The Slavic Spring Doll – The ‘Madder’

It’s human nature to build superstition. Without making any bloated comment on the beliefs, rituals and practices of any culture or religion, let’s just look into our personal lives and those around us. Before an important exam, we re-do exactly what we did the last time we scored well, sportsmen wearing right knee pads first or carrying the same handkerchief in their pockets… you know what I am referring to.

Building superstitions is our way of creating a faith of safety around us, to avoid what we don’t like.

It is cute and intriguing at the same time, if you think about it. How our minds create fears and then also come up with solutions that have no actual sense in logical reality.

Instead of condemning it, we could just realize how neat this human behaviour is and how it has been forming communities around superstitions – communities that love to perform these together and in the process, the added smiles and further communal confidence strengthens the superstitions.

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As I am adventuring in Poland right now; I was introduced to one of the old Slavic Pagan traditions of this region.

It’s called Marzanioka.

The Polish people hate winter. They hate it.

Almost everyone in Europe does. It’s understandable because the winter is very severe here.

Many traditions in Poland are associated with the end-of-winter and the welcoming-of-Spring. Just like it is in many cultures across the world.

One of these is called the tradition of the Madder. The madder has many names like Śmiercichy, Morena or Marzanioka. It is a colourful doll made by the local groups and communities, sometimes families, or friends etc. This doll symbolizes winter, illness and death.

It can look like this:

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This tradition finds its roots back in the old Slavic pagan tradition and is now largely practiced on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Putting this doll in the river, burning it, and watching it melt away symbolizes the welcoming of the Spring season.

Like this one below. This one wasn’t burnt or left in the river to avoid causing environmental damage and was pulled back by the thread you can see attached and then destroyed.

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Of course with time and with the onset of the machine-run 21st century, this tradition too, like many others, is dying and is now just a spectacle meant for kindergarten kids.

Superstitions are fun J

 

The Layered Life — Hinduism

I don’t live in an illusionary world. I don’t believe money isn’t important. But at the same time, I don’t screw my nose when I see poor kids crowding outside a restaurant or a temple hoping to get some food (which is probably going to be their only meal of the day). I don’t date men just because they are rich. I don’t befriend rich people if I see they are assholes. I am real. I know the reality. And it can be managed – meaning, you can be good, you can have ethics and principles without being a hypocrite fuckhead.

Having been born in a devout Hindu family, I saw Hindu customs followed thoroughly & sincerely and witnessed all its idiosyncrasies in its most natural form, including the caste system / caste obsession.

As I’ve grown up and read about other religions, met people living vastly different lives from the one I saw at home, it has confirmed my belief that the Hindu caste system sucks donkey’s balls.

I did think earlier, while convincing myself that the caste system was formed eventually by the people who wanted political and economic control, but I can’t fool myself because the evidences of it in the many main Hindu texts discard this possibility.

I finished reading The Mahabharata a couple of days back. While it is an overwhelming highly recommended read for everybody, I hate to admit how very-normally, in a very matter-of-but-natural way, it demeans the ‘lower caste’ people from the ‘upper caste’ people, and how one’s birth determines almost everything about a person. If you’re born low, you’ll always be low irrespective of your deeds. I’ll briefly mention two incidents from The Mahabharata below and then talk about other incidents.

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen.

These are such serious issues that it’s difficult to believe that they exist in revered texts.

Incident 1 –

The forest of Varnavata where the 5 Pandava brothers were sent by their conniving uncle Dhritrashtra and cousins. Pandavas were supposed to live in a house built here for them. This house had been made from inflammable material. Their plan was to burn down the house at midnight when all the 5 brothers would be fast asleep in it, so that they would burn to death.

The Pandavas received warning about this and planned an escape route. However, they felt it important to leave behind 6 human bodies within the house so that when people would inspect the burnt remains of the house the morning after the massacre, they would be convinced of the death of the Pandavas and of their mother Kunti.

Now, to solve this ‘serious’ problem, Yudhishthira, the eldest brother who is so popular for his honesty, kindness and righteousness, agrees to allow a poor Nishada woman and her 5 sons in the house. They, by the way, had come to them on the eve of the massacre, begging for a resting place and food for a night, asking for their merciful godliness! (Nishadas are lower-caste people.)

Yidhishthira allows them to stay in the house, secretly planning to use them as guinea pigs for this ‘great’ plan.

That evening, when the Nishada woman and her 5 sons fell asleep in the Pandavas’ house (probably blessing the Pandavas for their charity), the 5 brothers and their mother Kunti escape from the house minutes before it is burnt down by a man hired by their cousin Duryodhana.

It is confirmed in the text that the Nishada woman and her 5 sons get burnt and die.

