Jayary Newsletter # 78
|Rajesh Kasturirangan||Sep 30, 2016|
Divinity has at least two forms: supernatural and hypernatural. Supernatural divinity transcends the known order of the universe, for example, by creating the universe in the first place or intervening in our lives after breaking the usual laws of causality. That's how milk appears on statues and the Sai Baba creates watches out of thin air.
Of course, the supernatural deity has a hard time explaining why we are never able to break the laws that bind us. Rationalists have it easy; most demonstrations of supernatural intervention are easy to refute. A good magician can replicate most of those tricks. Tricks aren't the only obstacle. Can God turn 2+2 into 5? If not, why not? If yes, what does it even mean to break the laws of logic?
Here's a Turing test for divinity: if my system of - ___ fill in the blanks: magic, technology, alien intervention - can't be distinguished from divine intervention then I am a god. By that standard, many aspects of the modern world are divine. So yesterday's divinity is today's disruptive business.
Supernatural divinity can't compete with technology. Supernatural intervention is special, a one time suspension of business as usual. Technology on the other hand, is business as usual. Most of us prefer business as usual to miracles.
When supernatural business turns into business as usual, divinity is left with no option but to retreat from the universe by transcending it. The god's eye view of the cosmos is also the absentee landlord's view of the cosmos.
I started this Jayary with two modifications of the word "natural." What about hypernatural? What is that? We will get to it tomorrow.
I will be back to Agastya and Parasurama in a moment, but do indulge me as I explore this new territory of religiosity that's been nudged open by reading the Jaya.
The supernatural is fast disappearing and all that's left is the cat's smile, or what's known as the God's Eye View of the World, which we encounter primarily through the natural scientist's claim toward objectivity, the disinterested witness. A god (or GOD) who stays away from the natural functioning of the universe and intervenes on very special occasions is - and forgive me if it offends your sensibilities - is exactly like Pontius Pilate; he's washed his hands off his creation.
In this view, if Christ is the son of the God who's left but has left his representative on earth, the scientist is the son of Christ, the official representative of the empire after God and his son have left town but still want to keep tabs on what's happening back on the ranch.
Hypernaturalism is different: it's an intensification of the real world, a divine version of augmented reality. The rishis are all hypernaturalists, for what is tapasya if isn't an intensification of our bodily existence. In this view, transcendence is achieved not by leaving this world, or studying it from nowhere, but by perfecting oneself in it.
But what does this perfection mean? Is it any more viable than supernaturalism? That's a question for another day.
Let's take a break from Agastya and look at Parasurama. I find him the least appealing of the various avatars of Vishnu: his claim to avatarhood is the killing of twenty one generations of Kshatriyas. So much so that the twenty second generation of Kshatriyas were fathered by Brahmins in congress with Kshatriya women. There's a little problem with this story: who fathered generations two through twenty one if he killed each generation of Kshatriya men? He wouldn't have killed the children of Brahmins, but if there were no Kshatriya men left to father the next generation, where did they come from?
Parasurama is also the first fully human avatar. All the previous avatars of Vishnu were (mostly animal) beings that performed a single task: saving us from the floods, killing a terrorizing demon, supporting the churning of the ocean. Parasurama is the first avatar who takes his anger out on other humans. He's the signal that nature is no longer the problem: it's other humans. That seed will grow into a terrible tree in the Mahabharata.
I find it instructive that avatars are time bound; it's more like a job than a personality type. Not only do they die as Krishna did, their avatarhood itself is delimited. When Parasurama meets Rama and challenges him to lift and string his bow, it's Rama who is Vishnu incarnated and shows him his Vishwarupa. Parasurama has to bow before the new avatar. Kshatriyas are on the ascendant.