Conspiracism, Desire and Spirituality (I’m a Repenting ex-Conspiracy Theorist Part 2)

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The riotous profusion of conspiracy theories in America shows us something about being American, even about being human—about the decisions we make in interpreting the complexities of our surroundings. Over and over, I found that the people involved in conspiracy communities weren’t necessarily some mysterious “other.” We’re all prone to believing half-truths, forming connections where there are none to be found, finding importance in political and social events that may not have much significance at all. That’s part of how human beings work, how we make meaning, particularly in the United States today, now, at the start of a strange and unlikely century.

Anna Merlan, Republic of Lies (pp. 8-9)

Don’t neglect me
Come be my conspiracy

The Black Crowes, “A Conspiracy”

As a #repentingexconspiracytheorist I feel a lot of feelings watching folks fall into the deep dark well of conspiracy. I feel a tremendous amount of sadness, especially when people in my own spiritual community appear to have more devotion to QAnon than they do to the actual Divine. It’s a sadness born from some experience, from an experiential knowledge that the lure of the conspiracy is like the tragic lure of Dionysus in The Bacchae. What seems intoxicating becomes poisonous. I feel no small amount of anger at the devotees of conspiracy theory. Often I feel like Buzz Aldrin, wanting to send my fists flying at the nearest something-or-other denying dweeb.  I feel a whole awful lot of bewilderment and vertigo and la nausee that conspiracism now feeds on the global body politic like a ravenous, metastasizing, mutative virus.

In the last year there has been a tremendous amount of critical journalism and scholarship about the conspiracizing of our commons. I can’t recommend enough Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power by Anna Merlan, Conspiracies of Conspiracies: How Delusions Have Overrun America by Thomas Milan Konda, and of course the OG classic of the field “The Paranoid Style in American Politics“, the November 1964 essay from Richard Hofstadter. Along with such great recent essays such as “Conspiracy Theories Can’t Be Stopped” by Maggie Koerth-Baker and “QAnon and the Emergence of the Unreal” by Ethan Zuckerman.

These books and essays offer a careful, considerate, and by all means critical survey/deep dive into the realm of conspiracy theories and the ideology of conspiracism from which these theories gestate. What is conspiracism? From Republic of Lies we learn:

The historian Frank P. Mintz coined the term “conspiracism,” which he defined as a “belief in the primacy of conspiracies in the unfolding of history.” Conspiracism works for everyone, in Mintz’s view; it “serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere. It identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power.” It is, in essence, a view of how we can vanquish the Devil and achieve Heaven right here on earth. (1)

Ay here’s the rub for what I hope I can contribute to this vibrant and urgent conversation: conspiracy theories and conspiracism are a reality (or unreality) which emerges from deep spiritual alienation and which requires a compassionate but very firm and tough spiritual response. We need tough-love theology here.

In my previous essay in this series I wrote:

To be a conspiracy theorist is to participate in something which resembles a spiritually rooted existence, a human life striving for Divine connection and communion. As I have come to learn from my own experience, to be a conspiracy theorist is actually a very distinct and destructive perversion of a genuine spiritual life. There is a thin line between genuine, sincere curiosity at discovering the hidden matrix of our collective living experience and becoming a damaged soul whose paranoia becomes a stone obstacle to love and liberty.

I thank the Lord I never fell into the deepest dank hells of the conspiracy mindset, but I can say I stood over the abyss and saw clearly enough there was a circle yet to be discovered by Dante. The Hell of the Conspiracy Theorists: forever chained to their computers, palest than the palest specter, continuously attacked by Cuban mobsters, Elders of Zion, reptilian aliens, and the Cigarette Smoking Man.

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There is that mantra some of us always chant when we see the roads not taken: There but for the grace of God go I. When I see members of my spiritual community having driven themselves so deeply down this dark road, I have to temper the waves of disgust which are my first reaction and strive for a different feeling. I mean all glories to Buzz Aldrin’s righteous fists of fury, but that’s only one of many constructive responses to those who have swallowed various varieties of the red pill.  I want people who’ve taken this pill to vomit it up, but I also hope I can be the kind of person who can help nurse them back to health.

While I never fell so far down the rabbit hole that I began to openly flirt with the misogynistic, racist, fascist, and anti-Semitic poison of the conspiracist swamp, I understand, deeply, intimately, and from experience, how enchanting and liberating it seems to be to have entrance to the inner sanctum where nothing is true and everything is permitted. When the burdens of our chaotic, precarious reality become more than we are capable of handling, Unreality becomes exquisitely attractive. Unreality is the result when the natural reality of our differing experiences of reality becomes a war zone. As Ethan Zuckerman describes in his excellent essay on QAnon:

I have started to think of this clash of realities as “the Unreal.” I don’t mean to identify a singular unreality—Trump’s, QAnon’s, or anyone else’s—but to make the point that what’s real to you is unreal to someone else. Like conspiracy theories, this is not a new phenomenon. Questions of whether we can share a common reality or whether we will be forever separated by our perceptions and interpretations are the subject of timeless debates in epistemology and phenomenology. What’s different now is that these debates have escaped the philosophy classroom and are now infecting every news story and online discussion.

We can’t just demonize ourselves or others for our attraction to the Unreal, but we can’t sit back and accept that our every breath (hello climate change deniers-the ones I most want to punch) and our every thought and our every utterance and our every need for relationship is increasingly threatened by the infection of the conspiracy. Whether you have stepped back from the void as I am always trying to do, or whether you’re just super-rational and have never been tempted by such dark arts, or whether this is a topic which has never piqued your interest, we share a common responsibility to respond to the onslaught of the Unreal with courage, compassion, and a desire to heal the existential and spiritual wounds from which conspiracism emerges.

The Hindu/Vaishnava tradition which I practice in and identify with posits and teaches that we, as living, thinking, willing, and feeling beings, are particularly drawn to and attracted by maya (illusion). Our sense of self-identity, our ego-self, when covered over by such illusion, interprets reality through the lens of the ahankara (the alienated ego). The ahankara is the perception of our self-identity which leads us away from our actual self-identity. The ahankara is the lens through which we experience reality as Unreality.

As beings full of desires for happiness and well-being and intimacy and tactile pleasure, when our desires are turned away from what is healthy for us, from what helps us flourish, towards what inflames our selfishness and our alienation from others, then we are stuck and lost in our ahankara. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna describes what happens when our desires for happiness are broken and turned inwards on ourselves in a destructive way:

For a person dwelling on the objects of the senses, attachment to them develops; from attachment, selfish desire develops; from desire, anger develops.

From anger comes bewilderment; from bewilderment, disturbed memory; from disturbed memory, loss of discernment; from loss of discernment one becomes lost. (Chapter 2: Verses 62-63) (2)

My brothers and sisters lost in the void of the conspiracy deserve, at the least, a broad and compassionate understanding of where there desires have led them astray. Desires for truth, clarity, and understanding are not wrong. They are innately part of our everyday being at all times. As beings we are always seeking sat-cit-ananda (eternality, understanding, and happiness). In my previous essay I wrote:

The Vedic/Hindu scriptures teach that every living being is striving for sat-cit-ananda consciousness: for our original state of spiritual being: eternally existing, eternally cognizant, eternally blissful. Every human being is instinctually always striving for this consciousness at every single moment. Every act is either an act of love or a cry for love. Yet we live in a turbo-capitalist alienated culture which very nearly completely corrupts and curdles this instinct. Instead of becoming natural sages and saints in beloved community, we become devotees of conspiracy. Our faith settles in the nefarious, the occult, the total illusion of maya. Our faith settles in untruth and becomes ultimately faithless, inhumane. We become like a riven cloud, in a 4chan message board, a shattered simulacrum of our real self.

I want to try to approach those stuck in the desert of the real as someone who has once walked along that barren road. As someone who learned to walk back towards what is actually nourishing for life, understanding, and happiness. We can parse out the whys and whens and hows of how conspiracy theories and conspiracism emerges and festers and multiplies. All of this work of discernment is immensely important and necessary, but I’m afraid we can’t actually begin to heal the wounds of such a phenomenon unless we understand the existential and spiritual wounding which is the root cause of why conspiracies are so attractive to so many people.

In the next essay in this series, I will share and explore with you further the phenomenon of agnotology, or the cultural production of ignorance, and how Hindu concepts of avidya (ignorance) on an existential and spiritual level help us to understand why the Unreal is so prevalent and so attractive.

  1. Merlan, Republic of Lies, 14.
  2. Translation from Graham M. Schweig, Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song. 

 

 

 

 

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Eco-Village Journals: An Eco-Village Parikrama

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As I enter into my final days here on this trip to the Govardhan Eco-Village, I want you to come with me on a parikrama (sacred pilgrimage)  so you can see what I have seen, and perhaps feel some of what I have felt being able to call this place home for the last two months.

To walk on parikrama is to, as Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, “pray with one’s feet.” The practice of pilgrimage is a holy exercise, physically and spiritually, for peoples of all faiths of all stripes.

In the Caitanya Vaisnava bhakti-yoga tradition which I practice in, parikrama is an act of devotional seva (service), walking in the Earthly places where Krishna resides, plays, dances, and loves eternally and blissfully. Parkirama is to enter immediately into that deep contemplative blissful ocean with your own steps. The comparative theologian A. Bagus Laksana writes:

The religious and theological nature of pilgrimage renders the whole dynamic of this performance of identity special. This is because what the pilgrims seek is not just a re-creation of the self, but a communion with the Divine. Thus, the travel goes deeply inward, to the deep recess of the self, as well as upward, in a journey of ascent to God. And the identity constructed is always relational both to God and to fellow human beings. (1)

Parikrama is a divine, devotional walk of remembering the essence; the essence which connects us in fierce compassion and love to each other, to all planetary beings, and to the Divine. In their translation of the Mukunda-Mala-Stotrathe disciples of His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada write:

One can see enlightenment among the elderly at pilgrimage sites in India, especially in Vṛndāvana. There one sees many old people visiting temples with intense devotion early in the morning. Hundreds of old people walk the circumambulation (parikrama) paths despite physical debilities. Some are bent nearly double! Someone might criticize that these people are not being provided with the Western medical treatment that could add a few years to their lives or ease their pain. But the sincere bābājīs and widows of Vṛndāvana who somehow make their way every morning to see Kṛṣṇa in the temples and who call out “Jaya Rādhe!” are actually fortunate and most intelligent. They are taking the kṛṣṇa-rasāyana, the elixir that will grant them eternal life in Kṛṣṇa’s spiritual abode. The Vedic śāstras recommend that one drink this elixir from the beginning of life, but even if one neglects to do so earlier, one should by all means drink it during the waning days of life and thus cure the disease of repeated birth and death.

Join me! We begin in the temple of Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindavan Behari

The open-air temple of Sri-Sri Radha-Vrindavan Behari is a beautiful conductor of devotional energy. The ornate structure which houses the Deities is full of various intricate carvings of the mysterious, all-attractive pastimes of Krishna, his most magnificent avataras (incarnations), and his dearest devotees from the most sacred text of the Vaisnavas, the Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavat Purana)

The overhang of the temple features stunning vistas of the pastimes of Krishna in his eternal youth in Vrindavan, pastimes which are the most dear and adorable to the bhaktas (devotees) of Krishna.

The deities of Sri-Sri-Radha Vrindavan Behari give full life to everyone in the Eco-Village. From the beauty of their forms emerges the centripetal, gravitational push and pull of love and devotion between the Deities and the community, a push and pull from which the ecological flourishing of every living being in the community takes deep root.

The Deity of Sri Gauranga (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu)

There is a very nice song sung by Śrī Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura, a great devotee and ācārya in the disciplic succession from Lord Caitanya. Narottama dāsa sings: “When will there be transcendental eruptions all over my body simply by my hearing the name of Gaurāṅga? When will tears incessantly flow from my eyes simply by my uttering the names of the Lord? When will Lord Nityānanda have mercy upon me and make all my desires for material enjoyment insignificant? When shall I be purified by giving up all contaminations of material enjoyment? And when shall I be able to see the transcendental abode, Vṛndāvana? When shall I be eager to accept the Six Gosvāmīs as my prime guides?

A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Caitanya

(Thank you to His Grace Yugal Prem Dasa for the pictures of the Deities)

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Soon to be completed here at the Eco-Village is a to-scale replica of the Sri-Sri-Radha-Madha-Mohan Temple from Vrindavan, with replica Deities to be installed later this year once construction is finished.

In 1968, when students of Swami Prabhupada established the New Vrindavan community in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, he instructed his students to help develop his vision of creating a replica of Vrindavan, the eternal, original spiritual home of Krishna and his most beloved devotees, whose Earthly form manifests in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. This replica Vrindavan Garden, non-different in spiritual energy from the original Vrindavan, would include replicas of the main temples of Vrindavan and spots marking where Krishna performed some of his magnificent and attractive pastimes.

