Islam in the USSR

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Followers of Islam Rise-Up Against Your Oppressors!

Comrades You Fought Under the Green Banner of the Prophet,

Defend Your Land and Free It From Your Enemies!

Join the Communist Struggle North, South, East and West,

Mount Your Horses and Ride Toward Enlightenment!

Following the Russian Communist Revolution of 1917, the bourgeois forces of the West (together with Imperial Japan), launched an invasion of the fledgling Communist State that became known as the Russian Civil War (1918-1921). The USA and Europe wanted to return Russia to a backward feudal system that they could easily control, but the newly formed Red Army countered this threat and eventually drove the capitalists out of Russia and the Soviet Union. This poster (printed in Russian and Turkic Tartar) is calling upon Islamic horsemen to join the Red Cavalry and defend the Communist Revolution by driving the capitalists out from their homelands.

During the build-up to the 1917 October Revolution in Russian, many Muslim ethnic groups supported Lenin and his Bolsheviks.  Indeed, so widespread was this Islamic support for the Communist State, that the Soviet System published numerous information posters throughout the land, informing the general populace of this support, and explaining that there was much agreement about justice, fairness and equality within society, between Islam and Marxist-Leninism.  A similar situation existed with Buddhism in Russia, but the Russian Orthodox Church often associated itself with world Christianity rather than the Soviet State (with various individual priests either supporting, opposing or remaining neutral).  To understand the Soviet response to religion, it is vitally important to understand how Karl Marx critiqued religion.  This is an area often misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented on the Communist left, reaching a peak of absurdity through the dictates of Leon Trotsky and his followers. Trotskyism (and its off-shoots) has served as a fertile breeding ground for the importation into the left of rightwing racism (and Islamophobia), which is often presented disguised by a thin veneer of pseudo-Marxist analysis.  The error in this interpretation of the ‘Marxist’ critique of religion is as follows:

1) Karl Marx never ‘opposed’ religious systems due to the religious content of each religion.  As he possessed a PhD, it is obvious that he fully understood the machinations  of the Judeo-Christian belief system, an understanding which extended into Indian Brahmanism and Buddhism.  In fact, both Marx and Engels thought highly of Buddhist dialectics, with Marx even admitting in one letter that he once practised Buddhist meditation whilst holidaying by the sea!

2) The oft quoted ‘religion is the opium of the masses’, was used by Marx to explain how the established Christian Church colluded with the capitalist system in the West, and continued the bourgeois oppression of the workers even when they sat in church worshipping a god they had never seen, to abide in a heaven never proven to exist after death.  This is Marx exposing how the modern Christian Church distorted its own theology in its support of the capitalist system.  This is ‘false’ religion that ordinary people turned to in their suffering, to gain somekind of solace from the brutal indifference of the outer world, only to find the brutality intensified whilst sat on the pew.

3) The essential point of the Marxist critique of the Judeo-Christian tradition lies not in the theological content of its teachings, but rather in a revealed psychological reality, or approach to problem solving in the real world, that Marx assessed to be ‘inverted’ in nature.  This means that the root assumption of theistic thinking – namely that ‘spirit’ creates ‘matter’ – is, as Marx observed, contrary to how the modern scientific mind functions.  The modern scientific mind understands that physical causes generate physical effects in an ongoing process, with the ‘new’ effects becoming the latest ’causes’, and so on.  At no place in this analysis of how the material world functions, is there the reality that ‘spirit’ (or a god-construct) can create (or alter) physical matter in a disembodied manner.  Theology, therefore, is a belief system devised for an earlier epoch of human existence and understanding.

