Inter-cultural transfers of values and practices

Revelation from On-High (Heaven, that is) has apparently been known to occur. However, it surely is a rare event; and may be unreliable (while unverifiable).

The transfer of learning and of new ideas, or new cultural practices and their underlying belief-rationale, occurs through enduring exposure. For example, the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia became acclimatised to Hindu religious practices and their associated belief systems through ongoing contact with Indian traders; later, the latter’s priests (who, unlike Christian priests, do not seek to proselytise and convert) would also have had an impact through the observed display of their rituals.

Emperors and other militarists are, by their very roles and actions, not known to be effective transmitters of durable new cultural practices and associated values. Their ambassadors have a political role, including reporting to head office their observations on their new temporary environment.

Traders move on their own trajectories, unless paid to be spies. Together with settlers from other cultures, they have a pervasive effect on the people they encounter, but without intending to change anything. In this context, I am reminded of Megasthenes, the ambassador to (Indian) Chandrangupta’s Empire from Seleucus, the successor in the Middle East to Alexander the Great. He made some very interesting observations.

Ironically, Alexander reportedly sought to adopt, without success, certain court practices of Persian royalty. Perhaps the priestess in Siwa (Egypt) had confirmed his alleged belief that he had been sired by a god. The adoption by officials of the British East India Company of the traditions of their predecessors, the Mughals, was however so successful that they were criticised by England’s class-riven rulers as ‘going native.’

When a tribe changes religion by fiat, by the ruler’s decision (for example, the Khazars of the Caucasus and the Singhalese of (modern-day) Sri Lanka), would the cultural changes have involved more than a change of religious belief? The conversion by British evangelists of some Indians and Ceylonese did not appear to have altered their behavioural values and practices in the Asian communities I observed; only religious observance was amended.

Naturally, in time, for a variety of reasons, cultural practices will change. My extended family is an excellent exemplar. I recall a visiting academic from Greece in Melbourne in the early 1980s who was criticised for saying that. He had pointed out that Athenian cultural practices had changed over time; and that island culture, which was not the same as Athenian culture, had also changed. Somewhat unwisely, he had wondered (as I understood him) whether one could really talk of Greek culture.

In truth, is any culture uniform across a people? There are classes, castes, and sub-cultures in countries which are familiar to us, eg. Australia, Britain, Japan, Malaysia, India.

Culture is indeed a moveable feast. In modern times, a degree of fusion between hitherto separate cultures can also be expected. What value is there in cultural competition or aggrandisement?


Cultural diffusion – from East to West?

Stephen Oppenheimer in ‘Eden in the East: The drowned continent of Southeast Asia’ writes that the Universal Flood drowned the huge continental shelf of Southeast Asia’; and that this had caused a population dispersal which fertilised the Neolithic cultures of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Eastern Mediterranean, thus creating the first civilisations.

Oppenheimer’s theory is that “ … the roots of the great flowering of civilisation in the fertile crescent of the Ancient Near East lay in the sinking shorelines of Southeast Asia. The Sumerians and Egyptians themselves wrote about the skilled wise men from the East, a fact often dismissed as the embellishment of a fertile imagination.”

Oppenheimer points out that the myths of the Sumerians, “with their religious connotations,” were “among the first written records in the third millennium BC;” and that “in the majority of cases the structure and content of the Mesopotamian myths show them to be derived from earlier Eastern sources;” and that “we may suppose that the direction of diffusion was East-to-West.” That claim must be equivalent to putting a cat into an aviary! If true, the dates of diffusion may be much earlier than 6,000 years ago.

He states as a ‘myth-type’ the parable of the ‘two warring brothers’ which had arisen in eastern Indonesia, and to have travelled with the Austronesian expansion along the north coast of New Guinea into the Southwest Pacific “at least 6,000 years ago.” As a most probable clash of cultures (eg. nomadism vs. agriculture), this parable (an example is that of Kulabob and Manup in eastern New Guinea) is reminiscent of Cain and Abel. Oppenheimer concludes “ … these myths antedate Genesis by several thousand years.

Other “shared Eurasian myths” include the Flood; the “watery creation and separation of Heaven and Earth;” the tree motif in the two-brother parable “derived from the Tree of Life;” and the Garden of Eden as a “fertile lost Paradise.” “The family of immortality myths may be the oldest of all, recalling the importance of ritual burial which goes back well before the end of the Ice Age.”