As New Vrindavan developed in many expected and unexpected directions, the vision to build Vrindavan Garden was left aside. His Holiness Radhanath Swami, the spiritual director of Govardhan Eco-Village, who spent many years in his youth living and serving at New Vrindavan, has made sure the Garden of Prabhupada’s vision would manifest here at the Eco-Village.

Walking through Vrindavan Garden, chanting the Holy Names of Krishna on my japa-mala (meditation beads) has been profoundly therapeutic after a decade of straight-up New Yorker life. As I soon return to the city, I take with me in my heart numerous seeds from the Garden that will bloom into creeper vines of devotion which will always call me back to the Garden and to the Eco-Village. Come inside the Garden with me, and see for yourself.

We begin with Yamuna-Devi.

From my earlier Eco-Village journal on Earthy bhakti: Earthy bhakti is cow dung, is hands working together, and hands held in prayer and loving devotion to Yamuna-Devi, the sacred river of the Eco-Village. Her original incarnation, especially worshipped by Vaishnavas in Vrindavan, India, gives “her devotees whatever they ask for…The devotee’s greatest desire is for the experience of a loving encounter with the very source of love, Krishna, and Yamuna knows this without being told…Shri Yamuna-ji has such love for her devotees that she gives them the best of all without them even asking. (2)

As the title of David Haberman’s book tells us, the nature of Yamuna-Devi in this world is both always blessed and now always troubled. In her Eco-Village incarnation, every evening at 6:15, a beautiful arati (worship) is performed which allows us to deepen our sense of Earthy bhakti, so we may become humble yet potent instruments to arrest the age of pollution.

Let’s go further into the Garden, where Krishna is so magically kind as to let us wander into his lila, his divine play.

One of the most special temples in the Garden is the Sri-Sri Radha-Damodara Temple. When I visited the Eco-Village last December, I stumbled in here one evening not knowing that such a replica of this Temple was part of the Garden. I was really moved and surprised! This temple is very special to all followers of Swami Prabhupada because this is where he lived, worshipped, and did his scholarly seva work of translating the Srimad-Bhagavtam before he came to America in 1965.

The Radha-Damodara Temple here includes life-size replicas of Prabhupada’s room, kitchen, and the bhajan-kutir (hermitage) and samadhi (memorial tomb) of Srila Rupa Goswami, the direct student of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and one of the most important foundational theologians of Caitanya Vaisnavism.

At 1:00 A.M., when no one else was up and it was very quiet, Bhaktivedanta Swami would wake and begin writing. Since electric failures were not uncommon in Vṛndāvana, he would often work by lantern light. But in any case, a beam of light would shine out from his room onto the veranda, while inside the room he worked under its brightness. While he wrote in stillness, sometimes a toad, as dry as the stone floor, would hop out of hiding and across the floor, exiting through the cement latticework of the opposite wall. Sometimes a tiny mouse would run out from behind a window shutter and hide in another place. Otherwise, the room was complete sanctified stillness, and the inspiration of being in the presence of the six Gosvāmīs was strong. Above the open courtyard, the sky would be full of clearly visible stars. As he worked, the only sounds would come from the town, perhaps of a dog barking in the distance.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta

Bhaktivedanta Swami would sit and chant even after the early-morning rush of visitors, or sometimes he would walk to the nearby temples of Rādhā-Śyāmasundara or Rādhā-Madana-mohana, always returning by eleven to cook his meal. As he cooked, and later as he sat to take his prasādam, he could see through the latticework the <it+>samādhiof Rūpa Gosvāmī. Feeling Rūpa Gosvāmī’s presence, he would think of his own mission for his spiritual master.

The devotees of Lord Caitanya are known as rūpānugas, followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī; without following the teachings and example of Rūpa Gosvāmī, one cannot enter the path of pure devotion to Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī was especially known as a strict rūpānuga, as described in the Sanskrit prayers written in his honor: “I offer my respectful obeisances unto Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, the personified energy of Śrī Caitanya’s mercy, who delivers devotional service enriched with conjugal love of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, coming exactly in the line of revelation of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. I offer my respectful obeisances unto you, who are the personified teachings of Lord Caitanya. You are the deliverer of the fallen souls. You do not tolerate any statement that is against the teachings of devotional service enunciated by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī.”

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta

Perhaps my favorite part of the Garden has become the particular parikrama path around Govardhan Hill, Giriraja, Krishna as the Earthy hill which nourishes and protects the vraj-vasis, the beloved inhabitants of Vrindavan. At any time of the day, the twists and turns of the sunlight or moonlight into the groves of Giriraja lay a thick magical air over the path.

(The big stones used to construct this replica of Giriraja were donated by a local neighbor who just happened to want to remove these stones from this land. The devotees agreed to take his stones, which ended up being the perfect gift to construct Giriraja in the Garden).

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Aniyor!

When everything was complete, Kṛṣṇa assumed a great transcendental form and declared to the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana that He was Himself Govardhana Hill in order to convince the devotees that Govardhana Hill and Kṛṣṇa Himself are identical. Then Kṛṣṇa began to eat all the food offered there. The identity of Kṛṣṇa and Govardhana Hill is still honored, and great devotees take rocks from Govardhana Hill and worship them exactly as they worship the Deity of Kṛṣṇa in the temples. The followers of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement may therefore collect small rocks or pebbles from Govardhana Hill and worship them at home, because this worship is as good as Deity worship. The form of Kṛṣṇa who began to eat the offerings was separately constituted, and Kṛṣṇa Himself, along with the other inhabitants of Vṛndāvana, offered obeisances to the Deity as well as Govardhana Hill. In offering obeisances to the huge form of Kṛṣṇa and Govardhana Hill, Kṛṣṇa declared, “Just see how Govardhana Hill has assumed this huge form and is favoring us by accepting all the offerings!”

A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, KRSNA: The Supreme Personality of Godhead

Sri-Radha Kunda and Sri Giriraja

“Lord Hari then said, ‘My dear Rādhā, may this pond of Yours become even more world-renowned than Mine. I will always come here to bathe and to enjoy My water pastimes. Indeed, this lake is as dear to Me as You are.’”

rādhābravīd aham api sva-sakhībhir etya
snāsyāmy ariṣṭa-śata-mardanam astu tasya
yo ’riṣṭa-mardana-sarasy uru-bhaktir atra
snāyād vasen mama sa eva mahā-priyo ’stu

“Rādhā replied, ‘I will come to bathe in Your pond as well, even though You may kill hundreds of Ariṣṭa demons here. In the future, anyone who has intense devotion for this lake, which is on the spot where You chastised Ariṣṭāsura, and who bathes or resides here is sure to become very dear to Me.’”

rāsotsavaṁ prakurute sma ca tatra rātrau
kṛṣṇāmbudaḥ kṛta-mahā-rasa-harṣa-varṣaḥ
śrī-rādhikā-pravara-vidyud alaṅkṛta-śrīs
trailokya-madhya-vitatī-kṛta-divya-kīrtiḥ

“That night Lord Kṛṣṇa initiated a rāsa dance at Rādhā-kuṇḍa, generating a torrent of the greatest mood of splendorous pleasure. Śrī Kṛṣṇa resembled a cloud, and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī a brilliant flash of lightning filling the sky with abundant beauty. In this way Their divine glories permeated the expanses of the three worlds.”

Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.36.16

Samadhi of Srila Raghunatha Dasa Goswami

The Memorial for the Departed Vaisnavas

The smaller replica of the Sri-Sri Radha-Madha Mohan Temple in the Garden

The Sri-Radha-Raman Temple has also been a very special shelter for my meditation. It’s a very simple yet mystical temple, filled with an extraordinary energy.

Make Vrindavan Green Again/Don’t Mess with VrindavanThe devotees at the Radha-Raman Temple in Vrindavan are some of the leading environmental activists in India.

The Vaishnava pundit (priests), environmental leader, and eco-theologian Shrivatsa Goswami tells us that Krishna is “the greatest environmentalist” and “our ecological guru.” Goswami-ji teaches that “Krishna’s primary responsibility was to restore the ecological balance and conserve the environment. His life gives us a theological model, a script by which a proper play of ecology can be staged.” As so many of us face such tremendous grief, loss, and confusion as we come face-to-face with the reactions of Climate Crisis, we can find within the life, model, and example of Krishna a deep devotion and love for Earth and all planetary beings which can help us hope, adapt, and anticipate. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. Krishna, his cowherd friends, and the cows and the bulls are always waiting for us to return.

Sri-Sri Radha-Govinda Temple and Sri-Sri Radha Gopinath Temple

Sriji Mandir-Barsana

More mysterious and attractive encounters in the Garden

A very special part of the parikrama is a different kind of temple, the SBT (Soil Biotechnology) Plant, which is the GEV’s ingenious, sustainable, aesthetically pleasing waste treatment facility.

At GEV water contamination due to agricultural run-off is tackled through a strict zero-chemical policy for farming. Demonstrating a revolutionary technique in waste water treatment, the Soil Biotechnology (SBT) plant at GEV is a chemical-free alternative for sewage treatment. SBT consists of impervious containment and incorporates soil, formulated granular filter media and a select culture of macro organisms such as earthworms and plants. It involves a combination of physical and biological process for processing of waste water and it derives its fundamental principle from the functioning of a terrestrial ecosystem. Patented by IIT Bombay, the SBT process by design, integrates with the natural bio-geochemical cycles of nature and hence proves to be most effective eco-friendly technology for waste water treatment. The SBT plant at GEV processes up to 30,000 liters of sewage every day recycling up to 10 million litres of water annually.

We’re very attached to this beautiful Hanuman deity. Everyday, devotees offer beautiful white flowers to Hanuman from the tree next to the Hanuman temple. As you can see, the tree is quite literally handing her flowers to any devotee in need who walks by.

And last and certainly not least, the cows of the Eco-Village, taken care of in the state-of-the art goshala (cow barn)

The scriptural tenets of the Vedas exort us to respect all forms of life. Upholding this, GEV is working steadily towards setting up exemplary animal care facilities. Cows form the basis of the Vedic sustainability model, for they empower the localized village-economy systems. At Govardhan Eco Village we believe that cow protection is not just about protecting cows from slaughter, but giving them due respect and love. It’s about expressing our gratitude for the wonderful gifts that cows have given to human society. GEV today boasts of a world class cow-barn, setting high standards for cow care. Extending this spirit, GEV has set up shelters for various animals such as dogs, donkeys, goats, sheep and many more. All these animals are well cared for with dietary specifications and medical treatment.

  1. A. Bagus Laksana, “Comparative Theology: Between Identity and Alterity,” The New Comparative Theology: Interreligious Insights from the Next Generation, edited by Francis X. Clooney, Location 255.
  2. David Haberman, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 157-158.

Eco-Village Journals: Be an Anticipator!

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In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for

those who would climb through the hole in the sky.

My only tools were the desires of humans as they emerged

from the killing fields, from the bedrooms and the kitchens.

For the soul is a wanderer with many hands and feet.

The map must be of sand and can’t be read by ordinary light. It

must carry fire to the next tribal town, for renewal of spirit.

In the legend are instructions on the language of the land, how it

was we forgot to acknowledge the gift, as if we were not in it or of it.

Take note of the proliferation of supermarkets and malls, the

altars of money. They best describe the detour from grace.

Keep track of the errors of our forgetfulness; the fog steals our

children while we sleep.

Flowers of rage spring up in the depression. Monsters are born

there of nuclear anger.

Trees of ashes wave good-bye to good-bye and the map appears to

disappear.

We no longer know the names of the birds here, how to speak to

them by their personal names.

Once we knew everything in this lush promise.

What I am telling you is real and is printed in a warning on the

map. Our forgetfulness stalks us, walks the earth behind us, leav-

ing a trail of paper diapers, needles, and wasted blood.

An imperfect map will have to do, little one.

A Map to the Next World

Joy Harjo

 

The anticipatory community is cutting-edge common sense. The idea of such a community, with its tendrils of intimate re-connection, its recovery of sanity, its contemplative cushioning for our aching souls, its symbiotic dances and harmonic breakbeats with the music of Earth, its strange mercies of remembrance of planetary life seemingly long-buried in our capital-soaked amnesias, is both resonant as the ecological avant-garde for the Age of Climate Crisis and the simple return to the original roots of our human-being as planetary-being as Divine-being. Within the anticipatory community the tones of the apocalyptic, counter-apocalyptic, the prophetic, and the devotional flow together in a Coltrane-like raga, dissonant, soaring, ethereal, grinding, grooving, beautiful, heart-rendering, mind-opening, soul-revealing.

