Thursday, November 28, 2013

Gurus and Religious Diciplines according to Jiddu Krishnamurti

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic 
(Copyright @ 2013 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

There are dispositions where Khrisnamurti has exposed that gurus and spiritual disciplines are counterproductive. He deems that conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Thus, if we have fears to learn and acquire knowledge, he says that fear blocks intelligent understanding of life.

In most of his dialogues, he says that the self and every people must not conform to any formal religion or spiritual disciplines because by conforming to gurus there is a possibility and attempt to condition their minds. And by conditioning them, there is blindness to truth and liberation of the body and mind.

It is prevalent in his dialogues that J Krishnamurti has denounced the concept of gurus, spiritual leaders, and teachers advocating instead the unmediated and direct investigation of reality.

Furthermore, he claims that we may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education and religion do not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance. And if we are being educated by gurus merely to achieve distinction and have a wider domination over others, then our lives will be shallow and empty (Education and the Significance of Life (1992), page 9).

For example, he says that love must begin with the educator, the teacher. Although that is true. Beyond this context, parents are also regarded as first teachers and educators of children. Thus he expounds, a society without rivers, it is a desert, but where there are rivers the land is rich, it has abundance; it has beauty. Most of us grow up without love, and that is why we have created a society as hideous as the people who live in it (Think on These Things (2007), page 20). Therefore, if love must begin with gurus and if gurus have myriad of disciples, then why our society sometimes ends up to conflict and chaos.

But gurus have exceptional powers to transform society. But Krishnamurti accuses gurus and spiritual disciplines as counter-productive by stating that, the mind makes and unmakes gods, it can be cruel or kind. The mind has the power to do the most extraordinary things. It can hold opinions, it can create illusions. However, even if the gurus have exceptional gifts of intellect and mind, Krishnamurti again cautions that, the mind cannot create truth. What it creates is not truth; it is merely an opinion, a judgment. So it is important to find out for yourself what is true.

To counter his thoughts, I still deem that a guru is indispensible for any spiritual practice. “Gu” means invisible while “ru” means visible. Therefore, the invisible uses the visible as its instrument. And the relationship between the guru and his disciples is eternal and maybe the guru is responsible for his disciples until the disciples attain liberation.

On the other hand, guru can be our collective knowledge and experience. A guru may not be a physical form, but it can be energy, the learning in life, and others that flow to others.

If gurus and spiritual disiciplines are counter-productive, how come people continuously try to seek and believe in truth, light, and salvation. Why formalized religions are still formidable and increasing in numbers, oftentimes, fighting for their faith and belief to spread the kind of truth inculcated and conditioned in them. These are exceptional realities that we still witness in our lives. There may be different religions with their exceptional gurus and disciples, the multitude of faithful are becoming stronger to pronounce all the good things and bad things they may have learned from their gurus.

Ethnograhy 101: A Tale of Many Civilizations

Photo from
I would always ask my college and graduate students in Anthropology, aside from learning anthropological concepts and theories inside the classroom, to explore places, experience cultural or social happenings, and write ethnographic accounts using the participation-observation method.
I am posting in my blog with the writer's consent selected ethnography penned creatively by my students to contribute to the emerging sub-discipline of anthropology called 'Virtual Ethnography'.
Basically, virtual ethnography is also referred to as Webnography. We cannot deny the fact that with increasing use of technology and the Internet, there is now a demand for online spaces on various ethnographic accounts.

By Javad Foronda Heydarian 

Every child grows up with some wild dream of visiting or experiencing the most spectacular things the world – as he/she knows it – can offer. Some kids dream of visiting the moon, others wish to see the most famous celebrities, however, in my case I always yearned for marking my connection with a past that embodies thousands of years of human history and collective wisdom. Not to disparage the historical depth and cultural sophistication of many countries I happened to visited, but in full honesty, I must say that I truly felt the spirit of the past when I got the chance to visit the Pyramids, the Persepolis (the great palace of the Persian Empire), and numerous sites in the two major Far Eastern civilizations, Japan and China. 

Arguably, these four countries, with the addition of India, represent the major civilizational poles in the Afro-Asiatic world. The ancient Silk Road served as an artery, which connected all these civilization to the Western world, mainly composed of the Greco-Roman empires. It is in visiting these civilization that one gets to feel the essence of cosmopolitanism and unity of the human race – they are the many faces of the same great species.