Nowhere, I repeat nowhere, in the text thereafter do we see the Kind and Honest Yudhisthira or his brothers or their mother sparing one single thought to the innocent Nishada family and their unnecessary victimization in a battle that wasn’t theirs.

Incident 2 –

When the 5 Pandava brothers were young and learning the art of warfare under the tutelage of Dronacharya, Arjuna (the 3rd Pandava brother) was the most superior archer of them all and was greatly loved by his teacher.

One day, while going through a forest, the brothers found a young boy firing arrows with more skill and art than our dear Arjuna. When asked who his teacher is, the boy (named, Ekalavya) says his teacher his Dronacharya. This wasn’t exactly true because the great Drona had refused to teach Ekalavya because Ekalavya was born in a lower caste and also couldn’t have paid the high fees demanded by Dronacharya. So Ekalavya just learnt archery by watching Dronacharya performing it.

Wasn’t he a genius!

Arjuna became insecure at seeing someone better than him and asked Dronacharya to stop him. Worried about his job security, Dronacharya devises a cruel method to stop Ekalavya from outshining Arjuna. By asking Ekalavya to pay his fees by cutting off his thumb!

Thus maimed, Ekalavya was out of the path to glory for Arjuna – the upper caste boy.

The Natya Shastra

The Natya Shastra is an old text that is a kind of a rule book for the art of theatre. Like everything else of theatre, it devotes considerable focus on ‘language’. It mentions how language should come off of real life too.

And thus, it very normally goes on to state the different levels of language that are to be used by different castes and classes of people, as per their caste!

For example, a Brahmin male is allowed usage of certain words that a Brahmin female and all other ‘lower’ people in the caste pyramid are not allowed to use. Similarly, a Brahmin woman can use certain words that no one below her can use.

Weird.

A Custom of Death -

There’s a Hindu custom. I have seen it practised in my family too.

When someone dies, after the 13-day mourning ritual, it is customary to purify the room where the deceased lived (and died). The last of the purification steps is to invite a beggar to the room. You just pick any random beggar off the street. And you serve him a complete lunch meal in the room of the deceased. You give him a gift too. And send him off.

Why this?

Because the beggar symbolically absorbs all the remaining negativity left by the death.

Having given the chance to have a full square meal – which is a near-impossible treat for them most of their lives – no beggar ever refuses this chance. They probably don’t even know why they are being given this royal, loving treatment.

It’s not because we give a fuck about their hunger; it’s because we don’t!

I still remember when we followed this custom on the death of my grandmother, the 18-19 year old handicapped boy (the beggar) was so happy at being given food and a gift inside a house so grand, he couldn’t have imagined before what things we keep inside houses that are beyond the pavement corners that he called a ‘house’ all his life, and by people who till now and after today would kick him away like a germ. Not exaggerating, he was shaking with happiness!

The rich, thus literally stave off the bad vibes and negativity on to a poor person.

Do you find this sickening like I do?

Greek Gorgon and Hindu Drushti

Greek Gorgon and Hindu Drushti

Warding off the evil eye has been a part of widely different cultures.
The Gorgon (left of the picture) has been the Greek symbol to fight off evil eye/intentions.
Similarly, the Hindu Drushti (right of the picture, of course) is the Hindu symbol for the same!

Widely apart, amazingly same!

THE RELIGION OF OMAN — IBADISM

While most of us have heard this word, we understand its meaning, correctly so, to be a sincere prayer (ibadat). And it is mostly in reference to Islam. What I discovered some while back is that Ibadism is also a sect in Islam which is also one of the oldest ones, having founded only about 20 years after Prophet Muhammad’s death. It strives to follow Islam exactly, rigidly exactly, the way Muhammad taught and lived it.

Today, Ibadism has followers in Oman, and some parts of Zanzibar, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.

 

The reason Ibadism came about

Changes started taking place in the early Muslim community, with different viewpoints and schools emerging soon after the Prophet died. These different viewpoints were mostly regarding subjective interpretations of what the Prophet said, what something in the Qur’an means, how the Prophet followed the supposed commands of Allah and differing stories of examples from his daily life.

The Umayyads were people who wanted pre-Islamic power to return in the region. The Muslim community started cracking up into different sects around the time of, and in opposition to the policies of, the third Caliph ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan. Affan gave Umayyads important positions in his empire. This clearly aggrieved the Muslims.

Different parties started emerging at this time, with different opinions towards these policies, and the Muslim communities started branching and shaping up as per their beliefs and reactions. This became a war-ravaged time and many people shifted bases for the sake of their beliefs. The first Ibadis shifted from Basra to Oman.

Ibadis came as a result of these struggles and to return the purity of the Islamic faith and society exactly on the lines laid by Prophet Mohammad. They are even known to disregard logic and reason against a proven traditional path followed by the Prophet. They opposed the third Caliph because they considered his policies to be against the Sunnah and thus, non-Islamic. Ibadis have always maintained their firm loyalty to the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and to their fellow Muslims but not with people who disregard the Qur’an or the Sunnah.

