Saturday, 15 November 2014

Suhrawardi and Ishraq

Qajar era portrait of a murdered Nimatullahi dervish

Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (d.1191) was an Iranian who became known posthumously as Shaikh al-Ishraq, meaning “teacher of illumination.” He was educated at Maragha and Isfahan, and his early training was apparently in the Peripatetic or Aristotelian philosophy associated with Ibn Sina (980-1037).

Suhrawardi afterwards travelled to Anatolia, where he resided for some years, studying with Fakhr al-Din al-Mardini (d.1198), a Peripatetic and apparently also a Sufi. The rare “Aristotelian Sufi” vocation appears to be important in the instance of Suhrawardi, a role which is not easy to elucidate because of the barriers generally assumed to exist between the different categories involved. Aristotelians were not usually Sufis, and many orthodox Sufis were averse to Greek philosophy. The relevant milieu is largely forgotten.

“Suhrawardi also became a Sufi. Shahrazuri tells of his extreme austerities and his spiritual powers, yet he is not recognised by most Sufi writers and biographers as one of them.... Perhaps the explanation is simply that he learned from the Sufis but never fully joined them, as Shahrazuri seems to imply” (Walbridge 2000:13-14). 

Various biographies give details. According to the early  biographer Shahrazuri (died after 1288), Suhrawardi was “much in the company of Sufis, from whom he benefited.” This seems to have occurred during a period of wandering, of uncertain duration, in Iran and Anatolia. Although he sometimes adopted the garb of Sufis, Suhrawardi also wore the attire of commoners, and was once mistaken for a donkey-driver. He reputedly donned headgear associated with the Turkish and Kurdish peoples. Shahrazuri says that the subject tended to maintain silence, keeping aloof from interruptions. An apparent contradiction is that Suhrawardi was reputedly welcomed at the Saljuq court in Rum, gaining a degree of aristocratic patronage, though not permanently. 

From Anatolia he moved on to Syria. In 1183 Suhrawardi arrived at Aleppo, wearing the attire of a dervish (Sufi mendicant). That same year, the Ayyubid ruler Saladin captured Aleppo, and gave his son al-Malik al-Zahir the role of governor. Suhrawardi gained favour with this ruler, but aroused the hostility of local jurists and ulama (scholars of the Quran and hadith). He became a tutor to the governor, and was formidable in debates with the jurists. Suhrawardi defended the views of philosophers against the biases of ulama canonists. 

“Sometimes he wore the woollen garb of the Sufis, sometimes the silk dress of the courtiers” (Nasr 1996:126). His orthodox opponents accused Suhrawardi of claiming prophecy and practising magic. Shahrazuri says that these were slanders. The earlier heretic Hallaj (d.922) had been the recipient of similar accusations. Suhrawardi’s “short and tragic life contains many similarities to the life of Hallaj, whom he quoted so often” (ibid). However, Hallaj was not a philosopher but a mystic, and there are differences discernible in the extant teachings of these entities. 

The opponents of Suhrawardi affirmed that he would corrupt the faith of the prince whom he tutored. Qadi al-Fadil, a jurist of Aleppo, sent a letter to Sultan Saladin at Damascus, urging that Suhrawardi should be executed for heresy. Saladin ordered his son to comply with the prescribed penalty of the jurists and ulama. The prince of Aleppo was reluctant to do so, but capitulated at the prospect of his enforced abdication.

Suhrawardi was executed, becoming known as al-maqtul (the murdered). The circumstances are obscure. Different versions of his death were described, including strangulation and crucifixion. The uncertainties extend to his age at the time of decease; Suhrawardi is often thought to have been in his late thirties when he died, though the attributions of age vary from 36 to 50. Contrasting interpretations of his end add to the confusion. Some analysts think that his teaching would have been mistaken for Ismailism by the orthodox Sunni camp associated with Saladin, the ruler of Egypt who burned the Fatimid libraries in Cairo and persecuted the Egyptian Ismailis. 

Suhrawardi’s major work was Hiqmat al-Ishraq (Philosophy of Illumination). His corpus as a whole is the subject of different interpretations. He affirmed a theme sometimes described in terms of “wisdom of the ancients.” This is not a Peripatetic teaching and nor a Sufi doctrine, and has been traced to Neoplatonist precedents. 

Suhrawardi appears to have rejected his early affiliation to the Peripatetic philosophy of Ibn Sina, instead preferring an eclectic approach deferring to the “ancients.” When he learned Greek philosophy via Arabic channels, he not only became familiar with concepts of Aristotle, but also themes of Plato and Neoplatonism. The Neoplatonist writers include Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus. Their works "contain a great deal that seems familiar to a reader of Suhrawardi and the other Illuminationists" (Walbridge 2000:65). Plotinus was known to Suhrawardi via the so-called Theology of Aristotle, a "translation" of Enneads amounting to an interpretation of Plotinian thought  in Arabic guise. 

Suhrawardi believed that his ishraqi or illuminationist approach had commenced long ago with ancient sages, culminating with Plato in the West and pre-Islamic Persian sages in the East. To this schema was added legendary extensions associated with Egypt, India, and China. The “Khusrawanid leaven” of pre-Islamic Iran was here claimed to link with the early Sufis Abu Yazid al-Bistami,  Hallaj, and Abu’l Hasan al-Kharaqani.  Whereas the “Pythagorean leaven,” identified with Greece, was claimed by Suhrawardi to achieve renewed transmission via Dhu’l Nun al-Misri, the Sufi mystic (and Hermeticist) of Akhmim. 

