Review 2 of the Lord as Guru - The Sants - Saints Virues

Review 2 of the Lord as Guru - The Sants - Saints Virues
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  Volume 15, Number 4 / October 1989 Religious Studies Review  /   319 (James Walker)—we find documentary evidence, as good as we can get, of a Native American Mother Earth. Raymond J. DeMallie's book   The Sixth Grandfather   hints at another simpler story of Mother Earth in America, a story in which scholars have played no substantive role. 2 DeMallie reports that Vine Deloria, Jr., suggested that  Black  Elk Speaks  has been elevated ... to the status of an American Indian Bible (1984, xx). Indeed, writes DeMallie, Black Elk's teachings appear to be evolving into a consensual American Indian theological canon (1984, 80). Thus Sam Gill is right, I think, to suspect that there has been some Indian myth-making going on in the twentieth century, but he has left out the most important episode in the story. Largely because of the combined religious genius of Black Elk and literary genius of John G. Neihardt, many contemporary American Indians and non-Indians, in search of an ecologically resonant Native American portrait of the relationship between human beings and nature, have gravitated toward the basic elements of the traditional Lakota world view.  Black Elk Speaks  faithfully, if artfully, records Black Elk's teachings, and Black Elk's teachings are, on the whole, representative of the traditional Lakota world view. But for all the spiritual and literary power of   Black Elk Speaks,  the Lakota concept of Mother Earth would not have been so broadly adopted by contemporary non-Lakota American Indians unless it struck a common chord, unless it captured, in an especially vivid and direct metaphor, the relationship between people and the earth expressed in the narrative traditions of many other American Indian cultures. Sam Gill has failed to show convincingly that the now familiar Native American Mother Earth is actually a European immigrant whose passage to America was sponsored by religious studies scholars. Least convincing and most unbecoming is his insinuation that contemporary American Indians are so out of touch with their own traditions that they have naively (or worse, manipulatively) appropriated a scholarly fiction. Mother Earth is, rather, truly native to the North American Great Plains and has, by consensus, become emblematic of the intimate relationship felt by practically all native people with their natural environments and expressed in traditional American Indian cultures in many different ways. NOTES 1.  One searches in vain not only through Gill's text, notes, and bibliography, for a reference to  Black   Elk   Speaks,  but also through his Bibliographic Supplement (181-91), which cites documents not discussed in the text that make mention of Mother Earth in connection with Indian myth and belief systems. 2.  An ironic twist to this alternative American story of Mother Earth is that Black Elk saw himself   as  the 'sixth grandfather,' the spiritual representative of the earth (DeMallie, 1984, ix). REFERENCES CHANG TSAI 1963 The Western Inscription. In Wing-Tsit Chan, ed. and trans.  A  Source Book  in  Chinese Philosophy.  Princeton University Press. DEMALLIE, RAYMOND J. 1984  The Sixth  Grandfather:  Black  Elk's Teachings Given tofohn  G.  Neihardt   University of Nebraska Press. MARTIN, CALVIN 1978  Keepers  of   the  Game: Indian-Animal   Relationships and the Fur Trade.  University of California Press. NASH, RODERICK 1967  Wilderness and the American  Mind.  Yale University Press. NEIHARDT, JOHN G. 1932  Black Elk  Speaks:  Being the Life Story  of   a Holy Man  of   the  Og- lala  Sioux.  William Morrow. UDALL, STEWART 1963  The Quiet   Crisis.  Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. WALKER, JAMES R. 1980  Lakota  Belief and   Ritual.  Edited by R. J. DeMallie and E. A. Jahner. University of Nebraska Press. THE SANTS AND OTHER HINDU DEVOTIONAL TRADITIONS THE SANTS: STUDIES IN A DEVOTIONAL TRADITION OF INDIA Edited by Karine Schomer and W. H. McLeod Berkeley Religious Studies Series Columbia, MO: South Asia Books/Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987 Pp.  ix + 472+1 color plate. $40.00/Rs. 325. THE LORD AS GURU: HINDI SANTS IN THE NORTHERN INDIAN TRADITION By Daniel Gold New York: Oxford University Press, 1987 Pp.  ix + 256. $29.95. REDEMPTIVE ENCOUNTERS: THREE MODERN STYLES IN THE HINDU TRADITION By Lawrence A. Babb Comparative Studies in Religion and Society, 1 Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987 (cl986) Pp.  xiv + 257. $29.25. SAINTS AND VIRTUES Edited by John Stratton Hawley Comparative Studies in Religion and Society, 2 Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987 Pp.  xxiv + 256. Cloth, $47.00; paper, $12.95.  