Authority and religion are incompatible

I grew up in a non-authoritarian religious environment. As ritualistic Hindus, my family attended our Pilleyar (Ganesh) temple frequently; and we prayed each evening before dinner. Our priests were facilitative, not authoritative. As a Seeker, but a loner, I did not seek a guru to whom I would be expected to give total loyalty, when I sought to proceed from the ritualistic path to the metaphysical path. I sought guidance without control.

When I arrived in Australia, I found substantial priestly control in one Christian sect. This control seemed to be based upon bestowed authority. I wondered why authority and control were considered necessary in any religion. Was not the responsibility of any priesthood to assist their believers to reach out to God without any duress? I noticed that authority was also used to keep separate parishioners away from fellow-Christians in other sects. Other religions were clearly taboo. Fortunately for society and mankind, this control is waning – through withdrawal.

As older religion, an Asian one, based on feudalism and authority, is being destroyed for political purposes. Yet its humanistic philosophy has enriched and guided many people in the West. The behaviour of some traditional followers, and the reported utterances of a couple of their regional leaders, however, contradict the core beliefs of that religion. Of course, feudalistic authoritarianism and religious ideology have been shown throughout the history of mankind to be incompatible.

Unacceptable recent behaviour of priests in the West is now well-documented. Institutionally-asserted authority and its delegation to priests will, I fear, diminish the role of religions. Mankind does need religious faith.

Yet, it may be better for each one of us, no matter how great our need for spiritual succour, to seek communion with our Creator at a personal level. I certainly do not need an intermediary, even a non-authoritarian one.


Aggrandising colonialism’s cultural ancestors

Was it not the Scottish Enlightenment (centred on Edinburgh University) which offered intellectual enlightenment to the English? Did that widened understanding of matters significant seep into the psyche of the buccaneers of the East India Company and, later, into the policies of the British rulers of India? Probably not! Were not the latter imbued with the objective of enabling their ‘natives’ to achieve a speedier access to Nirvana through being clutched to the bosom of Christ, while continuing with their own role as shopkeepers?

When scholastic writings by white supremacists did not convince subject peoples that the ‘white race’ was genetically (inherently) superior to all other ‘races,’ the British colonial mind seems to have sought appropriate intellectual and militaristic forebears in continental Europe.

Fortunately, there were the philosophers of Athens, who were not pre-occupied with the semantics of the Church; Macedonian Alexander (the Great), who allegedly introduced everything Greek to all the tribes on the way to the Indian sub-continent, was also available.

Two further developments aided the search for an appropriate cultural ancestor. European scholars of Indian philosophy were cleverly able to date Indic writings to no further back in time than about 1500BC. This allowed Abraham and his people to establish Judeo-Christianity as the religious ancestor of Europeans, with priority over Hinduism.

Then came the acolytes of these scholars, who claimed with great certitude that no ‘black peoples’ had contributed in any substantive manner to human civilisation. These black people were presumably the Egyptians, Sumerians, Persians and Indians, and anyone else with a nicer skin colour than (coppery) white. Strangely, the Mediterranean cultural ancestor and the Levantine religious ancestor could not have possessed that superior white colour!

I now ask these two questions. Who taught Heraclitus that ‘It is all fire up there’ (or words to that effect)? An unknown Indian whose name is not recorded in a text book allegedly reached that conclusion thousands of years before.

Second question: Did not the Bible draw liberally upon Sumerian writings, while the Vedas of the Indic people have been dated, through known planetary configurations, back to about 7,000 BC?

After the modern Western neo-colonials have self-destroyed themselves, or hopefully matured morally, could we recognise that we human beings are all one species? Could we also accept that each one of us will probably have different religio-cultural ancestors in each life on Earth?

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!

My Greek Connections

Soon after I settled in Melbourne, a young immigration official of Yugoslav descent introduced me to the Omonia Cafe in Lonsdale St. I ate there frequently with fellow students – Aussie and Asian. I was addressed in Greek at times, because (presumably) of my light skin colour and long wavy hair. I just love Greek food and the cakes smothered in honey.

