Let’s talk about the “alt-right”

Oh boy, this is a topic that is a potential can of worms. But, let’s about about the so called alt-right.

The alt-right, which came into mainstream prominence after Hillary mentioned them at a speech last year, is a very divisive entity in and of itself. Go anywhere online and you will find threads upon threads of the dankest of memes (and pepe) in support of some alt-right cause. Or, you will see mainstream progressives rail against how evil and racist the alt-right is; making it the new political boogeyman in this current internet age. When one thinks about it, it doesn’t seem too far off. Sites like the Daily Stormer and people like Richard Spencer, both of which express nationalist (white or otherwise) views, either claim to be alt-right or are attributed to being a part of the alt-right. Milo Yiannopoulos, who has been seen by some as a face of the alt-right for about the past year-ish or so, is a person of immense controversy. Usually he is just protested, but about a week ago a riot broke out at UC Berkeleycourtesy of everyone’s favorite “anti-fascists” ANTIFA. Anytime anything remotely resembling western nationalism rises its head, it’s almost a necessity that the alt-right will be brought up and be a source of scorn and vitriol.

However, what if I told you that the alt-right isn’t a real thing?

good-night-alt-right

What did Pepe do to deserve this, mang?

Okay, it’s “real” in that there are people who identify as alt-right, but unlike virtually any other political entity in the US, there is no structure, no consistent political platform, and no real organization. The term “alt-right” was coined by a guy named Paul Gottfried (not Richard Spencer) who in 2008, called for an alternative right as an antithesis to what he saw as a neo-conservative stronghold on the American right.

That, quite literally, is it. At its core, all the alt-right is, is someone (or something) that is vaguely right wing and doesn’t identify with the mainstream American right. Aka, neo-conservatives and the majority of the Republican party.

With such a vague base, and no actual core organization, this can apply to literally anyone that isn’t a NeoCon Republican. This can apply to many people and ideologies, including but not limited to: Fascists, National Socialists, Libertarians. Anarcho-Capitalists, Paleo-Conservatives, Monarchists, Theocrats, Neo-Reactionaries, Classical Conservatives, right leaning Populists, Far-right militarists, and your run of the mill center-right independents.

What about the nationalism that is so often equated with the alt-right? Even that isn’t unified or necessarily shared by all, but I will concede that it is probably the one thing in common that many people who identify as alt-right share. Vague as it may be. At best, it may be a mild form of western or American nationalism were everyone, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality are a part of it. At worst, it is full blown white supremacy. With no real ideological unity, it’s a free for all with who is a “real” alt-righter.

Although I don’t carry the title of “alt-right”, I technically could be considered one. I’m fairly conservative minded, I absolutely hate the neo-conservative mentality and foreign policy that has been core to American conservatism in the past few decades, I’m pro-western values, pro-western education, and I believe that all people regardless of their race, nationality, religion, gender, or sexuality can be accepted as “western” so long as they accept such values. Yet, I am against racism, white nationalism, and recognize that most people (on the internet at least) who identify as alt-right are provocateurs, meme-tastic college students, or reactionaries. There is no real power in what they do, say, or promote. There is no organization, no real platform, no core connection. All they have are perceived numbers and, despite what the mainstream will tell you, they aren’t a real threat. At all.

In a way, this is a shame because in all honesty, there should be a legitimate alternative right in the United States. As well as an alternative left. Both mainstream political parties are just husks of their former selves and are truly not that different from one another. Both are out of touch with the common person and both are bedfellows with corporations and their own self-interests. People are sick of being jerked around my these two entities and want another way. Yet, the continuous cycle of these two parties is something that people just can’t seem to break. I truly believe that if viable alternatives came around, real change could begin it’s initial stages.

Maybe one day this will happen. I just don’t think it’ll happen with the likes of Richard Spencer being paraded around or with badly drawn, post-ironic memes. As funny and dank as they are.

A Christ-Krishna connection? Hardly.

