Jupiter in a Time of InquisitionAn essay on the fate of LB Shriver
Jupiter exploded into the public mind this summer, when comet fragments slammed into its atmosphere with thermonuclear force. I am reminded of another time, long ago, when Jupiter was involved in some serious trouble.
In 1633, the scientist Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition, the arm of the Catholic Church that was established to ensure the purity of Catholic teachings. He remained imprisoned until his death.
Jupiter played a role in Galileo's demise. The Church had endorsed a certain blueprint of the cosmos. This blueprint included definite statements about the "celestial spheres" (the huge, rotating globes thought to surround the earth, which were responsible for the movement of the sun, stars and planets in the sky). The cosmos was held to be pristine, perfectly orderly, and immutable, with its complex orbits completely described by the reigning mathematical models. The Church was so sure that it knew everything that needed to be known about the cosmos that its chosen hypothesis was elevated to the status of dogma.
Galileo, on the other hand, believed that hypotheses exist to be tested. One of the earliest users of the telescope, his curiosity led him to examine the heavens. He found some things in the skies that contradicted the prevailing orthodoxy. Among them were the presence of at least four moons orbiting Jupiter. The sanctioned picture of the cosmos had no place for such unexpected "complications"; it is reported that Church officials were so certain that Galileo's discoveries could not exist that they refused to look through his telescope to find out for themselves whether they in fact did exist. In any case, it was easier, and better served their purposes, to ban both the research and the researcher.
Galileo had discovered other features of our solar system besides Jupiter's moons. He saw sunspots, which the Church held to be impossible on what should have been the perfect celestial surface of the sun. He witnessed the phases of Venus, which supported the Copernican theory, that threatened to tear the Earth from its proper place at the center of the universe. Galileo collected his observations, and the conclusions that followed from them, into the book that was the immediate cause of his condemnation.
The Galileo story is a classic, because it raises such deep issues of intellectual freedom, because Galileo so clearly was "right", and because the "good-guy / bad-guy" lines seem so cleanly drawn. If anything, the Inquisition can seem like too easy a target. In the contemporary mind, the Inquisitors were a covey of power-hungry men using fear and reprisals to try to keep the clamps on a changing world and the free-ranging human mind.
But can their motivations have been quite so shallow, hopeless, and transparently misguided? Regardless of how severely we judge the actions of the Inquisitors, I think it is worth noting that their motivations included, among other less noble things, a desire to protect what they felt to be of the highest value.
The Inquisition was not a temporary aberration; it raged for centuries. Even St. Augustine, one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers, eventually came to support the Inquests. Although at first he opposed the use of force to fight heresy, a particularly adamant group of misbelievers made him feel that there was no way to stamp them out but through punishment, including exile. The Inquisition flourished, in ever more virulent forms, for more than a thousand years after Augustine.
People who are in charge of the preservation of correct thinking in "the rest of us" have often decided, throughout history, that intellectual freedom needs to be constrained lest the correctness be lost. Time and time again, it has been decided that "correct thinking" (however defined in a particular time and place) is more important than free inquiry and expression.
The reason, I think, is that leaders often conclude that the best way to achieve their goals amidst the teeming complexities of the world is to find a way to limit those complexities, by making sure that as many people as possible think the same way as they do about the things that really matter.
Think of Mao's China, where a tremendously pervasive social machinery was developed for correcting the thinking of those who strayed from -- or even were suspected of straying from -- the orthodoxy of the state. Mao had a vision of an ideal society, and he decided that homogenization was a necessary step to achieve it. Less elaborate but more bluntly potent mechanisms were perfected in the Soviet Union.
The early years of our own country saw the witch hunts of Massachusetts, where people who seemed "different" were persecuted for their differences. Less than fifty years ago, Senator Joseph McCarthy led his own witch hunt against the supposed Communist sympathizers he saw lurking in every corner of free-thinking America.
Even some of the most honored figures of history believed that certain kinds of expression are acceptable and other kinds must be suppressed for our own good. Plato envisioned an ideal society and planned it out in intricate detail in The Laws. He decreed that the works of certain poets must be banned -- including those of Homer, the greatest epic poet in Greek history and perhaps the world.
Tolstoy, after his dramatic conversion to Christianity late in life, came to a similar conclusion. He decided that Shakespeare, generally considered the greatest poet in any language, should not be read or performed because his plays lead our hearts and minds in too many different directions, rather than the one correct direction.
I personally love Shakespeare very much, and have trouble digesting the idea that he is a bad influence on me. I'm afraid I am not much of a judge of anything at all if I am wrong about Shakespeare. But this is precisely the issue -- am I or am I not fit to judge the value of the things I read and think and write?
