Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, together with a brief History of India
Of all the religions in England, it is the Hindus who are the largest group whose faith does not owe it's dogma to Moses, like the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Moses based, or Western and Middle Eastern religions are faith and dogmatic rules based religions where a belief in a single God, together with the adoption of a specific life style, generally based on the laws of Moses, (10 Commandments) will ensure a passage to heaven rather than hell at the time of death.
Hinduism differs markedly perhaps it is more a philosophy than a religion:
- There is no formal creed or dogma, more an evolution of ideas which have developed over some 4000 years. In the past these ideas were never written down as is would have been considered sacrilegious.
- The concept of God is more like the pre-Jewish or pagan concept of a specialist god for each human problem like love, fertility and the harvesting of crops. However the concept of one supreme God, Brahman has evolved into Hinduism. Some feel the more popular and better known gods, Vishnu and Shiva are human manifestations of this supreme deity.
- The concept of life after death is very different from the common western belief. Hindus say that at death your passage to something else depends on your class or status in this present life. This is the concept of reincarnation. If you have been bad you will be immediately reborn as say a dog. If you have been good you may have the chance of being reborn as a priest. Then if you are a good priest you could get to heaven. The final move to heaven is seen as a "release" from an almost never ending cycle of birth and rebirth.
- The concept of meditation, to develop good thoughts, existed from the very beginning normally aided by physical aids like Yoga.
Buddhism was the first main splinter group which arose from a man born a Hindu. The founder, Gautama, born a rich man some 2500 years ago in northern India was horrified by the poverty and disease around him and felt Hinduism couldn't be the answer. His vision of the true way came to him while sitting under a tree. (As legend would have it)
Sikhism evolved much later some 500 years ago, also in northern India when the Hindus had had a few hundred years of Muslim rule and the concept of one God-Allah was around. To the outsider their founder, Guru Nanak, just picked the best bits of Islam and Hinduism but Sikhs believe he had a vision of God. Nanak rejected the Hindu class system even to the extent of saying women were equal to men but retained the concept of reincarnation. So any Sikh can achieve liberation from the cycles of reincarnation including women and non priests. The main dogma is the belief that ridding yourself of human pride and ego is the key.
The vast majority of Hindus in England come from India. The faith developed originally around the Indus river valley in present day Pakistan more than 3500 years ago. Yoga was practiced at this time by the dark skinned, Indus valley inhabitants. These Dravids, had a culture of some significance but were overrun by a lighter skinned pagan Aryan people originally from the Caspian sea area. Their religions merged. This civilisation prospered and expanded east from the Indus river flood plains to the nearby equally fertile Ganges river area in present day northern India. They took their so called "Vedic" multi god pagan religion with them which is the origin of Hinduism.
About 2500 years ago this early Hinduism, entered a crisis period many claiming it had lost its way, particularly the pagan practice of animal sacrifice. So too the various key gods worshiped to improve the weather, the harvest or the birth of sons. Quite simply the practice of sacrifice to the gods was not working.
Up to this time principle Hindu doctrines were:
- Reincarnation: That is the life of every living thing on earth is in a continuous cycle of birth, life and death with the Sole or Spirit being immediately reborn in a higher or lower form ie a flower, a dog or a better human depending on the past lifestyle of the individual. The aim for all was a release from this treadmill, cyclical existence to an eternal life which could be achieved through good works.
Unfortunately the principle of Reincarnation led to a "Caste Society" which still exists in India today where humans are classified by their parent's social/economic position into four groups:
- Priests and intellectuals
- Rulers and warriors
- Wealth creators like farmers, craftsmen and merchants
- And the so called Untouchables who are given all the worst jobs like cleaning the toilets. Generally the Untouchables were the original dark skinned Dravids of the Indus valley region
- Sacrifice: Life was considered a continuous sacrifice on the basis that, plants sacrifice themselves to animals for food and likewise animals sacrifice themselves to humans for food. Humans sacrifice themselves to their children so that they may have a better life. The ultimate sacrifice was to the gods who keep the universe stable which must be regularly and ritually fed with animal and other gifts via the priesthood.