You know what is something I hate? Blatantly wrong information being propagated with absolutely no credible sources or any semblance of fact checking. You know what is something related to that that makes me rage even more? Those dumb “Jesus is really these many pagan gods” memes that became popular after films like Zeitgeist and Bill Mahr’s painfully unfunny Religulous. You know what is the crème de la crème of all this rage? When people say that Jesus Christ is really just a rip off of Krishna. After all, Christ sounds vaguely similar to Krishna!

jesus-krishna

Take THAT, Christians! Where’s your god now?!?

But in all seriousness, it’s really painful to see these memes still being taken seriously; even after a decade of people debunking these kinds of claims. No credible scholar in their field takes the idea that somehow Jesus is a rip off of Horus or Mithra seriously. Granted, there are actual claims to be made against the divinity of Christ, but a kind of divine copyright infringement ain’t one of them. Now, since I’m no scholar or historian of any kind, I can’t talk about Horus, Mithra, or Dionysus’ “similarities” to Jesus. However, as a practitioner of Hinduism, I can talk about the alleged Christ-Krishna connections and show that, at best, they’re superficial. At worst, down right false. I won’t go over every “similarity”, but I will go over the ones most propagated.

Claim: Krishna was born of a Virgin, just like Jesus

Fact: If one just reads Hindu scriptures, this one is obviously false. Krishna’s birth mother, Devaki, had 7 other children before giving birth to Krishna. His adoptive mother, Yashoda, had at least one other child. So neither of his maternal figures were virgins when he was born or raised. Hell, one can make the claim that Krishna wasn’t even “born”. Vishnu appeared for a minute and then Krishna was there.

Not to mention, there are debates as to what the Greek word παρθένος (parthenos) means in relation to Mary. More traditional scholars say it’s virgin, while others debate that it just means a young, unmarried woman.

Claim: Jesus and Krishna were called both a God/Son of God

Fact: Yes, Krishna is considered God, but he was never once considered to be the “son” of God. In fact, the only time he ever really revealed his true nature (in words) was in the Bhagavad Gita to his friend Arjuna.

“I am the source of all. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this serve Me with all their hearts. With minds absorbed in Me and lives surrendered to Me, they enlighten one another and find deep satisfaction in speaking of Me always, tasting transcendental bliss. To those always absorbed in serving Me with love, I give the understanding that leads to Me. Out of compassion for them, dwelling in their hearts, I destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” – Bhagavad Gita; Chapter 10, verses 8-11

Also, unlike Christ, Krishna is only considered to have a human-like form. He is 100% God, not divine and man at the same time. Furthermore, just to nip this in the bud, there really isn’t a concept of a “trinity” in Hinduism. Yes, some try to say that there is a Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva trinity, but only Universalist Hindus seem to follow it. More traditional Hindus generally don’t.

Claim: Krishna’s father was a carpenter.

Fact: No, his “father” was a king. His adoptive father’s occupation is never really revealed, but it can be inferred that he’s a cow herder or farmer.

Claim: Both were visited at birth by wise men/shepherds. There was also a star in the eastern sky.

Not true. When Krishna was born, his earth father took him across a river guided by a multi-headed snake named Adi-shesha. This was to save him from a certain death. There were no wise men or star involved.

Also, he was not born on December 25th.

Claim: Angels issued a warning that the local dictator planned to kill the baby and had issued a decree for his assassination. The parents fled. Mary and Joseph stayed in Muturea; Krishna’s parents stayed in Mathura

Fact: Oh my God.

No angels came to Krishna’s parents. God himself decreed that a child would be born that would overthrow Kamsa (his Earth mother’s brother). Later, Durga came to warn Kamsa, but no angels were involved. Also, Krishna’s parents never escaped. They stayed in prison in Mathura until their son came back. There is no evidence of a place called Muturea (?) that Mary and Joseph escaped to.

Claim: Both performed miracles. Krishna even healed the sick and raised the dead

Fact: This is technically false. Not once did Krishna heal any sick or raise the dead. In fact, he didn’t even really perform “miracles”. His were more like feats of strength by defeating demons. The only real miracle that happened (and this is admittedly reaching) is that his adoptive mother, Yashoda, saw the universe in the baby Krishna’s mouth. That’s it.

