Friday, September 18, 2015

KNOWLEDGE AND RELIGION


Dated 18th September 2015
by:    K.Siladass


How do we evaluate or deal with those people whose irrational behaviour coupled with senseless babblings are bordering on idiocy? It is not easy though, but understandable; for these are the people who have been treated to false or distorted versions of history by so-called historians whose credibility is suspect.



          It is indeed improper, in a multi-racial and multi-religious society, to cast aspersions on others, or behave in a manner which hurts, or could be construed as a design to hurt other religions, their followers and their practices; more so in a country that professes tolerance and accept the existence of other religions which are clothed with constitutional protection. Therefore, in Malaysia, it would be the height of folly to be critical or to demean any religion or it practices. This is a good philosophy and a best way of life: and it is true that no law is needed to re-affirm this norm, common sense and common decency would be sufficient to reiterate the dignified respect for human values which may not be in consonant with one’s own beliefs. Live and learn to live in differing conditions and under variegated circumstances. Needless to say that this is the trend which we should inculcate in everyone. Strangely, before Merdeka and for many
years thereafter, the people never ventured into such abusive, and mean conduct but now it has become too rampant.



          If we argue about religion and what they stand for we cannot find any well-reasoned answer because of the warped nature of the education that has been instilled in us. The system of education we have does not allow us to get out of the box within which our thoughts are fastened. We are told to accept, without demur, what had been taught. Freedom of thought is confined to the box-thinking-method ensuring you do not go out of it: but function like a machine programmed to operate in a certain manner. A machine cannot think, which, having been programmed can only perform a particular function. Alike those machines, the present education system prepares us to believe certain things and we are warned not to think anything to the contrary.


          The mechanical type of learning allows us with no freedom to think because those who taught us are fearful that we may go against their teachings upon proper and deeper investigation. They do not want us to get out of the box but they tell us to think, which in fact is, the way machines perform, behave the way the machines had been programmed. Yes, our education system’s aim is to programme us right from the day we begin to speak, to learn, go to school and to places of worship our parents took us.



          Thus, those who recklessly hurl abuses at other religions and their practices must first seek answers to the questions, whether they are free to discuss their own strength and weakness before embarking on a frontal assault on the faiths of others and their practices. A person of a certain faith must search for an answer within his own order whether he has the freedom to discuss about his own religion and himself apart from what he had been taught before attacking others. And before attacking others how much does he or she know about other faiths? 



          While it must be admitted that religions came into being for certain benign purposes, it cannot however be denied that they have also vastly contributed towards the growing distrust and hatred and violent conflict among the human race. They have been the fertile source for growing discontent and endless troubles in the world; thus continue to be the bane fettering freedom for knowledge, disrupting peace and harmony in every sphere of human life. While the initial endeavour must have been to unite a group of people subjecting them to some form of orderliness giving it a colour of divine sanction that objective has been destroyed. With the seed of hatred sown in every form of conceivable human relationship the human race led by politico-religions men has lost its ability to reason, debate in a less emotive manner the cause for the conflicts in their thoughts. This religious shackle on the thoughts of the human race remains the primary cause
preventing the debate with reason in every aspect of people’s life.



          Mark Twain encapsulated the position when he wrote that man “is the only animal that has True Religion-several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself, and cuts his throat if his theologies are not straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s past to happiness and heaven.”[1]

         

          It will be emphasized that one can only  get out of the realm  of ignorance if he or she is prepared to seek knowledge and understand its implications from wherever it may emanate. Enhancement of knowledge begins within yourself and not by destroying the accumulated and well established knowledge of other races, countries and religions. Any action aimed at destroying the wealth of knowledge of other races, religions and the mines of literature created, may, no doubt, yield transient victory by bringing happiness to those who venture into such sickening anti-human and anti-knowledge conduct. But that would not last long. Calls to destroy books of other religions is nothing but a semblance of immaturity and weakness. They believe in violence: “If I cannot have my way then everything must be destroyed”. In the modern world this kind of thinking cannot be countenanced. 



          Let us consider the destruction of the seat of learning, Nalanda, which, according to Charles Allen, the author of Ashoka, “contained the most extensive repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world…”[2]



          “Surprise and terror”, writes Charles Allen, “were the twin pillars of Muhammad Baktiyar’s success as military commander.” Muhammad Baktiyar sent a messenger wanting to know whether the “libraries contained a copy of the Quran.” Having learnt that a copy of Quran was not there, he ordered the “destruction of the Great Monastery and all it contained”[3]. A similar story prevails in connection with the destruction of the Alexandria library in Egypt. Prophet Muhammad would have not tolerated this course of action.



          It must be reiterated that destruction of an existing knowledge will not help build another however attractive it may be. Aside from this, we really cannot claim that we are far superior than our ancestors who graced this world several millennia ago.  We, like our immediate ancestors, are continually  marvelled at the works that were produced five millennia ago. Have we achieved anything new in the field of philosophy or religion other than the existing ones, except science which again the fundamentals are traceable to the past?


          The Mughals who invaded India destroyed  Hindu temples and founded mosques on the same sites, had only limited success; but the Hindu religion did not perish, although many, under different and trying circumstances, did embrace Islam. Whatever the ordeal may be, Hinduism and Buddhism have survived the fierce onslaught and had remained a force to be understood, reckoned with and respected. Thus, the traditions, practices of Hindus are not of recent origin but of thousands of years ago. The Hindu religion and civilization continue to be fascinating compared to the ancient Greek, Babylonian, Egyptian and Roman civilizations which have been superseded by religions. The Hindu civilization continues with its splendor to this day in the same manner as they were in the distant past, however antiquated and perplexing they may be.



