Lalon, (Con)textualized

On Lalon: 'Divinity' is political

DEPART in its inaugural issue of January 2010 (Volume 1 Issue 1) published an interview of Farhad Mazhar. DEPART says, "Farhad Mazhar answers five questions on Lalon and his school of thought that forms the apex of artistic and philosophical practices centered on what once was Nadiya in the geographic sense and now has taken over the philosophical landscape of Bangladesh". We are reproducing the interview here, acknowledging our debt to DEPART. There is an increasing interest about Nadiya school of thought and its anti-caste, anti-class and anti-patriarchal politics and its deeper ethico-political implications. We hope that this text will contribute to understand Fakir Lalon Shah in the context of the political and cultural challenges against the 'Empire' or global capitalist order. Author has slightly edited this version to make some points clear for the readers.

DEPART: Why do we as Bangalees need to take stock of what Lalon had to say about existence, time and eternity; is it merely a project centered on mapping our own epistemic pool?

Farhad Mazhar: Fakir Lalon Shah spoke and sang in Bangla language but to call him a 'Bangalee' is highly problematic, if not wrong. Yes, he is from Bangladesh and Bangla was his language. He is a 'Bangalee' in a descriptive sense. He was born here by accident and stayed in Cheuria, Kushtia, composed his 'Kalams' in Bangla. The Arabic word 'Kalam' literally means texts. With reference to Quran, 'Kalam' implies 'divine texts'; In Nadiya, the philosophical school of which Lalon is the apex, 'Kalam' does not merely mean 'divinity' existing separately or outside the 'Kalam'. Texts are not merely means to represent the so called divine 'truth'; they do not merely constitute a body of law or 'shariah' simply to be obeyed and followed. 'Kalams' or divine words become part of the reality in the real world; they are material resources available to the 'shadhoks' (literally means a saint) for appropriation in their living real life. A 'shadhok'  is a knowledge practitioner who consciously changes her lifestyle in order to unfold the power of human possibilities and thus opens up new horizon for social, economic, cultural and political transformation of the world. From this perspective the 'Kalams' have divine potential to be realized with and through the human beings. Divine texts such as Lalon's songs or songs of any 'mohajon' (great saints) can be translated into material being -- words that can be transformed into reality by living human beings in this material worlds by her 'shadhona', by the ethico-political life affirming practices. Shadona means lifestyle practices that contribute to create a global community that live with wisdom and joy of life.

'Bangla' was Lalon's mother tongue, but that was simply a historical accident, he could have arrived anywhere in the world and could have dwelt in any language. Lalon is global. He dealt the divine possibility of real human beings who could be black, brown, white or yellow. Nationalism, humanism or any messianic teleological notions of human emancipation were never his cup of tea.

Why he is not a “Bangalee”? Although we take it for granted that the word “Bangalee” is politically and philosophically neutral, this is not the case. With Lalon this is even more so.

First of all, the word “Bangalee” is associated with a very particular identity politics now, that by definition excludes the 'other'. Lalon had always been vehemently opposed to all forms of identity politics. It is not worthy for human beings endowed with universal spirit – the One -- to identify her spirit with anything that is in a particular space, time and history. Spirit is not divided. In Lalon's words, there is a difference between ‘Kupjol’ and ‘Gongajol’; water that is confined in a ditch can not be the same of the divine ever-flowing water of the river ‘Gonga’.

On the other hand, Lalon did not believe in any transcendental being as in theology or any messianic promises for a 'future' to come; he did not produce 'moromi' or 'addhatik' discourses. His brilliant use of metaphors may puzzle anyone uninitiated into the realm of poetic thinking, but there is nothing mystic in his songs more than any mystical elements we generally find in any good poetry..  This is extremely important to know that Lalon was never an 'addhattik', a 'spiritual guru' as we generally understand in 'New Age" cult practices. There are no out of the world religiosity in him; neither was he a 'moromi" (mystical) self-centric person. None of his 'Kalam' or discourse are mystical, they are pretty clear to his followers. They could hardly be otherwise, since these 'Kalams' were not statements, propositions or theories, but direction to his disciples to act in a certain way to re-establish the relation between the internal (ghor) and the external (bahir). In other word re-establish the unity between the 'soul' and the 'body'. If we are shohoj, meaning if we are open and simple and listen to his songs without prejudice, there is no reason why we should not be able to appropriate his words into our day to day life style to generate wisdom and develop the deep sense of responsibility to act to be One with the others.

