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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Thumb Meets the Forefinger

One of my abiding interests has been the control of the mind. Initially I followed the spiritual practice described in the Upanishads and the Yogasutra which are based on an understanding that there is one supreme spirit in the universe which manifests itself in various ways in the real world in which we live. Later on I questioned this assumption of the existence of a supreme spirit as there is no proof of this. However, the assumption of the existence or not of a supreme spirit does not really affect the process of mind control through meditation as the Buddha showed. The crucial element in mind control is to be able to concentrate either on a supreme spirit or on nothingness and keep the mind free of thoughts and desires that might come into it. In both ways this is a difficult task. I have tried this for over thirty years now since my college days with little success. Primarily because I also felt that while mind control is a good project it is not equivalent in importance to fighting for social and economic justice in a world that is so unjust for a majority of people. Therefore, I gave more time to the latter and frequently strayed from the practice of mind control.
In the year 2001 I spent two and a half months in jail as a result of a major action in the field fighting for social and economic justice. This gave me a considerable time to meditate and set me on the course of mind control again especially as it became clear that it was difficult to achieve much in the field of social activism. However, various other worldly commitments prevented me from pursuing meditation in earnest once I came out of jail. About two years ago I came to the conclusion that it is necessary to spend some time doing meditation only to get the mind into the habit of being empty for small periods of time. I applied and joined a ten day course of the Vipassana meditation school set up by S.N. Goenka. I did so because Goenka follows the Theravadic Buddhist tradition. However, even though the course ensures that one does not speak and goes through concentrated meditation sessions, these advantages are somewhat marred by the fact that Goenka himself through audio and visual programming harangues the meditators continually with his Hinduised version of Buddhism. Therefore, I was not able to benefit as much as I could from this course.
This set me searching for some other opportunity. I had earlier joined such other meditative congregations as the Sri Ramchandra Mission but had found them to be wanting in some way or other. So I wrote to my friend Shreesh Jadhav who is a monk in the Ramkrishna Mission order asking him whether there is any centre of theirs where it is possible to do isolated meditation without any imposition from outside. He directed me to the Advaita Ashram in Mayavati in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. This retreat was set up by Swami Vivekananda in 1899 for the pursuit of the Advaita philosophy of Shankaracharya wherein it is posited that the spirit that underlies this universe is a non-dual one. Therefore there is no temple at the Advaita Ashrama in Mayavati and there are only various places where one can meditate either in the main building itself or in various natural nooks. I was lucky to get a chance to meditate on nothingness in total isolation at Mayavati due to the good offices of my friend Shreesh who arranged for a ten day stay for me there in this the sesquicentenary year of Swami Vivekananda's birth.
Apart from the gains of uninterrupted meditation in the beautiful natural settings of the Himalayas I learnt of something else that is the subject matter of this post. In the library I came across an article by the late ex president of the Ramkrishna Mission, Sri Ranganathananda, in which he mentioned the importance of the Jnyan Mudra for meditation. This is the positioning of the fingers of the hand during meditation in such a way that the thumb meets the forefinger as shown in the picture below. The thumb is a representative of the universal non-dual spirit whereas the forefinger is the mind of the individual and the mudra symbolises the coming together of the two. In the case of an atheistic meditator like I the thumb can be taken to represent the universe of which we as individuals are very insignificant parts.
Ranganathananda went further than this explanation of the mudra which is common knowledge and wrote about the significance of this mudra from an anthropological perspective. The major thrust towards the evolution of humans from primates has come from the ability of the hand to grip tools due to the thumb being able to meet the fingers by rotating itself. Primates have much smaller thumbs and they cannot rotate and that is why they cannot grip tools or stones in the same way as humans can. Research has shown that over millions of years the human hand evolved through a process of natural selection because the hominids who could grip tools obviously fared better in the race to be alive than those who could not. So in a sense the coming together of the thumb and the forefinger is the beginning of knowledge that differentiated the humans from the primates and later led to the development of the brain and is thus a fitting symbol of the thirst for knowledge whether spiritual or atheistic.

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