How Indians invented the universal religion

One of my favorite podcasts is Two for Tea, which tends toward “centrist-edgelordism”. The latest guest is, Armin Navabi, who I have nicknamed the Ayatollah. Armin is literally one of the most logical people I have ever known of, at least in the domain of those who are not visibly already extremely at one end of the spectrum. His views on religion come from this rationalist perspective, and that is where I part ways with him because I don’t see rationality as powerful a force as he does in shaping human behavior.

But in this post, I want to disagree with something Armin said in relation to the history of religion: that universalism and post-tribal religion was invented by Christianity and the Abrahamic tradition. This is clearly false.

From Ashoka’s Edict 13, put down in the 3rd century before Christ:

Now, it is the conquest by the Dharma that the Beloved of the Gods considers as the best conquest. And this one (the conquest by the Dharma) was won here, on the borders, and even 600 yojanas (leagues) from here, where the king Antiochos reigns, and beyond where reign the four kings Ptolemy, Antigonos, Magas and Alexander, likewise in the south, where live the Cholas, the Pandyas, and as far as Tamraparni.

Continue reading “How Indians invented the universal religion”

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Magic and advertising

This is to alert BrownPundit readers to a series I’ve begun on Zenpundit, my other punditry-posting place. It’s about Ioan Couliano’s argument in his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that the Renaissance art of Magic was essentially a matter of conjuring desire in the recipient by means of visual imagery, and that the Art has been revived with great success in the present day, in the form of commercial advertising.

Roughly speaking, then, Magic is the defendant, modernity-secularity-technology is the prosecution team — who don’t bother to call witnesses because, m’lord, it’s plain obvious that magical thinking is superstitious nonsense — and a bucket-load of TV commercials form the evidence presented by the defense.

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But wait a minute — here’s magic:

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Whether you’re secular or a devotee, that photographic image is magical in that a simple hand-gesture conjures up a flute. The flute isn’t there, objectively speaking — and yet there’s a flute, Krishna is quite obviously playing it, and indeed its mellifluous power of enchantment has drawn the lovely Radha to his side.

About Krishna’s flute — you may know far more than I, but at least I can point to Denise Levertov and Edward C Dimmock’s poem in Songs in Praise of Krishna — from the Bengali:
.

Radha is terrified on her way to the forest

O Madhava, how shall I tell you of my terror?
I could not describe my coming here
if I had a million tongues.
When I left my room and saw the darkness
I trembled:
I could not see the path,
there were snakes that writhed round my ankles!

I was alone, a woman; the night was so dark,
the forest so dense and gloomy,
and I had so far to go.
The rain was pouring down —
which path should I take?
My feet were muddy
and burning where thorns had scratched them.
But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered,
and now my terror seems far away. . . .
When the sound of your flute reaches my ears
it compels me to leave my home, my friends,
it draws me into the dark toward you.

I no longer count the pain of coming here,
says Govinda-dasa

**

And what does all this have to do with advertising?

My response is that the Krishna and Radha in this photo were captured, and Krishna’s flute conjured, by the eye of a pro commercial guy:

JEREMY HUNTER began his career in advertising – as a television creative, working for Young and Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Bates, along the way winning a number of international awards in Cannes, Venice, New York and Los Angeles. During this time he worked with some of Britain’s most iconic film directors – John Schlesinger, Ken Russell, Tony Scott, Dick Lester, Nic Roeg, Richard Loncraine as well as Oscar-winning Editor Jim Clark and photographer Terence Donovan.

That’s the resume of a contemporary magician.

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In case you’re interested, the posts in my Magic and Commercials series on Zenpundit to date are:

Advertising series 01: Music
Eros, the Renaissance and advertising
Authentic, spiritual magic!
The magic of advertising or the commercialization of magic?
Here’s magic!
The magic of miniatures

I imagine there will eventually be about twenty posts in the series — but more and more evidence keeps turning up in favor of the defense.

Magic, court observers seem to think, is likely to be vindicated.

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Islamic Extremists, Human Rights and Evangelical Christians

Abstract:

Is Sri Lanka (and similar small states) going to be the frontline between Islamic Caliphate versus Human Rights/Evangelical Christian Empire. Like Vietnam was a proxy War/battlefield between the goal of a Communist vs Capitalist World Empire.

