Kushal Mehra is one of Hinduism’s and atheism’s greatest thought leaders and scholars. Kushal does not identify as Hinduttva and describes himself as non left. However he is deeply respected by Hinduttva people and knows many of her leaders. He is a Hindu Atheist. Of the 10 ancient Darshanas (or sights or views or philosophies) of Hinduism he follows Chaarvaaka. [Other philosophies include Buddhism, Jainism, Samkhya/Yoga, Purva Mimaamsaa/Uttara Mimaamsaa, Nyaaya/Vaisheshika, Ajivika]
Ali and Armin are two heroes of the world’s 1.6 billion muslim heritage global community. I am only 4 minutes into the above video but intend to watch and comment on it.
This is to address some of the comments here about hinduism/vedanta/enlightenment etc made here, twiter and the other article about Hindutava by Annan.
I am frequently surprised by how much difference there is in “web” hindutva/hinduism (including this blog) and on the ground Hinduism/Hindutva. Let us be very very clear the ethnicity and traditions from which on the ground hindutva is driven. It isnt driven by high level intellectualism which has been professed here/ twitter etc. Its driven on the ground by Hindu conformists/ conservatives of North Indian stock. There is nothing problematic about it. But let us be at least honest about it. In India because every “hindu” community is so large that they feel what they profess is real “Hinduism”. I have met Bengali “hindu” and Tam Brahm who possess no electoral power back in their own state go on and on teaching others about Hindutva/Hinduism. The hindutva world does not run for better or for worse on Tukaram/ Adi Shankracharya/ Vivekanda/Charvaka. Had it been then Arya Samaj would have been bigger than RSS. It runs on Ram /Hanuman and for females(Durga). It projects masculinity(again not a value judgement) and not on “enlightenment” values/intellectualism. Its not run by hindu “free thinkers” like the ones we find over the internet. The web space is not projecting the real face (positive or negative) of the movement on how its conducted on the ground. Please lets separate what we want and our own projection over the movement and our analysis on what the movement really is. The day some other “Hindu” movement (led by Slapstick Teasari and Annan) becomes bigger than the current one i will happily accept that.
ISNArecently had a meeting in Houston. Many of the “muslim” attendees were closet atheist ex muslims, atheist muslims, liberal muslims and minority muslims. Most of them treated ex muslim atheists respectfully and warmly. The extent to which even ISNA–which until recently was a conservative muslim organization–has moved on LBGTQ, atheism, European enlightenment liberalism, human rights, shariah, Islamism, Jihad, feminism is remarkable. Now in America, Canada, India even conservative mosques have meetings where they discuss how to interact with atheist ex muslims. Part of the reasons suggested in the panel discussion is because muslim Americans in particular socio-economically outperform caucasian Americans. But whatever the reason might be, atheist ex-muslims have received less push back from muslims than expected. And this is good.
However nonmuslims have treated atheist ex muslims with great anger, racism, bigotry, prejudice and sectarianism. For example Starbucks asked atheist ex muslims to leave their coffee shop. The extent of anger is so intense, that even ex muslims’ historic allies and friends–prominent global atheist organizations–have asked the atheist ex muslims to get out. Atheists are too afraid of backlash from xenophobic nonmuslims. Some of the reasons the three wise one (Ali, Armin and Muhammed Syed) speculated for why include:
Racism of low expectations. Authentic darkies can only support Islamists because they are not advanced enough or mature enough to support moderates, liberals or atheists. So nonmuslims need to back Islamists against moderates.
Only accept Islamists as “real muslims” or muslim leaders. Moderate muslims are not “real muslims” and are not muslim leaders.
“white guilt” which can only be assuaged by backing Islamists against moderate muslims
Only “white people” and non muslim Asians are powerful enough to influence or cause anything in the world. Everyone else is not powerful, intelligent or wise
Syed said that only “white people” matter
Ali says “America is not the only country in the world”
Only condemn white imperialism or non muslim Asian imperialism [I have seen young idealistic do gooder caucasian females condemn Japanese imperialism or Hinduism/Buddhism imperialism or the Chinese “rape” of Africa]
Islamist imperialism and empire is celebrated and fetished by many nonmuslims
Antifa, Black Panthers and Communists attacked the ex muslim atheists and were chanting the muslim azaan in a horrendous accent.
Muslim ISNA participants were horrified and scared by the crazies; and couldn’t believe they were on the side of muslims
A new video with footage about the Houston crazies is about to come out.
Tom Holland’s latest book is about the slow recovery of Western Europe between 900 and 1100 AD, a period that he sees as the beginning of Western Europe’s transformation from a decaying and dilapidated backwater to the mastery of the world. Tom Holland clearly thinks Christianity had much to do with this rise and presents the violent elimination of paganism in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe as positive achievements of the age. This is mostly done not by direct editorializing; it is done by using the language of the invading Christians (not as quotes from ancient books but as the text of the book itself) to describe the pagans. What the pagans thought of this transformation is rarely mentioned or is explicitly presented as a quote, not as the author’s own text.