Human beings are “shohoj” – dwellers in language where ontic and the ontological become “bortoman”, remain present to us for both reflection and act. However, "shohoj' cannot be reduced as a state of knwledge, it is not merely an epistomological concern. Human beungs are shohoj because they have the capacity to develop all their faculties at the same time, both the body and its power as well as the linguistic capacity to articulate the experience they go through.; we are not merely biological beings but biological beings with the capacity to go beyond the biology and live in the realm of divinity in order to practice a revolutionary lifestyle -- the lifestyle that is proper to such a being,  a way of life consistent with our “swabhab”. This is the reason why the materiality of the biological body and the concrete world is primary to Lalon school. There is no 'spirit' without 'body", and no 'body' or entity that could be presented without 'spirit', without the realm of language. Spirit is the capacity to communicate. Searching, imagining and practicing a lifestyles to go beyond what is merely given as biology is the precondition for the history that could be properly called human history. Human history is the spiritual journey of the spirit and cannot be reduced as  the bilogical evolution or only a history of production systems. Human history is not an extension of natural history and human beings can not be reduced into petrified 'nature'.

Simply speaking, human being is an interesting architecture, a form where we can see and observe how odhora (the being or trace that escapes all language, discourse or epistemological certainty) makes a claim on “baramkhana” – the place of the “odhora” – the living human being. The claim of the odhora in biological human beings in a particular time and place is called “bostu”. Where odhora sits or dwells. The word “bostu", as we now use in 'bangla' language, is displaced and degraded; it is now used as a translation of the English word 'matter'. Actually its etymological root is “bos”, from where we derive the word “bosha” or to sit. The word 'bostu" is a general term and can be said for any entity we experience around us. So, human beings are 'bostu', like any other entities, where odhora sits or dwells but remains available for our senses to feel, and describe odhora's claim upon us through language.

Unlike other 'bostu', when odhora dwells in living human beings, in human “bostu”, it becomes “bedantor”. It defies all representation, one cannot grasp it in any language or by any sign system any more – it transcends all existing 'Veda'  -- religious texts, epistemological claims or philosophical discourses, ‘shastra’, 'shariah' or texts that are either epistemological claims of 'truth' or source of law, rules or order implemented by ‘force’ or ‘violence’. This is the reason why living human being are the central object of spiritual attention and knowledge practice. For the same reason, only a living human being could be the 'Guru'. No dead things, no ideology, no books or texts.

নদী কিম্বা বিল বাওর খাল

     সর্বস্থলে একই এক জল

     একা মেরে সাঁই ফেরে সর্ব ঠাঁই

            মানুষে মিশিয়া হয় বেদান্তর --

মানুষ গুরু নিষ্ঠা যার ভবে মানূষ গুরু নিষ্ঠা যার ।।

(Interpretative translation: It is the same Being we see in all beings like water in the ocean, wetlands, ponds, canals and dithes. The One manifests in all beings but remains lonely and finite. But when, the same water reaches the human beings it transcends the finite and open up the possibility to go beyond all existings texts, laws, rules and empirical descriptions defying representation. This is the reason the living human beings  should be the object of our attention in this finite world. Human beings are the real Guru of gurus, since human beings have the capacity to realise the Oneness in the diversity of multiple beings.)

