Lightmind Extract 055
Broken Yogi 8.26.07
I was thinking about Kela’s argument about pandits vs. experience, and how his main practical point seems to be that claims of experience are used to justify authority and power. This is true to some degree, and among some people. But is it really the danger in spiritual circles, in religion altogether? Yes, we have some fraudulent gurus claiming greater experience than they have, and debaters claiming a superior viewpoint because of their “experience” or their record of “happiness”. Such things are obnoxious, to be sure, and can be the basis for some exploitation, as in the case of guys like Da. But is this really where the dangers of authoritarianism creep in? I think not.
Look at the history of Indian religion, of the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Upanishads, etc. Where does one find the stink of authoritarianism? Is it really among the siddhas, the yogis, the “men of experience”? Not exactly. It comes from…drum roll please…the pandits! Where does the pandit tradition come from? Well, India did indeed produce a tradition of panditry, starting with the Vedas. It created an entire priestly class, the Brahmans, who managed to translate their stranglehold on all interpretation of scripture into an authoritarian political hegemony lasting thousands of years, and bringing us that wonderful class system call caste, which oppressed millions in the name of spiritual authority. One can’t overestimate the evils of this system, or the ruthlessness with which the pandit class, the Brahmans, exploited their “knowledge” of the scriptures to crush the spirits and control the populace on a mass scale for milennia. There is no comparison to siddhas or yogis or jnanis in this area. The pandits won hands down at the authoritarian sweepstakes.
The reality of this debate is that there has always been a battle within Indian religion between the pandit authoritarians and the men of experience. What Kela is trying to pretend is that somehow its the men of experience who are the authoritarian evil we need to wipe out, and its the pandits who we need to invest with real spiritual authority. He is of course right that there’s a real tradition for this, but he’s wrong that it’s a benign tradition. The way it works is that much of the original material, such as the Upanishads, were written by men of experience, but the latter interpretation of these scriptures were taken over by pandits, who claimed that only they could rightly interpret them. This was accomplished to a large degree by putting them into Sanskrit, which was not, contrary to Brahman propaganda, the most ancient language of India, or even the original language of spiritual instruction, but was an invented, priestly language deliberately created for the purpose of keeping all spiritual information the secret possession of the Brahman priestly class, and thus requiring others to bow to their authority. Sanskrit was deliberately made to be almost impossible to understand without a high degree of training, and had no vernacular. It was not a spoken language, nor does it makes any sense as a language at all, but only as a code of secrecy and magic.
Contrasted with the Brahmanical priestly class of pandits, scribes, and the bureaucracy of religion was a whole other tradition of siddhas, yogis, shamans, and non-mainstream religious traditions. These traditions, as mentioned, often produced scriptures and oral teachings of their own, which got passed on, and sometimes became the possession of the Brahmans. These were not completely separate traditions however. There were genuine spiritual figures among the Brahmans, and traditions of panditry among the yogis and siddhas. But the power and authority and exploitation remained largely the province of the Brahmins, all the way until the time of Vivekananda.
Kela decries Vivekananda for helping to destroy the supremacy of the Brahman class of pandits. Does he wish they retained their power and authority? Apparently so. The imposition of an authoritarian caste system on a whole subcontinent seems like a small price to pay for eliminating a few power hungry gurus, doesn’t it? So yes, Vivekananda battled with the pandit tradition, and tried to ressurrect the power of the siddha-yogi tradition, and point out that this is the truly legitimate tradition of Indian spirituality, not the religion of the priestly pandits who tried to control all interpretation of scripture, and all of society, by their exclusive claim to authority. Kela doesn’t like this, and longs to roll back the clock to restore authority to the pandits, the scholars of scripture, rather than those who actually live and breath the practices and truth they speak of.
Okay, maybe Kela doesn’t really want to restore the caste system and the authoritarianism of the pandits. But he should be aware of what he is actually arguing for in the real world. As we look around the world today, do we really see siddhas and yogis and gurus doing the greatest damage, and taking on the authoritarian mantle? Of course not. In virtually every single religion active today, the authoritarian danger comes from the pandit class, those who claim authority on the basis of scripture, on their interpretation of scripture, and their fealty to the “word” of God. These people have no concern for spiritual experience, and view it with the same kind of disdain and irrelevance that Kela does. They have no need for it, they eliminate it from the discussion, and what kind of religious world does this produce? The most depraved forms of totalitarian fundamentalism, bar none. This is the result of Kela’s arguments: a class of pandits whose authority cannot be challenged in any respect by arguments of experience, common sense, real world results, or any spiritual “feelings”. All that nonsense is thrown out, and the authority of the scriptures is held supreme, and of course, the authority to the priestly interpreters of scripture is made absolute.
This is the kind of terror that the world faces now, and has lived through for milennia – the terror of the priestly classes of pandits who dismiss the value and intelligence that comes from actual experience in life, in spirit, in feeling, of those with real intelligence rather than mere book knowledge. This terror and this authoritarianism has been real and has kept much of the world under its thumb since we first began to organize the religious insights of the religious experience into a social system. It’s the pandits who have always grabbed for the power, and turned these religious experiences and insights and poetry into a system of social enslavement under an authoritarian system.
This is not confined to Hinduism, but has its counterpart in Buddhism as well, and of course in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and virtually every other religion as well. There seems to be no limit to the thirst for power of the priestly, pandit class, and no religious impulse that they cannot pervert to serve that thirst. This is not to say that there can’t be good and decent pandits doing an authentic job of preserving a religious tradition in sacred texts. But the temptation to pervert that service in the pursuit of power and authoritarian control is unrivaled by any other class or type of religious individual. To condemn the authoritarian temptations of the men of experience while praising the priestly pandits as being above such things is utterly dishonest and exactly the kind of argument the pandits have always raised to justify their ongoing authoritarian stranglehold on religion. So this is where Kela and others here actually stand. They want to be the authorities with the power to rightly interpret the texts, and thus gain all power for themselves. They want to strip anyone with “experience” of any right to argue against their texts, and their interpretation of the texts. They want to discount entirely the testimony of realizers and yogis and other men of experience if they deviate from their own scriptural interpretations.
This is not the kind of religion I have any respect for. There is indeed a place for pandits in the scheme of things, but these arguments are not coming from the right place. They are a justification for the ongoing power grab that tries to defenestrate the real sources of religion, which are religious experience itself, in whatever religion we are considering.
I’m sorry if I have offended Kela, but this simply needs to be said, and the context of this argument expanded to the real world. I know that goes against the grain of the pandits, who don’t want to allow real world arguments of experience to enter into the picture, but this is simply another aspect of their dogmatic assertion of power in the face of common sense.
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