- Yoga and meditation: The western world is familiar with Yoga though more as a keep fit pastime than as an aid to spiritual and mental well being, as it is in the east. It is thought that Yoga was practiced by the Dravids in the Indus valley plains prior to the arrival of the Aryans 3500 years ago. Yoga has remained a key part of Hinduism and all its derivatives to this day. The practice of Yoga is aimed to improve physical control and posture, meditation or control of the mind and self discipline, moving towards self denial. The aim is to gain a state of mental peace free from the physically and mentally stressful world. Also Hinduism is a mystical religion. That is teachers advise that to get closer to a god it helps to get control of the mind first, emptying it of all thought. This will create the mental openness required to accept a new spirit. Fasting is another path, as in some branches of the Hinduism, to the astonishment and delight of the conquering English some 300 years ago, is the study and practice of erotic sex. For example in Kama Sutra texts.
2500 YEARS AGO
About 2500 years ago there commenced a period which lasted about 200 years when the spiritual leaders agonized over the habits of Hinduism particularly the rituals of sacrifice which did not seem to be working. This resulted in the formation of three branches:
- Modern Hinduism was born. The mainstream Vedic priests formed a revised doctrine laid down in the Upanishad scriptures. The leaders were less interested in sacrifices and the cast system and more interested in the reasons for life, why are we here and why we should all search for answers. Hinduism developed significant mythical, psychological and meditational elements in the search for the right path to Navrada or the release from the treadmill cycle of life.
- Buddhism. In a sense Buddhism is more like a western religion in that they have a single human founder Siddhartha Gautama. (Later called Buddha) Born c. BC 530 into a royal family and thus initially protected from the horrors of every day life by the castle walls. When old enough he was allowed outside the walls and was so shocked by how the "other half" lived that he determined to find a better path to the goal of release from reincarnation. More like the religious leaders from the middle east he prescribed some 10 rules for humans to follow. (See summary section on Buddhism later)
- Jainism. Similar to Buddhism, Jainists had a human founder, Mahavira, born c BC 600, into a warrior class but at the age of 30 became a virtual hermit looking for the route to the release from reincarnation. After 12 years of austere self-denial he produce his doctrine as follows: Do not harm animals, practice self denial and meditation and strive for good conduct. His universe contained heaven and hell and worked under six principles: Souls, space, time, matter, right and wrong. Jainism still has some 3 million followers in India.
Comparing the Eastern Faith of Hinduism with the Three Main Western Religions
Hinduism versus Christianity, Judaism and Islam
At this time it will be helpful to the western reader to look at some basic differences between the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and the Hindu group of religions. Remember the three western religions commenced with well documented founders, Abraham/Moses for Judaism and for the fundamentals of all three, modified by the persuasive revolutionary leaders, Jesus then Paul and Roman Emperor Constantine, for the Christians and Mohammed for the Muslims. They all denounced the old pagan practice of worshiping many gods and their associated idols. The Jew Moses some 3000 years ago produced the set of readily understood rules, the Ten Commandments (Actually there were well over 100.) which are the basic dogma for Judaism and Christianity and to a considerable extent Islam
On the other hand the Hindu faith evolved from pagan habits, without the aid of a revolutionary leader or the persuasive might of the Romans (mainly from Byzantium) to set out the strict rules or dogma for all to follow. Hinduism evolved to the current position by much self analysis, helped by self discipline, without the aid of a guiding and forgiving God but with the aid of logic, science and the examination of historical scriptures in the self search for a route to the ultimate goal, which for all religions is the passage to heaven rather than a hell after death.
Muslims, Christians and Jews believe there is only one God. Hindus believe in many. However Hinduism has evolved and now teaches there is one supreme God called Braham and that all other Gods are a near human manifestation of Braham. Some say there are over 3 million manifestations of Braham.
Life and Death
Prior to the European Enlightenment or Age of Reason, it was left to the religious leaders to explain the wonders of the world, like day and night and life and death, to the human race. In the three monotheist religions the priests goaded, bribed or scared their disciples to be good, (as defined by the Ten Commandments and modified by many thoughtful priests), rather than evil. The prize being a happy after-life in a place called heaven. The alternative being something indescribably awful, Hell. Hindus believe the passage to heaven is long and hard and many rebirths are required in order to become sufficiently good to earn a ticket. This is called reincarnation. All living creatures are involved in this process. If you are evil your next rebirth could see you as a dog and if you are a dog and good you could wind up as a human. You have to be a very good human and become a priest, to break this cycle and enter heaven. Hindus have never had an Enlightenment which shook the dogma of the Christian world but would argue they were always taught, (contrary to Vatican teaching,) to accept to the findings of science or any other discovery which could provide a better understanding of life.