Claim: They were both crucified and resurrected on the third day

Fact: Krishna was shot by an arrow and died in a tree. Aside from dying slightly elevated from the ground, his and Jesus’ deaths were not the same in any way.

Like I said, there are a lot more examples that are propagated as being true, but if one just takes the time to actually research the doctrines, scriptures and histories of these two figures, people would see that they really don’t have much in common. Of course, don’t just take my word for it. Take some time to look into it yourselves. There is a plethora of scholarship out there that disproves these memes. Maybe one day, religious literacy will move beyond blurry pics and spelling/grammar errors smashing millennia old religions. Until that day comes, fight the good fight and remember that Zeitgeist sucks.

Personal confessions.

Most of the time, I suck at being a Hindu.

That is something that people of various religions don’t want to hear, but I think it’s something that many people can identify or sympathize with. Even though I practice a faith, I’m not particularly good at actually maintaining or keeping up a consistent practice.

I was initiated as a Vaishnava in December 2014. Around March of this year, I began to seriously wonder if I even belonged in Hinduism at all. I was never good at actually doing sadhana (daily prayers and rituals), instead preferring more of a contemplative practice and studying philosophy. I struggled, and still struggle, at doing Sandhyavandanam (a ritual meant to be performed thrice daily) and subsequently feel little to no inclination for doing excessive physical ritual. It just feels too mechanic and I feel no connection to God in doing them. Don’t even get me started on my lack of general Sanskrit skills. The only things I was able to do without any error were become vegetarian and chant some mantras; and even then I still sometimes crave chicken.

On top of all of this, I was seriously looking into other religions. Namely Buddhism, Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Judaism.

So why, dear reader, if all of this is going on, do I still maintain the identity of “Hindu”.

Because I feel as if though that is what I’m supposed to be.

I won’t always be good at keeping up with a consistent practice. I won’t always be the most devotional person. I may forever go through near bi-polar seasons of doubt and look into other religions, but I always make my way back to Sanatana Dharma. Even if I’m not always the most Pious person, I still am a Hindu. Just because I don’t always keep with with my duties, doesn’t mean that I no longer belong in this religion or that I have to exile myself. Hell, just because I can find beauty and inspiration in other religions, doesn’t make me less of a Hindu.

God will always be waiting for me; I just have to catch up.

Besides, if a born Brahmin with the sacred thread can eat meat and never once do any of the required prayers and still be considered a Hindu, then I must be doing alright.

 

 

Photo by Lisa Davis via Wikimedia Commons

Is love a material thing?

Last year my two friends, John and Chalapathy, got engaged to one another after partaking in a 5 day religious ritual called Brahmotsavam (a celebration of a temple’s founding). Earlier this year, John flew out to Australia and Chala’s family threw both of them a traditional South Indian engagement ceremony. This past week, their story spread across the internet like wildfire. Starting in a small site called Gaylaxy, but eventually making it’s way to Buzzfeed, the Times of India, the Huffington Post, and multiple shares on Facebook.

What’s one of the golden rules of the internet? Don’t read the comments.

What did I do? Just that.

Certainly, most comments were either supportive or neutral, but there were the ones which were negative through and through. However, there was one that caught me off guard.

Essentially,  the comment creator didn’t understand the need for two men to get married, or anyone to get married for that matter, as love is just an attachment to illusion. To be attached to a jiva (soul) is lesser than to be attached to God (in this individual’s’ case, Lord Krishna). This caused a mixed reaction, as some disagreed with the commenter, and others agreeing. One person went as far as to call the only purpose of marriage as a means to “formally enjoy sex”.

As a gay man who one day hopes to fall in love and marry, who also just so happens who follow Hinduism, is there any truth to this? Is my desire to love and be loved (and yes, enjoy sex) strictly a material thing?

On one level, yes, it is kind of material. Technically speaking, anything that isn’t inherently devotional or directed at God is considered material. However, I think the better question is “is wanting love, a material thing, inherently bad?”

 

My answer would be no.

