Monthly Archives: November 2014

Hinduism, Iranic Spirituality & Some Historical Contextualizations

The below post is originally from a politicsforum.org post that I made earlier today, and it contained some interesting information that I had to track down concerning the nature of pre-Zoroastrian Iranian religion. Overall, I think it was one of the more interesting things I’ve really thought about and while I am not sure of the veracity of all of it, I open it up to discussion.

If anything seems funny in the wording, remember it was originally in reply to other people; I haven’t bothered to take away this quality from it and present it in its original format to you.

Enjoy:

Hinduism & Buddhism are both Salvific faiths just as Islam & Christianity are. Buddhism has all manner of texts (especially Mahayana Buddhism) that emphasize the role of the teacher as ultimate. To be a Dharma teacher is quite an important and great thing in Buddhism. Many sutras focus on the idea of spreading the teachings of the Buddha as an important and necessary path for the Buddhist monk, and there are examples of sutras condemning monks who spent their entire lives looking inward as opposed to spreading the message.

Hinduism was transmitted to Indonesia for a long period of time — perhaps with the very goal of providing a method of attaining salvation to the masses. I can’t really comment further on that… But I would guess the lack of salvific outreach to others has to do with the fact that India was already a massive, divided place and expanding beyond Hindustan isn’t exactly an easy task. Not to mention, it is not as if the Hindustanis had the infrastructure or means to really make an easy going of a sustained mission abroad… though apparently to some degree this did happen in Indonesia.

Perhaps it is also worth noting, as FRS did, that Hinduism is a great patchwork of many different beliefs there; consider the Zoroastrians of the Iranic world. Before Zoroastrianism the Iranic religion is incredibly similar to Hinduism, and while tere are some different gods there are basically such striking similarities, that the Rg Veda is considered to provide us information with pre-Zoroastrian Vedic-Aryan deva worship. You can read more here.

So, basically, until Islam took out Zoroastrianism, we know that the most accessible lands surrounding India were essentially Buddhist (Afghanistan, parts of northeast Iran), or they were Zoroastrian (the rest of Iran, much of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.). Zoroastrian can be regarded on some level as a reformed, monotheized version of the regionalized Hindu-esque religion that had existed there…

… And gods know (appreciate the subtlety) that there was probably significant variation in the daily language, names and worship of the gods in Bihar and the gods in Tamil Nadu, and the gods in East Bengal and the gods in Punjab.

We might be running into a situation where Hinduism cannot spread to these lands beyond the Hindu Kush because it was more or less already there. Albeit, in a different and reformed version (though who is to say that there was not enclaves and villages still practicing a faith more similar to that of the pre-Zoroastrianism?).

In some sense, could we not argue that Hinduism had nowhere to expand from India, because it already had the Persian & Afghan empires?

(And we all know that it is Islam that supplants Zoroastrianism).

How does this dial into it?

Perhaps something like:
– Hinduism was salvific and spreading, as it did to Indonesia.
– Hinduism had no need to ‘spread’ to Persia and Iranic lands because it was more or less already there. It was then just reformed drastically right around the same time that Buddhism was formed.
– Buddhism & Jainism cause rifts within Hindustan and spread far and wide; the success of Buddhism in spreading abroad to some degree functions as a transmission as it is of Hindu culture, and perhaps even hints at the impotence of Hinduism to be of importance within Indian society. It is suggested by Gombrich in his book What The Buddha Thought that Buddhism was a religion primarily of the merchant / trader class, as it stands, and thus makes sense that while the Hinduism of the Brahmins stays put, the Buddhism of the Vaishyas spreads further & furhter.
– As time passes the Zoroastrians & Buddhists are defeated by the Muslims. Hinduism now has no options to spread and rather will be fully prepared to reel back in the face of Islam.
– Hinduism is then eventually enclosed by Islam to the West, and then there’s the far more Buddhist Bengali lands that eventually become Islamic; the Muslims then even spread their messages to Malaysia & Indonesia via Indian trade routes and usurp the old lands where Hinduism spread…

So after a 1,000 years they grow accustomed to constant inward looking.