The Muslim community witnessed long and bloody civil wars as a result of these differing opinions and soon, the Umayyad rule became established and would not tolerate any sort of opposition. This is what prompted the early Ibadi groups to carry out their activities in secrecy (kitman).

Ibadis, initially, did not use this name for themselves as a group. Rather they used names like Muslims al-Muslimun (‘community of the Muslims’), Jama’at al-Muslimin, or ‘Ahl el-da’wah (‘people of the mission’).

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(Gold inlaid Quranic calligraphy displayed on the inner walls of the Grand Mosque in Oman’s Capital Territory.)

The name Ibadism comes from the father of Abdullah b Ibadh al-Murri al-Tamimi, who belonged to one of the main tribes of Mudar (Najd). He was one of the main leaders in the struggle against the Umayyad rule in defending Mecca because he believed the Umayyad rule to be a violation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In his attempts to find one strong leader for this group, when turned down by the leading men of the age, like Abdullah al-Zubair, Ibn Ibadh had to take up the leading position in this political struggle and this was the first time that Ibadi school started emerging with actual foundations and defined boundaries and leadership.

Ibadis and other Muslims

For a very long time, the mainstream Muslims refused to consider Ibadism as a school of Islam. It was with the efforts of Sulaiman Basha al-Baruni of Jabal Nafusah (Libya), in the early twentieth century that the interaction between Ibadis and other Islamic scholars & communities increased.

His political activities like loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and work towards the Muslim cause asserted the loyalty of Ibadis to the entire Muslim community, creating better dialogue and understanding among the Muslims that Ibadism was just a different school but was still well within Islam and loyal to Allah and Muhammad’s teachings. Sulaiman al-Baruni is also said to have started his own printing press as a medium of sharing and exchanging opinions among other Muslims and Ibadis. These efforts went a very long way into the recognition of Ibadism as a school of Islam.

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(A picture of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in Oman)

The first Imam of the Ibadi community and also one of the main founders associated with Ibadism is Jabir b. Zaid. Jabir b Zaid advised Ibn Ibadh on most of his political activities. They, together refuted groups like Qadarites, Mu’tazilites, Shi’tes, Muji’ites, and even Kharijites. For a very long time, the Ibadis carried out their activities and literature in secrecy because of the fear of persecution. They were a moderate simple group, initially limited in numbers.

Ibadis have always followed the attitude of unity with other Muslims, even if they are non-Ibadis. Ibn Ibadh is said to have stated once, “We do not regard our Muslim opponents as idolaters, for they believe in the unity of God, the Book, and the Messenger. But they are ‘infidels-ingrate’. We hold it lawful to inherit from them, marry from them, and live among them. The faith of Islam unites them (with us).” (Ibn ‘Abd Rabbih, al-‘Iqd al-farid., I, 261: Mubarrad. Kamil., III, 1041. Ibadis have always expressed the attitude of inviting people and giving them a chance to understand the views of the Ibadis, and waiting for them to decide their attitude first. They always made it clear that they would fight their opponents only when the latter attacked them first. Practical examples of this can be seen in history (al wuquf).

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The System of Justice

As for the legal opinions, Jabir b. Zaid considered the following, in this sequence, to be the basis to make the judgements in legal cases in the Islamic community: The Qur’an, the Sunnah, opinions of other senior men, and then your own judgement.

If the answer to the problem at hand cannot be found straight away in the Qur’an, then one must turn to the Sunnah and search for any example of the situation at hand to see how the legal judgement was delivered. If so, then follow it. If not, then turn next to the opinions of other senior wise men. And lastly use your own judgement (Ra’y). If a sound opinion has been previously on a similar matter, they should follow that in the present case too, else use their judgement. The matters in which personal judgement was allowed are those which were not dealt with in the Qur’an, the Sunnah, or by previous authorities. Their aim was to keep the example set by the Prophet, his two successors and to re-establish the Mislim community on the same lines as the first Muslim community. As for the Sunnah, Ibadis recognised Ali (Shi’ah) and only, if needed, relied on the Sunnahs reported by Ali and his followers.

Al-Walayah and Al-Baraah – Love and the Not-Love

Ibadism has strong concepts of loving Allah and his teachings, his angels, the Prophet – Al Walayah. It also obligates hatred of the infidels – Al Baraah. These concepts resound the general attitude that the Ibadis are supposed to follow towards their fellow Muslims and non-Muslims.

There is also al-wuquf – reservation of any attitude until an Ibadi is sure of his fellow being’s faith. An Ibadi is not to pass any judgement unless he is sure of what his fellow being believes in and to try and understand absolutely clearly what his attitude towards faith is. After that is the Ibadi to choose the attitudes of either al walayah or al baraah.

