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Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Conquering National Culture by Transforming the Places of Worship

Between the fourth and the sixth centuries AD, the christians pushed paganism out of the Roman Empire by transforming the architecture of the Roman towns and cities. They converted many pagan temples into churches. They built new churches in prominent locations. The transformation was so extreme that by the end of the sixth century, the churches vastly outnumbered the pagan temples. In many regions there were no pagan temples left. 

For most people, it is a basic need to flock to buildings recognized as holy places for engaging in some form of communal worship. If the temples dedicated to their ancestral Gods are not available, people will go to whichever place of worship is available. By building churches at the sites where the pagan temples once stood, and in other prominent areas, the christians could attract the attention of the masses and persuade them to flock to the churches. 

Since the second century, the Romans had been using the basilica in their administrative buildings. The christians adopted the basilica for their churches with the aim of making the masses believe that christianity was a Roman religion. Some historians have posited that Emperor Constantine, who in the early fourth century became the first Roman Emperor to convert to christianity, played a role in making the churches adopt the basilica. 

In Ephesus, the pagan temple of Zeus was dismantled in the fifth century, and its building material was used to build the Church of Mary Theotokos. Since this church was located near a port, it was visible to a large number of people who became aware of christianity. The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was built on 128 pillars—the christians demolished 127 pillars and left one standing as a symbol of christianity’s triumph over paganism.   

In Hierapolis, a series of churches were built along the main axial road. The people of Aphrodisias, a city dedicated to the Goddess of love Aphrodite, refused to convert to Christianity.  When Emperor Zeno conquered the city in the fifth century, the temple of Aphrodite was partially demolished and a church with a basilica layout was built. After that there was decline in the worship of Aphrodite.

In the time of Emperor Theodosius, the patriarch of Alexandria proclaimed that the pagans were conducting sacrifices in underground sanctuaries. To punish the pagans, he ordered his monks to occupy the Serapeum and Mouseion. The pagans objected and they refused to vacate the Serapeum and Mouseion. A large Christian crowd gathered and stormed these buildings. They destroyed the statues of the pagan Gods and the pagan holy texts.

An inscription has survived from Bishop Marcus Julius Eugenius of Laodicea Combusta, who lived in the fourth century, and boasted of converting his city to christianity by demolishing its pagan temples and putting up churches with basilica in their place.

In the 630s, when the Arabs emerged from Arabia, they followed a similar strategy: in the lands that they conquered, they demolished the traditional places of worship and built mosques. In the middle of the sixth century, when they conquered Persia, they demolished the zoroastrian temples and in their place, they built their mosques. When most of the zoroastrian temples had been transformed into mosques, it was easy to persuade the Persians to convert to Islam. 

In Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and other places, the same strategy was used by the Islamic forces. When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in the fifteenth century, they converted the Church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Emperor Justinian I in the early sixth century, into the famous mosque: the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. In the last 1100 years, the Christian and Islamic forces have fought intense battles for gaining the power to dominate the holy sites of Jerusalem.  

In India, a large number of temples were converted into mosques. Historian Sita Ram Goel has written a two-volume book on the ancient Hindu temples that were fully or partially demolished in the last 1200 years, and converted into mosques. The title of his book is Hindu Temples—What Happened to Them (Volumes I and II). 

The community that builds new places of worship by demolishing the old places of worship, or in new areas, has to employ tens of thousands of local labor. This gives them a stranglehold on the local economy. A significant proportion of the local labor that they employ gets persuaded into accepting the faith of their employers. Once these laborers have been converted, they usually take their new religion to the countryside, and inspire others to convert.

To transform the culture of a nation, you have to radically transform its places of worship—this is the important lesson of the history of the last 1500 years. In every nation, where the traditional places of worship were replaced by places of worship dedicated to a new religion, the masses were persuaded to accept the new religion and a new way of life.

Monday, May 30, 2022

The Achievements of the Gupta Age

The Gupta Age is unique in the history of the Indian subcontinent because in this period, the tenets of Hindu and Buddhist theology and culture were scattered all over Tibet, China, Burma, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and several Asian island nations. 

The Gupta Empire was founded by Sri Gupta in the early fourth century AD and it lasted till the late sixth century. The important rulers of this dynasty include Chandragupta I, Samudragupta, and Chandragupta II (also known as Vikramaditya). Other kingdoms in India played a role in the religious and cultural expansion of this period—the Vakataka Empire of central India and the kingdoms of South India (some of which had a feudatory relationship with the Gupta Empire) made significant contributions.

Vedic and Buddhist rituals became common practice in many Asian countries—many temples and monasteries were built. The ruins of some of these ancient temples and monasteries survive till this day. 

In ancient times, the temples and monasteries were not just places of worship, they also served as universities and libraries. The three major temple universities of the Gupta Age—Taxila (which is now in Pakistan), Martand (located in Kashmir), and Nalanda (located in Bihar)—attracted devotees and scholars from all over India and other Asian countries. Wherever the Hindus and Buddhists built their temples and monasteries, they also created a system for imparting education.

The surprising thing about a cultural expansion during the Gupta Age was that it happened through the efforts of private traders, sailors, travelers, scholars, teachers, and preachers, not through the involvement of warriors. A scimitar was not placed on the neck of any man or woman, in any part of the world, to threaten him with death if he refused to convert to Hinduism or Buddhism. The conversions were peaceful and voluntary.

Some of India’s most famous literary works were composed in the Gupta Age—these include Kalidasa’s Shakuntala (Abhijnanashakuntalam) and Raghuvaṃsa, and Shudraka’s Mṛcchakatika and Vina-Vasavadatta. Thinkers of this period made valuable contributions to Indian philosophy. The process of systematizing the six schools of Hindu philosophy—Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta)—began in this period. The Puranas were systematized and new Smritis were composed. The Mahabharata and the Ramayana texts were standardized and canonized. 

Under the patronage of the rulers of the Vakataka Empire, who were closely aligned with the Gupta Empire—Chandragupta II married his daughter into the Vakataka royal family—the rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments, now known as the Ajanta Caves, were built in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. In the vicinity of the Ajanta Caves, there is the Ellora Caves, whose central feature consists of a chariot-shaped monument dedicated to God Shiva. The Ellora Caves were built by the Rashtrakuta dynasty. Ajanta and Ellora Caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Gupta Age saw significant achievements in science and mathematics. Aryabhata (476–550 AD) discovered that the earth rotated around its axis and it revolved around the sun. His calculation of the length of the solar year is remarkably close to the modern calculation. The use of Hindu numerals with a decimal system and a symbol for zero was standardized and popularized during the Gupta Age. The iron pillar that stands outside the Qutub Minar was constructed during the reign of Chandragupta II—this pillar, which has survived for almost 1600 years, is a testimony to the metallurgical skills of the Gupta Age.
 
After the Gupta Empire (till this day), there has not been a government in India that has done so much to develop and export Indian theology, science, literature, and art.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Battlefield of History

"The first battlefield is the rewriting of History!” ~ Karl Marx. 

To capture a nation, you must take control of its culture. Culture is founded on history. If you rewrite a nation’s history, you acquire the power to radically transform the culture of its people. The population of a nation whose history has been rewritten is easily persuaded—they will give up their Gods, their religion, their traditions, and their habits without too much struggle, and accept a new way of life.

A military conquest is not enough to subdue a nation, especially if the nation possesses an ancient culture. Only cultural conquest can ensure long-term subjugation. The strategy of capturing a nation by imposing a new history (culture, religion, and habits) on its people has been used with great success by the monotheistic semitic faiths in the last 1500 years.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Discussion of Religions in Mahatma Gandhi’s Autobiography

In his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi has reflected on his childhood impression of Christianity. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 10, “Glimpses of Religion”: 

“In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized, he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes, and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one's own clothes did not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.” 

As an adult, he lived and worked in close association with several Christians, some of whom tried to preach the Christian gospel to him. But Gandhiji remained unimpressed. In several chapters, he has described his disagreements with the basic tenets of Christianity. In Chapter 15, “Religious Ferment,” he writes: 

“It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in Him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born… From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.”