Suhrawardi claimed that hikmat (wisdom or philosophy) originated from Hermes, whom he viewed as a prophet. He employs a distinctive terminology which separates his ishraqi outlook from the Peripatetic. He introduced the term al-ishraqiyyun (the illuminationists) to describe partisans of a different philosophical standpoint to the Peripatetics (al-mashshaiyun) or followers of Aristotle, whose chief expositor in the Islamic world was Ibn Sina, known in Christian lands as Avicenna. 

A recent interpretation avers that, although related to the Ibn Sinan corpus, the ishraqi philosophy comprises an attempt to “avoid the logical, epistemological and metaphysical inconsistencies” of the rival corpus (Ziai 1996:438). 

A lengthy work is Suhrawardi’s Arabic treatise Paths and Havens, in which he claims that “his own principles of Oriental philosophy (al-asl al-mashriqi) reflect the earlier ‘wisdom’ of Persian Khusrawani sages and many other figures” (ibid:440). The complex issue of “Oriental philosophy” has not registered any unanimous modern conclusion, though generally associated with Suhrawardi’s denial of an earlier claim of Ibn Sina in this idiom. No geographical location is necessarily implied. The Oriental/Eastern theme entailed an “emphasis on intuition, inspirational and immediate modes of cognition” (ibid:439-40). 

Suhrawardi clearly departed from reliance upon the Aristotelian syllogism and accompanying method of demonstration. One of the emphases found in Paths and Havens reads: “The starting point of philosophy is in abandoning the world, its midpoint is the vision of the Divine Lights (al-anwar al-ilahiyya), and its end has no limit” (Ziai 1990:25). 

Such contentions did not converge with Peripatetic doctrine. Renunciation was not the standard practice in the Ibn Sinan camp, being instead associated with the Sufi lifestyle. “In contemporary Western philosophy, the concept of a renunciation is largely or completely incomprehensible within the academic sector.” 

It becomes evident that Suhrawardi did not necessarily envisage a permanent abandonment of the world, to judge from his own career. Yet unless a basic renunciation lodged sufficiently in the psyche, a confusion could easily result, as with the well known indulgences of Ibn Sina that impaired the latter’s health. Shahrazuri refers to this drawback, and Suhrawardi indicates other problems: 

“They [the Peripatetics] devoted excessive attention to secondary aspects of logic, science, and philosophy. Thus, for example, they devised elaborate rules for handling various composite forms of the syllogism when researchers actually need only simple, very general rules for avoiding error” (Walbridge 2000:138).

Bibliography: S. H. Nasr, The Islamic Intellectual Tradition in Persia (Curzon Press, 1996); M. A. Razavi, Suhrawardi and the School of Illumination (Curzon Press, 1997), J. Walbridge, The Leaven of the Ancients: Suhrawardi and the Heritage of the Greeks (State University of New York Press, 2000); Walbridge and H. Ziai, ed. and trans., The Philosophy of Illumination (Brigham Young University Press, 1999); H. Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study of Suhrawardi’s Hiqmat al-Ishraq (Scholars Press, 1990); Ziai, “Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi: founder of the Illuminationist school” (434-464) in S. H. Nasr and O. Leaman, eds., History of Islamic Philosophy Part 1 (Routledge, 1996). 

Kevin R. D. Shepherd 

ENTRY no. 62 

Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Meher Baba and Dr Brunton

Meher Baba, 1930; Paul Brunton in India

Paul Brunton wrote the book called A Search in Secret India (1934). This became a bestseller. Reprints were eventually adorned with the credential of Dr. Paul Brunton. The British author became regarded by many as an authority on Indian religion. 
 
I have talked with people who are under the impression that Secret India is a reliable document. Any suggestion to the contrary can be met with incredulity and outright denial.
 
In my early years, I met two persons of a literary ability who were able to analyse Secret India, though in different ways. The first was a teacher of English who found Brunton’s style deficient, a style which he associated with low grade journalism as distinct from scholarship. He laughed at some phraseology he found, but was nevertheless inclined to believe the popular view that the contents were accurate, especially in view of the doctoral status apparently attaching. 
 
The other analyst had actually met Paul Brunton (1898-1981), and denied the validity of Secret India in relation to Meher Baba.  Charles Purdom (d. 1965) was a literary man who had daringly ventured into biography of Meher Baba, despite the relatively marginal Western interest in his day. Purdom wrote that Brunton, “then known as Raphael Hirsch, came to see me in London some time after his visit” to Meher Baba’s ashrams. On that occasion, Brunton “said he had no doubt [Meher] Baba was false, as he, Raphael Hirsch, had asked him to perform a miracle but Baba could not” (Purdom, The God-Man, 1964, p. 128).
 
In brief, Purdom had deduced that restraint from performance of a “miracle” is no proof of falsity. On the contrary, he believed that Brunton’s attitude was confused and misleading. 
 
Purdom was a follower of  Meher Baba, and closely acquainted with how that entity lived and taught. He early wrote a biography, published in 1937, that was overshadowed by Brunton’s commercial “Secret,” but which is today cited by commentators who can discern that he was attempting an objective report of his subject. The sub-title was The Life of Shri Meher Baba, revealing the idiom in which the subject was then known. 
 
Many years ago, the present writer researched the Brunton problem, and discovered materials that Brunton had omitted from his book. The missing data and loss of context invalidate Brunton’s report of Meher Baba to a very substantial extent. 
 
