Cross-cultural issues (1)

When people who had grown up or been acculturated in diverse environments come together, there may arise cultural tension, because of the manner in which human societies have developed over their histories. A strong distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’ seems to be the basal layer of human relationships. What triggers these tensions?

Normally, one is born into a collective, and is sustained in that collective until maturity. Then one becomes one of the legs upholding that collective. In most of Asia, even modernised Asia, this collective is the extended family, in its various forms and traditions. In the Ultra-West, the modern nations of the West created in recent centuries by European migrants, the collective is the nuclear family. The boundary of the Asian extended family will include three generations. The boundary of the nuclear family of the Ultra-West is most unlikely to include even the grandparents.

The cultural underpinnings and traditions of the communalism of the East are quite clearly identified, and enforceable in a subtle manner. Those of the individualism of the West are somewhat amorphous, yet effectively coherent, and apparently binding without coercion (except in the matter of religious conformity).

The reality in both situations is that there is a sense of belonging to a ‘tribe,’ especially when the ‘elders’ of this tribe, the priests and politicians, work hard at keeping separate their collective from other collectives. This separation implies the exercise of power or the display of superiority, reflecting competition for resources, or minds and souls. Fanciful? Or a realistic perception?

Competition between groups (or tribes) of Primitive Man or hunter/gatherer or nomad would have been over resources. Shamans and other self-appointed priests and their subsequently developed institutions, and god kings, would have sought power (and probably wealth). Add tribal leaders, the politicians, and there could result that basal relationship between ‘them’ and ‘us.’

With the ending of colonial rule in India, Ceylon, and Malaya, young people from these countries entered Australia in the early post-war period with, as I observed, no prejudice against white people as a whole. I was certainly taught not to be anti-British, while remaining anti-colonial. We had grown up within extended families in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-cultural territories where mutual co-existence and tolerance were evident; and we were educated.

We were also adequately acculturated to be superbly confident about our historical and cultural heritage. We did not expect the treatment we received in those early days when we landed in Australia.

Why did so many of the host-people display oral prejudice and discriminate against us, apparently because of our skin colour? We were well-dressed, and spoke courteously, and in educated English?

Was that the trigger? After demolishing the cultures of the First Peoples of Australia, demoralising them, and pushing them into a dim background, and in spite of not having been a colonial ‘power’, was the Anglo-Aussie affronted by the presence of educated and confident middle-class coloured young people paying their way?

 

 

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My exposure to Hinduism In Bali

My tour guide in Bali was a Brahmin (a Balinese Brahmin). His Indian ancestor had arrived in the 9th Century. When he discovered that I am a Hindu, he was delighted. Everywhere we went, he introduced me as ‘Indu’! The responses were most pleasing. I was one of them.

We first observed a cremation. It was in the open – like the one for my father in Malaya. Whereas I and my relatives were required to turn away when the pyre was lit, here people watched. The presiding priest then left. He did not walk. He was carried on a palanquin by 4 men.

As he passed me, our eyes met. He could have been one of my relatives – by skin colour, shape and size of head. Was he a throwback to the first arrival?

On another day, we arrived at a temple. On one of the 2 pillars at the open gate, was a small basin with a little scoop. I was the only passenger who had exited the tourist bus with my guide. At the pillar, he took down the basin, filled the tiny scop with the water in the basin. I knew what to do. I cupped my right hand over my left, and received about a teaspoon of the water. As I sipped the water, I heard the collective gasp from the other occupants of the bus. I then reversed the process. My guide sipped the water and sprinkled the surplus water over his forehead, just as I had done with my tiny surplus.
To me, the water was holy water. It could do me no harm. And it did not.

One afternoon, we witnessed the Ramayana depicted in a hotel. It was similar to the display I had witnessed in Buddhist Thailand.

Then occurred that annual day when no Balinese worked or went out. The place was strangely peaceful. On another day, I witnessed the procession of women carrying baskets of fruit on their heads on their way to their temple.

It was clear that the Balinese Hindus are as religious as are the Indians and Ceylonese of my experience. After the re-invigoration of Hinduism by the great Shankara in the 8th Century, this faith seems to have absorbed Buddhism. This would mean that, as one looked up to God, one would also look laterally at co-created fellow-humans, and with compassion.