The anticipators dare to come to face-to-face with the Cthulhu-like visage of the hyperobject of climate change. They refuse the temptation to swat away the possible because it is not the probable. They understand that “inside the apocalyptic warning lurks the lure. Its hope may be a dim nuance of improbable future. But without the attractive power of amorously shareable possibility, the frightening facts cannot be heard…Prophetic discourse will work best if it attends both to the ‘sixth extinction’ and to ‘the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love.’” (1) Refusing complacency with their complacencies, the anticipators turn to the great work of re-defining work as play, fruits shared commonly, everything for everyone, nothing just for themselves, never attached to not doing their duties. The dance of dharma and justice is the dance of anticipation, a dance which begins and stays for a while in thorn-flecked fields, before the gentler steps of the anticipating feet re-generate the fecundity of Earth.

I draw primarily here upon the sutra-like definition of anticipatory community as provided by the Lutheran theologian and ethicist Larry L. Rasmussen. Rasmussen describes anticipatory community as those:

…home places where it is possible to reimagine worlds and reorder possibilities, places where new or renewed practices give focus to an ecological and post-industrial way of life. Such communities have the quality of a haven, a set-apart and safe place yet a place open to creative risk. Here basic moral formation happens by conscious choice and not by default (simply conforming to the ethos and unwritten ethic of the surrounding culture). Here eco-social virtues are consciously cultivated and embodied in community practices. Here the fault lines of modernity are exposed. (2)

We can unpack this sutra of anticipatory community from four primary elements:

1) Anticipatory communities are places of renewed home-going and home-coming, where planetary citizenship, where living devotion to Earth, can be cultivated afresh. Within the homely shelter of the anticipatory community, the radical, life-giving, justice-seeking imagination needed to respond with and for humanist and spiritual values in the Age of Climate Crisis can be actively fertilized. Home is ecological, home is post-industrial, ideally and eventually post fossil-fuel turbo-capitalist culture.

2) Anticipatory community is an intentionally set-apart contemplative haven. The community is intentionally detached, to the prudent extent possible in its beginning resilient formation, leading eventually to a more full and radical break in its symbiotic formation from the flows and folds of fossil-fuel turbo-capitalist society. This intentional contemplative introversion allows the members of the community to cultivate co-creative risk which is the anticipatory imagination, the imagination which takes the anticipators through and beyond the destructive static structures of the status-quo.

3) Within anticipatory community the practice of creating and re-creating Earth Ethics is an intentionally collectively embodied task. No member of the community, and no guest of the community, is immune from this task. Every single member of the community’s social body, whether as permanent resident or as temporary interlocutor with the community, is to be drawn into this co-creative work. While anticipatory community contains the element of haven, or retreat, it is not a place for retreat from the various urgencies of the hour. Those who enter the space of anticipatory community are charged with the vocation of anticipation. The more each member of the community embodies this vocation of anticipation, the more integral the community will be as an actual anticipatory community. In anticipatory community the moral, cultural (and especially economic) assumptions which have guided us into the reality of Climate Crisis are re-examined and likely to be set aside, from which both new seeds and long-forgotten or cast-aside heirloom seeds of ethical community formation are intentionally planted, cultivated, and harvested. The very idea and practice of community is brought to the common tool-shed and repair-table to be fixed up again for the sake of each and everyone’s Earthly and spiritual flourishing.

4) Anticipatory community exposes, prophetically, the fault lines of modernity. These fault lines include the social, political, economic, and theological assumptions and tragic misinterpretations of doctrines and practices of well-being, such as the ideals of unlimited economic growth and progress, which have placed the relationship between humanity and the Earthly world in unprecedented peril. Anticipatory community is not modern in the sense of being forged and formed along these lines of economic derangement, nor in the gross and subtle attachments which make too many of us believe that our lifestyles do not need to radically change. Nor is anticipatory community forged and formed in any primary sense of post-colonial deconstructive methodologies. While certain deconstructive methodologies and languages are necessary and helpful to serve anticipators in their prophetic self-rupturing and self-healing from the deeply sub-conscious tentacles of fossil-fuel turbo-capitalist culture which ravage our psyches, the methodologies of anticipation always turn towards the de-colonial. Anticipation always turns towards what Thomas Berry describes as the constructive work of the Great Work, of the opening and entering into the ecozoic era.

Anticipatory community emerges through the manifestation of desire for the praxis of systems changes, where the seeds of a compelling Earth Ethic are planted and cultivated. This desire must be already present and embodied in the would-be anticipators before ground is broken for anticipatory community. Rasmussen writes:

Systemic changes usually don’t materialize if they are not already present in anticipatory communities, even if those communities are modest in size and number. Anticipatory communities initially come about voluntarily; hearts, minds, and the perception of what is “real” are vital elements. Outward change springs from motivation, desire, and a driving dream. In words attributed to Gandhi, we must become the change we seek if we expect change to happen. Or, to cite “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed,” “We must be peace in order to make peace.” (3)

What is it within the body, mind, and heart of the anticipator which creates this desire for systemic change? The  anticipator, with a very deft sense of historical literacy, with a very sensitive sense of her own privileges and attachments to these privileges, remembers the ghosts and ancestors of history, meaning, and faith rent asunder from Earthly flourishing. She understands, she is liberating herself, through the understanding that “nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family conceals fierce conflicts of interests…And in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of executioners.” (4)

Her liberated attitude leads to liberated behaviors which are the behaviors of anticipation. She understands that “effective change is the result of the dialectical play of both elements: attitude and behavior. A strategy that relies on only one will be ineffective.” (5) Practices, values, and the theological roots from which these practices and values bloom like flowers must be in alignment. The inner engines of change require a very special (green) fuel which must be applied with great and very consistent care. The would-be anticipator discovers that “voluntary hearts-and-minds change will not suffice when the change needed is fundamental, extensive, and goes against the grain of entrenched ways and institutions. But coerced behavioral change fails as well if there is no preparation for it and assent to it in people’s inner being.” (6) 

Eco-theologians are particularly fertile personalities for this task because of the inherent theological tone to their work. Am I here still arguing, as I have for years in my various explorations of anticipatory community, that the community can only work with a theological core, with a spiritual core, with an active belief in the Divine/God? Yes and no. It’s not that anticipation can only emerge in a religious context, but I am drawn and lured by those communities which hold devotional space at the core of the community for the Divine. It’s from that core that the rasa, the juice needed, to overcome our consumerist and competitive compulsions and conditionings is actually found. Divinity, not boxed-in, not essentialized, not at the service of the capital idols, open and deeply immanent, a community seed-bank of divinities free for all to partake of and share, is the lure to move from what is to what should be, to move from “can we do this?” to “how can we do this?”

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To believe in God is to disbelieve in the world as it is. It is not to disbelieve in the world, but only the world ‘as it is.’” (7) The panentheistic presence of the Divine within each and every quantum-dancing atom draws our common intimacies back into the adama which is also, even if just temporarily for a time, our very selves. We are drawn in and beyond simultaneously, inconceivably, homeward bound to and for Earth but also to and for the mystery of our spiritual roots planted beyond Earth. The moreness of the Divine, beyond the limitations of our psychologies born and ruptured in histories violently colonized, is the merciful conduit of our Earthly and spiritual flourishing in kind. We must understand that “ours is a good Earth and a good world gone wrong, not a wrong Earth and world—that Manichean mistake that keeps on giving. And to believe in God’s presence in all life is to offer more, a ‘more’ already borne by the ecosphere’s tenacious insistence that life will be and it will flourish.” (8) To gin up the courage of our communities is to acknowledge and break from our conscious and unconscious idolatries. Seedling graces emerging from our inner ecology become rambunctious, iconoclastic flowers of resistance in the garden of our anticipation. Rasmussen adds:

Here, in believing in God’s presence and disbelieving in the necessity of the world as it is, is the proximate source and energy for Earth-honoring religious ethics. (The ultimate source is God and grace.) Here, in the disciplined ways of sacramentalism, mysticism, asceticism, prophetic-liberative practices, and wisdom, are the spirited lifeways that renew and recast human responsibility. They renew and recast responsibility in ways that offer alternatives to the ethic of unqualified utilitarian expediency that marks global consumerism and corporate capitalism.

Anticipatory community is full of these centripetal but also rhizomatic lures, such as bhakti-yoga (the yoga of devotion, the love supreme), which cultivate gravitational pulls, flows, and folds for the co-creation of strong community fiber. It is, of course, important to insist here that when we mean God we do not mean the “god” of the colonizer who is so kataphatically sure of his white-Christian-male-heterosexual supremacy that anything which stands ambiguous to this sureness is raped, pillaged, and plundered. The moreness of God is not to be equated with this kind of idolatrous sureness. Sureness in the Cartensian mind is often equated with reason as deity, an idolatry which still infects even the broad-minded and open-hearted.

Embracing the mysterious wilds of anticipation means that “no one who sings these songs has perfect pitch. Or, to shift the metaphor, none of these traditions is unsullied. Many prophetic-liberative strands, for example, have yet to overcome the anthropocentrism of their social justice traditions. Theirs is not yet truly creation justice.” (9) As Keller insists “doing God means acting not as separable agents but in differential collectives mindfully enfleshing our planetary entanglement…This entangled apophasis of this meditation encourages agental collaborations, not isolating mysticisms or sufficient microcosms. So any theopoesis here repeated as a contemporary possibility will…quickly unsay itself.” (10) Within anticipatory community, spiritual practices, our sadhana, is intentionally developed to confront, enter into, explore, and heal from ecological grief, as well as to celebrate the compostable cycles of life-and-death through models and experiences of resurrection and reincarnation. These practices are pungent for such healing because they move to the beats and grooves of the necessary apophatic and the constructive kataphatic. The devotional Divine washes over and away our ordinary expected loyalties and structures, leaving behind the fertile soil to build again and anew.

Our diverse human collectives can immediately begin to imagine and practice this anticipation. There is no shortage of resources, teachings, examples, theologies, and methods to forge and form our anticipation. What is primarily missing is the will, the courage, the imagination even, to imagine something different, reckoned with, resurrected, and renewed. How simple, immediate, and accessible are these acts of imagination! Yet, for so many of us, how difficult it is to even begin to imagine in such a way. The obstacles in our minds, the logs in our eyes, are th immense reflections of the hyperobjects of the Market as God, of globalization, of the rise of anti-democratic neo-fascism, all tied up in the biggest hyperobject of them all, climate change. How do we not become overwhelmed at such a Great Work? We need to cultivate, as we participate in and co-create anticipatory community, what it means to be resilient, prophetic, and symbiotic. Only by pushing into and through our ecological grief, our hopelessness, our experience of being overwhelmed, will we understand how to be anticipators. It is worth quoting again Naomi Klein here to bring to our eye, mind, and heart the opportunity and starkness at hand in our anticipation:

Even more importantly, the climate moment offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late. And it is worth remembering because it’s so very easy to forget: the alternative to such a project is not the status quo extended indefinitely. It is climate-change-fueled disaster capitalism-profiteering disguised as emission reduction, privatized hyper-militarized borders, and, quite possibly, high-risk geoengineering when things spiral out of control. (11)

We must overturn the tables of the idolaters on the temple of Earth. Anticipation is the process of this turning over, and in anticipatory community we build anew on the ruins of the idols. The human spirit as planetary spirit as Divine spirit is spirit which is resilient, prophetic, and symbiotic in its original, inherent, primeval nature. Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, tells Arjuna that “which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul…Neither she who thinks the living entity the slayer nor she who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain. For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. She has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. She is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. She is not slain when the body is slain.” (Gita 2:17, 19-20) Within every living being is eternal, imperishable light, existence, and strength. To anticipate is to remain in this light, to let this light infuse every element of our existence. It is only this light which can overcome the darkness we have let overcome us. Where there is this light, there cannot be darkness.

 

  1. Catherine Keller, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement, 314-315.
  2. Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key, 81.
  3. Rasmussen, 121.
  4. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 10.
  5. Rasmussen, 121.
  6. Rasmussen, 121.
  7. Rasmussen, 361.
  8. Rasmussen, 361.
  9. Rasmussen, 361.
  10. Keller, 308.
  11. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, 54.

Eco-Village Journals: Be an Apocalyptic Eco-Theologian!

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It’s difficult to feel apocalyptic in the Govardhan Eco-Village. This is a community, an anticipatory community, which is creating a radical, pragmatic, deeply hopeful way into the Age of Climate Crisis, rooted in the core value of bhakti, of selfless love and devotion for the Divine and for every living being.

But I must, we must, feel apocalyptic.

Even immersed in the beauty of the Eco-Village, I still ache for Tuvalu. 

I still ache for the Sixth Extinction underway.

I still ache for the all of the climate refugees here with us today and the so many, many to come.

I still ache for my beloved, wretched, velvet NYC at 2 degrees Celsius.

The echoes of Radiohead’s most haunting and arguably best song “Idioteque” never leaves my head: “I have seen too much/I haven’t seen enough/You haven’t seen…We’re not scaremongering/This is really happening.”

Yet this ache is not anathema to the bliss of the experience of bhakti. That ache is essential: para-dukha-dukhi, we must feel, experience, and resonate with every living being’s pain and suffering as if it is our very own.

