Welcome to White Rose Magazine.

Issue XV

Elliot Toman

A Journey into Indian Art + Spirituality

What do Enrique Iglesias and the Hindu God have in common?

Both would say: “You can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape my love.”

“The Peepal Tree,” by Lovina Tanya

Indeed, in the Indian view of God, you cannot escape God. 

Not because God has set up top surveillance on you, tapping into your privacy all the time.

In Indian spiritualism, you just can’t escape God. Even turning away from God is a path to God. A total disbelief in and denial of an anthropomorphic form of God is a valid path to God too.

In the Hindu point of view, you cannot escape God because, God is all there is.

This may trigger a flutter of questions. If God is all there is, we are God too.

If we are God, then why is there so much trouble in the world?

If we are God, why do we commit evil?

If we are God, why should we worship God?

Questions like these are often thrown out by those who feel baffled by this, out of curiosity or in an attempt to trash this seemingly illogical point of view.

Often, Gurus may try to provide an in-depth response to such questions, but any authentic response would begin with an acknowledgement of the limitation of our linear, conscious, rational mind. Everything about the human mind that we are proud of as distinguishing us from animals—for example, linguistics, logic, etc.—are the first step in the ladder of human consciousness. They help us navigate our everyday lives but cannot lead us to understanding the mysteries of the Universe.

This is not an excuse to propagate blind faith. This is an invitation to move to a higher state of knowingness: “Direct experience.” You can know God only by experiencing a state of oneness with God.

The whole of Indian spiritualism, whether in its pure non-dualistic form, or in its most ritualistic format, is a path toward experiencing God directly. 

Some may accomplish this by being a true devotee of God who strives to get as close to his chosen Divine principle as possible. Some may want to express this as being at one with and dissolving into his Divine icon. 

Others may assert “I am God myself.

This assertion of “I am God” is not a claim of superiority or arrogance. It is an expression of a factual statement: God is all there is.

All of the questions along the lines of “if God is all there is, then …” can only be answered in that experience of oneness with the divinity, beyond the realm of rational thought or verbal articulation.

It does require you to go beyond the restrictions of language and logic.

It does require “trust” and “faith” in the initial steps, but only to the extent to get you started and reach a stage where you can experience it yourself. 

It is just as protecting a child from burns and electrical shocks by strictly requiring her NOT to touch a flame or an electric wire, till the point where the child is able to recognize these dangers all by herself. It is not a means to keep the child ignorant for life so that she could be manipulated into a lifetime of obedience through “Trust” or “Faith.”

An adolescent who needs to be told to keep off flames and electric wires just hasn’t grown appropriately.

The immanent transcendence of the Divine does not close doors with the requisition of “Trust” or “Faith,” but opens new ones by creating means to provide and share a Direct Experience of the Divine.

Indian Art as the Door to the Direct Experience of the Divine

All of Indian art has evolved to provide and share a “Direct Experience” of the Divine.

Just as the direct experience of Divinity could fall in any of the categories of “I am a true child of God,” “I am one with God,” “I am God,” or other linguistic expressions, the art forms take on shades of these variations as well.

To a true practitioner, these variations are semantics, not hardened “ideologies,” “paths,” or “schools of thought.”

These are reflections of our state of consciousness and emotions.

There may be times when I am in a very loving and devoted state of mind and would want to honour my chosen God or Goddess in their most adorable forms. At other times, I may feel such a supreme surge of love or bliss that I may just want to dissolve in the object of my love and melt away. 

Or I may feel such expansiveness that I feel that there is nothing else in the entire universe, but ME.

I may possibly feel and experience ALL of these, in succession, within a matter of a few minutes.

Even the toughest and the most protective caretaker of a family may require his moments of cuddling. 

As a human being, I might want to feel sufficiently potent to be the creator of my whole destiny, but I might have moments where I just want to be pampered and be handed over all the goodies as a gift and feel like destiny’s most favourite child.

The paths to spirituality are expressions of our states of consciousness, and an individual might want to experience all shades of these in his path toward God, knowing very well, God is all there is.

It is not a surprise that the greatest proponent of non-dualism, Shankaracharya, is known for having established a large number of temples for Goddesses all over the country. 

Abhinavagupta, known for his remarkable contributions to the most poignant and the most non-negotiable school of non-duality, Kashmir Shaivism, is equally regarded as an aesthetician and some of his most outstanding works happen to be in the theory of “rasa.”