Reviewer: Monika Thiel-Horstmann  Indologisches  Seminar  Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität  D-5300 Bonn West  Germany I The Sants represent an Indian religious tradition belonging to the bhakti (devotional) form of Vaishnava Hinduism, though sometimes and to a varying degree the Vaishnavism is only nominal. Their heyday lies in the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries when their most important literature in the Indian vernaculars was produced. The movement started in  320  /   Religious Studies Review Volume 15, Number 4 / October 1989 Maharashtra (represented by figures such as Jnänesvar, Nämdev, Eknäth) and gained ground in North India in the fourteenth/fifteenth centuries (among its main northern exponents are Kabìr, Guru Nânak, Dädü). The latest representatives of the movement are the Radhasoamis, who emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The Sant groups would often develop into regular sects (or, to use an indigenous term,  panths)  which continue to exist to this day. A Sant is a person who has realized his ontic being. This is,  broadly speaking, conceived of as identical with that of the supreme. The word Sant is derived from Old Indian  sant-/ sat-,   being and hence means [ontologically] being, true, good. The Sants' supreme being has to be realized within and is beyond qualities, that  is,  nirguria.  This ineffable being is also called the  satguru,  the true guru, that is, the inner voice of revelation whose most powerful symbolic condensation is the divine name. Hence, the Sants reject iconic wor ship.  The Sants also reject (with some restrictions) the authority of the Veda, the caste hierarchy with its brahmin supremacy, and the notion that only the initiated twice-born should be allowed access to the salvific avenues of religion. Thus the Sants, of whom many if not most hailed from a low-caste or Muslim milieu, attracted all ranks of society, including non-Hindus and women. Their religious inheritance is that of the theistic Upanishads, of Vaishnavism, of the Tantra of the Nâthyogïs, and of Sufism, although Suf-ism acted more as a catalyst on the Sants rather than influencing their cosmologica! or theological worldview directly (the exact historical dimensions of this relationship remain problematic). Being directed towards a  nirguria  God, the Sants' bhakti is thereby traditionally distinguished from the  saguna  bhakti which worships an incarnate divine manifest in the icon of the temple. How far this distinction holds true is one of the variously discussed central topics of the volume edited by Schomer and McLeod (1987). The volume brings together research papers read as early as 1978 for a conference held at the University of California at Berkeley's Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies. By that time Sant studies had been put on a remarkably sound footing owing to early pioneer work by Indian scholars and to subsequent in-depth studies by non-Indian schol ars,  foremost among these Vaudeville (1969, 1974) and McLeod (1975, 1976). The first section of the volume explores the conceptual background of the Sant tradition, the religious inheritance of the Sants and their relationship with their sister tradition, the  saguna  bhakti. Charlotte Vaudeville (21-40) delineates the characteristic features of   nirguria  bhakti and emphasizes the wide spectrum of the Sant tradition, a fact which is obscured by modern generic terms for it that suggest a uniform theological and organization concept. She also tackles the pivotal conceptual problem of   nirguna  bhakti: its very claim to rarguwa-ness (26-29). Her brief discussion is further highlighted in the contributions by Frits Staal (41-46), Wendy D. O'Flaherty (47-52) and implicitly, with an approach from the  saguna  side, by John S. Hawley (191-211). Vaudeville states the obvious dilemma that the very notion of   'nirguna  bhakti' seems to be a contradiction in terms. If it signifies the abolition of all distinctions and the thorough merging