This ache leads us into apocalyptic and prophetic eco-theology.

***

Even as we would enter into these anticipatory practices, the tone and tenor of our conversations about climate change remains, by necessity, by reality, both apocalyptic and prophetic. Here I risk using both of these categorical experiences in a generally cross-cultural, cross-religious sense appropriate to the all-inclusiveness and all-pervasiveness of Climate Crisis, while also not uprooting them from their original Abrahamic soils.

We sit here with a sequence of key questions which can be expressed initially in sutra form. Is Climate Crisis a kind of apocalypse? Yes, certainly so if one has any, if not faith exactly, but ability to believe and comprehend the cutting-edges of climate science and the possible futures of sea-rise, methane-release, and general chaos these scientists proclaim will happen as the overall temperature of Earth rises. Must we always primarily view Climate Crisis in an apocalyptic tone? It does us no good to ignore this tone. After all, we are Doomed. Those of us in the cocoons of privilege have to fess up and face this.

Eventually though, in the same vein as we must wrestle with but wrestle out of our feelings of grief and hopelessness, we must eventually wrestle our way out of this primary apocalyptic tone. Does this particular apocalypse lead to a “new heaven and new earth?” Not in the sense that we are re-discovering a pristine Earthly paradise which has never existed and will certainly never will, especially with the ravages of Anthropocentric climate change and the defiant Earth’s responses now rendering planetary life into climactic instability for at least the next few centuries. Yet, as we will see, this apocalypse is quite an opportunity to re-claim something more sane, just, and conducive to the struggle for flourishing.

The apocalyptic tones of Climate Crisis are long since unavoidable and undeniable. In the run-up to the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, I increasingly saw subway ads for the March which depicted the Statue of Liberty with water up to her eyes, her very body about to drown in the new elevations of New York Harbor.

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I can remember feeling a sense of aversion to these images, wondering why and how such apocalyptic imagery would both inspire people to participate in the March and then re-dedicate themselves to the causes of environmental sustainability and climate justice. I wondered why more utopian imagery couldn’t have been used. These were feelings I also felt the first time I heard Bill McKibben speak over a decade ago, wondering why he was so pessimistic and cantankerous about climate change. Little did I know how pessimistic and cantankerous I would also become.

Now that we’ve entered more fervently into what Naomi Klein describes as “Decade Zero” (1), in which the nature of our contemporary climate policies in this decacde will directly define the various intensities of Climate Crisis, and now that we have entered into a political climate of ascendant Trumpism and neo-fascist nationalisms which are also fervent devotees of carbon-soaked economics, this apocalyptic note now resounds more convincingly in my own skull. 

The language and experience of apocalypse within Climate Crisis is especially important for our fundamental understanding and struggle for justice which must be at the heart of our anticipation. If our sense of justice is not amplified by these apocalyptic tones, then we will not be able to place our bodies against the wheels of eco-modernism and climate totalitarianism. Roy Scranton writes:

The Anthropocene is an apocalypse, but an apocalypse that’s already been revealed and is already happening, though not all at once and not all the same. You can see it congealing and leaking out across Syria and Iraq, Indonesia, Ukraine, and Palestine. You can feel it thickening in Siberia, Antarctica, and Alaska, throughout dying coral reefs in the south Pacific, and around the Sundarbans at the mouth of the Ganges. But the revelation of the Anthropocene will not only be announced by the old riders war, famine, plague, and death. It will also be heralded by deliberate decisions by state and corporate actors to sacrifice entire regions to capital and security. (2)

The specific necessity to avoid naive idealism and romantic transcendentalism in our responses to Climate Crisis is to avoid walking meekly, doomed by our attachments and lack of imagination, into the trap of climate totalitarianism. Apocalyptic consciousness is where the fecundity of climate and environmental justice emerges. Apocalyptic consciousness is where we can discover, with resources of detachment we may not be aware that we have, that we can anticipate and create more just and flourishing pathways forward for our communities.

Apocalyptic consciousness is where we can stop fruitlessly hoping that the master’s tools will fix the master’s house, where we can discover that turbo-capitalist life is not some eschatological historical finality, that “maybe that way of life isn’t worth saving. Kafka reportedly once said that there is ‘plenty of hope, an infinite amount of hope—but not for us.’ Rather than investing in technological salvations that will allow us to prolong a way of life that is destroying the rest of nature, we can embrace pessimism. In abandoning hope that one way of life will continue, we open up a space for alternative hopes.” (3)

The pessimism of apocalyptic consciousness is not the same thing as the privilege of hopelessness. This pessimism rather recalls how Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita describes the material universes as dukhalayam asasvatam, a temporary place of miseries, and how Buddhists, in the Four Noble Truths, similarly describe the universe as the place where dukkha, suffering, exists and arises. This pessimism which is also at the core of the very fabric of universal reality should not breed fatalism in the sadhana (practice) of the anticipator. Instead this pessimism contains within itself the drive for appropriate adaptation rooted in justice, compassion, and mutual flourishing.

This pessimism does not resist the joys of Earthly life, even as it renders us into a simultaneous consciousness of detachment so that these joys do not become rabid illusions which frustrate and pervert our desires, turning us onto the meek pathways which lead to the traps of totalitarianism. This pessimism, to put it colloquially, keeps it real. The illusions which fuel the engines of Climate Crisis cannot ultimately stand against this pessimism, for this pessimism is rooted in something deeper, something devotional, which is both soft and hard, a rose and a thunderbolt, real hope-giving in the tough love of maya-shattering.

Within the space-and-place of such anticipatory communities apocalyptic and utopian consciousness intersect, fold into each other, and constantly evolve into prophetic practice. The eschatological certainties which are embedded in much of traditional apocalyptic thought are opened into the im/possible when planted into prophetic soil. From this prophetic soil comes a tremendous creative vulnerability from which hope flowers in Climate Crisis. Environmental scholar Kate Rigby is especially helpful in giving clear language as to what can occur when the prophetic unfolds from the apocalyptic:

The apocalyptic shares with prophetic imagination the revelation that humans, for all their self- proclaimed apartness, belong ultimately to a more-than-human community of fate, but it differs in its construction of history as predetermined in its outcome, leaving human agents little option other than to prepare themselves for the millennial end that heralds a glorious new beginning. By contrast, the prophetic voice insists on the ever-present possibility of a change in direction in the present, in the absence of which there is no promise of a redemptive deus ex machina. (4)

Dwelling too much and too long upon the apocalyptic as the primary tone of response to Climate Crisis creates the risk of falling into the hell-scapes of climate totalitarianism, into a Blade Runner future where our current social and political rupturing, the end of the age of liberalism, leads us to where the rich live, Jetsons-style, above the clouds of acid rains, geo and bio-engineering their way to a post -or-trans humanism which is nothing but maya (deep illusion), while the poor live below the noxious fumes and clouds, doomed with no opportunity for the Now What?  

Using the apocalyptic tone to sharpen our prophetic edge inspires and inflames our communities to resist such possibilities. From the prophetic edge comes creative vulnerability which is the true artistry of adaptation and fluidity which nevertheless provides steady-stream of bedrock for anticipatory communities committed and devoted to mutual Earthly flourishing. This vulnerability emerges because “the prophet is both implicated in and wounded by the wrongdoing that is shown to be driving his or her world headlong into catastrophe.” Adaptation and resilience are not a sugarcoating of our attachments and illusions, so that some of us can continue to enjoy the fruits of dominant cultures while, as Morton warned, while many more are sacrificed to the idols of capital and security.

It is “time to wake up. Not the end of time. There is still time. Even according to the author of the Apocalypse. ‘Wake up, and strengthen what is at the point of death.'” (6) Be an apocalyptic eco-theologian! Claim the Doom and claim the Now What?

  1. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014), 24.
  2. Roy Scranton, We’re Doomed. Now What? Essays on War and Climate Change (New York: Soho Press, 2018), Kindle Location 710.
  3. Tommy Lynch, “Why Hope is Dangerous When It Comes to Climate Change,” Slate, published July 25, 2017.
  4. Kate Rigby, “Animal Calls,” in Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology, ed. Stephen D. Moore (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 130.
  5. Rigby, “Animal Calls,” 130.
  6. Catherien Keller, Cloud of the Impossible: Negative Theology and Planetary Entanglement (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 273.

Eco-Village Journals: Be an Eco-Theologian!

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My dear friend and colleague Vineet Chander told me, before I left for Govardhan Eco-Village, that he can imagine “what a romantic experience it is there to be at the Eco-Village as a scholar.” He’s absolutely right. Whether it’s the full moon now blazing in the Maharashtrian sky, or the way the chaosmic of all strife (especially the Trumpian kind) seems to fall away in the soft sunlight of Vrindavan Gardens, or the romantic solitude of my bhajan kutir (kind of Sanskrit for hermitage) where I (try to at least) perform my bhajan of chanting the holy names of Radha and Krishna, along with my scholarly bhajan of writing and researching my Ph.D dissertation. My little room, surrounded by mud and home-made brick, has become a very special place for me. As a connoisseur of hermitages, it fits my bill. The Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks, made from the mud of the Earth holding GEV up, and my nice fan, cranked to the max with solar-power, keep my room cool enough in the suddenly oppressing October heat.

It’s been amazing, to put it one constructive way, to see how my mind both is able to resonate with a more contemplative rhythm and yet so far away from being to sit comfortably in such a rhythm. My research and dissertation writing (50 pages into my first draft already, which includes re-working my already written eco-theology exam as a chapter) is moving along wonderfully, with a lot of very compelling details to be unpacked.

Yet despite the slow-but-steady pace, I have to catch myself in wanting to interview every devotee on-site as quickly as possible. First of all, it’s not possible, because these dynamic souls are busy doing all kinds of dynamic things, and secondly, and I think most importantly, I am being reminded that this scholarly seva has to be done well rather than just GIT-R-DONE. There is New York Chris (you know the guy who is muttering curses under his breath trying to walk around the slow tourists in Manhattan) in my mind which actually feels guilty when I’m seemingly not “getting anything done” and then there is Eco-Village Chris (also Krishna Kishore hi that’s my spiritual name given by my guru Radhanath Swami) who is learning to live by a new and different and certainly more natural rhythm, who is actually becoming confident that I can bring some of this rhythm back to America in a month’s time to help make New York Chris’ life a little easier.

The real rhythm of the Eco-Village is the rhythm of the Holy Name (Hare Krishna/Hare Krishna/Krishna Krishna/Hare Hare/Hare Rama/Hare Rama/Hare Rama/Hare Rama) I certainly haven’t become some master mantra meditator while being here, but I can least say I am trying a little bit more to be more attentive and focused. The atmosphere here surcharges any little effort one makes to be more attentive, to be more devoted. The mornings and evenings I able to spend in certain special spots in Vrindavan Gardens, like the little garden in front of the Yamuna, or the Radha-Ramana Temple, chanting on my japa (meditation) beads, are experiences I am really trying to consciously be grateful for, experiences I know I’m going to miss once I’m back in the city, experiences which are to keep in my heart like little seeds which will grow into larger desires to be in the Eco-Village again and again.

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It’s an eco-theological rhythm, and here in the Eco-Village I discover what it means to be an eco-theologian and to share this call with my friends new and old.

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The cross and resurrection promise otherwise. They testify that in the face of death and destruction, God’s life-giving power prevails. Soul-searing, life-shattering destruction and death are not the last word. In some way that we do not grasp, the last word is life raised up out of brutal death.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (1)

How can we expect resurrection and reincarnation of Earthly flourishing to occur on the defiant Earth, on the uninhabitable earth? Whatever and however we may expect and hope and grieve, we cannot begin to practice anticipation if we do not hold space, if we do not hold our hearts open, for the im/possibilities of such resurrection and reincarnation. In the hour of their greatest and most hopeless grief, having witnessed and heard of the brutal, merciless crucifixion Empire imposed on their gurudeva, the disciples of Jesus suddenly became flooded with the resurrected presence of everything they thought they had lost.

“Soul-searing, life-shattering destruction” was felt deeply, then defeated and put aside for all time. How this resurrection, how this reincarnation of the embodied love of Jesus, had occurred, was beyond rational scope. At it’s very core, this experience was the confirmation of the ever-present reality of the most powerful element of reality, the element of the eternal fidelity, love, and devotion of the Divine. This fidelity, love, and devotion is far more powerful than Empire, ExxonMobil, or any form of totalitarianism. Those who take shelter of the ever-present victory of the life-giving over the death-dealing are not naive, hopeless dreamers. They are the sharp, steely prophets of tough love in the Anthropocene. They are the anticipators. Within their anticipatory communities is the still-fertile humus where the seeds of resurrection and reincarnation can and must be planted.

Anticipators are eco-theologians, so we must first explore what eco-theology might be?