Post WW2, Evangelical Christianity (thru the US) and “Human Rights” (thru US and Europe) have been terrorizing the Mid East for over half a decade.

What is the difference between

  • a) Bombing multiple countries to install “Human Rights” compliant with the Empire of the West.
  • b) or Bombs with the goal of establishing Sharia Law compliant Caliphate Empire.
U.S. bombs  southern Baghdad, killing another six civilian

Pre WW2 Europe (2) was the foremost in promoting “Christian Values” while obviously exploiting and looting the resources of brown and yellow heathen savages.
Post WW2, Europe and the US has redefined itself as advocates of Human Rights illegally supporting war either (see the box below for examples)

      • by acting unilaterally
      • using false evidence for UN resolution
      • acting beyond UN resolutions

In order to invade Iraq, Colin Powell stood on the UN floor and assured that Iraq had WMD. Colin Powell later regretted his speech.
A spokesperson for the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) falsely defended the bombing of Libya as within UN resolution. The UN resolution was only to establish a no fly zone. The Norwegian aircraft dropped 588 bombs

To Europe, US markets the wars as protecting Human Rights or the (in)famous Right to Protect (R2P) of Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton. At home in the US sells  Human Rights as Gods Wish/A Just War to the very important Evangelical home base to garner support for Iraq War and bombing of Libya.

No MSM writeup says, Christian Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama instigated a Just War.  However, George W. Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church. Barack Obama is and has been a member of Evangelical Churches. Evangelical leaders post 9/11 signed an open letter to Bush approving war on Iraq satisfied the criteria of Christian “Just-war” theory. ( see here and here)

“Iraq represents that existential threat we have from global Islamic Jihadists. “We must defeat it in Iraq, Afghanistan and then act preemptively to destroy it wherever it emerges.”.

“Throughout Scripture, there is evidence that God favors war for divine reasons and sometimes uses it to accomplish his will. He has also given governments and their citizens very specific responsibilities in regards to this matter,” Charles Stanley, Televangelist, pastor First Baptist Church of Atlanta and In Touch Ministries said in a sermon broadcast internationally on his television program.,

As one can see, there is not much difference between Christian and Islamic priests advising people and countries to wage war.

Two examples of US and European Post World War 2 atrocities
1953 Iran: CIA coup overthrows the democratically elected MP Mosaddegh .

1980-1988 Iraq Iran War:

  • Support for Iraq
  • USS Vincennes shoots down Iran Air Flight 655 on 3 July 1988, killing all 290
  • Chemical weapons supplied to Iraq by US, UK,  Netherlands and German companies

It is pretty clear, the US and Europe with the blessings of the Evangelicals/Human Rights Religion has been the first instigators in the Mid-East.  The Muslim response has been slow and generally localized to places of regime change and invasions.  With the creation of Al-Qaeda and ISIS the war has been fought on a larger geographical terrain.

Now the war between Evangelicals/Human Rights Religion and Islamic Jihad has been taken worldwide. Suicide bomber cells now include family groups including children. Suicide bombers attack churches, tourist hotels and beaches where westerners congregate.  T

Unhappily, Islamic extremism is also an opportunity for Western powers to establish a foothold.  In Sri Lanka.  The US wants to sign a  secretive Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with clauses to exclude the American soldiers from the local jurisdiction.  Liberal Human Rights types and Westernized   Sri Lankans (many are Christians, like current PM Ranil Wickremasinghe) would welcome the West with open arms.  This would result in Sri Lanka being a proxy battle field for Western powers and the Islamic Caliphate.  Sri Lanka should find its own solution to keep Christian/Islamic wars out of its shores.

(1)Disclosure. Author is a Tamil by Heritage, Atheist, though born to an  Evangelical Christian family, post graduate education and work in the US.
(2) The Catholic Church has much blood in the past. Post WW2 as far as I know, no war has been justified by the Vatican.

Other readings

Islam, Extremism & Hypocrisy, Nur Yalman (2017)
Short history of Wahabism to ISIS

https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/islam-extremism-hypocrisy/

History of Wahabi violence in Sri Lanka.
http://www.sundaytimes.lk/190505/sunday-times-2/the-need-to-identify-the-enemy-within-347960.html

From Sri Lanka to Indonesia, more mothers are becoming suicide bombers
– and killing their children too
https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/3008808/sri-lanka-indonesia-more-mothers-are-becoming-suicide-bombers-and?

