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Middle aged heterosexual, WASP male. Semi retired, semi-sane and semi-serious. And endangered species and I'm not going quietly!!!!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The Church of Allan - The Plain Truth About God

A serialization of the book, The Plain Truth About God.

Chapter 7. Have I got a deal for you!

When we concern ourselves with the study of Asian religions in world history, we are into a completely new ball game from what we know of European and North American beliefs.

What we believe to be the world’s oldest major religion, Hinduism, begins with the Vedic scriptures called the “Forest Books” (Aranyakas).

Sages, who naturally lived in the forest, wrote these texts.

The culture of the forest was the fuel that started the culture of India some ten to twenty thousand years ago. This philosophy eventually spread to the developing urban areas and flourished in the vast river plains and adjacent regions of what are now Pakistan and Western India.

The earliest villages, and then cities, became part of an extensive urban culture that had its beginnings about 5000 B.C.E. (you will notice that this was about the same time as our first religions claimed God created the world) and reached its height between 2600 to 1900 BCE.

This “Harappan” or “Indus Valley” civilization developed at about the same time as the early City-States of Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The ruling communities of the area were located at the major crossroads of trade routes and in rich agricultural regions. They appear to have controlled a vast area of some half a million square kilometers, which is an area twice as large as that of the Mesopotamian or Egyptian cultures.

One of the main misconceptions of this early period is the notion of the so-called “Aryan or Hittite” invasions destroying the Indus cities and establishing a very new culture and language on the sub-continent.

In fact, these “outsiders” were very nicely integrated into the Harappan culture.

There was a fusion of ideas and beliefs that not only strengthened local rituals, but also helped them to flourish and grow through the years.

The Aryans themselves were part of a great migratory movement of people from the Russian steppes and the land between the Black and Caspian Sea.

They were the descendants of a still earlier people who had lived in caves in the Dorgeone region of central France many thousands of years before that and had spread to the British Isles on the west, to the Bay of Bengal in the east.

They also went to the Scandinavian countries in the north where they then moved out again ahead of the advancing white wall of the last great ice age to the warmer Mediterranean climates in the south.

Although these Indo-European people possessed many common cultural traits found in Europe and the West, they had closer similarities to the culture of Persia and points East.

They were a branch of the many migrations that came and went and eventually crossed over the Khyber Pass and entered the land of India.

Without the aid of written texts, it is difficult to reconstruct the very early Indus religion, but it is known they made clay figurines of animals that were probably brought with them from their previous homes in France (Dorgeone region) and used in special rituals.

The Indus people had quite elaborate ceremonies for the dearly departed and they buried their dead in wooden coffins, along with pottery vessels filled with food for the afterlife.

Most individuals were also buried with some simple ornaments such as copper bangles and agate beads. It is interesting to note that elaborate ornaments of gold, silver, and precious stones were never included in the burials.

These people were obviously practical in their outlook and anything of intrinsic values was “inherited” by living relatives. It should also be noted that no “Royal” burials were ever performed. Everyone was treated equally in death.

Animal sacrifice was a common practice amongst the Indus people from the earliest of times.

When we talk about animal sacrifice in its simplest form, we have to remember that humans were, and are, meat-eaters.

Aside from the rise of Jainism and Buddhism in the sixth century B.C.E., humans were for the most part carnivorous.

If we are to eat animals, they also have to be killed, this is fact.

When we talk of the ancient Romans, or Aryans of India, or Jews, or any other religious group offering a sacrifice to the gods, this is only another way of saying;

“They threw a big feast for the people!”

That a wide variety of spiritual meanings was attached to animal sacrifice in olden days is evident from the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.

These various rites are seen as different facets of the death of Christ, and are now expressed in the modern Communion Service.

In the old days, the head of the household, or the tribe, usually conducted the sacrificial worship.

In more settled conditions, and with the passage of time, the advent of a regular priesthood was inevitable, especially with the growth of villages and the increasing pomp and circumstance of the local shaman or “witch doctor.”

This lead to the development of the first priests who became full-time attendants in the service of God, and they were supported by the tithes of the other people and tribes.

After all, there was always a need for appeasement of the gods when a sin was committed, or a flagrant breaking of the moral order or any other transgression of village and family life was in evidence.

That was the time to call in the local priest and set things right again.

A good job if you could get it, especially since it was often hereditary. Your kids would then have job security and tenure as well!

(The Prophets of old had to constantly fight priestly rapacity and misconceptions of the people in general. Where there were no Prophets, the priesthood, and temple worship in general, always degenerated into the ugliness of “priest-craft.”)

This was very evident even in this “first of the major religions” with the history of the Brahmin Priesthood of India.

They pretty well controlled things and could set the tone and direction of their “religion” to whatever was most opportune at the time. They were also the ones who composed the hymns and chants.

The earliest group of Vedic hymns, called the Rig-Veda, (Verse wisdom) was first collected in oral form as the Aryan tribes were migrating to India about 2000-1500 B.C.E.

This collection of songs must have been the work of the first regular priests, because at that time a sacrifice could still be offered by anyone.

The priesthood was by necessity in these early stages, only a part-time position, but as villages and then towns proliferated, the priests had what could be called a “captive” audience and they began to exert more influence.

They suggested that unless the correct sacrifices were offered, the gods would be displeased and therefore only the highly trained priests could learn and perform the rituals and prayers that were necessary.