Secret India is noted for a rejection of Meher Baba (1894-1969) in favour of Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950). Both of these figures are now famous twentieth century mystics, and associated with rather different teachings. There is no indication that Brunton actually understood the teaching of the former; however, he did assimilate Vedantic emphases of the latter. Indeed, to such an extent that he eventually became notorious as a plagiarist, and was banned from the ashram of the Advaita sage in 1939. 
 
Paul Brunton can scarcely be understood without reference to his background in Western occultism. During the 1920s, he was part of the avant garde “bohemian” scene in London that was strongly influenced by Theosophy and numerous “esoteric” trends, some of these so dubious that even the enthusiasts rejected them. Yoga was a fashion to which Brunton became very partial. The subject of Yogic siddhis (powers) excited Western occultists. Brunton believed that he himself early gained occult powers and abilities; according to his own report, he was able to miraculously extinguish the lighting at the lecture hall of an opponent. 
 
Brunton’s business as a “freelance journalist” failed in 1929, and the following year he travelled to India as an enthusiastic follower of Shri Meher Baba. He visited two ashrams of the latter, and in between, he undertook a tour of various places at the instruction of Meher Baba. At Madras he ventured a public declaration of his purportedly “telepathic" experiences concerning Meher Baba. In a subsequent letter sent from Calcutta to his inspirer, Brunton mentioned that he was looking forward to “receiving spiritual enlightenment at your hands.”
 
These are some of the realistic details. A major problem for unwary readers is that Brunton, in his bestselling book Secret India, omits crucial reference to the context. Presented instead is a deceptive narrative in which Brunton was a sceptical enquirer; he demeans the two non-Hindu ashrams he visited, and writes as if he conducted the tour of his own volition, and with the objective of visiting Yogis possessing hermetic knowledge. Relevant documentation is scrupulously missing. Brunton’s travelogue is undated, assisting the impression of a lengthy search in "secret India" that actually lasted only a few months. Brunton  also  supplied a very misleading description of Meher Baba's facial appearance. 
 
As a consequence of these varied flaws, the book A Search in Secret India cannot be taken seriously as an accurate report, but only as a testimony to what can go wrong in accounts deriving from pique and attendant emotions of a suspect nature.
 
The present writer contributed a book that included a confrontation with the Brunton problem. Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (1988) was the first published account to divulge what Brunton omitted, and to reconstruct what really happened. The responses were mixed. Some followers of Brunton were prepared to concede that he had made a mistake in his assessment, but were unable to accept the overall implications, instead affirming that his lengthy Notebooks of a later period were a redeeming feature. 
 
Some American devotees of Meher Baba unofficially banned Iranian Liberal because of some (relatively mild) criticisms of their own spokesmen (I am not a devotee of Meher Baba). They consigned to oblivion the only published account vindicating the reputation of their own figurehead in the face of “Secret India” opportunism. 
 
Very briefly, it would appear that Paul Brunton strongly associated Meher Baba with Yoga, and the desired powers and experiences he was so fixated upon. Meher Baba was not in fact a Hindu and never taught Yoga; he was an Irani Zoroastrian with a teaching sometimes described as eclectic. Meher Baba was opposed to any occultist pursuit of siddhis. In his early years he wore his hair long, and this doubtless assisted certain “hermetic Yogi” impressions in Brunton’s mind. The visitor wanted “spiritual” experiences, and triumphantly aired his telepathic prowess. Telepathy is a Yogic power, as Brunton knew very well. For reasons that are not too difficult to fathom, the Irani mystic disconcerted the expectations. 
 
The frustrated British occultist chose to depict his former host and inspirer as an obsessive messiah figure who promised him powers, but could not supply them. The Irani is made to look so ridiculous that readers are led to believe he was a hopeless fraud. That version of events made Paul Brunton, in commercial estimation,  the great British critic of Secret India. 
 
The occultist produced further books such as A Search in Secret Egypt and The Secret Path. These confirmed to critics that Western occultism is not basically secretive, whatever the mysteries proclaimed; the secrets exist to be disclosed or advertised, and perhaps even exploited. In this trend, the adept of occult Vedanta eventually wrote The Hidden Teaching beyond Yoga (1941), which included controversial criticisms of Ramana, from whose ashram he had been banned. 
 
Followers of Brunton have celebrated his association in the late 1930s with the milieu of Krishnaraja Wadiyar (d. 1940), the Maharaja of Mysore. At the court of this royal celebrity, Brunton gained servants and material assistance. His new counter-ideal to Ramana was apparently the Maharaja, whose family derived support from British colonial power, and who favoured industry and technology. A tutor of the Maharaja was Subrahmanya Iyer, a neo-Vedantin brahman associated with modernist ideas and Western philosophy. In the company of Iyer, Brunton represents for partisans a new Plato at the court of a philosopher king, dispensing The Wisdom of the Overself (1943). This doctrine has elsewhere been considered eccentrically mentalist, with elements of Theosophy implied. 
 
A major drawback in critical estimation is that the Wisdom teacher opted to claim a Ph.D, enthusiastically advertised by Rider and Company. Brunton’s books were now unassailable, in commercial theory at least. The lofty credential was subsequently revealed to be a deception. When pinned down on the issue, Brunton claimed a Ph.D from Roosevelt University in Chicago. No record of this could be found in university precincts (Masson, My Father’s Guru, 1993, pp. 161-3). Brunton actually acquired a substitute degree from a correspondence school, on the basis of a short book that was not annotated. "The degree would be unlikely to pass even minimal requirements of the standard university credential." 