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Contemplating the weave of the world

    [ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]

.

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Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.

I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:

If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.

**

My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..

And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.

Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.

But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name

**

My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.

There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.

And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?

**


[ above: conventional score, bar-graph score and keyboard recordings of JS Bach, contrapunctus ix

Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.

My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..

Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..

That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.

And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..

___________________________________________________

Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.

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How serious is the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India ?

Writing in the journal India Review, Korean scholar Heewon Kim says,

This article reviews the approaches used to understand the BJP-led NDA government’s policies toward religious minorities and argues that far from marking a radical departure, there are more continuities than discontinuities in these policies with previous administrations.

For all kinds of keyboard internet warriors, this conclusion would come as a disappointment. But it is only the boring conclusion to a truly banal argument.

There seems to be an understanding among many that Hindu-Muslim conflict is primordial, immemorial and ultimately irreconcilable. Partition is seen as incontrovertible proof of this view.

I would like to offer another perspective. In my view, taking into context the entire history of the twentieth century, the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is rather benign, mainly due to the low real stakes in this conflict. I base this view on my readings of Russian, Chinese and Mexican history, especially the scale and intensity of armed conflict seen in inter group rivalries within those countries.

The forces of industrialization and democratization unleashed by England starting from 18th century proved immensely destabilizing to all world civilizations. This period saw extremely volatile political competition between groups harboring competing, irreconcilable visions for the future of various countries. In Russia, China and Mexico, this competition took the form of conservatives (usually capitalists), versus radicals (usually leftists). In the Muslim world, such competition has appeared in the form of secular regimes being pitted against Islamist movements, and increasingly, sectarian conflicts amongst various conservative movements.

The stakes for both sides in these conflicts were extremely high, and no accommodation with the opposing group was sought. This is evident from the sheer scale of warfare seen in these conflicts. The death tolls in each country ran into the multi millions, with decades of devastation.

Italian Trulli

Such high levels of conflict are not seen amongst Hindus and Muslims in India. The real stakes in Hindu-Muslim arguments are simply too low to militarize the conflict. On the table in other world conflicts, were programs of massive wealth transfer via land reform, extreme and eternal concentration of political power and utter suppression of language and religion. In contrast, Hindus and Muslims mostly argue about long dead kings, culinary choices and obscure theological points.

The simple truth is that even the establishment of a Hindu state will not alter the ground realities for India’s Muslims. Nepal was a Hindu monarchy for many decades, and its 5% Muslim population showed no interest in challenging the regime. Interestingly, the eventual overthrow of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy was carried out by a leftist movement (comprised of Hindus) in a civil war, much like the pattern seen in Russia, China and Mexico.

In many ways, India’s immense diversity and the sheer scale of its minority population, has restricted conflict to elite sparring rather than total war, which has very much been the norm across the world. But it has also prevented a genuine confrontation between the masses and the elites, the often mentioned lack of a revolution in Indian society. For a left vs right conflict in India, Hindu would need to fight Hindu. But the very presence of the Muslim seems to have softened any edge in this conflict.

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How the Baha’is lost out on Khushwant Singh-

I’m just shocked to read this, how idiotic of the Baha’is to lose out on the body of one of India’s greatest authors!

Typical Persian arrogance; I’m actually upset since this would have been such a Kudos to the Faith in Asia. Khushwant Singh was an incredible intellectual and one of the literary Lions of the Punjab.

It’s deeply insulting to have insisted on burying him in a row when common decency would have been to reserve him a distinguished honour. As I was telling V this is the silent racism endemic to the Baha’i community. The largest believers in the world are in India but the UHJ (Universal House of Justice) has only one Desi out of 9.

The Persians and the Persianate believers (lots of Desis become Persianised) owe an explanation for this; utter stupidity because of callous racism and fanaticism.

I used to be keen on a burial because with a burial you give back to the earth what you have taken. Now, it will be the electric crematorium. I had requested the management of the Bahai faith if I could be buried. Initially, they had agreed, but then they came up with all sorts of conditions and rules. I had wanted to be buried in one corner with just a peepal tree next to my grave. After okaying this, the management later said that that wouldn’t be possible and that my grave would be in the middle of a row and not in a corner. I wasn’t okay with that—even though I know that once you are dead it makes no difference. But I was keen to be buried in one corner. They also told me later that they would chant some prayers, which again I couldn’t agree with, because I don’t believe in religion or in religious rituals of any kind.

