Wednesday 15 April 2009

Views of Udwada

Views of Udwada. The Bhikaji Unwala Library was an interesting find. I was taking photos when the gentleman in the picture invited me upstairs to see the library. He turned out to be the librarian, a Mr Shirve, and soon we had an interesting conversation going on in Marathi. Mr Shirve's father used to be a Police Inspector in the village, and the family stayed on. After retirement, Mr Shirve, a heart patient with time on his hands, took up the post of librarian on a practically honorary basis.

The library, I was told, was mostly full of novels (Adiga's White Tiger was sticking out prominently and a little out of place), but I could gather from a glance that there was much more interesting stuff, old leather-bound books, which Mr Shirve told me were in Gujarati and dealing with the history of the Parsis. People do come to use the library, he said, mostly from outside.

The rest of the town is full of old Parsi houses, somewhat like the type one sees in Padamsee street or in Dadar Parsee Colony, with slatted wooden balconies, the occasional green plastiked windows, but gracious, old-world, and mostly empty. Udwada is a fading town, kept alive only by the presence of the Iranshah. Mr Shirve told me there were hardly 30 Parsis left there, mostly Dastoors, and even those dwindling. Unsurprisingly, not many youngsters are attracted to the priesthood.

There seem to be nine families of Dastoors, and they have their turns of service at the Agiary - wonderfully reminiscent of the Jewish Temple, and Zechariah serving his turn. Only the priest on duty is allowed into the inner enclosure where the sacred fire burns; he has to remain in the temple 15 days, purifying himself; and he places wood on the fire only at specified times marked by a bell.

The sacred fire itself is said to have been carried all the way from Persia more than a thousand years ago. The Parsis landed first at Sanjan, which is somewhat south of Udwada; the fire seems to have travelled a bit around Gujarat before finally settling down at Udwada. Mr Shirve told me that the original fire was kindled by lightning, and 7 or 9 different types of wood are used, beside the sandalwood that we see most frequently, and the babul.

At the Zoroastrian Information Centre, we learnt that the Zoroastrians had four classes of people - priests, warriors, agriculturists and servants. Astoundingly coincident with our four varnas!

The Iranshah Agiary at Udwada

Great views of the Iranshah Agiary at Udwada and immediate surroundings.

We had gone for a picnic to Daman and were fortunate to discover that Udwada was just 10 kms north of Daman. An experience that was well worth our while. I had read about Udwada in the Bombay evening papers and always nurtured a hope of visiting the place some day. Wonderful to have had that dream fulfilled.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Suffering and glory

Every novel we read, almost every film we see, has to end in triumphant resolution, the triumph of 'good' over 'evil', of the hero over the forces opposing him. This is the American myth, which has now become our myth. Or perhaps it was always our myth - international and global because human.

The story of Jesus is so different. The moment of suffering and death is the moment of glorification.

After 2000 years, we have still not absorbed it into our culture.

What might it mean? That life comes through death, certainly. This is the law of nature. That victory is through surrender. That obedience to the Father sets things right, restores original harmony, is the moment of glory.

The Buddha said, sarvam duhkham: everywhere is sorrow. He went on to point out that everything is impermanent, both joys and sorrows. And he said that the root of sorrow was attachment, desire, thirst, trsna, tanha. So the solution emerges: detachment. Kill desire. Do not be attached to what is pleasant, do not run away from what is unpleasant. Be equanimous. It will all pass, and you will be free.

Jesus is troubled. He prays that the chalice might possibly be taken away. But in the end he surrenders to the will of his Father. And in that surrender is deep peace, deep joy. He faces suffering, he accepts death, even death on a cross. And, like the Buddha, he is filled with compassion: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

The Buddha is not interested in metaphysical questions: who causes sorrow? why sorrow? is there something after the flame is blown off? Might we hope for something?

Jesus instead reveals. He reveals the unthinkable love of the Father for us. He reveals the mysterious ways in which this love is manifested. He draws us into communion with the Father.

As experience, there is perhaps a homology: the equanimity, the compassion, for example.

Kataphatically, there is a difference.

Both are beautiful. And perhaps the Buddha is so attractive also because he does not try to say what he does not know. He keeps silence. He smiles.

But Jesus says. And that saying is baffling. As, perhaps, we should learn to expect, when dealing with the Beyond, the Other Shore.

One chooses.

Or perhaps, in the rainbow of God's reality, there is place for both Buddha and Christ. One can love both, for love is of God.

Monday 6 April 2009

Care of the earth

My mind just went back to the beach at Devbag, near Malwan, that we visited a couple of years ago. It was not a very much frequented beach; and yet it was dirty: blobs of crude oil, fishing waste, and perhaps worse.

Our wonderful (and once so private) cove at Boscowadi, Uttan: how filthy the water now. The unforgettable experience of feeling thousands of filthy plastic bags under your feet as you waded into the water. And of course, the colour of the water: a rank, filthy grey, thanks to all the emissions of the great city close by... We never returned to Boscowadi, which used to be one of the beautiful places of the earth.

I can't help remembering other beaches: the wonderfully pristine, absolutely inviting beaches on the north-west coast of Sardinia, and how a young Martin Lasarte stripped and jumped in and then sat happily clothed and wet in the pullman.... The snorkelling off the east coast of the same island, this time during the campo estivo in bici with the scouts of Roma 60, and the thousands, literally thousands of multi-coloured fish surrounding me, barely 5 feet off the land.... The blue, aquamarine, even violet colours of the serene arm of the Mediterranean off the coast of Gaeta.... The dancing blue of the waters of Capri, choppy on the north side, still and tranquil on the side of the Sirens.... The overcast dull grey sea off the coast of Follonica, but the cleanliness of the beach.... The lagoon of Argentario teeming with algae and with life....