As one who feels, deep within his soul, that he has been a Muslim, and Jew, and Christian in my many past lives, I am pleased to be a Hindu in this life. Hinduism is a useful religion in its concepts and cosmology. It is the only religion to offer a coherent view on cosmology. Strangely, many speculative scientific cosmologists seem to be in tune with Hindu philosophers.

Where next? The significance of reincarnation is to be offered learning, preferably understanding, of all that is.

Hinduism in Southeast Asia (2)

These are further extracts from Wikipedia

Today, vibrant Hindu communities remain in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Medan city of Indonesia and the Philippines mainly due to the presence of Indians, such as Tamil people, who migrated from the Indian sub-continent to Southeast Asia in past centuries.

One notably Southeast Asian aspect of Tamil Hinduism is the festival of Thaipusam, while other Hindu religious festivals such as Diwali are also well-observed by Hindus in the region. In Thailand and Cambodia, Thai and Khmer people practised Hindu rituals and traditions along with their Buddhist faith, and Hindu gods such as Brahma are still widely revered.

In Indonesia, it is not only people of Indian descent who practice Hinduism; Hinduism still survives as the major religion in Bali, where native Indonesians, the Balinese people, adheres to Agama Hindu Dharma, a variant of Hinduism derived from ancient Java-Bali Hindu traditions developed in the island for almost two millennia that often incorporates native spiritual elements.

Other than the Balinese, a small enclave of Javanese Hindu minorities are also can be found in Java, such as around Tengger mountain ranges near Bromo and Semeru volcanoes, Karanganyar Regency in Central Java, and near Prambanan, Yogyakarta.

Similarly, Hinduism is also found among the Cham minority in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia: just like the Javanese, the majority of them are Muslims but a minority are Hindu. In other parts of Indonesia, the term Hindu Dharma is often loosely used as umbrella category to identify native spiritual beliefs and indigenous religions such as Hindu Kaharingan professed by Dayak of Kalimantan.

The resurgence of Hinduism in Indonesia is occurring in all parts of the country. In the early 1970s, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to be identified under the umbrella of ‘Hinduism’, followed by the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in 1980. In an unpublished report in 1999, the National Indonesian Bureau of Statistics admitted that around 100,000 she had officially converted or ‘reconverted’ from Islam to Hinduism over the previous two decades.[6] The Ministry of Religious Affairs, as of 2007 estimates there to be at least 10 million Hindus in Indonesia

The growth of Hinduism has been driven also by the famous Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya. Many recent converts to Hinduism had been members of the families of Sukarno’s PNI, and now support Megawati Sukarnoputri. This return to the ‘religion of Majapahit’ (Hinduism) is a matter of nationalist pride.

Next to Indonesian Balinese, today, the Balamon Cham are the only surviving native (non-Indic) Hindus in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam there are roughly 160,000 members of the Cham ethnic minority, majority of them adheres Hinduism while some are Muslims.[8] After centuries being dominated by Kinh (Vietnamese), today there are some effort to revive Cham culture.

 

Hinduism in Southeast Asia

The following are extracts from Wikipedia

Hinduism in Southeast Asia has a profound impact on the region’s cultural development and its history. As the indic scripts were introduced from India, people of Southeast Asia entered the historical period by producing their earliest inscriptions around the 1st to 5th century CE.[1]

Hindu civilization also transformed and shaped the social construct and statehood of Southeast Asian regional polity. Through the formation of Indianized kingdoms, small indigenous polities led by petty chieftain were transformed into major kingdoms and empires led by a maharaja with statecraft concept akin to those in India.

It gave birth to the former Champa civilisation in southern parts of Central Vietnam, Funan in Cambodia, the Khmer Empire in Indochina, Langkasuka Kingdom and Old Kedah in the Malay Peninsula, the Sriwijayan kingdom on Sumatra, the Medang kingdom, Singhasari and the Majapahit Empire based in Java, Bali, and parts of the Philippine archipelago.

The civilisation of India influenced the languages, scripts, written tradition, literatures, calendars, beliefs system and artistic aspects of these peoples and nations.[2]

Expansion of Hinduism in Southeast Asia

Indian scholars wrote about the Dwipantara or Jawa Dwipa Hindu kingdom in Java and Sumatra around 200 BC. “Yawadvipa” is mentioned in India’s earliest epic, the Ramayana. Sugriva, the chief of Rama’s army dispatched his men to Yawadvipa, the island of Java, in search of Sita.[3] It was hence referred to in Indian by the Sanskrit name “yāvaka dvīpa” (dvīpa = island). Southeast Asia was frequented by traders from eastern India, particularly Kalinga, as well as from the kingdoms of South India.