4) However, Marx is of the opinion that it is purely a ‘personal’ matter as to whether an individual chooses to follow a religious teaching.  The problem of religion is not necessarily its unscientific premise, but rather lies in the habit of the modern Christian Church using its theology as a means not to ‘free’ adherents, but rather to gain and maintain political power in the secular world.  It is the use of theology as a political force in the real world that Marx objects to (because it does not possess the ‘scientific’ power to progress society).  For Marx, a modern and advanced society should be guided by the use of science and the scientific method.  Therefore, both Marx and Lenin agreed that individuals can choose to follow religious teachings in their private lives, but that religious institutions should not hold any State power, or participate in the political system.  The Soviet Union was an ‘atheistic’ State not because it abolished or outlawed religion, on the contrary, the Constitution of the USSR guaranteed freedom of religion, but because the State did not recognise religious systems as be in scientifically relevant to the progression of human society and human evolution in the material sense.  When the African-American Muslim (and famous boxer) -Muhammed Ali – travelled to the USSR in 1977, he visited a number of Soviet mosques and various Islamic groups, and stated on his return to the USA that there was true religious ‘freedom’ in Soviet Russia:

The Historicity of Buddha’s Rationality

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The Buddha’s path, particularly in its oldest known form, appears to be comprised of a system of thought premised upon the use of a clean logic and a pristine reason.  This observation has led a number of commentators in the West to ascribe the term ‘modern’ to the Dharma, and thereby suggest that the Buddha, as a learned man (who probably could not read or write), was the first modern thinker, perhaps even predating the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (an ancient Greek colony situated Turkey), who lived during the 7th and 6th centuries BCE.  Of course, such an assertion is assisted if the lifetime date of the Buddha is more inaccordance with the Chinese Buddhist tradition that gives the years as 1028/29 –  948/49 BCE, than it is with current Western dating (accepted by the Theravada tradition since the 1950’s) as being (with slight variation) 563 – 483 BC. whereas Thales of Miletus lived between 624 – 546 BCE.  However, it may be that regardless of which distinct culture appeared to give rise to logic first, it could well have been a species-wide evolutionary development, as the work of Laozi (d, 531 BCE), Confucius (551-479 BCE), Zhuangzi (370-287 BC), demonstrate in ancient China, as all appear to utilise logical schemes for their systems of philosophy.  However, as unique as the Buddha’s thinking undoubtedly is, logic dictates that it did not develop in a vacuum, and did not suddenly appear as ‘out of thin air’.  Regardless of its epoch-changing ramifications, the Buddha’s system of logic was the consequence of well-established historical trends and conditions, observable in ancient India through the development of her systems of thought.  In my view, the clearest and most concise thinking on this matter has been written by Satkari Mookerjee, in his excellent book entitled ‘The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux’ (re-printed 2006) which explains the fundamental trends that have underpinned the various and diverse systems of India thought, in the times prior to the rising of Buddhist thought.  Needless to say, there is no need for fanciful theories of ‘outside’ interference or guidance, or recourse to the notion that ancient aliens ‘implanted’ this ‘new’ type of thinking into the minds of humanity.  It is also clear that the Buddha’s system of thinking arose entirely within the milieu associated with Indian philosophical thought, and was not ‘imported’ from ancient Greece or elsewhere.  Intense dialectical competition between the existing and competing schools ensured a very high quality of developed thought-system, that continued to exist as ‘valid’ within Indian society, or was thoroughly vanquished into the oblivion of ‘falsehood’ on the battlefield of debate.:

‘What is, however, particularly refreshing in this tense atmosphere of fighting is the fact of the earnestness of the fighters.  Though all cannot be regarded as equally honest or honourable in their method, their earnestness and sincerity are beyond doubt or cavil.  The fighting has all the freshness of life and reality.  There is an air of unreality about it.  In fact, they fought for what they believed to be a question of life and death.  Philosophy was not a matter of academic interest in India.  Change of philosophy meant the change of entire outlook and orientation in life.  Victory in a philosophical debate, therefore, was essential to the preservation of one’s religion and mode of life, defeat spelt inglorious death or apostasy from the accepted faith.  There was, in fact, no line of demarcation between philosophy and religion in India.  A religion without a philosophical backing was unthinkable.