A common thread uniting those who would decide what is good and bad for us is the conviction that we, the people, cannot be trusted to judge certain important things for ourselves -- we need a guide, and sometimes something much stricter than a guide, to tell us what to think and how to choose.
The idea of banning Shakespeare (or, as was done in some Communist societies, banning Beethoven) reminds me of a popular, although perhaps apocryphal, story about Maharishi. An ardent seeker, many years ago, asked what more he could do, beyond his regular meditation and the other practices he had been taught, to speed his progress to enlightenment. Maharishi's answer, so the story goes, was simply: "Less cinema."
Now this hardly amounts to a ban or any kind of repression. And, if Maharishi did in fact make this comment, it may not have been meant as a general prescription. Still, there may be a clue here, in the form of the kind of wise and gentle insight we so often get from Maharishi, into one part of the thinking that underlies some of the more disturbing forms of control we have been considering.
People are strongly attracted to "cinema", as they are to powerful artists like Homer or Shakespeare or Beethoven -- and as they are to their own curiosity, and the unfettered thoughts and expressions of their own minds. The world is full of things (including our own thoughts and those of others) that attract us and influence us and sometimes enthrall us, that draw our energies and leave their marks and impressions upon us. One can imagine a perspective from which many of the things we are attracted to (or susceptible to) are seen as a colossal waste of time -- compared to the "real work" that lies before us as human beings -- or even as dangerous distractions or detours.
The Scriptures of both East and West make it clear that it is the easiest thing in the world for a person to go astray. The true path is like a "razor's edge"; it is called "the straight and narrow".
One sometimes gets a sense of ominous urgency, a deep, though veiled, impatience, from great leaders in the spiritual or political realms. Knowing what they know, how difficult it must be to watch us step so haltingly, so uncertainly. Left to our own devices, can we be trusted to stick to the "right path", as narrow and sharp as it is? Don't we need a firm, guiding hand?
In one of the most famous passages in Russian literature (the Grand Inquisitor scene from Brothers Karamazov), Dostoevsky performs the ultimate twist on the meaning of the Inquisition. Christ himself, who has returned to earth to minister to the people of Spain during the height of the Inquisition, is arrested. He is confronted by the Grand Inquisitor, and condemned again to die. His sin? Attempting to restore to the people a sense of freedom, which the Inquisition had worked so hard to eradicate. The Grand Inquisitor, himself an ardent believer in the glory of freedom in his youth, had come reluctantly but irrevocably to the conclusion that mankind finds freedom unsupportable; we must be saved from the burden of being free. Society, he came to realize, has a desperate need to be held in check by three things: miracle, mystery and authority. The Church, and the Inquisitors, provided all three.
Miracle and mystery provide ideal support for authority. When asked to give up some degree of our personal freedom, are we not more open to the idea if the asker can demonstrate that he knows a great deal more than we do about the nature and meaning of life?Fairfield's Own
Let me bring this discussion closer to home. In India, the name of the planet Jupiter is Guru. And in this there is another link between Jupiter and inquests. For it was on the day called Guru Purnima, in July of this year, that L.B. Shriver, the publisher of this magazine, was brought before the appropriate tribunal at MIU and told he must go -- he must stop living and dining on campus, stop participating in group practice in the domes, and stop attending other official events there. Why? Because the magazine you are reading was deemed to contain or promote thinking not appropriate for a teacher of TM.
It goes without saying that this event is on a different scale from those discussed so far. The MIU inquests are civilized, restrained, and limited in their scope. Yet there are similarities between our own inquests and the inquests of the past.
The Fairfield inquests (there have been others besides the one involving L.B.) share the most fundamental attribute of all the examples we have raised: the need to attempt to enforce correct thinking, rather than simply attempting to foster it.
The need to enforce correct thinking in someone who has been regularly practicing our techniques for over twenty years does, of course, say something about the techniques' ability to reliably foster "correct thinking" on their own. Not completely facetiously, I remarked to an MIU faculty member that, since L.B.'s thinking obviously needs correcting, it would make more sense to sentence him to regular CCP rather than to exile.
L.B. is a believer in the profound value of TM in his own life and in the lives of most other people who have practiced it, and he has said so repeatedly in print. However, that was not enough. Other opinions he has expressed differ significantly from the official positions of the TM movement, so much so that that it was felt that a dramatic public action must be taken to indicate that L.B. had "chosen" to separate himself from the body of the movement.
