Sunday, November 22, 2015


Hindutva: Exploring the Idea
of Hindu Nationalism

When I first encountered the concept of Hindutva, it really slowed me down. First, it was so deeply relevant to the whole Mystic Bourgeoisie mission - i.e., to suggest some measure of skepticism to the credulously spiritualized. And second, it was quite a complex historical phenomenon in itself, with deep roots not only in India's pre-independence past, but going back to the days of the British Raj and the influence of William Jones's discovery of  similarities between Sanskrit and the classical languages of Greece and Rome. The latter kicked off Indo-European philology and its fascination with a largely imaginary "Aryan" proto-culture connecting East and West.

See what I mean? It gets gnarly right out of the box.

The relevance to my purposes here began with noting the seminal influence of Sri Aurobindo on the intellectual development of Michael Murphy, founder of Esalen Institute, and that of Ken Wilber, he of the many multicolored charts purporting to explain what I have come to call Integral Everything on a Stick.

Let's start with Michael Murphy and Esalen, shall we? Before he and Dick Price started up Esalen, Murphy was a student at Stanford. One day he walked into the wrong lecture hall by mistake and it changed his life. The professor was Frederic Spiegelberg, who was teaching a course on Asian religions. his Wikipedia page tells us...
In 1951, Spiegelberg invited Haridas Chaudhuri, a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, to join the staff of the newly formed American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco, the first accredited U.S. graduate school devoted exclusively to the study of Asiatic lands and peoples. This eventually became the California Institute of Integral Studies...

Spiegelberg was also involved in founding the Esalen Institute with former student Michael Murphy and Dick Price.
Chaudhuri invited Alan Watts to join that American Academy of Asian Studies and somewhere in the wings around the same time was Aldous Huxley, who coined the phrase “human potentiality” - so you begin to see where this is going. Note also that non-trivial "Integral" in California Institute of Integral Studies. Aurobindo wrote a book called Integral Yoga, and Ken Wilber has never stopped flogging Integral everything, from back since he was the darling of the Transpersonal Psychology movement, an offshoot of Abraham Maslow's Humanistic Psychology, which also achieved whatever notoriety it once had through the unstinting public relations efforts of - and we're back! - Esalen Institute. It's tangled webs all the way down.

Wilber was also big on Aurobindo (though exactly how and why has been a bit hard to pin down, as Wilber loves to drop names and move on to the next mind boggling multicolored chart).  Spiegelberg too was an Aurobindo fan,  and - here attempting to break free of the gravity well of all this promiscuous influence swapping and numinous synchronicity -  he convinced Murphy to travel to India. Specifically, to Aurobindo's big-ass ashram in Pondicherry: Auroville. Actually, by the time that was set up, Aurobindo was dead, so it was left to his longtime consort - a.k.a. The Mother - to do the honors (and by some accounts to rule the place with an iron fist). I'm sure Murphy had many deep spiritual insights there, but the one that was most influential, I would argue, was seeing such a huge commune hung together with some sort of vaguely spiritual Hindoo glue. I bet Murphy looked at all that and said, "Hmmmmmm..."

Because that's basically what Esalen became. Aside from the naked hot tubs overlooking the lusciously susurrating ocean at Big Sur, that is, and the encounter groups and the psychedelic dawns and wild imaginings of magic and mystery and Glasperlenspielesque intellectual bead games for madmen only - if you catch my Steppenwolfian drift. Funny how so many of these arcane and obfuscatory references later became bands. Born to be wild, baby!

But wait, you say: did he lose the plot? Wasn't this supposed to be about that Hindutva thing? Very good, you were paying attention! And this is precisely what bogged me down - recalling that first sentence above - when my Mystic Bourgeoisie project, already sprawling and tilting out of control, encountered that topic. At first, I was on fire! OMG, this connects absolutely everything. And it did. So much so that I despaired of ever wrangling all the myriad threads together into some sort of rational coherence. Herding all those cats, you could say. (Yes, I'm livin' a dream.)

