Emancipation is Self-Realization. The movement for Dharmic Indigeneity is helping to unite the righteous global cause of social justice with the rediscovery of our spiritual selves. These efforts are our greatest asset to decolonize the planet.
“The Lord [Shiva] sits in all our hearts.
All of reality comes from the Lord.
Abandon materialism — lust after nothing.
All of reality belongs to the Lord.”
— Isha Upanishad, 1 (author’s translation)
Short, sweet, and to the point, the Isha is traditionally placed first in any collection of the Upanishads. The Isha greets the seeker with this opening verse. So potent is this single verse that Mahatma Gandhi once said, “if (all Hindu scriptures were destroyed and) only the first verse of the Ishopanishad were left in the memory of the Hindus, Hinduism would live forever.” This speaks to the quiet strength of Hindu Dharma, the world’s oldest religion, as it has survived nearly a millennium and a half of existential threats at home and overseas.
This verse also speaks to the Universal Truth found in the core essence of every noble faith tradition known to humanity: we do not exist without God.
God exists within us — all of us — and every thing we see emanates from God. Because we are all part of God, nothing is ever truly ours, a truly humbling thought the longer one thinks about it. Nothing is really ours. Not our families, our possessions, or our achievements. It all comes from the Lord. To see these things as our creation alone negates God — humanism is atheism.
Control by the elites upon the masses through religion is doable if God is presented to the laypeople as separate, judgmental, and vengeful. The remoteness of God’s perfection becomes an unattainable goal. This causes people to hate themselves and accordingly enables them to hate others. If you refuse to see God exists within your perceived enemies, suddenly you can say or do whatever you want to them, including denying them the right to live. Such a system of so-called morality has none to speak of.
“If they’re civilized, I’d rather stay a savage.”
- Mona Haydar, “Barbarian”
The process of Self-Realization as described in the Hindu tradition is an internal quest for liberation from material bondage. The process of emancipation for oppressed people is an external quest for liberation from physical bondage. Both quests transcend the personal into the political, the social into the spiritual. You cannot free yourself without first freeing your intellect. Indian writer Diyanshi Sharda sees the connection between efforts to decolonize religion on the Subcontinent and the political struggle of Black and Native Americans against white supremacy and injustice. Her article, “Understanding The Intricacies Of Decolonial Dharmic Indigeneity,” is a breathtaking read and inspired this article. (Namaste, Diyanshiji!)
The disconnect from faith, especially for my generation and younger, is a crossroads for the future of human civilization. It’s bad enough so many on the Left are atheists, but it is also a testament to how traumatic the church, synagogue, and mosque have been in the lives of many young Westerners brainwashed into believing God is a hateful patriarch who turns women into pillars of salt, unleashes plagues, tosses souls into a lake of fire, and is okay with communities demanding ransom from other religions so they can practice freely. For the children of the Abrahamic traditions, bedtime stories all too often become nightmares.
One does not need to dig deep or look far to find willful abuses of power within institutions of Western religion, despite the innate beauty of the teachings of their prophets. It is within these man-made institutions of religion that profits outweigh their prophets. In their desire to maintain power by any means necessary, these religious institutions will often corrupt or distort the message to serve a political end. I refuse to single any one out — pick any and you are destined to find this very human flaw in every religious institution.
Not the religions themselves, but the power structures built around them. This is crucial.
The bias held by many woke-minded Westerners against “religion” will forever hamper any efforts to mobilize, organize, or enact change. While antiwar Christians have become an endangered species, humanitarian causes have become largely secular.
The struggle of cultural dissonance with Eastern religions remains an example of “divide and conquer” politics on the part of colonizers effectively splitting groups. He later renounced his statements, but at one point in time, Mohandas Gandhi said some truly vile things about Black people. Class difference among Westernized Desis who embrace capitalism breeds a caste-like disdain for Black culture that all too quickly transforms into race hatred.
Last year, I discovered a trove of grossly hateful comments from Swami Prabhupada about African-Americans, women, and gays. I’ll summarize them here: he felt African-Americans were better off as slaves, that women are spiritually inferior to men, and that gay attraction is “demoniac.” His remarks gave me no choice but to abandon my former guru and his teachings. I wrote about my discovery in an article entitled “Spitting Out Poison.”
The Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita alike teach us to remain detached and unaffected by worldly matters, whether it is emotional distress, physical discomfort, or even the weather, but I was still saddened by my discovery. Prabhupada was, God bless him, a bad guru. His books, the reach of the International Society for Krsna Consciousness, and his inspiration on George Harrison all served an important role in getting me on the path, but I could no longer look to Prabhupada as my guru. The word “guru” translates as “one who dispels darkness.” No true guru would advocate for slavery or promote the idea of inferiority among people.
Shortly after the publication of “Spitting Out Poison,” I began hearing more about racism on the part of Indians against Blacks, both in India and the United States. Real-life experience caught up with me, too. Earlier this month, my girlfriend (who is Black) and I had a “hurry up and buy!” moment at a Desi boutique in Tigard where we were looking at saris, spices, and deities. The shopkeeper, an Indian auntie in her 70’s, told her the saris were not available for browsing and later came to us in the aisles to say we shouldn’t touch anything unless we intended to buy it.
We couldn’t leave fast enough. I was upset for my girlfriend, who is unfortunately all too familiar with such treatment, but I was also so angry with the shopkeeper for being such a bad representative of my faith.
Divyanshi Sharda’s article came at a crucial time. The ancient faith traditions of Africa, Asia, Australia, and Indigenous America share much in common: the veneration of nature, the exaltation of ancestors, the reincarnation of the Soul, and the recognition of all souls being part and parcel of a source Creator to which we eventually return. In opposition to these beliefs are man-made systems of power that create competition, breed intolerance, and justify the highest of crimes.
In India, birthplace of the tradition, Hindus have endured invasions from settler-colonialists and transmissive colonialists (chiefly through Christian missionaries), while throughout the diaspora, their single greatest threat is persecution, both overt and covert. Sikhs and Hindus in Punjab, Muslims and Hindus in Kashmir and Jammu may be at odds in Mother Bharat, but here in Yankee-land, home of the Proud Boys, the differences between followers of any faith outside the dominant Christian religion are reduced to a shared otherness. They are perceived equally as not just a threat to “tradition,” a lofty accusation on the part of a society built upon theft, slavery, and genocide, but also as targets for harassment, violence, and murder. Even their houses of worship are unsafe from armed intrusion, microcosms of past armed invasions on the native soil of these faiths.
I wish to give voice to the cause of Dharmic Indigeneity. Cooperative unity among Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities, not just in India but everywhere, could achieve what the Abrahamic traditions have failed to accomplish.
Gentrification here in the United States is cultural genocide. Look no further than the history of Portland, America’s whitest city, to see settler-colonialism alive and well in the so-called “developed” world. Portland’s entire Black community was fractured by real estate developers who wanted to turn their city into a whites-only utopia. In doing so — and I regret to share, their efforts have been successful — entire neighborhoods have vanished while historic buildings and Black-owned businesses get bulldozed. In their stead are blocks of asymmetrical glass monstrosities starting at $1700 a month for a micropartment with a brewery, a juice bar, and a goat yoga studio on the ground level. Gone are the original families, their memories, and indeed an entire culture.
There is little difference between these destroyers of culture armed with briefcases here and those in India armed with bags of rice. My domestic audience may not know what I’m talking about.
Solidarity to all people facing oppression, repression, and whose beliefs are enough of a threat to those in power that living is a daily struggle.
Transmissive Colonialism is the real pandemic.
Om Namah Sivaya,
(I had no hesitation about walking away from Prahbupada’s teachings, but it did leave a guru-sized hole in my life. A seeker without a guru is like a ship without a rudder. The details of my search deserve its own article, but I have found a suitable spiritual home in the teachings of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, founder of the Saivite Siddhanta Himalayan Academy in Kauai. Below is a sample of one of his teachings, appropriate in its instruction that God has no intermediaries — it really is up to us!)
Lesson 337 from Living with Siva
In the ancient days, the Saivite kings, the maharajas, were responsible for the religion. They saw to it that the priests performed their duties, that the pandits added to the store of knowledge, that the temples were built and maintained and that religion flourished throughout the land and remained alive in the minds and hearts of the people. This was the dharma of the kshatriya caste, headed by the kings, their ministers and heads of state. When the Saivite kings fell from power, the entire caste system was, for all practical purposes, left there on the battlefields. Decades have passed, and now we are in a technological age where computers and machinery replace more burdensome work, where caste is a matter of choice, not birth, where the common man and woman have replaced the royal powers as the protectors of Saivism.