Gandhiji published his biography in installments, between 1925 and 1929. At that time the Indian subcontinent was not divided on religious lines; India stretched from the Afghanistan border in the west to the Burma border in the east, and from Kashmir in the north to the tip of the Indian peninsula in the south. The share of muslims in the population of this united India was around 35 percent. Several muslim leaders were part of Gandhiji’s movement. But in his autobiography he has not criticized Islam directly, in the way that he has criticized some of the practices of Christianity and Hinduism. In Chapter 7, “Some Experiences,” he reminisces about his long discussions with Abdulla Sheth on religious topics. Sheth enjoyed talking about the beauty of Islam:

“He [Abdulla Sheth] was proud of Islam and loved to discourse on Islamic philosophy. Though he did not know Arabic, his acquaintance with the Holy Koran and Islamic literature in general was fairly good. Illustrations he had in plenty, always ready at hand. Contact with him gave me a fair amount of practical knowledge of Islam. When we came closer to each other, we had long discussions on religious topics.” But Gandhiji does not tell us about how he used to respond to Sheth’s laudatory view of Islam. On what aspects of Islam did he agree with Sheth—on what aspects did they disagree? On Sheth’s insistence, Ghandhiji decided to study the Koran and other Islamic holy texts. What kind of thoughts did these Islamic texts arouse in his mind? The answer to this question is not available in his book.  

In Chapter 18, “A Month With Gokhale—II,” Gandhiji has criticized the sacrificing of sheep at Bengal’s Kali temple. He talks about the feeling of horror that struck him when, on his way to Justice Mitter’s house, he passed in front of the Kali temple, and saw “a stream of sheep going to be sacrificed to Kali.” He must have known that sacrificing animals was rare in Hinduism—it was prevalent only in some temples dedicated to Goddess Kali. In the vast majority of Hindu temples, there was no animal sacrifice. In Islam, however, animal sacrifice is common. Gandhiji does not question the Islamic practice of sacrificing animals during muslim festivals. But he has devoted a number of pages to describe the initiatives he took to protect the cows. The first cow protection work that he did was in Bihar’s Champaran district. This initiative failed to achieve the objectives that he had in mind. In 1919, when the Khilafat movement began, Gandhiji tried to get the Muslim leaders to speak against cow slaughter. He has described this endeavor in Chapter 36, “The Khilafat Against Cow Protection.”

In the final chapter of his book, Chapter 44, “Farewell,” Gandhiji makes an interesting statement: “those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.” His statement can be interpreted as an exhortation to the Hindus that they should start thinking politically (like the moslems and the christians)—this would seem like an argument against the principle of secularism of which he was a lifelong advocate. This statement makes me wonder: which religion is he talking about? Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism? Of the three religions, Islam has been the most successful in developing a union between its religious values and political doctrine. In the Middle Ages there was a union between religion and politics in Christianity—but in the twentieth century, the British Christians were more secular than most Islamic movements.

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Founders of the Philosophy of Kashmiri Shaivism

Shaivism is Kashmir’s oldest philosophical tradition. If Rajatarangini, the book by the twelfth century Kashmiri historian Kalhana, is to be believed, Shaivism was prevalent in Kashmir before King Ashoka’s time. Kalhana has said that Ashoka made Kashmir a part of his Mauryan Empire in the third century BC. Ashoka had converted to Buddhism, but he built Shiva temples in Kashmir. He also built the city of Srinagara (close to Srinagar).  

Early Kashmiri Shaivism was dualistic. In the latter centuries of the first millennium AD, Kashmiri Shaivism took a monistic turn. This new system, called Tarika Shastra, was founded by Vasugupta (800 – 850 AD), who lived close to what are now called the Shalimar Gardens of Srinagar. He was the author of Shiva Sutras which contain seventy-seven aphorisms. He also wrote Spanda Karikas, a commentary on his Shiva Sutras.

The next major philosopher of Kashmiri Shaivism was Somananda (875–925). He was a disciple of Vasugupta. According to some legends, Somananda was the descendent of the Vedic sage Durvasa who had received from Shiva the mission of propagating the philosophy of Shaivism. Somananda was the author of Shivadrishti (Cognition of Shiva.) His disciple Utpaladeva (900–950) wrote a book called Shivadrishtivritti, which is a commentary on Shivadrishti.

Utpaladeva founded the Pratyabhijñā school, an authoritative system of monistic idealistic Kashmiri Shaivism. Pratyabhijñā means “Recognition.” His book Īśvarapratyabhijñā-Kārikā (Verses on the Recognition of the Lord), and his two commentaries on this book, are the most important works of the Pratyabhijñā school. 

Abhinavagupta (950 –1016) is another important philosopher of the Pratyabhijñā school. A disciple of a disciple of Utpaladeva, he was born in a Kashmiri Brahmin family of theologians and mystics, He is credited with 35 works, the most famous of which is the philosophical treatise Tantrāloka (Illumination of the Tantras). Through this work, Abhinavagupta has attempted to systematize the Tarika doctrine and practice. In his dedicatory verse, he wrote: ”We praise Shiva, who manifests the differentiated universe as the prima facie argument, and then leads it back to unity as the established conclusion.”

Between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries, Shaivism disappeared from Kashmir, but it continues to flourish in South India. Kashmiri Shaivism has influenced several Indian traditions, particularly the Haṭha-yoga traditions.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Contest of Religions in the Indian Subcontinent

The Islamic armies poured out of Arabia in 634 AD, and it took them less than three years to conquer the two major provinces of the Byzantine Empire: Palestine and Syria. After that they turned their attention to the Sassanid Empire (the Second Persian Empire), which comprised Iran, Iraq, and Khorasan. In 637, the Persians were defeated, and by 651, all of the Sassanid Empire was under Arab control. By 650, the Arabs had annexed much of Transoxiana. It took them seven years (639 and 646) to conquer the Byzantine province of Egypt. In 711, they invaded the Iberian Peninsula and conquered it in seven years. 

The toughest resistance that the Islamic armies faced was from the Hindu kingdoms in the Indian subcontinent. It is a myth that the Hindus were militarily disorganized and did not resist the Islamic invasions. It is a myth that the Indian subcontinent was a vast open area which could be easily captured by any foreign army. The Islamic invasion of the Indian subcontinent began in 636 (it was a failed naval expedition to Thana). The Islamic armies could not conquer any Hindu kingdom quickly, in one to seven years, as they had conquered the empires in the Middle East, Europe, North Africa, and Transoxiana. 

Mahmud of Ghazni is regarded by most historians as a very successful Islamic invader. He invaded India 12 to 17 times, depending on the account that you choose to believe, between 1001 and 1025. He plundered a number of cities, towns, and temples, but he did not conquer a single Hindu kingdom. He had conquered other kingdoms with ease: Iraq, Iran, and most of Transoxiana—but in the Indian subcontinent, he faced stiff resistance. After a prolonged struggle, he managed to annex some regions in Pakistan: the North-West province, Multan, and parts of Punjab. But these regions were already under Islamic rule.

The Islamic armies had to fight several wars, over a period of almost 570 years, before they succeeded in establishing the Delhi Sultanate in 1206. The Delhi Sultanate was constantly under siege by rebellious Hindu forces, and by the time of Aurangzeb’s death in 1707, it was finished, and the Maratha Empire (founded by Shivaji in 1674) had emerged as the dominant power in India. When the British took control of Delhi, the principal opposition that they were facing was not from the Mughal Empire, which did not exist at that time, but from the Marathas. The Marathas fought three wars with the British: 1775–82, 1803–05, and 1817–18. 

About ten years ago, I read a rather unique kind of book on the contest between the Indians and the Islamic armies during the Middle Ages: this was Ram Gopal Misra’s 1983 book, Indian Resistance To Early Muslim Invaders Till 1206 AD. On the subject of the early Islamic victories in the Middle East, Egypt, North Africa, and Transoxiana, Dr. Misra writes: “Astonishing as these victories of Islamic armies were, equally amazing was the ease and rapidity with which people of different creeds and races were assimilated with the Islamic fold. Syrians, Persians, Berbers, Turks and others—all were rapidly Islamized and their language and culture Arabicised.”

In contrast, Dr. Misra asserts, the conquest of the Indian subcontinent was not easy. This region could not be fully Islamized. Hinduism was severely wounded in the centuries of struggle against, first the Islamic forces and then the Christian forces, but it continues to flourish till this day. In the seventh century AD, when Islam was born, Hinduism was the largest religion in the world; today Hinduism is the third largest (after Christianity and Islam), with about 1.8 billion practitioners (including 535 million Buddhists).

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The French Revolution’s Impact on Marriage and Divorce

Breakdown of marriages was the unexpected consequence of the French Revolution. The French revolutionaries saw marriage as a Catholic imposition which made people less free. They argued that people should be free to love, free to marry, and if the marriage became loveless, then the couple should be free to get a divorce. 