To one who goes sufficiently deep within, there is no contradiction whatsoever. To require one to stick to one path and not look elsewhere would be equivalent to demanding that a person should make a definite choice of being an “angry young man” or a “happy-go-lucky-Joe” and stick to his “path” for life.

Mystics have never found any contradiction in “being God” and “worshipping God.” A rational approach would surely want to place an individual on either side of the fence. When perceived from the standpoint of “Direct Experience,” there is no contradiction between the two. 

This is much like the popular statement by the ancient King Porus, who in Alexander’s captivity demanded that he be treated “just like a King treats another King.”

A god in tatters is no less a god. A goddess in pain doesn’t become a lesser goddess. The Indian mind seeks divinity in all aspects of existence and seeks to be treated as divine. The globally acknowledged greeting “Namaste” (= Namah + te) reflects just that.

“Oneness” vs. “The One”

The key element of the Indian view of spirituality is to identify the “Oneness,” which stands for the inclusiveness of all elements of Creation into the Divinity, rather than identifying the “One,” who is the source of all creation and stands tall and mighty, separate from the Creation.

In the Indian point of view, the Creation is inseparable from the Creator, and the entire spiritual journey is about the Creation recognizing and remembering its own identity as the Creator.

Art, in the Indian heritage, is a way to experience this oneness with the Divine. It is one of the many methods to remember and recognize this oneness with the Divinity, and a means to provide a shared experience to others.

It could incorporate a state of devotion as well as a process of expressing one’s own prowess and capacities as the Creator.

It is not a coincidence that the Goddess of Art in Indian spirituality is also the Goddess of Manifestation, and the patron Lord of Dance and Dramatic Arts is also the God of Dissolution. 

Dissolution, for the lack of an appropriate translation, is not the same as destruction or annihilation, but a process of de-manifestation. It is a letting go of the current manifestation so that a new manifestation can take its place. Essentially this is an act of Creation, too.

Creation or Manifestation in Indian spiritualism is not the conjuring the world out of nothing, but a process of the eternal Un-manifest Consciousness manifesting itself in forms. Dissolution is the equivalent of a clay sculpture being taken down to its mud form, making it ready to be re-carved into another sculpture.

Every act of creativity is an act of creation or manifestation and involves the same creative energies that the Creator utilizes to create the universe.

The artist in the Indian forms of art creates and performs to experience that oneness with the Divine. 

This doesn’t require an explicit reference to God. Even the most secular and mundane manifestations of art is a form of spiritual expression too, because God is all there is.

Spirituality is not in the Content, but the State of Being

The spiritual dimension of Indian art does not necessarily lie in the content, but is inherent in the process of the creation and performance of the art.

Devotion, in the Indian context, is primarily a state of Consciousness as against an act of allegiance to another being. The “object” of Devotion is insignificant as compared to its “objective,” which is to unlock and unearth one’s own latent divinity. An individual immersed in Devotion stands out, regardless of whether the Devotion is for the Supreme God, for one of the thousands of deities, an element of Nature, another human being, an art or craft, or any aspect of Creation.

Hence, even an art form that illustrates a normal human life with all its shades of emotions, limitations, turmoil, catastrophe, disasters, evils, and immorality is equally spiritual. 

The “Human” Elements of Indian Art

Indian art styles identify all shades of human consciousness, categorizing them in nine forms called “rasas” as an important aspect of expression.

The expression of love, romance, aesthetics, and passion may be heretic in some cultures, but is a perfectly valid form of divine expression in the Indian form of arts. A dancer may guise it in the form of a love between Radha and Krishna. Apologists and purists may vehemently insist that this is a divine love and cannot be compared to earthly human love, yet this is no different from an expression of romance between two teenagers.

The artists in the Indian forms of art did not necessarily have to break away from the society to express their dark arts or bold styles. The idea of “being a rebel” was seamlessly absorbed in the acknowledgement of every human being as a unique manifestation of the Divine, having his own unique, personal journey in life, and his own unique, personal journey to the Divine.

Rebellion in the Indian society was never revolting, but was gracefully intertwined aesthetically in everyday expressions.

Indians found a way to weave all shades of human consciousness so gracefully and elegantly that even the most passionate forms of expression found its way in day to day life, without having to worry whether it as “Adult Content” or a “Fit to view for all.”

