Inventing Enlightenment

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Inventing Enlightenment

Post by Admin » Tue Aug 04, 2020 12:28 am

I’m going to make some provocative declarations about some sacred cows. These sacred cows are all contentedly munching the green grass of American anxiety. The sacred cows emit mooing that sounds like “ageless wisdom of the East,” “the truth of reincarnation,” “the law of karma,” the “religion of compassion,” the “practice of mindfulness,” the “rationality of Buddhism,” and the “harmony of Eastern faiths with the scientific method.”

Here's a starter list of desacralizing things I have to say about these Dharma bovines:
  • Most purportedly ancient creeds, like Vedanta, Buddhism, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism, are recent innovations adapted to the Western market. In many cases, Asians have studied Western models and mirrored them back as "ancient beliefs," thus transforming their religions into an export product, suited not to native needs, but to Western demand. This is peculiarly evident with the Tibetans, whose lamas are entirely concerned with shaping teachings and collecting fees from Western students, not Tibetans. That market's not very attractive.
  • The period of cultural adaptation occurred during the colonial era, when fascination with the “magic and mystery” of the East conjoined with conquest and exploitation of Eastern peoples by the fascinated Europeans.
  • Emerging Asian nations groomed their native religions for presentation at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions to avoid offense to white sensibilities. Asians wished to dissociate themselves from lurid depictions of ritualistic practices, and purged elements deemed offensive from creeds and doctrines.
  • The Theosophical Publishing House propounded the absurd notion that the current holders of the ancient lineage of Aryan wisdom resided in timeless meditative Samadhi high in their Himalayan fastness, ignoring the polyglot riot of beliefs that engulfs the Indian people.
  • Theosophical reimagination of Hindu beliefs was cotemporaneous with the work of the Buddhist Text and Pali Text Societies, who launched their work in India, notwithstanding that there were no Buddhists there, and all of their staff were English and English-trained native people, plenty of whom did triple duty for the British Crown as linguists, propagandists, and spies.
  • British, American, Australian and South African whites who wanted to dabble in mysticism had no exposure to the actual conduct of native Eastern religious rites, or means of learning their doctrines. Thus, all of the early generations of Buddhists, who established all of the Buddhist institutions in England, Europe, North America, Australia and South Africa, consumed these Crown-sponsored versions of Eastern Religions.
  • Naturally, the local religious talent in India went along with the agenda to make Indian religion respectable: Swami Vivekananda championed an old fashioned work ethic he called “karma yoga,” and toured the West, admiring technology, praising productivity, and harvesting adulation. His creed was clearly not lazy religion of sadhus, fatalistically watching burning bodies and contemplating timeless bliss. Swami Yogananda likewise tooled up for the Twentieth Century, introducing the sensitive people of Los Angeles to a God whose powers of psychic communication, like radio waves, could penetrate every heart, resonating the Cosmic OM in the heart lotus of all devotees, thus inducing many a purchase of monthly courses in Kriya Yoga, patented and trademarked “Genuine Wisdom of the East.”
So what's the significance? What does it matter whether the Buddha or S.N. Goenka invented mindfulness? What does it matter if Tibetan Buddhism was actually as bloodthirsty and feudal as its critics claim? What does it matter whether the words of the Buddha were filtered through the minds of Christian British scholars who began from Theosophical philosophical underpinnings? Some people say none of this matters, because when they take their mindfulness pills, they feel great, and it's what works today that counts today, not what the history books say. That is in fact why Americans make such excellent swindle targets. Time's too short. We must consume, now, before the opportunity escapes. We're ready to buy spirituality. It's hot. We do the deal. We let the taste confirm our purchase was right. In the ecstasy of getting what we want, we praise it highly, and besides, we're invested. Then we won't spit it out, even if we realize it tastes like shit, because we're in the meditation hall. So we make a sour face, and call it shamatha.

