East and West

Discussion in 'Comparative Studies' started by Thomas, Oct 28, 2003.

  1. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    I heard an interesting concept last week . . .

    Of the major world religions, Hinduism, Taoism etc have remained largely within the geographic locus of their founding.

    Judaism is given specifically to a people.

    Christianity, however, was born in one place and spread west to another.

    Buddhism, likewise, was born in one place and spread east to another.

    Islam occupies the 'space' between the two.

    A generalisation, I know, but something to think about.

    Thomas
     
  2. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    My personal perception has always been that Christianity and Islam spread specifically for reason of their intolerance to other faiths - not least the need to proselytise. It is a singular issue that perhaps has made both the world's leargest religions. The geographic spread was accelerated by the political movements, not least that kings generally decided the religion for their own people on the single decision of personal conversion or no.

    The spread of Buddhism - the East is always a weakness of mine. Was there a particular strife - drawn out conflict between Buddhism and Hinduism, that effectively pushed Buddhism further eastwards? Political currents certainly seemed to carry it at some later point, especially overseas.
     
  3. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste Brian,

    the short answer is "yes". remember... Hinduism is the English word for the religious practices of the Brahmins. in any event, there was a series of events that transpired in India between the Brahmins and the Buddhists that caused the Buddhist tradition to go largely to Northern India, and from there, go east and north and then south.

    is there one, specific, event? that's a tougher question to answer. we can look at some generalized activities and make some inferences though we have no conclusive "proof".

    during the Muslim invasions of India (and there is a bit of dispute about this) the University of Nalanda was destroyed. This university was a focal point for Mahayana Buddhism in India. with it's effective destruction, there wasn't a "central seat" of Indian Buddhism as a source of authority. the dispute is due to the fact that it could have been the Brahmins that destroyed the college... in any event, it was during this time frame, though we may not know whom performed the deed.

    this was all taking place in the 1100's, by the by. by way of reference, Buddhism was first transmitted to Tibet in the 700's in what is called the Initial Spreading. this is characterized by a particular school (Nyingma) that i happen to practice. in approx 900 the Second Spreading happened and the resultant New Translation schools emerged, of which His Holiness the Dalai Lama is perhaps the most well known.

    where were we... oh yes...

    so... what do you know of the Mongol invasion of Europe and Asia?

    this will give very good overview of how Buddhism spread. did you know that the title of Dalai Lama was bestowed by the Khan as a designation for the Buddhist leader that would govern Tibet for the Mongols? in any event, Buddhism was carried forth by the Mongols across the land mass. Now... there was this King Asoka which is probably the most well know Buddhist King of ancient India. King Asoka sent monks to all the civilized world that he could. He converted after a particularly bloody battle wherein he consolodated his rule and after the massacare (stories vary) he was quite concerned with the negative karma of such acts.

    in any event, he sent monks all over the world (as far as they knew) to proclaim the Lions Roar of Suchness.

    is this at all on topic? i've been rambling on that i've completely forgotten what we were talking about.. and rather than determine that, i'll just post and hope that everything is ok :)
     
  4. Chronicles

    Chronicles New Member

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    That's very good information - thanks for that, Vajradhara. :)

    I suspected conflict between the Hindu adherents and Buddhists pushed the latter, but wasn't quite sure. I had heard of Asoka, but wasn't too sure of his involvement with Buddhist "missionaries" (if that is a an acceptable term :) ).

    Genghis Khan - now that is indeed interesting. :)
     
  5. bananabrain

    bananabrain awkward squadnik

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    sorry, thomas, but this just isn't true! christianity started in the middle east and has spread worldwide. the same is true of islam.

    similarly, take judaism, for example: abraham was originally an inhabitant of ur (in what is now iraq) but the first command to him was "LeCh LeChA" - 'go forth', to find the land that G!D would show him. in fact, one of the meanings of the name of 'hebrews' is from the root 'Ayin-Bet-Resh, signifying the crossing of boundaries. likewise, our whole history is one of a refusal to be circumscribed by geography, as we were expelled from our land and wandered everywhere on earth. the only part of judaism that has truly remained in its geographic heart is that which links us to our land; although that link itself is one which many would like removed; though that's another discussion entirely.

