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Article Published in the Book on “Spirituality”

Dimensions of Cosmosity – Dalit Spirituality

M C Raj

I. Preliminary Remarks

žCategorization of Dalit spirituality is same as spirituality in indigenous communities of the world. It can be called indigenous spirituality. However, the term spirituality is problematic in its conception and conceptualization. It is much prior to the evolution of the discourses of spirit and soul in dominant religions. The categorization did not yield itself to formal manifestations as there was no organized religion with Scriptures and symbols of authority as in dominant religions. In India it can be said to be pre-Aryan. However, it will be impossible to fix a timeframe for its origin. It is problematic to name it as spirituality now as in its originality it was not the same as the discourses of spirituality that are encapsulated in dominant religions. Therefore, we name it Cosmosity. We name it this way because the essence of Dalit and other indigenous life is to do with the centrality of the cosmos. Even Cosmosity is not the original name that was given to indigenous spirituality. It is a name that is given now to the realities that are identified as elements of what is understood as spirituality.

With the development of dogmas and doctrines in dominant religions and schools of thought came the dichotomy between matter and spirit. The dichotomy is the delineation of spirit from matter and the ascription of superiority to spirit over matter. This ascription and dichotomy is very non-indigenous. As dominant religions and systems of governance had all possible access to communication, unlike the indigenous communities it was possible to spread such a dichotomy all over the world. Spirit and spirituality became the ultimate pursuit and refuge of human being. Indigenous spirituality is very much based on the cosmos, which is essentially material. Even spirit is material in the indigenous worldview. Without a material base there can be no spirit. This explains why the indigenous ancestors even developed the capacity to speak and communicate to the dead ancestors. Shamanic Cosmism was perhaps the first major effort to bring the indigenous spirituality to a formal shape in ancient time. However, many dominant religions ascribed negative qualities to Shamans and instructed their followers even to kill the Shamans. Charvaka or Lokayata philosophy of materialism is a natural derivative of Cosmism. Today there are some efforts to bring back to life Shamanic Cosmism as a formal spiritual discipline.

II. Dimensions of Cosmosity

a. Earth Centrism

The basic character of indigenous spirituality is the enormous level of security that it enjoys among its people. Nomadic cultures were developed by people who were incessantly under unforeseen threat to their existence and safety. They needed directions in territories that they did not know. They had to look up. They were not sure of the regions in which they settled down temporarily of were traversing. They faced threats from the environs in which they lived as they did not know the nature of the geography that surrounded them. They had to develop weapons and be constantly aggressive to even intruders who had intentions of helping them. Everyone was a suspect because of the insecurity they suffered in their psyche. Their clan members went in different directions in search of livelihood and when they returned after a few weeks or months they had their own way of living and did not feel obliged to follow a common worldview. This necessitated revealed doctrines from an authority that surpassed human authority. It had to be divine. Eternal punishment and reward became a dire need in order to make people live with common discipline. Indigenous peoples settled in the lap of Mother Earth did not generally suffer from such insecurities and they did not need directions, did not face threats from the environs and knew the positives and negatives of the behavior of nature. They did not have to be aggressive in reference to others. They just lived in the cyclic rhythm of the Earth. Being secure in the lap of Mother Earth indigenous psyche is not in need of aggressive postures to other communities of people. All are welcome to be on the face of the earth. Indigenous spirituality is essentially inclusive. We belong to the earth and it is not the other way round.

b. Woman Centrism

Earth has a life cycle and Dalit spirituality moves freely with the life giving cycle of the earth. Earth produces new life, she nurtures her people, she provides and protects and therefore, evokes deep veneration from all her people. Her life cycle is akin to the life cycle of the woman. Therefore, it is appropriate to symbolize earth as woman and as mother. This generated the fertility culture of the indigenous people in their spirituality. It leads to celebration of the life giving nature of Mother Earth. Fertility is a cause for celebration. Celebration of life goes inseparably with celebration of womanhood. Dalit spirituality is celebratory. Even after 3000 years of sustained oppression and exploitation the Dalit people take their drum in their hands, have a little arrack and begin to play the drum and dance. This can go on through the night and the next morning they are still very fresh to go for work in the farms. Dalit women also represent a power that is not common in the women of all communities. They hold the community together not only at difficult times but also in their day-to-day life.