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Re: Inventing Enlightenment / The Theosophy of Buddhism

Post by Admin » Tue Aug 04, 2020 1:34 am

The Theosophy of Buddhism

Buddhism had been beaten down by colonial Christianity when American insurance lawyer Henry Steel Olcott and H.P. Blavatsky debarked in the port of Colombo, Ceylon in 1891. Of course the locals were impressed when the two Injies, the heads of the world-renowned Theosophical Society, bowed and took refuge in the Three Jewels before a huge Buddha in the Wijananda Monastery. However, probably none present could have imagined that Olcott would become the “White Buddhist” savior of Sinhalese Buddhism, bringing it back from its ground-down condition, championing Sinhalese self-respect and giving it more than a level playing field to compete against the invaders’ Christian faith. His influence on the Buddhist doctrine taught in Sri Lanka cannot be overestimated:

"Olcott founded 30 colleges, including the Ananda College in Colombo and the Mahinda College in Galle, which taught in the vernacular and also taught Buddhism. He went on to found the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, in southern India. To this day, there is an imposing statue of Col. Olcott outside the main railway station in Colombo."
Henry Steele Olcott and the Sinhalese Buddhist Revival by S. Prothero

Olcott’s interpretation of Buddhism was perhaps affected by his acceptance of Blavatsky’s Mahatma stories as true: "Our Buddhism was that of the Master-Adept Gautama Buddha, which was identically the Wisdom Religion of the Aryan Upanishads, and the soul of all the ancient world-faiths." And Olcott did a lot of writing. “Olcott's The Buddhist Catechism, which would eventually go through more than forty editions and be translated into over twenty languages, is in many ways the defining document of his Buddhism. It first appeared, in both English and Sinhalese, on July 24, 1881. Hugely influential, it is still used today in Sri Lankan schools.” Prothero. Olcott’s influence over the character of Theravada Buddhism as practiced in Sri Lanka was strengthed because Olcott also used his legal abilities to present the case of the Sinhalese Buddhists to the English government. Buddhists in Ceylon were being terrorized by rioting Christians, and the local British Governor had refused to prosecute the wrongdoers. Standing up to the Governor’s biased administration of the colony, Olcott gave impetus to the Sinhalese independence movement, and thus holds triune status as a religious revivalist, translation sponsor, and political midwife of the nation of Sri Lanka.

We hardly have to say more about Olcott’s influence on the modern notion of what is Buddhism. Any student of Western Dharma is already steeped in it, and once alerted to its presence, can perceive the Theosophical tinge to modern Buddhism in all of its features. Know it or not, and it is better to know it -- if you’re a Buddhist, Olcott's "Buddhist" notions comprise a good chunk of your doctrinal DNA. The Olcott Buddhist gene line shows signs of doctrinal interbreeding with a claque of English-speaking teachers who shaped Buddhist Holy Writ. I’ll introduce just a few:

  • Anagarika Dharmapala, who took lay vows, donned robes, preached widely, agitated globally for Buddhist control over the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, using his family money to litigate the Hindu-controlled government to a successful result after many years of litigation. Anagarika Dharmapala was a hit at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago (the “Parliament”), with his presentation of Buddha as a gentle, tolerant “universal teacher,” deserving of equal dignity with Christ.
  • Soyen Shaku, a venerable Japanese master, presented Zen Buddhism as a “rational,” “non-theistic,” “karma-based” path compatible with scientific reasoning.
  • Paul Carus, a non-Buddhist who considered himself a Monist, was one of the organizers of the Parliament. Carus asked Soyen Shaku to send another monk with English language skills, so D.T. Suzuki was sent west, and Carus himself discovered the Buddha to popularize his own "scientific Monism," that he deftly spun out of the vast spread of Buddhist teachings from all nations and times, assembling a syncretic creed published as “The Gospel of Buddha,” in 1894.
  • Thomas William Rhys Davids founded the Pali Text Society, and his wife, Caroline Rhys Davids, put much of the textual material into the gene line of modern Buddhism. She was a prolific writer of commentaries on Buddhism, translated many Pali texts herself, and edited the work of many other translators. Mrs. Rhys Davids was a stalwart Theosophist, and became a spiritualist after her husband's death.

A Wikipedia article says of Mrs. Rhys Davids' writing and translation work:
Her translations of Pāli texts were at times idiosyncratic, but her contribution as editor, translator, and interpreter of Buddhist texts was considerable. She was one of the first scholars to translate Abhidhamma texts, known for their complexity and difficult use of technical language. She also translated large portions of the Sutta Piṭaka, or edited and supervised the translations of other PTS scholars. Beyond this, she also wrote numerous articles and popular books on Buddhism; it is in these manuals and journal articles where her controversial volte-face towards several key points of Theravāda doctrine can first be seen.


Mrs. Rhys Davids developed a belief in spiritualism after the death of her son and husband, trying to contact them via séances and automatic writing. From a Buddhist doctrinal point of view, she indeed pulled a 180 as suggested in the last line of the above quote, asserting that Buddha in fact believed that people have a “lower self” and a “higher self,” only the first of which is “nonexistent.” She passed this idea on to her disciples, Ananda K. Coomarasway and I.B. Horner, who disseminated it in their joint work, The Living Thoughts of Gotama the Buddha.