He sort of claims that this great transformation had something to do with rising apocalyptic expectations about the end of the first Christian Millennium, the disappointment of which was followed by the channelization of these energies into this-worldly revival and expansion. He does not really prove this hypothesis and it may be that it is mostly a device to frame the book and is not taken completely seriously by Tom Holland himself. Certainly I more or less ignored it while reading the book and you can get some value out of the book without paying this theory any mind either.
(The book’s Amazon.com intro presents this as the central thesis of the book: “At the approach of the first millennium, the Christians of Europe did not seem likely candidates for future greatness. Weak, fractured, and hemmed in by hostile nations, they saw no future beyond the widely anticipated Second Coming of Christ. But when the world did not end, the peoples of Western Europe suddenly found themselves with no choice but to begin the heroic task of building a Jerusalem on earth.” I did not find it convincing and I think you can ignore it too). That said, the book is still fun to read. Tom Holland always wants to make history fun, to tell stories, to quote contemporary accounts and to paint vivid pictures of life in those times. He is always interesting, but the reader will have to read other books to find out if the slant presented here is the most reasonable one or if Mr Holland is letting his storytelling side (or his Christian/English side) dictate how events and characters are presented.
There is definitely an element of subtly (and occasionally not-so-subtly) challenging the more “woke” interpretations of history that are currently popular in some elite Western universities. He wants the readers to see Christianity (specifically Catholicism) as an overall force for good (separation of church and state, suppression of elite violence, etc) and as an important source of cultural unity, growth and creativity in those troubled time. He is not necessarily wrong about this, but he rarely makes a solid evidence-based case case (with alternative views systematically evaluated and rejected) for his preferences, relying instead on eloquence and (selective?) presentation to convince the reader.
If you don’t mind (or already approve of) his Christian and “Eurocentric” viewpoint, this is the book for you. Even if you do mind, it is a very entertaining read, full of zany anecdotes and interesting factoids. A reasonably good overview of the age and worth a read. But it will be a good idea to read other books about the period before you decide that the trends were exactly as described in this book.
Buddhism is probably the best demonstration of Indian Soft Power ever. It’s fascinating though how quickly Buddhism detached itself from the Bihari(?) Motherland.
Shockingly I just noticed on the map that Mindanao Island was a focal point for Buddhism. In some way Hindu-Buddhist culture among the Malay peoples lay the foundation for Islam.
The Hindu-Buddhist cultural revolution was strongest in the coastal areas of the island, but were incorporated into local animist beliefs and customs tribes that resided more inland. The Rajahnate of Butuan, a fully Hindu kingdom mentioned in Chinese records as a tributary state in the 10th century AD, was concentrated along the northeastern coast of the island around Butuan. The Darangen epic of the Maranao people harkens back to this era as the most complete local version of the Ramayana. The Maguindanao at this time also had strong Hindu beliefs, evidenced by the Ladya Lawana (Rajah Ravana) epic saga that survives to the modern day, albeit highly Islamized from the 17th century on wards.
Sultanates and Islam
The spread of Islam in the Philippines began in the 14th century, mostly by Muslim merchants from the western part of the Malay Archipelago. The first Mosque in the Philippines was built in the mid-14th century in the town of Simunul. Around the 16th century, Muslim sultanates: Sulu, Lanao and Maguindanao were established from formerly Hindu-Buddhist Rajahnates.
As Islam gained a foothold over most of Mindanao, the natives residing within the Sultanates were either converted into Islam or obligated to pay tribute to their new Muslim rulers. The largest of the Muslim settlements was the Sultanate named after the Maguindanaoans. Maps made during the 17th and 18th centuries suggest that the name Mindanao was used by the natives to refer to the island, by then Islam was well established in Mindanao and had influenced groups on other islands to the north.[dubious – discuss]It intersected with another random thought of mine when I saw the below video (Happy Janmashtami):
Osho talks about Lord Krishna’s “material detachment” (which to me sounds a bit stark) but I immediately guessed Osho was a UPite. I was right, he’s from MP and born to Jain parents (apparently there is a strain of Jainism in Bundelkand).
My intuition just came about because I feel there is a sweet spot for philosophical and religious development in the Hindi CowBelt (BIMARU). Extremely dense populations, relatively low material standards (compared to the coast) and insulated from foreign influences (when we think about westernised India, we mainly think Mumbai).
Like the oceanic churn of early Hindu mythology so in the same way this belt churns out religions and philosophies that “catch on” to the outer world.
It touches on as well about the “Inward Looking” nature of India in contrast to the more “Outward Looking” nature of Pakistan (the same terms apply in Academia as well). The rather frenetic nature of Pakistan struggling in the Great Geopolitical Games may echo its ancient geography as being a crossroads of sort; one of the many roads to India.
