Cultures need not be competitive

Some years ago, childless couples in Australia were adopting babies from overseas. An Aussie woman opposed this practice. As she explained to the newspaper which published her letter, foreign babies bring ‘foreign cultures.’ The reality, of course, is that any foreign culture brought in would be in the baby’s nappy.

Culture refers to the ways humans behave consistently, traditionally; and the underlying values. I was brought up in a family and tribe of Hindus. Hence beef was not on the menu. We did not eat pork, although it was the main meat for our Chinese neighbours. We saw pork as hygienically unclean. Pork was not avoided because of religious beliefs, as with the Jewish faith and Islam.

During the racist White Australia era, Anglo-Australians complained about the odour of garlic, ginger, and curry spices used by Asian students in shared kitchens. The huge influx of Europeans soon stopped that. Young Aussies who had travelled overseas also took to Asian and European foods.

In the 1960s, I observed 2 young white Aussie girls buying from a food store owned by an Englishman the ingredients to be combined into curry powder. They knew exactly what they wanted. On the other hand, I bought a packet of imported curry powder. I had no idea of its ingredients. My mother had never told me; indeed, I had not been allowed into the kitchen.

Cuisine and clothing, as cultural markers, cross ethnic boundaries easily, in time. Prayer and associated religious rituals, while variable, are motivated by identical objectives – to seek succour from, and to express thanks to, God. Diversity in religious belief is not a barrier to close inter-cultural relations, as I have observed. Doctrine-bound priests may not agree.

In terms of day-to-day living, what differences in behaviour do we all display – wherever we are on the globe – which pose barriers to mutual tolerance inter-culturally?
British Malaya, with its ethno-tribal diversity during my development, was a multicultural nation-in-the-making. There was mutual tolerance, in spite of an original lack of a shared language. We lived our lives as guided by our respective cultures and, in time, through habituation, education, and some social interaction, became one people. Only politics can be a threat to social cohesion.

My own extended family includes Chinese, Malay, Indian, English, Burmese, Italian, and Anglo-Australian genes. We are the lamp-lighters to a new world based on a shared humanity, with any historical cultural tensions devoid of consequence.

 

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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.

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!

The trauma of birth and its aftermath

Does any human being ever remember the stress of birth? During my boyhood, whenever I had a severe headache, believed to have been caused by glare, I would feel a strong pressure on both temples. Although I never spoke of this experience, I suspected that somehow I was recalling my passage through a birth canal. I soon grew out of those discomforting episodes.

What a terrible shock it must be for a baby to be pushed out of its comfort zone into the terrible glare of light, and the horrifying sounds of voices, and then being handled. Only after being swaddled and held against the mother could the baby retrieve the mother’s comforting heartbeat and soothing voice. In modern times, the baby is then swathed and placed amongst other babies, some of whom would be giving voice to their discomfort, their need to be held, and (possibly) a terrible hunger.

The world must be a horrible place to enter, and in such a terrifying manner. How long does it take a baby to become adjusted to the new surroundings? How aware is the baby, broadly, of the pattern of movement of the surrounding space? Is it their frequent and extended sleep which enables the baby to adjust to the new environment, but subconsciously?

Does the soul of the baby have a role to play in this early phase of Earthly existence? Would there be any past-life memories (however vague and fleeting) awaiting exposure? Could a baby display any ongoing anger, possibly because of the manner of its death in its immediate past life?

Would a baby, in the stage of infancy, be aware of any skills or abilities carried forward from the previous life; and which would blossom any time after about age 3? I refer to the high skills displayed by a few little children which do not evidently have a genetic source. Such skills are: playing musical instruments, gymnastic ability, mathematical calculations, and such like, at a level requiring an extended period of development, and displayed after years of Earthly life.

Then, there are those little children who remember accurately their immediate past lives, some even before age 3. The displays of such high skills and reliable memories have been well documented. This is an undeniable facet of our reality.

So, how complex could a baby be? Is the recovery of past skills and memories akin to a flower re-opening (at daybreak)? That is, could any flower of scarce skills be closed down (to a bud) at Earthly death in one life, to be re-opened in the next?

Does such recovery of skills (physical and mental) and memories require, where this is warranted, up to 3 years of development of the infant’s brain? Strangely, most (if not all) adults cannot remember any experience in their lives before about age 3.

I wonder – what are babies and infants doing as they observe and observe – even as they give us great joy, juxtaposed with sleepless nights and some (or much) worry? Indeed, they are a great and wonderful mystery, with each birth a miracle.

Insights into reality

Ever an investigator of knowledge, preferably of understanding, the Seeker, in his retirement, began to investigate extra-sensory phenomena (e.s.p). In his youth, he had read of Prof. Rhine’s work in this field at Duke University.

Having read a recently published tome bringing together the latest perceptions on e.s.p, the Seeker consulted a visiting European clairvoyant, just to see what happened. To his surprise, without even looking at him, she described accurately his family and their tense relationships, then mentioned his very private thought about re-emigrating, and finally advised that his marriage was over. This was news to him, but proven correct.

Such accuracy was impressive, as his previous exposure to clairvoyants, astrologers and ‘fortune tellers’ in an Asian environment had merely increased his inborn scepticism. There had been many amateurs or charlatans around. Yet, he had seen faith-healing and the discovery of lost objects, mainly valuable jewellery.

He then consulted an English clairvoyant, again out of curiosity. To his considerable surprise, on arrival, he was told ‘I have the spirit of your uncle with us. Will you accept him?’ Initially at a loss for words (and thought), he said, ‘I have 3 uncles. Please describe him.’ To his delight, it was clearly his senior uncle, the second-most important man in his life (after his father). His acceptance of the spirit (whom he could not see nor communicate with) enabled a silent dialogue between the clairvoyant and the spirit; he remained tongue-tied, only responding to questions by the clairvoyant.