The Stages of an Ibadi Community’s Life

Ibadi scholars established that in every Ibadi community’s life, there are 4 stages in which the laws of shari’ah are to be carried out. There are only these 4 stages and no other. These stages are the “ways of religion” (masalik al-din).

-          Manifestation (zuhur)

-          Defence (difa)

-          Sacrifice of one’s life (shira)

-          Secrecy (kitman)

Manifestation (zuhur) is when the Ibadi community is independent and free to proclaim their independence and can appoint its own Imam. The Imam is the leader who ensures the main activities necessary for the safe running of the society as per the supposed commands of Allah. Hence the punishments, the taxes, the politics, wars etc are run by the Imam who ensures that the community stays on the Guided Path laid down by the Qur’an, the sunnah, and the shari’ah. The times of Abu Bakr and the Prophet himself are said to be the zuhur times.

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(A picture of the Harat Al-Ayn (The Spring Quarter), an Ibadi mosques.)

Defence (difa) is the stage which comes when the Ibadi community is perceived to be under attack and requires military defence. An Imam is elected – Imam al-difa – who is a man of outstanding intelligence, faith to Allah, and of high military capability. Until the war is over, the Imam al-difa has the full authority of Imam al-zuhur. As soon as the war is over and the danger subsided, his Imamate is dissolved. Even if it is not a military war, and the Ibadi community is fighting against an unjust ruler, it is called the stage of difa. If in such a situation a war becomes difficult, the Ibadi community can go under the stage of secrecy (kitman) and operate secretly to ensure their safe continuation.

The sacrifice of one’s life (Shira) is said to have originated at the time of the Prophet himself, although there is no evidence or entirely plausible story that can substantiate it. The practice of shira finds reference in the sura/chapter of al-Anfal in the Qur’an. In Arabic, shira means buying or selling. In Ibadism, this word is used as the practise of shira is said to be the one of giving one’s soul to get a place in the Paradise. The first Ibadi to have followed the practice of shira is said to be Abu Bilal Mirdas Hudair against the tyrannical rule of Ubaidullah Ziyad. Ibadis believe that shira is a voluntary duty and should be done by those who impose it on themselves; a minimum of forty people should carry it out; they must not give up until they defeat the enemy or are killed; they must not give up unless only the last three of them are left (still disputed among scholars); and they must fight only those that fight them.

Secrecy (kitman) means hiding one’s beliefs from the ones who will not allow them. In such a situation, to preserve one’s beliefs, it is obligatory to hide them and follow kitman. The Ibadi movement was founded in secrecy when its founders were opposed to the Umayyad rulers. They carried all their activities in secret for many years. Ibadi scholars appropriated the following of kitman from some verses in the Qur’an which apparently suggest it and from the Prophet’s life who proclaimed Islam openly only after he had enough followers, and also his life prior to shifting to Medina was a sort of kitman. Ibadis appoint a leader from among the best among themselves who would be their Imam in this time of secrecy and who would run the major activities of the community. Ibadis are not to be of any help to the tyrants and must not hold any duties for them which would require them to harm the people. Ibadis can hold offices under tyrants only if they are in a powerful enough position to command them away from evil or if the duties assigned to them are according to the shari’ah like teaching children or calling for prayers (adhan).

Observations: How healthy is rigidity?

Late Dr Amr K Al-Nami’s book “Studies in Ibadhism” provided me my basic education on Ibadism and I must provide mention his and his book’s name, with deepest gratitude.

THE DREAMING

Family, community, land, nature are things that make up the world that surrounds Mibo. A simple man who finds magnificence and spiritual existence in this world of his, Mibo lives close to the elements, fearlessly. And so do his people. It is their ‘Dreaming’.

 

‘The Dreaming’ and ‘The Dreamtime’

‘The Dreaming’ refers to a set of beliefs or spirituality followed by the people who believe in ‘The Dreamtime’ which is the time when all the things of this cosmos were created and it contains within it the past, present and future ‘times’. Dreamtime is the beginning of knowledge from which came the laws of existence and for survival in the cosmos, believers must observe the laws.

The Dreamtime is the beginning of all things. It is also the life and life’s influence of the ancestors, as well as the way of life and death, and the sources of power in life. It is a condition beyond time and space – it is all the things at all the times. It refers to the past, present, and future all together.

The Dreamtime experience considers that every action of ours is important. It forms the future. Similarly, the past actions created the present. All the present life, and even the personal skills and character of tribal members, are a result of the life and actions of the ancestors.

Mibo’s people believe that all the aspects of the physical world around us are part of a system of relationships that maintain the biological diversity of the world. This structure of relationships must be respected because it helps in the survival of all the species and majorly because it is a result of the ancestral spirits’ creation of the Earth.