There has to be some physical link between the Greeks and my ancestors. I do not know how and when this link might have been established. But I cannot credit Macedonian Alexander (the Great) for any such link, as my ancestors are Ceylon Tamils – who seem to have occupied their lands for a long period in history, until the British arrived.

That there are strong physical similarities in appearance between the Greeks and some South Indians was evident when I was about to hail a chap across the road. I thought that this man was a former classmate, a fellow-Ceylonese Malayan. I suddenly realised that he was (probably) a Mediterranean. In time, I became aware that the Greeks I met (mainly shopkeepers) invariably opened a conversation with me!

Then, when Col. Nasser took control of Egypt in 1952, it led to a number of middle-class Mediterranean people emigrating to Australia. I developed a strong friendship with a number of them; they were mainly Maltese, Greek, and Italian. Young G and I bonded early, and our friendship lasted about 40 years (until his premature death). He was my closest friend in spite of my move to Canberra.

Before my move to Canberra seeking a career, I was virtually an adopted member of G’s family. His Greek father was very much like my deceased father. And his Italian mother treated me as another son. I have happy memories of this special friendship.

My Mediterranean connections continued when I married the daughter of an educated Italian lady. But then, my extended family is very multi-ethnic.


The wonder of past-life memories (3)

I suspect that I have once belonged to the Jewish faith, Judaism; and also have been a Christian in Europe. No, I am remarkably sane. Indeed, I am normally a sceptic. Yet, the intimations my mind receives – presumably from my soul – cannot be (should not be) ignored. My Spirit Guide, who has made me increasingly intuitive, may also be involved. I also do not enjoy an ego. I am merely a Seeker. There are quite a few of us.

A Swiss friend of Jewish descent once told me that I had shown an affinity for the Jewish people in my first book ‘Destiny Will Out.’ Yes, I had strong Jewish friends; indeed, in my youth, I had been smitten by a lovely girl (a fellow student) who had a number on her arm. We went out together for about a year.

Then, when I sought to peer into my past lives through auto-hypnosis, twice I found myself in terrain which included a below-ground room cut into the rock. Where was this room?

In recent decades, I became a card-carrying Christian as well, because I was married to an Anglican, had my children baptised, and had earlier attended church services with my wife. Hinduism allows me to support other religions.

The push of my past lives being intuitively, subconsciously, persuasive; that is, to make moral progress in my future lives, I prefer to be a recluse in contemplation of my Creator, and to seek to understand the Cosmos and our place in it.

Should humanity destroy itself, or is demolished by a cosmic cataclysm, we will re-group, and move towards the Divine yet once more. The road is always uphill! Our past lives will do the pushing – if we allow that.


The wonder of past-life memories (2)

I do believe that where (geographically) one is born, and the family and culture into which one is born, have significance. Chance, in my view, is not a determinant. For instance, I already ‘know’ that I will be re-born as a constituent member of another culture. There have been many strange intimations in my life which lead me to this conclusion.

As for my birth in this life into a Hindu religio-cultural milieu, my acculturation made me initially religious; later spiritual, as I was guided by the Upanishads. My on-going reading about religion then led me to realise that all the main religions are equal in their potential, and I became a free-thinker. Growing up in a multicultural nation-in-the-making also helped to form this perspective.

Without a prescriptive Good Book, Hinduism encourages free thinkers to explore the Cosmos ideationally and spiritually. No authority structures abound. In my experience, the priests do not tell us what to do; they facilitate our reaching out to God – by praying to one or more of the manifestations of God available to us. Insightful commentators are the lamp-lighters of this religion. The many tributaries of Hinduism lead ultimately to the end we all seek.

I visualise these tributaries of spiritual insight flowing into that Ocean of Consciousness from which we are said to have arisen.

I do believe that being born into a Hindu milieu in this life, after having been a Muslim, is part of my destiny path through Earthly existence. What next? The path of Confucius?