I highlight these people, because they all took advantage of the fact that Buddhism had no international face, and by the time the British colonized India, Buddhism had entirely disappeared from the land of its origin. There was no "Indian Buddhism," so none of the locals in Bodhgaya were bothered by the fact that the Buddha’s place of enlightenment had been turned into a Shiva temple. It took Sir Edwin Arnold, author of The Light of Asia, to see the real estate opportunity in that equation – but then the English have always been skilled at disposing of other peoples’ land, like they did when they created Pakistan, Bangladesh, and not to digress – Israel and Palestine. Anagarika Dharmapala, from a rich Ceylon mercantile family, was responsive to the appeal of this campaign. He started the Mahabodhi Society, and directed public criticism at the Hindus and the Raj: “Buddha gets no respect in British India!” He put his money behind his position, and filed a lawsuit against the Brahmins who’d controlled the site for centuries. In 1949, sixteen years after Dharmapala's death in 1933, site management passed to the Maha Bodhi Society, and in 2002 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2013, the head priest in charge of the temple was convicted of selling cuttings from the Bodhi Tree to rich businessmen.

Into the void of Indian Buddhism, these Theosophically-oriented disciples preached, wrote and published, echoing back their own understandings of Buddhism, informed by their backgrounds, prejudices, passions and follies. The patriarchs of Caroline Rhys Davis’ family, for example, were vicars and rectors of the Church of England from time immemorial. The passion for making something comprehensible out of the strange religions hidden away in the far reaches of the Queen’s Empire gripped the English. The plundering of history, literature and philosophy went hand in hand with the usurpation of land, produce, and manpower that makes imperial life so profitable.
Last edited by Admin on Mon Aug 24, 2020 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Inventing Enlightenment / Lopez's List of "Modern Buddhists" Missed the East India Company

Post by Admin » Mon Aug 24, 2020 8:30 am

Lopez's List of "Modern Buddhists" Missed the East India Company

In "A Modern Buddhist Bible: Essential Readings from East and West," Donald S. Lopez, Jr. tried to lay down a "lineage of modern Buddhism," a list of authors starting with Blavatsky, and ending with Trungpa. His choice to end the book with Trungpa might have seemed reasonable if he had his head in the sand when he published this anthology in 2002, but has turned into a resounding sour note as Trungpa's memory has been torched in the #metoo bonfires of the last three years by disclosures of a pathetic and dissolute ending to a life of libertine self-indulgence. If Trungpa is our guide, we are indeed in the wilderness.

Putting Blavatsky at the head of the list is right, and her fellow Theosophical Society founder Henry Steel Olcott is rightly named second in this putative "lineage." Blavatsky, a Russian emigre, surveilled as a spy by the British, worked the spiritualist racket as a mediumist, which is how she recruited Olcott, who was vulnerable to that sort of self-delusion. Blavatsky was a prolific inventor of spiritual hierarchies, their personages and dogmas. She pulled a "new" cosmology straight from her ass, and succeeding generations have venerated and elaborated upon the architecture of her fabricated universe as if it had originated from a higher sphere. A potentially infinite number of gurus could live in Blavatsky's palace of illusions, that can be popped up in seconds in the minds of their students. Thereafter they can live, as they say, "rent-free" in the minds of the gullible.

What Blavatsky brought to the game was not just a joke or a transparent fraud that has ensnared the gullible, although that is also an accurate description of her life's work. But our current predicament, with a president who rules like a joker running the country into the ground, shows how seriously jokers can impact our health, and the health of our mental ecosystem, polluting it with lies and disinformation. Which is what Blavatsky did with her all-too-popular imaginings. To explain my accusation, allow me to direct your attention to the engine of Blavatsky's cosmology -- karmic soul evolution. Why are there Mahatmas holding the intellectual capital of humanity in a spiritual brain-trust in a pristine Himalayan fastness? Because they evolved to be high spiritual beings. Everything else about Blavatsky's philosophy is details. Everything will be explained by this karmic game of Snakes & Ladders, where good karmic acts ladder you up the hierarchy and bad karmic acts snake you down the hierarchy. But rest assured, said A.P. Sinnett, who presented Blavatsky's spiritualist cosmology in Esoteric Buddhism a few years before Blavatsky published The Secret Doctrine, this process of karmic evolution is securely progressing in a positive way, and in less than a thousand lifetimes, you, too, will know the peace that passeth understanding.