Of course the tourist economy of places like Italy depends on the grading given to their beaches. We don't quite seem to have that. But could we? Why can't we? Is it possible to get beyond this amazing short-sightedness, this general bias, and do something about our beaches, about our hills, our countrysides, before we are swamped with plastic waste and rubbish, before we suffocate on our own beds because we insist on shitting on them?

Grace and depression

It is possible to experience pain and depression, and at the same time also another, positive, even elevating feeling. Such feeling manifests itself, for example, in the fully grounded, slow, deliberate walk, the walk of one who is at a very deep level at peace with himself and more importantly with God. The walk of one with a good conscience. The depression instead stems probably from lack of purification of what one might, for lack of a better word, call the ‘senses’ or the ‘body.’ One knows, deep down, that one is not all there; that one is not yet ready to pour out the whole bottle of nard on his feet; that one is not ready to risk humiliation and glances and unspoken words for his sake.

"Man is the in-between." Even when he walks in the grace of God, even when conscience is restful, there is much purification to be done.

I wonder how much physical and other suffering is part of the purification.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Grace and change

Reading Lonergan on sanctifying grace, I have often wondered how, if sanctifying grace is a habit rather than a transient disposition, how is it that I fall again and again? The suggestion of an answer begins to form: for even if sanctifying grace / God's gift of his love is a habit, it is only a beginning. For there is a law of integration (Insight CWL 3:496).
Because man is a unity, his proper development is no more than initiated when a new scheme of recurrence is established in his outward behavior, in his thinking and willing, in his perceptiveness and feeling, in the organic and neural basis of his action. Generally speaking, such an initiation of development invites complementary adjustments and advances, and unless they are effected, either the initiated development recedes and atrophies in favor of the dynamic unity of the subject, or else that unity is sacrificed and deformed to make man a mere dumping ground for unrelated, unintegrated schemes of recurrence and modes of behavior. (Insight CWL 3;497)
So, despite sanctifying grace, the whole work of 'thinking through' and other adjusting remains to be carried out. Sanctifying grace is inserted into the 'heart', the apex animae; the rest of our being has to follow: the other habits, the attitudes, the tendencies, the paths inscribed on each of the levels (volitional, intellectual, psychic, organic), depending on how deep and widespread the prior evil habit has been. Habits on the level of evaluating, judging, understanding, experiencing, feeling... habits concerning 'occasions of sin' (what one tends to read, hear, see; how one spends one's free time; what ways one has to tackle boredom; one's whole 'solution to the problem of living,' in other words. And then the task of building up positive habits: habits of good reading, of prayer, of charity, of fruitfully occupying one's time, of rest and of relaxation. The 'whole being' has to be (gradually) turned to the Lord; one has to respond to the git of love with every pore and cell of one's multi-layered being.

Thus in Method Lonergan notes that for most people religious conversion is not something dramatic: it would involve too much psychological discontinuity. (Method in Theology 107)

Thus also St Francis de Sales notes that it is not enough to overcome sin; one has to overcome also attachment to sin.

So: avoiding the occasions of sin, overcoming attachment to sin: expressions of the tradition, expressions that encapsulate the wisdom that I have been trying to understand and express with help from Lonergan. We are changed in a fundamental way by grace; but we are not always changed dramatically, and conversion as actually taking place is far different from conversion as defined. As actually taking place, it is usually a dialectical withdrawal from unauthenticity, a dialectical movement towards authenticity. And the best expression of this movement remains the moving text from the end of Lonergan's article "Mission and the Spirit" (see A Third Collection).
Experience of grace, then, is as large as the Christian experience of life. It is experience of man's capacity for self-transcendence, of his unrestricted openness to the intelligible, the true, the good. It is experience of a twofold frustration of that capacity: the objective frustration of life in a world distorted by sin; the subjective frustration of one's incapacity to break with one's own evil ways. It is experience of a transformation one did not bring about but rather underwent, as divine providence let evil take its course and vertical finality be heightened, as it let one's circumstances shift, one's dispositions change, new encounters occur, and -- so gently and quietly -- one's heart be touched. It is the experience of a new community, in which faith and hope and charity dissolve rationalizations, break determinisms, and reconcile the estranged and the alienated, and there is reaped the harvest of the Spirit that is '... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control' (Gal. 5:22)." (A Third Collection 32-33.)

Saturday 4 April 2009

Sr Cathleen Going

I went down to Mumbai yesterday to meet Sr Cathleen Going, known in religion as Sr Mary of the Saviour (Sor Maria del Salvador). Sr Cathleen belongs to the Dominican Contemplative order, which, I learnt from her, is the oldest Dominican foundation - one which we so seldom hear about!

Sr Cathleen is a gracious old lady who has been in India the last three years, making a new foundation at Keralapuram in Kerala, which I gather is somewhere between Quilon and Trivandrum. More importantly (for me at least), she is a long-time associate and student of Lonergan's, having known him from before Insight was published. She was one of the first women to obtain a doctorate in theology, and she eventually became full time staff member of the Thomas More Institute at Montreal, where Lonergan had given "Thought and Reality" and then "Intelligence and Reality" to adult learners, and where he realized "that he had a book." Cathleen Going, Charlotte Tansey and Pierrot Lambert edited and published dialogues with Lonergan under titles like The Question as Commitment and Dialogues in Celebration.

Sr Cathleen remembered Lonergan saying that the task of the theologian is part of the human contribution to emergent probability. Wonderful way of putting it! She also suggested that I look at his shift from 'sanctifying grace' to 'unrestricted loving' as a model for the transition from 'person' to 'subject.'

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