Lalon's position on existence, time and eternity is a huge subject that cannot be dealt in few words. All these epistemic categories you are using are very much Western. In Bengal's philosophical discourse, from where Lalon cast his position, one is never worried about certainty or knowledge. It was a concern of course, but was never the overriding determining factor in casting the course of the philosophical development. The quest for epistemological certainty, or searching and representing truth as something we surely know and are capable to represent in sign systems, is very much Greco-Christian in origin and consequently a problem of modernity.[1]

In Jains, Buddhist, Shankhya philosophers and other anti-boidik (or anti-Vedic) Hindu[2] traditions as well as in Islam the certainty of knowledge was never the fundamental philosophical issue. It was rather how human beings as “jeeb”, as biological entity, but endowed with divine possibility, could become 'porom'; or in other words, how could they be liberated from biological limitations and instincts and be divine, or get to “nirvana”. In Islam the issue has always been how to obtain the qualities of Allah as her Khalifa on earth while (s)he [3] is absent in time and space: how to become the ‘caretaker’ of his/her creation or his/her ‘Vishwa Bagan’, the world-garden’. One can say it more simply, how to prove and demonstrate through practice that we are not merely biological beings. The proof and demonstration could be done only through the same biological life that is given to us both as our material existence as well as the our only means to transcend our biology, our material existence. We may accomplish this task by cultivating our capacity to become the ‘subject’ or the ‘agency’ that change the present, living in and through the present. Lalon school never denies the materiality of our beings, but refuses to accept that we are just biological beings. Therefore our political task is merely to make us better biological beings with technologies and tools and development of production systems so that we can command, control, own, use and misuse nature and our biology.

To be 'divine" in this sense is to remain eternally ‘bortoman’, to exist with the quality of being both the Purush (Subject) and the Prokriti  (Process) in the same person (অন্তরঙ্গে কৃষ্ণ বহিরঙ্গে রাধা).  Endowed with the capacity to use the given material being, the 'deho' (body) as ‘means of production’ but not merely to create a technological world but to become the divine desiring the divine in and through the material human biological body. This is  the primary proposition of Nadiya, and Lalon's is no different. The idea is not to reduce us into biology ending into a higher form of consumer, as we are now in the era of capitalism, imperialism or ‘Empire’. We haven't 'advanced', we have rather regressed.

Gole Porishne 2

Fakir Loban Shah and Farhad Mazhar, discussing in a sadhushongo the issues that have been raised here accompanied by songs and music. The theme was: 'Fakir Lalon says, don't be confused...'. ' আয় গো যাই নবির দ্বীনে...ফকির লালন বলে যেন গোলে পড়িসনে...'. Let's find our ways taking clue from prophets, revolutionaries, people with wisdom or from anyone with real life experience since we have the task to accomplish the unfolding the possibilities of our beings, the being that is endowed with 'spirit'. We need to nourish our divine subjectivity to act in this real living world. The dead can't be back to interpret what they have said, practiced, succeeded or failed. The task is always upon the real human beings in this real world to fight against injustice, hierarchies and activities that destroy life and its conditions to survive.

In Western philosophical paradigm we may rephrase the question as what would be the proper ethico-political acts of human beings, so that she can prove that her particular being is not merely a piece of biology? Note that, it is not a question like 'what humanity is, or how to define human beings, but what should we do with us, with our bodies, in this world, but without essentialising  'human beings', since we must keep the possibility of human beings always open. The epistemology that has been dominating the western philosophical quest, unlike the dominance of ethico-political problems raised in Bengal, and perhaps in most of the non-western, non-capitalist societies, can be a hindrance to understand Lalon. However, the problematic relation between epistemology and the ethico-political determinations are recently being raised, in post-modern inquiries. Nevertheless, it has so far been addressed marginally.

The claim is made that human beings are historical and/or capable to make history, but what is this mysterious thing called 'history? Apart from abstract and spectral imagination of 'history', it is conceived merely as the continuity of the biological evolution. The idea that history is the history of a biological being called 'humans' still persists; their history of production, consumption and distribution of consumer products whether they satisfy material, cultural or spiritual need. Post-modernity is aware of this problem but so far failed to come to a conclusive position that can endorse a ‘politics’ or ‘acts’ that are proper to divine beings.