I was always amused and intrigued by the character, social make-up, architecture, culture, and political predispositions of these continuing civilizations. They are grand civilizations, upon which major modern states have been built.  China represents the next superpower, while Japan is a world leader in science and technology. Iran and Egypt represent major indigenous powers in the Middle East, and they are among rapidly-developing emerging markets, which are shaping events in West Asia and North Africa. 

They are four proud nations with a glorious history, which is shaping their ambitions and inspiring their vision of the future. For political scientists and economists, these civilizations are perhaps the fulcrums of an emerging multipolar world, as the poles of power shift to the East and South, reconfiguring an unnatural West-dominated world that characterizes the last five centuries. 

The most interesting thing in these countries is the juxtaposition or the contrast between their impressive modern infrastructure, on one hand, and their magnificent historical artifacts, on the other. In Egypt, I tried to compare the beauty of the Cairo Tower  - shining like a Jewel during New Year - with the grandeur of it’s pyramids, eclipsing the deserts that surround it. The Cairo museum housed one of the greatest and best collections of one of the oldest and best-preserved historical treasures. It is a civilization that created one of the most enduring and thought-provoking structures in ancient times, still elusive to even the most knowledgeable scholars and scientists. The richness of Egyptian civilization could be surmised by the vast collection of artifacts, which spread across the museum. 

In Iran (Persia), the Milad Tower – world’s 4th tallest telecommunication tower – and its rotating five-star restaurant impressed me, but I could not hold back my emotions when I witnessed the giant columns of the Persepolis palace. According to historians, during its time, the construction of the Palace represented the most ambitious feat of engineering. It was a structure that was supposed to house a world emperor, not a king. It was built in such a way that all visiting kings, from all corners of the Persian Empire, were meant to be inundated by the grandeur of its pillars, texture of its giant-size curtains, and the beauty of its paradise-like gardens.  Workers, not slaves, and engineers from all across the empire brought materials and skills, from places such as India to Lebanon, in order construct the ‘grand’ palace. 

For centuries, the Persian Civilization remained as the world’s superpower, center of culture and commerce, and home to the noblest of Kings and generals. They were called the ‘Aryans’, or noble people, as Aristotle would put it. The reign of the Persian Empire eclipsed with the invasion of Alexander the Great – the very boy, who grew up, under Aristotle’s tutelage, as an admirer of Cyrus’ the Great and his world empire.   

In Beijing, the complexity and intricacies of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, and a whole host of other building and structures built for the 2008 Olympics amazed me, but the Forbidden City was the highlight of my visit. After witnessing it, one would realize why the Chinese regarded themselves – and continue to do so - as the ‘middle kingdom’, center of the cosmos, a civilization above all the rest. One can’t ignore the awe-inspiring, architectural elegance of Chinese old and historical buildings, which housed one of the world’s most powerful and sophisticated leaders, kings, and emperors. 

If one seeks to understand the ambitious underpinnings of the current Chinese state, it is essential to understand the country’s deep historical consciousness. Every step the modern Chinese society takes is a continuation of the first steps they took thousands of years ago, when they laid-down the foundation of the world’s biggest country. China was the dominant power in the Far East well into the 17th century, until the Europeans begun to knock on its doors. The rest is a well-known story to all nationalist Chinese, who seek to redeem their national pride and place their civilization at the center of world affairs.  

Looking at Beijing’s sprawling, glossy buildings, ever-present luxury cars, and wide and well-paved highways, one can't help but to admire how far China has come in recent decades. In one century, the country has become a global power; in three decades, China lifted more than 400 million people out of poverty, and transformed a pre-industrial nation into one of the most dynamic economies in human history – soon to become the world’s largest. Beijing has also done a good job in preserving its history amidst its construction boom, at least compared to other developing countries. You can sense ambition and smell overflowing self-confidence in the air, especially when there isn’t much smug. China has come a long way, and it is going to eclipse all nations in most aspects in coming decades – it has already caught up with Korea in many cutting-edge industries. 

Japan has always remained as this homogenous, self-conscious, and honorific insular civilization, just next to China. There is this unique touch with the Japanese society. Their sense of discipline, fate in their collective will, friendliness, simplicity, and undying resilience always impressed me. I grew up with so much admiration for Japanese culture, martial arts, and their well-known and admirable Samurai spirit – total dedication and relentless commitment to a set of principles. It is a country that withstood Chinese hegemony for more than a millennium, while standing up to and competing with European powers for more than a century. 