Let us begin by tending to the questions proposed by the Lutheran religious theologian and ethicist Larry L. Rasmussen, who asks “what kind of faith is life-centered, justice-committed, and Earth-honoring, with a moral universe encompassing the whole community of life, the biosphere and atmosphere together as the ecosphere?” Theological experience contains roots, roots well-hidden for many traditions and communities, which are embedded within the very substance of creation. Eco-theologians must ask “what kind imports the primal elements—earth (soil), air, fire (energy), and water—into the moral universe and centers them there?” Eco-theologians are humble yet committed teachers and guides to help those lost and crushed within dominant models of human relations to regain their sense of flourishing through the repentance and reformation of doing our first works over. The eco-theologian asks “what kind interrogates past traditions of spirituality to ask for their contributions to new first works? What kind alerts us to past pitfalls?”

Eco-theologians imbibe and express prophetic consciousness to resist the death-dealing, hopelessness-inducing wares of a turbo-capitalist “society” off its rails. Their expression of the prophetic provides a flood of hope to encounter and adapt to the floods of the unprecedented challenges the defiant Earth offers us in tough love. The eco-theologian asks “what kind uses a single stringent criterion—contributions to an Earth ethic and robust Earth community—as the plumb line that measures all impulses and aspirations? What kind illumines our responsibility, offers wellsprings of hope, and generates renewable moral/spiritual energy for hard seasons ahead?” Eco-theologians are intersectional thinkers, thinkers with a strong and clear historical literacy, who are not naive about the powerful interests which are violently invested in the preservation of the status quo, in the extraction of Anthropocentric stranded assets. These eco-theologians understand these power-brokers are like weeds with very, very deep roots, but like any weed, with the right torque, they can be pulled out. The eco-theologian asks “what kind is savvy about the play of power and privilege in light of the creature we are and the world we have?” Eco-theologians are anticipators, prophets of tough love, artists of many brushes, full of daring creative imagination, unable to sit still in that status quo, aching to awaken from the dream of maya and return home, rooted in Divine devotion. They ask, finally, “what kind offers the security to permit risk when we are absent the firm plateau and sure confidence we had when Earth seemed endless and nature free for the taking? What kind dares to welcome the end of the dirty fuels interlude and despoiling consumerism?” (2)

All relevant theology must engage directly with the substances, flows, systems, and quantum dances of planetary creation. The pioneering inter-religious theologian Raimon Panikkar describes the fabric of theology as the encounter with cosmotheandric experience, in which the living elements of the cosmos (the world), theos (the Divine), and aner (the human) intersect and interact for the formation of theological application, concern, and community. For Panikkar  “the divine, the human, and the earthly-however we may prefer to call them-are the three irreducible dimensions which constitute the real, ie, any reality inasmuch as it is real.” (3)

The field of eco-theology emerges from the diversity of approaches which foreground planetary creation as being of exquisite concern for theological formation. Eco-theology is what emerges when Earth is foregrounded as a being of theological concern and religious devotion. Eco-theology, in the Age of Climate Crisis, is no longer a peripheral or alternative mode of theology. The emerging wickedness of climate change places our human relationship with planetary creation at the forefront of our consciousness, where it has actually always already been. It is only our sense of amnesia, or our sense of eco-theological avidya, which must be overcome.

Curiously, while the field of religion and ecology has more established roots within the academy (especially through the work of Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim and the Yale Forum for Religion and Ecology) eco-theology remains a somewhat amorphous and fluid category in both its ecological and theological elements. In what is becoming a somewhat regular occurrence, those who I identity and label, often in public academic settings, as eco-theologians, don’t identify as such personally and professionally, even as their own work and interests clearly have roots in the field.

Certainly I identify, quite fervently, as an eco-theologian, yet I believe that this fluidity and relative groundlessness of the field has nevertheless flowing within it a freer creative potential for responding to the challenges of Climate Crisis, even as the James Cone student element of myself rather demands that it be considered more seriously in the academy as a subject of established systematic theological import. If eco-theology is not necessarily a systematic theology of the classic categories and expectations, then what is it? If anything, it is the touch, embrace, and smudge of Earth upon our theological concern. Eco-theology “means precisely to resist any reductionist account of the earth and its geobiological bodies: and by the same token to smudge every metaphorical body-social, textual or theological-with its terrestrial ground. This would be the eartheological analogue to the Derridean “trace.” (4)

While I may kvetch about the wallflower status eco-theology still seems to have in many academic circles, it is very important here, especially when we are eventually speaking about and to the many varieties of planetary citizens of anticipatory community, to make clear and to insist that the category of eco-theology, the practice of eco-theology, cannot be a merely academic exercise. What is particularly radical and anticipatory about eco-theology, what particularly threatens most the keepers of Anthropocentric doom, is the capacity for each and everyone to be an eco-theologian, or that in fact, many of us are already eco-theologians, even if it does not matter much to us if we choose that label for our personal self or for our professional vocation.

The Whiteheadian religious scholar Jay McDaniel remarks that “ecotheology…is not a philosophy…nor is it a religion. It is an orientation toward life and a way of living that can be embodied from many different religious points of view by people who seek a creative alternative to consumerism and fundamentalism.” Anyone who seeks these creative alternatives are anticipators, and it can be argued that anyone doing this in an Earth-honoring tone is also an eco-theologian. Be an eco-theologian! (Or as I wanted to originally title this journal “Be an Eco-Theologian Goddammit!” but sometimes I need to tender my natural irreverence)

An eco-theologian is a living theologian. McDaniel adds that, as a professional theologian speaking for professional theologians, he often meets people who do not, who would not, ever think of themselves as eco-theologians “but who exemplify the spirit of what we are talking about. Their lives are their sermons; their attitudes are their teachings. They exemplify living theology. Thus when I say that ecotheologians are theologians, I have in mind this living theology.” (5)

Everyday eco-theologians at the Eco-Village: a program today to celebrate local tribal farmers participating in the Rural Empowerment program. They are hearing a presentation from Sanchay Patil, who is working to re-discover and re-develop original, indigenous seeds for rice and grain crops that were lost during the monocropping mania of the Green Revolution in India. He works with these local farmers to develop a community seed bank of these indigenous seeds for resilience, adaptability, and stabilization of their communities in the face of increasingly uncertain economic and climate variables. 

 

Often the eco-theological instinct emerges from a natural instinct of understanding the Divine’s panentheistic relation to creation. Eco-theologians appreciate, revere, and are devoted to a sense of an understanding of a Divine being/presence who is the source of creation, who as this source is profoundly beyond and different from creation, but who is also, simultaneously and inconceivably, deeply embedded and embodied within each and every element, each and every atom, each and every move of the quantum dance of Earthly creation. The living theology that is eco-theology is open, willing, and curious for the remembrance and return to the intimate embrace of our planetary neighbor in their animacy and in their divinanimality. It is an eco-theology which is geared to the unique languages of repentance and reform, of doing first works over, which is not a guilt-stricken ascetic exercise of flogging ourselves for our sins, but instead the gentle but firm tending of our existential and ecological wounds.

Eco-theology as living theology naturally has a width and depth to always include, embrace, and affirm the flourishing of Earth and our planetary neighbors, but it also tending to both the well-being of the oikos of our very body politics, knowing that political and cultural vectors such as race, gender, caste, and the struggle for political sanity, in the age of Trumpism and its cousin ascendant nationalisms, are always elements deeply interwoven into ecological concerns.

Eco-theology as living theology is also always an existential theology, always making the common-sense assertion, an assertion yet often untended to by scholars, movement activists, and everyday people, that the health of our internal ecology, the ecology of our physical and psychological well-being, is intimately linked to the health of planetary ecology. The lead within one’s heart, which blocks the internal view of well-being and self-realization, inevitably manifests as the lead which pollutes the drinking water we give to our children.

I would argue that much of this internal-external ecology language has been diluted by the kind of incoherent and irrational New-Agey over-romantic Gaian language Murray Bookchin kvetches about (although I kvetch very much against Bookchin’s inability to appreciate the languages of Earthly animacy and the languages of eco-feminism). That being said, it is very necessary to rescue this language from such dilution, both through the poetic profundity which emerges from the scholarly pen in dialectical tandem with the everyday common-sense Earthiness of everyday eco-theologians.

McDaniel rescues this language well in his own theopoetically utopian rendering of the dance of everyday eco-theology. He speaks of an eco-theology which aims to permeate our consciousness and experience so intimately that it renders itself as a kind of redundancy, composted into itself. He writes:

One important task of the more formal ecotheologian-the one who writes books-is to give words to the whole of ecotheology, to its bodily, heartfelt, and mental dimensions. Written and spoken texts are one way of communicating and exploring this way of living in the world. The way can also be communicated through images, sounds, and dance. Sometimes it is better to dance the ideas of ecotheology, or to sing them, than to speak them in prosaic terms. And often it is more important to act them out in concrete acts of love and service. The hope of the future is not that the world embrace the term ‘ecotheology,’ but rather that ‘ecotheology’ become an irrelevant and unused term whose attitudes have been fully integrated into the lives and hearts of ordinary people who have no special interest in theology, but who find beauty in the world and thus live with respect and care for the community of life. Only when ecotheology becomes irrelevant will it have succeeded. (6)

Of course the first thought for a young scholar like myself is the hope to gain some sense of tenure before eco-theology becomes irrelevant! Yet here is eco-theology expressed in its fullest rasa, as dance, love, service, and also profound words born of a sense of scholarly duty, sweat, and joy. Eco-theology as ordinariness which is also always an astonishing revelatory experience of our ever-present intertwining with each and everyone of our planetary neighbors, in the garments of our common destinies and the inescapable networks of our mutualities, in the devotions we share with each other, to each other, and with and to the Divine presence within and beyond us always.

  1. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 155.
  2. Larry L, Rasmussen, Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 81.
  3. Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience: Emerging Religions Consciousness (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1993), ix.
  4. Catherine Keller, “Talking Dirty: Ground is Not Foundation,”in Ecospirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth, ed. Laurel Kearns and Catherine Keller (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), 73.
  5. Jay McDaniel, “Ecotheology and World Religions,” Ecospirit, 26.
  6. Ibid., 44.

Eco-Village Journals: An Earthy Bhakti

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The Govardhan Eco-Village is where one practices Earthy bhakti. Here the Earthiness of the very source of our bhakti, manifest in every article of worship, in the tree-bark which is our japa-mala (our prayer beads), in the fresh flower gardens which adore the Deities of Radha-Krishna every day, in the pachanamrta I take to get my digestive rhythms on Indian time, in the rice we throw into the yajna-pit for the digestion of Agni-deva, the fire which represents Vishnu, and in the cow-dung which is the very fecund heart of every practice of bhakti which goes on here.

It’s not that the devotees of the Eco-Village are discovering Earthy Bhakti. Earth as a devotee of Radha-Krishna is always already there. In the Eco-Village this vision and understanding and experience is simply being enhanced, for the flourishing of every precious living being, human, centipede, butterfly, earthworm, and bovine who is blessed to be present.

The dear Vaishnava priest and environmental activist Shrivatsa Goswami tells us:

Sambhanda (loving relationship) is the key to ecology…This relationship is one of love. Krishna says very clearly that the model relationship is love and love is a relationship of mutual enjoyment, with no other transaction than itself. Enjoyment replaces exploitation, it resolves differences of all kinds-social, economic, cultural, or any other. It brings us to mutuality, because the characteristic of love is enjoyment of the others’ pleasure. Nature enjoys being enjoyed, as anyone who has spent time in nature understands, but reacts furiously to exploitation (1)

In the goshala (cow barn) here a simple act is being performed: the protection of the resident cows and bulls. From a very small first herd of 4-5 cows and bulls in 2003, the herd, entirely self-breeding, has grown to 102 personalities, 50/50 between cows and bulls. Their cow-dung is gold for flourishing, used for composting for agriculture, for the powering of the community’s bio-gas plant, for patties which are used for cooking devotional food offerings to the Deities, and for the personal care products the community are developing.

There is a stereotypical view of Hinduism and the reverence of the cow and the bull which has no access to the profoundly simple depths, both ecologically and spiritually, of the practice of cow protection. This same shallowness extends to the political perversions surrounding cow protection in India, perversions connected to the idolatry of nationalism, the idolatry which perverts Hinduism into yet another religion perpetually at fear and at war, a perversion which develops into an epidemic of ultra-violence which must be resisted by any true practitioner of bhakti.

The politics of cow protection complexifies, tragically, the radical simplicity of cow protection. One of the great, great challenges of this dissertation journey is going to be the attempt to re-discover, to amplify, a language of cow protection which both resists this politics and transcends it.

There is a common sense at work in these clouds of uncertainty. Before this historical blip of turbo-capitalism, humankind (not just Hindu-kind) had a deep, symbiotic relationship with the cow and bull. As Jagannatha Kripa Dasa, one of the resident monks here serving the goshala told me, “the cow is an animal who is a wonderful domesticated partner. They are gentle, sociable, and everything they give, their milk, dung, and urine, provide the support for simple, local ecological living.”