c. Non-violence

Violence has not been part of Dalit psyche and consequently of Dalit spirituality. Being an earth dependent people they had no need to take up to violent ways, as they had no agenda of establishing their hegemony over any other community. They had to only defend themselves when intruders began to attack them. They themselves were in no mood to travel to different places and occupy the land of other people. Dalit spirituality is the origin of non-violence. It is not a dogmatic need as in dominant communities. It is way of life. The inner being of Dalit community as in other indigenous communities cannot accept pain and suffering of other people. Examples of aberration on this count cannot be quoted as the norm of life in Dalit life. Most dominant religions have glorified violence in their history and some religions have essentialized violence as a necessary karma to go to swarga. The killing of every first born male child of the Egyptians by Yahweh, the god of the Jews has been integrated into the Bible as god’s intervention in human history. It is problematic for Dalits to recognize any god who can not only legitimize but also indulge in such violence. In the battle of Kurukshetra, when Arjun lays down his arms refusing to kill his own brothers, cousins and teachers Krishna gives him a long discourse in order to convince him that he should indeed indulge in blind killing. He manages to convince Arjun that as someone born in Kshatriya caste it is his karma to kill. When questioned about the death of his near and dear ones he further explicates that if someone dies in the war it is the consequence of the karma of that person and not a consequence of the karma of Arjun. His karma is only to shoot to kill. But death itself does not emanate from his karma. Death emanates from the bad karma of the victims. Such discourses can establish subconscious legitimization of absolute violence. If it is a conscious legitimization people can still hope that one or other would be critical. But when it is subtle and subconscious the consequence for humanity can be very tragic. Dalit spirituality does not have anything to do with legitimization and promotion of violence on other people.

d. Harmony with Nature

Mastering the Universe has been a common paradigm in dominant spirituality. This has led to mindless violence on the cosmos over millennia especially by ‘male’ men and has brought human race to brink of inevitable destruction. Humanity is finding it difficult now to repair the damages caused by its own mistakes in terms of environmental degradation. Dalit people, like all other indigenous people have moved with the movement and change of the cosmos without trying to subvert cosmic order. Dalit spirituality believes that is has to be in harmony with nature and not overpower nature through its machinations. The integrity of cosmos cannot be violated by human folly as it is happening today in the dominant world. Dalit people have not contributed to the dangerous levels of global warming that humanity is facing today. They are a cause of delaying the punishment of nature on the lunacy of dominant human nature.

e. Ancestor Centrism

In Dalit spirituality we are born once and we die once. With death all communications with our body stops. We cannot even turn back and realize that we are dead. This is the law of nature. We do not transpire into another eternal world. It is the arrogance of human race that it has invented a way of perpetuating itself into eternity. Dalit spirituality has no such compulsive need to perpetuate itself. Dalit community is marked by its simplicity and humility with regard to the end of life. With death we merge with Mother Earth. It symbolizes our union with the cosmos. Being part of the cosmos we become cosmic being in the forms of waves. While alive all that we thought and felt, all our rationality and emotions have left our body and merged with the cosmos as waves. They go through a process of entropy and keep on producing new cosmic waves. Out bodies develop the capacity to receive such waves in as much as we are in tune with the cosmos and with ancestors of our community. Thus our ancestors come back to live in us in the form of waves. Such cosmic communication takes place in our body without necessarily rising to the level of consciousness. In Dalit spirituality there is a celebration of death, especially of elderly persons. The implying faith is that they come back to the community in form of waves and replenish us with much energy. While living they belonged to particular families and clans because of the limitations of their body and identity. But after death they transcend such limitations and belong to entire humanity, to all those whose bodies are tuned to received their waves transmitted through cosmic movement.