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In this accountant's version of reality, written by a British journalist (Sinnett ran the biggest English paper in India -- Kipling was one of his writers) we could view all of your human incarnations as if occurring on a vinyl recording disk, with each lifetime as one track, and about 800 tracks on the average total life record. You could drop the needle into any groove, and there you'd be, living and breathing, learning and dying, and sometimes you're "sowing karma," and sometimes you're "reaping karma."
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Sinnett thinks (and it is a very odd thought) that in some lifetimes, such as lives in "heaven" or "hell," migrating souls only harvest karmic consequences, and do not generate any. That would of course make it difficult to run the universe, keeping your causes from generating results, and preventing results from generating further results, but maybe not for an accountant. Maybe they could just set up each universe on a separate spreadsheet and reconcile them at the end of the kalpa.

It's easy to make fun of Sinnett because he was an idiot about this stuff, though probably quite good with propaganda. It's easy to lampoon Blavatsky's pretentious stylings, that are out of step with modern diction. But it was not easy for followers of people like Trungpa, his disgraced Mukpo/Shambhala heir Osel, and the never-sufficiently-reviled Sogyal, to dismiss these fraudsters' portentous declamations, armed as they were with the stick of bad karma, and the carrot of spiritual elevation.

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Blavatsky created the bubblegum form of karmic soul evolution with frilly appurtenances like the Mahatmas that were so silly they magnetized people of lesser intellect, marks. For Blavatsky, a swindler like our president here in 2020, this was the main thing -- attracting people who could be defrauded. Olcott was really one of her marks, and eventually he parted company with her after wising up from engaging in his empirical approach to discerning the "original Buddhist doctrine." Now Olcott was not a stupid man, but he had been through the Civil War, and the spiritualist craze swept the nation after that war, as so many people wanted to contact their lost loved ones, and swindlers to aid them in making contact with "the other world" were available in abundance. So there was a weak point in his approach to reality, which I think he gradually sealed off by focusing totally on the regeneration of Buddhism in Ceylon.

In the course of "regenerating" Buddhism, Olcott wrote it up his way, about which I'll write more later, but right now the point I want to emphasize is that in this volume, Lopez is trying to write the history of recent Buddhism his way. He says "modern Buddhism" was formulated by Easterners pushing for admittance to Western culture, adjusting their doctrines to present a scientifically-sustainable religion that had no doctrinal impossibilities woven into its fabric, like immaculate conception, resurrection, and life after death. This meant ignoring these features of what Buddhism had become in Buddhist countries, and distilling a new, "original Buddhism" that eschewed notions indigestible to the modern "rational" mind. Lopez's position seems like a supportable thesis, but I do not think it is.

Why? Because history is written by the scholars employed by the victors, and the history of Buddhism, and the seminal translations underlying the dissemination of the Dharma in the West, were written by European and British scholars funded by the East India Company engaged in "Orientalism," a project described as "ruling and learning," perhaps ruling by learning.
Taking the late eighteenth century as a very roughly defined starting point Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient -- dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.

Orientalism, by Edward W. Said
What was the East India Company? Bucky Fuller can fill us in:
In 1600 Queen Elizabeth I and a few intimates founded the East India Company. Exercising her crown privileges, the queen granted the company limited liability for losses on the part of the enterprise backers. They could lose their money if the ship were lost, but they could not be held liable for the lives of the sailors who were drowned. While the owners could insure and very greatly limit the magnitude of their losses, the sailors and their families could not. ***

Elizabeth's East India Company scheme was to have her national navy (and armies) first win mastery of the world's sea-lanes. This advantage would thereafter be exploited by her privately owned enterprise. This scheme became one of the first of such national power structure bids for establishing and maintaining world-trade supremacy through dominance of the world's high seas', ocean currents', trade winds', critical straits', and only-seasonably-favorable passages' world-around line of vital and desirable supplies. ***

With the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 the British Empire won "the world's power structures championship" and became historically the first empire "upon which," it was said, "the sun never sets." This is because it was the first empire in history to embrace the entire spherical planet Earth's 71-percent maritime, 29-percent landed, wealth-producing activities. ***

The British Empire was history's first spherically closed, finite system. Building and maintaining the world's most powerful navy, the 1805 supremely victorious British Empire was to maintain its sovereignty over the world's oceans and seas for 113 years. ***

England was also developing a civilian army of the world's best-informed and Empire-backed scientific, economic, and managerial personnel for the most economically profitable realization of its grand, world-embracing strategies. To educate the army of civil servants was the responsibility of the East India Company College located just outside or London. (In 1980 it is as yet operating.) Its graduates went to all known parts of the planet to gather all possible data on the physical and human culture resources to be exploited as well as information on the local customs of all the countries, large and small, with whom Great Britain and the East India Company must successfully cope and trade.