This presumed esotericist and hermetic philosopher also claimed to reach the end of the spiritual path. At one point, Brunton  even called himself Jupiter Rex, signifying king of all the gods. His American secretary defected, becoming a follower of Meher Baba, who claimed the non-academic status of avatar (a Hindu word) from 1954 onwards. The Irani mystic is not associated with royal courts, technology, the British Raj, or Theosophy. He might nevertheless be relevant for study, a consideration which is perhaps even a necessity for the British sector as a contrast to Brunton's caricature. The literature on Meher Baba is now extensive; the primary sources do not include A Search in Secret India.
 
Bibliography at website article.
 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd

ENTRY no. 61
 
Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Indian Mutiny 1857-58

Execution of Indian rebels by cannon in 1857, a painting by Vasily Vereschchagin circa 1884

The Indian Mutiny  is a strong focus for retrospective assessment. The original British reports are numerous. These reflect a colonial viewpoint dominated by Victorian ideas of cultural superiority. This angle was still dominant in Britain until the mid-twentieth century, and indeed continues to survive in some writings.
 
Revaluation of the Mutiny is obliged to defer more substantially to the Indian side of events under discussion. The native concept of an “Indian war of independence” appeared in the early twentieth century, but was suppressed by British colonial rule. Indian analysts have themselves debated this theme since the termination of British rule in 1947. There is no commonly agreed verdict. It is possible to describe the Mutiny in terms of a sepoy rebellion, and also a civil war.
 
Analysis of this phenomenon is confronted by various ethnic and religious factions featuring in the civil war. The British side did not solely consist of Europeans, but also included Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims, Pathans, Gurkhas,  and some loyal Hindu sepoys (soldiers). However, Native officers in the army of the East India Company were completely subservient to both junior and senior British officers.
 
The composition of the opposing rebel side was complex. Both Hindus and Muslims fought in the rebel ranks. Not only soldiers, but also many civilians were drawn into the revolt against British colonial rule. The rebel force exhibited a strong degree of disorganisation, despite a nominal deference to the Mughal monarch in Delhi. Bahadur Shah II (1775-1862) had been relegated by the British to a mere titular role that had no political clout. During the Mutiny, this octogenarian gained a sense of revivalist importance for only a few months prior to his capture in September 1857.
 
India was then ruled by the East India Company (EIC), which for several generations had been establishing trading settlements at places like Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras. The EIC colonial policy had become ambitiously expansive, turning to war and annexation as a means of continued revenue. From this malady arose various factors which can be regarded as causes of the Indian Mutiny. 
 
During the EIC administration of Lord Dalhousie, vast chunks of Indian territory were swallowed up between 1848 and 1856, culminating in the annexation of Oudh (Awadh, now in Uttar Pradesh), an event which aroused strong resentment amongst the native population. The local ruler was deposed and exiled to Calcutta; widespread unemployment and rising costs resulted. Many of the rebel sepoys (soldiers) came from this territory, being upper class Hindus of a rural background. Some sepoys were brahmans (brahmins), a caste generally associated with priestly activity, though flexibility existed in the absence of sufficient career opportunity for priests.
 
The EIC permitted a strong degree of Protestant Christian evangelism in India. This activity was furthered by some British military officers. Many Hindus and Muslims reacted to this ideological advance, and cultivated a belief that the Company were trying to convert them en masse. This belief tended to be reinforced by the increasing aloofness of British military officers from native troops, the linguistic barrier being formidable, and a racial superiority complex being fostered by too many colonialists.
 
The EIC fatally alienated many Indian aristocrats via the annexation programme and a denial of adoption rights for native princes. Substantial taxes were exacted from the Indian people. Land tax was often demanded before the crop was raised. These factors, and many more, combined into a widespread resentment of colonial rule. The resultant violence projected the anger of different social strata against the manipulative British administrators.
 
One of the triggers for rebellion comprised the well known cartridge issue. The new Enfield rifle cartridges were rumoured to be greased with animal fat, a situation evocative of religious aversion to cow and pork fat by Hindus and Muslims respectively. Despite precautions taken by the EIC in this respect, a belief became widespread that the new cartridges were part of a British plan to convert all Indians to Christianity. Some British military officers handled this matter very insensitively. The major reaction occurred at Meerut in May 1857, when 85 reluctant sepoys (averse to the cartridges) were imprisoned and afflicted with severe sentences. This injustice provoked dramatic violence.
 
The mutineers killed British officers and civilians, and freed the jailed sepoys. The rebels quickly moved south from Meerut to Delhi, where other disaffected sepoys were converging, and where more violence against Europeans ensued. The revolt was very widespread, from Peshawar to Lucknow, and also areas further south. The term pan-Indian has been employed in one interpretation. Colonialism was now faced with a civil war of extensive proportions, underlined by attacks on British property and personnel. The colonial elite lived in effective isolation from the native inhabitants; many military officers seem to have had little or no awareness that a strong resentment was in process.
 
The EIC made ruthless efforts to quell the mutiny in the Punjab zone, via agents like Brigadier John Nicholson.  The colonial army resorted to the infamous “blowing from a gun,” meaning execution by cannon. Many rebellious sepoys were shot by rifles, hanged, or sabred. Both sides in this civil war exhibited a violence impossible to condone. The rebels at least had strong cause for grievance; the EIC were merely resorting to severe measures designed to regain colonial ascendancy.
 
The resulting siege of Delhi involved an EIC force of British and Indian soldiers pitted against a much larger number of rebel sepoys. The latter invoked the auspices of the resident Mughal emperor, but in practice frequently acted on their own initiative, which at first included plunder of the city that harboured them. When the EIC army eventually gained entry into Delhi, they were savage in their agenda of vengeance, shooting and hanging many rebels, while indulging in extensive looting.
 