Significantly, Oppenheimer also says “My personal view is that although there was much technology transfer over a prolonged period, the most important new lessons from the East were … how to use hierarchy, politics, magic and religion to control other peoples’ labour.” What a claim! But he does remind us of “the stratified hierarchies still surviving in Austronesian traditional societies from Madagascar through Bali to Samoa;” and the retention of honorific titles in countries such as Bali and Samoa.

In the event, did European colonialism fail in teaching some of its ‘natives’ how to govern themselves in a democratic manner? Perhaps class-riven Britain and social rank-driven Europe were not then appropriate role models!

Does Consciousness explain Reality?

My experience of Reality is three-fold: physical, mental, and ephemeral. Relatively few humans are likely to have had exposure to the ephemeral (spiritual) realm. This realm is both exciting and confusing.

Among the multiple facets of the inter-connections between these 3 realms is this issue: Is there an over-arching, all-encompassing, dimension into which all these 3 realms fit? Notwithstanding the apparently challengeable conclusion from the Michelson-Morley experiment (a very long time ago), is there something referred to as the aether which could provide an operational basis for illuminating these 3 realms operating in unison?

Interestingly, there are a number of scientists researching the aether. They are obviously working beyond the prevailing explanatory paradigms of science. I hasten to add that I accept the usefulness and reliability of the scientific method. However, it is necessarily limited to the mechanistic material realm of experience. It may, however, be useful in illuminating the mental realm – or parts thereof. It could not, under any circumstances, assist in perusing the mysteries of the spiritual realm. Beware (as someone wrote) vivisecting the songbird to identify the source of its trill.

My question about an over-arching dimension arose from my reading of Easwaran’s translation of the core Upanishads. Hinduism’s Upanishads offer a view of Reality through spirituality – not available at an equivalent depth from other religions. This is not surprising in view of its distant origins in time. The Vedas, their precursor, seemingly originated about 7,000 BC (dated by tracing a unique planetary configuration).

Hindu cosmology is complex, and allegedly inherited (but that is a separate issue). Human history before the Universal Flood (of about 11,000 BC) is uncertain – possibly covered in mud.

The relevance here of Hindu cosmology is the concept of Consciousness, and its role. Consciousness is posited as ever-existing, all-embracing, all-pervasive – like the aether. It is an un-caused First Cause.

In relation to my posts about the mind and the human soul, were our minds and souls to exist outside our bodies in some ephemeral (cloud) form (like information on the Internet), could they not be associated with (linked to, or part of) an all-pervasive Consciousness?

Furthermore, since everything in the Cosmos appears to be inter-connected, could that be explained by an all-embracing Consciousness (like a gossamer blanket which covers everything)?

Thus, the physical, mental and ephemeral realms of my experience may represent my awareness of a 3-tiered Reality reflecting an ever-existing Consciousness. That is, could Consciousness create and sustain all that is, in spite of not being adequately explicable to humans?

(Disclaimer: In this life I am a Hindu. In my previous life it appears that I have been a Muslim in Central Asia. Way deep in me is a memory of being a Jew in the Middle East. I have also been a Christian. As a free-thinker, I merely seek understanding of the place of humanity in the Universe. I have no axe to grind. My tentative beliefs and speculations are just what they are.)


How do souls retain mind and memories?

This question arises from my real experience when I began to investigate e.s.p. (extra-sensory perception), otherwise known as psychic phenomena. My initial exposure to a clairvoyant, and his extra-ordinary and quite inexplicable skills, involved the manifestation of my favourite uncle’s spirit.

Incredibly, my uncle communicated psychically with the clairvoyant, obviously heard a comment I had made to the clairvoyant (by responding to it), and displayed his memory of a relevant segment of his recent Earthly life, and referred to his knowledge of the tragedy I had experienced long after his demise.

It was obvious that this insubstantial entity, while thus lacking a brain, ears and eyes, had retained – more than 4 decades after the cremation of his body – his Earthly mind and its memories; and was able to offer advice to me about my spiritual advancement (implying an awareness of my potential future).

