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Archive for जुलाई, 2011

Conception of Nature and its effects on ethics, morality and civilization

Relationship between nature and man is complex. Human concept of success and development is in terms of struggle with and control over nature. It has progressively obstructed the ability to explore relationship of man and nature. I would like to explore this from a supposition that religion (I would prefer comparatively flexible term religious tradition) is nature’s design of existence through more subtle forces like thinking, consciousness, and values of human species. Religious tradition as some sort of force in the Leela of evolution…

Taking this forward – To me every religious tradition is an effect of environment, geography and climatic variables on thought processes, character and values of people of region. These effects have a typical existential logic, not unlike genetics carrying nature’s effect running deep in our bodies across space and time. It is part of nature’s existence design with a strong inbuilt local cyclicality; which like climatic cycles are neither isolated nor exclusive. They are interrelated in a complex web of causal-effect and multidimensional influences. Therefore, to me religion appears more like a flowing tradition than a dogma or set of beliefs.

When we use the term religion, we see it in more static, crystallized, and bookish phenomenon, which it is not. I would like to submit that this is the way religious tradition has been mainly understood and represented in faiths of Semitic region (Islam and Christianity and Judaism) that has shaped the development of ‘Human’ civilization in so marked a way. Time-linearity and associated sense of history, anthropocentrism, claim of exclusivity (pertaining to descent, god, prophet, truth, salvation or book) are some defining features of this. As we shall see (later) this outlook had had a profound influence on our fundamental presumptions and understanding, against this there are various pagan and animistic traditions (with due apologies for clubbing them together) and some dharmic and eastern traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism and Confucianism study of whom open new windows to understanding.

The defining point of divergence between these two classified groups lay in the way religious traditions see themselves in relation to – (1) the continuum they belong to, (2) others with whom they exist and (3) self conception. Semitic religious traditions in attempt to start anew, tends to negate discredit the past; tolerate others on certain conditions and consider their tradition as sole custodian of truths, claimed to be universal. They tend to deny other religious traditions relativistic right to truth. Here clearly truth is a dogmatized concept. In the process, these traditions force other traditions to identify in such terms. It claims of universalism of values that are applicable to individuals across environment, geography and climatic conditions. Dharmic and Eastern religious traditions tend to rely on inheritance of the continuum; they have to accept other traditions and relativism of truth; they also claim their way or path unique and best, but that in a secondary. I would like to like to emphasize that this relativism is not individualistic but a sort of regional entity. These differences are crucial as they create different moral and ethical universes. A study by Prof. Dan Kahan under cultural cognition project which claimed that how values and not science determine views about climate change now is so is not difficult to understand why this is so.

The germination of Islamic tradition in the Arabian peninsula, Judaic and Christian tradition in Mediterranean region; Sanatana, Baudha, Jaina and Sikh tradition in Indian sub continent are not accidental but follow a coherent (may be unexplored or unknown) logic.

In fertile region where order, peace and hierarchical cohesion brought this good, religious traditions developed with such traits; Dharmic religious traditions, Zoroastrianism, Shintoism and Confusianism-Taoism of Indian sub-continent, Iran, Japan and China respectively can be examples to this. These traditions have typical insular hierarchical outlook. In arid and dessert regions where survival and socio-economic benefits demanded frequent wars, kinship loyalties etc., Semitic religious tradition with typical messianic colonial traditions grew. There are very many religious traditions in between as well that have been fulfilling their roles, many of which have been appropriated by comparatively more oraganised religions.

We cannot properly study or understand growth of religion bereft of the milieu. For example the state of tool making technology, knowledge of climate and nature for hunting or domestication of flora and fauna, system of transmission of knowledge, concepts like self-family, belongingness, inheritance, right and transgression and so on which are subject to Environment, geography and climate (henceforth EGC) variables shapes the religious traditions. Things like these together would have led to formation of social units like clans, Jaati-Varna, social hierarchies and laws; where in surpluses and shortfalls would have ensured trade and rights-transgression etc. would have lead to conception of state and concept of supernatural or divine, all these of course with a typical local touch.

The evolutionary rule applies to religious traditions as well. Only those religious traditions grow and succeed in race, which can muster greater social and economic benefits to the followers and satisfy other (worldly!) non-secular needs. These changes bring comparatively gentle (with due EGC effect) reformists religious traditions in Dharmic and such traditions and some violent reform (revolutions!) in Semitic religious traditions.

