Farrukh Dhondy | The Indian mind & ‘spirituality’: Don’t forget science…
The connection is not black-and-white and perhaps just part of the prejudice of my own absolute materialistic convictions
And I’m sweating in Mumbai
The Pomfret’s frying
And the sugarcane’s high.
My pappa was broke
But my mahma was stunning
Inheriting such fate
There’s no need to cry.”
From Bummertime, by Bachchoo
In his first book about India, An Area of Darkness, my late friend Vidia Naipaul observed that there was in the “Indian” consciousness a distinct fracture. He said we could be nuclear scientists and still believe in horoscopes. He repeated this contention and others close to it in essays and observations from his subsequent travels in, and encounters within, India.
These thoughts and that first book made a lot of people, dear friends of mine even, furious. They called it a colonialist’s attack. I secretly agreed with much of what Vidia had written, but as a college student in my teenage at that time, kept mostly quiet about it.
Vidia’s perception was devoid of nationalism and the reaction to it was indignantly full of it.
All through my boyhood I was acutely aware of the people and forces that wanted India to be progressive. These leaders, voices and movements were in various ways desirous of taking the nation into the future with prosperity, education and health.
And yet in that same post-Independence boyhood I saw all around me, poverty – even abject hunger and starvation -- and degradation and superstition of all sorts. I confess that one of the most bewildering observations/questions within my adolescent mind – and Vidia’s contentions were fuel towards that observation -- was why didn’t the reformers and progressives make or understand a causal connection between religious or superstitious belief and that degradation and poverty?
The connection is not black-and-white and perhaps just part of the prejudice of my own absolute materialistic convictions. I must confess, gentle reader, that I am a cogito ergo sum person and don’t believe in “spirit”. There is no ghost in our machines, no entity except the brain and the mind and consciousness it gives rise to. If my interpretation of Adi Shankara’s Bhagvad Gita is correct, he says the same thing, adding that this consciousness gives rise to the illusion which he calls “maya”. It’s this consciousness that makes us believe that we are individual souls: “aatmas”. But we are, after all, only atoms and space and will finally be united with the universe of atoms and space, the eternal ocean of “brahman”.
True – and metaphorically close to the assertions of contemporary physics.
And yet, and yet! I met a young Indian lady who said she was taking a course -- at great expense -- from a guru who had returned from America to preach to his customers about formulaic ways of “passing into higher dimensions of existence”. This person was, she said, on the eighth level while the guru had reached the seventeenth. Now she was going to pay for a further course to take her beyond the ninth level.
Fair enough. But as we talked, she said she believed absolutely in karma, that the deeds of one life would form a sort of account which would be paid for in the next. I asked her if babies were deformed owing to their mothers having taken a course of Thalidomide because they had done something wrong (and who was the judge of this right and wrong?) in their past lives? She said it was the mothers who had sinned in the past dimension, etc.
I told her, as politely as I could manage. that this sounded like the excreta of male cows, while I realised that I was whistling in the spiritual dark.
India has built a reputation for being in some way “spiritual”. It’s not just a local conviction and pride, it's internationally touted and recognised.
Allow me then gentle reader, to inform you that I have a B.Sc. degree from Pune University and an MA (Cantab) in Quantum Physics from Cambridge University -- UK, not Massachusetts -- and so am not just the idiot scribbler you might know me as. It makes me sceptical of this Indian “spirituality” which godmen universally exploit.
The cleverest of these was of course Rajneesh -- known as Osho. He hit upon the fact that the hippie generation of disillusioned Western youth of the 1960s and 1970s would follow a doctrine of defiance -- defy the conservative strictures of parents, teachers, preachers and politicians and break loose into a life of “freedom” from all diktats and inhibitions. It worked. The disillusioned Westerners brought with them their parents’ dollars and Rajneesh acquired untold wealth and 91 Rolls- Royces and Mercedes Benz cars. De-racine Indian actors and others who followed American cults joined in and were counted as devotees.
Gentle reader, I was commissioned by a British weekly to go to his ashram, report on it and interview him. I did -- the resulting book is titled Prophet of Love, though I wanted to call it Prophet of Sex! (You’re again advertising your wretched books here? -- Ed. Yaar, topic sey fit hein na? -- fd). He talks garbage to the half-educated. In one essay he asserts that Jesus is buried in Kashmir, and so is Moses. The gullibility of those who can’t or won’t read Aristotle, Kant or even Bertrand Russell, and base their “spiritual” pretensions on the likes of Kahlil Gibberish, are the natural victims of simplistic blogs and nonsense sold to them as an entrance into “spiritual” profundity.
God help us!