“NO MASK NO ENTRY” – Ivan Illich and the exercise of freedom

The early Christians made … community by sharing the simple communion meal through which they remembered their Lord, and by a mouth-to-mouth kiss through which they shared their spirits in a conspiratio or breathing together,

states Canadian radio broadcaster David Caley in a book on Austro-American social philosopher Ivan Illich’s views. [David Caley, The Rivers North of the Future. The Testament of Ivan Illich. House of Anansi Pr., 2005]


So this is what it means to conspire. Rather than theorizing on others doing it, we are called to do it ourselves. Which brings me to a message published in our local gazette, the News & Notes 839. It says,

 

Mask dilemma

The Covid Task force in its weekly communication with the community in the News & Notes, on Auronet and through many Bulletins has done a heroic job! The Pandemic in India is  certainly  not  yet  under  control  and  we  are asked  to  take caution;  It  is  required  by  law  to  keep  social  distance, wear masks while going out and in public places and do not hold or go to large gatherings. As Auroville and Aurovilians, we have to follow the law.

Lately there are more voices of dissent, people who absolutely refuse to wear a mask in Auroville’s public places: going to the Financial Service, PDTC or Pour Tous, (despite clear signs that say: ‘NO MASK NO ENTRY ‘. Unpleasant, jarring, impatient and hot arguments were heard in PDTC at the entrance attacking the amazing people, who keep this service going since March, in a spirit of selfless service, wearing their own hot masks all morning!! and providing us with all our food needs, meanwhile keeping a beautiful atmosphere.  Over the carrot-and onion displays someone went ballistic: shrieking to another customer who dared to inquire why she wasn’t wearing a mask. This was shocking painful and hurtful to everyone present. If some Aurovilians feel so strongly not keeping these simple rules, they of course have the freedom to stop shopping or use Auroville services and do their errands and business elsewhere. It  would  great  if  these  simple  rules  could  be  accepted  and followed by everyone -whatever people’s private opinions are- without the necessity to enforce them.

Stay Healthy!  ~ L.

I have a lot of questions about this piece of writing. What exactly is heroic about sitting in a self-appointed group passing down rules from the Central Government to The City The Earth Needs?  Why are those who work for a wage called selfless, and inhowfar does their self-torturing behaviour make a good example for everyone? It is certainly not ok to accuse or even shout at them, but where is all the rage coming from, did you ever wonder? From the threat of enforcement of ‘voluntary’ obedience, perhaps? Where can they go when all public doors are marked with Get-lost signs? Can they visit alternative offices when there aren’t any? Are they supposed to starve to death in their homes? What has become of the Aurovilian pride in all the non-allopathic methods and ways of healing we once practiced? Once there were Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Yogic, Shamanic and all kinds of ways, now there is only one, the control-obsessed Western-orthodox approach, or rather a perverted politicised version of it that defies all scientific and common-sense understanding.

 

Despite the many questionable points in the above opinion piece, I’ll focus on the topic of obedience alone. Mirra Alfassa, the founder and “Mother” of Auroville, also called the place The City At The Service Of Truth, and she made clear in many of her statements that laws, rules, traditions, morals, or religions alongside money, police, courts, politics, governments etc. should not rule its ways. A life divine, but no religions, as she famously said.

 

source: Pixabay

As can be seen from the following quotes, to no surprise, the New Testament as a spiritual document anticipates some of the things that the Mother, along with many other wisdom teachers, said about proper relation of the truth-seeker to rules.
Let me quote from Caley’s book [in italics]; not in order to establish yet another authority or to argue theological points, but to give a perspective on what the insistence on obedience might mean.

What the Samaritan does is to step fearlessly outside what his culture has sanctified in order to create a new relationship and, potentially, a new community. He does not seek God within a sacred circle but finds him lying by the road in a ditch. His possibilities cannot be predicted or circumscribed. He lives, in the apostle Paul’s words, “not under the law, but under grace.” [Caley]

“We are released from the Law, having died to what was binding us, and so we are in a new service, that of the spirit, and not in the old service of a written code.” [Paul, Letter to the Romans, 7:6]

In other words, the spirit defines our relationship, not our man-made arbitrary rules. One of Illich’s central tenets was that even the duty to help and the obligation to solidarity eliminate empathy and spirit from the good work. Before everything else, there ought to be compassion, not judgment. The person that comes to your doorstep is a person in need. Right action does not draw its direction from the norm or from fear of breaking rules.