Tenets of religious tradition do not come out of blues, they fine tune, at times sanctify the local natural elements present in men with the divine. However, our habit of history writing developed in strong cultish and anthropocentric manner has severely undermined our ability to study religion in scientific spirit. A good example would be the condescending tone in studies about various minor religious traditions of various tribes and aboriginal people. Then we are not unaware of the instrumental role of religious traditions colonial successes of various super powers of bygone era. (1)

The abundance or scarcity of natural resources, climatic cycles, natural calamities in a region stimulates population towards new values; Demographic changes due to inward and outward migration not only bring different people into closer contact all influence the text and texture of a religious tradition. For example, the Yajna centered Vedic religion is very conceivable in a post-glacial abundance of Asian sub-continent; in less bountiful natural conditions, this appears wasteful and looses relevance and existence.

Gender can be an interesting issue of study here. It really brings forth the EGC variable role, starkly. The place of women differs in religious traditions even in one tradition it varies with region. Not only this feminine concept and needs have lead to a vastly different set of religious tradition. For example, Shakta is a major religious (tantric) tradition of India that sees the divine as feminine. Now regions where tantric tradition has been popular (like Bengal, Kerala and parts of Southern India and Kashmir) are invariably those where position of women is society is different (read superior) than other regions. “Can a woman become prophet” is not an easy question to answer. However, a Tantra text goes on to say that if some secret meanings of Tantra texts are lost, it is easy to revive them. Make women a guru (preceptor) and read her the text, her commentary of passage would be the lost meanings of Tantra. Here truth is seen as a flexible thing and not as a dogma. (2)

Growth and success of a particular religion is through mechanization of nature. Avatar, prophets or saints at best are part of the design and any excess credit to them would be vestiges of anthropocentrism. The role of divine here could be limited to the choice among probabilities- why a particular set of phenomenon or for that matter thoughts and value grow out of probabilities.

Along with human ignorance, there is existential bias; as existence is greatest of all justifications. It has no anti-thesis. The existence that permeates the flow of events at various levels is far subtle, strong and deep. It has to its disposal vastness of space and time to its favor. Existence is a set of complex and entwined structures; structures that follow certain set of rules. These structures and rules are multi-layered and overlapping. Existence, which is a flow of life passing through various cycles of phenomena, requires more fluid terms of reference. This means that the wider knowledge super-structure of philosophy needs epistemological support that makes this knowledge connected, and thus sane. So parallel to Human endeavor there is a network of causes and effects that acts on different levels and from some standpoint, they appear moving on their own.

As said earlier, dogmatized truths have lead to conception of individual and universal set without locality in picture. This has created many distortions in understanding and religious traditions. In fact, religious traditions remain honest, alive and creative only until it remains connected with the EGC. The centre of Christianity has moved from Palestine towards west, one may speculate that had it remained in the region of its birth the Christian world would not have been so open to new thoughts and political philosophies like democracy. This makes the difference clearer, for example in sphere of ethics and morality; this takes us away from the Ten Commandments towards the ‘Smriti’ type conception of law. (Smriti literally meaning ‘recollection’ in Hindu religious tradition they stand for codified legal rules. There are different Smritis depending upon time and region. They are interpretative and are name of some sagely figure is associated with them. One can well argue that the period when Smriti writing waned the classical Hindu religion tradition lost its flow, may be perhaps due to mass inward and outward migration and such causes.

We learn, speak and think of a global Universe but the local universe that we understand, feel and live in, lose focus. This disconnect between the individual and universe is real. The Individual is part of universe through a layer of cyclical locality. Here, the current philosophical thought of modern civilization has a true inconsistency.

For example, disease at individual level may be deathful, but at macro level, it is important part of the design of life. It is part evolutionary process and connectedness (of evolution) demands respect for it as well. Loss of individuals can be good to society. This has also leaded to very skewed moral and ethical values. The vastness in life forms and mindboggling interconnectedness in existence has yet to sober our pretence of control.

