Monday, May 3, 2010

“O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that.”

One of the wonderful things about Buddhist history and thought is that it has so many flavors and varieties. One of the sad things about humans is that once they decide on a flavor it seems to drive them crazy when they see others enjoying a different one.

A little Jewish man who history called Jesus taught a philosophy of love and compassion. Humans calling themselves Christians have then spent over 2000 years killing, torturing, murdering and burning to death anyone who disagreed with them on even the slightest point of doctrine.

A little Hindu man who history calls Shakyamuni Buddha wondered the world for 40 years teaching a way to ease the pain of life and reach for enlightenment. In the 3000 years since his death there have been schools of philosophy by the score expounding upon his teachings and almost to a school teaching things in direct contradiction to his basic teachings.

I see in this not a flaw in the teachings so much as a flaw in human nature.

I am Buddhist and from that I cannot retreat. But when deciding to write on being a Buddhist in the twenty first century I had to face my own Karma, my own world view is bound up in my karma and yours and the two can not be separated. In a way this is a missive from my world sent out to yours. And despite my own faith I am aware that whenever someone address’s the subject of religion they are moving into shadow and danger, for history and Shakespeare have told us truly that “O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that.” Shakespeare's King Lear, 1605.
Men have been presuming to talk and act for God since before recorded history.

“ When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylon by his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind.”
Prologue to the Code of Hammurabi, c. 1780 BCE one of the oldest texts of laws known to man.

It is clear from the well developed text above which was written about 3787 years ago men were killing each other in the name of God and justifying their actions as authorized by God long before recorded history.

For some unknown reason contemplation of God seems to drive men mad and by madness I mean abandonment of reason and moral character. When this madness strikes it more often than not drives those afflicted to strike out against all those around them but its most fundamental symptom is the affected seem to become enemies to life, even their own. This madness seems confined to no particular religion or age. Below I have listed just a few examples or mile stones of this madness for your consideration. This list is far from exhaustive and if I have left anyone out I apologize.

Of course the exact date is not know but most scholars seem to estimate a date of around 1272 BC when God drops by personally to give Moses a laundry list of nations and people to exterminate. According to the book of Deuteronomy, God orders the Jewish tribes to exterminate every man, women and child of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzities, Hivites and Jebusites. God directs that these people be “destroyed totally”. This they do and take their promised land, and that leads to trouble that still has not ended.

Somewhere between 300 and 400 AD Polynesians land on Easter Island, an isolated island 2000 miles from any other land. By 500 AD the inhabitants adopt a religion which requires that they carve large stone figures called moai. Over the years they start carving more and bigger statues. Every year they poured more and more scarce resources into these religious objects. Eventually the islands entire resources are consumed by this religion until the society collapses and the natives are all but wiped out. They are forced to resort to cannibalism to survive. On the verge of extinction with only about 111 people left alive they dump the old religion and make a new one dedicated to the God Make-make, called the Bird man Cult.

In 415 AD Hypatia of Alexandria, one of the most brilliant minds of her age and the first woman to make a substantial contribution to the development of mathematics in human history is torn to pieces with glass fragments by hysterical Christian monks. There follows a purging of much of the scientific and mathematical work done in Alexandria.

Muslims invade India in 1000 AD. Mahmud Ghazni leads a Jihad against the Hindus and Buddhist of India. These invasions lasted for centuries even continued when the Muslims controlled almost the entire sub continent of India. The Hindu population is said to have been reduced by 80 million people during between 1000 AD and 1525 AD by these religious wars. Others estimate the dead to be closer to 100 Million. Buddhism is all but wiped out in India during this time. The Muslim war lord Nadir Shan was infamous for creating a mountain of Hindu skulls in Delhi India as a monument to Ali.

From 1095 to 1291, the Catholic Church started a series of military invasions of the Middle East that are now called the crusades. The Christians go on a killing rampage across the world. These bloody and ruthless wars were fought primarily with the Muslims that lived there. The stated goal for these invasions was to take back the Holy land. The number of dead on both sides reached into the millions. The Christians also held various less publicized military crusades against the tartars, the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, and many other groups around Europe during this period. The most infamous being against a group of Christians called the Cathars.