The cleavage between philosophy and religion is pronounced where religion is held to be a matter of unquestioning faith irrespective of a philosophical sanction.  But in India the two were identical.  So even the atheists had their own religion because philosophy and religion were one.  Belief had to submit to the test of logic, and a faith that was not warranted by philosophic conviction, was rightly regarded as perverse dogmatism which has no right to the allegiance of a man of sound education and culture.  It is this fact of intellectual honesty and spiritual earnestness that account for the intensity and desperate character of this fighting for opinion among ancient philosophers of India.  As has been aptly observed by Prof. Dasgupta with his characteristic insight, “The systems of philosophy in India were not stirred up merely by the speculative demands of the human mind, but by a deep craving after the realisation of the religious purpose of life.” Ignorance of this peculiarity of the Indian mind has been responsible for the so-called charge of scholasticism that has been laid at the door of Indian philosophy.  Philosophy was not the fad of intellectual satisfaction or for the purpose of whiling away their idle hours.  It was, on the contrary, the earnest quest of truth and life’s purpose and nothing short of truth could give its votaries peace or satisfy their ardent mins.  And the intensity of this craving was not appeased except by a thoroughgoing and meticulous application of the truth to every detail of life.  Accordingly, no fictitious barrier between religion and philosophy was tolerated.

If religion was not sanctioned and inspired by philosophy, it was regarded as a useless superstition.  If philosophy was not lived in actual religion, it was rightly held to be a mere waste of time and a dereliction from life’s true purpose and mission.  As Prof. Sir S Radhakrishnan observes with his inimitable felicity of expression, “In many other countries reflection on the nature of existence is a luxury of life.  The serious moments are given to action, while the pursuit of philosophy comes up as a parenthesis.  In ancient India philosophy was not an auxiliary to any other science or art, but always held a prominent position of independence.”  The true criterion of philosophy and scholasticism therefore should be sought not in the identity of the interests of religion and philosophy, which, to my mind, far from being an occasion of halting apology, constitutes the very apex and perfection pf both of them.  The criterion, in my humble judgment, should be the crucial test as to whether or not the pursuit of philosophy is inspired by an unremitting and unhesitating enquiry after truth and whether it is only an after-thought, a metaphysical eyewash, ot a clever subterfuge to bolster up a pet dogma.  If this criterion is accepted and applied, Indian philosophy will, we believe, come out in triumphant glory.  Unquestioning, blind faith may be shameful superstition, but the studious endeavour to keep religion apart from philosophy is a perversity of mind, of which we should be equally ashamed.  To keep philosophy again in a water-tight compartment and to prevent it deliberately from finding its fulfilment in religion constitutes an unpardonable case of moral cowardice, insincerity of purpose and shallow dilettantism,

There might be a semblance of justification or excuse for the charge of scholasticism against the course of philosophic thought in some Brahmanical schools (which we believe, we have succeeded in proving to be without foundation); but this indictment cannot be brought against Buddhist philosophy with any show of plausibility.  From the very beginning Buddhism has been critical In its spirit.  Lord Buddha was an intellectual giant and a rationalist above anything else.  He exhorted his disciples to accept nothing on trust. “Just as people test the purity of gold by burning it in fire, by cutting it and by examining it on a touchstone, so exactly you should, O ye monks! Accept my words after subjecting them to a critical test and not out of reverence for me.”  These words of the Buddha furnish the key to the true spirit of Buddhist philosophy throughout its career.  And this freedom of thought encouraged by Buddha was responsible for the schism in the Buddhist church and for division of Buddhist philosophy into so many divergent schools.  This should not be regarded as a matter of regret; on the contrary, we should read in it the signs of pulsating life.’

(The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux: By Satkari Mookerjee, Motilal, [2006], Pages xxxviii-xl)

Whereas Greek philosophy developed in fits and starts, in a more or less haphazard affair over hundreds of years, culminating in the sublime rationality of Socrates, Plato (and much later Plotinus), the Buddha’s system of thought appeared on the world stage already ‘complete’ and in its finished form.  He undoubtedly made use of Brahmanic and yogic phraseology and practises, but he completely changed how these terms were interpreted and applied.  He made use of the prevailing conventions and habit of thought prevalent in ancient India, and radically broke with the past and conveyed a thoroughly ‘new’ system of thought free of the reliance upon theology and superstition.  The Buddha delivered his understanding in a devastatingly intellectual fashion that was very much part of the Indian tradition.  Without recourse to greed, hatred and delusion, the Buddha used a crushingly calm logic to counter, uproot, and dissolve all opposition to his definition of reality.  In this regard, the Buddha may be viewed as an inevitable product (perhaps its ‘apex’) of the ancient Indian habit of applying ‘logical’ assessment to every manifest theory.  This being the case, it would appear that the Buddha’s insight was home-grown within Indian culture, and not the product of the ancient Greek method of thought in migration.  By the time Greek thought matured, the Buddha’s advanced logical thought was already old.