The Dreamtime is the time which encapsulates all the times and thus, is the ultimate crux of the cosmos, it contains the eternity. Mibo’s people aspire and await their return to this Time. It is a return to the real existence. In this ultimate state, the mind and being are in their most fundamental state. Because of this ultimate return’s promise, they feel connected to all nature, to all their ancestors, and to their own personal meaning and place within the scheme of things. A part of each person’s nature is eternal. This eternal being was always around but becomes a living person by being born physically. After living his time as a human, at death, this eternal part of the being melts back into the eternal life. Death is not considered ‘the end’. Upon death, you return to your eternal true self.

 

Dreaming and Society

The Dreaming is very society/community oriented. The collectiveness of the group is very essential in it. The Dreaming establishes societal structures, rules for social behavior and societal ceremonies. People have to live according to the rules and follow the rituals like initiations, legends and stories, songs, dances, paintings etc.

The Ancestors who created the earth are revered through ceremonial performances of songs, dances, paintings etc. They are the heroes who created the world for the modern people and are very important.

Mibo’s people believe that in our dreams dead people (the Ancestors) communicate their presence to us. They also believe that while sleeping when we dream, we have actually entered the Dreamtime temporarily. We stay in touch with the Dreamtime through our dreams everyday.

Nature

The Dreaming tribes find their existence deeply rooted to their landscape. Landscape is a part of their history, religion and psychology. Since it is believed to be the creation of the Ancestral Beings/Creators and thus, is a scared externalization of the energy they aspire to share with their Creator Gods. Mibo’s people, like most other tribal people, are reliant upon the external factors for their internal/psychological strength about their identity and being. This makes them susceptible to anything which disrupts their landscape as it affects their beliefs, although they are a people, by nature of their culture, who have a stronger spiritual unity of wholeness and identity with their tribe and physical and psychic environment.

It is believed that all the events that take place at any geographical location leave behind their existence in that place, and all of it creates the ‘air’ of that place, the aura of it. It forms something like a vibrational dimension of the place and can be perceived by the wise ones, the ones who can ‘see’.

This aura, which is a result of all the ‘time’ of the place since its creation by the Ancestors, is called The Dreaming of the place and thus, every place is sacred.

 

The Dreaming Beliefs

There are many communities within The Dreamtime and some of the legends and beliefs vary from one community to the other. According to their totem or ancestral stories, these Dreamtime communities have different versions of beliefs behind the existence of various natural phenomena, flora and fauna.

While most other communities in the world still debate about the creation of the world and who created it. Those who believe in The Dreamtime believe with their hearts firmly that Ancestral Beings walked upon the Earth and created everything we have around today. All life on the earth is a part of a complex network of relationships which came into being from the great Ancestors of the Dreamtime.

Most topographical features are a result of some action of the Ancestors or they embody the Ancestors. For example, the Gagudju people of Arnhemland, believe that the sandstone escarpment of the Kakadu National Park was created when the crocodile-man Ancestral Being was burned and jumped into the water to save himself. He turned to stone and formed the escarpment. Some people similarly also believe that all the water bodies were created by the Serpent when he slithered across the earth, creating a track.

Such stories of the earth’s formation and the system of our lives are central to The Dreamtime and every member of the community must venerate it and perform them during ceremonies and rites through symbolic dances and songs.

The Dreaming raises the elegant connection that is and can be found between the souls that inhabit this earth. A veneration and respect between all seems to be all-important in it.

The Origins of the Earth and Our World

It is believed that our Earth was a dead, silent, dark and empty place at first. All forms of life lived below the surface of the land, including our Ancestor Beings. Then the Ancestor Beings broke out of the land and moved around it, changing and creating different structures. These Ancestor Beings are also called Totemic Beings and that is where The Dreamtime gets its totemic nature. These Ancestor Beings are believed to have been half human and in the other half they were forms of different animals or plants. They made all the natural elements. They created the landscape – the mountains, the rivers, the trees, the waterholes, plains, everything. They made the animals – ant, frog, turtle, grasshopper, all the birds, kangaroo, lizard etc, and all the vegetation. They made all the celestial bodies. They made the people, and thus, the believers of The Dreaming believe they are the descendants of the Ancestral Beings who created them.

It is also believed that the souls of humans, animals, and plants existed before they came into being on the Earth. It is the duty of the humans to take care of the natural world, plants and animals, around them. They lived in harmony before coming into existence and will live so now. Dreamtime refers also to this time of the creation of the world.

The Ancestral Spirits then turned themselves into different things…rocks, valleys, ponds etc. Such sites are sites for inspiration for Mibo’s people. These are sites where they are connected to their Ancestors and feel their power alive. And because these are so important for them spiritually, destroying such a site means destroying their spiritual Ancestors.