It’s easy to become extremely introverted when surrounded by enemies… Ask the Koreans, ask the Shi’ites, ask the Druze, etc.

Give Me That Old Time Business

I recently took some time to listen to an extensive podcast on medieval guilds which featured the economic historian Gary Richards and it was utterly illuminating concerning the functions & roles of guilds in medieval Europe. The full podcast, of course, can be listened to via player.fm.

Of course, there are countless sociological and historical reasons as to why our ancestors functioned the way that they did… You know, in a more civilized and socially conscious fashion than anyone does today. It is also clear that the idea of getting anyone to behave with the manner & neighborliness of a medieval person is a long shot, but let us pine for the old days together for a moment.

First off, throw the image that you have of guilds out of your head; it isn’t solely an organization of pre-modern businessmen trying to fix prices and pull one over on the consumer. The word guild has  a far broader reach. Any organization at all could be called a guild.

In medieval England, nearly every village had at least one registered ‘guild.’ These can be referred to as ‘societies’ as well, and some of these village guilds were nothing more than a prayer society. During the podcast Richardson stated that he believed nearly every adult in England probably was involved in some guild or another. But, of course, many of these were more so village social organizations, and not necessarily within the scope of our interest as we talk about former business practices.

The guilds that did exist that were associations of, say, pewter makers, blacksmiths, tanners, etc. formed very naturally and lived very interconnected lives. Remember that villages would be organized in a logical fashion — tanners and butchers deal with a lot of carcasses and do all manner of processes to make leather; you’d want them congregated in one area near the outside of town. Blacksmiths were involved in extremely loud work that likewise had a lot of fire and produced a lot of smoke and waste — again, you’d want them in one neighborhood.Thus, these guilds were also on some level neighborhood associations. They encompassed the entire section of town where all of the people of a single occupation lived.

It is also important to note that in the highly religious medieval times the craftsmen were devoted to their patron saints. Believing in purgatory as well as Heaven, the guildsmen would gather and pray not just for one another and their families, but also deceased guildsmen who may be stuck in purgatory. A very strong religious zeal existed within them — and in medieval England the primary threat that came with cheating your guild and being estranged from it was one of no longer receiving the prayers and blessings of the group you are with.

But guilds certainly weren’t just prayer warriors… Guilds offered mutual insurance to one another. If a guild member were to have died early, it is fully known that basic sustenance would be provided for his family and even dowries would commonly be furnished by his fellow guildsmen. There was a distinct sense of great social responsibility within the guild…

Guilds would compete to see who provided the best services to their communities and gave the most mutual assurance. They wished to be prestigious and have a measurable positive impact on the community. it was well documented that on the day of their patron Saints, they would have lively festivals and parades. This would include paying for lavish public performances of plays often depicting the life and good deeds of their Saints. The guildsmen would wear special liveries or badges indicating their membership in the guild — for it was a sign of distinct pride to have such an association with organizations that provided for the community.

Of course, guilds were dedicated to their economic work as well. Their trades were closely held secrets, but what was also important was providing quality products. It was common to put a symbol, emblem or ‘signature’ of sorts upon their products because the markings would have reputations attached to them. Thus, one of the other functions of a guild was to look into the work of their registered craftsmen and insure that nobody was doing things to make their products worst (like putting too much lead into their pewter, for instance).

Of course, this was a very different epoch in human history but as a fan of history I always hope to learn something from it. In this case what is clearly worthy of our attention was how, while the time was not as technologically advanced nor had the comforts of modern times, it does appear that they did their best to take care of one another, and a great point of pride was their ability to Give.

All of these elements stand out in stark contrast to the nature of how our business is done, and it is certainly harder to think of us as being the perpetual superior to these medieval peoples.