of the illusory  jiva  [i.e., the embodied, seemingly individual soul] into the One Reality so that all identity is lost forever, the  'nirguna  bhakti' would bring about the abolition of bhakti itself (27). Staal, arguing partly logically, partly psychologically, reaches the conclusion that  nirguna brahman,  the supreme being beyond qualities, and  nirguria  bhakti are identical, for, as Staal surmises, they are identical in their  nirguna-ness  and in their being beyond the word. Here he refers to the practice of silent prayer in the Indian tradition which, as he boldly speculates, may echo a pre-linguistic state of human development. There is one thing that certainly does  not   lead to the ineffable: talking.. . . The same holds for the  nirguna bhakti —as all true bhaktas have always realized (45). This categoric statement forms the crucial point, for what Staal says is only half the truth (see also Vaudeville,  29-31,  on the corpus of love poetry produced by the Sants). Bhakti does not primarily mean simply love, but participation, communion, which relates the divine and the devotee in a mutually active mode. As a religious path, bhakti is thus processual, and as a religious path it is also far from being silent; in fact, it is verbose. At the end of the process there is the goal, and only then may there be silence. There are types of bhakti where the union between the divine and the devotee has the quality of infinite participation (see Carman, 1983 for the dialectic of bhakti); in  nirguna  bhakti the  philosophical  concept is, indeed, that in oneness the abolition of bhakti itself is brought about. In their religious practice, however,  nirguria  bhaktas occupy a perpetually liminal position. Their liminality hinges on what is called the experience  (anubhava),  which requires the dual structure of a devotee and the object of his devotion.  Anubhava  is the emotional concomitant of bhakti. It pulls the devotee  towards  (not  into)  the  nirguria.  As long as there is  anubhava  there cannot be  nirguna;  if   nirguna  prevails,  anubhava  is dead. This is precisely, however, what the devotee shuns, and this is why  nirguria  bhaktas appear also as the detractors of final liberation  (mutki).  That is,  nirguria  bhakti is an ever approximative process. As a religious quest in a persistent dual structure  nirguna  bhakti is, therefore, inherently  saguna  (thus also Staal, 41). This is one of the reasons why a separation between the two forms of bhakti is not feasible, unless one argues within the confines  of a philosophical concept. In this connection Hawley's findings about the relatively late emerging dichotomy between  saguna  and  nirguna  bhakti in the growth of the Sûr tradition is revealing (197).  Sür, in the early (pre-1700) strata ofthat textual tradition, appears rather  nirgunt. O'Flaherty (47-52) also applies herself to the overarching conceptual problem stated. She talks of the  nirguna  ideal as something force-fed to grass-root Hindus with a strictly limited degree of success and of   nirguria  bhakti as a concoction of monistic scholars artificially imposed upon Sant tradition (47). But later she argues that the Sants ... choose to mix  nirguna  and  saguna;  theirs is a free choice as they have no canon or priesthood (49—50). These undocumented statements are not very easy to reconcile, and they are not consistently borne out by facts. The Sants emerged as heirs to a mixed tradition and their monistic outlook is cast in the language of an inherited poetic tradition. O'Flaherty feels that the  nirguna  ideal is not  Volume 15, Number 4 / October 1989 Religious Studies Review  /   321 well integrated into Epic and Puranic Hinduism (48, 49) and that the  avatära  concept is in conflict with the  nirguria  one. Then, turning to visual art, she explores the constant tension between the  nirguria  and the  saguna  in the example of the Hindu temple. She describes how the beholder moves from the outer   saguna    halls to the interior, where, in the cella, he finds the   nirguria.    