But there was cause to be excited. Esalen Institute and Wilber's Integral wig-droppings were at the heart of America's hellbent drive for a sort of spiritual Manifest Destiny in the '60s and what followed from that time. As was Taos, New Mexico, in a somewhat earlier era, with its pilgrimages there by Georgia O'Keefe, D.H. Lawrence, C.G. Jung and the like. Jaime de Angulo (surely someone you've never heard of) connected Jung, the I Ching, Taos and Big Sur, but that's definitely a story for another time.  As was, before that, Ascona, Switzerland, site of Jung's seminal Eranos conferences, which connected Herman Hesse, closet Romanian Fascist father of the so-called History of Religions, Mircea Eliade, and soon-to-be-bona-fide-Nazi Jacob Wilhelm Hauer, as well as assorted artists, literati, drug fiends, and flat-out psychopaths.

Hold up. Focus, focus! Hindutva, yes, OK. Hindutva is sometimes described as "Hindu-ness." In fact, that was the general argument put forth by the guy who invented the concept: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, or just VD to his pals. Hindutva is an extreme far-right brand of Indian nationalism, which made a certain amount of sense in the drive to independence from colonial rule, but a lot less sense today. For one thing, Hinduness is a non-starter with the hundreds of millions of Muslims in India. It's a big country. For another, when Hindus and Muslims clash, it's often the majority Hindus beating the living shit out of the Muslims - when they're not hacking off limbs and burning them alive in the streets. And no, that's not hyperbole. That shit happens in India.

Anyway, see that book up at the top of this screed? Yup, Hindutva: Exploring the Idea of Hindu Nationalism, that's the one. Well, that book has a chapter on Savarkar. It also has a chapter on Aurobindo. Does this rambling coredump now begin to make - or at least hint at - some sort of sense? A year or so ago, India elected as it's Prime Minister one Narendra Modi, a man steeped in Hindutva from the jump. He was the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, the political wing of the overarching Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, which coordinates and controls all aspects of the Hindu nationalist movement. Before the election, I closely studied the BJP's website. It's been radically changed since then, but pre-election, the party platform was a long paper rationalizing its philosophy of Hindutva.

As I was most curious about my interest - ok well, obsession - with all things Mystic Bourgeoisie, I fired off a bunch of site-specific Google searches. And hey, would you look at that! I found over 50 references to Aurobindo. Did I forget to mention that, in his youth before becoming all spiritual, Aurobindo ran a bomb factory? Oh yes he did! Today, we call such people "terrorists." But don't worry: he saw The Light later, after spending a year in a probably not too wonderful Indian jail.

At this point, all I'm trying to convey is how maddeningly complicated all these connections are. And it's still not what you'd call crystal clear to me how they're related. But perhaps you can see why I got so excited when I stumbled into all this - even though it overwhelmed and, for a good time, unhorsed me.

Consider: Esalen Institute, ground zero for the "Human Potential Movement," Ken Wilber and all the confusing but well info-graphicked spiritual handwaving he's unleashed on a population of upwardly mobile young professional types wishing in vain that, oh my, if they were only a bit smarter, and an extremist form of radical religion a world away in India. Yet one more proof of a theme that has kept recurring through my Mystic Bourgeoisie research: the more esoteric, occult and spiritual things get, the further they tend to move toward the far Right.

How exactly these seemingly disparate elements fit together is something of a mystery to me, and I've given up dreaming that I'll be able to nail it all down in a scholarly treatise that would pass peer review and turn heads at The New York Review of Books. But fuck careful plodding scholarship, and fuck peer review! The bigger problem with dissing the Hindutva diaspora is that they're hugely active online and they'll come and burn your house down and eat your goddam cat!

Still, someone's gotta unpack this shit, so this is me unpacking as fast as I can after lugging this baggage around for the last five years.