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.