Attitude to other religions
The Monotheists have a nasty habit of claiming their beliefs are the only correct ones which has been the basis for many wars. If you do not obey the sometimes illogical rules as laid down by the religious leaders you are doomed and have no chance of getting to heaven. Monotheists have been warring for centuries claiming Monotheists from other religions are evil and are heretics, and as we have seen in other parts of this web site and have taken pleasure in attempting to exterminate those who believe differently. (see anti-Semitism, Ireland and The Spanish Inquisition for example). Hindus are quite the opposite and say that any other religious group can also study and embrace or at least learn from Hinduism but need not convert.
2300 years ago.
- The further development of Buddhism
- The Hindu Scriptures are added to.
Prior to this time India, which we can take to include Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, was divided into many small city states and rural communities. The main centres were still around the Indus river (now in Pakistan) and the Ganges river valley covering both modern northern India and Bangladesh. Northern territories were very much in the hands of the Aryan race and many of the original Dravids had been pushed to the south and across the sea to Sri Lanka. Tamils (as in Tamil Tigers) are descendants from the Dravids and still speak and write using the old Dravidian Sanskrit roots. These diverse city states were loosely tied together with the common Hindu religion as laid down in the ancient Vega "scriptures"
At this time Hindu scriptures were orally passed from one generation to another by professional reciters or singers. It was considered that the act of writing them down might be seen as sacrilegious. In spite of this the "scriptures" had a name the "Vegas" and were divided into three:
- Rig Veda: Some 3500 years old. Contains 1028 poems and hymns to be used mainly to accompany a sacrifice.
- Brahmanas: About 2500 years old and a commentary on sacrifice and reincarnation.
- Upanishads: About 2400 years old and followed much self searching amongst the Hindu sages concerning the uselessness of sacrifice; Contains some 200 prose and verse providing a metaphysical and philosophical commentary on the Vedas and the higher or ultimate God concept of Brahman.
321 BC India effectively adopts Buddhism for 500 years
This was a true milestone in the history of India commenced by the arrival of Alexander the Great as he extended his empire eastwards from its origins in Macedonian Greece. In a short campaign he annihilated any local resistance in the form of local city leaders or warlords. He didn't stop long enough to swap cultural concepts, decided not to leave any significant standing army and headed back west leaving a political and military vacuum.
A young prince Chandragupta Maurya filled this vacuum and created the first pan Indian Empire. His grandson Ashoka came to the throne in 269 BC and extended this Maurya Empire to cover almost the whole of the sub-continent. (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). After a particularly brutal battle in 260 BC, Ashoka reflected on the cruelty of his world and converted from Hinduism to Buddhism and vowed to live the life prescribed by Buddha of peace and non violence. Indeed Ashoka was the first Indian ruler to travel the length and breadth of the huge country to learn about his subject's difficulties together with spreading the concepts of the Buddhist faith.
Buddhism remained the dominant religion in India until the fall of the Mauryan dynasty in 185 BC. There being no immediate successor, India remained in limbo and open to invasion again for about 500 years that is until the emergence of the Gupta dynasty in the Ganges valley in AD 320.
2000 years ago
- The Romans ruled the whole of Europe south of the Rhine and the Danube including England in the west and Israel/Palestine as their eastern front.
- Buddhists from India expanded eastwards to China and on towards Japan
- India commenced the period without a strong leader.
- Persians ruled the lands between Jerusalem and India.
- Jews persecuted by their Roman rulers produced the founder of Christianity, Jesus
India particularly in the north and east is overrun again and again by peoples from the north and western borders and becomes a cultural melting pot of Hindu and Buddhist followers together with Persian, Greek, Roman and Chinese immigrants and traders. Silk comes from China passes through Mathura near modern day Delhi onwards to the port of Barbaricum near present day Karachi. India exports diamonds, turquoise, indigo and tortoise shell and imports pearls, copper, gold and slaves from the Arab traders and later Muslim Arab traders and their Jewish translators and financial advisers.
The huge Kushana Empire AD 60-225
Another Aryan nomadic tribe, which had settled in the valley of the river Oxus which runs from the Hindu Kush north to the Aral sea, expanded east to the Indus valley and then even further east towards the Ganges. This was the start of the huge Kushana empire covering much of present day northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan (110 BC). Their leader Kaniska became a Buddhist. Kushana was to be overrun by the indigenous Guptas.