Due to the events of the last millennia when foreign incursions have shifted India’s geographic focus to the Punjab-Delhi axis it may be more worthwhile for India to start projecting as an “Indian Ocean Hegemon” as opposed to leaving it clear for the Chinese. Being caught up in Central Asian intrigue isn’t necessarily the most optimal path for India because the Islamic world forms an ideological wall to Indian/Hindu concepts in the way that the Far East doesn’t..
It parallels how keenly Indians are in emphasizing Pakistan’s (and sometimes Afghanistan) “Indianess” but seem extraordinarily ambivalent about Bangladesh (instead they complain about “Bangladeshi infiltrators”).
It makes me ponder that Pakistani Non-Muslims (of the upper and middle stratas) sometimes have it better than Indian Muslims. Pakistan is explicitly a Mughal-Muslim Republic and once one buys into that preliminary identity, it’s easy to become accepted (I’m excepting the lower stratas who have immense difficulties). However like Israel India is also trying to maintain it’s liberal credentials and therefore there is much majoritarian resentment towards the “privileges” of the minority. Therefore Muslims are always perceived as some sort of 5th column. If for instance the Bangladeshi emigrants in the North-East were never allowed the vote then it would be a Gulf Khaleej type situation where 80% of the population could be disenfranchised but no one would be too bothered about it because it was more about the economics than politics anyway. However India refuses to budge from it’s Nehruvian firmanents and that actually makes her susceptible to populism..
I’m reading a book titled The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History. It’s works within the postcolonial framework. Unlike a lot of postcolonial scholarship it isn’t bluster and rhetoric riddled with basic historical errors. The author presents a lot of interesting facts. But, as I’ve said elsewhere I disagree with the thesis of the book, which is that modern Islamic identity can be understood primarily through its interaction with European colonialism.
This isn’t to say colonialism doesn’t matter. It does matter. It’s just that Muslims are not inactive substrate upon which European agents operate. Muslims, and Islam as a civilization, has its own life, orientation, and self-conceptions, which exist somewhat apart from Europeans, and the West (I say somewhat because it is hard to understand the modern West and Islam without their coevolutionary dance over the centuries). Colonialism did not create the idea of the Muslim world de novo, it operated upon the idea of the Ummah which predated the modern West, and in fact emerged in tension with the ancient late antique Near East and Turan in the 7th and 8th centuries AD.
But this post is not about Islam. From the comments:
The big tragedy during the unmitigated disaster that was the partition upon the Hindus, many realized was that while there was a thing known as Ummah, there was no such thing as the Hindus. There are Muslims, but they are actually the largest plurality. There was no such thing as the Hindus. There was the Brahmins. There was the Namashudra. There was the Punjabi. There was the Thakur…
This to my mind is a much stronger position to defend than the ideas above in relation to Islam. To a great extent modern day, Hindu nationalism seems to be about creating an analog to the Dar-ul-Islam and Christendom for Hindus, many centuries after Muslims and Christians. But, I do think I disagree with this. It seems clear that Megasthenes, al-Biruni, and Faxian all had a sense of Indians, or Hindus as we were all called then, as a distinct, albeit variegated, people.
Hinduism as a particular confession with a creedal orientation is a relatively recent affair. Perhaps you can date it to Adi Shankara. Or even as late as Arya Samaj. That doesn’t matter. Hinduism as a distinctive civilization of Indians, with consistent particular unifying beliefs, is very ancient and dates to antiquity.
One might object that this only applies to the twice-born varna. But the Maurya were like of sudra origin. And South Indian polities welcomed Brahmins, who they clearly saw as part of their civilization, albeit different and apart.
Of course one might change the goalposts with some semantics. I myself liked to be clever and would say that Hinduism was invented by Muslims or Westerners a few years ago. But thinking more deeply, I think that that was just a stylistic pose by me, attempting to burnish my heterodoxy, as opposed to reflecting the first order substance.
Addendum: Genetics is now making it clear to me that the matrix of “Dravidian” and “Indo-Aryan” proto-India were closely connected and emerged around the same time, probably in tension, conflict, and interaction. Religious ideas we’d term “Hindu” probably didn’t exist 4,000 years ago, but the openness of South and North India to engagement and cultural exchange in the historical period is not I think coincidental, but reflects primal commonalities derived from the tumult in the centuries after the decline of the IVC.
Please watch this short excerpt from a conversation between my main man in the house Veedu Vidz and Shaykh Shabbir Ally.
Veedu Vidz is one of Hindustan’s brightest sons, hottest heart throbs, most talented thesbians, funniest comedians, most enlightened leaders, wisest Islamic theologians and Brown Pundit favorites. He now lives in the UK with his beautiful wife and youtube sensation Mimzy Vidz. Shaykh Shabbir Ally is also one of Hindustan’s greatest lights. He is one of the world’s leading Murdhids or Islamic scholars.