How could a spirit, presumably residing in what I refer to as the Afterlife, also retain capabilities normally associated with an efficiently operating human on Earth – to hear, think, speak (mentally in his situation), and probably see as well? Here is evidence that, at death, the soul of a human being continues as a spirit in another dimension, retaining both mind (with its memories) and sense-and-brain related facilities. Unthinkable!

As for our physical organs of sense – the known 5 – what is seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelt – need to be processed and stored in the brain. The mind, clearly associated with the brain, may not be resident in the brain. Indeed, I use my mind to search the brain for recorded memories.

Yet, the brain can also project information even before I begin the search. I have had this experience doing crossword puzzles. Sometimes, my brain also projects relevant information before I ask my mind to go search. Here I am proposing that my ego (my personality) is indeed separate from my mind; the latter being a facility.

Thus, does memory, associated with the brain as a storage facility, also exist outside the brain? How else could the soul of a human being take both mind and the memories contained therein into the Afterlife? (Denying the existence of souls, the Afterlife, and the capabilities of spirits is not now an option for me. Experienced reality cannot be denied by closing one’s mind.)

In this or any other context, I do not accept the concept of an Akashic Record which registers every action of every human being on Earth. What would be the objective of such a massive record of inconsequence? Confusingly, I lost the memory of quite a few faces through my heart attack. A few years later, progressively this memory was recovered.

Did changes take place in my brain enabling recovery of memory? Or, was relevant memory reinstated from outside my brain? Is this not a relevant question? While the recall of memory reportedly involves the whole brain, the impetus of such a memory search would have to be the mind. In my case, it was a conscious search for memory.

Food for thought?

(Refer my previous post “Where resides the soul?”)

Where resides my soul?

As a metaphysical Hindu (that is, one beyond rituals), I accept that the Cosmic Creator (not necessarily a physical entity), as both transcendent and immanent, may have a presence in all that is created. A fragmentary essence of this Creator could thus be within me. I have read that this presence is located in a walnut-sized space within my heart.

Is this presence my soul, the real me, that traveller through time, through repeated re-births? That cannot be. That is because each soul is said to be polished (improved morally or spiritually) through the reincarnation process, and then returned to be boundless Ocean of Consciousness (or Aether) from which it is said to have risen. A fragment or essence of the Creator will surely not need to be polished.

Rather, its role may be to remind me that, in times of travail, I need only look within me for succour and spiritual (and mental) peace. The lessons of Destiny – both personal and communal – do need to be accepted with equanimity.

My soul is clearly a unique insubstantial entity, the essential me, carrying the compound lessons acquired through a series of past lives. Does it remain a passive record keeper, uninvolved in the normal turbulence of life? Or, does it, in its own interest, influence me by allowing me intimations (on occasions) of my immediate past life?

I have become somewhat sensitised to this influence through: some instinctive responses to events; visions of a past life through auto-hypnosis; information offered by a psychic healer whose Spirit Healer can apparently read my past life traumas; and my ‘casual’ clairvoyant who saw me as I apparently appeared in my immediate past life. I await, with hope, further illumination.

Developing my ‘third-eye’ vision may enable me to become more intuitive about such matters. I doubt, however, whether the embodied I will ever know what the essential I (my soul) is doing.

What I would like to know is whether my soul resides in my body, or whether it surrounds me as an ethereal (or cloud) entity (like the Internet). When I die, will my soul gather my mind and its memories on its way, because they too exist in a ‘cloud’ around my brain?

Could I now explain how I recovered the memory which I had lost when I had a heart attack? Perhaps my memory exists at 2 levels; at a operational level, which can be damaged, and at a holistic ethereal level beyond bodily weakness.

Fascinating! Pity that I will be denied an answer. As my soul takes off to the Afterlife, it will not (I guess) be concerned by such Earth-based ruminations. The caravan must (and will) move on!

(Note: While I cannot prove the existence of a Cosmic Creator and the ways this all-pervasive, ever-existing essence may influence human existence, no sceptic can disprove such a belief. As for the reality of souls and the reincarnation process about which I have written, my experiences and reliable research findings over decades being real, cannot be denied.
Doctrinal religion does not offer needed illumination. Regrettably, some scholars cannot step out from their religion-imbued castles.)

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.