 

The general goal of Hinduism, regardless of the sect or school, is to attain moksha (liberation) from samsara (the cycle of death and rebirth). This comes in many forms and styles; usually by meditation, loving devotion, and adherence to rites and rituals. Traditionally (and I say this in a very broad sense) while everyone had certain duties to perform during their life, the hardcore working towards moksha didn’t occur until the final years of one’s life. There are 4 stages of life in traditional Hinduism: Brahmacharya (celibate student), Grihastha (married/householder), Vanaprastha (retired), and Sannyasa (renounced).

During the householder stage, it was expected that one would enjoy the material world. That meant having a job, friends, get married and, yes, partaking in sex. It was considered an appropriate time in one’s life to enjoy those things. One still had religious and societal duties, but one was actively engaged in the material world from their 20s to (usually) their 50s/60s. After their householder life is when one slowly detached from the world and, in their 80s and beyond, would focus entirely on liberation and spirituality.

Of course, not everyone did this in the past and certainly only a few even follow it now, but the point I’m trying to make is that enjoying material pleasures isn’t inherently bad. In fact, it’s often expected.

One thing I noticed while reading that comment was that the individual (and a fair number of other commenters) was from ISKCON; a branch of Gaudiya Vaishnavism . I can’t speak for Gaudiya as a whole, but ISKCON is very heavy on detachment from the world in nearly it’s entirety. So much so that people who should be householders live practically like monastics. For those who are married, their love for each other is generally considered an attachment and lesser than their love for God. The goal of life is to love God and spread the ideas necessary for all sentient beings to attain liberation; everything else is secondary. This was especially true in its heyday in the 1960s and 70s.

It goes without saying that not everyone in ISKCON would necessarily be as strict with the official interpretation of marriage and love, but those ideals are still prevalent. If it’s not obvious, I disagree with said ideals, but I wouldn’t want to take away anyone’s right to believe it if that’s what they thought were true.

Personally, while I love Sri Devi and hope sooner than later to escape from this never ending cycle, I’m still going to enjoy the life that I do have. I’m still going to partake in the things that the world has to offer, material or otherwise. It doesn’t mean I’m spiritually lesser (although I’m nowhere close to being wise), it just means that I’m still on my journey. That I still have quite some time before I can completely detach my mind from the material and focus on the spiritual. That while I love God, I’m not ready to renounce everything quite yet.

And that’s perfectly okay.

From Vaishnava to Shakta.

Almost four months ago was my last post on this blog and, lo and behold, yet more changes have come to it. Go figure. Among these changes include the name change (which I think fits more with not only the purpose of this blog, but also how I approach all things faith related) and a different format. Hopefully this one is somewhat cleaner looking and easier to navigate.

However, these changes are not only to the format of this blog, but also in my personal life. To begin, I’ve very recently begun summer break after completing one full year of graduate studies. I’m attending a Quaker seminary (which is an interesting experience in and of itself) and am working my way towards a Masters of Divinity. What exactly is a Hindu doing in what is essentially a Christian school? Well, that remains to be seen, but I’m strongly considering going into a form of academia. Maybe teaching at a private school level or maybe even going for a PhD in history or religion. Only time will tell.

More importantly, a big change has come to my religious beliefs and practice; of which I’ll go into more detail in a later post. Basically, while I’m still Hindu through and through, I no longer identify as a strict Vaishnava. Over the course of the past few months, I’ve come to realize that there are a few things about Vaishnavism that didn’t sit well with me, and even when I was Vaishnava I found myself on the fringes of orthodoxy. Furthermore, I found myself being drawn back towards Devi and Mahadeva; whom I had tried to give up when becoming Vaishnava.

It eventually came to be that I found myself identifying with Shaktism instead of strictly as a Sri Vaishnava. However, the form of Shaktism I am studying still has it’s roots and is tied in with Sri Vaishnavism, so I suppose I’m still Vaishnava-ish by association? Either way, my teachers and God brothers also know the rites, rituals, and scriptures of this school of Shaktism, so I still am in association with them.

So much has been going on that I don’t think I can go into detail in just one post, but let’s just call this my return to this blog.

Happy to be back and since I no longer have multiple papers and classes to complete, let’s see if I can keep to a consistent writing schedule.