In 1800 Thomas Malthus, later professor of political economics of the East India Company College, was the first human in history to receive a comprehensively complete inventory of the world's vital and economic statistics [and predicted] an increasing majority of humans would have to live out their short years in want and misery. "Pray all you want," said Malthus, "it will do you no good. There is no more!"

Critical Path, by R. Buckminster Fuller
When did the East India Company get started translating religious texts in India?:
During the 1600s, English traders—especially those of the East India Company—followed suit, establishing trading colonies across these areas and in India. The East India Company soon had large bases at the Indian locales of Surat and Madras, where it traded in pepper and textiles, commodities that became the backbone of its business. In 1690, the company established a trading station at Kolkata (which they called “Calcutta”).

In 1785, the East India Company ... sponsored the first English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, an important Hindu religious text.

Governor-General Warren Hastings, who served from 1774 to 1785 ... wrote in the translation’s dedication, “Every accumulation of knowledge, and especially such as is obtained by social communication with people over whom we exercise dominion founded by the right of conquest, is useful to the state.”

Likewise, Hastings and the East India Company supported the work of Sir William Jones, a company judge in Kolkata and a self-identifying “Orientalist.” His scholarship added much to the growing knowledge about the East. Having learned Sanskrit, Arabic, and Persian, Jones turned his attention to compiling knowledge about the cultures of India and other areas of Asia. He founded the Asiatick Society of Calcutta in 1784 and published a journal entitled Asiatick Researches beginning in 1788. The journal brought together a wealth of scholarship dealing with the Orient, covering everything from religion, language, and literature to architecture, climate, and geography. Along with Rennell’s Atlas and the East India Company’s translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, the issues of Asiatick Researches contributed to an emerging academic field of study about “the Orient.”

-- Romantic Orientalism, Newberry
Jones' Rumi translations have been called genius by at least one Indian critic, writing in English for the Hindustan Times.
Translations of Rumi into English famously began with the genius of William Jones who began publishing his versions of Persian verse in 1772. The first volume of this contained a lyric translation of a poem by Hafiz. Jones, a candidate for the bar at the time, was later sent by the East India Company to Calcutta as a high court judge and continued to translate other Persian poets including Rumi. His translations were read by his contemporary, Goethe, who confessed he was enchanted by them. Rumi continued to be rendered into English verse by several British translators in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, notably by JW Redhouse in 1881 and then by Nicholson and Arberry.

-- Hindustan Times
So we are now critiquing English translations of Persian poets in a Hindu country that was conquered by the English, and has, as a result, seen its native son Rumi lionized by the world. (During Rumi's lifetime in the 13th Century, Persia ruled India under the Delhi Sultanate.) That just provides a foretaste of what studying the origins of Buddhist doctrine is like. You are peering into a murky pond of British colonial influence, where scholars are working in an environment of conquest, delivering up the intellectual goods to the exploiters with far more alacrity than it ever had. There was something about the British, the way they were so interested in everything, that made the Brahmins cough up all the intellectual property they'd been hiding away from the Jesuits, quite successfully, for centuries, as Will Sweetman recently noted in The Absent Vedas, chronicling the difficulties, real or imagined, that kept accurate translations of the Vedas out of the hands of Europeans until, effectively, the Brits showed up, and the Brahmins just handed 'em over.
Henry Thomas Colebrooke, when he was appointed as judge and magistrate ... in a letter to his father in February 1797, [wrote] "I cannot conceive how it came to be ever asserted that the Brahmins were ever averse to instruct strangers; several gentlemen who have studied the language find, as I do, the greatest readiness in them to give us access to all their sciences. They do not even conceal from us the most sacred texts of their Vedas."

-- The Absent Vedas
Ah, the grace of the conquerors! Like American soldiers in postwar Japan buying precious heirloom samurai swords from the families of people devastated by war and the atomic bomb. "Gee, they were so nice!" Like the theft of the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin, these acts of cultural looting are the great crime that lies behind the great fortune of Eastern Religion.

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