Indian thought and the West

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, has said,

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 350).

There has been too much inclination among Western writers to idealize the Greeks and their civilization, and they have tended to discover too much of the contemporary world in the Greek past. In fact almost everything was traced to ancient Greece. In all that concerned intellectual activity and even faith, modern civilization was considered to be an overgrown colony of Hellas. The obvious Greek failings, their shortcomings and the unhealthy features of their civilization, was rationalized and romanticized.

In the words of Sir Charles Eliot, who affirms that “it is clearly absurd for Europe as a whole to pose as a qualified instructor in humanity and civilization. He writes: “If Europeans have any superiority over Asiatics it lies in practical science, finance and administration, not in philosophy, thought or art. Their gifts are authority and power to organize; in other respects their superiority is imaginary.”

(source: Hinduism and Buddhism – By Sir Charles Elliot Curzon Press ISBN 0700706798 volume I (1920), pp. xcvi and xcviii )

Modern research, however, has marred this comforting image and is helping to put Greek culture into its proper historical perspective showing that, like any other culture, it inherited something from preceding civilizations, profited from the progress of its neighboring cultures (like India and Persia) and, in turn, bequeathed much to later generations.

We are not completely in the dark on the question of Indian influence on Greece. Speaking of ascetic practices in the West, Professor Sir Flinders Patrie (1853-1942) British archaeologist and Egyptologist, author of Egypt and Israel (1911) observes:
” The presence of a large body of Indian troops in the Persian army in Greece in 480 B.C. shows how far west the Indian connections were carried; and the discovery of modeled heads of Indians at Memphis, of about the fifth century B.C. shows that Indians were living there for trade. Hence there is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 150).

The Greek Philosopher Saint: Apollonios in In India
Philostratos says Apollonios (6th century BCE) of Tyana thought Indians had influenced Pythagoras. So going to India was an effort to improve his moral education. He followed the road of Alexander the great to India, probably entering the country through the Khyber Pass and going to Punjab, where he met the wise men of India on a forested hill not far from the Ganges River.

He delighted in their company and their lengthy discussions.
He said: “I saw the Indian Brahmins living on the earth and not on it, walled without walls, and owning nothing and owning everything.”

Clearly, Apollonios was impressed by the spiritual power of the Brahmins who had foreseen his coming. He spent four months with them. They lived exemplary lives very close to the gods. They ate what he ate and shared his love for the natural world.
But what impressed Apollnios the most was the Indians contact with Hellenic culture. The Indian wise men spoke Greek, and were well versed in the Greek philosophical tradition and Greek culture. Both the Indian philosophers and Apollonios worshipped the gods and a supreme god, a divine being like Zeus, who was the father of the gods and humans. The wise men, however, described themselves as gods in the sense of being good.

(Source: Surya’s Tapestry; ancient rishis’ pathways to Hinduism)

(Comment: Eurocentrism and colonial superiority demolished?)

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What of institutional religion?

What place is there for the major religions (within the posited framework of an autonomous nested mesh of destinies ranging from the personal to multiple collectives)?

Divested of the detritus of dogma deliberately designed to distinguish each sect or faith from the others, and then to enable a claim of an unwarranted theological superiority, and thereby an exclusive path to heaven, two core beliefs are shared by these religions, except Buddhism. First is a claim of a creator god. The second is that, since humans are the products of this creation, we are bonded to one another.

What a wonderful concept. It is a great pity that it seems to apply only within the boundaries of each religious sect. The others are outsiders, heretics, heathens, etc. and are therefore not going to be ‘saved.’ Thus, in the name of their god, each priesthood is likely to display or even preach prejudice towards those not under its control or influence.

There will, of course, be great exceptions – priests within each religion who are truly ecumenical (accepting related sects within their religion as non-competitive), or who are freethinkers in their tolerance, even accepting other religions as comparable paths to the one God of mankind. I have enjoyed conversing with some of these enlightened exceptions.

What of those who quite impertinently suggested that my soul would remain doomed if I did not convert to their sect? My riposte to such soul gatherers is as follows: ‘When you ascend to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father, you will find yourself shaking hands with Caluthumpians and members of all the other religions.’ Regrettably, some ‘wannabe’ saviours seemed discomfited by such a vision; I have watched a few dash down the road with displeasure after receiving my good news! I wonder how the atheists react on entry to this Abode.

Is it not true that institutional religion has pitted followers of one religion against another, and sect against sect within many religions, butchering fellow humans and defiling them in every way in the name of their faith? Under the pap propagated by their spin-doctors, it is carnivore-eat-carnivore, that is, dog-eat-dog! This situation continues.