f. Body Centrism

Dalit spirituality lays stress on the centrality of human body. The essence of existence is in the body. There is no soul. It is a compulsive need for dominant spiritualities to create soul in order to perpetuate themselves. Dominant religions have created soul and then have decried bodily existence as misery. Hinduism even says that all that we see in this cosmos is only an illusion. What is true is Brahma. Thus Hinduism has transformed realities into illusion and illusion into truth. In ancient times there was a serious conflict between the body centric school of thought and the soul centric school of thought. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus with his human body is the victory of the body centric school of thought. Around the same time there is a story in Ramayana where Kind Trishanku want to ascend to heaven with his body. He approached Vasishta who was not there. His sons met Trishanku. When he placed his request to send him to heaven with his body, they kick him and curse him to become black, ugly and untouchable. It is a sort of victory for the soul centric school of thought. Dalit spirituality essentialises body and bodily existence. This has its material implications. We need good food, good clothing, good shelter and all that is needed to be happy in this existence. We cannot accept misery and penury and virtues disillusioning ourselves on the existence of eternal happiness for those who are poor on this earth. Material poverty is evil is a consequence of man’s avarice and arrogance. Untouchability imposed on the body of Dalits is an essential evil of dominant spiritualities. Touch is a source of energy. We need to touch the body of other and let our bodies to be touched in order to replenish ourselves. All problems of humanity can be half solved if there is adequate respect for one’s own and other bodies. This is the magnanimity of Dalit spirituality that it respects the bodies of all human beings.

g. Community Centrism

This dimension of Dalit spirituality gels well with its worldview that is communitarian. However, Dalit spirituality has deep respect for the individual without whom there is no possibility of constituting a community. The essence of communitarianism is the individual. Community draws its life from individual members in as much as an individual draws his/her life from the community. These are mutually inclusive. When an individual loses his/her roots in the community it is brings the person to the centre stage of a fragile human existence.

h. Eco Centrism

Cosmosity is Eco-centric and not Ego-centric. In the lives of Dalit people this was the origin of their history of oppression by dominant caste forces. As Hindu myths depict it was because Dalit kings and queens refused to allow the Aryan rishis to perform their yaga and yagna that Vishnu had to incarnate as Ram to kill them, take away their land and give it in the hands of Brahmins. Their yaga and yagna implied destruction of forests for firewood and killing of thousands of animals as sacrifice. This was against the ethos of the indigenous Dalit kings and queens in their kingdoms. They intervened to prevent such cruelty and destruction of nature. They were branded as Rakshasas and Asuras to legitimize their killing. If only Dalit spirituality was respected humanity would not be knocking at the door of hopelessness that it is doing today.

III. Problematic in the Praxis of Cosmosity

1. Dominant Spiritual Traditions

Institutional religions have established their spiritual traditions and have spread them with an evangelical zeal. The necessary resources for spreading their spirituality were available to them. The widespread rooting of spirituality from dominant religions do pose some problematic for the praxis of Indigenous and Dalit spirituality.

2. God in the Heavens

Dalit spirituality in its essence is not heaven centric. It is earth centric. Earth is venerated for her qualities but not worshipped as a person who showers her munificence on devotees. Patriarchy and Matriarchy are in conflict at the foundations. Being ancestor centric it is not in Dalit spiritual traditions to perch their gods in the heavens.

3. One God, One Truth, One Way

Dominant spiritualities have asserted that there is only one god and the only god is theirs. World history has seen horribly destructive wars and crusades based on this belief. Each religion has been vying with others to prove their superiority of their god over others and the falsehood of existence of gods of other communities. In Dalit spirituality any such attempt is a camouflaging endeavor. Establishment of one truth leads to de-recognition of the truths of other people. Dalit spirituality recognizes and respects multiplicity of truths and multiplicity of ways.

4. Invocations and Propitiations

Prayers are seen as supplications to the divine for protection and prosperity in dominant spiritualities. Animal sacrifices, fasting and self-abnegations are advocated for gaining virtues. In Dalit and indigenous spirituality prayer is gaining strength in the body to be free from fear. Ancestors are venerated in order to speak to them and get their guidance for life. The different elements are nature are invoked to send their energies into human bodies so that there can be better harmony of human beings with nature.

5. Shamanism as Paganism

The capacity for drawing energy and guidance from nature and ancestors assumed the formal name Shamanism. Dominant religions have developed practices of casting out devil from possessed human beings, ceremonies for casting out evil spirits and also occult practices for causing irreparable damage on ‘enemies’. However, Shamanism was ascribed the qualities of paganism and dominant religions even sought to kill Shamans at different phases of human history. Strange enough this was called animism and looked down upon with disdain.