Here she adduces the Mahesa of Elephanta who is, in fact, outside the cella and perhaps not even a Mahesa (see Srinivasan, 1987 for Sadâsiva). He is in any case a manifest aspect of Siva, whose  formless  aspect (niskala)  is symbolized by the  Unga  in the cella. But even the formless aspect cannot straightforwardly be identified with the  nirguria,  for it is undifferentiated but, capable of differentiation, not devoid of quality. As long as there is an iconic representation, there is no  nirguna,  although the image or, as at Elephanta, a sequence of images, may be interpreted as an increasing approximation to the unfolded divine. The attempt to replace indigenous concepts by our own concepts requires more careful consideration of the srcinal author's intention. O'Flaherty concludes her examination of the Hindu temple by describing how the   nirguna    objects of shrines of the little tradition (unhewn icons, for example) are endowed with qualities by the devotees. Again: these objects are minimal representations, not  nirguria.  Despite its willful treatment of the data, O'Flaherty's misgivings about a somewhat hovering  nirguna  concept triggers a hitherto little-studied question: How well do ordinary devotees, not the theology of a given tradition, cope with the  nirguria  character of their faith? It is well known how elaborate rituals have accrued to nirguria  cults (for example to the Kabirpanth), and we also know of the freezing of the  nirguria  tradition into tangible structures (for example the Radhasoamis, for whom see section 2 below). The  saguna  devotional strand in  nirguna  bhakti may become either manifest in a syncretistic fashion or in a separate strand of a devotee's religious life (here the examination of the family shrine and religious practice can be revealing). The theoretical section of the volume ends in a phenomenological topology of bhakti charted by Andrew Rawlinson which, because of its extreme brevity and consequently insufficient interpretation of the terms, fails to convince. The second section of the volume, devoted to the textual sources, yields a host of results relevant to the student of religion. Schomer (61-90) carefully investigates the historical and functional place of the distich  (dohä),  which is one of the two important genres of Sant literature, the second being the song  (poda),  and suggestively interprets it as similar to the classical philosophical  sütras  in offering authoritative utter ances.  Eleanor Zelliot (91-109) shows how Eknäth, the brahmin reviver of bhakti in sixteenth-century Maharashtra, by taking on in his drama poems  (bhäruds)  low-caste, unorthodox, and female personae, exhibits a culturally integrating approach. From Linda Hess's study of the three Kabïr collections (111-41) emerge two distinctly Kabïrian personalities, a result that exemplifies that the authors of Sant bhakti in their overwhelming majority are exponents of traditions rather than individuals. In a further study (143-65) Hess explores the rough rhetoric of the eastern Kabïr tradition. In analyzing Tagore's reception of Kabïr, Vijay C. Mishra implicitly alerts us to more hermeneutical aware ness.  Winand M. Callewaert (181-89) dwells on the growth of Dádú's hagiography (now superseded by Callewaert, 1988),  thus enriching our data on which to base systematic studies of Sant hagiographies, of which an outstanding exemplar is the historical research of McLeod, 1980 (for progress in work taking into account the hagiographically informed lives of Indian religious men, see sections 2 and 3 below). The image, the self-image, and the historical ramifications of Sant groups are treated in section three ( Move ments ).  Early in their history, it seems (see Vaudeville, 36- 40),  the Sants did not set themselves much apart from the then prevalent, non-sect-specific model of the good Vaish-nava (which seems to be ultimately based on  Bhägavata Puräna  11.45-55 and which has even been appropriated in modern popular Jaina books!). In the nineteenth century we encounter the definite concept  oï a sant mat,  a Sant faith. However, it is premature to conclude, as Schomer does, that The concept of   'nirguna  bhakti' as a distinct devotional mode contrasting with  'saguna  bhakti,' and the Sants constituting a separate devotional tradition, is relatively new (. . . not . . . fully crystallized until the mid-nineteenth century) (3). The map of the distinct self-awareness of the Sants has so far too many blank spots as to allow for assumptions of this kind. The increasingly distinct  saguna  outlook of the Sur tradition after 1700 is an indicator that the orthodox concepts of this form of bhakti were gradually internalized by the vernacular tradition (or their theologically trained compilers!). The increasing dogmatic rallying