So much of the journey of eco-theology is not finding the wheel that must be reinvented. These gentle neighbors are here to constantly remind us that they know the way, that they already know more about the I-Thou which Martin Buber preaches of than most humans ever could, that they are here when we are ready to return. Jagannath Kripa sounds an kind of apocalyptic note which is very resonant with my own thinking: “What happens if there is no longer any petrol or tractors?” The cows and bulls will be there, waiting for us.

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One weekend ago I participated in an organic symbiotic farming workshop led by one of the senior monks, a grave but jovial devotee named Madha Mohan Dev Das. Expecting a good weekend classroom session, because I’m an academic and the classroom is one of my jams, instead we went out almost immediately to the farm. Given small sickles, our group of 20 farmer-seekers literally hacked clear a bunch of high Maharashtrian grass and weeds to build what the GEV calls permanent raised beds, which allow for immediate access for organic growing even on parcels of land which still need intense remediation.

Permanent raised beds: First remove topsoil , then mulch, then slurry, then inch of collected topsoil, then dry biomass (carbon), then slurry, again 1 inch of soil, then 6 inches green biomass (nitrogen-composts faster), again slurry, and 4 inches of soil (1.5 feet bed)

1 part fresh desi cow dung, 4 parts water for slurry

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Organic symbiotic farming means working with cow dung and urine, putting your hands in cow dung and urine, and really not flinching or kvetching about it. It’s raw vijnana: realized knowledge. Once you understand the benefits, any and all illusions or attachments or aversions one may have, coming as many of us do, from cultures where waste is waste to be wasted and discarded, are overcome.

As another Eco-Village wise monk Ganga-Narayana Dasa told me:

“Waste is wealth. Waste is not waste if you don’t waste it.”

This is a sutra seed which contains within itself a curative and a preventative to our ecological grief.

#cowdungisgold

Hands in dung and urine is divine, Earthy bhakti at it’s most essential.

Here we make jeevamrut:

Multiplication of microbes

Cow urine as containing many micronutrients.

Fresh cow dung-10kg
Cow urine-10lt
Jaggery-2kg
Besan (or any base flour)-2kg
Soil from below big tree-250g
Water-200 lt

Mix in 200 lt (plastic, not metal) drum, stir twice a day, 9th day optimum nutrient value

Dry application without water (into balls) lasts six months.

1 acre is enough if you are doing flood irrigation

Every 15 days, only application to soil, only dilute spray on leaves if necessary, stop before crop flowering

Good combination with compost and mulching (mulching withe green leaf produces which also produce) application

Excellent for reviving soil revival (microrganisms) 2-3 years complete revival to ideal fertility.

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My hands made a few of these cow-dung patties. Eco-theology must be dirty theology. The eco-theologian in the Age of Climate Crisis, through her citizenship in the anticipatory community, must have a specific agricultural vocation.

Organic symbiotic farming is not exactly a counter-revolution to the effects of the Green Revolution.  It’s more like re-awakening from a dream to the common sense. It’s a pithy avant-garde: the eternal cutting edge which requires nothing but a desire to make cow dung patties with your own hands. It’s understanding that proper agriculture means that Earth, the farmer, and the consumer are both not harmed and compelled to flourish within the practice itself. The symbiotic cycle is a sustainable cycle, preventable and curable for whatever ills we may come across.

This farming model puts into practice the teaching and understanding that what Krishna has made makes Earth whole and complete in her rhythms, beats, and tones.

The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance. (Sri Isopanisad Invocation)

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Earthy bhakti is cow dung, is hands working together, and hands held in prayer and loving devotion to Yamuna-Devi, the sacred river of the Eco-Village. Her original incarnation, especially worshipped by Vaishnavas in Vrindavan, India, gives “her devotees whatever they ask for…The devotee’s greatest desire is for the experience of a loving encounter with the very source of love, Krishna, and Yamuna knows this without being told…Shri Yamuna-ji has such love for her devotees that she gives them the best of all without them even asking.” (2)

As the title of David Haberman’s book tells us, the nature of Yamuna-Devi in this world is both always blessed and now always troubled. In her Eco-Village incarnation, every evening at 6:15, a beautiful arati (worship) is performed which allows us to deepen our sense of Earthy bhakti, so we may become humble yet potent instruments to arrest the age of pollution.

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Sri Yamunastakam prayer by Srila Rupa Goswami sung each evening at Yamuna-Arati

 

  1. David Haberman, River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 157-158.
  2. Haberman, River of Love in an Age of Pollution, 121.

 

Eco-Village Journals: The Dance of Dharma and Justice

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At its heart, the goal of dharma is satisfied only through actions that are undertaken with attentiveness to the good of all beings and not to specific groups. Dharma derives from of the universe as an interdependent and interrelated whole. It emphasizes that existence and the realization of our human potential are possible only in the context of this whole and the benefits derived from the generous giving of all constituents of reality…the tradition recognized the necessity for universal ethical norms (sadharana dharma) binding on all human beings and governing their relationships

Dharma must become synonymous with the common good, what the Bhagavad-gita (3:20) refers to as lokasangraham, and applied rigorously in the quest for justice against all forms of injustice and oppression. (185)

Anantanand Rambachan, A Hindu Theology of Liberation

All of our communities, especially those which are anticipatory communitiesmust be places where the dance of dharma and justice happens, where these singular realities of flourishing whirl together, their contradictions, their commonalities, their twisted histories, flowing and folding together, resolved in the heart of bhakti.

As a sometimes professed Hindu, a white American Hindu none-the-less, trained as an scholar within the cloister of Union Theological Seminary, fired with the ancestral spirits of James Cone, Katie Cannon, Beverly Harrison, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich, justice is the lodestone which has formed my theological identity. What I have come to discover, with my fellow Hindu colleagues, scholars and practitioners and the combination there of, is that my bringing in of the concept and practice of justice (or more like my crashing in-Union students are not trained to be subtle) brings about a distinct expression and emotion of aversion.

Why is this? Why are some Hindus resistant to the language of justice? The language of Abrahamic justice, of a vengeful, jealous, but ultimately righteously loving God, a God who has a sense of historical destiny and eschatological finality in mind, doesn’t always translate cleanly to the pantheon of divinities in Hinduism. Yes, the concept of karma does loosely relate to Abrahamic justice (“as you sow, so shall you reap”), but the more one studies, and experiences, karma, the more one understands/misunderstands how complex and problematic it is to think karma is merely an eye for an eye. Karma is certainly cosmic justice, but it’s not exactly historical justice, or legal justice, or the kind of justice movements of people around the world fight for to re-claim their and their communities’ own flourishing.

I’ve come to understand more and more that the language of justice finds resistance with my fellow Hindus because they feel justice, as I and others may express it especially coming from an non-Indic grounding, is a foreign and shallow concept compared to the ocean of understanding and relations that is dharma. Certainly, as well, centuries of colonization, and the long, slow, painful recovery therefrom, has an effect when resisting justice language that is not rooted in the soil, the bhumi, of the subcontinent.

Even as I become much more sensitive and humble in my use of justice language in my engagement with my dharmic community, especially my own sangha of Caitanya Vaishnavas here in the Govardhan Eco-Village, I continue to seek a ground where the language of dharma and justice can dance together. I think there is a great potential in this dance, when one concept does not overpower each other, when the spiritual depth of dharma meets the fierce compassion of justice, when the divinities of dharma, with their endless variety of rasas (spiritual emotions and feelings) meets the liberator divinity of justice, the God of the oppressed, who is overflowing with the kind of love which is so exquisite and human for those most under the boot of the jackal thugs

Dr. Anantanand Rambachan’s book A Hindu Theology of Liberation: Now-Two is Not-One has been for me an inestimable guide in discovering the rhythms, beats, harmonies, and dissonances of this dance. His book covers how Hindu traditions, primarily through the lens of his own expertise on the Advaita Vedanta tradition, have a richness of resources, teachings, sastras (sacred scriptures), and exemplars who demonstrate how the practice of dharma, the practice of common, interconnected flourishing, the very harmonic convergence of the universe, is a practice of resistance and life-giving against the forces of patriarchy, homophobia, anthropocentrism, childism, and casteism.

Early on in his book, Rambachan makes a pithy and elucidating point on the difference between justice and charity (dana in Sanskrit) which often elides many Hindus:

Without the concern for justice, personal piety becomes obsessively self-centered. At the same time, attentiveness to and cultivation of the interior spiritual life nourish and provide the motivation for the work of justice. 

Justice cannot be equated with charity. The latter seeks to offer relief and care to those who are the victims of injustice. Justice seeks to change and transform the structures that cause suffering. (Quoting the Christian theologian Marcus J. Borg) “Charity means helping the victims. Justice asks, ‘Why are there so many victims? and then seeks to change the causes of victimhood, that is, the way the system is structured. (5-6)

As for my own tradition, the practice of bhakti (the yoga of fierce and radical devotion and love), consider this poem of the ecstatic poet of bhakti, Mirabai. 

Her family was poor

her caste quite low

her clothes a matter of rags

Yet Ram took that fruit –

that touched spoiled fruit

for he knew that it stood for her love.

This was a woman who loved the taste of love

and Ram knows no high, no low.

What sort of Veda could she ever have learned?

But, quick as a flash, she mounted a chariot

And sped to heaven to swing on a swing

tied by love to God.

You are the Lord who cares for the fallen

rescues whoever loves as she did.

Mirabai, Caturvedi no. 186 (as translated by John Stratton Hawley and Marek Juergensmeyer from Songs of the Saints of India)

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No high and no low. What is considered as spoiled, or untouchable, is instead the very substance, the very exchange and embrace, of love between God and his beautiful, vulnerable devotee. We touch upon a God of the oppressed who is completely committed to the care and the rescue of the most fallen, the most fallen who are the most beloved, who are the most capable of love and devotion. Mirabai, the mysterious devotee of the Divine in the personal forms of Krishna and Ram, the poet who is one of the fullest flowers of the bhakti movement, here creates a milieu which shatters the illusion that worship and devotion of God requires hierarchies of one-over-the-other, of the pure over the impure. The overflowing heart of bhakti, the yoga of devotion, is a flood of justice and love which can carry away the walls we build around the contours and landscapes of our heart, a flood which washes away the borderlines and partitions which keep us alienated and separated from the gaze, grace, and embrace of our planetary neighbor and from the Divine herself.

Consider this definition of bhakti from the eminent Indian poet, philosopher, and litterateur A.K Ramanujan: bhakti-yoga is that which “is necessarily anti-structure…unmaking, undoing, the man-made. It is an act of violation against ordinary expected loyalties, a breakdown of the predictable and the secure…The Lord is the Illicit Lover; He will break up the world of Karma and normal relationships.” (from his book Speaking of Siva)

Bhakti is the yoga of devotion, of emotion, of courage, of compassion, of the Christ-like determination to include, embrace, protect, rejuvenate, and resurrect life eternally in the faces of the forces of death. Bhakti can be, must be, dangerous, radical, ecstatic, defiant, the very substance and experience of liberation, which lifts every fiber of our spirit into the embrace of God and Goddess. They are the God and Goddess who love the taste of love, who know no high or low, who do everything in their power to devastate any and every illusion which makes one high and makes one low.

Yes, many scholars will claim that the presence and practice of bhakti is not an automatic qualifier for material liberation from the fascists. Yet, what potential there is, always already, in the sweet fierceness of bhakti to break the chains of our ignorance, to re-build the bridges burnt, and by the very act of devotion, something which so many of us have a lost of sense of profound taste for, we can create the world of just flourishing we ache to bring forth.

This isn’t naive, romantic idealism. I’m experiencing this every day here in the Eco-Village. What is devotion? What is bhakti? It’s the kind of fierce compassion and love that no Trump and no Putin and no ideology and no corporation and no brand and no weapon can ever overpower. It is the very kiss and embrace of God.

Bhakti is the garden where the dance between dharma and justice can fully take place.

(And I might add that eco-bhakti (shout out to the Sacred Ecology Forum at the Bhakti Center) is where eco-dharma and environmental justice can dance together. One of my most important tasks for my dissertation is going to be exploring how the Eco-Village, and especially their Rural Empowerment program, embody the Seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice.)

Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, in his Song of the Divine, provides the long tones, backbeats, and sweet arias from which the dance of dharma and justice can take place. Krishna is imploring Arjuna to get up and fight to resist and overcome the terrible injustices of the Kauravas. For those of us who think justice-seeking is like Facebook posting and kvetching, there’s an analogy in there when our friend who is an actual movement-maker implores us to get our hands more dirty in the struggle.