Totemic significance comes in The Dreaming from the aspect that Ancestral Beings are believed to have been half of the animal spirits (or totemic beings). Having descended from these different part-animal Ancestors, the descendants possess some of the quintessence of the animal spirits. A man from the turtle Dreaming or totem would consider turtles a part of his community and will have a special relationship with turtles. He will never hurt them and would have different ceremonies to venerate this relationship.

 

Legends and Stories

The stories that are handed down the generations in The Dreamtime are the cultural stories that cover the cultural cocoon for these people. These stories cover many themes about various things, like creation of sacred places, animals, plants, climactic phenomena, creation of the respective community and so on.

These stories are as a result a record of history, geography, religion, culture of any place or community. It is a complex network of knowledge, faith, and practices. It informs the believers’ life in every way – his physical and spiritual being and daily life practices. Everything in their lives and around them in their physical surroundings has a deep meaning and is significant.

Most of The Dreamtime believers are today found in the Aboriginal communities of Australia. There are many communities within this, each with a different dialect, name and myths. However, a lot of these myths overlap, giving significance to the stories and beliefs.

 

Some Dreamtime Legends and Fables

The Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains in Australia also have a dreamtime legend. The three huge rocks formation in the Blue Mountains were once three sisters by the names of Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo. The three sisters fell in love with three brothers from another tribe, the Nepean. They could not marry them because their tribal laws forbade their marriage. The three brothers, nonetheless, did not obey the law and tried to take the sisters by force. This caused a tribal battle and to save the sisters, a witchdoctor transformed the sisters into rocks. He decided to turn them back again after the battle. Unfortunately, he was killed in the battle soon after and the three sisters’ spell could not be turned back ever by anybody. They have thus remained as the beautiful blue rock formations till today. These mountains are still present in Australia and are magnificent.

The Sun

The Sun was a beautiful woman who slept in a dark cave all alone and undisturbed. The Great Father Spirit once woke her up and asked her to light up the earth with her warmth and energy so that all life could stir on the earth. The Earth had the potencies of all life but there was darkness and cold all around. As The Sun opened her illuminant eyes, warm rays of light radiated and glazed the earth. The gentle rays from her eyes and the atmosphere lightened up. The earth looked more beautiful in the light, things shone and started to liven up.

The Sun walked across the land and wherever she went, everything that she looked at, came alive with life. The barren earth grew bountiful as the Sun’s rays travelled across its length and breadth. Soon, shrubs, plants, trees, birds, animals, insects, snakes awoke to life and populated the earth. The earth became luscious green with vegetation and breeze wafted across it, gently kissing everything.

The birds started flying, the insects started buzzing across the fields and the snakes started slithering across the muddy earth’s surface. As the snakes moved they left deep tracks behind them which soon got filled with water and formed the rivers, lakes, ponds, and thus came the aquatic life.

As the earth was now full of happy and healthy well settled life cycle, the Sun decided to create days and seasons. It travelled to the sky and soon sunk away. Darkness fell again but a few hours and a bit of rest later, the Sun shone back again. Thus, she created a measurable pattern in terms of days for activities of life on Earth.

Uluru

Uluru (popularly called Ayers Rock) are huge sandstone rock formations in central Australia. The local aboriginal people have many stories about this site, which is sacred to them.

One story behind the creation of Uluru says that two huge reptiles – a python and a lizard had a terrible fight in this region. As a result of their striking, writhing, and slithering about ferociously during the fight, cracks and bents occurred on this rock, giving it its present form.

 

Understanding Dreamtime in a Modern Context:

The reasoning explained by J.B. Priestly helps the modern man understand a belief system like The Dreamtime by explaining how rationality and rational thinking of man have developed over time, from an undifferentiated or an analogous start to the state of mind. Studies have shown that the idea of individuality was much less in ancient people than it is in the modern man. Our independent state of mind is not what the ancient people lived with. For them, their existence and “identity” lay in their community life, they existed through and with others. Their religious, social, political, private lives were not separate from each other. Their sense of identity lay in all of these with the people they knew. They did not seek to create their identity consciously through independent choices. Hence, their community was very important to them. To be banished from it, meant ceasing of the existence of the self – death. Unlike the modern man, for whom, life is a constant quest for a conscious definition of the self and individuality and an uprooted existence does not traumatize his brain.

To understand this state of mind better, one should understand its likeness to the state of a child’s mind. Nascent. Initially, all that the child lives through are his parents and home. A child is unconscious about the segregations of separateness of people’s lives. The segmentations formed by societies in terms of families, home boundaries, calendar days do not exist for a child. Same is the case with ancient people/ancient belief systems.