How To Live & Die

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SATYASHRAMA: A CONCEPTION OF DHARMIC POLITICS

My good friend MJ wrote an interesting piece on Dharmic Politics. I debated against him last week against the Union. I really enjoyed his speech since it was so well laid out.

SATYASHRAMA: A CONCEPTION OF DHARMIC POLITICS

Gerua: Rediscovering a tinge of renunciation

The full name is bhagwani i.e. the colour of bhagwan which Forbes translates cloth dyed with geru (red ochre), another common name is jogirang i.e. the colour worn by religious mendicants. I collected a few samples and am told that they are all shades of cinnamon brown; the popularity of the colour may be judged from the blazons, seeing that tenne is in every instance only a representative of the lighter shades, and murry (sanguine) in most instances a representative of the darker.

Ṛtaniti and Satyashrama: New Age Dharmic Politics

I see the meta-dynamics of the Universe quite clearly, particularly being a student of Physics myself. A set of laws here, a manner of movement and interaction between entities and forces there. The Universe could have been a vast number of possibilities (in the multiverse picture, they all exist independently) but it is what it is. There is a certain order in the Universe, seemingly self-organizing but yet directed. This is what ancient Indian philosophers and seers called Ṛta. That which maintained this order and respected the nuances of this reality was the Truth or Satya. You may start feeling that I will embark on a detour of philosophy and spirituality next. Not quite. After a lot of reflection and meditating on the nuances of these concepts, I feel there are two core ideas and nuances that matter when one speaks of that wisdom that maintains the  universal order (Ṛtaniti).

An Economy of Social Capital, Personal Social Responsibility and e-Democracy

However, having said that, I also strongly believe in the idea of Swadharma: the tendencies and capacities of the individual, and a system that provides for opportunities and liberty to the same. Some are born with innate abilities to solve mathematical conundrums. Some are born athletes or singers or artists. Not only at the level of abilities but also comfort in undertaking certain pursuits, every person is distinct. Only when this idea and reality is respected can society remain harmonious and efficient. In today’s age, we have a rush to pursue certain kinds of activities. These are guided by aspects of remuneration and prestige many a times, over and above the comfort and interest of the individual in pursuing them.

In Conclusion

In this essay, I have looked at some core ideas of ancient Indian philosophy and tried to synthesize by reasoning and reflection a truly Indian political philosophy – Satyashrama. Today people speak of Hindu nationalism and communal politicking in the same breath. Today people talk of fascism and a culture that has always believed in tolerance and dignity of the individual since times immemorial, again, in the same breath.

Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar – Mj to his friends – likes to be called a student of science, society and sensibilities. He is currently pursuing his postdoctoral research in Physics in the University of Cambridge and is the current Vice President of the Graduate Union of the University of Cambridge.

Having completed his PhD at 25 from the University of Cambridge, he looks forward to exploring Physics at greater depths in the future. His current work relates to studying the symmetries in physical systems and their correlation with entanglement patterns in these systems. This work, being done in collaboration with the Hitachi-Cavendish Laboratory, is all the more relevant given the industrial interest in the application of quantum entanglement in quantum computation. Mrittunjoy enjoys actively engaging with the world of science popularisation, policy and diplomacy, as much as pure research. He has worked actively with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and bodies such as the Cambridge University Science Policy and Exchange (CUSPE) and BlueSci – the science magazine of Cambridge University, in these areas, both in India and the UK.

Continue reading “SATYASHRAMA: A CONCEPTION OF DHARMIC POLITICS”

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Do you want to join the Caste of the Europeans?

the Portuguese in Goa, Madurai & Asia

He wrote in the Tamil language works in which the Hindu wisdom and the Christian were brought into harmony. He composed Christian poems which resembled the ancient Vedic hymns. He allowed his Brahman converts to continue wearing the sacred thread and to celebrate certain Hindu feasts; in the school which he opened, he allowed pagan rites to be continued and he respected Hindu prejudices over caste; he allowed no outcaste to touch his person, and if he needed to administer the sacrament to a member of an inferior caste, he proffered the Host at the end of a little stick.

I’ve typed out some fascinating excerpts from the Book “The Reformation” by Owen Chadwick. I was so stunned when I typed out the paragraph above that I put it to the top of the post.

I’ll excerpt more paragraphs from the book in future posts but I’m posting what I’ve typed out now.