This post is aimed at not so bright nonmuslims who back Islamist extremists against reasonable muslims (such as Shaykh Shabbir Ally) and muslimish leaders (such as Veedu Vidz and the ever elegant Mimzy Vidz). Let me summarize the wise Shaykh Shabbir Ally for you:
Blasphemy and apostasy laws (such as those that require the recitation of pbuh after the name of the holy prophet, or don’t allow visual depictions of the holy prophet pbuh) are unislamic and should be ended.
The holy Koran is consistent with freedom of religion, art, thought and speech.
Mohammed pbuh use to follow Jewish law in absence of specific divine guidance since Mohammed pbuh considered Jewish law to be divinely ordained and better than nothing. Many of the Hadiths show Mohammed pbuh following Jewish law and can be discarded.
Mohammed pbuh probably stopped stoning adulterers when the Koran revealed that the punishment for adulterers should be different [and in AnAn’s opinion lighter].
Many Islamist interpretations of the Islamic Shariah jurisprudence are not based on the holy Koran and can be discarded.
I 100% agree with the wise Shaykh about all of this. All global hate speech laws, demonetization of videos, or removal of videos regarding Islam should be ended immediately. All discussion of Islam and criticism of Islam should be allowed. The nonsensical phrase “Islamaphobia” needs to be retired. Muslims are mature enough not to be offended and engage in respectful dialogue. Muslims don’t need to be condescendingly pretentiously patronizingly infantalized or “protected”.
Every muslim in the world is entitled to freedom of art, thought, intuition and feeling. Once this happens Muslims and spiritual nonmuslims will automatically engage in dialogue with Islamist jihadi extremists and melt their hearts with the sweetness of love. The fourteen century Islamic civil war will end and the world will sing with joy.
Nonmuslims; first understand . . . then adjust. Please be slightly curious about Islam and learn the slightest bit about Islam before trying to “help” muslims. Please try to transform and improve yourself so that you have the ability to help others. Now you might ask, how can I learn about Islam and muslims? Good question. Right question. Please watch this discussion between six of the world’s leading Islamic theologians (I would rather our very own Brown Pundit resident Murshid Razib Khan was included too but it was not to be):
Please watch this short Joe Rogan [Intellectual Dark Web extraordinaire] interview clip. Only about 29% of US High School graduates meet the minimum academic, physical health and IQ requirements to join the US military. Note that if high school dropouts were added the percentage would drop markedly. Less than 10% of US High School graduates are qualified for many branches of the US military. Note that the physical fitness requirements to join the US military are a joke, to put it very politely. Is America in the words of Charles Murray “Coming Apart” across class lines? Physical health and exercise are strongly correlated with academic performance, career and business outcomes:
The interview discusses how health outcomes, exercise, sports (including formal JV and Varsity High School Sports) are declining rapidly among American children. Sadly this deterioration of physical health might be leading to an increasing percentage of people around the working in “Bullshit Jobs” that don’t add value to society:
What is worse they are forced to pretend to add value and lie, which contributes to growing depression and mental health challenges (an article series on this is planned):
In eastern philosophy for thousands of years it has been believed that physical health (Sharira Siddhi), mental health (Chitta Shuddhi), and intelligence (Buddhi) can be increased by exercise, stretching, breathing, meditation (which I believe simulates the effect of modern brain therapy), sound brain therapy (Naad or Mantra Yoga), and serving others. [My hope is that researchers vigorously test all these hypothesis with data:]
This is why PM Modi of India is trying to offer Yoga classes in every school student in India:
Why is America not similarly pushing for sports, martial arts, dance, gymnastics, exercise, stretching, breathing, meditation (brain therapy), sound brain therapy and better nutrition among poor children and the children of the lower middle class? Is it because of fear of the post modernist mostly caucasion intelligentsia? Is it for fear of being accused of victim blaming, racism, bigotry, sectarianism, prejudice, Nazism, Fascism, hegemony, exploitation, oppression, imperialism, colonialism, patriarchy, male misogyny, hate? Does anyone have any ideas on how to encourage character and good behavior among children without being accused of peddling an oppressive meta narrative and universalist norm? There is incredible fear to discuss culture in America:
It is possible that I am misunderstanding the zeitgeist and that there are other larger factors preventing American K-12 kids from eating healthy, exercising, meditating and listening to transcendent music?
If so, please let me know through your comments. This article, the fifth in the Post Modernist article series, is a plea for understanding rather than arguing a specific causation. Thanking all readers in advance for your insights and wisdom 🙂
I am not adding anything extra with this short news item, I think the news speaks eloquently and voluminously by itself. I just want to add that I feel utterly humble when I consider how much courage and determination people like Jibran Nasir possess to do what he is doing day after day in a place like Pakistan.
Rare secular candidate in Pakistan hounded by angry mob
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – It began with a audience members asking Pakistani parliamentary candidate Jibran Nasir to declare his religion at a public forum, a request he politely refused on the grounds it is irrelevant.
Later, the mobs started showed up. In the past week, three of Nasir’s public meetings in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, have been disrupted by religious hardliners – shouting out and shoving his supporters.