The Mughal emperor was taken prisoner by Captain William Hodson in September 1857. This officer became a hero at this juncture, but tarnished his reputation soon after, when he shot dead three Mughal princes in front of a resentful crowd outside the city. The vengeance drive was completely out of control.
 
Meanwhile, infamous massacres occurred at Kanpur (known to the British as Cawnpore). The episodes at Satichaura Ghat and the Bibighar became very well known in England, involving the tragic deaths of hundreds of British men, women, and children. A grim vengeance campaign was conducted by officers like General James Neill, who humiliated and executed numerous rebels and civilians who were not participants in the Bibighar massacre of British women and children (only five murderers were involved in that unpleasant event, after sepoys refused to participate). Neill was a Protestant Christian, and tended to treat the situation as a religious war. 
 
A major concentration of rebels occurred at Lucknow, a city in Awadh that the British found difficult to secure. In addition to rebel sepoys, large numbers of civilian supporters of the rebel cause were involved. When the army of General Colin Campbell attacked in November 1857, there occurred the episode of Secundra Bagh, when over 2,000 rebel sepoys were eliminated during the struggle in that compound. Lord Roberts left a testimony to the mound of dead and wounded rebels who found no escape.
 
Campbell returned to Lucknow a few months later, in March 1858, when the rebels were “cleared” from the city, a process involving many deaths. This campaign was pushed forward in Awadh, the rebel leaders retreating to Nepal, where they found haven. Those leaders had sustained the theme of unity between Muslim and Hindu. A distinctive Muslim rebel was Maulvi Ahmadullah Shah, whose skill in warfare became a problem for the EIC. The Company offered a huge reward for his capture; he was afterwards shot dead. 
 
Meanwhile, the Rani of Jhansi was the focus of another regional struggle in Central India. This Maratha queen escaped from the siege of Jhansi, where the British force under Sir Hugh Rose achieved a massacre that is very much open to criticism as a colonial trespass. The Rani was afterwards killed in a battle, dressed as a man; she became a heroine of the “war of independence.” 
 
The East India Company were deposed when Queen Victoria  issued a proclamation, intended as a reconciliation to the Indian people, in November 1858. The brutal counter-insurgency campaign was still occurring, and the female rebel leader Begum Hazrat Mahal instigated a counter-proclamation. The British crown did not relinquish control of India, and subsequently the Indian army was reconstituted. A recent analysis has urged that nearly ten million Indians died in the long-term repercussions of the Mutiny, a figure which has been contested in terms of several hundred thousand. Either way, a large number of people died as a consequence of colonial attitudes and practices.
 
Bibliography in main web article The Indian Mutiny and Civil War.
 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
 
ENTRY no. 60
 
Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Hazrat Babajan

Hazrat Babajan

Hazrat Babajan (d. 1931) was born in the Afghan territories at an unknown date. A Pathan, and a Sunni Muslim,  she spoke Pashtu, Persian, and Urdu. Her early life transited from the purdah of an aristocratic milieu to the renunciate career of a faqir. Babajan lived in the Punjab for many years, and was reputedly buried alive by fundamentalists who objected to her ecstatic utterances, and also to her public focus as a saint who received worship from local Hindu people.
 
Obscure journeys brought her south to Bombay, from where she undertook a pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in 1903. When Babajan arrived back in India, she moved to Poona, a centre of the British Raj, and the site of a military cantonment on the outskirts of the city. She settled in Poona (Pune) by 1905.
 
Babajan at first lived as a street mendicant in Poona, afterwards staying near a mosque in the suburb of Rasta Peth. Here formed a nucleus of Muslim devotees. The vicinity of the mosque became crowded with her visitors, and eventually she moved on. By circa 1910 she settled permanently at a neem tree in Char Bawdi (Bavadi), on the outskirts of the cantonment.
 
She demonstrated a rigorous faqir lifestyle, refusing to keep money or other gifts, and declining to acquire possessions or live in comfort. She lived under the tree, sitting on the bare ground, exposed to all weathers. She would only consent to a simple awning made of gunny (sack) cloth. Unlike many other faqirs, Babajan was not an exhibitionist. She did not perform ascetic stunts and dressed in simple attire. Although she is associated with a Sufi outlook, Babajan was not a member of any Sufi order, and did not teach any doctrine.

Persons in this independent category (from official Sufism) were often called majzub. This word generally signified God-absorption. Many different temperaments were represented, and in this respect, the label of majzub is very much a blanket term.
 
The environment at Char Bawdi was initially semi-rural, the adjacent slum area featuring ramshackle buildings. Babajan’s presence strongly contributed to a major upgrading of the locale, which became increasingly urbanised. Motor traffic intensified after the First World War of 1914-18, and this was a welcome development to the cantonment authorities. Yet Babajan was the major focus of attention in the area, gaining hundreds of devotees by 1920. The British did not understand why a homeless faqir gained so much esteem.
 
Amongst the early Muslim visitors were Pathan soldiers (sepoys) from the cantonment barracks. They became her devotees, and acted as bodyguards, providing protection against the intrusion of drunkards and thieves, who at first congregated after nightfall in Char Bawdi. The interlopers soon dispersed, and even the soldiers became greatly outnumbered by civilian devotees.
 