Aesthetics as a Path to the Divine

Aesthetics was the path of sublimation of the normal to the divine. In Indian spiritual traditions, there are many references to male and female energies and their union as the source of all Creation and Creativity. These are not restricted to esoteric schools and traditions but find their presence all around us all the time, in symbolism. However, it never lends to any profanity in any form.

Even the gross, the grotesque, and the horrific in the Indian arts forms are expressed with a degree of aestheticism. Indian arts never rely on an adrenaline gush or the evoking of the “yuck” feeling to be more impactful.

The emotions we often encounter in our everyday lives are polar in nature and arise from specific life situations. The emotions expressed in the Indian art forms are beyond polarity and causality. Emotions of bliss, ecstasy, expansiveness, etc., do not have polar opposites and do not depend on specific life situations.

The “drama” enacted in Indian dance forms does not express our regular emotional drama and traumas. Rather, it is a reflection of the “Divine play”—the Leela.

There are many ragas and compositions in Indian classical music that express the pain of separation, pain of waiting for someone, pain of betrayal, but never do these expressions tantamount to blame or resentment. 

While the richness of the nine “rasas” in Indian arts do allow for expression of a wide variety of emotions, Indian art forms steer away from all forms of toxicity. 

All expressions of pain, sorrow, or grief in the Indian art forms are just that—expressions of pain, sorrow, and grief. They never intend to find someone to blame for one’s sufferings. 

Since most of popular entertainment resides on kicks and thrills, the Indian Art forms may possibly not appeal to every individual. It does require a certain refinement of tastes and the ability to appreciate subtleties to appreciate the sublime nature of the Indian art forms.

It is an inward journey, beyond even intellectual stimulation. The intrinsic transcendent nature of the Indian art forms does not allow much space for intellectual rigour and analysis. Hence, often, the Indian Arts may not even find favours with global art experts and art critics.

Indian Art + Spirituality are Inseparable

One truly needs to be aware of the finer points of Indian spirituality to be able to understand, acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy the finesse of the Indian art forms.

Similar to Indian spirituality, the Indian forms of art can be best learnt in their experiential form. A textbook on Indian Art may provide encyclopaedic information, but the soul of the Indian Art could only be absorbed by engaging and interacting with those who have dedicated their lives to learning, mastering, and performing these art forms.

In this series, we will explore the romance between Indian Art and Indian spirituality, in conversations with artists and practitioners of various art forms. Through these conversations, we will understand how Indian spirituality helps in the evolution of these art forms, and how these art forms enrich Indian spirituality by providing a simplified means of experiencing Indian spirituality in a practical, dynamic, living form.

Stay Quiet? Psht!

People like me have grown very, very tired of people like Weiner, telling us to sit down and shut up, lest we “divide” the community—or ruin a nice party.

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Instaporn: The Self-Degradation of Women

Women of all ages are being lured by the power of social media to use their bodies and sexuality to gain attention in ways that the original feminists would find incomprehensible.

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Lost in the Mirror: Soft Porn + the Trashed Body on Social Media

In our world of soft porn, we decide to turn ourselves into a means of another person’s end. In a real sense, this is the act of destroying or trashing our own dignity.

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In the Age of the Influencer

Curiosity compelled man to know more and reach outside of oneself.
Conversely, in the age of the influencer, we are retreating further and further into the self. The worship of the ego paramount in selfies, filtered videos, and numbers of followers is taking us further from the pursuit of truth.

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Once Upon a Time

Once feared, now trendingA Scarlett letter of the proud Taboo become viralVice, the end goal Ideology, a pronounPhilosophy, a trigger Nomenclature banishedTo a sideshow of A failed exhibitShame…

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Instaporn: The Normalization of Hyper-Sexualization

As a society we have let our guard down, as we have let the voices of strangers into our homes to have unfettered access to our children.

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The Woke War on Puberty

While the Constitution, the government, the educational system, and other institutions remain in place, they have been reduced to merely an external shell. The underlying values and procedures have been gutted and replaced by a hybrid of corporate fascism and cultural Marxism.

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License to Internet

Children deserve their innocence to be protected and respected. Children should be validated by the development of their character and intellect, not by their appearance or talent.

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Pornography in the Age of Gender Confusion

Had the feminist movement been honest, it could have quickly achieved greater equality between the sexes without doing away with sexual morality and the kind of modesty that is borne of not wanting to be sexualized.