In 1208 The Pope, Innocent III, apparently tired of having to go to the middle east to kill for God turned his eyes upon France and calls for a formal Crusade against the Cathars there. The Cathars are a group of Christians that believed in poverty and chastity for all its members. The pope gathers and army whose command is “Kill them all. God will know his own”. The war against the Cathars of France continued for two generations and resulted in the mass murder of over half a million men women and children. The Catholic Church still maintains it was justified on religious grounds.

In 1478 the Catholic monarchs of Spain decide make sure Catholic orthodoxy is maintained by starting the Spanish Inquisition. For the next hundred years or so Protestants and Jews are harassed, tortured and killed by the inquisition.

There seems to have been nothing like a good human sacrifice to get the god’s on your side. People have been murdering friends family, strangers and captives in search of god’s blessing all across the world for years. Human sacrifice has been part of religious ceremony since before recorded time. In central and South America it was practiced by the Aztec, the Maya, the Inca, the Mixtec and the Olmec. In India the wives of deceased Hindu husbands were expected to perform Sati, throwing themselves on their husbands funeral fire. The Chinese used to tossed folks bound hand and foot into rivers to make the river gods happy. The Romans and the Etruscans loved a good human sacrifice and even turned it into entertainment. The list is endless. But no one seems to have been able to top the Aztec’s. I have given them special note.

From about 1250 to 1512 the Aztec peoples decide that the gods want humans to have their hearts ripped from their living breasts for their pleasure, so among other quaint religious rituals they would place people a sacrificial stone. Then the priest would cut through the abdomen with an obsidian or flint dagger. The heart would be torn out and held towards the sky in honor to the Sun-God; the body would be carried away and either cremated or given to the warrior responsible for the capture of the victim. He would either cut the body in pieces and send them to important people as an offering, or use the pieces for ritual cannibalism. This was done to about twenty thousand people a year. In 1512 The Spanish Christians Shocked by this behavior put a stop to it by wiping out almost the entire Aztec peoples by war and disease. Back in Spain the Spanish Inquisition was still in full swing.

Ever busy from the 15th to 17th century the Christian Church goes on a witch burning program in Europe. Some 50 thousand women are tortured and burned at the stake.

1614 to 1648, Japan’s Buddhist government makes being a Christian punishable by death. All citizens are required to register with a Buddhist temple. Thousands of Christians are killed many are crucified or burned alive... This ban lasts for years even when no longer enforced.

In 1691 the Catholic country of Ireland was controlled by the protestant country of England. Knowing a good thing when they saw it the English proceeded to pass laws punishing the Irish for being catholic which of course resulted in a religious war that still bubbles up today. Thousands of people have died, been imprisoned, tortured and held in abject poverty based upon their religion from then to now.

In 1933 Adolf Hitler is appointed chancellor of Germany and the Nazi party starts its rule of Germany. This eventually leads to the development of death camps and mass murder of Jews throughout Europe. Conservative estimates of the Jewish dead range from 2 to 3 million at the death camps. Over a million Gypsies are rounded up and killed, 200,000 freemasons and another million people from various religions and groups are murdered.

On 15 August 1947 England transfers power to India and Grants India self rule. Almost immediately religious war breaks out between the three major religious groups in India. The fighting takes the lives of an estimated 1 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, followed by the Murder of Mahatma Gandhi.

In July 1946 Jewish nationalist bomb The King David Jerusalem, killing 91 people and ushering in the new age of terrorism. The methods used are later adopted by both the Muslim extremist and the catholic IRA in their religious struggles.

In 1950 Communist China Invades the predominantly Buddhist nation of Tibet and Over 2 million Tibetan Buddhist including Thousands of monks are killed. Thousand more are arrested and tortured for their religious beliefs by the communist. This process continues into the 21st century with Red China claiming it “owns” Tibet.

What madness rolls across the mind of a man who thinks he knows what God wants done...


  1. I guess I've been fortunate to see both sides of human religion. In later years I've met some of the religious that I believe were actually trying to lead a holy life. That tempered my distrust of organized religion to a constant dislike until I encountered Buddhism.

    Now I'm beginning to see that others sometimes succeed and sometimes fail in their religious life. Regardless, they reach for the divine and sometimes find it.

  2. Yes as I see it the fault lies in our own thrist for the divine, it drives many folks mad, others are simply disingenuous cynics who use this thirst in others to exploit the thirsty.