The true measure of the quality of a civilisation is the way the least viable of the people are treated. This criterion, in my view, also applies to religions. On this test, the major religions, if not all of them, fail. The life chances, the quality of life, of those at the bottom of the socio-economic pile are generally ignored by their co-religionists in power, in government. It is a great pity that it was the communist nations which provided some uplift to their peasants, lifting them from their squalor. Our only hope is the secular nation, which subordinates saving the soul to filling an empty belly.

Would it not be wonderful if individual humans were able to seek succour from their god or spirits or whatever, without being caught up within an institutional religion with all its divisive binding rules, regulations and practices, as well as its priesthood; that is, without an intermediary? This is not to deny that there are many who derive some peace of mind through their priests. From observation, the two main groups in Australia are the elderly and the newly converted (mainly East Asians). This peace of mind, if associated with sectarian prejudice, may not however be the best ticket for entry to Heaven.

Yet, the real need by the majority of humans to have some hope of alleviating their suffering as they strive merely to exist, to survive, to protect their families (especially their young), cannot be denied. However, how could they accept that their prayers, their entreaties, are in vain; and that they need to work through their personal destinies in each life? Do not the alleged interventions by some kind god, or the claimed miracles brought about by saints, offer (blind) hope? Should the purveyors of this hope, the middlemen, most of whom live well and in security, therefore be tolerated? If so, at what price?

Yet, I will make it clear that I am not denigrating the kindness of most of those I refer to as middlemen. I continue to deal with them. They are worthy of respect. They have chosen to help their church-attending flocks as best they can, but within the closed framework of their dogma, and the well-trodden paths of tradition.

(The above are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 3)

Regrettably, there is a core component of religions which can be, and often is, divisive; when there is no reason for it to be so.

Religious beliefs can arise spontaneously in very widely separated regions of the globe. Some of the beliefs evolve into belief systems, aided by the thinkers within each faith community. Some of these thinkers may have been influenced by the traders and travellers with whom they have come into contact. By and large, relevant perceptions and knowledge are transferred between communities by a slow process of cultural diffusion.

It is unexceptional for the priests and other leaders of a religious community to seek to bond more closely their followers through some explanatory claims they have conceived about origins, links with the numinous, and so on. Separated by geographical space, each religious community can go about its business without interference; theological differences with other religious communities do no harm when religious communities are not close to one another.

However, aggression through war and colonialism against other people seem to have engendered a need to denigrate the religious (as well as other cultural features) of those conquered. Aggressive priesthoods and ambitious royalty have also seemingly added fuel to unwarranted religious wars throughout history.

When will those responsible learn that their ambitions or folly mean nothing after their Earthly demise?

The following extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ (Chapter 16) is, I believe, pertinent.

“ All religions have an explanatory component too – which offers us, with varying degrees of clarity, a story about man’s relationship with his Creator, his place in the universe, and the way the universe is (and was and will be). It is in this area that wars between men usually commence. It is in this area that men who seek to rule as much of mankind as possible claim the superiority of their faith – by means contrary to the ethical teachings of their own faith.

Expediency is just, killing in the name of Christ, butchery in the name of Buddha, massacre in the name of Mohammed, horror upon horror in the name of Hinduism, are also just, allegedly to gain favour with God. A God of Love supposedly condones, if he does not want, the slaughter of his Creation by self-chosen preachers of God’s Love. I fear an anthropomorphic God.

We are a blood-thirsty, power-hungry species of animal left to find ourselves by a Creator who merely set up the mechanism and let the details evolve. We cannot blame God for what happens, or what we do. Neither can we justify our actions by blaming God.”

Aborigines in my community (mid-1990s)

It is very sad to hear the community at large talk about the Aborigines. There was an armed hold-up at the local service station and a very early question was: “Was the perpetrator black?” There was a break-in at the local shops and six youths were seen running away – four black and two white. Almost everyone, including the police, talked about the black kids. I asked what happened to the white ones. How was it they had become invisible?

Both white and black youth in a seaside fishing village are unemployed; yet an educated retirement community will cluck to one another about the lazy blacks who do not want to work. White migrants and Anglo-Celts hold similar views. Why not see the problem as a class problem (with young whites unwilling to work), instead of a problem of race (meaning colour) …

I walk through the small shopping area of this village and receive smiles and nods from those (Aboriginal and white) to whom I have served petrol, and sold cigarettes and the like in recent times. Some of the Aborigines drive into the service station in new cars and are well dressed. But I never see them on foot anywhere. I presume they work for Aboriginal organisations. Others arrive in old cars and are obviously not well off; they, too, are invariably courteous.