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Instaporn at Auschwitz

“Would you mind taking a picture of me?” a random young woman asked me a few weeks ago. I froze, disgusted and horrified by her cheerful request.

I was on the floor below the Longacre Theatre in New York City. I had just emerged from the play Leopoldstadt, Tom Stoppard’s masterpiece depicting how the outside world will never care how “assimilated” Jews become, let alone insist they are.

The play—while witty, and making use of lighter-hearted drama, like a baby boy’s b’rit milah being “on” and “off” again multiple times due to his bewildered, secular mother’s inability to choose whether her son should bear the indelible mark of Jewishness—is not a comedy. It is a sobering story of how Jews must never trust that the abnegation of their identity will save them from others’ envy and bloodlust. That they must stand unconquerable in the face of the nations’ fraudulent promises of acceptance and safety in exchange for their Jewish souls.

I could therefore think of no cogent reason why this girl, let alone anybody, would feel the least bit jovial after seeing Stoppard’s lovable family of Viennese semi-crypto-Jews subjected to every sadistic humiliation the years 1899 to 1955 had to offer.

What appeared to have prompted this incident was that I had taken a picture of a poster for the show, which leaned against a wall behind an empty merchandise stand. The girl apparently saw this and was inspired to ask me to take a picture of her in front of that same poster.

As my moment of utter shock died away, a guttural “Yes” croaked itself out of me; I did mind. Taking my response for agreement, however, she thrust her phone into my hand and did what I immediately knew was coming. She posed in front of the poster, smiling without a care as if it were a gorilla behind glass at a zoo, a distant Great Pyramid whose pinnacle she was “pinching,” or a dutifully unmovable Buckingham Palace guard.

The very dear friend with whom I had seen the play looked at me in despairing amusement. “In New York, you have to be a little more direct than that,” she admonished me as we moved toward the stairs which led to the exit.

The disgust I felt, mixed with the weighty brew of emotions with which the play had left me, made my stomach tighten. As my friend and I turned back from the sidewalk into the main lobby to buy copies of the script, my legs trembled. I knew I had experienced a phenomenon of which I was aware, but which I never thought I would ever witness personally, let alone like this.

As my friend and I began the long walk through the sweltering night back to my hotel, I recalled an article another friend had texted to me the evening before I left for New York. Coming from The Daily Mail, it, suitably, was as lurid as it was blood-curdling: “Look at ME… I’m at Auschwitz!”

“Dozens of tasteless photos of tourists posing at Auschwitz have surfaced online after the memorial museum called on visitors to show respect at the former death camp where over a million people were killed,” wrote the Mail’s Ed Wight. “From a glamour model who claims to have Spain’s biggest breasts posing beneath the ‘work sets you free’ sign at the entrance to the death camp,” the article continued, “to tourists posing tastelessly on the tracks that transported over a million to their death, MailOnline has uncovered some of the vulgar snaps taken at one of the world’s most important sites.” Though the article itself—like most things today—neither surprised nor even shocked me when I first saw it, its full horror only broke through when I saw its subjects’ pathology played out before me.

While none of the pictures the Mail’s researchers found spread across Instagram and Twitter—some even of male tourists—were revealing or sexual, all of them laid bare with blatant nudity the social plague which had just harassed me.

As I already well knew, men and women the world over believe that it is appropriate to degrade themselves in front of the Internet for attention. Some debauched men sit around complaining about the female promiscuity they personally encourage, while some women—including, atrociously, those who are not yet women—produce “Instaporn.” Others, as the Mail article informed me, take pictures of themselves—some happy, some fashionably detached—at a place where nearly all of the 216,000 Jewish children deported there were gassed to death and rendered to ashes.

Men and women the world over believe that it is appropriate to degrade themselves in front of the Internet for attention.

“My face in this picture is not very happy,” Spain’s supposedly best-endowed model told her 1.2 million Instagram cultists, though, she reassured them, “I fulfilled one of my dreams by coming here.”

In this sense, Instaporn does not have to be sexual to be degrading. Making a trip to Auschwitz all about you rather than the millions murdered there, all for faceless living millions’ glassy-eyed stares, is as degrading as any “kink” site’s members-only content. The callousness of making a pilgrimage to the site of so many innocents’ suffering in order to glorify oneself is a form of narcissism perhaps unprecedented in the history of human barbarism. 