In contrast, Lalon grew within a tradition where the questions were how the ‘jeeb’ or the biological being limited by space, time and body can still act as unlimited possibility, how finite could be infinite in political sense. This is some time articulated, taking clue from Buddhists quest, how the human beings could be free from aging, morbidity and death. How could we be free from 'sufferings"? This is the reason why ‘jente-mora’ (living dead), a life style that is mandatory for a 'khilkadhari' (initiated) in the Lalon school is rich in ethico-political implications.

One must die before death arrives in biological sense so that as a divine being she can taste both the biological life and the life of the divine. Jente-mora (living dead) philosophically implies a life without any biological 'desire' that overdetermines simple lifestyle, but desiring the divine or ‘porom’ in the ‘bortoman’ – in the present and living accordingly. In other words, to cultivate the divine subjectively, i.e., engage in 'dhormo" (ethico-political acts) that makes human history as the history of the divine. This  history is the history or 'Lila' of both Prokriti and Purush – the playful unfolding of the 'jugol', the two.  Obviously, it also implies unconditionally standing against caste, class, patriarchy and now, therefore, against the global capital or 'empire'. That's not enough.  One must now fight against fossil-fuel based civilization that is destroying all life forms on earth, making human life awfully miserable.

The spiritual struggle against our biological desires to direct its power to life affirming activities is profoundly fundamental to politics inspired by Lalon. ‘Divine’ life is not outside the earthly life and limited by biological death; we are never outside the society of Many and never outside the global community of One.

To die now, when we are alive, going beyond the desire of the biological beings, is not to become an ascetic. Human life (manob jonom) is a serious matter, even debotas (gods) and the ferishtas (angels) desire to take the form of human beings. In contrast to ascetics, the task of shadhoks is to ‘enjoy’ biological life in a way so that ‘divine’ can be tasted as ‘bortoman’, as now, or  create conditions to realize the divine now -- through ethico-political revolution. Such revolution cannot start at abstract epistemological level but immediately at the level of the life we live; starts from changing the personal lifestyles, and setting example that inspires the Many so that in the process Many become the One; the world transformed into a divine world here and now on in its earthly setting. This is what Nadiya understands by the term, 'bortoman'. One must understand bangla language first, to grasp the revolutionary significance of Chaitnaya and the apex of his development in Fakir Lalon Shah.

Akhrabari session

Plenty of Music and discussions during festivals at Nobopran Akhrabari, Cheuria, Kushtia is a common scene. Philosophical discourse in Bengal, particularly of Bangladesh, is essentially oral. Music is not considered as a performing art, but a linguistic and metaphoric medium to create effects on people, helping them to open their hearts to listen to the call of the divinity that makes a person responsible to others. It can not be done by force, coercion, or in short, by any state systems. Withering away of the state is the pre-condition for the 'dhormo' or 'deen' to arrive. Destruction of the capitalist empire is the primary condition to celebrate our 'divinity'. It is impossible to do that by enforcing law, prison houses, psychiatric wards and defining what is 'normal' and what is not. The person on the stage in the corner is Mowla Boksh, a superb singer from the 'ghor' of Delbar Shah. People accept and receive such 'pagols' or 'mastans' in the 'dorbar' of the Royal Court of divine wisdom, in the community where every one is important and needed. They are integral to any festival where the margin between 'normal' and 'abnormal' simply dissolves constituting the beauty of the 'community'.