Yet, on some occasions, before I go out to serve them, I can hear some very rough language addressed to one another – but never in my presence. Infrequently, a very inebriated Aborigine has staggered into the shop and, on sighting me, immediately straightened his shoulders and spoken most courteously. On the street, if I am bumped by an Aborigine, or if I have to slow or step aside, the words I hear are, “Sorry, bro” or “Excuse me, brother”, and such like. I could not fault these people in their social conduct, but apparently some police can.

And, in this State, social conduct is not a crime. Yet ‘resisting arrest’, for use of language which allegedly ‘offends’ a policeman, is. Most of the Aboriginals we see are unemployed. An Aboriginal welfare worker told me that there are competent, educated, and trained people in the community. They cannot obtain work in the region in any capacity because, as my contact said, employers are racially prejudiced. Merit has no place where ignorance rules. And I used to think that I had experienced discrimination – little did I know.

… … there was a recent initiative for the community (meaning the whites) to foregather and learn about Aboriginal values. At the first meeting of seventeen people, organised by the local adult education committee of volunteers, including me, there was an Aboriginal lady present. She had been our guest at a literary lunch, when she had read her poetry to us. It was both beautiful and touching; her slim book had, however, to be published privately.

ll the whites attending this reconciliation meeting were joined in their sympathy for the Aboriginal people, i.e. it was only the supporters of reconciliation there. Guided by the poetess and the notes provided by the State bureaucracy, they would have become better informed about the values of the Aborigines. They were also introduced to some of the other members of the local Aboriginal community. In the discussions, we were told that it was the women who made community decisions; that any support for the reconciliation process would have to come initially from the women.

(As the above extracts from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out’ indicate clearly, in contrast to the broadly prevailing negative views of the indigenous population by Anglo-Celt Aussies, there are other well-meaning white people who wish them a better future. That the prejudiced speak freely in my company is intriguing; I also detect no negative views about me (that may be because of my substantial involvement in civil society).

That competent Aboriginals had difficulty obtaining employment commensurate with their qualifications is deplorable.

Against that, how does one explain those vociferous supporters of economic migrants arriving by boat who, having torn up all identifying papers, seek asylum? Are they unable to see that their own black fellow-citizens could do with a helping hand?)

 

 

Hiding from the actuality of history

“Instead of the cultured Chinese, instructed to “treat people with kindness,” it was the cruel, almost barbaric Christians who were the colonisers. Francisco Pizzaro gained Peru from the Incas by massacring five thousand Indians in cold blood.” So wrote Bruce Pascoe in ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’

As Gavin Menzies has pointed out, when the Chinese sought to cement trade ties in the 1950s, they took envoys back to China, treated them royally, and then returned them to their homelands.

Pascoe: “… the Portuguese used Chinese cartography to show them the way to the East. Then they stole the spice trade, which the Indians and Chinese had spent centuries building. Anyone who might stop them was mown down. When fifteenth-century explorer Vasco da Gama reached Calicut he told his men to parade Indian prisoners, then to hack off their hands, ears and noses.”

I recall Nehru in ‘Glimpses of World History’ stating that Vasco was shown the way to the East via the cape at the southern of the African continent (the Cape of Good Hope) by 2 Indian sailors he had met in Lisbon. (The Indians obviously knew the west coast of Africa). So much for Vasco’s gratitude. I have always wondered why the Christian explorers and buccaneers of the period were so blood-thirsty.

Pascoe again: “Invaders like to kill the original owners of the soil they intend to plunder, but even better than that, they like to humiliate them. Once that work is over, their grandsons re-write the history of the re-named land and paint their grandfather as a benevolent visionary.”

In contrast, the Bradshaw paintings in the Kimberleys in north-west Australia show a Chinese junk, and people dressed in the traditional long gowns with long sleeves. There has obviously been trade between the Aborigines and Chinese during the 15th century. Yet, modern Aborigines have no memory of such contact. In those circumstances and against the foolish claim that Lt. Cook discovered Australia relatively recently, these paintings may somehow not become known.

As Pascoe said, the “history of colonisation is dense with examples” of fabrication. He continues: “The urge to legitimise occupation is compared by McNiven and Hull to the warping of history and archaeology by Nazis to justify extermination of the Jews. In thinking of the effects of colonisation on Australia, contemplation of the workings of the European mind of that era is inevitable. There were other colonists from other continents, but it was Europeans who attempted to dominate the world, sometimes by dominating each other. “ (Is it any different now?)

“It seems improbable that a country can continue to hide from the actuality of history in order to validate the fact that, having said sorry, we refuse to say thanks.” (Pascoe)

Comment: I wonder how the foghorns on radio and other white supremacists will react to Pascoe’s well-researched words.

Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emus Black Seeds’

Here are the reviews contained in the book. White Australian supremacists, who seem to be thick on the ground, will not like what they say. What explains the derogatory views expressed publicly by white Aussies? A sense of collective guilt? No! One cannot feel guilty on behalf of one’s forebears. ‘Why can’t they be like us?’ is a better explanation.

Since the Irish Catholics were allowed to be a separate people, with their own systems of education and charity, should not the Australian Aborigines (who was here first) be a separate people within an integrated ethno-culturally diverse population?

Would that mean recognising them as First Nation People? Yes, but over the dead bodies of many a whitey. What about giving them a right to have a say in how they are now to be uplifted societally and integrated? Since terra nullius was proven false, could white-man superiority not be up to a requisite standard to ‘bridging the gap’ (a favourite mantra of politicians who prefer words to effective action)?

The reviews:
• “in 156 pages, Pascoe has inverted almost everything I thought I knew about pre-colonial Australia. Importantly, he’s not relying on oral history, which runs the risk of being too easily bunked; his sources are the journals of notable explorers and surveyors, of pastoralists and protectors. He quotes them verbatim, describing all the signs of a complex civilisation but viewed through the blinkered lens of appropriation and White superiority. As a teacher – I recommended it as essential reading for any educator.” Lisa Hill, blogger and educator.
• “This very readable, strongly argued study turns the accepted nation of the Aborigines as a hunter-gatherer people completely on its head” Steven Carroll, Sydney Morning Herald.
• “He has done a great service by bringing this material to students and general readers, and in such a lively and engaging fashion.” Richard Broome, Agora Magazine.
• “This is an important book that advances a powerful argument for re-evaluating the sophistication of Aboriginal peoples’ economic and socio-political livelihoods, and calls for Australia to embrace the complexity, sophistication and innovative skills of Indigenous people into its concept of itself as a nation … an important and well-argued book.” Dr. Michael Davis, Honorary Research Fellow at Sydney University.
• “A remarkable book.” Max Allen, The Australian.

The literary quality of Pascoe’s book about the settled lives of his ancestral people is demonstrated by being short-listed for the Queensland Literary Award and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, both in 2014; the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as ‘Book of the Year’, and the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Award as winner.

(Comment: The Bradshaw cave paintings show that the Chinese had visited the Kimberleys.

Regrettably, prejudice against the Aborigines by many of the movers and shakers of Australia is quite strong.) 

An Aboriginal writer on Aboriginal culture

The plight of Australia’s Aborigines is so sad that I was pleased to hear about Bruce Pascoe’s book ‘Dark Emu Black Seeds: agriculture or accident?’ A retired school teacher drew my attention to this valuable book. Have our media paid any attention to its findings?

A book about pre-invasion Aboriginal culture, written by an Aborigine, is far more credible than writing by even a sympathetic non-Aboriginal writer. Pascoe’s sources are journals and diaries of (white) pastoralists, explorers, and the like. His sources are plentiful. When British beneficiaries of invasion, killing, and despoliation of native culture say honestly what they saw and experienced, one would expect Pascoe’s narrative to be accepted by one and all.

Not so! A retired Anglo-Aussie school teacher told me that she did not find the book credible. I repeat a belief I uttered way back in the racist 1940s and 1950s: that the oldest generation of (British) Aussies had to join their Maker before the lives of Asian students in Australia would be easier. That did happen.

Those supremacist white Australians who will not even accept that their indigenes are First Nation People, or who are unwilling to allow the Aborigines to have a say on policies to ‘bridge the gap’ in life expectancy, health, education, and a jail-free life have to leave us – in my view, as soon as possible.

Pascoe’s report also suggests that the behaviour of settlers generally, and some explorers, was decidedly despicable and un-Christian. Pascoe’s book also confirms what the redoubtable Dr. Coombs had earlier written about the Australian Aborigines. Their lives had all the hallmarks of a settled people, an organised polity, and a civilisation; and they had spiritual values of a high order, as well as a view of the Cosmic order.

Would not any intelligent person expect that a people who had survived this harsh land for 35,000 to 60,000 years know how to relate to Nature and to heavenly bodies? I doubt that modern man does. He wants control, not balance.

British settlement turned a settled people with agriculture, aquaculture, solid buildings, and a co-operative way of life into nomads. Being converted to Christianity did not protect the indigene from exploitation for more than two centuries. Now, they are expected to be ‘like us.’ Some already are; what about the rest?

Multiculturalism policy permits, even encourages, ethnic communities in Australia to identify themselves as identifiably separate; but not our indigenes. Why so?