Despite suffering defeat in the World War II, Japan rose from the ashes of war and nuclear conflagration to become a world leader in cutting-edge science and manufacturing. It is a nation that symbolizes human transformation and the indomitable spirit it engenders. The harmonious coexistence between the big and glorious imperial palace at the heart of Tokyo, on one hand, and a complex ensemble of rail stations and highways, on the other, stand as a testimony to how this civilization represents the best in many fields. From temples to the SONY building, which I visited in few days, I witnessed a continuum of human excellence and dedication that define the essence of Japanese culture.  The cities’ cleanliness, orderliness, resourcefulness, and strong sense of optimism in light of the current triple disasters  - earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear - overwhelms your heart. 

An interesting observation is that among all these civilizations, Japan is arguably the most ‘Western’ one, given how it is embedded in the technological-political-cultural complex of the ‘developed world’. Although, of course, Japan is uniquely ‘Japanese’ and ‘Sinic’ in its own ways, we should not discount the fact that many scholars saw the rise of Japanese fascism, during the inter-war period, as an attempt to push Japan into the center of a West-dominated liberal international order. 

The Japan-West confrontation was also a result of their frustrations with what they perceived as the ‘racism’ of essentially European great powers, which refused to count Japan as a member of the ‘club’. Nonetheless, the post-War period witnessed the construction of Japan along American-European lines, and the Westernization of Japan began with the ‘Meiji restoration’ in 1868. Japan is a member of the Group of 8 (G8) and also the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which are composed of mainly Western nations. On the other hand, Iran and China represent civilizations that struggled against European powers, but succumbed to West’s military superiority way back in the 19th century. They both bear the ‘psychic wound’ of European interference in their society. 

In the case of Iran, the invasion of Greeks resulted in the destruction of the Persepolis, which Alexander is said to have regretted in retrospect. Perhaps the most beautiful ancient relic was destroyed by the men of one of the most revered generals in human history. The Greeks are said to have used thousands of camels and mules just to transfer gold and jewelries from the palace. Iran’s modern history, from the 17-20th century, is fraught with even more depressing accounts of Western imperial menace. Just like how the British looted the Taj Mahal in India, same was the fate of the Forbidden City, which was filled with gold and best kinds of luxurious decorations. 

Prior to Napoleon’s rise to the throne, he invaded Egypt and stood next to the pyramids as he pushed the frontiers of the revolutionary France into the ancient world. Despite the many contributions of the French in the realm of archeology and historical documentation, the European expeditions were followed by damage to the historical relics in Egypt, followed by looting and enriching of French coffers, galleries, and museums. When I visited the pyramids, an Egyptian historian discussed how possibly the French used artillery on the Sphinx. All these civilizations bear the mark of European imperialism in one way or another – not discounting the more benign contributions of the non-military sections of the latter. 

Today, one could witness how modern Egypt, Iran, and China are building strong societies on top of their long-standing and proud historical legacies. Perhaps, they have finally found the opportunity for a comeback. With Egypt’s potential transition to a democratic system, it can once again claim its place at the helm of the Arab world. Meanwhile, China and Iran are among the fastest growing societies in terms of scientific and technological output. As they master various technologies – from civilian to military – they could once again become centers of power in their respective regions. 

History and its relics have a distinct charm, which no modern mega-structure or artifact can surpass or even match. We are taught that since the renaissance period human beings have made great strides in technological innovation and arts, precipitating socio-political modernization and cultural liberalization. However, when one visits museums in these countries or starts to analyze their old relics, one would realize how the pre-renaissance, non-Western world was already filled with brilliant ideas, structures, and social arrangements, which gave birth to magnificent historical relics. 

In some ways, their modern ambitions are connected to their past glories. It is such collective memory of their civilizational significance, which adds fuel to their modern-day competitiveness. After all, the Persians were behind great developments in mathematics, medicine, astrology, and other fields of science during the middle ages. China has always been a global center of innovation and scientific exploration, while Egypt was host to the library of Alexandria that housed the world’s wisdom.  Japan is already a leader. Time will tell if the reflections in this paper hold some water, nevertheless, the pendulum is swinging in favor of grand civilizations, once again.  Indeed, the 21st century is perhaps the time for redemption.