The Indianised Tarumanagara kingdom was established in West Java around 400s, produced among the earliest inscriptions in Indonesian history. There was a marked Buddhist influence starting about 425 in the region. Around the 6th century, Kalingga Indianized kingdom was established in norther coast of Central Java. The kingdom name was derived from Kalinga east coast of India.[4]

These Southeast Asian seafaring peoples engaged in extensive trade with India and China. Which attracted the attention of the Mongols, Chinese and Japanese, as well as Islamic traders, who reached the Aceh area of Sumatra in the 12th century.

Some scholars have pointed out that the legends of Ikshvaku and Sumati may have their origin in the Southeast-Asian myth of the birth of humanity from a bitter gourd. The legend of Sumati, the wife of King Sagar, tells that she produced offspring with the aid of a bitter gourd.[5]

 

Hinduism in Indonesia

In front of the Indonesian Embassy (on Embassy Row, Washington), one would have expected to see the statue of Sukarno, the founding father of Indonesia. But no; there is the Hindu Goddess of learning, Saraswati, glowing white and gold, with her four arms upraised. At her feet are three students -young Barack Obama and his classmates while he was in grade school in Indonesia.

The goddess’ statue, on top of a lotus, stands tall a block away from the Indian Embassy in front of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi.

Why would Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with Hindus accounting for a mere 1.7 per cent, choose a Hindu goddess as its embassy’s symbol?
It speaks volumes about the nation’s respect for religious freedom. Indonesia is a secular nation and its constitution is planked on the philosophy of “Pancasila” which is pluralistic in its outlook. The constitution refers not to “Allah” but “Tuhan” so as to ensure that the minorities feel fully integrated.

Indonesia has the fourth largest Hindu population and the highest number of Hindus outside the Indian subcontinent (after Nepal and Bangladesh). Most Indonesian Hindus are Balinese.

Hinduism’s manifestations in myriad forms are on display in every sphere of Indonesian life. The Hindu influence is immediately brought home when a traveler boards the national airline bearing the name from Hindu mythology – Garuda, the bird and vehicle of Vishnu. The national emblem of Indonesia is Garuda Pancasila. Hanuman is the official mascot of Indonesia’s military intelligence. At the 1997 South-East Asian Games at Jakarta, the official mascot was Hanuman.

Ganesh, the God of wisdom, is inscribed on the 20,000 rupiah currency note. The logo of Institut Teknologi Bandung – Indonesia’s premier engineering institute – is also Ganesh.
The dwarpal statue is placed outside hotels, shops, public offices. He sits with the right knee on the ground and holds a formidable mace in the right hand as a protector of the establishment. Even the Bank of Indonesia in Yogyakarta is guarded by, not one, but two dwarpals.

Indonesia has issued many stamps on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata featuring Arjun, Krishan, Hanuman and scenes from the epics. Depiction of epics in the form of folk painting, shadow puppets, dramatic characters and sculpture are found across the length and breadth of the country.

Sukarno himself was named after the Mahabharata character, Karna. Sukarno’s father, fascinated by his characterisation but equally disapproving of his support to the wrong side in the war, named him Su (good) Karna. Sukarno’s daughter was named Megawati Sukarnoputri and was the president of the country from 2001 to 2004.

The language of India is Bahasa which in Sanskrit means language (Bhasha). Thousands of Tamil and Sanskrit names are found in Indonesia, many of them in their corrupted form due to the passage of time.

The National flag of Indonesia, called the “Sang Saka Merah-Putih” (The Sacred Red and White) has been influenced by the banner of the Majapahit Empire, which during the 13th century was one of the largest empires of the region. Hinduism and Buddhism were the dominant religions in the Majapahit Empire.
(From the Internet.)

(Comment: Indonesia is not the only East Asian nation influenced for a long period in history by Indian culture)

Babies and their souls

In the sixth century A.D. the leaders of the Christian church reportedly decided to reject the existence of the human soul before birth. This decision cleverly got rid of reincarnation. This was in spite of the prevalence of beliefs (in some form or other) in many (if not most) cultures of the continuity of the human soul – such beliefs going back thousands of years.

So, on a white board, the Christian church wrote in clear black letters the rules its acolytes and other followers were to abide by. Where reincarnation implicitly permits the individual to decide his present life and thereby influence his future life, the church would now seek to control his life. This control was reinforced by a Good Book, the injunctions therein being binding in conscience.