The visions of dreams or dream-like states of consciousness were important to the ancient people because they believed in what they saw. There was no concept or felt need for breaking down logically what they had a vision about or the state of mind in which the vision was had. Logical or consequential thinking were not developed concepts. Altering the states of consciousness to feel closer to the visions and feel the psychological existence beyond the present time was thus important and popularly followed. These visions were especially used to reach out to the spiritual sphere during the times of rites. The experience, being the one of visions of ancestors, was used in times of trouble and in times of happiness. A feeling of connection with their ancestors and being guided were achieved through these which definitely held deep spiritual meaning for them.

The sense of being that the modern man feels by insisting upon his individuality is somewhat similar to the sense of being the Dreamtime people feel by being an integral part of their history and community.

Observations: Simplicity can be quite complex. Although I would refrain from terming The Dreaming as simple or simplicity or anything else, it certainly does find its roots in very basic ideas. Most modern men would find that to understand belief systems such as this, they need to step out of their way of thinking and understanding. This makes this belief system complex in its simplicity.  A different state of mind is what this belief system came about in but, beautifully, has survived till date.

The Dreaming is about a connection of the souls – the souls of humans and animals and plants and the nature, everything. It exalts and aspires for the connection even between  the souls of the living and the dead, the soul of a river and its connection with the humans… this is what makes this belief system absolutely beautiful.

Buddhism

(I have used some statements or quotes to introduce Buddhism in the simplest way, as these statements carry the mainstays of its ideology and will thus, be better to appreciate.)

In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.

Buddhism is a consciously directed journey on the path towards a rise above suffering and the achiever of this is called the Buddha – meaning ‘the enlightened one’. It does not lay down the path. It suggests how to make the journey, what to look for, and assures that the journey indeed is a tough, demanding one.

Buddhism is not a doctrine to which one can convert one’s belief system and follow it unquestioningly; it is a truth to be realized by an individual in his own way and not via any prescribed, ‘sworn-upon’ method. Any rules, if at all, are meant to assist the people in earnestly striving for and attaining Buddhism.

There is no text endorsed by Gautama Buddha that lays down what Buddhism means, what it should mean, and what is the definite way to becoming a Buddha. Any knowledge related to this comes from the objective information (obviously difficult to get) about the life of Gautama Buddha and his recommendations to the people who expressed a desire to attain the knowledge that he had gained.

 

‘Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.’ Dhammapada

What makes Buddhism interesting and different from most other ‘consolidated bodies of belief or faith’, and religions, is that the path was discovered by a man as ordinary as any of us. There is nothing divine about him – he became divine by his actions and Buddhism assures it is possible for everyone to attain the same divinity. Gautama Buddha was a man who decided one day to seriously pursue the answers to the questions that deeply intrigued him. The main question that Gautama Buddha was on the search for was the cause and cessation of human suffering. He’d seen it a part of every life, everyone suffered in one way or the other, and for one reason or the other. Gautama Buddha was profoundly disturbed to see misery pervading human life and wanted to understand the reasons for humans’ subjectivity by it and how to discontinue that.

And he tried to find his answers by trying different methods of what he thought would lead him to them. He became a pupil of well-known sages of his time, mastered different forms of meditation, and tried self-abjugation. He tried controlling his breath, holding it after inhaling till it felt the air would split his head, followed by reducing his diet to bare minimum that made his body extremely wasted. When all these attempts caused nothing but extreme stress to his health, he realized that hurting one’s body is no use in gaining knowledge of the life and the world here and beyond. He learnt that path to knowledge need not be a dismal and joyless one. He thus, graduated from these methods.

And then he did what he incidentally had done once a few years ago as an adolescent one evening in his father’s kingdom’s crop fields – solitary peaceful simple meditation, a comfortable feather-like dive into the depth of the mind. Gautama Buddha attempted to revisit this meditation again after all the tried and popular methods had failed. And this proved to be the right thing to do. He successfully re-experienced the contentment and tranquility, reaching the depths of his consciousness. Thus, meditating for a long time, he consciously directed his mind to the questions he had set about to understand.

Eventually he did reach his answers, he did succeed in realizing that there is a cycle of suffering and there are causes for it. Realization of the main factors that characterized all human life and having found a way to master them, he felt an obvious freedom from the web of suffering that held its tentacles on every human life. He could no longer be enslaved by it, for he now well understood that to rise above the entrapment of suffering, is an ability that gives anyone an exalting feeling as you break free of the sense-desire influences, undergo a complete annihilation of the sense of ego-self, the cessation of self-consciousness, and a freedom of the soul. As he became the Buddha, he shared this with other seekers and thence came Buddhism and the followers, rather seekers, of it (you’re not a follower of Buddhism but a seeker of it).