In the absence of Many, the word One has no meaning. In contrast to the so called "multiculturalism",  Lalon was proposing the radical intercultural unity or relation that does not eradicate the diversity of 'bortoman' -- a profound concept that he might have absorbed from the Abrahamic call for the unity of all beings, which is retained and continued by Islam through the political concept of "ummah" -- the divine task to free human beings both biologically and spiritually, from all earthly bondage of tribe, blood, land, language, culture, etc. and particularly from all kinds of politics of Identity. The claim that only the 'porom' is worthy of being worshipped by human beings is not an epistemological determination, but a political necessity to unite the diverse human kinds or communities endowed with divine possibility to be One in Many. The concept has been degraded to the communal level because of the dominance of the so called, "Muslim Ummah'. To Lalon followers this is a fundamental departure from the philosophical significance and teachings of the prophets of Islam of whom Muhammed is the last messenger sent by Allah to guide human history. I am raising these points to provide some hints how Nadiya School has absorbed Islam in a way that is unique in the world.

Lalon is a revolutionary, but not to make human beings a better biological being or a better consumer in a capitalist-materialist-industrial world or in a socialist or communist society. This is the reason the conventional notion of socialism and communism is not acceptable to his followers. Making biological beings more materialistic by reducing them into consuming machines in order to resolve the contradiction of the global capitalist order is of course necessary, but can not be construed as the destiny of the divine possibility of human beings – unfolding as eternally 'bortoman' --  always present in the real world. In this sense the conventional notions of socialism or communism is not considered advanced over modern capaitalist order or the consumerist paradigm of western civilizations. Nevertheless, the era of divine revolution with the capacity to absorb all the divine achievements of human kinds including Marx, Lenin and Mao Ze Dong is not denied here. We need a step forward to realize divinity in the 'bortoman', i.e., now, in the present, by taking the direction appropriate for us as divine beings, what Lalon called 'Shohoj manus" is the unity of biology and divinity. Revolution is a divine act in the present world.

Revolutionary are those beings who respond to the call of the ‘divine’ capacity they are endowed with as human beings. If they fail to respond to this call they are just like any biological entity. ‘Divine’ here is not a perverted or degraded term used by the ‘new age’ western movement – tragic personal effort of individuals to deal with the the spiritual hollowness, the blank soul, but cowardly living in capitalist society merely as a consumer – like any biological animal, without challenging the order. If we fail to note this fundamental difference with Bengal's discourse with that of the Western – particularly modern western philosophy, including revolutionary ideologies -- we will hardly be able to understand persons like Fakir Lalon Shah or Nadiya school or the ethico-political movement of which he is the apex. We need to develop a revolutionary politics proper to our divine nature. Nadiya has no problem to endorse life affirming militant or radical politics as we now see flouishing in this part of the subcontinent. Its concern is to ensure its permanent success. That is possible if we do not fall back to vulgar materialism.

Note that I used very consciously the category “Nadiya” -- which was Lalon's school, and also qualified this school as “political” and not 'epistemological' or ‘spiritual’. I repeatedly said, Lalon was not an ‘addhatik’ or ‘moromy’ mystic. Such conventional assumptions should be discarded immediately.

This is the reason why ‘Nadiya’ fought against caste/class, patriarchy and all forms of hierarchies not consistent for the “jeeb” seeking the grace of “prem” (love in its all-encompassing form). So the question you are asking, as they prevail in conventional stories about 'bauls', is in a sense irrelevant to Fakir Lalon Shah. How things exist or how we exist and how could we be certain of that is more of a Descartian problem and not a problem related to the political project of Fakir Lalon Shah.

He prompts us to ask: how could we get rid of caste, class and use of women as an instrument in Tantric practices. Fakir Lalon Shah was vehemently critical of Tantric schools that came before him, despite the fact that he recognised their practice as the early materialist philosophies who took body as a material being as the primary object to explore and experiment with as part of the knowledge practice. Nevertheless he hated reducing women as an instrument of Tantric 'meditation' or so called 'practices'. Similarly Lalon is a different story from the narratives we read about 'bauls' in academic research, which often reflect sexual fantasy of urban middle class and narrates their own stories as the stories of the 'bauls'. His “jugol” shadhona is obviously different from Tantrics and distinctly separate from the Boishnobs as well. Nadiya school is not the same as Brindabon school where re-appropriation of Chaitanya by the upper caste Brahmans[4] is a major political issue for Lalon followers.