This is where specialization began, and a school of “singing” priests arose who chanted the special hymns for each sacrificial occasion. Their collections of 1,225 hymns, (with the exception of about 75) were all from the Rig Veda.

Then a class of priests who did the actual offering of sacrifice produced a third book called the Yajur Veda. Their collections were mainly ritualistic formulas muttered in low voices during the various stage of the sacrifice.

By about 900 B.C.E., there were at least three groups of priest, each with their own special duties and training schools. The priests were the ones who had the leisure time to study and teach, and do not forget, with knowledge comes power!

It was only natural that the priestly schools should produce notes and commentaries on their duties and this became known as the Brahmans, which included explanation of the hymns, the rituals of sacrifice, and the duties of the priests, etc.

The study of this material produced an elaborate scholasticism, and was referred to as the first “University.”

By 800 to 700, B.C.E. there developed a hereditary priesthood in charge of all sacrificial duties. (For which they were paid quite well by the people)

The Brahmins were now suggesting that by giving the right sacrifices, which they alone could offer, they could procure the favor of the gods. This put them in charge of various temporal blessings and a good place in heaven too!

Thus, gods, men, and governments were all very quickly under priestly control!

Although there was a definite “Priesthood,” Hinduism as such, does not have any one founder, or any single doctrine to which controversies can be refereed to for resolution.

There is also no definite time when it could be said to have begun.

It also did not require its adherents to blindly accept any one creed, so it could be refereed to as cultural, not creedal.

However, it was due to the influence of the priesthood (and their various interpretations of the faith,) that Hinduism was marked.

It’s also an attitude that seemed to envelope religious and cultural perspectives of a great many different points of view.

Hinduism is perhaps the only religious tradition that is so diverse in its theoretical premises and practical expressions that it is more like a compilation of religions.

It could be said that Hinduism can never be pinned down into monism, monotheism, polytheism, or pantheism, --- for all these systems are reflected.

The gods and goddesses of Hinduism amount to many thousands, all representing the many facets of the one supreme ruler “The Brahman.”

BUT! Hinduism, like Christianity, is composed of a Trinity. “The Brahman” is in fact made up of Brahma - the Creator, who continues to create new realities. Vishnu - the Preserver, who preserves these new creations, and Shiva - the Destroyer, compassionate, erotic, and at times, destructive.

(Especially the erotic part – remember, they invented the Karma-Sutra!)

It is difficult to assign any specific dogmatic orthodoxy to Hinduism since one of the oldest aspects of Hinduism is as much social as it is religious.

By this, we mean the practice of the caste system.

According to Hindu teaching, especially from the Bhagavad-Gita, (song of the blessed one!) each of the four castes or social classes (as well as their sub-castes and the untouchables) are paramount to maintaining order in society.

They serve as a guide to how adherents are progressing in their search for release from the “Cycle of Life.”

A persons “Karma” (every action, thought, or decision one makes has consequences-good or bad) determines how he or she will progress in the search for reincarnation into a higher caste.

Of course, bad “Karma” through improper thinking or actions, can also lead to the next life being of a much lower caste or even reverting to an animal existence!

The ultimate aim of these re-births is to reach a state of grace so high that a person “eats the fruits of his deeds,” and is released from the cycle of reincarnation and pain to a state of “nothingness” or “Nirvana.”

The basic tenet of Hinduism is the oneness of all things.

There is only one ultimate reality - Brahman.

Brahman is pure, unchanging, eternal and impersonal. From Brahman comes “Maya.” (Which has connotations of illusion and deception?)

Maya is the reality of the dream world, which means this existence is actually insubstantial and transitory.

This implies that man’s existence is just an illusion and the only worthwhile objective that a person can have is to escape from the perception of existence and be swallowed up in the “Oneness of Brahman,” just as the river returns to the sea!

Whether this is accomplished through the practice of yogic meditation and/or the observance of “right” and “wrong” conduct, the result is a means of finding God within ourselves.

All ethics are a way of finding the “Right” action, which brings us nearer to the knowledge of God, while “Wrong” action leads us away from that knowledge.

For the same reason, in Christianity, our path to a state of grace leads us “inward.”

Expressing ourselves “outwardly” to bring others around to our way of thinking leads away from a state of grace.

Our ideas of “Good” (right or inward) and “Evil” (wrong or away) are therefore relative values that must not be used as an absolute standard by which we judge others.

Each of us has an individual problem and an individual path of development. In the end, the goal is the same for all!

Here we come to one of the greatest differences in the philosophy of two major world religions.

For better or worse, Christianity can be summarized by saying that it affirms life, while Hinduism denies it!

Christianity holds out the hope of survival of the individual after death, where in Hinduism the goal is to escape from the “wheel of existence,” and the final loss of the “illusion” of personal identity!

**”I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” - Woody Allen (1935- )

The “people of the book” (Christians, Jews, and Muslims) reach out in compassion to the poor and hungry, and say they are special in the eyes of God.

Hinduism teaches that they are merely getting their just desserts!

Although it might seem harsh by western eyes, this doctrine provides Hinduism with a ready explanation for all inequality and human suffering.

It enables devout upper-class Hindus to shrug off the misery of the Indian masses, who because of the caste system, are pre-destined to a certain kind of work, how much education they will get, where they will live, and how far they can expect to go in life.

Allan W Janssen is the author of the book The Plain Truth About God (What the mainstream religions don't want you to know!) and is available at the web site www.God-101.com

Visit the blog "Perspective" at http://God-101.blogspot.com

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