6. Knowledge as Liberation

Dominant religions and spiritualities have expended their energy and resources on accumulating knowledge as they see knowledge as an essential path of liberation. Accumulation of such knowledge has been centered around ‘revealed’ truths from above. Doctrines and Dogmas are created as if they are handed down directly by God. Such knowledge can only be abstraction. One’s faith is an essential condition for reconciling oneself to the untenability of some of these ‘revealed’ truths. If one does not believe and behave one is punished or excommunicated from the community and religion. Such trajectories are unimaginable in Dalit spirituality. There are no revealed truths. Truth and knowledge are derived from one’s experiences in life within the context of community. Knowledge is body centric and intuitive. There is no salvation of soul through knowledge. Liberation is essentially from human bondage of the body. Truths belong to the illiterate masses of people. Dalit spirituality invokes deep respect for those who are dominantly considered as unworthy of knowing.

Reality and Illusion

Dominant religions and spiritualities have proposed intangible dogmas and beings as real whereas all realities of the world are proposed as illusionary. Brahma for example is said to be real and the world is said to be illusion. What cannot be seen, touched and experienced are proposed as truths while all that can be seen and touched are shown as illusions. In Dalit spirituality there is a simple assumption that truth is what we experience, see and touch. Imagination is illusion. Human life cannot be based on such illusions. There is the dimension of the womb of the material cosmos. Deep inside of every planet there is an unfathomable mysterious source of life. It is so unfathomable that no intelligence of any type will be able to unfold the mysteries that lay buried beneath each planet. This is generally referred to as the nether world. By dominant philosophies this spring of energy and life has been described as the darker side of the universe. Many of our ancestral philosophies have described this cosmos as the one where our ancestors go. In Ramayana of the Hindu Epic Sita, the wife of Rama pleads with mother earth to take her back into the womb of earth. Mother Earth listens to her plea and opens up to welcome Sita. She descends into the womb of the Earth alive. This is a reflection of the ancient belief of Dalit ancestors that beneath the Earth there is yet another world which can provide space to people who belong to Mother Earth. The writer of Ramayana is an ancient Dalit. In the Jewish tradition there is a poem in the New Testament which describes Jesus Christ as not only incarnating to reveal God the Father but also describes him as the humble servant of god who descended into the underworld on his volition. Semblances of the cosmic philosophies of Dalit ancestors are to be found all over the world.

8. Supernatural

Supernatural is the manifestation of human limitation. It is the confession of human race of its inability to be natural. It is manifestation of the reluctance of humanity to be a natural part of the cosmic order. It is the illusion of human race to have created an order of its own. Being unable to be a natural part of the cosmic order supernatural is a blatant attempt by human race to escape from humility into a world of arrogance. The supernatural has a foundation only in matter. It is just another wave within the cosmos that is generated by human energy. It is human imagination. It is within the cosmos that such imagination of the supernatural takes place.

Though women may have followed the ways of men they are not the creators of the self that dwells in the world of illusions. In the Brahminic School of Philosophy the self is identified with soul. The self assumes an extraordinary supremacy. It is the ultimate in the subconscious as well as conscious realms of Brahminic School. The self in Brahminic School is the equivalent of soul in all religions. For David Hume, the self is only a group of sensations from the body and description of personality requires only a series of experiences for its explanatory framework. However, Brahminism attaches an absolute value to the self. It calls it the reality and it terms the body as an illusion. What it firmly believes is that whatever exists is an illusion of Brahma and that only Brahma is real. The self of each individual is real whereas the body of each individual is an illusion. This is incompetent communication at its worst. The Brahminic School says that the self is in need of liberation as it is caved in the body, which according to it is an evil illusion. That is why Trishanku was not allowed into heaven with his body. The essence of liberation in the Brahminic as well as in all other dominant schools of philosophies is that the self should be liberated from the physical body.