Auschwitz is a place to cry, outwardly or inwardly. It is the sump of the universe; the place where all the evil possible in human nature found the fulfillment of its own depraved dreams. The unique place where Jews and non-Jews alike can feel the ache every human soul feels when it contemplates a million ghosts’ un-mourned deaths. Only true, undiluted narcissism is impervious to that ache.

The callousness of making a pilgrimage to the site of so many innocents’ suffering in order to glorify oneself is a form of narcissism perhaps unprecedented in the history of human barbarism.

Still, how can we penetrate such a twisted yet rampant affliction? What do we mean by “narcissism”—a term nearly as mutilated today as “capitalism,” “liberalism,” or “nationalism”?

The word itself comes from the Greek story of Narkissos, found in Book III of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The handsomest youth ever born, the seer Teiresias had told Narkissos’ mother, Liriope, that the boy would live to ripe age “if he never knows himself.” As he approached manhood, the dashing huntsman, desired by many, spurned all suitors male and female. His disinterest in others was not, however, in pursuit of something higher than promiscuity. As Allen Mandelbaum’s masterful translation reads, “he / had much cold pride within his tender body: / no youth, no girl could ever touch his heart.”

One day, while hunting deer across “lonely fields,” Narkissos caught the eye of the beautiful forest nymph Ekho. Though a curse from Hera—enraged by Ekho’s talkative diversions whenever Zeus was chasing her fellow nymphs—had barred Ekho from being able to utter anything but an “echo” of another’s last words, she still “was inflamed with love.” When Narkissos asked “Is anyone nearby?” Ekho could only repeat his question. Finally, the youth, “stupefied,” cried out “Let’s meet.” As Ovid writes,

…And with the happiest reply
that ever was to leave her lips, she cries:
“Let’s meet”; then, seconding her words, she rushed
out of the woods, that she might fling her arms
around the neck she longed to clasp. But he
retreats and, fleeing, shouts: “Do not touch me!
Don’t cling to me! I’d sooner die than say
I’m yours!”; and Echo answered him: “I’m yours.”

“So, scorned and spurned,” Ekho retreated to a cave, where she wasted away in love, her bones “turned to stone,” and nothing remaining of her but the echo which greets wanderers’ voices.

Cold and proud Narkissos, for his part, met a rightful end; having rejected one suitor too many, the young man in question beseeched the gods that Narkissos should “fall in love,” but “be denied the prize he craves.” Sure as Teiresias’ oracle, a thirsty Narkissos came upon a quiet pool “whose waters, silverlike, / were gleaming, bright.” Quenching one thirst, yet another arose as he beheld the “twin stars that are his eyes” as well as “his ivory neck, his splendid mouth, the / pink blush on a face as white as snow.” In Ovid’s famous words,

in sum,
he now is struck with wonder by what’s
wonderful in him. Unwittingly,
he wants himself he praises, but his praise is
for himself; he is the seeker and the sought,
the longed-for and the one who longs; he is the
arsonist—and is the scorched.

Bewitched by lust only for his own reflection, Narkissos—just like the lonely woman whose love he had so cruelly repulsed—wasted away until only a white-petaled flower—the narcissus—remained where his “entrancing flesh” once lay.

Narcissism is self-destruction through an all-consuming obsession with the “me” we see in the mirror. The reflection itself exists, but only as the optical illusion our eyes behold. It is the mind which transforms that mere storm of photons hammering polished glass or a still pond into an exact clone of oneself. That face, beautiful or hideous, is our only concern. The real “you,” which cannot be “seen,” is not just invisible but irrelevant. We fall in love not with ourselves, but with a false self. A self no one, not even we, can love; for, as Ovid says, it “does not exist.”

Narcissism is self-destruction through an all-consuming obsession with the “me” we see in the mirror.

A narcissist is immune to love from or for real people. Narkissos died as alone as any person for whom others, let alone their deaths, are a mere distraction from his or her own self-idolatry. Fittingly, they die as alone as those whose suffering could never reach them, then or now.

A narcissist is immune to love from or for real people.

The grotesque glint I saw in that young woman’s eyes came from a soul six million stolen lives—even the small, named, human children she had just seen onstage—could not move, even to courteous reverence.

The very last line of Leopoldstadt is “Auschwitz.” That anyone aches to gaze at his or her own reflection at its end should pierce every human heart. All the more so that twerking “influencers” at the site of humanity’s most diabolical crime are now no longer impossible.

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