Nasir, a human rights lawyer, is a rare breed in Pakistan: an avowedly secular, progressive candidate in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 208 million, where most parties appeal to an Islamic vote bank.
His independent candidacy is in stark contrast to the prevailing mood of Pakistan’s campaign, which has seen the rise of new ultra-right Islamist parties campaigning on protecting draconian blasphemy laws and denouncing the persecuted Ahmadi sect.
Liberal and secular-minded Pakistanis say the sheer number of religious party candidates, combined with their ultra-conservative rhetoric, has already shifted the agenda in their direction.
Nasir aims to challenge the prevalent extremist discourse.
“Our campaign is bigger than just my win… What it is symbolizing for the people is a change in narrative,” he told Reuters.
“That challenging extremists is possible … not using religion to get votes is possible.”
Since launching his campaign, a number of clerics in Karachi have branded Nasir a blasphemer from the pulpit, a dangerous accusation in Pakistan that can lead to the death penalty, and labeled him an Ahmadi, a sect they consider heretics.
On Saturday, a mob of people chanting slogans associated with the new ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan party, which campaigns under the “death to blasphemers” rallying cry, descended on his public meeting, crowding around Nasir and intimidating his supporters.
“I believe it’s being done in a very organized manner,” Nasir said. “Our politics should be free from compromise, fear, and discrimination.”
Labaik spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi said his party “did not send anyone to do this”, adding that people running in elections should declare their faith.
Nasir gained nationwide prominence in 2014 after staging protests against the Red Mosque, the Islamabad center of a militant network with links to Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the northwest and in neighboring Afghanistan.
The mosque was the site of a military standoff in 2007, but within two years its chief cleric was freed from detention and was once again calling for strict Islamic rule across Pakistan.
The mosque campaign earned Nasir a phone call and death threats from a high-ranking Taliban commander.
“We are doing it for the millions of Pakistanis … who right now are forced to choose amongst the lesser of evils, who are willing to embrace different political leaders with all their biases and religious bigotry,” he said.
“Every day I am carrying on with my mission, they are making a fool of themselves.”
Is the famous Mount Soma another name for Mount Narodnaya? I don’t know. Many have been trying to identify the famous Mountain Soma–which appears in so much of ancient Arya literature and is one of the most important sources of Arya culture. Mount Soma is in Uttara Kuru. Soma, also called Chandra, is synonymous with the moon. Which means that the moon, and Monday (Moon Day or Selene Day or Luna Day), are very closely connected with this mountain. The famous Chandra vamsha or Soma vamsha (or Jati of Moon and Monday) originates from Mount Soma.
Long ago the seventh Manu (Vaivasvata Manu or progenitor of hominids) had a son called Ishvaku, father of the Surya Vamsha (or Jati). For tens of thousands of years hominids came from the Ishvaku dynasty, including during the time of the Ramayana. Then, based on my interpretation of the texts, tens of thousands of years later a new hominid came called Illa. Illa, another daughter of Vaivasvatu Manu, lived for many, many generations of normal humans (which suggests that she is a different species, or alien, or had some type of advanced medical technology to avoid aging, or was born multiple times the way the Dalai Lama is.) She was a great proponent and practitioner of daily gender fluidity, changing gender hundreds of times. At times she was androgynous with no gender or parts of both genders. There are many Ardhanarishvara class beings in the east. In fact the goal of spiritual practice in the eastern philosophy is to transform ourselves into an Ardhanarishvara. To be a perfect man and perfect woman at once. Eventually transcending all philosophies, all genders, all concepts, all forms and all qualities.
Illa had many children, both as a mother, father and androgynous being. Her son Pururavas was also from Mount Soma (associated with the Moon). He married the Apsara (or different branch of hominid or non hominid or alien) Urvaśi. As an aside Illa answered some of the most asked questions of all time:
Is it better to be a man or a woman?
Who enjoys life better?
Who enjoys reproduction more?
For readers slow on the uptick, the obvious answer to these much asked questions is very simple . . . woman. This is yet another reason woman are considered far superior to men in the east. [Krishna said that woman have seven divine qualities versus men having only three divine qualities.]
Let me posit a hypothesis for consideration and testing. Might the Surya Vamsha be an allegorical reference to the south east Asian branch of humans from 50,000 to 75,000? Might Chandra Vamsha be a reference to the the Iranian or Turan farmer from around 9,000 years ago? How can these hypothesis be tested?
What is Mount Soma, which along with Mount Kailash is central to Eastern and Arya philosophy? Other than Mount Narodnaya what other tall mountains west or north of South Asia could it be? Note that Sugreeva says not to go north of Mount Soma. Could this be because of the northern Polar ice cap? Are the areas north of Mount Soma a reference to Aurora Borealis?