The inter-religious nature of Babajan’s following is notable. The majority were Muslims, but Zoroastrians  and Hindus were also in evidence. Conservative Zoroastrians were disapproving of any departure from religious orthodoxy, and similarly, some Muslims were also insular. These hostile attitudes lost strength with the passing of time. The most famous of the Zoroastrian contacts was Meher Baba (1894-1969), who first met Babajan in 1913 and later forged an independent career in the Ahmednagar zone.
 
In the early 1920s, Babajan’s exposure to the weather was a matter of concern to devotees. They decided that a proper shelter must be constructed for her at the neem tree, but the British at first resisted. The cantonment authorities wanted to move the faqir elsewhere, as her assemblies were tending to obstruct the traffic on an increasingly busy road. However, eventually the Cantonment Board reconsidered the matter, and they conceded a new shelter at Raj expense. A drawback was that Babajan herself proved reluctant to accept the modification of her faqir lifestyle, and had to be persuaded to do so by devotees.
 
Despite her age, Babajan remained healthy. Her basic fitness was demonstrated in brisk walks that occurred frequently until her last years; sometimes she walked for miles across Poona. She disliked medicaments and drugs, which she avoided. Her diet was simple, and included tea that she was frequently offered. When devotees plied her with too much tea, she would give this away, as she did with everything else. Redistribution was a basic habit of hers, as distinct from hoarding.
 
From about 1926, she was chauffeured in a motor car around the city (but often used a tonga or horse cab). In April 1928 she travelled outside Poona for the first time since she had arrived there. On that occasion, Babajan made an unexpected journey by car to Meherabad, the distant ashram of Meher Baba situated near Ahmednagar. No publicity was involved. Babajan afterwards repeated her visit (Shepherd, A Pathan Sufi of Poona, 2014, pp. 89-90).
 
Such details are lacking in the well known book by British writer Paul Brunton entitled A Search in Secret India (1934). This provides a brief depiction of Babajan that is to some extent misleading (Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal, p. 148; Shepherd, A Pathan Sufi of Poona, pp. 91-3, 94). Brunton did state that "some deep psychological attainment really resides in the depths of her being" (Secret India, p. 64). However, Brunton proved a disconcerting ability to misrepresent in his description of Meher Baba's physiognomy. His account of that "messiah" entity is unreliable. Brunton later became known as a plagiarist of the Advaita Vedanta exponent Ramana Maharshi

The ashram of Ramana Maharshi eventually turned against Brunton, despite the latter's celebration of the former in Secret India. In a later book, The Hidden Teaching Beyond Yoga (1941), Brunton criticised Ramana as a self-absorbed mystic, and also defensively asserted that he had already known about meditation and yoga before encountering Ramana. He subsequently resorted to the spurious academic credential of Dr. Paul Brunton, which is no proof of authority. 

Hazrat Babajan had no doctrine anyone could steal. Her form of indirect tuition was concealed in asides to visitors and expressed in different languages. She sidestepped both Vedanta and institutional Sufism, neither of those traditions being favourable to women. 

The commercial Secret India of Brunton was not the best guide to that country. The traveller briefly met Babajan in 1930, but needed an interpreter. Brunton's commentary posed the theme of “a genuine faqueer (sic) with wondrous powers” (Secret India, p. 64).  He desired to find evidence of powers, which are considered a distraction by other parties.
 
Babajan did not claim powers. The only claim discernible is represented by her obscure ecstatic utterances which implied an identity with the divine (A Pathan Sufi of Poona, pp. 41-2). Such utterances, associated with her early years at Poona, were not in general well understood. Instead, some devotees chose to emphasise  “miracles” that were attributed to her. The indications are that devotees and other visitors varied greatly in their assessment of events. 
 
At the time of Babajan's death, the press reported some popular beliefs: “It is claimed that she was 125 years of age, and the possessor of magical powers in addition to her powers of sight into the future” (“Poona’s Homage to Famous Muslim Woman Saint,” The Evening News of India, September 23rd, 1931). The historian can reckon more easily with the fact that her funeral was attended by thousands of Muslims and Hindus, and on a scale not formerly known in Poona. An extant newspaper photograph confirms the large number of people attending the procession of her coffin.
 
The shrine of Hazrat Babajan was constructed by Muslims at the neem tree in Char Bawdi, and has since been rebuilt, with Chishti Sufi associations attendant upon the annual celebrations. 
 
Bibliography: Paul Brunton, A Search in Secret India (London, 1934); Abdul Ghani, “Hazrat Babajan of Poona” (Meher Baba Journal, 1939); Bhau Kalchuri, Lord Meher Vol. 1 (Myrtle Beach SC, 1986); C. B. Purdom, The Perfect Master (London, 1937); Shepherd, A Sufi Matriarch: Hazrat Babajan (Cambridge, 1986); Shepherd, Meher Baba, an Iranian Liberal (Cambridge, 1988); Shepherd, Hazrat Babajan: A Pathan Sufi of Poona (New Delhi, 2014). See further my article bibliography.
 
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
 
ENTRY no. 59 
 
Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh Part 2

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931-90) moved from Poona (Pune) to New Jersey in 1981. There he alienated one of his close devotees, Maria Grazia Mori (Deeksha). She concluded that he was not enlightened. Amongst other matters, she was disillusioned to find that he talked for hours about his desire to purchase Rolls Royce cars. She also relayed that he ingested a lot of valium and was frequently almost incoherent (Conway, Enigmatic Bhagwan). 
 
The guru afterwards moved on to Oregon, where an expensive 64,000 acre ranch was purchased that same year to accommodate the commune. Here Rajneesh demonstrated his opulent lifestyle via the expensive Rolls Royce automobiles that he regularly acquired; the total number in his collection eventually exceeded ninety.

