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.’)

 

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An octogenarian’s thoughts about religion (Part 1)

“When I fell out of the boat taking me to a career and lost my family, my self-respect, and faith in my abilities, I gave away my god (and everybody else’s). Struggling in rough and strange waters, I had time to think.

The first non-textbook I read when I settled down to academic study, strangely enough, was about Abraham (a nostalgic look at a past-life period?). Reading laterally, I then covered the belief systems of some early societies. I read about the nature of religious belief, and about the major religions. I came across a simple and very useful framework for examining religions, which I used some years later when I was on a school board.

When I came to enjoy the bliss of my own family, I recovered my faith in a Creator – logic (yes, logic) took me to this position. Reflecting (perhaps) the experiences of my formative years (and what I was taught) and drawing upon my reading, I realised that all faiths are beneficial and equal; one would have to be brainwashed or an egomaniac to claim that one faith was somehow superior to the others.

While I continue to hold this view, I prefer the Hindu philosophy because it is more comprehensive in its explanatory scope and yet, at its core, quite simple. It took me many years to reach this position.

All religions offer a devotional component. We all pray, in different ways, but for the same reasons. Some of us are a little bit more selfish at times than others. The forms of prayer vary, but their intent is the same. Is one form better, more effective, or better liked than God? If you do not like the way I pray, you probably do not like the way I look.”

(The above is an extract from my first memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ Chapter 16)

POETRY FOR THE SOUL (PART 2)

Tieme Ranipiri’s uplifting spiritual poetry ‘My Law’ (refer my post of 2 May 2018) uplifts the soul, irrespective of one’s faith. My thanks to Joseph Potts and George Armstrong for their comments. The author is obviously a sensitive and spiritual person.

This poetry also resonates with my Hinduistic mind. As a metaphysical Hindu, I am aware that Hinduism is like the River Indus. Powerful tributaries of thought and insight flow into a massive river of faith. This latter river permits fresh input, as well as deviations, causing no concern to those spiritually uplifted by going with the flow.

There is no authoritative Good Book (as with the 3 ‘desert’ religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There are no authoritarian institutions associated with my non-ritualistic faith. My path to God does not deny the value of any other path. Of course, the ethical codes of the known major religions cannot diverge one from the other – not when they all share the same Creator, and with whom they seek to commune.

The massive river of Hindu faith surely contributes to the Ocean Of Consciousness, from which we are said to have arisen; just as the River Indus contributes to the single ocean of Earth. As the latter ocean sustains life on Earth, so this former Ocean of Consciousness sustains human souls during their purification process through many Earthly lives. So mought it be!

What of the Afterlife?

First, what is the Afterlife? It is an assumed locale for the departing souls (spirits) from Earth. It may be the Heaven mentioned in certain religious documents. It would certainly not be the hell(s) imagined by those who seek to induce better moral behaviour on Earth by frightening their religious followers.

My first clairvoyant surprised me by saying of what he referred to as the ‘Other Side’, “It is not that different from here; and you will not meet God.” As a metaphysical Hindu believing in the reality of the reincarnation process (for the existence of which there is plenty of evidence), I view the Afterlife as an R & R Depot or a Way Station. It would give me a break from the hell of Earthly lives – like walking on a bed of hot coals to get to a grassy patch; and then repeating the process again and again.

Were one to be lucky to have a broadly programmed path of a personal destiny (as I am able to claim), then one may seek to learn (and understand), while in the Afterlife, the significance of human life on Earth, of Man’s place in the Cosmos, and what the Cosmos might be all about. I have been promised that I can continue my learning in the Afterlife. I do like that.

I must admit to having been pre-occupied in recent years (with Death patiently awaiting) with thoughts such as : where is this Afterlife located?; insubstantial entities will not need an environment of substance; I do not want to be involved with other spirits in the way this happens on Earth; and how will I be able to acquire the learning I seek?; and so on.

Then, I had a strange dream recently. I was in a physical environment of my liking (the details do not matter here) in what I felt is the Afterlife. I heard human voices in the distance, but no one came into view. Peace prevailed. As in my present reclusive life. This life was imposed upon me, but it is acceptable as consistent with the guidance offered by Hinduism. Hinduism recommends that, once one has completed one’s commitments to family and society, one could withdraw from society to live a life of contemplation and meditation.