We’ve already heard how Krishna calls Arjuna, and all of us, to participate in the welfare and flourishing of loka-sangraham, the common good, the symphony of planetary life, love, and joy. Elsewhere Krishna sings:

Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself. (4:7)

Krishna here, descending specifically to resist adharma and protect those afflicted by such adharma, intersects very intimately with the God of the Oppressed. What rich possibilities for theological dialogue, expression, and practice sit here. Krishna-bhakti meets liberation theology.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to connect adharma, the rupturing of the dharmic harmonics of creation, with injustice. The practice of dharma and the practice of justice dance and whirl together because they are both so intimately concerned with the full-spectrum well-being flourishing of every living being: body, mind, behind, two-stepping, intelligence, heart, mystery, certainty, embrace, soul, funk, and the Divine.

As my dear friend and Eco-Village guide Nimai-Lila Dasa puts it so nicely on the dance-floor: we want to practice jiva-doya (active compassion for all living beings-the substance of justice) with nama-ruci (taste for intimate connection of the Divine, through chanting Krishna’s name and meditating on Krishna’s sweetest qualities-the substance of dharma). Here I enter more fully into the dance of dharma and justice, compassion and rasa, justice and bhakti, embrace and embrace.

One final note, based on some recent realizations and experiences: the dance of dharma and justice cannot be reduced to a mere ideology, to a battle of political wills, to attack at all costs, to reaction and not construction. We can never be so aloof from the political reality in this dance, but it can never be reduced to this. You can’t put walls around bhakti, because they will just be flooded away.

 

Eco-Village Journals: Serving the Divine with a Scholarly Heart

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The mornings and the evenings are sublimely peaceful here. In the forest groves of the Eco-Village, one gets an acute sense of the matrix of body, mind, and soul. Aware of my mind, my dancing mind, my freaking curious mind, a mind that is really happy to be in a space where I can actually WRITE, and I can see and hear how my writing is actually getting a little bit better. But planning mind, he is still there. Wanting to know what’s next, what’s the day going to be like, when is this, what about that, etc. Even for me, who’s recently been compared, quite accurately, to a contemplative introverted husky dog, who lives within the strange blessings (and curses perhaps) of being a professional academic, who gets paid (not much though, mate) to think, trying to rev down my planning mind is still quite a moment-by-moment strain.
Now, I am starting to write and research my doctoral dissertation, so planning mind has to stay somewhat constructively active, but really now, as I just get here, as I try to stay in a retreat space I’ve been promising myself for months, I’m just trying to be atmarama (self-satisfied). Long, leisurely, really sweaty (it’s rainy season humid here) walks to the temple and the goshala (cow barn) are time eternally best spent. Waking up and reading Srimad-Bhagavatam in the morning, returning to Caitanya-caritamrta in the afternoon, making up for years immersed, with great benefit, in theologies outside in my tradition, but now taking the time to get back to the roots of being a theologian of my own tradition. And even all the while, starting to write my dissertation, but writing theopoetically, writing contemplatively but in-action, trying to unearth this prophetic itch in my soul.
And the festivals of rain! As Thomas Merton writes:
Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness (1)
I’ve come on the tail-end of the rainy season in Maharashtra. It’s certainly not a constant monsoon. The rain here seems to be interwoven with the wind. She comes in short bursts, moving in and as quickly away as a riven cloud. When the wind-rain enters the Eco-Village, the already divine rhythms of this place become more ecstatic. When I was up at midnight working through my jet-lags, listening and watching the rain at my window, I’ve never felt so close to Merton in his hermitage. I caught a glimpse of his peace and wisdom in a way I’ve never felt before.
Mind is settling down. Body is too, slowly but surely. Body is slowly starting to figure out where the hell it’s at, when to sleep, how to digest.
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My mood.
And my soul, well it’s home. I am re-discovering again what it means to be a devotee of God, a devotee of Krishna. I discovered this somewhat, really only somewhat, but with a foundation that’s kept me going since, during my five years living as a monk in the Krishna-bhakti Caitanya Vaishnava tradition.  I discovered much more in the wilds of Union Theological Seminary for the last seven years, re-discovering I’m still a bit Catholic, and discovering, again thanks primarily to the late, great James Cone, that to be a devotee of God is express one’s bhakti in kind for our neighbors most in need, most under the jackal’s boot, most robbed of their inherent God-given right to flourish in the love of God that belongs to each and all. I discovered a very ambiguous Hindu sense of identity, best described through the combination of my Krishna-bhakti and my Union-bhakti in the book A Hindu Theology of Liberation by my dear mentor Anantanand Rambachan.
In my work and ongoing experience in the field of comparative theology, I’ve been using a simple garden metaphor to describe my experience of faith. Our faith experience is like a garden. We have primary roots which belong to the primary tradition we identify with. In the experience of communing with our neighbor in faith, we humbly and respectfully accept the invitation to enter our neighbor’s garden, and if our neighbor is kind enough to offer some seeds of their own faith to us, we may take them back to our own garden. We plant them there, and watch how the roots intertwine, and we realize how natural this intertwining is. We realize that, like in contemporary industrial agriculture, if we mono-crop our faith, and don’t have any bio-diversity in our garden, our roots and soil will dry up.
I’ve been doing a lot of weird and wonderful seeding in my own garden for the last seven years at Union. Now, being back at the Eco-Village, I continue tend to these interwoven plants and flowers and herbs in my dissertation work, but much more so, I am watering again, much more intentionally, the roots of my Vaishnava faith, knowing that the more I water these roots, the deepest of my roots, the more healthy my entire garden will be.
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One of my favorite shelters here in the Vrindavana Gardens is the replica of the Radha-Damodar temple in Vrindavana. Especially special here is the pretty-much life-size replica of Srila Prabhupada’s room at Radha-Damodar. When I last visited the Eco-Village in December, I had some sense of what the Vrindavana experience would be like, with the beautiful, evocative landscapes and the replicas of the Seven Temples of Vrindavana. I didn’t know there was also a replica of Radha-Damodar and Prabhupada’s room, and when I quite literally stumbled on it, I was moved in a way that I still can’t quite put words to.
Anyone familiar with the story and legacy of Prabhupada knows how important this place is to all of his disciples and grand-disciples. Here, he prepared himself for his journey to America in the 1960’s, revving up his immense devotional courage, to travel halfway across the world, in his late 60’s, as a swami (mendicant monk and teacher) to attempt to spread Krishna-bhakti around the world, which 50 years later, moving through and with Allen Ginsburg and George Harrison and thousands of devoted devotees giving their lives and hearts to his mission, is now a planetary fact and family. (If you’re interested in learning more about Prabhupada’s life and ministry the Srila Prabhupada Lila-mrta by his student Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami and Swami in a Strange Land by his student Joshua Greene are wonderful journeys)
Prabhupada’s room here is a lovely quiet place to read and meditate. As a connoisseur of hermitages it ranks high in my book. As I dive deeper than ever into my own scholarly seva, I’m becoming very dependent on the mercy and example of Prabhupada as a devotional scholar. Even as he was taking on the tremendous task of creating a global Krishna ministry (a religious event of the last few hundred years which really has no parallel and which my fellow religious scholars and theologians would do well to explore much more seriously), each morning he would rise at 1 a.m and translate the classic, essential Vaishnava sastras (sacred texts) such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Caitanya-caritamrta. Amidst the struggle and turmoils, the blood, sweat, and tears given to build the global Krishna consciousness movement, Prabhupada’s early-morning hours as a scholar translating these texts was his own dearest seva, his “personal ecstasies” as he described it, communing with the translations of our tradition’s previous acaryas (scholar-teachers) and with Krishna in his heart to produce translations relevant for the upheavals of the post-World War post-modern millennial transition. Prabhupada’s books were his very life-blood. If anything, he was most intimately a devotee of Krishna as a scholar.
Sitting in Prabhupada’s room, I am simply trying to absorb his spirit of scholarly seva. Diving back into his translations, I am appreciating anew the incredible sophistication of his work. Prabhupada’s translations can be, for my generation of devotees, out-of-touch with the realities of the twenty-first century world. I mean I’m quite a bit of an eco-feminist, and there are many abysses between eco-feminism scholarship and Prabhupada’s translations, and also there’s not, when you dive beyond surface assumptions into the rich eco-feminism of the Vaishnava tradition, such as the theology of the river goddesses Ganga and Yamuna.
It’s easy as a Vaishnava scholar to gloss over Prabhupada and jump into the works of the other acaryas. As valuable and as necessary as this exegesis is, it sometimes seems, in the scholarly world, that Prabhupada has become neglected and left-behind. But we, as Vaishnavas, as religious scholars, are doing an inconceivably great disservice when we both refuse to take Prabhupada’s world-historic scholarship, his ground-breaking systematic theology, seriously in and of itself, and when we refuse to critically engage his scholarship to better understand the many nuances and pathways he provided to connect the well-springs of our contemporary crises to the devotional genius of Krishna-bhakti.
Most of all, his scholarly seva was infused with a radical and fierce compassion and love which is inconceivable to those of us who aren’t pure devotees of Krishna. I’m praying to Prabhupada, every time I sit down to write, for some small dose of that compassion and love.
Prabhupada was always clear in his translations and purports that the use of our intelligence, such as for scholarly seva, is always a practice of sincere bhakti. Check out the two passages below from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (and also this lecture by his student Garuda Dasa (Graham Schweig) on how “All Academic Activities Can Be Hari-Sankirtana”
Translation:
Learned circles have positively concluded that the infallible purpose of the advancement of knowledge, namely austerities, study of the Vedas, sacrifice, chanting of hymns and charity, culminates in the transcendental descriptions of the Lord, who is defined in choice poetry.
Purport:
Philosophy and science should be engaged to establish the glory of the Lord. Advanced people are eager to understand the Absolute Truth through the medium of science, and therefore a great scientist should endeavor to prove the existence of the Lord on a scientific basis. Similarly, philosophical speculations should be utilized to establish the Supreme Truth as sentient and all-powerful. Similarly, all other branches of knowledge should always be engaged in the service of the Lord. In the Bhagavad-gītā also the same is affirmed. All “knowledge” not engaged in the service of the Lord is but nescience. Real utilization of advanced knowledge is to establish the glories of the Lord, and that is the real import. Scientific knowledge engaged in the service of the Lord, and all similar activities, are all factually hari-kīrtana, or glorification of the Lord.
Translation:
Intelligence engaged in My devotion cannot be thwarted at any time. Even at the time of creation, as well as at the time of annihilation, your remembrance will continue by My mercy.
Purport:

Devotional service rendered to the Personality of Godhead never goes in vain. Since the Personality of Godhead is eternal, intelligence applied in His service or anything done in His relation is also permanent. In the Bhagavad-gītāit is said that such transcendental service rendered unto the Personality of Godhead accumulates birth after birth, and when the devotee is fully matured, the total service counted together makes him eligible to enter into the association of the Personality of Godhead. Such accumulation of God’s service is never vanquished, but increases till fully matured.

 

 

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  1. Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable, New York: New Directions, 1966, 9.

Eco-Village Journals: The River of Love

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8/30/18, 10:49 am, Govardhan Eco-Village

After an 11-hour oh so sweet jet-lag deep sleep, I awoke at 2:30am this morning, relieved and overjoyed to be here. I spent a quiet, contemplative hour reading from the Srimad-Bhagavatam and then, for the first time in many years, at least since my monk-ashram days, I went to the temple morning program. Which for non-Krishna devotee readers goes like this:

4:30-5:15am: Mangal-arati (morning prayers sung with devotion through kirtan for the Guru and for the temple Radha-Krishna Deities), prayers of devotion sung for Nrshima-devaprayers of devotion sung for Tulasi-devi)

5:15-7:00am: Individual chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra on our japa (meditation beads)

7:00am: Greeting of the Deities (the altar is opened to the newly, freshly dressed Deities). Accompanied by the Govindam prayers sung by the London Radha-Krsna Temple Band, produced by George Harrison. 

7:15am: Guru-puja prayers (kirtan prayers and arati (worship) for the Guru.

7:30-8:30am: Class on the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Most resident Krishna monks and temple-goers do this every single day. This night-owl, who is generally traumatized when I have to get up before 8am, still can’t believe that I did this almost everyday for the five years I spent as a Krishna monk. It was really beautiful to be back home like this. I remembered like 85% of what to sing and do too! I’m not sure, with my night-owl ness and my scholarly seva rhythms, how often I’ll get to most of the morning program while I’m here, but I’m going to try and make as much of it as I can.

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Sri-Sri Radha Vrindaban Behari, the presiding Deities of the Govardhan Eco-VillageOn the left is the deity of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the 15-16th century Krishna-bhakti saint who inaugurated the contemporary Krishna-bhakti global sangha (community).

In the middle is the Deity of Krishna, the all-attractive Personality of Godhead, and to the right is Radharani, the feminine aspect of the Godhead, and the most beloved and loving devotee of Krishna.