Many people were encouraged by the fact that L.B. had escaped reprisals for so long. He was, to many, visible evidence of a welcome maturity on the part of the movement, which seemed to have gained an ability to encompass diversity, and to have realized that there is nothing to fear in an individual's questions and opinions. But now, L.B. stands as a visible example of something different.The Purity of the Teaching
For most of Maharishi's teachers, the phrase "keep the teaching pure" has a deep and stirring significance. Most teachers would, I believe, support actions taken to control or censure any TM teachers who would distort the specific procedures and principles of instruction they have been given by Maharishi. Maharishi's teachings are a vital and precious resource; they deserve to be protected and passed on just as he formulated them.
But how far does "purity of the teaching" extend? Does it reach into the realm of our own thoughts -- about the movement, how it is run, where it is heading, how we are all doing? L.B. was exiled because he was judged to have broken, by publishing this magazine, an agreement he made in becoming a TM teacher. Other than a commitment to uphold the purity of the teaching, one wonders what agreements were made that in fact were broken.Not Deluding the Ignorant
The Gita warns against "the wise deluding the ignorant". The complex of meanings and interpretations applicable to this phrase deserve commentary from someone far more insightful than I. But to me, this phrase is best understood as applied to an enlightened man acting in a teaching or guiding role with the unenlightened. He needs to be careful to speak so as to be understood at the level of his listeners, not to confuse them with concepts or perspectives that are beyond their comprehension.
It is hard to see how this warning applies to L.B., speaking his mind in an exploratory way, voicing genuine questions and concerns, and encouraging dialogue. If the mere act of raising questions and voicing opinions is seen as deluding the ignorant, where does that leave the whole issue of intellectual exploration? Are we so "ignorant" or susceptible to error that it is dangerous for us to be exposed to this magazine or to L.B.'s opinions?
There are places and contexts in which it is rightfully expected that your individual expressions and activities will be curtailed. For example, you are usually admitted into a monastic order only after making certain vows, often including the vow of obedience, and with the clear understanding that you will be putting off some of your normal freedoms when you put on the monastic garb. Similarly, although ashram life may not always involve explicit vows, one enters a new kind of life, with a new set of rules, when one crosses the threshold of an ashram.
Here in Fairfield, we are living simultaneously in two worlds. Most of us certainly do not feel we have joined an ashram or embraced a monastic lifestyle. No vows have been taken. And yet, to one extent or another, most of us have entered into a deep relationship with Maharishi and his teachings, and, like it or not, with his movement. That movement bears more resemblance, in the ways it goes about its activities, to the ashram or monastery than it does to any of the more open, constituent-centered institutions of our own culture. And yet we have grown up steeped in the values of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. It is not surprising that friction can result as these different perspectives work themselves out within us.
And we have been left to work these things out for ourselves; there has been little guidance from Maharishi about how to integrate the ideals of our cultural background with the very different ways of the movement. Perhaps this is meant to be part of the "Fairfield experience", to find our own way through this most interesting maze. But that, along with so many other important issues about our community, has been left by Maharishi in the realm of speculation.
I recently came across this simple paean to freedom, from the English writer William Hazlitt:
"No one has said to me, Believe this, do that, say what we would have you; no one has come between me and my free-will; I have breathed the very air of truth and independence."
The values underlying this statement run deep in our culture. Applying them universally involves a tremendously optimistic affirmation of the fundamental trustworthiness of humanity. Far from worrying about "deluding" others, or vigilantly maintaining purity, or enforcing correctness for the common good, this kind of vision is valid only if we can trust the people to think and speak freely, and to sort the final truth out for themselves. Guidance, of course, is always welcome -- but it is freely given and freely taken, according to one's lights.
On the other hand, there is the experience of the importance -- or even the necessity -- of some type of surrender to a master, in order to make the most profound spiritual progress. Many things may need to be given up in this surrender, not least of which is attachment to the validity of one's own ideas. Consider this verse from the Bhagavad-Gita:
"Know this: through homage, repeated inquiry and service, the men of knowledge who have experienced Reality will teach you knowledge."
This viewpoint accepts the idea that there are "men of knowledge" who can teach you what you most need to know about the ultimate Reality. But this teaching will not come on your own terms. It is nothing like a course of study you can choose to take casually or when convenient. You will have no influence over the content of the knowledge that is taught. This teaching comes not simply through "repeated inquiry" (nothing as simple as that), but through "homage ...and service". At a minimum, I think, "homage and service" traditionally include acceptance of all of the master's ways: his restrictiveness as well as his openness, the incomprehensible and difficult as well as the familiar and heartwarming.
One of the many challenges facing us in Fairfield -- in this most wonderful, maddening community -- is to find our own ways to balance a proper degree of surrender with a proper degree of principled, responsible living in the world. The fate of L.B. Shriver has significance in many ways, not least of which is as a spur to reflect upon our own relationship to the community we are in the process of creating.