    of course, if you mean that the ideas of the religion have themselves spread, it is no less the case... precisely because the Torah was given to us for our own revelation, we were not commanded to go out and "spread the good news"; indeed, we have been prohibited from proselytising for 2000 years now. christianity, by contrast, started as a protest movement and needed to develop a missionary ethic in order to spread outside its original constituency. however, to say that christianity (or islam) "spread specifically for reason of their intolerance to other faiths" is spectacularly unfair. christianity originally spread, at least in part, because it offered a more attractive belief-proposition and vision of one's place in the universe than did the 'state' religion of the roman empire and the capricious, partial deities that people worshipped at the time. the same is true of islam. in both cases, intolerance came *later*; sometimes much later and after persecution by the established religions. the bullied becomes the bully there, too.
    this was only later, when both were already clearly on the winning side and much was to be gained from jumping on the bandwagon. in the beginning, however, both started as small communities of the faithful, whose only attractiveness came from the ideals they offered. however, some of the values that showed the original community at its best were some of the same ones that became problematic when the scale of the community changed. what works in a small, poor community in jerusalem or mecca is not necessarily what will work in a huge, multi-continental empire.

    i strongly recommend karen armstrong's "a history of G!D" as a journey through this issue spanning the breadth of indo-european history.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain
     
  6. Thomas

    Thomas Super Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks all, for the replies.
     
  7. Chronicles

    Chronicles New Member

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    I should be very careful of making too hasty answers. Certainly my comments were a little too spuriously made, bananabrain - thank you for drawing them up and addressing them. :)
     
  8. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste Brian,

    hmm... well... given the negative connotation of the term "missionary" i would rather tend to think that wouldn't be a proper term. at that point in history the monks were also ambassadors for the king... so perhaps the term "emmisary" would be more appropriate.

    in the Buddhist tradtion we are specifically instructed not to proestlyze or to try to gain converts. we are instructed to give explanations and teachings when asked for and only then.
     
  9. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Thanks again for the clarification, Vajradhara.

    Time for a more thoughtful response to Thomas's answer from myself (The Fool is another alias I created for use on a shared computer today).

    Especially as my original reply was simply sloppy and quite inaccurate.

    The reason for the spread and dislocation (in some instances) is essentially because of political movements, which accompany the migration of people and ideas across continents.

    Christianity in it's earliest period was a religious revolution. In contrast to the staunch Republican deities of Rome, Christianity was like a form of "spiritual communism" for the disenfranchised masses – the poor and the slaves, promised equality in the after-life, as well as providing ideological focus for richer philanthropic individuals (the humility teachings, such as the Beatitudes, being especially accessible to those who followed Stoic philosophy).

    The principle engine for this "spiritual communism" was a two-pronged egalitarian ideal that was missing from state worship – that of Divinity caring and equally so.

    Romans petitioned the classical gods not out of love, but of fear of loss and restitution, and to lament that broken things be fixed. But the gods are oft repeated in the classical literature across the Roman Empire as been cold and unfeeling.

    Even in Ancient Greece, one did not petition the gods through a sense of love but of need, and only so – precisely because some other aspect of Divinity was affecting the petitioner in a way disliked. In simple terms, the polytheism was nothing more remarkable than animism with faces – the formless spirits of animistic belief having human form – likely built in the shape of the familial bodies of past warlords and chieftains (ie, an amalgamation of ancestor worship over with basic animist principles – though to what degree of each is a moot point).

    Essential, through the entire Graeco-Roman pantheon, we see the forces of Nature personified, venerated, and feared – but, ultimately, often seen as unfeeling as the Natural World is wont to be. After all, by observation, Nature cares little for the individual, and inflicts disease and sorrow on the virtuous and criminal, the old and the young, in equal measure. This was the Nature that the Roman Gods represented - a natural order of the universe, different cycles with different faces, if you will - almost, even, a form of anthropomorphised physics.