Apparently Lalon used the word “time” in two senses. One as we generally use in our language – the time on our watch. When you listen to his song “shomoy gele shadhon hobena” – you can interpret the word as I have described by the watch. But soon you would realize he is also indicating to a different meaning of time, similar to what we understand by “joag”– the moment when the universe become ONE in a “polok” -- with a blink of an eye, completely effacing the difference between all beings existing in time and place. That's why the second sentence in this song is, “din dhoriye tiner shadhon keno korlena”. Here we see time is related directly to “shadhon” or the act of relating to the regenerative cycle of the universe, a moment when finite time intends to relate with the infinity within the finite realm of our existence.

There is no separation between Subject and Object in this Oneness. The paradigm that presupposes subject as the agency that knows, and the object as the 'outside' to the subject to be known, has no dominant place in Lalon's discourse. So such “joag” or act of becoming 'bortoman' happens not as an act of epistemology but by the divine moment of experiencing the ONE. That is the reason he has to say: "Lalon bole tahar shomoy dondek roy na". It's a moment of blink not even a 'dondo'.

There are certain practices that Lalon called “koron” (not Tantra, please) that you learn slowly the way you keep your company (sadhu shongo), your food habits, your capacity to remain addicted to the words of the wise people, and your loving relation with your partner. These experiences you learn as real human being in flesh and blood existing in “bortoman” – implying you do not claim that if you process your sensuous experiences at the level of the faculty of the “understanding”, as Kant claimed, you “know” these experiences. “Shohoj” does not accept the assumption that we have three faculties: sense certainty, understanding and speculative sphere, as if we are some kind of machine and process our knowledge in the model of an assembly line in a factory. Lalon followers, unlike Tantrics, are absolutely against using their partners as sexual instruments, dehumanizing both her subjectivity as well as defiling her body. Time here is posed as a problem of undifferentiated margin between “Bhando” -- human beings with the capacity to become a single being with “Bromhando” – the universe. There is no distinction between human beings and the universe – but this is a state that you learn to achieve with the guidance of your Guru. Most importantly, in a ‘jugol’ – by learning to love your partner. (Not sexually, please, as the perverted Western tantric web sites claim, but learning how two biological beings become One both in biology but transcending biology by divine love for each other as the first step in their mature life.

This is why my partner appears as 'Time' to me. In Bengal's popular discourse 'Biroho' (absence of the lover) is another name for Time. I haven't observed if Lalon ever contradicted this concept of Time. However, when he says: ‘ekhane na dekhlam jare chinbo tare kemon kore’ -- he is taking the concept of time as 'Biroho' to another stage. It is the measure of the capacity to recognize by the visionary what is not generally visible. Time is not merely measure of change that we experience through our senses; 'Biroho' is not merely psychological mood of the lover separated from her beloved. Biroho is time simply because only in biroho we measure our capacity to recognize the “odhora” by our “koron” to develop our senses or the “body”.

It is the “bhab” that is capable of measuring the distance between individual as “part” and ONE as the whole. Beyond this ground time and eternity are minor concepts in Lalon's discourse and often used in literal sense -- very distantly from what we literally understand. Since Lalon’s school refuses to live beyond “bortoman”, only in what exists or present right before us now as ONE living body, as integral part of the universe, there is nothing called eternity, eternal, etc. These notions are alien to Lalon. Only radical position here is that the human beings are by nature full of unexpected possibilities – that is -- the possibilities are never exhausted and in this sense human beings are ‘eternal’ as well and therefore, “manush bhojona” is mandatory in Lalon's politics. This eternity therefore can be caught only by human beings in other human beings: ‘manush diye manush dhora’ is a profoundly original concept in Lalon school.