For example, a cave in the Himalayan mountains had been the meditation home for 3 years of the yogi who had come down to Malaya to guide my widowed mother and I about our respective futures. Years later, when I detected a coherent pattern in my life, I wondered whether he had been sent to us. I remember that he was clearly at peace, and apparently unaffected by the cold of the mountain.

In my more comfortable retirement ‘cave’ I too have achieved peace (after a turbulent life). While the dogs do bark (and snap), this caravan will move on, ignoring those who foolishly insist that only their beliefs mist prevail. Certainty is, in my experience, not a human condition.

The message I received through my dream about the Afterlife is that spirits create their own environment in the Afterlife; and that any contact with other spirits can only be on a mutually-agreed basis. My spirit guide may have been responsible for this message. Strangely, I read about a similar perception at about that time. This coincides with scientist Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of ‘morphic resonance’ – “a process that involves action at a distance in both space and time.”

For ex ample, discovery by one person can be followed by comparable or similar discoveries by others, without any contact between them. I instance the way birds began to open the tops of milk bottles all over the world near-simultaneously.

I know from my real experiences that the Afterlife is nearby (therefore in an interacting dimension), and that it is the residence of spirits such as my uncle and those he referred to as ‘higher beings.’ I look forward to an interesting sojourn.

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.

 

Why are the desert religions aggressive?

All the major religions in the world have the same God, the one and only Universal Creator of all that is. Creation may have occurred all at once or through an evolutionary path. The Creator God may be unknowable, except through a deep meditative process; or knowable, perhaps through revelation. Asking what was there before Creation, or about the origin of God, are meaningless questions. (Ask the cat which looks behind a free-standing mirror for that other cat.)

Most of us need a saviour offering succour, primarily in terms of survival in our normally harsh environments. Others may have lesser needs, but which can loom large in their lives, depending on how insecure or greedy they are. Wants may be greater than need.

A significantly powerful personal need, but which can (in an exaggerated state) threaten the very existence of other humans who are also believers in God, is the need to believe that one is on the only path to God; or that one’s path to the Celestial Abode of the Heavenly Father is the more efficient one. This Abode may offer angels, or dancing girls, or advanced spirits, or ever-lasting peace. (Or perhaps a wondrous mansion filled with gee-gaws of great value, and serviced by valets galore.)

How does such a strange need of exclusivity or superiority arise? Surely through the priesthoods. Why would priesthoods need to compete with one another? The exercise of power, or a collective ego-gratification?

Religious belief systems arose in widely dispersed regions of the world over a long period of time. Each could not have known about other belief systems unless traders from afar displayed their foreign faiths. See what happened when Hindu and (later) Buddhist traders influenced the cultures of South East Asia and the islands of the adjoining archipelago now known as the Indonesian. So many individuals there have names and even facial features which reflect this cultural infusion.

Of course, marauding armies would also have imposed a new religion here and there. Or, a ruler, by accepting a new religion, had all his people follow him.

Priesthoods would also tend to protect their reign when they control the path to eternity. As evidenced in Egypt, when Aten replaced Amon temporarily, it was allegedly the prevailing priesthood which recovered the status quo. Was this also the earliest evidence of a closed trade union?

But then, why did Christianity, which offers a loving universal god in place of a fearsome desert god, set out (through colonialism) to convert peaceful followers of the forest religions of Asia? What drove Islam, the successor to Christianity, to use the cutting edge of weaponry to convert all and sundry? Do not these religions have a record of destroying the followers of other faiths, and sects of their own religions, here and there? In my experience, these are the only 2 religions whose followers talk a great deal about their faith, whereas the others simply live their religion.

It is surely undeniable that the 3 major desert religions have been, and are, the predominant warring nations of the globe. Humans will, of course, attack one another for material gain. Our simian genetic heritage is probably responsible. But what gain is there in collecting souls? Why not take the coveted materials, and leave beliefs alone? More efficient control of the ‘other,’ using priests?

In any event, the diversity of beliefs reflects merely the diversity in approaches to the Divine. The paths do vary, thanks to differences in man-made theology and dogma – all arbitrary, and replaceable. On what basis would a priesthood claim superiority or priority?

Would not the wanton destruction of fellow-humans and their societies in the name of one’s religion affect one’s chances of finding peace in the Hereafter? Or, do the guilty deny the existence of a meaningful Afterlife?

Why not live in faith on Earth, and allow others to live with their respective faiths too? In the Afterlife (Hereafter or Heaven) all souls will surely be equal as non-entities!