    So when Christianity came along and stated that there were not many gods, but a single God, who not only cared utterly for every living being, but that God had undergone an ultimate and torturous human sacrifice for the good of all humanity...well, then the audience can hardly have been anything but deeply affected.

    We can see the proof of this both in the fast spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (not as largely represented as some Christian authors would like us to believe – for example, Britain was never a significantly Christian province – it had the barest representation) – not least in the fact that it became very quickly dispersed.

    Add to that the fact that, once officially sanctioned by Constantine and his dynasty, the workings of the Roman Emperor so-called "Julian the Apostate" could not turn the tide of Christian worship and reinstate the classical gods. Christianity had an appeal to the Romans that could not be overturned.

    An especially eye-opening point about this era is that Rome was not destroyed by "pagans" – Alaric and his Goths that first sacked Rome were actually Arian Christians (following the teaching Arius: that Christ was human, not Divine).


    To the point – the spread of the Christian Faith away from the Middle-East came with political separation from the Middle-East. Although it survived – still survives – in some small measure there, once Constantinople fell in 1453 then there was no direct protection for the Christians in the region, who remained essentially fragmented and disparate, despite that the position of Patriarch of Constantinople remained. Certainly this is the case in comparison to the previous protection that Byzantium held over the regions of the Near East, Asia, and North Africa, as a legacy from the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar himself. That was a particular papal concern when organising the First Crusafes at the end of the 11th century.



    As to Islam: they were granted a gift in the fact that the Byzantines and Persians - the two superpowers, who ruled from Africa to europe to Mesopotamia - had essentially destroyed one another's military capabilities by the time of Mohammed's death.

    Worn down and unable to respond to any further military action, Islam was able to take the early faithful across the Levant and Mesopotamia - taking Byzantine lands and even destroy the last vestiges of the Persian Empire itself.

    Constantinople survived simply because the walls were impossible to impregnate by land assault - certainly by the methods of the time (the walls being breached only by Crusaders via the Venetian fleet (and aided by a deposed Byzantine Emperor) in 1204 - - - and then by the gunpowder of mighty bronze cannons actually cast on the battlefield in 1453).

    As a particular point of note, Islam was not actually at first a proselytising religion – the Ummayid dynasty that ruled Islam for the first couple of centuries essentially worked as Judaism does now, where conversion is a far more complicated process than simply saying "I believe". It was the Abassyd dynasty, who came after and ruled until fragmentation of the Caliphate in the 13th century, who brought wholesale conversion to the civilian population. By then the major boundaries of Islam had already been drawn - - - and an oft repeated particular note is that the "people of the book" (ie, Jews and Christians) for the most part enjoyed special protection and privileges – and general respect - certainly in this period before the Crusades).


    Of course, a major difference between Islam and Christianity is that it was the Christianised nations who embarked upon colonial exploration of the sea – and thus took Christianity across oceans, most particularly the North and South Americas. Islam itself was strictly a land-bound spread of faith, knowledge, and ideas, not least along the the trading routes that had crossed into Arabia and Mesopotamia.



    So, the spread of Christianity and Islam – and Buddhism – has been principally through political movement – a consequence of the dynamic nature of humanity on our planet.

    Intolerance was *never* a primary factor in the spread of Christianity and Islam – the militancy came later, in response to protection of expanded borders of faith from dissension within, and not least from one another without. But by then, both religions were very firmly established already.
     
  10. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    hehe... you were thinking impregnable and impossible to breach :) and got to... the walls are impossible to impregnate. classic stuff my friend :D
     
  11. iBrian

    iBrian Peace, Love and Unity Staff Member

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    Oops - it was a long day. :)
     
  12. bob x

    bob x New Member

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    There is an old joke about a Frenchman who is trying to remember the English word for what a woman who can't have children: "impregnable"? "inconceivable"? "unbearable"? "insurmountable"?
    What about a women who can have children? Is she "laborious"? "mammary"? "childish"?
     
  13. samabudhi

    samabudhi New Member

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    Firstly I apologize for the belated reply.

    Secondly, Buddhism started in Northen India, how could it have spread there?