There is no mystic, no clouds or smoke in the sky, nothing in the sky, and there will be none in Lalon's horizon. Let me repeat again, Lalon is not a “moromi” or a “baul” or an “addhattik” person. He has been out and out a political person demonstrating the possibility of revolution only by human beings. Only human beings have the capacity to change the UNIVERSE, since we are all mini-universe. We can make the world a hell or we can make it a paradise. Needless to mention, Lalon obviously takes the side of the paradise on earth – one may call it spiritualized global community where all differences and politics of identity has been dissolved. That's it!.

NOW is the time to act and NOW is the time to be.

Remember, in Bangla we do not have any word called “sex” – use of genital organs for biological pleasure. The Bangla word “Kam” has absolutely no relation to sexual organ. So “prem” in Lalon must be understood in the context of “Kam” -- the desiring the desire of the other as a human being – but not merely as a “body”, not as an organ machine but as a divine object desired by another divine desire to be united together and to become ONE.

DEPART: How philosophical was he compared to what was going on in Europe?

Farhad Mazhar: You are asking a question that should become a book or a theme of a dissertation. Our academic environment is very poor. Philosophy departments are very weak. This is no fault of anyone. Urban middle class has no idea about the massive materials on philosophy in Bengal's oral culture. First of all we need to understand our own language, and the language of the philosophical discourse of Bengal. Since this discourse is oral, I had to spend more than twenty years with Lalon followers and tried my best to learn from them particularly my Guru Fakir Loban Shah, who has passed away recently (2009). Lalon belonged to the Nadiya school of philosophy. One must be very familiar of Nadiya's movement too.

DAPART: Is Lalon today a way for us to understand our inheritance, or is it about discovering, what Gill Deleuze calls, a mirror that reflects
the future?

Farhad Mazhar: Why you have to evoke Deleuze or others to understand Lalon? We may postpone the discussion for now, since we hardly did any research on Nadiya school and Fakir Lalon Shah. These are important questions, may be. We need to develop dialogies with people who are familiar with Deleuze, but this has nothing to do with the ethico-political movement of Bengal's bhokti traditions . First of all we need to recover the philosophical language in Bangla. Comparative philosophy may come later. Mind that Bengal does not have a conception of philosophy (love for knowledge), but have “bhab”. The word 'dorshon' as a translation of philosophy is also far from the notion of 'bhab'. To see or to demonstrate 'truth' is a paradigm of a culture that is dominated by vision, by the 'eye'. There is no truth out side the living human beings. We become 'true' by the practice of our lifestyles, and not throgh truth claims in philosophy. I have discussed that in my book “Bhabandolon”.

DEPART: Why is ‘la’ (nothingness) or ‘negation’ so important for Lalon while defining the ‘self’?

Farhad Mazhar: Where did you get these notions of 'la' or 'nothingness' in Lalon? “La” is an Arabic word. Lalon is not an Arab. He is critical of Sufis and other philosophical discourses. A person who continued the struggle against jat, pat or caste, class, patriarchy and all forms of hierarchy and vehemently opposed ganja, shiddhi or all forms smokes and narcotics, how could you even think that he is a nihilist. I noted there are some urban upper class elite group who speak in a bizarre way about Lalon to justify their substance abuse. My Guru Loban Shah used to say, ‘we must launch a jihad’ against these people, but we should also be caring to them; these are “jeeb” – lives -- only with biological souls. Show care and kindness to them since they are ‘sick’. Take care of them as you try your best to save a life in an intensive care unit of a hospital. It is the task of the sadhus to care for the “jeeb”. What they say about Lalon  should not be taken seriously and should be forgiven since they are repeating conventional prejudices. They should visit Cheuria and meet people who know of Lalon and his work and who are the practitioners of his politics.

DEPART: Body as a primary site has been central to Lalon’s thoughts, what’s your take on the issue?

Farhad Mazhar: Lalon had no concept of human body apart from the body of the ONE. Your question is addressed to those cults whom Lalon rejected. “Body” to lalon is also body politic. If you are not political to create conditions for the “jeeb” so that they can survive, you are not a Lalon follower. The task of “porom” or in other words “odhora” claims on sadhus, first of all, to care for life: Sadhus are ecological, enviro nmental and all their activities cannot but be directed only to life affirming politics, e.g., Nayakrishi Andolon, a biodiversity-based farming practices.