Rajneesh became known as the Rolls Royce guru. Partisans have employed an argument that, via these acquisitions, he was intending to "make a joke out of American consumerism." This theme does not always find ready agreement. Critics rejoin that Rajneesh made a joke out of the Oregon commune, which was bankrupted by his excesses. 
 
Rajneesh later claimed that the cars were presents from people all over the world, and that he had given them to the commune, so he was not their owner. This version has been considered misleading. The cars were purchased, at his insistent and continual request, by the management from the commune fund; he was intending to acquire the largest fleet of Rolls Royces in the world. 

About two thousand neo-sannyasins lived at the Oregon commune, many giving all their money to the project. The ranch was transformed into a colony, and much hard work was done. The inmates even created an airstrip. Rajneesh did not discourse, but withdrew into a private lifestyle of "public silence" until November 1984. He lived in a guarded compound and had little contact with his followers. He did not participate in the manual work incumbent upon the commune. He slept 9-10 hours a day, and spent three hours daily in his luxury bathroom. The only time that most of the other residents saw him was during his daily drive in a Rolls Royce.
 
On most days he watched videos. Ex-devotee Christopher Calder complains that while the workers were often obliged to labour twelve hours a day in the cold, the guru used “his private heated indoor [swimming] pool and watched countless movies on his big screen projection television, all the while enjoying his daily supply of drugs” (Calder, Lost Truth).
 
Some sources report that Rajneesh used nitrous oxide (laughing gas) for recreational purposes, and not merely to relieve his asthma. He had also become dependent upon the anxiety drug valium (diazepam); even on the lower estimate of 60 milligrams daily, he exceeded the maximum recommended dosage by 50 per cent. Calder describes the guru as a drug addict, but partisans have contested this, affirming that the gas was only used during "dental sessions."
 
The lengthy published account of Ma Anand Sheela, for long obscured until 2012, confirms the drug problem. The manager of Rajneeshpuram here says that the British commune doctor (Swami Devaraj) had created “fifteen fictitious medical files” for the purpose of prescribing, ordering, and storing the drugs for Rajneesh. Furthermore, the guru routinely received a combination of two drugs. The spurious medical files enabled him to ingest large quantities of meprobamate (a sedative that became an issue due to serious side effects).  The guru’s extensive drug problem was made more dramatic by his resort to nitrous oxide “for two hours every morning and afternoon.”
 
The Oregon commune was known as Rajneeshpuram. The inmates were desiring to create a city, but this prospect met with local resistance.  The work force deferred to an increasingly dictatorial management led by Ma Anand Sheela (born 1949), an Indian woman who had married a wealthy American; she had been a neo-sannyasin follower of Rajneesh since 1972. Sheela had become the secretary of Rajneesh, and acted as the commune manager. 

The Rajneeshi mood became militant. In 1982, Sheela took over the neighbouring village of Antelope, instructing Rajneeshis to reside there. Sheela's militant campaign set fire to the Wasco County planning office. She was supported by an administrative group of women within the commune, including the Australian Jane Stork (alias Ma Shanti Bhadra). They contrived murder plots, designed  to eliminate the Oregon attorney Charles Turner and other persons. The bizarre commune events were reported in some detail, and are not easy to compress on a blog. A more detailed account of mine can be found in a website article.

Sheela and her associates had their own private laboratory, the means by which they mounted a bioterrorist attack at ten salad bars in Wasco County. They deployed salmonella bacteria. Over seven hundred people became ill. This event (September 1984) caused a widespread wave of shock. The commune terrorists also experimented with a typhoid virus for use against nearby towns. These aberrations have been viewed as the outcome of Rajneesh therapy, in which no criteria existed to detect anomalies. 
 
An additionally sinister detail is that Diane Onang (Ma Anand Puja), director of the Rajneesh Medical Corporation, attempted to make the AIDS virus into a germ weapon at her “biological warfare” lab (McCormack, 2010, p. 5). This prospect was apparently envisaged for both dissidents and outsider enemies. 
 
Partisan interpretations have frequently attempted to make Rajneesh look guiltless. The court testimony of the Rajneeshi conspirator Ava Avalos  is revealing. She relays that in 1985, Sheela went to the guru for assistance, to harden the resolve of colleagues who were faltering in the various plans for murder. The response of Rajneesh was tape-recorded. He conveyed that “it was going to be necessary to kill people to stay in Oregon. And actually Hitler was a great man, although he [Rajneesh] could not say that publicly because nobody would understand that. Hitler had great vision.”
 
This was known as the Hitler tape. Les Zaitz clarifies that, although the tape quality was poor, the commune elite “heard Rajneesh say that if 10,000 had to die to save one enlightened master, so be it” (Zaitz, 2011 update of The Oregonian  reports, Pt 5, Utopian dreams collapse). In other words, Sheela was endorsed to the hilt. The fascist auspices are difficult to ignore.
 
Certain more general statements of Rajneesh are not impressive. For instance: “Right and wrong have never been my consideration. What I happen to like is right” (cited in Clarke, 1999, p. 70). More specific to the American situation is his statement to a newspaper reporter in 1985, when the Oregon commune was starting to fall apart: “Our people [Rajneeshi neo-sannyasins] can also hijack American planes if worst comes to worst” (ibid., p. 64).
 
The murder plots miscarried. In September 1985, Sheela, Diane Onang, and others fled to Europe. Rajneesh denounced them and claimed innocence.  He blamed all the commune crimes and problems on Sheela. Yet a month before Sheela fled, he had made a public reference that: “I told her [Sheela] to go out and cut as many heads as possible” (Calder, Lost Truth).



