily desirable. But, to take Islam as an example, successful conversion of Indo-aryan believers can only take place with the application of a universal outlook on religious belief. Sufis had such an outlook and their message had a greater impact in the Indian subcontinent than all the armies of Aurangzeb.

Actually, Aurangzeb is on my mind for a particular reason. The first part of Breaking the Wheel will be the conversation between Aurangzeb and a priest at a temple devoted to Hanuman. Much like The Men Who Have the Elephant, the third and final part of The End of Reason, Aurangzeb’s determination to destroy this temple will be the cause of the conversation, as a Brahmin priest attempts to explain to the emperor the essential compatibility of their beliefs, despite the apparent differences in doctrine, dogma and practice. Because this is a temple devoted to Hanuman, a key player in the Sanskrit epic the Ramayana, the focus will be on Rama and his position as a messenger of God. Here the first part of Breaking the Wheel begins. The title of this first part is, tentatively, The Temple of Hanuman.

Aurangzeb would surely put me to death for even imagining such a conversation and I hope that he will forgive my use of him as a literary device. In any case, it is good that the tyranny of one man, like his ignorance, lasts only a little while.