India returns to Hinduism. AD 320-550
The Gupta dynasty brought a golden age for Hinduism in India for more than 200 years where art, architecture, literature, science, medicine and mathematics flourished. Poets and artists were sponsored and invited to an audience with the Emperor Chandra Gupta 2nd who was the greatest of the Gupta Kings and the ancient, sacred, classic Sanskrit became the official court language. Even though the official religion was Hindu, Buddhist art continued, still to be seen in the Buddhist cave temples in Ajanta in the west of the country.
1500 years ago
- India invaded by Mongolian "Huns"
- The most famous Hindu philosopher is born-Sankara.
Following the fall of the Gupta Dynasty the weakened north of India was attacked by Huns. Huns is the name given to the Mongolian nomadic armies of the time who were roaming Asia in a similar manner to the more famous Genghis Khan but 600 years earlier. However the next 500 years in India saw these raiders being repelled again and again. The country split into three separate states of roughly equal size all following the Hindu religion but permitting Buddhists to live peacefully amongst them. Indeed the Buddhists built a university in their temple at Nalanda on the easterly reaches of the Ganges.
C. 700 AD
(Note this is the time that Mohammed the founder of Islam was born in Saudi Arabia.)
About this time India's most famous philosopher was born, Sankara, who made the largest single contribution to the Hindu religion. Born in Kerala in the far south of India into a high cast Brahmin family, he renounced the comforts of life and travelled the country as a preaching hermit. Some say he was a human manifestation of one of the top three Hindu gods, Shiva. Sankara provided most of the input for the last of the four Hindu scriptures (Vedas) called the Vedanta which is an important commentary on the previous three. He founded the Smarta Brahmin Hindu sect and a number of Hindu monasteries.
Sankara's work underlined the metaphysical nature of the Hindu faith: The world we live in is not real, more like a dream. This is because it is constantly changing. To be real it must never change and this is the ultimate reality or God or in Hindu terms Brahman. Putting this another way; we know when we wake from a dream that indeed we have been dreaming. We have had an experience which is unreal and on waking we regain reality. Sankara said that when we wake we only move to a higher state of reality. To achieve the Absolute Reality (a Western Heaven or a Hindu Release-Moksha) we must move to a higher plain again and this might not be achieved until we die.
1000 years ago
Hindu and Buddhists live in relative peace, side by side, but are soon to be subjected to Islamic invaders.
At this time in India the two main faiths, Hinduism and Buddhism lived side by side. The larger, Hinduism can be seen as having four branches.
- The Yoga elements probably practiced over 3000 years ago by the ancient Dravids
- The Philosopher Shankar's views, laid down as commentaries in Vedanta. To these we must add:
- The Bhakti or Devotional sect which is main stream Hinduism
- Tantric movements. Followers believed that sexual ecstasy was a path towards higher mystic levels.
Islam Introduction into Hindu India
A new single-god faith (monotheistic) founded by Mohammed in Arabia around 600 AD had now found some powerful warrior converts notably Turkish war lords from similar origins to the Seljuk Turk, Saladin, who following his conversion to Islam reorganised the Arabic armies and conquered Jerusalem. c1170-80.
In 1175 the Muslim Turk Mohammed Ghuri invaded India and commenced the establishment of a Muslim state in the north.
c 1200 Buddhism ceases to have a significant presence in India but it has already become established in parts of China, Japan and Indonesia together with Nepal and Sri Lanka.
- 1206 The Delhi Islamic Sultanate is founded.
- 1335 The Sultan Mohammed ibn Tughlug rules most of India.
- 1341 Bengal breaks away from the Delhi Sultanate.
- 1370 A Hindu state becomes dominant in the south of India.
- 1398 The Islamic north comes under attack from the Mongolian Tamerlane (sometimes called Timur) grandson of the Mongolian leader Genghis Khan. Tamerlane was the last of the Mongolian marauders who had laid flat the whole of Northern Asia from China to Europe (Hungary) including Russia, Persia and parts of Turkey. His forces, entered, conquered, raped and pillaged and left without leaving a standing army.
