Welcome back to our queer philosophical sojourn in the east! If you’ve just found this series, let me catch you up on where you’ve found yourself. Chapter by chapter I’m releasing my LGBTQIA+ centric philosophy discussion book so that you, queerly beloveds, can debate discuss, question and contribute; your inputs become my edits, til the finished book speaks for our brave and beautiful community. This is VENUS VALLEY - Queer Philosophers’ Forum.
Over the last few chapters we’ve been talking about Foundation Myths and Mythic Descent - tracing races back beyond where history is reliably written, to the point where people find value in their spiritual roots - and its kind-of opposite, Euhemerism - finding mundane roots to mythology - and how they can both be helpfully used to influence and inspire people towards Humanism - faith in humanity’s future potential, based on their progress together from past to present - or, harmfully misused for propaganda, in what I think we should call weaponised appropriation. (Click on each of the titles to go to the chapters that explain more!) Now, since the example I used of weaponised appropriation was 1920s & ‘30s Germany - you know, the “Nasty” party, the moustache man whose name sounds a bit like “Adult Film Star”? The ones whose modern day followers keep turning up to protest against gender affirming healthcare and drag queen story time? - and how they spread misinformation and disinformation (click on the w.a. chapter link to see the important difference between those two things!) about eastern spiritual wisdom traditions, to assert the superiority of the west in the past, to justify their fight for its supremacy in the future… so for these next few chapters, we’re shining a spotlight instead on philosophy from farther east, and the inspiration and influence it gave to the west. This chapter, just a gentle journey through some prayer-poetry, that turned out to be a lot more queer-affirming than I was expecting! Enjoy!
These pieces are from SPEAKING OF SHIVA, a medieval Hindu prayer-poetry collection:
“Look here, dear fellow: I wear these men’s clothes only for you. Sometimes I am a man, sometimes I am a woman. O lord of the meeting rivers, I’ll make wars for you, but I’ll be your devotees’ bride.”
“If they see breasts and long hair coming they call it woman, if beard and whiskers they call it man: But, look, the self that hovers in between is neither man nor woman, O Ramanatha!”
“Suppose you cut a tall bamboo in two; make the bottom piece a woman, the headpiece a man; rub them together til they be kindled: tell me now, the fire that’s born, is it male or female, O Ramanatha?”
(Side note: It also reads, “riding rutting elephants of pride, you turned easy target to fate” - and now I have that image in my head, and I want to see rutting elephants at Pride! Haha)
THE DHAMMAPADA - a little pocket book of Buddhist teachings - aren’t quite as plainly gender bending as that, but I did find these pieces that jumped out at me as “that reminds me of…” or, “that feels pretty relevant to…” Let me know if you agree!
ONE FOR TERFS, TRANSPHOBES AND OTHER BIGOTS TO TAKE NOTE OF: “The wrong action seems sweet to the fool until the reaction comes and brings pain, and the bitter fruits of wrong deeds have then to be eaten by the fool. Any wrong or evil a man does, is born in himself and is caused by himself; and this crushes the foolish man as a hard stone grinds the weaker stone. The evil that grows in a man is like the creeper that entangles the tree; and the man is brought down to that condition in which his own enemy would wish him to be.”
ONE FOR CLOSED-MINDED PARENTS, GUARDIANS AND CAREGIVERS, WHO INSIST QUEER AND CLOSETED CHILDREN SHOULD LISTEN TO THEM, EVEN THOUGH THEY DON’T LISTEN TO THOSE CHILDREN: “The man is not venerable because grey hairs are on his head. If a man is old in years then he is indeed old in vain. But a man is a venerable elder if he is indeed free from sin, and if in him there is truth and righteousness, non violence, moderation and self control.”
ONE THAT REMINDED ME OF GLORIA’S MONOLOGUE FROM THE BARBIE MOVIE! “They blame the one who is silent, they blame the one who speaks too much, they blame the one who speaks too little.”
AND ONE THAT FEELS LIKE IT WOULD FIT WELL IN TRANS DAY OF REMEMBRANCE, TRANS DAY OF VISIBILITY, AND ALL THE OTHER TIMES WE REMEMBER THOSE WE LOVED AND LOST TO THE VIOLENCE THAT BIGOTRY TRAGICALLY BREEDS: “The traveller has reached the end of the journey! In the freedom of the infinite he is free from all sorrows, the fetters that bound him are thrown away, and the burning fever of life is no more.”
(Of course, not everything they say is applicable to a life of queer freedom - like the idea of all passion, desire, sensuous pleasure and lust being best avoided - that a good deed never brings pain - or that “the best of men can endure abuse in peace”! But that, in itself, is a perfect introduction to OMNISM: the idea that all religions have some truth, but no religion has all truth.)
And almost-finally, these pieces from THE ALCHEMY OF HAPPINESS (KIMIYA-I-SA’ADAT) - a key work of SUFI (mystical Islamic) self examination - influential on Humanism and medieval Christianity alike - by Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muammad al-Ghazzali - Persian theologian, philosopher, jurist, mystic, around the year 1100 - not only carry on in the same vein, but give me the perfect chance for a sneak-peek segue into future chapters!