One of the most amazing aspects of the Eco-Village is the re-creation of Vrindavana, considered in the Krishna-bhakti tradition to be the eternal, spiritual home of Krishna and his most beloved devotees. The Earthly Vrindavana, in Uttar Pradesh in India, is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for all Krishna devotees. The devotees in the Eco-Village, inspired by the vision of Radhanath Swami, have faithfully re-created much of the devotional ecology of Vrindavana for everyone here to become deeply immersed in.

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For devotees of the tradition, in considering how we can develop our ecological vision, how we can develop our Krishna-rooted eco-theology, we need look no further than the example of Krishna himself. Throughout such sacred sastras (scriptures) as the Srimad-Bhagavatamthe stories of Krishna’s life and pastimes, narrated with exquisitely rich charismatic detail, come to us from the original, eternal ecological ideal of the forests, groves, and watersheds of the spiritual Vrindavana. Krishna, in his most attractive and attracting form, is a cowherd boy, surrounded by his gopas and gopis, his boy and girl cowherd friends. Krishna, when he is most himself, where he finds himself most at home, is in the blissful ecosystem of Vrindavana. Our Earthly planet is a beautiful reflection of Vrindavana, and it is through the experience of Vrindavana, through the unceasing river of love that is the experience of bhakti (selfless, loving devotion to each and every living being and to the Divine) that we can immediately recover our sense of Earthly well-being.

I’m excited to explore and share with you the groves of Vrindavana in the Eco-Village in more intimate detail in the weeks ahead.

If, by the grace of the Lord and the great-souled devotees of the Lord, a living being becomes fortunate enough to associate with the unadulterated devotees of the Lord and gets a chance to hear the unadulterated glories of the Lord, certainly the flow of devotional service takes place like the flow of a river. As the river flows on till she reaches the sea, similarly pure devotional service flows by the association of pure devotees till it reaches the ultimate goal, namely, transcendental love of God. Such a flow of devotional service cannot stop. On the contrary, it increases more and more without limitation. The flow of devotional service is so potent that any onlooker also becomes liberated from the influence of the modes of passion and ignorance. These two qualities of nature are thus removed, and the living being is liberated, being situated in his original position.

Srila Prabhupada purport, Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.28

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The piles of books are arranged and I’m ready to write!

There are three main questions I bring to this dissertation project:

  1. What is the anticipatory community?
  2. How do we create and practice ecological flourishing and resilience in the midst of the ongoing and soon to be over-flowing Age of Climate Crisis?
  3. How can the Govardhan Eco-Village be such an anticipatory community for flourishing and resilience in the Age of Climate Crisis?

To put this bluntly: there is a certain apocalyptic eco-theological sensibility I’m bringing to the devotees of the Eco-Village. (If you’re not yet aware/jaded about the nature of our Climate Crisis check out The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition by David Wallace-Wells). To put it pithily, again in the words of Roy Scranton: We’re Doomed. Now What?

The Eco-Village is already doing a tremendous amount in terms of the Now What (check out the Projects tab on the Eco-Village website). The many questions I am bringing in, rooted in the eco-theological and environmental movement work I have been doing for the last seven years at Union Seminary, has to do with the doomed reality. Which is to say these are questions which have to do with the short-term and long-term resilience of the Eco-Village. This is, for one thing, as my sweat glands are constantly expressing since I got here, a very humid tropical climate, rooted in a wider Krishna-bhakti community located in what may soon be one of the great endangered cities of the rest of the century, Mumbai. What happens when the heat and the seas rise and rise and rise the rest of the foreseeable way? How can be the Eco-Village become a more resilient anticipatory community which is not only renewing the community’s sense of Earth consciousness and devotion, but which is providing a scalable, relevant, and translatable model of radical alternative shelter for the refugees of the doomed? 

This is but one of the big tensions involved in this work ahead, which is part and parcel of my devotee/scholar insider/outsider tension I bring to this work as well. I am a devotee of this tradition, of this community, of my teacher Radhanath Swami who calls this community home. I am also a professionally trained religious scholar who has to write a dissertation which must pass and live up to the rigors and expectations of my teachers, advisors, readers, and the field. No one has done a dissertation-level work on the Eco-Village, and the Eco-Village, I imagine, has never encountered someone coming in with a bunch of theological scrutiny (and Union Seminary I’m a student of James Cone level scrutiny as well)

It’s within the tensions that I will be able to honor both my seva to my teacher and my community, honor the expectations of my academic community, and hopefully be able to present the Eco-Village in a new and deeper light to the interested world, and hopefully play a humble part in helping the Eco-Village community better understand and put into practice the anticipatory practice of resilience, rooted in the dance between dharma, devotion, and justice for all beings.

As to how I’ll explore those tensions, well stay tuned cause I just got here!

Eco-Village Journals: Arriving Contemplations

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8/29/18, 2:29am, Abu Dhabi International Airport.

Srila Prabhupada (the founding teacher of my religious community, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness) used to say, during his morning beach walks on the sands on Mumbai (then Bombay) that the sea usually knows just when to stop its waves, so that they don’t overflow and flood away our tiny but oh-so-important human habitats. Tsunamis and the like are special events where this usual arrangement between land and sea, between climate and humanity, breaks down in dramatic and tragic fashion. These disasters used to be the exceptions to the norm. Now, we are entering into an age where the exception is more and more becoming the norm.

This came to mind a few weeks ago when I was with my family, on our annual pilgrimage to our family friends’ cottages, Krebs Lane Cottages, in Port Austin, Michigan, where Saginaw Bay enters back out onto Lake Huron proper. The first thing we noticed was that there was less beach than the previous year. I recalled Prabhupada’s observation when I was standing in that sweet liminal space between shore and Great Lake, where you’re putting your feet in the water to get a taste of that unparalleled sweetness. Lake Huron is both sweet and a beast. (For more of the exquisite details see The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan) These Lakes can be as placid as a jewel, clear as enlightenment, always now as warm as a bath (which may not be such a good thing considering how this manifests the hyper-object of climate change/global warming.)

She’s also a Goddess, and for those many doomed to their deathly transition to the next life on the many shipwrecks on the gloaming bottoms, she’s a Beast. Even now, on our last night up here, in the half-moonlight emerging, the speed of her swells crashing on the beaches, when taken with a halfway detached eye, with the I-You eye, she is just breathtaking.

She is ALIVE. She is the Holy Spirit.

That hyperobject of climate change, a hyperobject which, as described by the philosopher Timothy Morton, is an entity which transcends our mundane sense of space, time, and propriety, but which nevertheless penetrates our very reality to shatter the comfort zones of our everyday lives. Hyperobjects are those “entities cause us to reflect on our very place on Earth and in the cosmos. Perhaps this is the most fundamental issue—hyperobjects seem to force something on us, something that affects some core ideas of what it means to exist, what Earth is, what society is.” (1)

In that liminal space, my feet between and both/and on the Michigan shore and within the cool touch of Huron, I could not but think about and feel climate change. There is no longer any pure and innocent enjoyment of the Lakes, knowing what permeates our every breath and every future moment breaking into the present.

I know that, when I am in the Govardhan Eco-Village, the spectre of climate change will be ever-present as well. Even as I enter into devotional retreat and renewal there, climate change will never evaporate from my consciousness. Even our very bhakti (the art and yoga of devotion) is not really aloof from climate change. We can’t wish or ritualize or pray or enjoy it away; it is Crisis, Derangement, Apocalypse, Anthropocene.

As the author Roy Scranton asks: We’re Doomed, Now What? The Now What is what must lure our consciousness, our body and soul, into the ruptured wounds ahead. The healing balm to these wounds begins when we step, very intentionally step, beyond ourselves, to become instruments of divine grace, to become impossibly yet actually so empathetic with our fellow Earthlings that we ReMember, that we wake up startled, as out of a nightmare, to realize we are never separate from our planetary neighbors. Scranton writes:

Yet it’s at just this moment of crisis that our human drive to make meaning reappears as our only salvation . . . if we’re willing to reflect consciously on the ways we make life meaningful—on how we decide what is good, what our goals are, what’s worth living or dying for, and what we do every day, day to day, and how we do it. Because if it’s true that we make our lives meaningful ourselves and not through revealed wisdom handed down by God or the Market or History, then it’s also true that we hold within ourselves the power to change our lives—wholly, utterly—by changing what our lives mean. Our drive to make meaning is more powerful than oil, the atom, and the market, and it’s up to us to harness that power to secure the future of the human species.

We can’t do it by clinging to the progressivist, profit-seeking, technology-can-fix-it ideology of fossil-fueled capitalism. We can’t do it by trying to control the future. We need to learn to let our current civilization die, to accept our mortality, and to practice humility. We need to work together to transform a global order of meaning focused on accumulation into a new order of meaning that knows the value of limits, transience, and restraint.

Most important, we need to give up defending and protecting our truth, our perspective, our Western values, and understand that truth is found not in one perspective but in its multiplication, not in one point of view but in the aggregate, not in opposition but in the whole. We need to learn to see not just with Western eyes but with Islamic eyes and Inuit eyes, not just with human eyes but with golden-cheeked warbler eyes, coho salmon eyes, and polar bear eyes, and not even just with eyes but with the wild, barely articulate being of clouds and seas and rocks and trees and stars. (2)

Climate Change is also Opportunity, the opportunity we must take to anticipate the way forward, to create and participate in anticipatory communities which can provide fierce, resilient, and just shelter for the wicked time ahead. It is that resilience which must fire through our blood when we really consider how much we love and want to protect and make flourish our most beloved beings, like the Great Lakes, like the Eco-Village, like the next generations to come.

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Sunrise high over the Arabian Sea

8/29/18, Govardhan Eco-Village, 2:21pm

I made it here, very literally by the grace of Krishna. Not that the journey was in any way harrowing. These intercontinental travels move quickly when you consider it just one big nap to take. Nevertheless a long nap is not deep sleep, and as type these words the jet-lag faaaaaadddde is starting to emerge.

It feels so home-like and familiar to be here, like I never left, especially since I left a piece of my heart here and have been aching to come back and get it. That heart retrieval is gonna have to wait until I sleep for like 12 hours maybe.

My humble, cozy, contemplative Eco-Village digs

I am here for the next two months, as I begin the deep dive into my Ph.D dissertation ocean, researching the Eco-Village as the primary exemplar of the anticipatory community.

My teacher and mentor Larry Rasmussen describes the anticipatory community in this way:

“‘Anticipatory communities’ are home places where it is possible to reimagine worlds and reorder possibilities, places where new or renewed practices give focus to an ecological and postindustrial way of life. Such communities have the qualities of a haven, a set-apart and safe place yet a place open to creative risk. Here basic moral formation happens by conscious choice and not by default (simply conforming to the ethos and unwritten ethic of the surrounding culture). Here eco-social virtues are consciously cultivated and embodied in community practices. Here the fault lines of modernity are exposed” (3)

As much as this is time for my research and Ph.D study, it is also an experience of return, renewal, and pilgrimage back into my Krishna-bhakti roots. Many years ago I made a strange and uncertain journey to live in Krishna ashrams as a monk, jumping out of my life as it were to move wholesale to temples in the coal-fracked hills of West Virginia and later the hipster paradises of the East Village in New York City. When the monk’s life ended, another strange, mysterious jump to seminary-scholar’s life at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

I was happy today that I’m kind of becoming an old hand at these strange jumps. That I can find a sense of home in a lot of different places. The natural nerves are replaced by roots of joy and belonging and expectation and excitement.

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My first dandavats (obeisances and honorings) were paid to our beautiful Hanuman deity, giving strength and compassion to everyone building the Eco-Village

The deep energy flowing through this experience is the flow of bhakti, of selfless devotion to each and every living being and to the Divine Beings, Radha-Krishna. This energy flows into the time ahead and it is my solemn and sacred duty to access that flow of bhakti as best as I can through the practice of my sadhana (meditation on the name and embodiment of the Divine) and my seva (my everyday practice of serving and developing loving relationships with the members of the Eco-Village community).

Most importantly, this is such a wonderful, mysterious, and enlivening opportunity to serve my teacher Radhanath Swami closely in a place he very much calls home. It’s actually the very traditional way to serve your guru: in the comfort of his home, where he feels most grounded in his own practice of bhakti, where his many students and friends can help to cultivate this bhakti, especially through the rasa (flavor) of devotion to Earth. Where we are attempting to fulfill the call of Srila Prabhupada to create resilient, sustainable, Earth-rooted communities where the radical, living spirit of Krishna-bhakti satiates the very thirst of our spirit in the ecology of love.

I’m really excited to share this upcoming journey with y’all, through pictures, videos, and especially the bunches and bunches of writing I will be doing over the next couple of months, dissertation and otherwise.

Your prayers and blessings for my scholarly seva to blossom in new and rich ways while I am there, are deeply, deeply appreciated.

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  1. Timothy Morton. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 361-363). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roy Scranton. We’re Doomed. Now What?: Essays on War and Climate Change (Kindle Locations 79-105). Soho Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Larry L. Rasmussen. Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 227.