Such propositions pose serious problems to the Dalit School of spirituality. Now, the bodies of organic beings are constructed of cell systems. Even the best of the Brahminic School will not dispute this. For the Dalit School of Philosophy body is the ultimate. The problem that is posed is because of the proposition that the body is different from the self or the soul and that the body is evil. Liberation is seen essentially as liberation from the body. In that case there are a few questions that are placed before the Dalit School of philosophy. The first question is where in the body is the soul located. Is it in all the cell systems? If it is in all the cell systems it makes matter as its base. This proposition is untenable to the Brahminic School as matter is opposed to soul, the spirit. The second question is in which part of the body then is the soul located? Obviously no one will know the answer as the soul cannot be found in any part of organic bodies. Brahminic School also proposes that the soul can dwell in the bodies of organic beings other than humans. The third question is obvious for the Dalit School of philosophy. If soul has to be liberated from human body and if soul is part of Brahma why should the soul come into the body of organic beings at all?

IV. Logos – The Word

“The word that all the Vedas disclose;
The word that all the austerities proclaim;
Seeking which people live student lives;
That word now I will tell you in brief –
It is OM!

For this alone is the syllable that’s Brahman!
For this alone is the syllable that is supreme!
When, indeed, one knows this syllable,
He obtains his every wish.

This is the support that’s best!
This is the supreme support!
And when one knows this support,
He rejoices in Brahman’s world.

We in the Dalit world know not ‘the one word’ but millions of words that are capable of saving people from many woes. Any word that replenishes people with energy is good. What is good cannot be limited by a category of ‘only’ and ‘one’. This is problematic in Dalit spirituality as it essentially is an accommodation of multiplicity.

The hegemonic categorization of word becomes evident in both these Schools of thought. While the Brahminic Vedas and subsequent exponents of the Brahmin philosophy are out to establish that OM, the word is Brahma, Christian School of thought goes a step further to assert that the word which is god became flesh. For both these Schools the Being, later Becoming in time is a necessity in order to insert a non-existent, highly imaginative idea as incarnated in flesh. Two contradictory paradigms are established here for the firm evolution of gradual hegemony that was maliciously designed from inception. One is that the material world as we see it becomes from the Being, which is the word. The other is that word itself becomes flesh. Thus the word not only intervenes and integrates itself into the world of matter but becomes matter itself. Christianity follows this surreptitiously hegemonic design till today. It is by the power of the word of the Christian priest that a piece of bread is supposed to become the flesh of Christ. If the priest does not utter the words “Hoc Est Corpurs Christi” the bread remains only a bread. Deciphering the surreal mystery that surrounds the word is not any more such an arduous task for the Dalit world. The owner of the word also becomes the owner of the world as word causes the world. When all races of humanity realizes that the word cannot cause the world the entire edifice of the hegemonic order will crumble under its own feet.

V. The Dalit Word

Dalit spirituality is based on the natural consciousness that the genesis of world is from matter, from organic bodies in the cosmos. Greek, Jewish, Brahminic and later Christian philosophies are based on the designed consciousness that the genesis of matter, of body is the word, the Absolute Word. The dialectic movement of Dalit thesis and dominant anti-thesis never reaches a synthesis. There is no possibility of a synthesis as there is an incompetent communication and an attempt to disrupt the cosmic order on the part of the dominant philosophies mentioned above.

The Dalit proposition is further strengthened with reality. The same word that is supposed to be the genesis of matter in the cosmos assumes different authority and power in different groups of people. The ‘Absolute Word’ is defied as soon as it is born from the matter of the cosmos by the internecine quarrels among all the dominant philosophies. Each one claims its word as the absolute word, thus ridiculing the very consciousness of what is absolute. Absolute is the anti-thesis of what is relative. Absolute signifies what is complete in itself. When many schools and religions claim their god and their truth to be absolute then the absolute itself is pushed to the realm of the relative. Thus by their own internecine conflicts of interest the dominant orders within the hegemonic order reduces its own creation from absolute to relative. Immanuel Kant of German Idealism poses the Absolute as what is unconditionally valid. The question before the Dalit world is how many unconditionally valid truths can there be? There can be only one according to the dominant schools. It is in this struggle to arrive at a sort of solution to this very perplexing question that Brahminism and the Christian world of Enlightenment have become bedfellows. Bradley of the Nineteenth Century asserts just as Brahminism does that the differences one sees are only illusions. Only the whole is real. But then whose assumption of whole is the real whole will never be answered in history as there is no whole at all. The category of the Absolute is a convenient invention of dominant consciousness. This is borne out by the fact that each dominant group of consciousness claims to have the Absolute in its possession. This leads to the categorization of different Absolutes, which is a contradiction in terms. Each group tries to trace its genesis to the Absolute that it has created and also attribute the genesis of the world, especially of its clan to its Absolute. It is also characterized as divine as opposed to what is understood as human. Divine is a product of human limitation. The inability of the human consciousness to unravel the manifold mysteries of cosmos ends up with the invention of the divine. The unfathomable mysteries of the cosmos are dumped into the realm of the divine as divine mysteries with no authority for the human consciousness to dare into the mysterious territories. It is on the one hand an attempt to hide the inability of human consciousness to accept its limitation in humility. It is also on the other hand an atrocious attempt at incompetent communication. The divine is created in order to assume a stamp of authority for the human word.