          One particular quality among the Hindu stands out very glaringly, it is the tolerant attitude and the desire to learn. Hindus have never shut the doors of knowledge and this insatiable thirst for knowledge has opened up the doors for other religions to find a place under the Hindu Sun. Buddhism which arrived later was eventually accepted by the Hindus, as was Sikhism and other old religions. The aeonian strength of the Hindu religion is its in-built psychological fortitude.


          When Jews came after their trying experience and ordeal in their homeland, they found a save haven in Kerala, and other parts of Northern India. This was followed by Christianity, and last but not least, Islam.



          N.S.Xavier, M.D. in his book the Holy Region[4] tells us that “the Cheraman mosque of Kodungallur is reputed to be the first mosque in the Indian sub-continent. It was established in 629 AD, according to Muslim tradition. Some sources say that a Hindu king gave an existing temple-possibly a Buddhist temple that was not in use-to be used as a mosque.”



          Xavier goes on to say that, “this mosque is unique in that it does not face Mecca as other mosques do. This might indicate the flexibility in earlier times in such traditions as to which direction a mosque faces.”


          Perhaps it is now observable that Hinduism did not latch its doors to prevent the entry of other religions into its realm of knowledge. This is what we may properly call a tolerant attitude imbued with a desire to acquire more knowledge. It is a misconceived notion to allege that an aggressor who had blundered and imposed his beliefs on the inhabitants of the conquered land had been tolerant to other religions. Having taken positive steps to destroy other religions and their works it is strange that they can unabashedly claim to have tolerant attitude - it is a sheer abuse of the term tolerant attitude. Whether other religions had been able to substitute the Hindu philosophy or not is a question which requires a very mature study; however, it can be seen that notwithstanding the violent attack by the Mughals  Hinduism still remains a strong fort as ever not fearing the fiscal strength nor the scientific advancements from other regions.



          Emperor Ashoka (Ashoka means-without sorrow) in his edict 12 declared:-



      “… that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. Growth in essentials can be done in different ways, but all of them have as their root restraint in speech, that is, not praising one’s own religion, or condemning the religion of others without good cause. And if there is cause for criticism, it should be done in a mild way. But it is better to honour other religions for this reason. By so doing, one’s own religion benefits, and so do other religions, while doing otherwise harms ones’ own religion and the religions of others. Whoever praises his own religion, due to excessive devotion, and condemns others with the thought ‘Let me glorify my own religion’ only harms his own religion. Therefore contact (between religions) is good. One should listen to and respect the doctrines professed by others. (Emphasis is mine)


          Ashoka also added that he desired all should be well learned in the good doctrines of other religions.



      “Those who are content with their own religion should be told this”: said Ashoka that he, “does not value gifts and honours as much as he values that there should be growth in the essentials of all religions. And to this end many are working-Dharma Mahamatras, Mahamatras in charge of the women’s quarters, officers in charge of outlying areas, and other such officers. And the fruits of this is that one’s own religion grows and the Dharma is illuminated also.”


          Religion might be good provided it does not operate in a manner aimed at destroying human values, rational thoughts, friendship and the harmony amongst all races, It should not turn out to be the poisoned chalice.

         

What is needed today is the political will to understand others, their way of life, their culture, their religion and at the same time learn to co-exist in a peaceful environment; failing which unbearable disaster and catastrophe will ensue. The hope for happiness will perish and that is the last thing any religion wants. Power and opulence cannot bring harmony for they somehow function to destroy humane feelings and considerations. We need to avoid such consequences.


J.P. Vaswani writes in Sufi Saints of East and West[5]:-

         
“The world, today, is smitten with hatred between creeds and classes and countries. We are passing through a period of darkness, and each day the darkness deeper grows. What the sad world needs, today, is living light of love. With it are illumined the lives of the ‘Friends of God’. For they touched the depths where no separation exists, where East and West unite. In this unity is still the hope of a broken, bleeding humanity.”     


Tariq Ramadan, a philosopher, writes in his book The Quest for Meaning”[6]: “What does my path say about paths, and what does my singular universal say about diversity? What, for instance, does this Quranic assertion-revelation say to the Muslim consciousness and to believers in general: ‘Had God so willed, He would have made you a single community’ [The Table Spread V 48] this implicit recognition of diversity seems to echo the essence of the ancient teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Knowing that we are on a quest, recognizing the existence of many different ways, and doubting the essence of our way, as opposed to that of others: these are the three basic elements of humility.”



The message is very clear. Religions must begin to think about sharing the experiences and bring happiness to all people and not create deeper abyss. They should begin building bridges to understand one another, respect one another not to demolish the already existing fragile bridges. Understanding other religions and ideas will always enrich our thoughts, and condition our minds to appreciate the existence of fellow-beings.


In a multi-racial and multi- religious country peaceful co-existence should be the guiding principle; ignore this fact, then, catastrophe and disaster will begin to court and haunt us destroying everything our ancestors stood for and shatter  future generations' dream of a prosperous Malaysia with happy people.
          

  
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[1] Letters from Earth (1974) p. 180.

[2] Ashoka, p.3

[3] Ashoka, p.4
[4] Holy Region, p.57

[5] Sufi Saints of East and West, p.15
[6] The Quest for Meaning, p.16


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