“On passing beyond that mountain in Uttara Kuru, there is a treasure trove of waters, namely vast of Northern Ocean, in the mid of which there is gigantic golden mountain named Mt. Soma. Those who have gone to the sphere of Indra, and those who have gone to the sphere of Brahma can clearly see that lordly Mt. Soma, situated in the vast of ocean from the vast of heavens. Even though that place is sunless it is comprehensible as if with sunshine, since it is illuminated with the resplendence of Mt. Soma itself, which will be irradiating that place as if with the resplendence of the Sun. The God and Cosmic-Souled Vishnu and Shambhu or Shiva, an embodiment of eleven selfsame Souls, called ekaadasha rudra-s , and the god of gods Brahma who is surrounded by Brahma-Sages, will be sojourning on that Mt. Soma.”
This suggests that Mount Soma is also a reference to deep personal mystical experience. Note that the eleven Rudras are a reference to Shiva. In the ancient Vedic Samhitas 33 gods are repeatedly referenced [12 Adityas + 8 Vasus + 11 Rudras + two others]. This has many layers of meaning which can only be understood through deep meditation. One layer of meaning is 33 sections of the spine. From a certain perspective the 33 Gods are when someone enters Samyama or Samadhi with respect to 33 different parts of the nervous system. This might also be linked to a common theory among neuroscientists that the human brain has 33 senses instead of 5 senses. Mount Soma is linked to Monday, the Moon, and the 8 Vasus (one of which is the moon).
A comment thread below discussed the issues relating to the historicity of Jesus, Muhammad, and Hindu figures such as Ram and Krishna. The assertion is that while Jesus and Muhammad are historical figures, Ram and Krishna are mythological.
To some extent, this is a religiously fraught topic. People from Abrahamic backgrounds are wont to dismiss Dharmic tradition as pagan, heathen, and yes, mythological. In many Abrahamic traditions pagan gods, a class into which Hindu deities are often bracketed, are emanations of true supernatural powers, but demonic ones. In the West, this tendency within Christianity has been pushed to the background. But it still exists in more conservative denominations and traditions.
Therefore, those who adhere to false and marginal religions have “myths.” Those who adhere to true and cultural dominant religions have “stories” or “narratives.” That is the cultural context which we must admit. Even in places where non-Abrahamic religions or traditions are dominant, the past few centuries of European cultural and imperial hegemony have imposed certain interpretive frameworks which are Abrahamic.
And yet that being said, as someone who believes all religious supernatural claims come from the realm of our minds, as opposed to reality, there is a qualitative difference between Jesus, Muhammad, and Ram and Krishna. If Ram and Krishna did exist, they are individuals who lived in “prehistory.” That is, from a period not accessible to us even at some remove through non-religious text. In this way, they are like Abraham or Zoroaster. In contrast, the Buddha, Confucius, Mahavira, and various figures in Hebrew legend and myth such as David, Solomon, and Jeremiah are liminal figures. The world in which they lived was stepping out of prehistory and archaeology, and into the written word, but it was not a fully-fleshed world.
Finally, you have the prophets and religious leaders who are “of history.” Jesus, along with Muhammed and Mani are generally agreed to be figures of history. But we don’t have contemporaneous records of their lives outside of religious traditions, and even in that case only from texts dated to later periods from when they flourished. This means that the context and the details of who these figures were may not align with what current religious tradition suggests and argues for their significance (though since Manichaeanism is dead as a living religion that is a separate case).
A common revisionist case for the nature of the “historical Jesus,” is that he was a Jewish reformer in the tradition of Rabbi Hillel. The emergence of a religion of universal salvation, as opposed to a different form of Judaism, was a process which then developed in the generations after the death of the historical Jesus, the Rabbi Yeshua ben Yosef. Roman Christianity as a sect cannot be understood without appreciating its birth in an Empire where syncretistic “mystery cults” were revolutionizing popular religious life (e.g., Mithraism). The elite Roman Christianity of the 3th to 6th centuries cannot be understood without the cultural priors brought to the religion by converts from aristocratic or educated backgrounds steeped in Greek philosophy (e.g., Origen, Athanasius, and in the West Augustine).
In short, a person around whom the legend and myth of Jesus grew almost certainly existed. But the Jesus of myth is to a great extent the creation of a Christianity which developed long after he died.*
Much the same can be said of Islam. A certain legend exists of Muhammad the warlord within Islamic traditions. But outside of these records, in the contemporaneous ones of the Byzantines, he is not noted (little remains of the records of the Persians and Ethiopians). This would not be surprising, because outside of modern Yemen, and the liminal zones of the Levant and the fringe of the desert on the western shore of the Euphrates, Arabia was of little consequence. So long as the spice flowed (e.g., frankincense), the goings on of the Arabs were not of note unless they impinged upon the civilized world.
And yet that did happen indeed, with the defeat of the Byzantines at Yarmouk and the Persians at al-Qādisiyyah. But as highlighted by revisionist scholars, the Byzantines took many decades to perceive in the Arab armies as anything but heretics and schismatics. This is also echoed in some ways in particular Islamic traditions which emphasize the relative impiety of the Umayyad Caliphate, denigrated in some sources as the “Arab Kingdom” due to its ethnocentric nature.
