Voltaire’s Yoga, Durer’s Wings, Shiva’s Tandava

My teacher once said, wearing a familiar unconcealed guile, “The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is certainty…”  He paused. And with a Steven Wright-worthy riposte, “Though I’m sure we can’t be too sure of that.”

Appa made a point of parlaying criticism into actions, often without further comment.  If he was sitting in a chair and I sat at his feet like the dutiful disciple he would calmly put the chair aside and sit beside me. “I can hear you better from here.”  Another time he sighed with just a hint of exasperation and said, “Please get another chair, I don’t feel like sitting on the floor today.”  He was not the sort of “guru” who would tolerate even implicit superiority much less allow me to submit when a much more constructive deference could be implied, one that might even assume the appearance of parity.  There was no parity when it came to my understanding of Hindu lore, Sanskrit or Tamil literature, but Appa loved the gambit: he wanted me to keep up with him when he taught, he wanted me even to surpass his abilities, he wanted to learn, and most of all, not allow me to act as if he were some wisdom-Pez-dispenser.

The sworn enemy of honest erudition is submission, the cowering that accompanies intimidation, questions withheld, and, above all, the inculcated presumption of faultlessness.  Worse is the immunity supplied to “spiritual truths” to guard them from their own disregard of criticism.  That kind of servility is often freely extended because a lazy surrender to the preeminence of tradition is more satisfying than the torment of good thinking.  Thinking, after all, has its limits.  Thank goodness, we might add.  But not because the alternative is some Capital T for Truth.  READ MORE…

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