“If I had not come and spoken to them they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” [Jesus, Gospel of John, 15:22-23]

While modern political and social theory has it that societies are shaped and held together by their rules, the bond of community is understanding. It doesn’t mean that laws, traditions or rituals are absent in community, but that they do not have precedence over compassion. Through the message passed on by numerous voices such as the Buddha, Jesus, or the Mother, we have been made aware of our freedom to act compassionately, and that the strict application – not the breach – of rules is a sin:


Sin, in this new context, no longer means just a violation of the law, but something more — a coldness or indifference to what has been revealed and made possible. [Caley]

Don’t take ‘sin’ for the religious crime codified by the Roman Church, but for the betrayal of the relationship established by the loving trust of the Samaritan into the commonly despised stranger.

“Sin,” Illich says, “is refusing to honour that relationship which came into existence between the Samaritan and the Jew, which comes into existence through the exercise of freedom, and which constitutes an ‘ought’ because I feel called by you, called to you, called to this tie between human beings, or between beings and God […] It is not in any sense offensive of a law. It is always an offence against a person. It’s an infidelity.”

To value the law over the person, that is sin. Freedom, though, is not about permanent rebellion against rules in general, but about unrestrained acting in the spirit of the good: compassion, truthfulness, community.

Sin, on this account, is not simply an evil, or a moral fault. It is a failing against the Spirit, possible only for those who have heard and ignored what they have heard, and visible only in the light of that freedom that Paul says is identical with “the forgiveness of sin.” [Caley]

