Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bhumisparsha Mudra

One of the unique characters of Indian history is Gautam Buddha. In an age in which mystics in India mostly meditated on the supreme spirit here was a person who denied the existence of any supreme spirit and instead meditated on his own breath and body which were to him a reality. An atheist who is at the same time a mystic is a rare person. It is said that at the last crucial stages, when Gautam was continuously failing in his effort to perceive the ultimate reality, he took a stern vow and sat in meditation with the resolve that he would not get up until he achieved enlightenment. Then Mara the tempter tried to distract him and Gautam needed some support. He sought support from nature and symbolically touched the earth with his right hand. Reportedly this gave him the strength to see off Mara and finally achieve enlightenment or "Nirvana". This is represented in Buddhist iconography in the form of statues showing the Buddha touching the earth with his right hand while meditating in what has come to be called the "Bhumisparsha Mudra" or Earth Touching Posture as shown below.

This proximity to nature and the denial of the existence of God relying instead on a hard cause and effect ruled reality combined with the communitarian and democratic oganisation of his missionary order makes the Buddha a great teacher. He preaches moderation to the common human being, who cannot be a mystic and ascetic, for the avoidance of "Dukha" or the world's ills. Thus he epitomises in many ways the goals of modern environmentalists who too are touchers of the earth. Given that the animism of the Bhils, which was an excellent worldview for existing sustainably in a primitive world, has its limitations in a modern world which requires a hard rationality, the Buddha's earthy rationality has much to offer in the way of ideology to the modern environmentalists. Here is an excellent quote that is attributed to the Buddha - "Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumour; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' When you yourselves know, 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them".
Buddhism as it is being practised today has taken on the contours of a religion in many ways and the Buddha himself has been given a God status. But in their meditative techniques Buddhist schools still retain the breath and body based system. Since I too have been fascinated by mysticism I wanted to do some rigorous meditation in the Buddhist tradition. Luckily Indore now has a meditation centre of the Vipassana Trust set up by S.N. Goenka and I enrolled for a ten day course there. It was really rigorous in that we had to do about ten hours of meditation every day and maintain complete silence during the whole period totally cut off from the outside world. However, Goenka's lectures and singing of couplets provided by audio and video cds were a little distracting. Possibly they are aimed at the larger audience who are unfamiliar with Buddha's tenets and need an introduction in a style that is similar to the lecturing and singing style of other Indian missionaries. But this was anathema to me and so I ignored what he was saying and just followed the Vipassana meditation technique.
While going through the course I could not help but think about the Bhil tribals. These kind of religious movements which exhort the individual to become ethical and a better social person skirt the issue of systemic exploitation that prevails in the world at large leaving poor people like the Bhils in dire straits. Thus, while meditation does help individuals to balance their personalities, ultimately there still remains the problem of societal change which has to be undertaken together and not individually. In this respect Babasaheb Ambedkar, the Dalit Messiah, modified Buddhism to suit his own ends in an admirable way. Ambedkar heeded the advice of the Buddha regarding not blindly trusting received wisdom and instead testing it out in real life. Thus, he questioned the mystic aspects of Buddhism and much of the myths surrounding the Buddha and instead opted for an activist and rationalist Buddhism aimed at bringing about social peace rather than only the peace of mind of the individual. Consequently for Ambedkar the concept of Dukha or sorrow became the exploitation of the poor and Nirvana became not a metaphysical state or attainment, but a real society founded in peace and justice. It is said that the Buddha in his time also strove for this through his Sangha or mission.
Touching the earth in an organised and rational manner taking inspiration from the Buddha might provide an answer to the huge problems that have piled up before humanity. Certainly environmental activists can gain considerably from studying the Buddha's teachings.


Nila-kantha-chandra said...

Thank you for making the point that individual "liberation" or "enlightenment" is ethically compromised by the systemic nature of oppression from which no one is free. The Buddha's bhumi sparsh mudra also relates to this; earth is his witness; and he seeks to fulfill his role in and for earth. Due to his great love he took up his ministry of compasion even after attaining nirvana, and practised it through 45 long years full of trials and tribulations. From the Buddhist tradition comes the vision of the bodhisattva, a being of enlightenment, whose role is simply to work anonymously for the liberation of every last blade of grass on earth before taking personal liberation.

Rahul Banerjee said...

That is an important point you make regarding anonymity. Whatever work one does for the community must be done selflessly and without seeking any fame otherwise it is compromised.

Anonymous said...

I realized where I was stuck....touching the ground to touch grass!! so it is earth not grass ...enlightened !!!!