I’m still not ready to talk about significance of what I yesterday called “latent DNA” so I’ll continue with the lefties, there are still important things to say left (see what I did there?).
Why do we use “left” this way? It’s a past form of a verb “leave”, which means depart, but indicates things that didn’t go, as in “I left my wallet at home”, and this is the meaning from original Sanskrit, too. There are two root words there, “rip” and “lip”, which share the meaning of “being stuck”. Literal meaning is “to smear, to anoint”, as with sandalwood paste. One sticks sandalwood to the face, right? Other meanings of “lip” are similar to English “smear”, too – to pollute, to contaminate, to soil etc. And then this has become, by the way of German, an English word “left” for something left over, not a nice connotation. Other meanings of Sanskrit “rip” are to deceive and to cheat, and in our books words beginning with rip always refer to enemies. Apparently “left” is just cursed this way.
“Left field” also means something extremely odd and abnormal. Like southpaw, its origins are also traced to baseball where left fielders can occasionally surprise the opposition by throwing the ball to the first base which is farthest from their position. The meaning is cemented in a legend that behind the left wall of one of the oldest baseball stadiums was a insane asylum and even though lunatics there couldn’t watch the game they could hear it and shout out their comments.
As I mentioned yesterday, most animals have 50/50 split in handedness, there are as many lefties and there are righties among them, but it would be wrong to presume that human lefties are simply less evolved then righties, they are an aberration on already long established right-handedness. I’ve seen the usage where degree of left-handedness is technically defined by how not right-handed a person is, ie they are not lefties, they are just righties with extremely low values of their right-handedness.
People used to define homosexuality this way, too, as a perversion and abnormality, so there’s a chance lefties will eventually get their own rights.
Yesterday I left out an important theory regarding origin of left-handedness in people. One of the main things, biologically, that differentiates us from animals is speech and it requires a relatively better developed brain. Speech center is believed to be located in the left hemisphere and an improvement there leads to improvement in the control of the right side of the body, as brains are famously cross-wired, and so that’s how our right hands got more skillful and eventually stronger.
The brain, however, is adaptable and can use other areas to perform a similar function. There’s no such thing as “speech center” per se, its comprised of many parts working together, and, generally, they are located on the left but it’s not a requirement. Lefties simply use more of the other, right side of their brain to control speech and that results in better control of the left side of their bodies. People whose brains aren’t cross-wired are also lefties, so they might have the so called speech center where normal people do but that side of their brain controls the opposite side of their bodies from what is expected.
This theory, tied to the speech center which isn’t a fixed thing, explains why people have degrees of right-handedness, too, at least in principle, because the exact science behind it is not fully known yet.
What about association of left with evil, though, which is persistent across history of different cultures. In western occultism there’s a left hand path and the right hand path and guess who uses the black magic and who uses white? Of course we can dismiss it as a corruption of original Vedic culture but they must have their own reasons to associate left with satanism, assuming there’s any substance to their magic whatsoever.
In Vedic culture left-hand path is a real thing, it’s called vāmācāra and it’s opposed to dakṣiṇācara. Dakṣiṇa means South and that’s where the right hand would be if one is facing the rising Sun. Vāma means left, and vāmā means woman, probably because women are always placed on the left of the man.
Vāmācāra basically describes a tantric tradition and the main thing about tantra is that it is a rebellion, it is challenging to status quo, it’s about deriving power from breaking taboos. Of course there’s vaiṣṇava tantra, too, but when people hear “tantra” they means something unorthodox and rebellious.
I don’t know how it works but there’s always something liberating and empowering about breaking rules. Perhaps it’s a short-sighted indulgence but the effect is undeniable. Gays coming out of the closet, women being drawn to “bad boys”, violent dare devil criminals gathering a significant following in jails, that kind of thing.
I would even say that breaking the rules and establishing his own rights to something is what makes a man into a man in the modern times. One has to put down his foot and demand and get something that is not originally assigned to him, be it a job, a promotion, conquering a woman, or finding a way to swindle money or not pay taxes. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam tells us that a householder naturally accumulates sins while trying to maintain his family so it might not be a modern invention after all, though.
Maybe that’s what left hand path is in its essence – trying to behave like god and make your own rules against everyone’s objections. Being god is certainly empowering but our capacity to imitate Kṛṣṇa is always limited and karma always comes to collect.
Oh, and vāmācāra is all about manipulating 5 Ms, a sort of pañca-tattva, which are madya, māṁsa, matsya, mudrā, and maithuna (wine, meat, fish, cereal and sexual intercourse). I don’t know what’s wrong with cereal here, I understand it means parched, dried, or roasted grains. Apparently it must be used in tantric worship but I have no idea of the connections between dry cereal and other meanings of mudra such as “gesture”, “position”, or a bunch of related once like “seal”, “coin”, “stamp” etc.
The right hand tantra that we follow in our daily practice, ie Nārada Pañcarātra, could also be seen as rebellious, that’s how Prajāpati Dakṣa saw Nārada Muni, after all, and Dakṣa’s name is clearly related to dakṣinācāra, too. The goals of our spiritual practice are seen as contradictory to what understood as happiness and prosperity by otherwise righteous men who seek legitimate sense enjoyment and going all the way through artha and kāma before turning to mokṣa. We don’t care even for mokṣa and so they consider us really weird, too strict, and unnatural, out of left field, so to speak.
I won’t even begin to speculate why or how it could be related but Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the head of the left wing gopīs, the rebellious ones, as opposed to right wing gopīs who would never ever stand up to Kṛṣṇa under any circumstances. I’ll just leave with Rūpa Gosvāmī’s definitions found in Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi:
“A gopī who is always eager to be jealously angered, who is very enthusiastic for that position, who immediately becomes angry when defeated, who is never under the control of a hero, and who always opposes Him is called a vāmā, or a left-wing gopī.”
“A gopī who cannot tolerate womanly anger, who speaks suitable words to the hero, and who is satisfied by His sweet words is called a dakṣiṇā, or a right-wing gopī.”
Apparently, as followers of Rūpa Gosvāmī and Śrī Rādhikā we all need to become spiritual lefties, too.