In ancien régime France divorce did not exist, as marriage was regarded as both, a civil contract and a sacrament. The revolutionaries argued that a marriage was a civil contract between a man and a woman, either of whom should have the power to cancel the contract. They argued that a marriage without love was tantamount to slavery, and that if people were free to marry and free to divorce, they would feel more love for each other. 

Some pro-divorce activists came up with powerful arguments to convince French society that happy couples would breed more children and this would increase France’s population. They argued that happy couples were likely to be patriotic and nationalistic—they were likely to inculcate their children with revolutionary Republican values. 

A liberal divorce law was passed by the French Legislative Assembly on September 20, 1792. This law treated marriage as a purely civil contract in which any man or woman, age 21 or more years, could enter without parental consent, and which could be cancelled by either party on the grounds of mutual consent and incompatibility, and due to cases such as insanity, cruelty, abusive behavior, condemnation for certain crimes, desertion for at least two years, or emigration. The divorced couples were permitted to get remarried. 

With the passage of the liberal divorce law, the divorce rates in France exploded. Thousands of couples filed for divorce. Both sexes had equal rights to file for divorce. But between two-thirds to three-quarters of all divorces were initiated by women. The most common complaint of the women was domestic abuse and abandonment. The pro-divorce activists cheered the rise in divorces. They declared that French women had been freed from “martial despotism.” 

The highest number of divorce cases were filed by the urban middle class couples. Among the rich and the poor, and those living in the rural areas, divorce was uncommon. But the high number of divorces and remarriages created a backlash in France's urban areas which had seen a maximum number of divorces and remarriages. Many people started longing for the stable family system that used to be there during the time of the ancien régime

When Napoleon took power in 1799, he initiated a discussion to annul the liberal divorce law. In 1803, he passed a new civil code which, while not making make divorce illegal, as it was during the ancien régime, made it much harder for couples to get divorced.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Napoleon’s World Historical Blunder

Among the world historical blunders that Napoleon made, the most monumental one was his 1803 decision to sell Louisiana to the Americans. With the sale of Louisiana (named after the French King Louis XIV), France lost its foothold in the Atlantic. Immediately after the sale, Napoleon dragged France into a series of devastating European wars which led to further territorial losses for the country. France was no longer in a position to compete against Britain and America.

When Napoleon seized power in 1799, he wanted to create an empire that would rival Britain’s empire. He dreamed of using Louisiana as a base for supplying the French colonies in Saint-Domingue and other Caribbean islands. At that time, Louisiana was much bigger—it sprawled west from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and included the Great Plains and parts of Montana. Napoleon would have kept Louisiana if a slave rebellion had not broken out in Haiti.

After the French Revolution, France had changed—in the sense that the French government, at least in principle, was against colonialism and slavery. In 1794, France passed a law banning slavery in the colonies. The anti-slavery law was poorly implemented and the slaves in Haiti were not freed. But the French Revolution’s slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity” had already reached Haiti, inspiring the African population to rebel. They demanded the same rights that the French citizens had. It was difficult for the French government to crush the rebellion because a large section of France’s population believed that slavery was antithetical to their values. 

At first, Napoleon thought that he could run the colonies with the labor of the French and the free Africans. But those who were in the business of running the colonial plantations told him that without slave labor, the colonies would not be viable. So Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana to the Americans who at that time were aggressive practitioners of slavery. 

In 1800, Jefferson was convinced that Napoleon had major plans for Louisiana. He predicted that America and France would come to blows over Louisiana. He feared that the French would convince the Americans in the West to form another nation, and that the French were certain to inspire the African slave population in his country with the French Revolution slogan of “liberty, equality, fraternity,” and this might result in the breakout of hard to put down Haiti-type slave rebellions. 

With the aim of keeping the French out of North America, Jefferson decided to make a deal with Napoleon. In 1803, he told the American representative in France, Robert Livingston, to offer $10 million to France for the New Orleans and the Florida area. At that time, Jefferson feared that the French would refuse the offer. When he heard from Livingston that Napoleon wanted to sell all of Louisiana for $15 million, not just the New Orleans and the Florida area, Jefferson could not believe his luck. He asked his representatives to close the deal. 

In one stroke, Livingston and James Monroe added more than 828,000 square miles to their new nation. Once the deal was signed, the Americans started pouring into Louisiana. In a series of conflicts, over a period of five decades, the Americans killed or evicted much of the Native Indian population, they destroyed the bison population which was the mainstay of the Native Indian way of life (in 1800 there were 50 million bison living in the Great Plains areas; in 1895 only a thousand remained), and they expanded their policy of slavery into the entire area. 

With territorial expansion and slavery, America went on to become a superpower. France was relegated to the status of a European power. If Napoleon had not sold Louisiana, the history of Europe and North America would have developed in a different way—the Native Indian population (and the bison) would have survived in Louisiana, and slavery would have been abolished in North America in the early nineteenth century itself, instead of in the 1860s, after a prolonged civil war.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Sun Temple of Multan

In 641 AD, the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang arrived in the city of Multan (located in Pakistan’s Punjab province). At that time the Rai dynasty was ruling the kingdom of Sindh. Multan was their capital. Hiuen Tsang calls the city Meulo-san-pu-lo, Mulasthanpura. In his writing, he has described Multan’s sun temple. Here’s an excerpt: 

“There is a temple dedicated to the Sun, very magnificent and profusely decorated. The image of the Sun-deva is cast in yellow gold and ornamented with rare gems. Its divine insight is mysteriously manifested and its spiritual power made plain to all.Women play their music, light their torches, offer their flowers and perfumes to honor it. This custom has been continued from the very first. The kings and high families of the five Indies never fail to make their offerings of gems and precious stones (to this Deva). They have founded a house of mercy (happiness), in which they provide food, and drink, and medicines for the poor and sick, affording succor and sustenance. Men from all countries come here to offer up their prayers; there are always some thousands doing so.”

The Arab attacks on Sindh began in the 630s. In this period, Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted in Sindh and the adjoining regions. The Hindus and the Buddhists followed different strategies for dealing with the Arabs. The Buddhists tried to compromise with the Arabs by offering them land and tribute. The Hindus often fought back. The Buddhist strategy of compromise did not work, and Buddhism was finished in the region; Hinduism survived, though it was severely wounded. In the early eleventh century, the Islamic scholar Al-Biruni arrived in Sindh, with the invading army of Mahmud of Ghazni. While he was in Sindh, Al-Biruni searched for any Buddhist monk, who could provide him information on Hindu religions. He could not find a single Buddhist monk.

Kashmir: In the Ancient and the Medieval Periods

The name Kashmir is derived from the term “Kashyapa-mar” (Kashyapa’s Garden). Kashyapa is one of the seven sages (Saptarishis) mentioned in the Rig Veda. In ancient times and the middle ages, Kashmir was revered by the Hindus and the Buddhists as Bhusvarga (heaven on earth). 

In his history book Rajatarangini, written in the twelfth century, the Kashmiri historian Kalhana has described Kashmir as the place “where there is not a space as large as a grain of sesamum without a tirtha (site of spiritual learning and pilgrimage)". Kalhana was the son of Lord Champaka, a minister in the court of King Harsha of Kashmir. Rajatarangini has 7826 verses and is divided into eight books. These verses trace the genealogy and deeds of Kashmir’s Hindu kings from the Mahabharata age to the middle ages. 

The Rajatarangini contains descriptions of several temples built by the kings of Kashmir. One of these temples was the shrine of Martanda, built by King Lalitaditya Muktapida in the eighth century. This temple was destroyed by Sikandar Shah Miri in the early fifteenth century but its ruins can still be found near the town of Anantnag. 

Francis Younghusband, the British army officer, explorer and writer, who served in Kashmir in the late nineteenth century, wrote a book called Kashmir, in which he has reflected on Kashmir’s natural beauty and history. Here’s an excerpt from Younghusband’s description of the ruins of ancient temples that he discovered in Kashmir:

“All over the Kashmir valley there are remains of temples remarkable for their almost Egyptian solidity, simplicity, and durability, as well as for what Cunningham describes as the graceful elegance of their outlines, the massive boldness of their parts, and the happy propriety of their outlines. The ancient Kashmirian architecture, with its noble fluted pillars, its vast colonnades, its lofty pediments, and its elegant trefoiled arches, is, he thinks, entitled to be classed as a distinct style; and we may take it as implying the existence of just such a people as this mountain country might be expected to produce.”

Younghusband has compared the ruins of the temple of Martanda with the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal: 

“But it is at Martand that there is the finest, and as it is not only typical of Kashmir architecture at its best, but is built on the most sublime site occupied by any building in the world,—finer far than the site of the Parthenon, or of the Taj, or of St. Peters, or of the Escurial,—we may take it as the representative, or rather the culmination of all the rest, and by it we must judge the people of Kashmir at their best.”