Compared to the later Abbasid period we don’t know much about the Umayyads. Part of the reason is that the winners write the histories, and the Abbasids won. In Hugh Kennedy’s The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live In, he argues that Muawiyah was clearly a far more influential and important figure in Islamic history than one might think from the attention he receives from classical scholars and thinkers. But that’s because the Shia detest him, while the Abbasids and the Sunni Islam which evolved under their aegis minimized him.
But there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that compared to the Abbasids the Umayyads were very much a skeletal barracks-state where Arabs imposed an ethnic dominion, rather than a religious one. Even in the Islamic histories, there are attestations of Christian Arab tribes who were exempt from the jizya tax, while mawlā individuals of Persian origin were subject to the same indignities of non-Muslim Persians.
In fact, archaeological evidence shows that Umayyads in Syria patronized the creation of mosaics which continued the Late Antique Hellenic visual tradition, depicting both humans and animals. And, Greek was the administrative language of the Umayyads for the first few generations. The last of the Church Fathers, John of Damascus, was a Greek-speaker of Syrian background who served as a civil official under the Umayyads in the years around 700 A.D. In contrast, the elite Barmakid family which was so prominent under the early Abbasids were of Buddhist background, but had to convert to Islam to become part of administrative apparatus which was becoming distinctively Muslim by this period.
All this is to set up the contention that Islam as we understand it, just like Christianity as we understand it, may actually not be the product of the first few decades of its flourishing as commonly understood, but of a later period when certain orthodoxies were understood and internalized, and grand narratives were later retroactively imposed. This aligns with the arguments in Lost Enlightenment and Warriors of the Cloisters that Islam, as we understand it today, was fundamentally shaped by the shift to the east initiated by the early Abbasids.
Which brings me to Mormonism, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Unlike Jesus or Muhammad, there is no great debate about the details about the life of the Joseph Smith, the prophet of the religion that became Mormonism. Smith was born in Greater New England, and the Mormon church emerged as a sect in the Restorationist Protestant tradition. Its cultural context was among the Yankees of the American North. Smith’s family had been involved in radical Christianity, in particular, the Universalist Church.
Over the decades of Smith’s life as leader of the church, and later after his death, his sect became a new religion, fundamentally different from the Protestant milieu in which it emerged. Mormon religion early on took a jaundiced view of Nicene Christianity, holding to the Restorationist perspective that all other Christian churches were fallen and corrupt. But Mormonism deviated by innovating and transforming its theology, away from the dominant orthodoxy as articulated by early thinkers such as Bishop Irenaeus.
Due to secret revelations late in Joseph Smith’s life, Mormon leaders developed a Christology which was fundamentally different from that of other Christian traditions. Rejecting Trinitarianism and much of Greek metaphysics, Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was God the Heavenly Father’s bodily son, with Lucifer being his rebellious brother. Additionally, God the Heavenly Father has a Heavenly Mother, who is his wife. Father and Mother live on a planet in this universe in physical bodies.
There is much more which is exotic and strange to non-Mormons, whether Christian or not, in their theology. But, because Mormonism has existed in the light of history non-Mormons can look upon its claims with a much more critical eye. It is obvious, to many, that early Mormonism was just another Restorationist Christian church. Why did Mormonism deviate so far from mainstream American Christianity in its beliefs and practices?
It is important to remember that Mormonism is simply the westernmost and most successful offshoot of Joseph Smith’s religion. The Community of Christ, previously known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, remained located in Missouri when most of the community migrated west. Under the leadership of the descendants of Joseph Smith, the midwestern Mormons eventually merged back into the mainstream of liberal Protestant Christianity. Why?
I suspect one of the reasons that this occurred is simply the fact that the western Mormons became a very distinct ethno-cultural community, geographically separated from other Americans. In contrast, the Midwestern Mormons remained just another church among churches, albeit with a peculiar origin. And, like many “independent churches” in Africa founded in the 20th century, as it matured and stabilized, it slowly moves back into the mainstream of the dominant tendency of American Protestantism (with a few doctrinal quirks).
Since I began talking about Hinduism and the Abrahamic religions, to Hinduism we come back. A lot of the discussion online (and on this weblog) is difficult to follow because there is Hinduism, and then there is Hinduism. Hinduism as the religion of the people of India is an old concept, and a generic one. But elite philosophical schools of Hinduism, such as Advaita Vedanta, crystallized much later, even down into the period when Muslims began to first make incursions into India.
I have alluded to here to the book The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. The focus on Greeks and Indians is due to the fact that aside from the Chinese these were the two ancient cultures which developed a fully elaborated philosophy that we in the modern world would understand, from metaphysics to ethics (Jewish and Persian philosophy in a distinctive sense tended toward religion).