Lalon is a political person. It is time that we throw in garbage all those urban fantasies and bizarre imaginations. Fakir Lalon Shah is a challenging figure, even as a disciple of his school, I am learning every day.

I had the privilege of belonging to this school – which is not a cult or religion, but certain ethico-political and life style practices that keep you attentive to worldly responsibilities to others. That's what I have learnt from my Guru Fakir Loban Shah. My Dadaguru or Guru of my Guru is Fakir Kokil Shah. His guru was Bholai Shah and Bholai Shah was the person who was the direct disciple of Lalon. My reflections draw heavily from the discussions we used to have in our “ghor”. One may accept it, or reject it; that too is the privilege of the readers, I prefer to leave things to their discretion. Any one is welcome to visit ‘Nabapran Akhrabari’ – the space we succeeded to create with our Guru Fakir Loban Shah. It is the place where Lalon was found by Molom Shah at the bank of the river Kaligonga when he was severely attacked by small pox to the edge of death.  

[1] Because of the profound influence of Jain, Budhists and Sankhya philosophy in Bengal, the dominant philosophical quest has been ethico-political; for example the question Buddho asked how to be free from death, morbidity and aging; or, as Shankhya asks how should human beings be free from 'dukkho' (suffering)?

[2] I am using the word ‘Hindu’ here as it is now commonly used – a religion like Judaisim, Christianity, Islam, etc.. I should have used the word ‘shonaton’, but that is also problematic since it implies merely socio-cultural practices of a community as if it lacks theological-philosophical foundation or questions that are not ‘asmani’ (related to a being who lives in sky and communicated to the human beings or ‘ketabi’ like religions based on books sent to the prophets of Allah.. The other options of speaking about Hinduism as the socio-cultural practices of people living in the other side of the river ‘Shindhu’, as was descriptively used by people who could not pronounce the sound ‘sh’ and instead pronounced ‘Shindhu’ as ‘Hindu’', is not also acceptable to me. Although in such geographical and cultural sense I always claimed I am also a ‘Hindu’ as Persian, Arabs and other people used to view us not as a ‘religious community’ but with deep curiosity and respect, ‘people who are different from the peoples of Persia or Iran or who do not speak the Arabic language. To Lalon this is extremely important issue since he spoke the language of ‘Hindus’ but to be ‘divine’, he must absorb the divine knowledge of Islam or peoples who speak languages different from his own. So his task was to absorb the profound messages of Islam in his own language so that he can become ‘Gongajol’ and does remain a drop of ‘water’ traped in holes or drains in this side of the river ‘Shindhu’.

[3] Allah has no gender, therefore to refer to this Divine Being one does not need to resort into any gendered perspective, as this Being actually lies outside all epistemic and linguistic categories, although we can not escape to represent by the same if we are to discuss  'Allah'.

[4] I would also like to warn the reader that Lalon definitely opposed ‘Brahmanism’, but not the Brahamins, not all the practices that evoked the grace of ‘Brahmo’ or in Lalon’s word ‘porom’. The Nadiya school was initiated by Gourango or Chaitanya who was a Brahmin. The voluntary rules a Lalon follower is obliged to follow after receiving the ‘khelafot’ or after being ordained into the ‘shadhumondoli’ has many similarity in day to day practices -- practices that are appropriate for a person who is simple but wise and never allows herself to be degraded into biological life. For example a disciple can never offer food to his Guru which has already been eaten or touched by a person who is not a ‘bhokto’. One can not offer ‘utchishto’ or  ‘ento” or left over food to Guru. However, once Guru touches the food, it becomes the ‘prosad’ for the disciples. Such metaphoric practices are done not as a strict ritual or ‘rules’ but metaphoric act to realise in practice the we are One, not only in epistemological sense but as a biological beings who loves to become One with Many.

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