In the ancient period, many Kashmir temples served as centers of learning. Between the sixth and twelfth centuries, the temple complex of Sharda (Saraswati) Devi, located in Kashmir’s Kisanganga Valley, had a temple university. The large library at this university used to attract researchers from all parts of India. The university’s teachers had developed the Sharda script (a writing system belonging to the Brahmic family of scripts). The use of the Sharda script was widespread between the eighth and the twelfth centuries in Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Himachal Pradesh. 

The Prabhāvakacarita, a thirteenth century history text, contains an account of the role that the Sharda Devi temple university played in the development of Gujarati grammar. Here’s a summary of the story: 

The King of Gujarat Jayasimha asked the Jain scholar Hemachandra (1088–1172) to compose a system of grammar. Hemachandra replied that to accomplish the task he would need to consult the old textbooks of grammar which were available only at Kashmir’s Sharda Devi temple. The old grammar texts were obtained and Hemachandra wrote a treatise on Gujarati grammar, the Siddhahemachandra. Because of this work, Hemachandra is seen as the father of Gujarati language.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

The Utilitarian and Evangelical Alliance Against Hinduism

Utilitarianism is regarded as an atheistic, secular, and liberal philosophy. But in the nineteenth century, it acted like a militant colonial faith devoted to christianizing and anglicizing the non-Western cultures, especially Indian culture. The utilitarians applied their utilitarian principle and argued that happiness to the highest number of people was possible only under a Christianized and Anglicized social order. With such conviction, it was natural for them to develop an alliance with the British Evangelicals who wanted to make Christianity dominant in all parts of the world. 

In 1818, the Utilitarian philosopher James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill, published his three-volume work The History of British India. Mill had never been to India; he could not speak any Indian language; he had no direct knowledge of India and Hinduism—he wrote his book on the basis of the information supplied to him by the British Evangelicals who were associated with the East India Company. The Evangelicals gave Mill access to the East India Company’s records which he used extensively in his book. 

Mill’s book is remarkably foolish and ignorant; it is Evangelical propaganda masquerading as a scholarly work of history. Toeing the position taken by the Evangelicals, Mill identifies Hinduism as the root cause of India’s social problems. 

The book has a section titled “Of The Hindus,” which contains ten chapters. In these chapters, the attacks on Hinduism are pure vitriol. In the chapter titled, “General Reflections,” in the “Of the Hindus" section, Mill wrote: "under the glossing exterior of the Hindu, lies a general disposition to deceit and perfidy.” He claimed that Hinduism was symptomatic of the “rudest and weakest state of the human mind.” He tried to establish that burning widows at the funeral pyre of their husbands was a common custom among the Hindus.

In his book, Mill does not spare the orientalists who had said positive things about Hindu culture. He viewed William Jones as his intellectual nemesis. He accused Jones of being influenced by the “legendary tales of the Hindus.”

Despite its biases and flaws, Mill’s book went on to become a bestseller in Britain, making Mill a wealthy man and conferring on him the status of an influential intellectual. British society started seeing him as an expert on India. The book led to the rise of anti-Hindu sentiments in Europe, and had a profound influence on British policies in India. 

Many important scholars, including Karl Marx, read Mill’s book and were influenced by it. Marx has criticized Mill’s economic theory, calling it a “shallow syncretism.” But he accepted Mill’s view of India and Hinduism. Some of the negative things that Marx has said about India were inspired by his reading of Mill’s The History of British India.

Mill was convinced that Utilitarianism was an important component of Britain’s civilizing mission in India. The British government accepted Mill’s The History of British India as an authoritative work of history. The book was taught to students who were being trained to join the Indian Civil Service. This ensured that most British administrators who took important posts in India had a negative view of Hinduism. In 1806, the East India Company had founded the Imperial Service College at Haileybury. For decades, Mill's book was used as a textbook of history in this college and other colleges in Britain. His book became an important source of Indophobia.

In 1819, Mill was rewarded for writing his history book with an appointment to the post of Assistant Examiner of Indian Correspondence. In 1830, he was promoted to the post of Examiner. This post gave him the power to develop policies and legal systems that could lead to the anglicization of Indian society.

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Rise of Islam: The Contest Between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches

From the founding of Constantinople in 324 AD to the middle of the eleventh century AD, Christianity was a dominant religion in the Middle East. Believed to be founded by the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Orthodox Church, located in Antioch (present day Turkey, close to the Syrian border), then a part of the Byzantine Empire, was the leading center of Christian learning.

Around 632 AD, there was rise of Islam in Arabia. In 634 AD, when the Arabs conquered Baghdad, and when they started attacking the Persian Empire in 633 AD, the Christian world watched gleefully. The Christians were seeing Islam as their ally against Zoroastrianism, which was the official religion of the Persian Empire. They cheered the fall of the Persian Empire in 654 AD. 

When the Arabs conquered Jerusalem, the birthplace of Jesus, between 636 and 637 AD, the Christian world was shocked. Between 639 and 698 AD, the Arab armies swept across North Africa, conquering Egypt and Carthage. These defeats were a loss of prestige for the Orthodox Church and the biggest Christian empire of the region, the Byzantine Empire. The Christians realized that Islam had become a serious contender for power in the Middle East.

Until the second decade of the eighth century the Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire bore the brunt of the Islamic attacks—the Roman Catholic Church did not suffer any territorial losses, since it was headquartered in Europe. The Europeans had a taste of Islamic power from 711 AD, when the Arab armies crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered the Iberian Peninsula (much of Spain and Portugal). 

Before the rise of Islam, Orthodox Christianity had a philosophical and tolerant character. The Catholics used to accept the position taken by the Orthodox Church on most doctrinal matters. The relentless struggle with Islam transformed Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. By the tenth century, both schools had become fanatical and intolerant. 

A race for gaining new adherents began in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Orthodox Christianity expanded in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Roman Catholic Church expanded into Western Europe. One of the reasons behind the Catholic success in converting Western Europe was that the Catholic Pope had the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne. The Pope also enjoyed the financial backing of the wealthy traders of Venice, Genoa, Pisa, and Florence. 

The Byzantine Empire, which was engaged in a war of survival against the Islamic armies, could not offer the same kind of support to the Orthodox Church. 

Further damage was caused to the position of the Orthodox Church in 1054, when Pope Leo IX excommunicated the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church over a doctrinal issue (known as the Great Schism or Schism of 1054). By orchestrating the Patriarch’s excommunication, Leo IX had proved that the institution of the Roman Catholic Pope possessed the ultimate authority on all doctrinal issues—if the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church failed to accept the line taken by the Roman Catholic Pope then he could be excommunicated.

The Byzantine Empire was expected to support the Orthodox Church in their doctrinal dispute against the Roman Catholic Church. But the Byzantine Emperors were engaged in a struggle for survival against the Islamic movements. In 1071, the army led by the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes was defeated by the Seljuq Turks at the Battle of Manzikert. This defeat put an end to the notion that the Byzantine Empire was the greatest power in the Middle East. It was an empire in decline.  

In 1094, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appealed to the Roman Catholic Pope Urban II for assistance in the struggle against the Islamic forces. In response, Urban II launched the crusade to liberate the holy land and open new land routes to India. 

The crusaders managed to liberate Jerusalem in 1099. But in 1144, the Turkish armies captured Edessa in Asia Minor, causing a breakup in the line of communication between Jerusalem and the European kingdoms. It was now logistically impossible to supply and defend Jerusalem. When the city fell to Sultan Saladin in 1187, the Christian world was outraged. A new crusade was launched to liberate Jerusalem and to open new land routes to India. This crusade too failed.

By the middle of the fifteenth century, the Middle East and North Africa were under Islamic control. With the loss of these regions, the Orthodox Church became less important. With its Orthodox rival in decline, the Roman Catholic Church became the leader of Christianity.

Polytheism Versus Monotheism

In polytheism, there are many Gods but one humanity: all humans are regarded as the children of the same divine attribute which pervades every conception of God. In monotheism, there is one God but humanity gets divided into two categories: the believers who are the God’s chosen ones, and the unbelievers (heathens or kafirs) who are destined to be destroyed by God.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Rise of Islam: The 700 Years of Separation Between India and Europe

The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder has credited the first century BC Greek navigator Hippalus for discovering the monsoon winds. It is believed that Hippalus was the first to discover that the monsoon winds could be used to make a voyage from the Red Sea to India. But Indian sailors and traders had been using the monsoon winds to reach Red Sea ports for centuries before Hippalus. In the time of Alexander, sea trade was flourishing between India and Egypt. The Greek historian, Strabo, has claimed that hundreds of ships laden with goods from India used to arrive in the Red Sea port of Myos Hormos. 