 

 

Buddhist Dialectics, Logic and Emptiness

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An unfamiliar enquirer asked Buddha: “I do not ask about words – I do not ask about non-words.” The Buddha remained still and silent. The enquirer praised him and said: “The great benevolence and great mercy of the World-Honoured One have parted the clouds of my delusion and enabled me to enter the Way.” After the enquirer took his leave, Ananda asked Buddha: “What did the enquirer realize so that he said you had enabled him to enter the Way?” Buddha replied: “He is like a fine horse that runs even at the shadow of a whip.” (Blue Cliff Record Case 65)

Nagarjuna developed the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) School of Mahayana Buddhism, which is premised upon the understanding that all in existence is non-substantial, or ‘empty’ of any inherent substantiality. The Hinayana School views the world as ‘empty’ (sunya) of greed, hatred, and delusion, and any notions of a ‘permanent self’ premised upon these taints (pudgalanairatnya) in the enlightened, or realised state, but nevertheless views the physical world as being ‘real’ and ‘substantial’. Nagarjuna dismissed this Hinayana conclusion by applying Buddhist logic to the problem. Nagarjuna explained that as all phenomena is dependent upon conditionality, it lacks any inherent and underlying substantiality. Nagarjuna referred to his approach as ‘prajna-paramita’, or the ‘liberating wisdom that carries one to the other shore’. Another name for this method is ‘sarvadharma-sunyata’, or ‘all dharmas are empty’.

Buddhist logic is derived from a thorough study of the Buddhist sutras and their commentaries, as well as through the interaction between a qualified master and a disciple. As the understanding of the Buddha’s teachings has varied from one person to another, and from one generation to the next, this had inevitably led to doctrinal interpretations that may be considered to be either ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’ in their conclusions. Nagarjuna’s powerful use of Buddhist logic reveals that the Hinayana teaching does not appear to conform to the internal logic of the very Buddhist teachings it claims to uphold and represent. Where the Hinayana view gains support is from empirical science which assumes a priori that the physical world is real, and that all true knowledge emerges from its accurate and exact measurement. The Mahayana view, by way of contrast, is more in keeping with complexity science, and appears to philosophically resemble the conclusions found within quantum physics (i.e. non-locality theory, etc).

In around the 2nd century CE, Nagarjuna studied the Buddhist Sutras (probably in Pali and Sanskrit), and the numerous associated commentaries. Nagarjuna perceived that the Buddha ‘remained silent’ when questioned about well-known and popular Metaphysical issues. The Buddha’s own explanation for this response is that Metaphysical questioning of this type falls under the category of ‘avyakrta’, or are of philosophically speculative questions, the answers to which are ‘inexpressible’. In other words, these Metaphysical questions are ‘empty’ of any perceivable answer. The Buddha taught that there are fourteen such Metaphysical questions that have no discernible answer – there are:

a) Whether the world is;

1) Eternal

2) Non-eternal

3) Both eternal and non-eternal

4) Neither eternal nor non-eternal

b) Whether the world is;

5) Finite

6) Infinite

7) Both finite and infinite

8) Neither finite nor infinite

Whether the Tathagata;

9) Exists after death

10) Is non-existent after death

11) Both existent and non-existent after death

12) Neither existent nor non-existent after death

Whether the atma (soul concept);

13) Is identical with the body

14) Non-identical with the body.