Though they exhibited different biases and emphases, but it is clear that the Greeks saw in Indian “gymnosophists” kindred souls. The great Neoplatonist, Plotinus, reputedly inquired into the nature of Indian philosophy through meetings with scholars in Persia according to his classical biographers. The correspondence between Advaita Vedanta and Neoplatonism is rather clear, and probably due to a common set of monistic ideas which were in currency across the trading network between Alexandria and southern India, as well as through Persia, which spanned the edge of Roman Syria and into modern Pakistan, as well as ruling substantial Buddhist domains in Turan.
One of the generalizations often made about the development of Hinduism in the subcontinent over the past 1,000 years is that it is as if Islam did not even exist. That is, the indigenous religious traditions persisted and maintained themselves at such a remove that their evolutionary development was unperturbed by the exogenous cultural intrusion.
Crossing the Threshold: Understanding Religious Identities in South Asia, presents the argument that both Muslims and Hindus exhibited much more religious fluidity until the past few centuries. This is often argued in the context of peasant folk religion, where this is obviously true. But the author makes the case that groups like Hussaini Brahmins were much more numerous in earlier periods, especially before the emergence of a later Mughal orthodoxy under the aegis of Naqshbandi Sufis. Not only did this mean the forced conversion of many Ismailis to Sunni Islam, but also the shift of some liminal groups away from Islam and toward adherence to a Sanskritized Hindu identity. The reason for this is obvious: heretical or ghulatsects of Islam are viewed far more negatively by Sunni enforces of orthodoxy than Hindus, who were outside of the pale of Islamic writ in any case. This is analogous to the early decades of the Christian Roman Empire, when persecutions were directed primarily to heretical sects, rather than the pagan majority, which was neglected.
As must be clear by this point: Christians, Muslims, and though I have not addressed it, Jews, seem to have “cleaned” up their history.** In fact, one might even say they “retconned” their history so that present beliefs naturally lead from ancient beliefs, even though that is hard to see logically and empirically quite often where the ancient leads to the modern (e.g., reading the Synoptic Gospels, and then the Athanasian Creed, is confusing without any historical context). I believe that many modernist Hindus, living in a world of explicit and demarcated confessions, and formal beliefs and portable and digestible holy texts, have attempted to do something similar.
First, Hinduism becomes a religion of deep antiquity, despite its historical development over the past 2,000 years. Just as modern Muslims, Jews, and Christians look to the legendary Abraham, who lived 4,000 years ago, outside of the gaze of history, so modern Hindus look to the mythos of Ram, Krishna, and the Vedas, and built their house upon those rocks. This, despite the detachment of multitudinous folk Hinduisms from this ancient foundation, as well as the relatively tenuous connections of highly intellectualized philosophical Hinduism to the concrete and corporeal character of the early Vedas (Vedas venerated by vegetarian “Hindu fundamentalists” which clearly depict vigorous beef-eating warriors!).
Second, the localized diversity of Hinduism becomes flattened in an atomized world characterized by anomie. Just as ‘traditional’ Javanese Hinduism tends to flourish in the village, but not in the urban centers, so ‘traditional’ Hinduism of locality is not portable or plausible in the great fleshpots of modern India. Urban Hindus need something that gives them religious succor and is also in keeping with their understanding of their traditional origins. Something that is not a rupture from the past, but an extension and evolution. A “perfection” as Christians would say of Judaism and Salafi Muslims of traditional Islam.
Just as urban Indonesian Muslims who shift from abangan Islam to a more “orthodox” world-normative santri Islam view themselves as reclaiming a more pure and primal Islam, so it strikes me that modern Indians who adhere to a “Vedic religion,” stripped of locality and universalized and extended, create a mythos and narrative of reclamation, not innovation.
Over the 21st century, India will urbanize, and the villages will fade away in memory and with time. It is plausible that as this occurs modern urban Hinduism will produce a relatively standardized, and yes, deracinated, a spirituality which is more amenable to a people who move from one end of the country to another, as their professions take them on peregrinations over their lifetime.
To some extent the Abrahamic religions, and Buddhism, have already been through this. Torn away from a specific soil that nurtures them in a distinct local culture, these religious traditions have developed portable variants, which eventually become normative, uniting disparate peoples with distinct folkways. As India becomes its own world, and different cultures within it synthesize and merge, a need will develop for a more portable and flexible Hinduism. Both secular Hinduism and Hindu fundamentalism are faces of this transition, and both are likely the seeds of sectarian traditions which will wax and elaborate over the coming decades.
* Reading the Gospels, this is most clear in the writings of “John.” A grand and conceited figure, in contrast with the modest Jewish prophet of Mark.
** Orthodox Judaism as we understand really congealed in the 6th century with the Babylonian Talmud. Therefore, I argue it is a sister religion to Christianity, with both deriving from sects of Classical Judaism. Some scholars have in fact argued that Christianity is an extreme derivative of a form of Hellenistic Judaism!