of the two camps is evident in  nirguria  bhakti of the same time too. For example, as early as in the second generation of Dâdû's disciples (mid-seventeenth century) monastic rules are quite positive about their position in contrast to that of the  sagunïs  (see Thiel-Horstmann, forthcoming b). It seems that much more work is necessary before we can offer safe results. In Maharashtra, the Saiva and Näth background influenced the Sants and, for that matter, also the Krishnaism of the Mahänubhävas, so that their Vaishnavism is of a rather nominal type. This is pointed out by Vaudeville (215—28), whose findings are paralleled by evidence in other areas, such as Rajasthan, where Sant bhakti has espoused local Saiva cults and the Hanumän cult. Among the Sant traditions the one whose history has been studied best is that of the Sikhs. The consolidation of their Panth into the Khalsa was prompted by the dominant Jat element in their constituency who stamped its martial attitudes on the developing Panth. Thus the Sikhs developed a double loyalty: on the one hand, to the martially governed tradition of the Khalsa with its precisely formulated codex of conduct and political orientation and, on the other, to the earlier religious inheritance of the Nänak-Panth. McLeod investigates how these two loyalties are at work to this day (229-49). Apart from the very carefully evaluated results this paper presents, it (see also McLeod, 1975) is methodologically exemplary for the study of other bhakti groups of whom distinct branches betray alignments on caste-lines, as for example warrior-ascetics who emulate Rajput models by the construction of lineages traced back to a Rajput founder and by a distinct life-style. In cases such as these, the caste composition of those Panths as well as the ideological motives that  322 / Religious Studies Review Volume 15, Number 4 / October 1989 were momentous in that alignment need more historical investigation (Gold, forthcoming and  Kolff,  forthcoming are expected to cover relevant aspects). In one more paper McLeod (251-68) studies the image of the Sant among modern Sikhs. Also in continuation of his first contribution, he points out the dynamics of religious change and attitude which lead to the development of several distinct types which at the same time exhibit ongoing attachment to inherited patterns of loyalty. Complementary to this, Bruce LaBrack (265-79) investigates the role of the travelling Sikh Sants in the U.S. as reinforcers of the assumed values of their native culture and thus serving the immigrants' new identity. Lorenzen (281-308) discusses the impact of the potential of social protest inherent in Kabir's work in the modern Kabïr-Panth and finds that this Panth, with its great tribal and low-caste constituency, has not so much activated this potential as it has sought social mobility within the caste system on the lines of a pure Vaishnava reference model (vegetarianism, abstention from alcohol). For two more studies, on the Radhasoamis, one by David Gold and the other by Mark Juergensmeyer see section 2 below. The volume is rounded off by three papers on related traditions. Bruce B. Lawrence (359-73), assessing the Sufi element in Sant writing, points to the obvious problem that the Sants do not emerge as historical individuals but are shrouded in legend quite unlike the Sufis whose biographies are verifiable. This makes the verification of the assumed interaction of Sants and Sufis elusive. Lawrence finds that the only valid basis to account for interaction is the investigation of the copious thematic correspondence between both traditions. Here also, however, similarities do not allow us to establish historical dependency. Only in the case of Sant hagiography does it seem indisputable that there was Muslim influence. Edward C. Dimock (375-83) shows how the Bàul tradition forms a confluence of Sufi, Tantric, and Vaishnava srcins, while the measure of these influences and the exact historical dependency of the Bäuls cannot be determined. K. Kailasapathy's sketch of the Tami Siddhas and Elinor W. Gadon's art-historical comment on the frontispiece of the volume conclude the work. II The volumes edited by Schomer and McLeod and by Juergensmeyer and Barrier (1976) testify in a comprehensive fashion to the attention increasingly given since the mid-seventies to the social manifestation of Sant traditions. Apart from the Sikhs, a