Especially intriguing is how the Brahmins of Madurai accepted a Portuguese missionary as one of their own; it lends idea to the fluidity of the caste system if you were foreign.

The colour basis of caste seems almost irrefutable since the incidents I touch on took place in Madurai, which endured only 150 years of Muslim rule.

If there had been no Islam all the Turkic invaders would have been absorbed into a Hindu framework like the pre-Islamic invaders.

Japan

Even though I haven’t typed out anything about Japan in this post I’ll excerpt one quote. ‘In ten years,’ wrote a sanguine missionary in 1577, ‘all Japan will be Christian if we have enough missionaries.’…..

From 1627 suspects were forced to muddy with their feet a picture of Christ or the Virgin…..

The Portuguese

While the Spanish were at work in the Americas, the Portuguese were moving eastward. Their progress is traceable by the foundation of new sees: Madeira 1514, Cape Verde 1532; Goa, which became the seat of the viceroy in the far eastern empire, 1544, and an archbishopric from 1558…… the Jesuit Bendetic de Does crossed the Khyber pass disguised as an Armenian merchant and journeyed through Afghanistan and over the Hindu-Kush into Chinese Turkestan, to die at Suchow in China.

The Portuguese missions had many deficiencies, but they lacked neither courage nor enterprise. They were less conscious of a colour bar than other Europeans.

The Portuguese in the East were facing a different problem. They were weaker than the Spanish, and were meeting civilizations and religions far stronger than those of Inca and Aztec.

The size of the task was not at first understood. In some places in the East the pace of conversion was as rapid as in the Americas. In the Philippines the Spaniards achieved the outstanding success of all the eastern missions: 400,000 converts by 1585, about two million by 1620. Manila was founded in 1571, had a bishop from 1579, an archbishop from 1595, a Dominican university from 1619. It was natural that expectations everywhere should be sanguine.

Francis Xavier from Goa to (Cape Comorin) Kanyakumari

He embarked from Lisbon in 1541 with three companions as the Pope’s Vicar for all the coasts of the Indian ocean, and he had support from the King of Portugal (all Portuguese officials were ordered to support him).

A plain-speaking aristocrat, equally comfortable in a south German court, he went to Goa. From Goa, where he found a bishop, a cathedral, convents, and numerous churches already flourishing, he moved to Travancore, thence to Malacca and the Malay peninsula, thence to Amboina, and back to Travancore. In 1549 he sailed from Goa to Japan, accredited with letters to the sovereign. After preaching in the streets or disputing with the monks for two years, he determined to convert China as a preliminary to converting Japan. To secure the requisite authority he returned to Goa. But he found it difficult to get further than Singapore, tried to smuggle himself into Canton, and died on the Chinese coast near Macao late in 1552….

‘All things to all men’ was a motto familiar to Xavier who rapidly felt himself at home and at ease among Hindus or Muslims or Japanese..

He followed the method of mass conversion. On the fishers’ coast near Cape Comorin he wandered from village to village accompanied by his interpreters. He would gather the villagers together by ringing a handbell, and recite the creed, and the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Hail Mary, which had already been translated into Tamil. When the audience, after a few days or weeks, had sufficiently learnt the words and professed their belief in the articles of the creed, he baptized them, and went on baptizing until his hands sank with exhaustion……

It was extraordinary that a single man should have succeeded in opening so many doors.

The Problem of the Great Religions

In the East the evangelists confrontered a task of which the American missions  knew nothing – the great religions. The Jesuits, who in 1579 went to the court of the Great Mogul, Akbar, found that their Christian worship was acceptable in the temple which he had built at Fatehpur-Sikhri, but they must share the building with Parsees, Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.

Christian Iconoclasm and the destruction of Buddha’s tooth in Goa

An alleged tooth of the Buddha was brought to Goa in 1560, and thought a bankrupt government wanted to accept an offer of £100,000 from a rajah, the archbishop stepped in to destroy the relic.

The Spaniards in America and in the Philippines followed the principle that all the old religions must be destroyed as being heathen, that thus the new might enter in all its purity. The Bishop of Manila in the Philippines forced the Chinese converts to cut off their queues and wear their hair like the Spaniards, as a visible sign that they were freed from heathenish customs. ‘I longed,’ wrote the Jesuit Vilela in 1571, after he had seen the worshippers dancing at the Shinto shrine of Kasuga in Japan, ‘I long to have had a second Elijah there to do what he did to the priests of Baal.’

