Friday, September 05, 2008

Covenant Talk

It's been a long time since I've written anything about the Baha'i Faith on Karen's Thoughts; most of my Baha'i Writing these days is over on Unenrolled Baha'i -- and I made a promise for that blog that I wouldn't talk about the Baha'i administration. I wanted it to be a positive place, focused on "living the life". However, several days ago, my friend Baquia has posted a talk from former house member 'Ali Nakhjavani, which obliquely mentions folks like me. The first half talks about "Baha'is and non-Baha'is" advancing the idea that the Covenant is not important -- which is a distortion of what's being said out here. The second half refers to "freethinkers" who go "back to Baha'u'llah." So, I think I'm pretty safe in my assumption on who he's talking about.

*sigh* I have been hesitant to address this; I know what I'm letting myself in for. I really have no wish to go back to the old days when all these issues were constantly argued out on email lists , but they did have one advantage: liberal positions on those issues were very visable to a regular audience. These positions are now so much part of my universe that to talk about them is a bit like teaching the ABCs, but there are people who don't know them. It disturbs me to see people who give up on Baha'u'llah because they accept the conservative stance as the only possible stance. I'll never understand the fundie preference that a person renounce Baha'u'llah rather than be a liberal Baha'i.

Anyway, Mr. Nakhjavani's talk is really quite a standard spiel about the Covenant -- I doubt if anyone in his audience heard anything that they already weren't familiar with. It all sounds fine, even inspiring, except that this "domino theory" of the Covenant when it gets down to brass tacks means you must accept every single decision of the UHJ as right and good, or all the dominos fall down and you aren't a Baha'i. People can get really absurd about it -- you don't like Ruhi? What's the matter, do you have a problem with the Covenant? Worried about the environmental impact of the terrace gardens? You aren't loyal to the Covenant. In its extreme form, "the Covenant" has devolved into a form of taqlid -- the blind obedience forbidden in the Writings of Baha'u'llah.

First and foremost, my "problem with the Covenant" has always been the appalling way that a number of people have been treated -- from the editors of Dialogue magazine to the disenrollment of Sen McGlinn. I just can't get behind this unspiritual suspicion, looking for "internal enemies" in every corner, and seeing "agendas" in every email conversation. That unreasoning fear just sucks all the compassion out of the religion and leaves it an empty husk. I want no part of it. I didn't just wake up one day and decide "Hey, it would be cool to be a freethinker, because I'm just not down with those stodgy old authorities"; it was a painful ethical choice that I wish I didn't have to make.

I've kept Baha'u'llah, Mr. Nakhjavani; it's only the paranoia I've left behind. My covenant with Baha'u'llah doesn't require it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Democracy Now! Staff Arrested

This was just an astonishing story to wake up to this morning. After wading through the news reports, it appears that there was some mischief at these protests -- thrown objects, vandalism and the like. However, several reports are saying that the police were way out of line, gassing, pepper-spraying, and arresting even peaceful protesters.

According to Amy Goodman's interview, made just as she had been released from jail, she'd heard that two members of her staff had been arrested as they were filming the police as they cracked down on the protesters. She went to find out why they were arrested, and was told to back off -- and she didn't.

Generally, if you don't follow a police officer's instructions, you are at risk for arrest, even if you think those instructions are unreasonable. I'm aware of that, having a husband in law enforcement, but most law-abiding middle-class people may not be. If you refuse to listen, they'll slap the cuffs on you, and you can sort it out in court later. We drilled our kids in two rules: Do whatever a cop tells you and never piss off a judge.

But, as Amy points out, we're talking about the press here -- the freedom of which is so vital to our democracy. I'm really concerned about why reporters filming the protests would be arrested. These are professionals, and just doing their jobs. Amy's press credentials were plainly visible; the cops should have let her through.

These charges will almost certainly be dropped -- the actions of these reporters are going to look very different in court than they did to cops whose minds were on crowd control and adrenaline was pumping.

I couldn't find a way to embed the video of her post-arrest interview which tells the story, but here's the more dramatic video of her arrest, which is all over the web this morning:

Here's an update: Producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous were arrested while trying to get out of the way. Before that, they were just doing their jobs, filming what was going on. Several other journalists were arrested as well, including one who yelled "It's a Republican paper, for Chrissakes!" Press passes were consfiscated. Amy, in her upset at what had happened to her producers, took what she should have known was a risk. But, the arrest of Nicole and Sharif is legitimate cause for some real outrage -- they were backing away, not challenging the officers at all.

I'd like to know what the cops' orders were. This thing needs to be investigated.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Digging Up Yoga History

I tell students who complain that history is boring that whatever they are into, it has a history: music, sports, fashion. The most boring way to approach history is the way we're forced to do it in school -- broad, sweeping survey courses where you have barely time to get the gist of what was happening before moving on to the next chapter. History buffs are invariably into small slices of history -- like the Civil War, or local history.

Grandma still laughs about my tendency, as a kid, to look up the history of whatever I was doing. When she taught me to crochet, I tried to find out where it came from. I haven't changed much.

I've found myself curious about the history of yoga in America. As far as I know, nobody has written a book about that, and I've only been able to get bits and pieces. I know that it was brought here by Swami Vivekenanda after the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, and that it was enthusiastically promoted by Sara Bull, Sarah Farmer's friend at Green Acre. Yoga was one of the many new religious ideas floating around at the time, and arguably the most influential in the long run -- although it has achieved that status partly by being separated from its religious roots.

Anyway, my husband and I happened to be cruising a used bookstore with a large metaphysical section. I found some old Baha'i books there, too, like Horace Holley's *Religion for Mankind*. (Baha'i books always end up in the metaphysical section of used bookstores, although they really don't belong there.) I found a couple of old yoga books. One was from the 1960s, rather quaintly old-fashioned, like Richard Hittleman's books seem now. (Hittleman dominated the yoga bookshelves when I was young.) Iyengar's *Light on Yoga*, written around the same time, holds up better.

A more interesting find was *Hatha Yoga* by Yogi Ramacharaka, which was copyrighted 1930, although I found mention of an earlier edition in 1906. I went digging through Project Gutenberg, and found a few more very early yoga books, ranging from 1906 to 1922 -- and it's clear that yoga was taught very differently back in the early days. Annie Besant's book on yoga is entirely metaphysitcal and focused on meditation. She mentions Hatha Yoga, but doesn't give any clues on how to practice it. These early yoga books, when they do mention the physical practices, spent many chapters on diet and healthy living. Pranayama, or breathing exercises, are emphasized a whole lot more than asanas, or the actual yoga poses. Ramacharaka's book has one small chapter of thirteen exercises, only four or five of which were familiar to me. Another startling omission is the static hold -- one of the things that differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is that you stretch into a position and hold it for a period of time, sometimes several minutes. There is not a hint of that in these books. In fact, a couple of the exercises reminded me of warm-ups I've learned in tai chi class.

So, when Sara Bull was practicing yoga at Green Acre, she was certainly doing something that looked very different from my morning practice. I find myself wondering when the more familiar yoga poses began to be practiced. What's curious is that these early teachers were from India, and one would think that an older, more authentic yoga would have been taught in those early days, with Western adaptations gradually creeping in as it became popular. Of course, another thing we don't know is how much reliance there was on oral instruction -- it could be that some things were considered too esoteric to be published for a general audience.

Anyway, I'm just collecting information as I come across it.