From the time of the Persian Empire, Indians and Europeans were using land routes to communicate and trade. The land routes went through the passes located in modern day Pakistan and Afghanistan: the Khyber and Kurrum passes. Another route went through the Makran Coast (in southeastern Iran and southwestern Pakistan). Most of these regions were under Hindu and Buddhist kings in the ancient period; Iran was under Persian kings. 

In 634 AD, the Arabs conquered Baghdad; they conquered Syria in 636 AD; Persia between 633 to 654 AD; the holy city of Jerusalem between 636 and 637 AD; and Egypt between 639 and 646 AD. After conquering Carthage on the Northern African coast in 698 AD, the Arabs set their eyes on Europe. In 711 AD, they crossed the Gulf of Gibraltar and conquered the Iberian Peninsula (much of modern Spain and Portugal). In 1453, the Ottoman armies conquered the last bastion of Christianity in the Middle East: Constantinople. With the fall of Constantinople, the Islamization of the Middle East and North Africa was complete. 

Due to the Islamic conquests of North Africa, the Middle East, and the Iberian Peninsula, for more than 700 years, between the seventh and the fifteenth centuries, the direct land and sea link between India and Europe was broken. Indians and the Europeans could communicate and trade only through Arab intermediaries. The knowledge of India was transmitted to Europe through the Arabs—this included the knowledge of Hindu numerals, Vedic philosophy, medicine, moral theory, military science, and games like chess. 

The traders of Europe became dependent on the Arabs for procuring goods from India and other eastern kingdoms. The Arabs were now in a position to demand a massive premium on the Eastern goods going to Europe. The European traders had no option except to pay whatever the Arabs demanded, since they had no way of developing direct connections with the producers of the East. The high price of Eastern goods—particularly textiles and spices, which could be procured only from India—had a detrimental impact on the economy of the European states. 

The conflict between Christianity and Islam was not confined to the conquest of territories and exercise of economic power—a big thrust was on winning converts to their own religion. Having lost millions of followers and many of their holy sites to Islam in the Middle East and North Africa, the Christians were desperate to expand and replenish their numbers. They took aggressive steps to gain converts in Europe and Russia. The Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire found converts in Eastern Europe and Russia. A series of crusades and other campaigns were orchestrated by Rome’s Catholic Christian establishment to convert Western Europe. 

In the second half of the fifteenth century, after wresting control of Spain and Portugal, the Christian monarchs turned their attention to the mission of discovering a sea route to India that would bypass the Islamic strongholds of the Middle East and North Africa. The Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama was the first European to find a new sea route to India. Sailing from Lisbon, and going around the Cape of Good Hope, his four ships reached India on 8 July 1497. After a break of more than 700 years, a direct link between Europe and India was once again established.

The Grand Western Plan to Dismember Russia

The grand plan of the Machiavellians of Washington was to dismember Russia into smaller nations and then take control of its oil rich regions. That is why, since 1985, America has been pushing NATO to expand eastwards. That is why, since 1994, the Americans have been propping up one corrupt and belligerently anti-Russia regime after another in Ukraine. The American thinking was that if they could get hold of Russia’s oil rich regions, then they might ensure at least another century of American dominance of the world.  

The problem is that the Russians don't intend to lose their country. They are fighting back. America and its allies are running out of time. Big foreign investors have started liquidating their American holdings because they want to save their wealth from the economic tsunami that is about to hit America. To prop up its economy, America needs to plunder Russia’s natural resources. Without plunder of foreign lands, the American economy cannot survive—their businesses will shut down and millions will be jobless. 

Chaos in the American economy will have serious ramifications for Asian nations—they too will suffer. Some Asian nations will fall. About a year ago, on May 13, 2021, I posted the article, “The Winter of Despair for World Markets.” In the last one year nothing has happened to make me change my mind about what I said in this excerpt:

“What will be the point of no return for the global stock markets? There are several numbers that can be watched but I think two of the most crucial numbers are the DOW (Dow Jones Industrial Average) and the inflation figures in the USA. When the DOW goes below 15000 and the inflation in the USA edges close to 20%, then it will be a point of no return. 

“I call this the point of no return, because from here there will be no possibility of recovery. This will herald the end of the American and British led world order. History will come to an end for the Western civilization.

“The famous line by Charles Dickens comes to my mind: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.””

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

British Missionaries And Their Sati Propaganda

In the final years of the eighteenth century, British missionaries started exaggerating the occurrence of sati in India because they wanted to make the case that burning widows at the funeral pyre of their husbands was a common practice among India’s Hindus, and that christianization and anglicization of India was necessary to save the Hindu widows from the fate of being burned alive. 

The missionary propaganda turned sati into a sort of “original sin” of the Hindus even though sati had always been the rarest of the rare crimes in India. 

In Hinduism, fire is seen as a purifying agent—that is why the Hindus use fire during their prayers, marriage ceremonies, and other holy occasions. They cremate their dead because they believe that fire purifies the dead person’s soul. In Christianity, fire is associated with the putative fires of hell—being burned to death is the worst form of punishment for a Christian. That is why those accused of religious crimes like witchcraft and heresy were burned at the stake in Europe during the Middle Ages—the last witch was burned in Europe in 1782. 

In her book, Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse, Meenakshi Jain observes that sati was used by the Christian missionaries in their campaign against Hinduism. By insinuating that the Hindus were burning their widows, the missionaries were associating Hinduism with the Christian notion of the most extreme form of punishment—being burned in a hellfire. They were also appealing to the European Christians that It was their duty—the white man’s burden—to save Hindu widows from Hindu men. 

Meenakshi Jain quotes Christopher Bayly: “The British obsession with sati “was boundless.” Thousands of pages of parliamentary papers dealt with 4,000 immolations while the death of millions from famine and starvation was mentioned only incidentally—sometimes only because it tended indirectly to increase the number of widows performing the horrid act.”

The evangelicals were the most powerful group of missionaries in India in the early nineteenth century. Evangelicalism became a politically significant movement in Britain towards the end of the eighteenth century partially as a response to the atheistic excesses of the French Revolution. The British religious and political establishment was shocked by the dechristianization of France during the French Revolution; they began to support Evangelicalism because they expected the Evangelicals to serve as a defense mechanism against any anti-Christian uprising in Britain.

At that time, the East India Company was in the process of expanding its power in India. The officials of the company feared that missionary activity in India might jeopardize their trading activities, so they did not permit missionaries to operate in the Indian territories that were under the company’s control. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the East India Company came under intense pressure from the British evangelicals to open India for missionary enterprise. 

The evangelicals saw Hinduism as the source of several ills which plagued Indian society. They believed that if Hinduism was India's primary religion, the British hold on India could only be tenuous. They argued that once India was Christianized and Anglicized, British rule in the country would become permanent. Charles Grant, an employee of the East India Company since 1767, who had converted to Evangelical Christianity in 1776, was the first British official to argue for Christianization and Anglicization of India. 

In his 1792 tract, "Observations on the State of Society among the Asiatic Subjects of Great Britain,” Charles Grant argued that around 33,000 widows were being burned annually in India. It is not known how he arrived at this figure of 33,000. Some of the figures that he presents were concocted by the missionaries who wanted to degenerate Hinduism to make the Hindus give up their faith and accept Christianity. The campaign launched by Grant and other evangelicals bore fruit in 1813, when the East India Company agreed to open India for missionary activity.

Meenakshi Jain examines the colonial debate. Her book has excerpts from several primary sources which establish that before the rise of evangelicalism in Britain, the Europeans used to write positively about Hinduism. Even after the rise of evangelicalism, several high profile British officials disagreed with the missionaries about the prevalence of sati in India. Meenakshi Jain cites from the accounts of British officials who have asserted that while they had heard about sati, they had never seen one and they didn’t know anyone who had seen an act of sati. 

Some writers of that time lied about being a witness to an act of sati because they wanted to impress their European readers. Meenakshi Jain notes that the French writer Anquetil-Duperron alleged in 1758 that he was a witness to sati, but later on he confessed that he had made up the incident. 

If sati were popular among India’s Hindus, then its abolition would have led to an outrage in the country. But when sati was outlawed in December 1829, there was no outrage. Most Hindus had never observed an act of sati and they could not understand why the British were making such a fuss over this rare custom. Meenakshi Jain quotes the observation of English missionary William Carey: “There was no riot nor disaffection. No sepoy shot at his colonel; nowhere were magistrates or missionaries mobbed, treasuries plundered, or bungalows fired.” The banning of sati was a nonevent in India because this custom was extremely rare.