The 4 truths that Gautama Buddha propounded are: suffering is universal; it is caused by desire; suffering can be uprooted if desire is uprooted; and that can be done by following the famous Eight Fold Path which includes: Right Understanding, Right Motives, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Meditation, spanning the intellectual, moral and contemplative, thus helping one to live a holistic good life.

This is the reason why even the life of Gautama Buddha is at the same time an example and the message of Buddhism. The consciousness with which Gautama Buddha realized the answers to his questions, inspiring others to set on to the path, was a very self-directed act and this autonomy of choosing the path to one’s chosen destination is important to Buddhism. It is one’s own conscious act, one’s own conscious intentions and one’s own conscious actions that take one where one wants to reach. This democratic sense also pervades into its opinion of ‘karma’ (explain later as a part of ‘dependent origination’) – which incidentally is an Upanishadic one. It is the individual who decides his actions and his life.

Buddhism is a path towards knowledge and living with the knowledge that life does not exist without suffering and one must rise above it to live successfully with it. One must break the shackles of the cycle of desire, temptation, temporariness, disappointment, because these lead to suffering. It is as simple as it is difficult to realize. Buddhism requires active attentive realization of this. It does not recognize second-hand experiences. Chanting of prayers cannot take you there, nor can ritual self-mortification nor can trance-like passive prescriptive meditation. You must walk the path yourself. And in this very sense and by allowing every human the agency to define and carve out his own life, Buddhism is accessible to everyone who really want it and thus, very democratic in nature. Some accounts claim Gautama Buddha to have proscribed his followers from sex, which I find difficult to believe for the obvious folly and impracticality of its abandonment, and also if it were true, I’m afraid it wouldn’t leave Buddhism as democratic as Gautama Buddha wanted it to be, nor would this stand together with Gautama Buddha’s support of ‘living with the truth’.

 

Vast emptiness, nothing holy.

Buddhism does not see human beings as pre-formed, unchanging, objective absolutes. It sees a human being as a constantly developing whole of his karma, habits, memories, experiences. An individual is ever-moving, just like the entire cosmos. Everything is moving in a constant journey, a wheel turning on its own and no grand being is doing it with some pre-determined plan. There is no divine being who is observing us from heavens. It is just us and our actions, and causes of those actions which lead to further actions – everything is a result of circumstances. We do not need God to achieve salvation, peace and happiness. We can and must do it ourselves. This is one of the cardinal truths central to Buddhism and is popularly called ‘dependent origination’ (‘pratityasamutpada’) – all phenomena are constantly in an interdependent web of cause and effect. This interdependence can also be seen in Gautama Buddha’s explanation of causes and conquering of suffering, and actions that can be undertaken to affect nirvana. In the same sense, the ‘shoonyata’ concept of Buddhism is a result of dependent origination, wherein every thing’s meaning is dependent on other things as well that cause it or are caused by it.

Buddhism is about a human being’s moral and spiritual awakening – one has to recognize it on his own and practice positive actions and strengthen himself to rise above the victimization of the sense-desire trap.

Buddhism is to be experienced, not to be learnt from any text. Gautama Buddha never wanted it to be canonized. Hence, he never authorized any attempt to record his teachings or his life in a written form because he wanted his experience (and the same path for everybody else) to remain democratic, un-supernatural, very human, nothing divine. This freedom from the constraints of rules and systems is one of the mainstays of Buddhism.

 

Nirvana

It literally means ‘blowing out’. In Buddhism it means ‘the blowing out of the ego-self’.

Gautama Buddha is said to have explained the concept of a non-existent ego-self in this way — the ‘I’ is an ever-shifting, changing consequence of the ‘skandhas’ that make up our mind-body complex – mind, feelings, perceptions, intentions, and consciousness. Their inter-relationship keeps changing, and not one of these forms the absolute ultimate ‘self’ on its own. Hence, the ‘I’ is transient and impenetrable. This is also referred to as ‘shoonyata’ where every thing in itself is empty, and devoid of independent identity or existence. And this is Buddhism. Every meditation, every effort is towards this.

A person goes beyond existence and non-existence after nirvana. The Dhammapada says of it, ‘He has completed his voyage, he has gone beyond sorrow. The fetters of life have fallen from him, and he lives in full freedom.’ About Nirvana, Gautama Buddha is said to have said that it is, ‘the unborn, the unageing, the unailing, deathless, sorrowless, undefiled supreme surcease of bondage.’

Observations – Buddhism is very realistic because it refuses to worry about the unseen, the divine (the may be/the may-not-be), and only talks about the human life. It is truly ‘personal’ in nature — Buddhism does not demand any external form of ritual to be exercised, and this helps maintain its essence. By its dependent origination concept, it suggests that good leads to good, thus encouraging responsible and well-intended actions. By giving the agency for his life to every human, it is most truly autonomous and very efficiently lays the foundations of allowing the human spirit to flourish and exercise itself.