The Yoga of Reconnection

This is the transcript of my second interview with Wolfgang Werminghausen, for his podcast Faster Than Expected, episode 20, which has been published last night. Smaller corrections have been made to clarify the core message and to give a more pleasant reading.
Originally, the conversation was supposed to happen as part of the 19th FTE podcast with Kevin Hester co-hosting but was postponed due to technical problems.
FTE: I want to talk with Jürgen about living with animals. Since some years Jürgen is living in India in the small town Auroville. There he is working as a farmer and librarian. We had a talk in the 16th episode of the Faster Than Expected podcast.
How does working as a farmer and living with goats and other animals change your life?
Me: Hi Wolfgang, thanks for the opportunity to throw a few words into the conversation. I really appreciate that.
I’d like to add that it’s an organic farm within a spiritual commune, which is not at all comparable to industrial agriculture. I think that organic farming and industrial agriculture are actually two very different activities that only can be seen on the same level if you think both of them are about keeping animals or planting food crops. Apart from that, they got nothing in common. Our animals are part of the family, which means we have a symbiotic relationship, not the kind of exploit-then-throw away situation of a typical cowcentration camp.
On a physical level my work is of course completely different from anything I ever did within my life as a wage slave or as a self-employed retailer. It sort of reconnected me with the realm of true life, basic needs, eye-to-eye interaction and so on; these elements in our lives have been largely lost. I can say that because I am currently going through the experience of regaining them, finding them again in my life, and finding a place for them in my life.
The work takes some discipline, the kind I expect Kevin to know closely, because as much as you sometimes would like to leave the boat – to jump ship – you can’t. Kevin has physical barriers in the way; there is a vast ocean all around, and I have emotional barriers which I cannot cross.
FTE: Like a lifeboat.
Me: Yes. You got to be there, day by day, event by event, whatever happens. It’s three o’clock in the night and I hear some of the animals shouting in some sort of distress, eg. there is a predator in the cage or someone stepped on their toe. Whatever it is, I go there and look. I can’t say, “It’s night time, I want to sleep and my working hours are long past.”
And it’s a very direct thing: There is no space for electronic gadgets, or complex ideas. Another element that is also important from that perspective is: We use to throw money at a problem, like, something is missing and you go into the shop to buy what we need. That’s not possible in this case. You can’t throw money at a problem an animal has, or at a problem you have with an animal, and make the animal behave as you want it to. Meeting their needs, that’stheir currency, and to become aware of what the need of the moment might be I have to be with them, meaning, I have to be with them very often, repeatedly, and also mentally I have to be prepared to be present with them to understand what’s up. By that practice I learn their expressions, the signing, the body language, and communicate with them. Though it’s not like the twitch of one eye means the word so-and-so, and the blinking of the other eye means, I’m hungry. It’s not as direct as human language, rather some intuitive kind of communication. It’s not coherently the same all the time. The same sign may mean something different in a different context. Understanding is a matter of intuition, I think. By being together with the animals they learn what I am up to. Do I understand them? Am I ready to meet their need? Or am I rejecting it?
I am entering into a mutual relationship with them which means, I acknowledge them as people, as characters, as unique personalities. It’s not all that complicated and you could compare it to instances when people understand each other without words. Everybody has them. You have a friend, a partner… you don’t need to speak but you know what the other person is thinking or what they want to do. Like in a good rock band, the guitarist and the drummer know exactly their timing. We like to refer to this as „magic moments“, but that’s really just because spoken and written language has so removed us from our original state of consciousness and from the things that truly matter. Ok, in a way it’s “magic” because it’s not rational, but it’s not special in the sense of being a rare thing. You could have it every day.
So I highly recommend people to consciously enter into close relationships with someone whose psyche is not fucked up by civilized thinking and by thinking in linguistic terms. We find those very rarely. When are you able to get in contact with a wild person – with a tribal human? It’s hard to find them anywhere. So the only people left that are sort of unspoilt are animals who are available to us for that purpose.
If you let yourself – just for a minute – feel the sorrows of another being you get an understanding of the heaviness of the burden that’s hanging from the world’s neck, this civilized madness which is to me a mental disorder, a derangement even. I don’t know how else to get rid of this. It’s something no shrink can ever heal. To me, the way out of this madness is to reconnect through beings that are less impaired by it.
The fate of the biosphere is depending on us because we are the dominant species – or rather, the dominant culture, because it’s not humans as such, it’s our culture, civilization, that’s fucking up the planet, and therefore we do have a responsibility for the wellbeing of everyone else: plants, animals, ourselves of course, for the pain, the suffering, and the survival of everyone else in this world, just like we do have a responsibility for our children and our pets, or to phrase it in another way, we have a responsibility for the captive children and the animals that we domesticate for civilized use; that’s what we do to our own species even.
FTE: Thank you very much for your touching and impressive words. In Western industrial agriculture animals are a product kind of thing. Is there a different way to view animals in India?
Blister beetle devouring an ocra flower
Me: Yes, certainly. There is this funny story told by Arnold Stadler, about a calves extermination program that an agricultural minister of the German Green party has set up to curb an outbreak of BSE. I think it happened in 2001, I’m not sure. 400 000 cow babies were to be culled, meaning, killed for health issues; potential health issues even, to stop an epidemic, and most of those cow babies were not actually sick. In India, there were people and organizations who thought about how to save those animals from their pointless death. Like there is civil war in some foreign country and we think about how we could help these people. The Indians were thinking about how to help these animals that we were mindlessly killing.
To understand the Indian way of seeing animals one may look into Karma. Karma means that the depth of your insights gained throughout your lifetime and the extent at which you are putting those into practice define the situation into which you are going to be reborn. For Indians, life does not end with death; it doesn’t start with birth either. It’s an endless cycle in which we come back again and again, and that can be as a demon, a god, an animal of some kind, or as a human.
That means that animals are regarded as relatives. It expresses in language, when, in Tamil, we call a young female animal ‘paapa’, younger sister and a young male animal ‘thambi’, younger brother.
Indian philosophy has it that physical pain is a normal, natural phenomenon. Our nerve endings help us sense the world, see the world, hear the world. The same nerve that can feel the texture of a book or a peace of clothing can also feel pain which is just an increase in intensity of the same impression. Pain happens to everyone and it cannot be avoided. So it does not matter much if we beat a cow or keep a calf from having its milk and make it feel hungry, because this pain is a natural thing. Our duty in our karma as living beings is to understand this and to surrender to the necessity of pain. To understand this necessity and surrender to it means that you do your yoga.
If we don’t do our yoga, if we don’t understand, we suffer psychologically. Suffering and pain are different. The suffering is in your own responsibility. You cannot avoid pain but you can avoid suffering by understanding the necessity of pain. And as long as we suffer we cannot leave the wheel of rebirth. We are caught in the world of pain.
But as all life is also yoga, ie. the search for the Divine, Ultimate Consciousness, God – however you want to call it – and therefore we must not interrupt this search by cutting a life short. Sure, you can do it anyway but it has an impact on your karma. That’s why people on one hand have no problem with heavily beating a cow while on the other hand making efforts to saving its life, no matter how miserable that life is.
[To repeat a story given in my last blog here:] Just a few days ago I came to the house of my Tamil sister where two hibiscus bushes are standing in front of the door which were a gift from one of our friends. The flowers were full of blister beetles which were eating the flowers. I said, “Look!” by just pointing at them. She replied: “What shall I do? They are hungry and they need to eat. We can’t just go around and kill everyone.” This illustrates their view on animals, encompassing both the domestic and the wild animals. This is of course going away the more India gets industrialized but it is still present within the countryfolk.
FTE: I see. We can learn very much from the Indian attitude towards animals and towards life. Thanks for your insightful words and the metaphors; now I imagine you with a goat rock band in a lifeboat[both chuckle]with your brothers and sisters. Thank you very much for this talk.