Sheela (image above) was awarded three twenty year jail sentences on charges of assault and attempted murder, with immigration fraud another complication. She was released in 1988 on account of good behaviour in a California jail. The State of Oregon intended to charge Sheela and Onang with further crimes, but were caught off guard by the lenient early release; the two women left for Europe before any further complication (Morantz, Escape from Rajneeshpuram). Other commune conspirators were subsequently jailed. 
 
According to Sheela’s published account (Don’t Kill Him, 2012), she fled to Europe after resigning from the guru’s service. She had discovered the extent of his drug problem, and also that Rajneesh was indifferent to questions about this matter, which he evaded. His insatiable demands for more automobiles and expensive wristwatches were deemed “madness” by Sheela and other neo-sannyasin officials. Sheela says that his subsequent accusations against her were false, and relays that his reactions to followers who left him were always severe. The European branches of the movement provided a crucial economic support, but the guru’s expenditure was ruinous and bankrupted the commune.

In October 1985, Rajneesh was briefly jailed (image above) and afterwards pleaded guilty to immigration fraud; he was fined and deported from America. He was subsequently refused entry to over twenty countries due to his controversial reputation and ongoing belligerence. 

The Oregon commune collapsed in 1985. The Rajneeshi corporations were bankrupt, and the ranch was afterwards sold off. At large, there are said to have been many disillusioned neo-sannyasins who left the sect. However, Rajneesh still had thousands of Western followers, a fair number of whom were alternative therapists.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho)

Rajneesh ended up in Poona for the last few years of his life, resuming a flamboyant role as a guru,  wearing flashy jewellery and exotic robes.  Donations continued, and he gained  more young neo-sannyasins. His discourses continued to be published. Devotees said that he was a great omniscient spiritual master. Critics said that he was a showman.  Ex-devotee Christopher Calder last visited the ashram in 1988, and affirms that Rajneesh was “suffering from drug and illness induced dementia.”

In 1987, the guru proffered a new explanation for his poor health, saying that Christians in the US government had poisoned him during his brief phase spent in American jails.  This belief was derived from one of his doctors, a neo-sannyasin. There were various speculations on this matter, including a theory about thallium and radiation which found favour with the guru and his ashram. 
 
Ex-devotee Calder repudiated the explanation as being “entirely fictional and contradicted by undeniable fact.” Calder concluded that negative health symptoms of Rajneesh were caused by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and aggravated by nitrous oxide poisoning and heavy use of valium (Calder, Lost Truth).
 
In 1988, the discourses of Rajneesh were preoccupied with Zen; these reflections have been considered heavily coloured by his own views. Rajneesh now adopted the name of Osho. The word osho  is a Buddhist title for a temple priest in Japan, and also evocative of Zen teachers. The guru had apparently mentioned the word in this context, but also associated the same word with a healing quality and the “oceanic experience” suggested by William James. The ashram staff declared that the name Osho derived from a Japanese term. Rajneesh was evidently trying to move away from his tarnished “Bhagwan” image. The title of Bhagwan was significantly dropped. His followers thereafter called him Osho.

The failing health of Rajneesh (alias Osho)  caused him to stop giving discourses in 1989. He died of heart failure in January 1990. His followers continued to spread the misleading belief that he was poisoned by the American government in 1985.

Bibliography:
 
Many books on the subject are partisan or apologist works, e.g., Vasant Joshi, The Awakened One (1982) and Joshi, Osho: The Luminous Rebel – Story of a Maverick Mystic (2010). Joshi is also known as Swami Satya Vedant, the name bestowed upon him by Rajneesh when he became a neo-sannyasin. Reservations also apply to certain works of a different complexion. For instance, The Golden Guru (1987) by James S. Gordon has received strong critique, e.g., the 2002 letter from E. Patrick Curry in the Washington Post. Critics regard as questionable the Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic (New York 2001), an edited work representing Rajneesh. A brief but very critical treatment is Ronald O. Clarke, The Narcissistic Guru: A Profile of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1988). An Emeritus Professor here examines the prolific claims of the subject, and associates him with a narcissistic personality disorder. Despite his excesses, “Rajneesh claims possession of absolute and total spiritual truth.” The quote comes from page 59 of the reprint in Harry Aveling, ed., Osho Rajneesh and his Disciples: Some Western Perceptions (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1999), chapter 4 (55-89). A relevant account is Ma Anand Sheela, Don’t Kill Him: The Story of my Life with Bhagwan Rajneesh (New Delhi: Prakash, 2012).

Some other varied works can be listed as follows: Lewis F. Carter, Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpuram (Cambridge University Press, 1990); Satya Bharti Franklin, The Promise of Paradise: A Woman’s Intimate Story of the Perils of Life with Rajneesh (Barrytown: Station Hill Press, 1992); Tim Guest, My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru (Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, 2004); Hugh Milne, Bhagwan: The God That Failed (London: Caliban, 1986); Win McCormack, ed., The Rajneesh Chronicles (1987; second edn, Portland, Oregon: Tin House Books, 2010); Jane Stork, Breaking the Spell: My Life as a Rajneeshee and the Long Journey Back to Freedom (Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2009); Antony Storr, Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus (London: Harper Collins, 1996); Kate Strelley, The Ultimate Game: The Rise and Fall of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (London: Harper Collins, 1987). My own critical view is expressed in Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2004), pp. 58-74.

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
 
ENTRY no. 58
 
Copyright © 2014 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.