Three of the four categories related above are dealt with using four exact responses in the sutras, whilst the last category is dealt with using only two exact responses – but even the last category could easily be subjected to the Buddha’s four methods of dialectical analysis without suffering any loss of meaning or coherency. Nagarjuna’s genius lies in the fact that he appears to be the first Buddhist scholar in history to clearly perceive this enlightened dialectical method as utilised by the Buddha himself. From this analysis and clear thinking, Nagarjuna derived the concept of ‘prasanga’, which can be described in Latin as the dialectical method (and practice) of ‘reductio ad absurdum’, which in this context refers to the logical demonstration that if a particular argument is arbitrarily accepted as ‘true’ and ‘correct’, then only false and illogical results and consequences will inevitably follow.  Nagarjuna uses this method of Buddhist dialectics to demonstrate that the physical world cannot be ‘substantial’ in any true sense of the word, and that to assume that the physical world is substantial, is to make an untrue and illogical statement from the point of view of established Buddhist logic (as it exists in either the Hinayana or Mahayana Schools).

Nagarjuna termed the four alternatives of Buddhist dialectical logic as ‘catuskoti’, which is often presented by the Latin term of ‘tetra lemma’ (or ‘four propositions’). Nagarjuna’s dialectic can be expressed in the following manner:

1) Positive thesis 2) Negative counter-thesis = basic two alternatives

3) Positive and negative theses affirmed = third alternative

4) Positive and negative theses denied = fourth alternative

From this analysis it can be clearly demonstrated that a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to profound metaphysical questions is not a suitable method of answer, as this basic ‘either-or’ dichotomy lacks the necessary depth of understanding and dexterity of expression required to express the highest form of truth. Therefore the Buddha, as he denied the validity of viewpoints associated with ‘eternalism’ (sasvata-vada), and ‘nihilism’ (ucchedavada), refused to give any categorical answer to Metaphysical questions. His philosophical position is explained as being that of ‘madhyama pratipada’, or of the unwavering ‘middle’, or ‘central’ position. This is why the Buddha refused to be drawn into ‘yes’ or ‘no’ arguments, as he considered such speculations to be the product of ‘ditthivada’, or the ‘path of attachment to fixed views’. Nagarjuna did not invent the tetra lemma – as the Buddha taught this method hundreds of years before Nagarjuna – but he is responsible for lifting this method out of the sutras, and developing its use to a very high level. In many ways, Nagarjuna reasserted Buddhist logic, and through correct dialectical analysis, managed to put the Buddha’s original ideas back into the interpretation of Buddhist concepts. He referred to this realisation as ‘Madhyamaka’, which is the name of the school associated with him, and the prajna-paramita philosophy he developed. For Nagarjuna, not only is the world ‘empty’ of any substantiality, but the concept of ‘emptiness’ itself, (to be inaccordance with Buddhist dialectical logic), must also be ‘empty’ of its own ‘non-substantiality’.  Existence is:

1) Substantial (full)

2) Insubstantial (empty)

3) Both substantial and insubstantial (full and empty)

4) Neither substantial nor insubstantial (neither full nor empty).

Enlightenment appears to be the realisation of the exact mid-point between these four positions of logic, but is not limited to any of the propositions. Things are ‘empty’ because they are not ‘full’, but it can equally be said that things are ‘full’ because they are not ‘empty’ – but these statements are relative positions for the interpretation of ‘truth’. As the ordinary and deluded view is that a physical self exists within a substantial world – the ‘emptiness’ wisdom of Nagarjuna is used like a medicine to cure an illness – in this instance the illness of the illusion of substantiality. However, the notion of ‘emptiness’ must not be taken too far, or it becomes non-Buddhist ‘nihilism’ – or the exact opposite delusion to the world being real and self-existent. As the Heart Sutra states ‘Void is form, form is void’ this is Nagarjuna’s tetra lemma reduced to its bear bones. Many Buddhist schools (such as Chinese Ch’an) take a practical approach to this teaching, and advocate the ‘breaking-up’ of delusion (or obscuring thought) in the mind, so that the profound empty mind ground can be perceived. This does not mean that thoughts nolonger exist, but rather that they exist within a context that can be described as substantial insubstantiality.

 

©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2014.

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