    Thirdly I disagree. (HA!)

    I don't think the reason Buddhism died out in India was because of Hinduism pushing Buddhism away. What is Hinduism anyway? It's the biggest conglomeration of religious ideas and customs known to man.
    It devours any new concepts and methods into it's own. This is how it's survived for so long. Because it doesn't hold onto any one technique or dogma.

    Because Buddhism and Hinduism are so tolerant of each other, they were bound to mix. Buddhist and Jain principles have been incorporated into Hinduism since they began 2500 years ago.
    The reason Buddhism, and Jainism for that matter, seemed to die out in India is because they became so close in principles and culture.
    Buddhism adopted deities in the Mahayana line and Hinduism adopted vegetarianism and Ahimsa, for example.

    Tantra was, as I see it, the merging of the Mahayana schools of Buddhism and the Hindu.

    A metaphor for this is to be seen in the technique of adding a weak strain of a particular organism to a powerful one.
    The desired result is to weaken the harmful population by cross-breading it with a ham-strung population.
    Devolution.

    I'm not suggesting either Buddhism or Hinduism were the stronger, but the resultant Tantric practices, to my mind, have shown it to be a most fortunate occurance.
     
  14. Vajradhara

    Vajradhara One of Many

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    Namaste samabudi,

    thanks for the post.

    it started in one small locale, not all of "northern India", and then spread throughout what is modern Northern India.

    my contention is that it was the Muslim invasions of India that started around 1000 C.E. that drove Buddhism out of India. now, in truth, it cannot be said that it was really "out" of India since the Indian tradition provided support for the monastic and the forest renunciant. so there were some forest buddhists still practicing... but for the purpose of our disucssion we can leave that aside.

    i would totaly disagree with regards to Tantra, but that's ok... we're not really talking about that here :)
     
  15. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Kindest Regards! What a great thread!

    I confess my familiarity is cursory, but there is something here that conflicts with my understanding.
    "Christianity" was possibly introduced very early on in the South of Britain, if the Traditions of Glastonbury hold any weight. Even if this can be dismissed, I understood Constantine to have been aided by Christian forces from the districts he had ruled in Britain, in his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. This victory installed Constantine as Roman Emperor, and as a political "thank you" to those who supported him Christianity became officially recognized and instituted as the new state religion, ending the persecutions. There must have been some Christians in Britain, removed from the focus of the persecutions and enjoying the protection of Constantine's father Constantius Chlorus (after whose death, Constantine continued his father's "patronage" towards the endemic Christian population of Britain). There had to have been enough Christians in Britain to form an army great enough to defeat a Roman army, no small feat considering the day and age. Any thoughts?

    Thank you Vajradhara for the insight into Eastern religious history and development. That is one aspect I have had a great deal of struggle with finding information. So far what you presented is in agreement with the little I have gathered, and adds to it.

    I am inclined to think this is not an entirely "eastern 'religious'" phenomenon. Remembering religion and politics as being largely synonymous, it is not difficult to see how this could be. I was reading in National Geographic only yesterday of some tribes local to the Turkish and Georgian Caucusus Mountians. According to the author (I didn't catch her name), some of the tribes blended Christian and pagan rituals. She claimed they fervently believed they were devout Christians, to tell them otherwise could create quite a problem, they would run you out of town at best! Yet they sacrificed to their local nature dieties, and held other pagan symbols simultaneous with Christian symbols. They renamed some of the local dieties with names of Christian Saints.

    This concept is echoed in other places, such as Haiti, where I hear (perhaps jokingly) that the population is 90% Catholic and 100% Voodun (sp?).

    The spread of Christianity was largely conducted under the aegis of Catholic political power, in an effort to expand that political power. Conversions were largely nominal at best. Even in Europe, pagan practices were continued in reality, while offically those same populations were "Christian." True conversions, that is, people who became truly Christian by persuasion and not pain of death, are far and away a minority in the history of the spread of the Christian faith. Paganism remained (and remains to this day), if unofficially, certainly in reality. No slights intended to anyone, just cursory observations in this matter of history.
     

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