But in the religious circumstances of India and China, this Hebraic and exclusive tradition within Christendom began for the first time to be challenged or modified………..

Goan Christanity:

As the other religions became better know, the question of practise became crucial. The Spanish had hardly been troubled; they discouraged all old practises, and turned their converts, not only into Christians, but into Spaniards. The Portuguese tried the same policy in Goa. The original Portuguese catechism for India translated the question ‘Do you want to become a Christian?’ as ‘Do you want to join the caste of the Europeans?’ But the policy was soon found impossible, and their missionaries must therefore decide which of the social customs of Japanese, Chinese, or Indian was merely social and civil, which were religious but capable of a Christian meaning, and which were incompatible with receiving baptism.

In China reverence for ancestors and in India caste was integral to the social system……

The Christian Brahmins of Madurai

The example of Ricci’s method of evangelism was followed with resounding success by two Jesuits, Alexander de Rhodes in Indochina and Robert de Nobili in South India.

From 1606 Nobili conducted a mission at Madurai. He had himself taught by a Sannyasi, a penitent of the Brahman caste, dressed himself in the saffron robe of the Brahman ascetic, shaved his head and wore earrings, lived as a hermit in a turf hut upon a vegetarian diet. The Brahmans began to admire him as a holy man, and ended by recognising him as one of themselves.

He wrote in the Tamil language works in which the Hindu wisdom and the Christian were brought into harmony. He composed Christian poems which resembled the ancient Vedic hymns. He allowed his Brahman converts to continue wearing the sacred thread and to celebrate certain Hindu feasts; in the school which he opened, he allowed pagan rites to be continued and he respected Hindu prejudices over caste; he allowed no outcaste to touch his person, and if he needed to administer the sacrament to a member of an inferior caste, he proffered the Host at the end of a little stick.

It is not surprising that some of his fellow Europeans were shocked, and a long succession of denunciations went back to Rome. In 1618 he was brought before the court of the Archbishop of Goa and astounded the court by appearing in the garb of a Brahman ascetic. ‘The case of the Malabar rites’ was referred to Rome. In 1623 Rome refused to condemn Nobili, ’till further information was available’ and he continued to extend this unusual and successful evangelism until there were twenty-six Brahman converts among the 4,000 Christians of Madurai.

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An Eye transplant and a Pound of Flesh

An article from a Sri Lanka newspaper.

By Bhante Dhammika of Australia

Sibi is a small rural town in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province and like many such places it has little to recommend it. It is occasionally the scene of terrorist attacks by Balochi separatists, it has no forts, palaces or ancient ruins that might attract tourists from outside, and it often records the highest temperatures in Pakistan. But as unlikely as it may seems this woebegone, dusty town was once the setting for one of Buddhism’s most enduring and beautiful legends.

Depiction of the  Sivi Jataka from Gandhara, 5th century CE

 

 

 

In ancient times it was the capital of the small city state of Aritthapura and at one time was ruled by a king named Sivi or sometimes Sibi or Shibi. This king gets a mention in the Mahabharata and the Cholas of south India claimed to be descendants of him, a claim that had no basis in fact.

The earliest mention of King Sivi however is from the Jataka, in the Sivi Jataka, number 499 of the collection. According to this story the Bodhisattva was once reborn as King Sivi and he had made a vow to give anything if anyone asked it of him. Aware of this vow, Sakra decided to test the king to see how genuine his vow was. He manifest himself as a blind man and approached the king pleading; “Give me sight. Will no one give me sight?” Hearing this, filled with compassion, and determined to fulfil his vow, the king led the blind man to a surgeon and asked that his own eyes be taken out and transplanted into the sunken sockets of the blind man. At this point the Jataka increases the tension of the story by having the surgeon ask the king; “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” But the king is adamant and requests that the operation proceeds. What follows is a fairly explicit description of how the eyeballs were squeezed from their sockets, how the optic nerve (or is it the extraocular muscles?) is severed, and the pain this caused. Before the surgeon severs the optic nerve for good he again asks; “Are you sure you want me to do this? Once I cut it there is no turning back.” The king, now in terrible pain, begs the surgeon to hurry up and do the needful. The scene is so vivid that one is tempted to think that the ancient Indians may have actually tried to perform such an operation. As happens in most such Jatakas, the drama ends well with the king’s sight being restored.