mid-nineteenth-century Sant offspring, the Radhasoamis, is probably the group that has profitted most from such attention. The Radhasoamis both continue and transform the Sant tradition, which, by the time the Radhasoamis emerged, had become frozen. Early Sants (like Kabïr) had broken open the conceptual system of Tantric Yoga and revived it by transforming its fixed notions into fluid metaphors of their religion. In these they often spoke of the ineffable. Gradually, however, their fluid metaphors and concepts froze again. Metaphors became one-to-one related symbols or mere poetic conventions. This development can already be traced from the sixteenth/seventeenth centuries onwards (already Dädü smacks a bit of   it).  With the Radhasoamis, finally, the inaccessible mountain path of the early Sants became the exactly mapped and fairly safe road to salvation winding through a lovely landscape (see Moeller, 1956 for the Radhasoami cosmological system). Juergensmeyer (in Schomer and McLeod, 1987, 329-55) investigates how the Radhasoamis have transformed Santism. He identifies a move towards the well-defined: be it the exact mapping of the  nirguria  path, or the  satguru  who is now no longer the inner voice of revelation but a living individual linked in a genealogical chain with a human or divine srcinal ancestor, or the  satsang,  the company of the saints, which is now a church with a fixed ritual. The existential adventure has become thoroughly socialized, and this is enhanced by a strong element of a worldly asceticism of work in the interest of the community. Theologically, Radhasoami doctrine owes much to the esoteric ideas of the Kabïrpanthï  Anuräg-sägar. That the Radhasoami focus has shifted from the interior to the externally or socially tangible is a phenomenon that calls for analysis. Such is offered by Daniel Gold (1987; for an earlier version of the pivotal theme of his research, see Schomer and McLeod, 1987,305-27). Gold places his analysis in a comparative frame, which is very wide and hence tends to weaken his approach on its periphery, 1  whereas his core analysis of the position of the guru in the Radhasoami and related traditions convincingly clears up the perspective in which the functioning of the guru-oriented religious forms can be interpreted. Gold, in an anthropological perspective and in fruitful indebtedness to work by Inden (1976), distinguishes the positions of individual Sants as either a member of a clan with a divine  ancestor-satguru,  whose salvific power is mediated by the living guru, or as a member of a lineage-organization with a historical Sant-ancestor. The clan-organization includes earlier Sants as clan-kin. Thus the oft-occurring cumulative  ref erence to earlier Sants would be a reference to kin with whom one shares the power-current coming down from the divine and not a specific lineage. A case in point is the Beas (Punjab) branch of the Radhasoamis. For them the historical founder of the Radhasoamis is a most perfect Sant, whose remote clan-ancestor is the divine  satguru;  his salvific current becomes manifest in every new incumbent of the seat of guru of the Beas branch of the Radhasoamis. Against  this,  the Agra branches of the Radhasoamis represent a lineage-model. They believe that after the demise of a holder of the seat of guru his current is still active in the group and will, eventually, become manifest in his successor. With Sant  lineages  the lineage-ancestor is the historical founder of a tradition. Gold casts his findings in Indian terms: In this study  a sant lineage is called  paramparä  as long as the dominant focus of spiritual power within it resides in the figure of a living holy man, and not in ritual forms recalling a  sant   of the past.. .. We shall reserve the term panth  to the final phase of a  sant  lineage, when it has become a sectarian institution... (85). This is acceptable as long as we keep in mind that the term  panth  has a wider meaning in primary Sant sources and can, besides, also refer to the interior religious path and to religious groups in their incipient state. His findings encourage Gold to apply them to the problem of the alleged divine  satguru    of Sants like Kabïr. He also argues that because the absence of a guru is unusual for an Indian religious person, Kabïr probably did have a living guru too, whom he interpreted, however, as divine in
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