Human consciousness creates its word and thirsts for widespread recognition and acceptance of its word. Word is a communicable energy. It is a wave that originates from organic bodies and spreads out into the cosmos. In their search for wider reception of communication of word some dominant groups have invented the divine authority of revelation. All doctrines of religions that have sprung from schools of thoughts in different phases of history have claimed to have in their possession sets of revealed doctrines. The Vedas are said to be revealed from above. But human consciousness knows very well that there are many lies in these supposedly revealed documents. Communicative interaction presupposes the existence of matter. Word cannot be the genesis of word. Only matter can be the genesis of word. However, those who attribute the origin of word to the divine also simultaneously make it a matter of faith and belief, thus precluding a critical consciousness of what is revealed. Revelation then is limited to naïve consciousness, as it has to be received without allowing it into the cell systems that have the capacity for analysis. We call this incompetent communication because the intention of the one who communicates is hidden behind the stamp of divine authority. Human consciousness knows deep within that its own word cannot have the required reception in human organic cell systems unless it is camouflaged under the sugar coating of divine revelation. It knows both in its conscious and in its subconscious that unless there is wider reception, its hegemony cannot be established in collective consciousness. Therefore, it stamps its word with divine authority.

The divine is supposed to be the opposite of what is known as human. It has a stamp of authority because it is supposed to be beyond the human. Its origin is supposed to be in the contrary direction of the origin of what can be described as human. The divine, in Greek philosophy is not different from the human. It is contrary to the human. The divine is supposed to be condescending to the realm of the human and the human is expected to transcend to the realm of the divine. Yet the divine is described as the transcendent being. The contradiction between condescension and transcendence seems to be inextricable. Condescension is described as a consequence of the divine love for the human and transcendence is described as a consequence of the human love for the divine. Condescension of the divine results in the assuming of a human body and transcendence of the human results in the shedding of the human body. One love assumes exactly what is characterized as evil and non-divine and the other love sheds exactly the same human body. It is such reversal of orders in contradictory directions that paves the way for the establishment of a dominantly crafted hegemony. The hegemonic order has let loose an endless interplay of immanence and transcendence in order to achieve its hidden end.

Dalit spirituality on the other hand does not share a dualistic vision of the cosmos. It does not also share the materialistic monism, which developed later in history. Materialistic monism is an assertion that only matter matters and nothing else is important. We must not be guided by the idea that there is only matter in the cosmos. That will be a travesty of truth. There are waves and energies that cannot be strictly classified as matter. One must however know that even these energies and waves emanate from matter. Without a material substance nothing can emerge. Vacuum produces nothing. In fact there is nothing called vacuum. It does not exist. Vacuum is once again the product of human imagination. It is equivalent to nothingness. By its very definition nothingness cannot exist. If it exists it cannot be nothing. It has to be something. All cosmic beings are immersed in an ocean of cosmic waves that are invisible to the naked eye of organic beings.

Conclusion

Dalit Spirituality can be said to be a new arrival in the postmodern era and needs a lot of understanding before entering into conclusions from traditional points of view. The dominant world has generally ignored the existence of spiritual traditions in the indigenous communities. When it recognized such existence it has caste ascriptions of demeaning categories to such spirituality leading to a blockade of any dialectic movement. A dialectic movement of spirituality is possible when more and more thesis and anti-thesis are generated. The Dalit world has a serious mission of developing its substantial spiritual thesis to offset all dominant spirituality in the world. Unless this is done at the earliest Dalit liberation may remain only a mirage.