FOR A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE GREEK PHILOSOPHY I’VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT BEFORE, AND THE ASIAN PHILOSOPHY I’M DIPPING INTO NOW: “Once upon a time, the Chinese having challenged the Greeks to a trial of skill in painting, the Sultan summoned them both into edifices built for the purpose directly facing each other, and commanded them to show proof of their art. The painters of the two nations immediately applied themselves with diligence to their work. The Chinese sought and obtained of the king every day a great quantity of colours, but the Greeks not the least particle. Both worked in profound silence, until the Chinese, with a clang of cymbals and trumpets, announced the end of their labours. Immediately the king, with his courtiers hastened to their temple, and there stood amazed at the wonderful splendour of the Chinese painting and the exquisite beauty of the colours. But meanwhile the Greeks, who had not sought to adorn the walls with paints, but laboured rather to erase every colour, drew aside the veil which concealed their work. Then, wonderful to tell, the manifold variety of the Chinese colours was seen still more delicately and beautifully reflected from the walls of the Grecian temple, as it stood illuminated by the rays of the midday sun.”
“If you say, ‘I know myself’ meaning your outward shape, body, face, limbs and so forth, such knowledge can never be a key to the knowledge of God… But real self knowledge consists in knowing the following things: What are you in yourself, and from whence have you come…and in what does your real happiness and misery consist?”
ON THE RIGHT, AND THE RESPONSIBILITY, TO MAKE OF OUR OUTER BODIES A TRUE EXPRESSION OF OUR INNER SELF: “Those who are not conscious of them [intuitions] have no right to deny their reality.”
“Limb after limb may be paralysed and cease working, but the individuality of the soul is unimpaired. Further, the body that you have now is no longer the body you had as a child, but entirely different, yet your Personality now is identical with your personality then.”
“His [God’s, Allah’s] love is shown by His not only supplying such organs as are absolutely necessary for existence, as the liver, the heart, and the brain, but those that are not absolutely necessary, as the hand, the foot, the tongue and the eye. To these He has added, as ornaments, the blackness of the hair, the redness of the lips, and the curve of the eyebrows.”
“Each of us is entrusted with a little kingdom [the self] and charged not to be careless in the administration of it.”
ON SPIRITUAL AND RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY, CLAIMING TO BE ALL ABOUT WISDOM AND LOVE; BUT IN TRUTH, ALL ABOUT POWER: “Sometimes it [the heart] presents its own selfishness under the guise of obedience to god, so that a man presupposes he has gained, whereas he has really lost…but most people are heedless, and never think of calling themselves to account…people count on their rosaries with self satisfaction the number of times they’ve recited the names of God, but they keep no rosary for reckoning the numberless idle words they speak.”
“[They]…claim to have reached such a degree of sanctity that sin cannot affect them. Yet, if you treat one of them with disrespect, he will bear a grudge against you for years, and if one of them be deprived of a morsel of food which he thinks is his due, the whole world will appear dark and narrow to him… These pseudo mystics sometimes pretend to be drowned in a sea of wonder, but if you ask them what they are wondering at they do not know.”
“Who is a greater transgressor than he who worships me from fear of hell or hope of heaven?”
(If only they would “…give that counsel which is conveyed by silence and not by speech”!)
A WHOLE CHAPTER ON “MUSIC & DANCING AS AIDS TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE” - INCLUDING THE EROTIC POETRY RECITED AT SUFI GATHERINGS: “A wise man, though he himself may have no experience of those states [of power, passion and pleasure] will not therefore deny their reality, for what folly can be greater than his who denies the reality of a thing merely because he himself has not experienced it! … those who have not guidance will say, ‘this is a manifest imposture’.”
AND A CHAPTER ON “MARRIAGE AS A HELP OR HINDRANCE TO THE RELIGIOUS LIFE” - The first thing it says it how much we can learn from children, so yay for someone all the way back then understanding that we should be listening to young kids!
“I have loved 3 things in the world: perfumes, and women, and refreshment in prayer” - Yay for a religious upholder of traditional marriage also loving perfume!
ON BODY IMAGE: “A mirror may be so crooked as to make even a beautiful form appear misshapen, and a man may carry into the next world a heart so dark and distorted that the sight which will be a source of peace and joy to others will be to him a source of misery.”
(For the sake of Omnist balance, let’s remember that he also calls wives and children the property of their husbands and fathers; and has a long list of qualities of a good wife, including, confusingly, both chastity and fertility!)
BUT I PROMISED YOU A SNEAK PEEK INTO THE THEMES OF UPCOMING CHAPTERS!
As a parallel to Shakespeare, who’s getting his own chapter sometime soon: “This world is a stage or marketplace passed by pilgrims on their way to the next.”
A chapter on Star Trek is also coming soon, so remember: “An astronomer who, by his knowledge, can map the stars and describe their courses, derives more pleasure from his knowledge than the chess player does from his… the higher the thing, the more pleasure to be gained from the knowledge and learning of it.”
An early version of one of philosophy’s most famous soundbites, the religious challenge known as Pascal’s Wager: “The Lord Ali once, in arguing with an unbeliever, said, ‘If you are right, then neither of us will be any the worse in the future; but if we’re right, then we shall escape, and you will suffer’.” (I do have Pascal’s book, but where it’ll fit or feature in this book, I haven’t decided yet!)
Meanwhile, coming up next is a chapter on the famous Sufi romantic known as Rumi - in which my homosexual and asexual-spectrum readers (the Gays & the Grays, as I like to call them) will hopefully feel very seen - who was influenced and inspired by, among other things, passages like this: “There is a sixth sense, or faculty of perception, implanted in the heart, which animals do not possess, through which we become aware of spiritual beauty and excellence… Such love not towards any outward form, but towards the inner character.”
To fully close this chapter, so I can get on and write that one, here’s a link to a poetic piece by my Mrs & my muse, Sandra; about the time she danced a catwalk painted as a living Mandala - the circles-within-a-circle pattern that’s one of eastern philosophy’s most recognisable calling cards here in the west: click here to read MANDALA QUEEN!
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