Meenakshi Jain’s book is full of facts, data, and references to primary sources. She establishes that evangelical and baptist missionaries, who wanted to christianize and anglicize India, were responsible for spreading the canard that sati was a widespread practice in Hinduism.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Marx: The Philosopher King

"It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way." ~ Karl Marx, in a letter to Friedrich Engels (1857)

In light of the history of the last 120 years, it is clear that Marx did not make an ass of himself. He became the most powerful philosopher of the modern age. In the twentieth century, his ideas have touched (for good or bad) the life of the vast majority of people in most major countries. In the twenty-first century, it does not seem that the age of Marxism is over. He continues to be relevant. Intellectuals are in awe of his world historical philosophy. His ideas drive the politics and culture of most major countries.

The doctrines that have emerged from Marx’s works—socialism, communism, liberalism, neoliberalism, environmentalism, Maoism, and capitalism—are the fulcrum on which world’s politics revolves. (I include capitalism among the Marxist doctrines because while critiquing capitalism, he gave shape to it.) If Marx had not created his philosophy, there would be no capitalism (or socialism and communism). Marx is the only modern philosopher who deserves the Platonic title: “Philosopher King.”

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Voltaire’s Prayer and My Prayer

“I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” ~ Voltaire 

I made the same prayer to God, but he hasn’t granted it yet. My enemies continue to thrive; they rule nations, multinational companies, academic institutions, and media entities.

The Original Ancient Texts Versus The Interpretations

What is written in the ancient religious and philosophical texts is of no consequence. What matters is how these ancient texts are being interpreted by the intellectuals. Most people do not directly access ancient texts. They get their truth ready-made—through the interpretations done by the intellectuals. The interpretations have a far greater influence on contemporary culture and politics than the content of the ancient texts.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Reforms of Lenin and Deng Xiaoping

In November 1921, Lenin wrote an article for the Pravda (No. 251) to justify the New Economic Policy (NEP) of Russia’s communist government that included practices like selling gold at commercial prices. He wrote: 

"When we are victorious on a world scale I think we shall use gold for the purpose of building public lavatories in the streets of some of the largest cities of the world. This would be the most “just” and most educational way of utilizing gold…”

“Meanwhile, we must save the gold in the R.S.F.S.R., sell it at the highest price, buy goods with it at the lowest price. When you live among wolves, you must howl like a wolf…” 

Lenin’s exhortation that one must “howl like a wolf” reminds me of the famous statement that China’s Deng Xiaoping made in the 1980s: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice?"

When Stalin took power in 1925, he overturned Lenin’s economic reforms, and adopted the policy of socialist industrialization. Russia’s economy has not recovered till this day. Deng’s reforms were not overturned, and China became a major economic power.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Polytheism Versus Monotheism

For much of history, religious tolerance has been the rule and religious intolerance the exception. Before the rise of monotheistic semitic religions in the last 2000 years, violence for religious reasons was largely unknown. People of the ancient age (the age before the last 2000 years) fought for all kinds of reasons but hardly ever in the name of their God. 

The monotheistic God is a jealous God, an exclusivist God, and an intolerant God. He is not the God for everyone, only for his chosen ones. He promises to deliver his flock of chosen ones to heaven and utterly destroy the unbelievers who refuse to worship only him. He seeks to create a world in which his chosen ones rule, and only he is worshipped. In the last 2000 years, the armies led by this God have swept the world to conquer and convert. 

The polytheistic God is syncretic, inclusive, and broadminded. He resides in everyone and everything. Anything—a rock, a tree, a figurine—can be the symbol of this God. Due to his syncretic and inclusive nature, the polytheistic God does not divide the world between the chosen ones and the unbelievers. He does not lead armies to conquer and convert because of the polytheistic belief that God is in everyone and everything. 

In the last 2000 years, the polytheistic God has faced a significant political disadvantage. The monotheistic cultures developed political unity under the banner of “One God.” With this unity they created powerful armies. The polytheistic societies remained without political unity, and they could not develop powerful armies. In most parts of the world, in the clashes between polytheistic societies and warlike monotheists, the former lost.

Mankind cannot live without God, so atheism is not an option. The choice is between the polytheistic God and the monotheistic God. Religious harmony is not possible until there is a return to polytheism—I don’t think such a return is possible, since the monotheistic movements are very powerful.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

On Afghanistan’s Buddhist Past

Buddhism arrived in Afghanistan in the third century BC, when Emperor Ashoka conquered the country and made it a part of the Maurya Empire. Within a century, Buddhism was flourishing in Afghanistan. Buddhist monasteries and large statues of Buddha came up in several parts of Afghanistan and in modern day Pakistan and Transoxania. 

When the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang visited Afghanistan in 610 AD, he found that the Theravada sect of Buddhism was dominant there. In his writings, he mentions that in the Balkh region (Afghanistan’s most prosperous region in that period) there were more than 100 viharas and 3000 monks. He talks about a number of Buddhist centers of learning and holy sites where monks practiced meditation and spirituality. He describes a 35-meter statue of Buddha—he calls this statue Sakyamuni. He describes a statue of Buddha that was 186-meters high—the Bamiyan Buddha. He mentions a third, even larger, statue of the reclining Buddha, located to the east of the monastery in Bamiyan. He notes that the Buddha statues were adorned with gold and fine jewels. 

In his 2011 book, History of Buddhism in Afghanistan, Professor C. S. Upasak has described Afghanistan’s Buddhist past and its conversion to Islam after the eleventh century. From his book it becomes clear that most people in the regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan did not convert to Islam directly from Hinduism. First they became Buddhists, which is an offshoot of Hinduism, and a few centuries later, their descendants accepted Islam. The Mongol conquest of the thirteenth century was an important factor in eliminating Buddhism from Afghanistan. The irony is that the Mongols themselves became Buddhist—Mongolia is today a Buddhist majority country.

One Nation’s Funeral, Another Nation’s Festival

The funeral of one nation is the festival for another nation. In the last 300 years, the Western nations have enjoyed the maximum number of festivals while granting a lot of funerals to other nations and communities. 

In the twenty-first century, the world has changed. It is no longer possible for the Western nations to enjoy festivals while creating funerals in other nations. Now most nations are being ruled by powerful nationalistic regimes. The people in these nations are no longer disunited—they have developed a strong sense of their own history and culture. Now it is impossible for the Western countries to outrightly conquer and colonize other nations and communities, or take control of their resources, capital, markets, and labor by orchestrating coups and imposing puppet regimes.

Can the global economy continue to function as before when every nation is demanding a fair price for its resources, is keen to safeguard its capital, and is fighting for access to the world's markets? I don’t think so. The Western nations constitute a big chunk of the global economy, and their markets cannot survive without access to cheap resources, labor, and capital from non-Western nations. The fall of the West is certain—as they go down they will drag several nations down with them. The end of the world order is near.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

On History and Culture

A nation’s culture is founded on its history. A history written by outsiders leads to the imposition of an alien culture.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hinduism and Gnosticism

In 1945, an Arab peasant named Muhammed Ali and his brothers were digging near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi for soft soil that they used to fertilize their crops. While digging near a boulder, they found a one meter high earthenware jar which contained thirteen papyrus books. Some of these papyrus books were destroyed because Ali's mother used them in the oven for kindling the fire. After a long and complicated process, the rest of the papyrus books reached scholars who understood their importance. 

The Nag Hammadi texts were the coptic translations, made in the second and third centuries AD, of much more ancient manuscripts written in Greek. They contained gnostic writings which had been denounced as heresy in the beginning of the Christian age. When Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, the Christian bishops acquired the power to prosecute the heretics. The gnostic preachers were martyred and their books were burned. The destruction of gnosticism by the Christian theologians was so thorough that before the discovery of the Nag Hammadi papyrus almost everything known about the gnostics came through approved Christian sources. 

Historians believe that the earthen jar containing the gnostic papyrus books, which had been denounced as heresy, were buried by a gnostic monk in the region of Nag Hammadi. The jar remained buried for almost 1600 years, until it was found by Mohammad Ali. The papyrus books contained fifty-two texts—six of them were duplicates, so there were forty-six original texts, out of which forty-one were not previously extant. 