Me: Thank you for having me on the show!

P.S.
Karma is, of course, a way more complex topic than described here, and the ramifications of inflicting pain and causing sufferings on others must not be neglected, but killing weighs heavy on the karmic balance sheet.
With all the generalizations made here, I must amend that, for anything you may say about India, the exact opposite is true as well. Its culture is enormously rich and diverse; as a civilization, it is almost as old as the Western cultural lineage. Indians’ basic assumptions on the nature of existence and therefore on the proper way of treating the living planet, as fundamentally different as they are from Western views, are certainly not perfect but at least they keep the door open for each individual life to improve its situation. With the influx of Western ideas and technologies, though, this culture is developing into one of the most explosive population bombs the world has seen.
 
 Sheila Chandra: Lament of McCrimmon/Song of the Banshee

To nobody in particular

“I’ve thought hard on what was emotionally so different about McPherson’s short timeframe versus my unquestioning belief in a much longer one. Obviously, the longer timeframe means I’d get to live out my natural life.

I had never, for one second, consciously entertained the idea that human extinction was conceivable in the near term.

In other words, I’m basically okay with the sadness and anxiety about some far-off future generation seeing the collapse of humanity. Just not this one. My one.”Rachel Stewart: What to do when your days are numbered. We carry on, as humans are no good at facing up to possible extinction. New Zealand Herald, 30.11.2016

A great introspective piece by a journalist, mentioning a few thoughts I had as well in that first moment of dawning, showing that, even as we are expected to stay professionally distanced and objective, we are still human beings wanting to live, wanting to thrive and be happy.

I recently caught a few questionable remarks from the Aurobindan community which really make me think that the stage of ossification into a religion has been reached. Something along the lines of, “XY foresaw another future, so it cannot be true”, or, “If you do this kind of yoga you cannot believe this pessimistic stuff”, or even, “You are doubting The Master. What are you doing here?”

Well, I’m not a pessimist; I don’t live in the physical world alone. I don’t “believe” in that stuff because believing is really a bad idea when it makes you stop looking for yourself. Read your master’s works; s/he will tell you a word or two on “a life divine, but no religion.”
Scientific data, as well, can only take you so far before you are on your own. Words, figures, opinions, predictions, holy scriptures — none of those is truth as such, At best they can point at the truth. Every time we try to limit reality to a guru’s, a teacher’s, a politician’s, a philosopher’s, or anybody else’s words we step off the path of truth.

I see what is going on around, and inside of me – not just since this morning; I do that because I have a rotten gut feeling about people’s ways as far back as I can remember. I look at the world, I look at the data, and I think to myself, “Hm, that McPherson fellow got a point. Thanks for offering this perspective” — which means I go about finding out what it means in relation to my life.

Does it mean I cannot enjoy a joke? Does it mean I despise people with a different opinion? Does rejecting “The Master” as my supreme master mean I am off the Path? — No, no, and again no, quite the opposite in each case. I am still among those of goodwill; more than ever, I’d say, because this thing literally shook me up.

Do I fail sometimes? — Yes, absolutely. Quite often.
Can my assessments be inaccurate, or otherwise wrong? — Absolutely. It wouldn’t be the first time, either.
Yet it is I who has to find my way, like you have to find yours, and no one else can walk the walk for any of us.

Jesus, in a bottle fashion

I have been baptized a Catholic, and I grew up among Lutheran country folk. My social situation, though, was not such that any upright Christian, or any righteous Philistine, for that matter, would have approved of my existence at that time. My mother did have to leave home and had trouble finding a flat thanks to that unaccounted-for belly of hers. According to the doctrines, I was… I am the product of sin, and no matter what the New Testament says about forgiveness or first stones — Jesus, basically, was a funny-dressed guy sharing space with some sheep on a cheesy picture above the sofa — the Old Man In The Clouds wasn’t as merciful as the Bible, according to the priests, propagates. What it takes denominations for, I couldn’t tell anyway. As a result, I came to a similar view like Jeremy Taylor, an Anglican cleric, who wrote in his “Polemical discourses” in 1674,