On the other hand, the greatest exponent of reincarnation, Hinduism, claimed through their Vedas, a history going back about 7,000 years. They wrote on a black board (darkened by the dust of time) with white letters about correct conduct. Lacking a comparable Good Book, they relied on oral injunctions (later written as an epic which contained sound advice in story form). This religion is not based on inherited authority and assumed control.

Reincarnation offers freedom. You make your own bed, and lie on it (so to speak). Your deeds in each life influence your next life (remember the law of cause and effect) together with all the other contributory influences. Any accumulated learning would be registered in one’s soul as it traverses from Earthly life to Earthly life.

And if the soul is more than just a register, could it impact upon my thoughts and actions in each life? Would it not be in its own interests that I behave correctly in relation to my Creator and my fellow co-created humans? Is not the objective of reincarnation to have each soul purified morally (polished) before returning to the Source?

Of course, I (the material human) am free to ignore any guidance from my soul (the durable ‘me’). That is, I can exercise my free will. I am also free to ignore any emanations from the essence of the Creator said to be within each human being (in a walnut-sized space within the heart). After all, I did (apparently) ignore messages from my Spirit Guide; until I was pulled up by my ‘casual’ clairvoyant.

I wonder now whether new-born babies, each with an ongoing soul, can be guided by, or respond to, their respective souls. Or, does the receiving mechanism needed (a developed brain and its associated mind) have to mature – taking about 3 years to do so? Effective reception will surely require an adequate capacity for awareness or sensitivity.

I am indeed speculating that a new-born baby, necessarily without any physical or mental ailments, or past-life limitations, or a scheduled truncated personal destiny path, may dance to a beat transmitted by its own soul. That is, could I assume that my soul is not a passive passenger within me?

If I could do so, in what manner could my soul influence me as I paddle, as best I can, on my personal river of destiny, as it meshes in with that vast network of destinies reflecting life on Earth? What a fascinating conundrum!

Destiny, God and the Spirit realm

My present understanding of Destiny is that we are indeed marionettes, the puppet master being a set of circumstances set up by ourselves. That is, we have free will, exercised both autonomously and reactively. By our actions and thoughts, we set in train the Cosmic Law of Cause and Effect; that is, the Law of Cosmic Justice (or Karma, as the Hindus term it).

We, in each life on Earth, carve out the banks and the rocky impediments through and over which will flow the river of our personal destiny in the next life, even as we obey the imperatives of Destiny in our current life. The latter would have been carved out in previous existences. Just as there are scientific laws which govern our physical lives, so there seem to be cosmic laws which govern our existence from birth to death, and thereafter.

Thus, in each life, I will paddle on the river of my personal Destiny. My trajectory will be within the walls of the canyon and over those rocky impediments I had carved out during my past life. As I paddle, relate to others, and respond to circumstances reflecting both the Law of Chance and the cosmic unavoidables (exercising what free will seems available), I will be carving out the framework for my next life, paying off my cosmic debt, and improving myself spiritually (if that is what I want).

Seems reasonable, does it not? Thus, I reached the conclusion, as said by some guru, that karma, like shadows, follows one everywhere. I also felt that chance must have an independent role in the circumstances of my life.

So, where is God in all this? All that is required from the one and only Creator is to set up the mechanisms underpinning our lives and relationships, let them evolve as appropriate, and allow us to choose our own path and bed. In some circumstances, He/She might choose to intervene in our lives.

But then, why not leave that work to the higher beings in the spirit world? They certainly seem to have been active in my life. Indeed, I can testify that I have received the odd message – and in a timely manner!

In so doing, were my spirit guides acting on their own? Or, were they only instruments of Destiny? If the latter, were they guiding me to optimise the opportunities available in my path of Destiny to improve my life-chances in both my current and future lives? Or, were they acting at the behest of God, who had chosen to intervene in my life?

How cosmic laws affect us after death, whether one meets God and one’s spirit guides; and, if so, where, is something which (presumably) one finds out only then. We certainly do not remember such experiences, any more than we can remember our past lives. Strangely, my attempted glimpses into my past lives, through auto-hypnosis, had displayed a strange consistency with the presentation of a couple of my alleged past lives by a respected clairvoyant healer.

When a significant experience is both confounding and inexplicable, why not simply accept it tentatively, I asked myself.

(This is an extract from my book ‘The Dance of Destiny’)