The story of the origin of mankind that these texts tell is different from the Christian theology. For instance, the Testimony of Truth, tells the story of Adam and Eve from the viewpoint of the serpent who is depicted as the principle of divine wisdom. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: “If spirit came into being because of the body, it is a wonder of wonders, indeed, I am amazed at how this great wealth [the spirit] has made its home in this poverty [the body].” This is in line with the Eastern or Hindu teaching that the soul resides in the body. 

In her book on Nag Hammadi texts, The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, points out that the living Buddha could have said many of the lines that the Gospel of Thomas attributes to living Jesus. She asks the question: “Could Hindu or Buddhist tradition have influenced gnosticism?” In the Nag Hammadi texts, there are several passages which seem to be connected with the teachings of the Upanishads and other Hindu and Buddhist texts.

The gnostic thinkers were exposed to Hindu philosophy. One of the last gnostic philosophers, Bardaisan (11 July 154 – 222 AD), was in contact with Brahmin thinkers from India. In two of his texts, Porphyry talks about the meetings between Bardaisan and the Brahmin thinkers. In his book, Refutation of All Heresies, the Christian theologian Hippolytus of Rome includes Brahminism in the list of heresies which have inspired the gnostic movement. Here’s an excerpt from Refutation of All Heresies (passage 1.24): 

“There is… among the Indians a heresy of those who philosophize among the Brahmins, who live a self-sufficient life, abstaining from (eating) living creatures and all cooked food… They say that God is light, not like the light one sees, nor like the sun nor fire, but to them God is discourse, not that which finds expression in articulate sounds, but that of knowledge (gnosis) through which the secret mysteries of nature are perceived by the wise.” 

Another interesting question that Pagels asks in her book is: “Could the title of the Gospel of Thomas—named for the disciple who, tradition tells us, went to India—suggest the influence of Indian tradition?”

One Thing That An Empire Cannot Do

There is one thing that an empire cannot do—it cannot indulge in doubt and weakness, for these tendencies will be detected by its rivals in no time. An empire that projects doubt and weakness is a dying empire.

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Origin of the Doctrine of Holy Wars

The European Christians were the first to develop the doctrine that the entirety of mankind must believe in one God, their God, and be converted to one religion, their religion. They were the first to proclaim that all Gods, except their own, should not be worshipped because they were false. They were the first to send Jesuit priests to all parts of the world to preach their religion and inspire conversions. They were the first to use political and military power to make people give up their traditional religious beliefs and accept the Christian faith. 

Before the rise of Christianity in Europe (during the fourth century, the age of Constantine the Great), nations fought wars for all kinds of reasons: to capture slaves, conquer territory, plunder, to capture natural resources and critical trade routes. But they never fought in the name of their God. They never tried to impose their religion on people in the countries that they conquered.

For instance, when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, he did not try to force the Persians to convert en masse into the Greek religion. He allowed them to carry on with their religious beliefs. In fact, to endear himself to the Persian community, Alexander and his generals themselves converted to the Persian religion. When Alexander went to Egypt, he proclaimed that he venerated the Egyptian Gods, and that he was himself an Egyptian pharaoh. The Egyptian nobles loved him when he appeared before them attired as a pharaoh. 

The Roman Empire followed the policy of never interfering with the religious beliefs of the people in the territories that they conquered in Europe and North Africa. In pre-modern India, the Hindu kings used to  follow a very tolerant religious policy. Buddhism, an offshoot of Hinduism, was born in India and through the work of Buddhist monks it became a major religion in several nations—Japan, China, Thailand, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Burma. The Mongol king Genghis Khan never imposed his religion on the masses in the territories that his Mongol army conquered.

Even the Islamic rulers did not follow the policy of converting their subjects in the territories that they conquered in Europe (Al-Andalus Empire). From 711 to 1492, Al-Andalus was under the rule of Islamic monarchs but there was hardly any conversion to Islam. In her book, The Ornament of the World, Professor Maria Rosa Menocal notes that Christians were the majority community in Al-Andalus; the financial system and International trade in Al-Andalus was dominated by the Jews who constituted 10 percent of the population. 

In 1095, when the crusades were announced by Pope Urban II to liberate the Holy Land, Christians were in a majority in the Middle East and North Africa, and the Byzantine Empire, which was more than 90 percent Christian, was the most powerful state in the region. The religious zeal and violence of the invading crusaders drove the masses in this region into the arms of the Islamic preachers and rulers. By the end of the thirteenth century, the crusaders were driven out of the Middle East, and in the fifteenth century, the Byzantine Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks.

By the end of the nineteenth century, when one-third of humanity had been converted, Christianity’s hold on the West began to unravel. In the 1970s, historian Ram Swarup observed that, due to the rationalist review done by Europe’s thinkers, “Christianity had had its teeth knocked out in the modern West…” He believed that when the work of Europe’s thinkers reached India, Christianity would cease to appeal to the Indian masses. He saw Islam and communism as the twentieth century’s powerful proselytizing forces.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Importance of Contradictions

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald. I believe that Fitzgerald is correct. An intelligent mind is like an Aladdin’s lamp—every time you rub the lamp, new knowledge conjoined with new contradictions emerge.

Man & the Human Condition

“Every man has within himself the entire human condition.” ~ Michel de Montaigne 

I can empathize with Montaigne’s statement. When I write my articles on history, philosophy, and politics, I am, in my own way, thinking about all of humanity.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Proselytization is a Shotgun Wedding

The union between a nation and the four proselytizing religions (Islam, Christianity, Communism, and Capitalism) is a shotgun wedding. Without political violence, en masse proselytization cannot happen. This is what history tells us. 

The world’s first project for large-scale proselytization was launched in Europe, in the final decades of the Roman Empire. After that Europe went through more than 1400 years of uninterrupted prosecutions and violence (this includes the crusades, the reconquista, the reformation wars, and numerous bloody campaigns against pagan tribes and cults). By the end of the Middle Ages, most Europeans had given up their pagan religion and converted to Christianity. Once Europe was converted, the Europeans emerged from their continent to convert the rest of the world—in this they achieved great success. Today Christianity is the world’s biggest religion, followed by Islam, and then by the two modern European religions, Communism and Capitalism.

The violence caused by the four proselytizing religions in Asia, the Americas, and Africa is comparable to the violence that Europe went through.

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Hindus: The Last of the Ancients

Victory in wars does not imply cultural superiority. Economic success does not imply cultural superiority. Many nations in the earlier ages, and in the present, have won wars and attained economic success because their culture was brutal, corrupt, and violent; their culture encouraged them to invade other nations to plunder, enslave, and proselytize. But in nations which were vanquished in the global conflicts, a significant part of the population took their defeat as a sign that the religion and culture of the victors was superior, and they became an easy target for enslavement and proselytization. 

In the last 1000 years, the four proselytizing religions—Islam, Christianity, Communism, and Capitalism—have swept the world and conquered 75 percent of mankind. There is immense pressure on the remaining 25 percent to enter the global bandwagon by accepting some form of the four proselytizing religions. Of these 25 percent holdouts, the vast majority (more than 85 percent) are the Hindus of India. There are several reasons—which I can’t express in this short three-paragraph article—which enabled India’s Hindus to elude the powerful attraction of the four proselytizing religions. But while eluding the proselytizing religions, India’s Hindus have failed to fully participate in the advancements in politics, science, and technology that took place during the last 250 years—the consequence of this failure is that they could not develop their society.

The Hindus are the last massive and mostly monolithic group of people (their population is 1.2 billion) who follow ancient moral and cultural beliefs. By ancient beliefs, I mean the beliefs which are founded on theories and mythologies which originated more than 2500 years ago. If a significant part of India’s Hindu population accepts another faith or ideology, then their ancient beliefs will be lost, and their society will get bogged down in civil wars which will go on for decades. Economic development, which can come through political reforms, and the strengthening of military capabilities, will be the key to their survival.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

India: The World’s Only Unconquered Civilization

India is the world’s only ancient civilization with a massive population that has not been conquered by the four proselytizing religions of the last 1000 years: Islam, Christianity, Communism, and Capitalism. All four of these proselytizing religions made major incursions inside India during the last 1000 years, but the bulk of the country remained unconquered. Hinduism (sanatana dharma) continues to be the dominant religion of this country—85 precent of the population continues to cling to their Hindu faith. There are a few other nations which remain unconquered: for example, Japan and Sri Lanka. But their population is very small, and their culture is founded on Buddhism, which is an offshoot of Hinduism.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Dresden Codex and the Mysterious Origin of Venus

In his 1950 book, Worlds in Collision, Immanuel Velikovsky posited that Venus was released as a comet or comet-like object by Jupiter in 1500 BC, and that it passed close to earth. The near encounter between Venus and earth caused a change in earth’s orbit and its axis of rotation. According to Velikovsky, this resulted in massive catastrophes on earth which have been chronicled in ancient mythologies from around the world. 