In later Buddhist Sanskrit text there is another version of this story. Here King Sibi makes a vow that he will do whatever he can to save a life should the need ever arise. Saka manifests himself as a hawk who catches a dove within view of the king. Seeing this the king pleads with the hawk to release its prey but the bird retorts: “Then how am I to feed myself and my young?” The king thinks for a moment and then says; “I will cut some flesh from my thigh and give it to you if you let the dove go.” Driving a hard bargain the hawk agrees but says it wants the same amount of flesh as would have been provided by the dove. The king agrees, a pair of scales are produced and the process of slicing off a dove’s-worth of flesh is about to begin when Sakka reveals himself and expresses his satisfaction that King Sibi has had the courage to go through with his vow.

Although the imagery of cutting eyes balls out of their sockets or slicing flesh off a living person are disconcerting, even shocking, the purpose of both versions of this Jataka story is clear. A true hero will be prepared to sacrifice much of himself or herself for others. Jesus said pretty much the same thing in the Gospel of John: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Depiction of the Sivi Jataka from the Borobudur temple, 11th century CE.

The Sivi version of the story is depicted in a relief from Sarnath and Nagajunakonda in Andhra Pradesh, in a mural on the walls of the Mulkirigala temple in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

This version has had an unexpected consequence. Sri Lanka has the highest number of people willing to donate their corneas after death to be used to help restore sight to the blind. This is due to campaigning starting in 1964 by the Sri Lanka Eye Donation Society and also because Buddhists in the country  are familiar with the story of King Sivi’s gift. The society has 450 branches in the country and every year is able to provide thousands of corneas to be used in eye surgery around the world.

The alternative Sibi version of the story is depicted in the art of numerous Buddhist countries. Perhaps the most well-known of these is the depiction on one of the panels of the great Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Java. In the middle of the panel a pair of large and impressive scales can be seen and in the right hand dish of the scales the dove is waiting to be weighed against the king’s flesh. This version of the story has had an influence too, although in literature rather than medicine.

In around 1597 William Shakespeare wrote his famous play The Merchant of Venice. In the play a young merchant promises to guarantee a loan his friend plans to take out in order to woo his sweetheart. The agreement is that if the loan, which is given without interest, cannot be repaid by a set date the moneylender will be repaid not in cash but with a pound (about 450 grams) of the guarantor’s flesh. The moneylender has made this stipulation because he secretly hates the guarantor and hopes that he will not be able to repay the money. The date passes without the loan being repaid and the moneylender demands his pound of flesh. The lender is soon able to repay the loan and even offers to double the amount rather have his flesh cut off, but the moneylender demands that the original agreement be kept. He does not want the money, he wants the pound of flesh. They go to court and the judges uphold the original agreement but they also decide that moneylender can have his pound of flesh but without shedding a drop of blood, which would be a criminal offence under the law.

This is one of Shakespeare’s most dramatic plays and the origin of the ideas in it have been explored in great detail. Its chief source was Giovanni Fiorentino’s llPecorone written in 1378. But where did Fiorentino get the idea of cutting off flesh of a certain weight to repay a loan? The simple answer is that no one knows. But the idea is so gripping, so iconic, so unusual, that one cannot help thinking that at some time before the 14th century, probably many centuries earlier, it may have travelled from India, through the Middle East and eventually filtered into Europe. If this is correct, it may be a small contribution Buddhist literature made to the works of Shakespeare.

The story of King Sibi endured for centuries despite the disappearance of Buddhism in India. In 1907 M. Longworth Dames published his Popular Poetry of the Baloches, containing English translations of verses, songs and poetry he had transcribed in the Balochi tongue during the previous decades. One of the poems he recorded in 1884 is immediately recognizable as the Jataka story, only the king is a Muslim named Ali.

But to return to the town of Sibi. In a semi-desert area to the south of the town is a collection of ruins. One of these looks suspiciously like it was once a stupa. We know that there was such a monument somewhere in or near the town because the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang mentioned one in his travelogue, erected “where King Sivika sliced his body to ransom a dove from a hawk, in order to acquire Buddhahood.” No archaeological examination has ever been done to determine the date and purpose of this monument, and probably never will be. But it is quite likely that it is what remains of the stupa erected to commemorate King Sivi’s noble deed.

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