The multiplicity is overwhelming and our anthropocentric microscope is an inadequate instrument to understand the ‘reality’. We are yet so young a species with so many endowments, like a boy amidst plenty of toys we could hardly moved the gaze away from magical luminous gadgets. (3)

EGC affects conceptions of time of local religion and the linear sense of history. Is it inconceivable that population growing regions with good seasons cycle will develop a different concepts of time and causation than people staying in arid dessert or arctic lands? Seasons, temperatures flora and fauna shapes sense of beauty and aesthetics. For example, India has a genre in literature since ancient times that celebrates seasons and various moods, emotions associated with it. Even if we take music, again in India there are ragas have special relationship with language, region and climate. (4)

However, this effect of local EGC on non-secular ‘other worldly’ needs is also no less crucial. Claims pertaining to beliefs and experiences are difficult to maintain or counter but understanding the effect of EGC on religious traditions through sensory perceptions, aesthetics, symbols, sounds and music, words, languages, knowledge, cognition (like sense of self and time), behavior, thoughts and values of individuals and society deserves detailed study and popularizing among common people. This is a challenge before the scientist as an individual and his science that claims to be a discipline in search of truth. The non-secular spiritual needs cannot be understood in isolation and this conception of ‘supernatural’ is intrinsically related to it. Supernatural is indeed very natural a thing.

Once we understand this locality of religious tradition in its proper right-wide perspective, many things become clear. The civilizational development stage (moving towards singularity in science, economics, religious traditions and political thoughts etc.) that we have attained is an effect of evolutionary design of nature. For example violence, an element of evolution, is distributed in the local cyclicality. Concept of universality with typical monotheism does not recognize this and in effect ends up with accumulation of incremental violence. This is unavoidable. No wonder this is leading to clashes that may grow to gigantic proportions. Anywhere you go Nature has its way to maintain its balance.

… ends

Foot notes:

(1)The distinction sought between religious traditions on non-secular issues though is critical from ideological- theological point of view, making it exclusive basis for religious studies is dangerous, it impedes common sense understanding based on logical and rational reading of thoughts. Here science has an important role. The debate on many important issues between science and religion, it appears to have gone on a wrong track.

(2) Thus the milieu in which religion is set also defines role and scope. Even innocuous looking language becomes critical for religious tradition. Language being a local environment-climate thing is a vehicle for dissemination of thoughts. For example, till British rule Persian and Urdu were language of education in large part of northern India. Now imagine the confusion the term Halal (allowed as per Sharia) would have caused in the mind of Hindus and Sikhs. Halal Meat is of animal (bovine also) slaughtered in Islamic way. Now for vast majority of Hindus and Sikhs whose faith expects them to opt for meat from different ritual slaughter called ‘Jhatka’ (roughly meaning beheading the animal in one strike and that strictly prohibits bovines, being considered as sacred), Halal would not be ‘Halal’ and rather ‘Haram’ (one that is prohibited as per Sharia). The three basic elements of Halal (meat) namely – the recitation of Kalama, slaughter technique and choice of animal, renders them unfit to a non-Muslim. Words have different meanings for different peoples and languages have certain religious baggage corresponding to it. Transportation of language into a new EGC as far as words, meanings, sense, feel and import are concerned is something with high levels of standard error and there is dogmatism and not so subtle exploitative design associated with it. What wonder then if Chancellor Merkel in her requiem to multiculturalism said that immigrants must learn German language and imbibe Christian values?

(3) Evolution has cleared plethora of myths about living beings. However, by and by a most potent myth that strengthened further along in this project evolution is yet to be exposed. This is myth called Man; a species that has some universality attached to it. This conception obstructs a clearer understanding of universe. For example, the dazzling criticism of god and religion in favour of popular science may not appeal appropriate to followers of Vedic Mimasaka Hindu, Jaina, or Baudha traditions, which are religious traditions without god (gods etc.!). Typically, god attempted from scientific or mathematical measurement scale only; but why god cannot be studied under arts under ‘theory of Rasa/beauty’.

(4) To understand this better imagine four communities living in early times – one in Arabia near river Jordan, second in northern Europe near river Rhine, third in Gangetic plan of Indian sub continent and fourth somewhere around river Missouri in America. This is pre-rapid transportation-communication era and communities are living in particular EGC variables for thousands of years in limited locality. Expansion of their local area is very slow, erratic and likewise. Now think how their sensory perceptions, aesthetics, symbols, sounds and music, words, language, knowledge, cognition (like sense of self and time), behavior, thoughts and values of individuals would develop along with passage of time getting transmitted from generation to next.

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