Film Exam Questions: Week 7 (98708)

This week's questions are focused on "The Enchanted Land" film series, embedded here as a six-video playlist.

Question 1:

Take three of the mystics mentioned in the films and compare and contrast their belief systems.

All of the mystics profiled in the Enchanted Land short film series advocate a belief systems which at its core places ultimate value on the mystical experience: the experience of undifferentiated, pure awareness at the core of consciousness. Each one, however, proposes or emphasizes a unique specific orientation, technique, or set of techniques for reaching that experience. Radha Soami Satguru Baba Sawan Singh advocates a technique of intense visualization/audiation called Surat Shabd Yoga, in which the mystic seeker focuses on internally-beheld sounds of ringing bells and visions of shining stars psychologically representing the higher states of awareness sought; the seeker focuses more and more intensely on these thoughtforms until s/he experiences a “merging” with them which brings hir into the mystical state of nondual awareness.

Jain Acharya Sushil Kumar advocates an ascetic path which adheres strictly to a set of moral codes governing one's behavior, most prominently the doctrine of ahimsa, or non-violence, on the grounds that behaviors in violation of these codes stem from and thus reinforce false, dualistic conceptions of oneself in relation to the world. This seems to me to be somewhat putting the cart before the horse, though I can understand taking up these practices once one has already achieved the mystic insight to bring one's identity closer to the universal identity experienced in this state. Kumar however might argue that these practices serve to unravel the fear of death which gives rise to the behaviors they prohibit. Sri Ramana Maharshi's belief system (if you could call it a belief system) eschews methodology entirely in favor of directly focusing one's attention into the source of one's consciousness in the present moment, and doing so constantly. This perspective might hold the techniques advocated by Singh, Kumar, and others to be counterproductive to an extent, as any techniques for achieving union with the source of one's awareness would have to be predicated on an assumption that one is not already so united. Singh might retort that techniques such as Surat Shabd Yoga are a necessary stepping stone for those to whom Maharshi's level of awareness does not come easily.

Side note: Viewing Yogini Tripta Devi's rejection of guruism in the context of the general lack of female gurus led me to wonder if perhaps this lack is not only a result of patriarchy but also might have something to do with a greater wisdom on the part of women that would prevent them from the hubris that might lead one to take on the guru role.

Question 2:

Why would ahimsa or non-violence have arisen in an agricultural society such as India?

This question is quite puzzling to me at first. It seems actually counterintuitive that ahimsa would have arisen in an agricultural society when its most extreme form prohibits farmwork as potentially violent to the insects and worms swept up in the plow. Were I to hazard a guess, I might posit that the transition from hunter-gatherer society to agriculture required the replacement of the previous system of ethics which regarded cattle and other animals used in agriculture as food-objects primarily with a new ethical system which regarded them as sacred creatures not to be harmed, so that they might instead be used as agricultural means of production. This interpretation is challenged by the fact that consumption of animals as food persisted under agriculture, but there may be something to it nonetheless. Ahimsa might also have been necessary to encourage the cooperation between individuals necessary for agriculture.