At the time of the publication of Velikovsky’s book, scientists knew very little about Venus. As late as 1959, scientists believed that the surface temperature of Venus was 17 degrees centigrade—three degrees above the mean annual temperature of the earth—and that the atmosphere in Venus was as clear as that on earth. But Velikovsky theorized that due to its stormy history, Venus must be very hot and it would be radiating massive amounts of heat. He posited that Venus must be enveloped by a thick cloud of hydrocarbon gases and dust. 

Velikovsky’s view of Venus was vindicated in 1961, when radio telescopes found that the ground temperature of Venus was between 315 degrees and 600 degrees centigrade. In December 1962, the Mariner II spacecraft passed Venus, and it detected surface temperatures as high as 800 degrees centigrade. On the basis of the data sent by Mariner II, NASA scientists announced in February 1963 that Venus was shrouded in a 15 mile thick cloud of hydrocarbon gases and dust, hovering 45 miles above the ground. 

Even though Velikovsky was right about some characteristics of Venus (and of Jupiter and earth), scientists have rejected his theory that Venus was a comet which caused catastrophes on earth when it became a planet, around 1500 BC. 

The Dresden Codex, one of the only four Maya codices which survived the book burnings orchestrated by the Spanish conquistadors and Jesuits in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contains data related to Venus movements that some historians believe correlates with the idea of a close encounter between earth and Venus. The Dresden Codex was probably written in the 12th century AD. But archeologists believe that it was composed centuries before that, and it was copied for generations. 

The Maya were great astronomers—they developed some of the most accurate pre-telescope data on the movement of celestial bodies. Most of their recordings correlate with modern measurements. Their data of the sky in the period of 1500 BC, contained in the Dresden Codex, suggests a very anomalous behavior in the movement of Venus and earth.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The European Reaction to the Mayan Concept of Zero

In the sixteenth century, when Europe's first Jesuit priests made contact with the Maya in the Americas, and they examined the Mayan texts, they found that the Maya were using zero in their calculations. For the Jesuits, the use of zero was a heresy which had to be stamped out. To eradicate Maya religion, the Jesuits ordered the burning of every Mayan texts that they could lay their hands on. The biggest bonfire of Mayan texts was orchestrated on July 12, 1562, on the orders of Spanish Bishop Diego de Landa. In this bonfire, thousands of texts and images, some of them thousands of years old, were burned. Thus, much of Mayan history was wiped out. 

Since most Mayan texts were burned, it is not clear when and how the Maya discovered their concept of zero, and how they used zero in their philosophy and calculations. In Asia, the concept of zero was discovered more than 4000 years ago, by the Hindus of India and the Sumerians of Mesopotamia. In the ancient Hindu theory of creation, the universe began with nothingness, or sunyata (void). The Hindus theorized that God created the universe out of nothing, and that before the visible universe became extant there was sunyata. This kind of theory of creation made the Hindus comfortable with the concept of zero, and with the converse of zero, infinity. Ancient Hindu texts contain numerous references to the concepts of zero and infinity. The philosophy of sunyata has played a critical role in Hindu religious thought.

The Ancient Greek story of creation began with something—the realm of the Gods. The Greeks theorized that a void could not exist, since the realm of Gods was eternal. Such a story of creation made the Greeks uncomfortable with the concept of zero. For them zero was a heretical and alien concept. Christian Europe inherited the Greek view of zero. It was due to European discomfort with the concept of zero that the Roman Numeral System, which was used in Europe for more than 1800 years, did not have a symbol for zero. Right up to the sixteenth century, the Church decreed the use of zero as a heresy, and they kept this concept out of mainstream mathematics. The use of zero became acceptable to the Church in 1582, when the Gregorian calendar was authorized by Pope Gregory XIII.

Who Will Sacrifice the Lion?

“The Vedas had prescribed that a lion should be slaughtered in one of the sacrifices. But who would catch a lion? So the poor goat was substituted for it. Why? Simply because the goat was weak… It is indeed a sin and a crime to be weak. It is only the strong who can fight for dharma (righteousness) and practice kshama (forgiveness).” ~ Sita Ram Goel in his 1982 essay “From Gandhism to Communism.”

Monday, May 2, 2022

China and the Threat of American Sanctions

On April 22, Chinese regulators held an emergency meeting with foreign and domestic banks to develop strategies for protecting China’s overseas assets from American sanctions. The conference included bureaucrats from China’s central bank and finance ministry, as well as executives from several local and international lenders such as HSBC. 

China is worried that in the event of a conflict, or some other crisis, it might have to bear the brunt of American sanctions similar to those imposed on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. President Xi Jinping’s government has refused to cut ties with Russia. The Chinese banks are concerned that getting into large transactions with Russia might trigger America’s sanctions.

If China decides to provide military aid to Russia in the ongoing Ukraine war, or if it moves against Taiwan, it could face sanctions from America. China’s dollar-denominated assets include more than $1 trillion in US Treasury bonds and several high profile investments in America and Western Europe. For instance, China’s Dajia Insurance Group owns the Waldorf Astoria New York. 

Like China, most major non-Western countries are worried about the safety of their overseas assets and their ability to trade globally, in case they get into a conflict with America and its allies. Like China, these countries are now engaged in developing strategies for saving their overseas assets and global trade. Suspicion of America’s economic power is at an all time high. 

The dollar and the financial systems for conducting global trade are not conventional economic tools. These are the most deadly weapons in America’s arsenal. America has weaponized the dollar. It has weaponized its financial systems. 

The American government has the power to wreck the economy of its enemies by putting a freeze on their overseas assets, and by hindering them from accessing global trade. America has misused this power several times in the past. This country has a long history of imposing sanctions on other countries for its political and economic agenda. 

Since the Second World War, America has orchestrated more coups and wars than any other nation in history. It owns more puppet regimes and overseas military bases than any other nation in history. By using the threat of sanctions, America forces other countries to ignore or support its overseas misadventures.

The non-Western countries must develop their own globally acceptable currencies and financial systems for participating in global trade. A free and fair global market system cannot be created as long as the dollar is the global reserve currency and most of the global trading systems are under America’s control.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

On Churchill’s Unnecessary War

In the preface to the first volume of his six-volume history, The Second World War, Churchill wrote: “One day President Roosevelt told me that he was asking publicly for suggestions about what the war should be called. I said at once ‘The Unnecessary War.’ There never was a war more easy to stop than that which has just wrecked what was left of the world from the previous struggle.” 

Churchill knew that the Europeans had blundered into one of the costliest and bloodiest wars of the modern age. But he had played a major role in making this blunder possible, since he was Europe's biggest warmonger and warlord. During his lifetime, there was never a war that he did not support, relish, and use to promote his political career. The distinctive feature of his political career, extending over more than five decades (1900 to 1955), can be summarized in a single sentence: During war times, his political fortune soared; in times of peace, it plummeted. The greater the war, the greater was the glory and power that he accumulated. 

Churchill's fanatical anti-German obsession made it impossible for him to look for a diplomatic solution to the European crisis of the 1920s and 1930s. His incessant beating of war drums played a critical role in ensuring that the Europeans blundered into the Second World War. Like the First World War, the Second World War was a European civil war. (Napoleon reportedly said in 1802 that all European wars are civil wars.)

On America’s Invasion of Grenada

In April 1975, the American military was defeated in Vietnam. On October  23, 1983, the U.S. Marines Corps barracks in Beirut suffered a devastating attack in which hundreds were killed—this was the bloodiest attack ever on an American military post. 

The American political establishment was now in a desperate need of flexing its muscles somewhere in the world to prove to their own population and to outsiders that they were still capable of fighting wars. So Ronald Reagan decided to invade the “tiny” state of Grenada which has a population of barely 100,000 people and an army consisting of less than 2000 lightly-armed and badly-trained soldiers. On October 25, just two days after the Beirut attack on Marines Corps barracks, the American military (about 7,600 soldiers equipped with high-tech weaponry and air support) invaded Grenada. 

There was no military reason for invading Grenada. The Reagan administration orchestrated the invasion for the sole purpose of proving that America was not a weak nation. In his speech, Reagan proclaimed: “Our days of weakness are over! Our military forces are back on their feet, and standing tall!” The world was not convinced by Reagan’s tough talk. Grenada, a tiny nation with barely any military, is not the place where you prove your strength. You prove your strength by fighting someone of your own size.