The introductory statement by the spirit was that “higher beings” had sent him because he was the one the client was “most likely to accept.” The Seeker’s sceptical mind was presumably well known to the spirit world. The consultation ended in a three-way exchange, wherein the spirit displayed his knowledge of what had happened to his nephew after his own death. The spirit then faded away, having left his nephew with some sound suggestions for his future.

This experience left the nephew in a philosophical quandary. The spirit world had never been part of his framework of reference for anything. Ultimately, he realised that he had been exposed to a very significant event. He could not reject it just because it did not fit into any generally acceptable frame of knowledge, beliefs and values. He has since acted on the suggestions received.

The Seeker then consulted another kind of clairvoyant, a spiritual healer, again out of curiosity. An Australian, she offered her client’s past-life experiences as an explanation of certain physical pains of his, which he had not mentioned to anyone.

When he rejected her comments, saying that any of his past-life experiences must surely be available only to him, her reply was that her own spirit guide is a Healer, who is able to read all of the Seeker’s past lives. Strangely, soon after, the Seeker’s pains disappeared.
And, like the English clairvoyant, this Australian healer displayed an ability to sense the presence of the souls or spirits of the Seeker’s dead children. He found this quite disconcerting. How does one deny these events and their significance, or their implications about the reality of human existence?

Then, there is the ‘casual clairvoyant’ who, in a non-consultative contact, could claim to see either a past or the future of the Seeker. She once described the physical appearance of the Seeker’s spirit guide, while conveying his complaint that the Seeker had not been listening to him!

As the historical Lin Yu Tang, a Chinese philosopher of renown, might have said to his imagined porcine pet, ‘Where now, old sow?’

For a rational sceptical person to find, after a lifetime lived to the full, that the spirit world exists, is a great surprise. When the events experienced cannot be denied because of the accuracy of the information made available, and also because the Seeker of knowledge exposed to the events is told that the spirit world is playing a significant role in his life, what is he to do?

 

Some interesting aspects of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is just another term for ethno-cultural diversity. The world over is largely multicultural. When that term was temporarily linked with the term policy in Australia, a vision of a separate sand-pit for ‘ethnics’ did arise, for some. Here are some interesting facets of experience.

“When ethnicity was in vogue, I asked publicly whether I, Australian by citizenship, Malaysian by birth, Ceylon Tamil by distant ancestry, and Indian by culture (Hinduism) could identify myself as an ethnic; and, if so, by what criteria. Even the academics were silent! What of those who are the products of marriage across nationalities or ethnicities? More and more of our young are marrying across parental cultures.” … …

“Cynically, I did ask some of the ethnic community leaders who were second or third generation Aussies if they spoke their mother tongue fluently; and with whom (other than their mums) did they speak. Did they read books, see films and attend plays in that language; dress the way their ancestors had back ‘home’ (except for multicultural festivals in Australia); and celebrate their tribal cultures in any meaningful manner? I also asked if their communities reached out to other ethnic communities as equals.

Then there is the issue of some Australia-born descendants of immigrants going back to their tribal lands to fight a traditional, or even a new, enemy. Further, if integration is rejected by them, would that affect their right to call on the equal opportunity that is available? And since social superiority is given little air in Australia, how would ethnic superiority be viewed? I believe these questions to be relevant.”… …

“In the early 1980s, I once observed 3 teenagers on a tram. Their heads suggested 3 different European regions of ancestral origin. They were dressed almost identically, and their speech accents were identically Australian. This was evidence of integration. Travelling through the city, observing, I saw few turbans, skull caps, head scarfs or face covering. Careful immigration selection was the explanation. Why is the situation different now?” … …

“By and large, were tribal leaders, that is, the priests and politicians, to keep away from the fields of cultural interaction, we the people will eventually reach out to one another? How so?

Excluding the exploiters, there is an innate human tendency – displayed so satisfyingly by children – to do so. In Australia, thanks to the public education systems, by the third generation, youngsters will feel, and behave as, part of a whole far wider and deeper than the family or an ethnic community. The gestalt effect will take over.

How does this work? Good immigrants will tend to retain their values almost intact, while modifying their behaviour as appropriate. Those of their children exposed to Australian values through the public education system will move a step or two away from parental values and practices; reciprocally, parental perspectives may also change, become less parochial. There is good evidence that this happens. The third generation is not likely to be influenced by the values of their grandparents, as peer group values begin to back up values inculcated through public education, socialising, sport, and habituation – unless the priesthood intervenes. Do religious leaders, their schools, and other institutions hinder integration?” … …

“Ingrained prejudice cannot be changed by propaganda. For instance, again in the 1980s, a senior public servant, an icon of his political party, denied accommodation in migrant hostels to British immigrants, thereby denying the most important on-arrival assistance the nation could provide to needed immigrants from other countries as well. The Minister did not note this denial. Are Ministers adequately awake when reading briefs?

This senior public servant also cancelled the planned posting of a Moslem employee to an overseas migrant selection office, and the promised promotion of a Hindu employee to a senior position. But he was not a racist; only a tribal. Tribals tend to look after their own, by discriminating against those who did not belong! And some burbling about the Eucharist!

Racism and tribalism (I have suffered from both in Australia), cultural and religious prejudice, and the ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ attitude, like the ubiquitous bacterium or even crime, cannot be totally eradicated. The young priest who, in the mid-1960s, kept 5 Roman Catholic women away from their Protestant neighbour, is unlikely to have changed.

However, education, habituation, and media scrutiny will moderate extreme behaviour. Strengthening citizenship as a commitment to the nation and its values, as a measure of successful integration, will yet continue to make us one people out of many.”

The above extracts are from the chapter ‘On multiculturalism’ in my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society’.