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SOME CREATIVE REBELS TO ENTER A TRANSMODERN AGE

Siddhartha has just published a beautiful series of short stories about remarkable people he has met in the course of his life ("The Bird Woman and other creative rebels", Dronequill Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore, 2002, ISBN 81-901-382-2-7). Siddhartha's beautiful book is a literary feast. It offers evidence to what he acknowledges in his introduction ("Finding My Way") : as a social activist, he has always been attracted by poetry and literature. Besides the pleasure of reading good prose, his essays introduce us to fascinating and real characters. This is not fiction but rather an introduction to some people who work to turn Porto Alegre's slogan into reality : " Another world is possible ! ". We have taken extracts from three essays out of his book. They deal with people who are close to Network Cultures, have been inspirational to many of us and who are thinking in what Marc Luyckx, quoted elsewhere in this issue, would call "transmodern" terms. Those creative rebels are Mgr. Julio Labayen (Philippines), Raimon Panikkar (India/Spain) and Robert Vachon (Quebec) and Kalpana Das (India). These essays are called "Labayen's Sacred Earth", "Decaying Modernity" and "Panikkar's Lottery Ticket". The book can be ordered directly to Siddhartha, Domlur Layout, 560071 Bangalore, India.


Labayen's Sacred Earth

(…) "The heart of the revolution is the revolution of the heart," is Labayen's incessant mantra. What he means is that history has consistently taught us that ideologies and isms in themselves do not lead to a better society if they are not accompanied by a change of heart. The revolution of the heart is a precondition for any meaningful political change. Bishop Labayen should know, for he was hemmed in for many years between the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos on the one side and the guerrillas of the Communist Party of the Philippines on the other.

The revolution of the heart. It was not so long ago that this notion was suspect, bringing to mind a person like Mother Teresa, who, according to some, believed naively that it was enough to bring about personal change to transform society. To be fair, Mother Teresa responded to human suffering as few others in recent memory did. For those who suffered without hope she was akin to God. Like many others, she probably assumed that structures would also change if people changed. This was the inverse of the Marxist logic that society changed only if social, economic and political structures were transformed. (…)

To be a true follower of Christ means to shed one's complacency and to ask disturbing questions, to rock the boat if need be. Bishop Labayen has done exactly this and is considered something of a deviant by the Church elite. But the dominant church, according to Labayen, belongs to the Christendom model, which is imperial in nature and concerned with shoring up the political establishment. In this model, the Pope and the Bishops are considered the princes of the church, dressed in imperial robes and sitting on thrones, like emperors with unquestioned authority. (…)

Labayen's God is one of justice and righteousness. He is a God who loves people above everything else. The profit motive in today's society makes us all victims and transgresses the spirit of God by placing money at the centre of our existence. The heart becomes numb in a materialistic culture and we lose our capacity to care for the needy. (…)

Labayen is also constantly discovering the spiritual heritage of Asia. He regularly invites Buddhist monks from Thailand to teach 'vipasana' meditation to his priests and nuns. I have been moved to see these monks, with their shaven heads and saffron robes, meditating in Labayen's cathedral in Infanta. The Bishop believes that there are profound truths in all religions and that there is much he can learn from the experience of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Indigenous peoples. This attitude has endeared him to a large number of social activists in Asia who see him as their guide and friend. As the president of Asian Rainbow - an inter-religious coalition of activists - he has helped create the climate for the emergence of a new politics and a new spirituality, open to diverse cultures and belief systems.

Labayen and I are different in the sources of our faith, but our understanding of the meaning and purpose of human existence remains pretty close. Labayen draws his faith from Jesus Christ. His is an open and inclusive faith. Whereas I draw my faith from the energy field that permeates my being, that permeates all matter. The Earth is my primary experience of the sacred, the energy field that gave birth to plant and animal, that gave birth to me and my ancestors. I am therefore an extension of other humans, non-humans and nature as a whole. Therefore, when I am compassionate to them I am only being compassionate to myself. When I treat the Earth well I treat my mother well. My body is an extension of my mother, the Earth, and therefore my body is equally sacred. When I treat my body well, when I am aware of my feelings and my thoughts, when I nurture the silence within me- then I venerate the sacred in me, the sacred in others and the sacred in the Earth. Only such kind of Earth politics can save us from the catastrophe that looms ahead.

In the end, we can save the Earth only if we know it is sacred. The energy field that connects the Earth to us is the ground of our being, the spirit that flows through all matter. This same spirit points to another conception of the good life, which has less to do with accumulating consumer goodies and more to do with the celebration of our inner spaces and our friendships. This Earth spirit will prevent us from destroying our life support systems through the mindless pollution of air, water and earth. It will alert us to the dangers of the media, particularly the television that clutters our minds with insane bric-a-brac that keeps us from experiencing our true humanity, kicking and joyful, and largely tranquil. (…)


Robert and Kalpana : Modernity in Decay

(…) Robert Vachon is one of the high priests of interculturalism, a way of life that relativises the myth of modernity. For him, modernity is an encompassing myth that believes only in its own reason and the intelligibility of reality. Modernity reduces reality to concepts and definitions. Although it does not believe in myths, it is a myth in itself. The cosmovision of modernity sees itself as natural and universal - beyond time and space - and replacing all the other religions and cultures of the world. The many Indian, Chinese, Middle-Eastern, African, Mexican and other worldviews are shown to be limited and wanting. Modernity has defeated and surpassed them all. As a concession these worldviews are allowed to exist as multiculturalism, under the benevolent supervision of Big Brother. While monoculturalism asphyxiates other cultures, multiculturalism condemns people to a stifling cultural apartheid - a war of cultures - whether this war be a low intensity conflict of attitudes or outright carnage. Interculturalism chooses the middle path. It states that cultures may be irreducible, incommensurable and incompatible, but not incommunicable. (…)

Robert and Kalpana run the Intercultural Institute of Montreal, a training and research programme that is known as a pioneer in the praxis known as interculturalism. They have been instrumental in developing both a critique of development and a cure for development. They see development as a disease born of individualism and western hegemonic requirements. Development has reduced the many colours of the world to a single colour - the western. It has reduced the many simple and straightforward requisites of human well-being to the modern shibboleths of development, unidirectional evolutionism, individualism, nation-state, pan-economism, consumerism, technology, modern democracy and "universal human nature".

Some of their inspiration is drawn from my old friend Raimon Panikkar, their mentor, an extraordinary man, a conundrum who defies description. Panikkar is genetically intercultural, having a Hindu father from India and a Catholic mother from Spain. He is also emotionally and intellectually intercultural. As he puts it himself, " I left as a Christian, found myself a Hindu and returned as a Buddhist without having ceased to be a Christian." He spent one third of his life in Spain, a third in Varanasi studying and writing on Hinduism, and another third teaching Philosophy at the University of California. (…)

   
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