“That the Scriptures do not contain in them all the necessary to salvation, is the fountain of many great and capital errors; I instance in the whole doctrine of the Libertines, Familists, Quakers, and other enthusiasts, which issue from this corrupted fountain.”
At a later point, I guess it was around 7th grade, I heard, through a Catholic teacher, of the idea that the scriptures were not to be taken literally, and that God was not some remote person, but he was present in everything, and even later, that he WAS everything. I neither realized that I had been introduced to the concepts of Animism and Spirituality, nor what was the difference between the two. I mean, it DOES make a difference whether it is about the wine in the bottle, and the bottle, as every environmentalist grievingly must accept, does not seize to exist after the wine starts to animate a human being instead, or if we are talking about the bottle as such and it vanishes with the spirit.
Words, I gradually found out, are a tricky thing describing a no-less-tricky reality, whatever that is. I guess that was when I began to understand how sarcasm works. Though I took some of its products way too literally. The cynical mind of the rational person makes religious texts sound pretty weird, like:
“CHRISTIANITY — the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.” (taken from Urban dictionary)
As we are almost completely disconnected from the culture and conditions that created the Bible, it is hard to tell what the source actually said when it talked about Trinity, Heaven and stuff. Words, what do they mean anyway? Tyranny, racism, sexism, war, slavery, depletion, exploitation — name anything that has not been justified by God’s supposed will as stated in the Bible.
What is needed to have truth speak from any text, of course, is, to approach the text with the right mind, a mind that is open to the kind of experience, or insight, which a source is talking about. A spiritual mind alone can make proper use of a religious text, like a rational mind alone can fully understand a scientific paper.
So readers got to be willing to go through the inquiring exercise themselves. Sam Coleridge, in a marginal note to Taylor’s above statement, put it aptly so in 1811:
“As I cannot think that it detracts from a dial that in order to tell the time the sun must shine upon it, so neither does it detract from the scriptures, that tho’ the best and holiest, they are yet scripture – & require a pure heart & the consequent assistances of God’s entlightening Grace in order to understand them to edification. And what more does the Quaker say? He will not call the written words of God the Divine WORD: & he does rightly.”
–A book I value; sel. marginalia by Samuel Taylor Coleridge; ed. by H. J. Jackson, 2003
While different, “foreign”, angles of attack can produce interesting insights, the core message only reveals itself with a matching key to its interpretation and an understanding of the diversity of truth’s expression.
Therefore, if you approach the Bible text from a Hindu or Buddhist point of view, it begins to make way more sense than when following Western de-spirited, exclusivist trains of thought — including theology. There are less contradictions and more points one can relate to as a modern person. The text would only indicate a truth (‘metaphorical‘ doesn’t fully describe its functioning) which can be verified by anybody anywhere through exercises of introspective contemplation, rather than stating the truth in and by itself.
Whereas, to me, the Dalai Lama makes for a better Bible interpreter than the Pope himself, the rationalistic worldview completely fails to grasp the inner meaning of the texts (because, in science, there exists no meaning). The analysis in terms of mere historicity and function opens the gate for cynical reading. At best it results in puzzlement, or in sarcastic rephrasings like the one above. And hey, they can be quite funny. I did laugh hard on reading it for the first time, though I liked the following even better:
“God is dead.” –Nietzsche
“Nietzsche is dead.” –God

Science rules… out other realities

“Science is the dominant religion of our time. Like most religions, it comprises canonical texts, metaphysical teachings, a priesthood, initiatory processes (grad school), its own special language, schismatic cults, and a procedures for discovering truth (the Scientific Method). Like any dominant religion, it is closely wedded to institutions of economic and political domination as well.”
–Charles Eisenstein, same day, on Facebook

Dog philosophy 101

Thought is highly overrated in our culture. As s matter of fact, we are obsessed with it so much that we are working our whole life towards our ultimate, our very last thought. This has been expressed by teachers saying that it is our last thought that matters most and that defines whether we find salvation or continue struggling when our time is up.
The philosophers („More light!“), the Christians („Sweet Jesus!“), the materialists („Crap!“), the Hindus („Holy cow…“) the spiritual folks („Oneness, here I come!“), the Buddhists („—“), they all have an idea what that thought should be about.
Just once should we listen to a dog guru who might tell us that it is our last fart that matters most. Does it smell pungent or lovely? Is it meat or rice that created it? For how long is it strong enough to maintain our territory after we are gone?
A spiritual dog might hum a song of one of my favourite bands, Velvet Hammer, singing, „I am leaving my mark in this world by not leaving a mark when I leave.“ Think of it!
But then again all this food for thought will surely result in some sort of flatulence, mental or otherwise. So whether dog philosophy is relevant for us or not remains a question to be thought of.

The faith of his contemporaries

“From 1459 onward the pope repeatedly appealed to the Christian powers to join in a common crusade and he raised the monies to subsidize such a concerted movement [against the Ottoman empire]. Dracula alone responded to his call.” 

(taken from: Dracula, prince of many faces; his life and his times; by R. Florescu & R. McNally)