Hordes of intellectuals fled Tamerlane's brutal conquests many ending up in India where they integrated with the melting pot of cultures created by the mixing of Hindu and Islam. The Sufis who were the mystical arm of Islam achieved many converts from Hindu to Islam. One of the big attractions of the Muslim faith to Hindus was the removal of the Caste system on conversion, which obviously particularly appealed to the lower Castes. In general however Muslim rulers did not force their single-god faith on the multi-god faith of the Hindu and as in other countries conquered by Muslims the subjects were permitted to follow their ancestral faith and worship so long as they paid premium taxes!
500 YEARS AGO
Sikhism and the Mughals. Bhakti expansion
After some 300 years of co-existence, with Islamic rulers alongside the Hindu indigenous population, a man called Nanak was born (1469) in the Punjab, now in the North West of India south of Kashmir, a disputed area with Pakistan. He was certainly something special because even as a child he was admired for what he said by both Hindus and Muslims alike. His father, a Hindu working as an accountant for a wealthy Muslim, found Nanak difficult to handle and sent him away to stay with his sister in the country. There Nanak disappeared for three days and when he reappeared he said to his sister that he had met with God. Sikhism was born. More details of this faith appear at the end of the pages on Hinduism but here suffice to say Nanak appeared to combine what was the best from both Hinduism and Islam and started a Religion which has remained strong and intact in many parts of the world and particularly England. Sikhs claim that Nanak had a direct message from God and was not choosing the best features from Islam and Hinduism.
Sikhism in Summary
Personal recognition and identification rules were developed by Sikhs to
- make sure they were not confused with Hindus and Muslims
- eliminated class distinction through their family name.
Practising male Sikhs will always wear a turban because firstly, they will not cut their hair and secondly the style easily identifies them as Sikhs. (Even in England this is now respected and Sikhs do not have to wear a crash helmet when riding a motorbike). All Sikhs have the word Singh as the last word in their name. The name rules arise because in India your cast can be determined by your name and as Sikhs reject the caste principle it is important to suppress their Indian family name.
Herewith an introduction to give the flavour of the Sikh religion. More details on later pages.
Sikhs believe in one supreme God like Muslims (and Christians) but also in reincarnation like Hindus. Nanak was against the involvement of idols as practiced by Hindus.
Nanak was perhaps the first leader of any religion to accept women as equal to men. The Hindu treatment of all women, resulting in them being confined to the lowest Caste, was abhorrent to him and also he certainly did not approve of the Islamic habit of largely confining women to menial tasks in the household and covering their faces when in public. A Sikh woman could be appointed to any religious position, although none of the major Sikh leaders-Gurus, were women. Nanak was however seen to positively discriminate in favour of women more than once to make a point.
PERSECUTION AND DEFENCE
Being a minority religion and persecuted regularly like Jews, Sikhs, although taught love was better than war, were at liberty to defend themselves and were very good at it. All Sikhs to this day may carry a ceremonial dagger hidden on their person. When the English ruled India they actively recruited Sikhs for military duty because of their fighting skills.
THE MUSLIM MUGHAL EMPIRE 1526-1739
The great religions of Islam and Hinduism mix and flourish in the Indian sub-continent.
The Mughal Islamic Empire in India commenced in 1526 when Barbur, a descendent of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, invaded the Sultanate of Delhi from his home in Afghanistan. Control was firmly established by his grandson Akbar who ruled 2/3 of India by the time of his death in 1605. (The English set up the East India Trading Company in Calcutta in 1600). The Islamic Mughal empire was then sitting alongside the two other great Islamic empires of the time:-
The Persian/Iranian/Safavid Empire and the adjoining Islamic Ottoman Empire all controlled by rulers of Turkish/Mongol origin (that is present day Turkmenistan rather than Turkey).
Art, architecture, trade, religious development and diversity all flourished under Indian Islamic Emperor Akbar and his grandson Shahjahan. Art saw a combination of Indian and Persian traditions particularly in miniatures, architecture climaxed with the building of the Taj Mahal and non Muslims were given freedom of expression. However two out spoken Sikh leaders, Gurus, were assassinated in 1606 and 1675. The tax system was improved and extortion was outlawed.
THE MARATHAS 1674-1800 HINDU
The Islamic Mughals never achieved total domination of southern India and in 1674 a Hindu leader, Sivaji set up a regional kingdom in an area north of present day Goa called Maratha. The economy of the Islamic north declined and in 1739 an army invaded from Persia (Iran) under Nadir Shah and sacked Delhi but again left no significant standing army. This enabled the Marathas to expand northwards and by 1800 the Hindu Marathas controlled Delhi and all of India north of present day Goa. Meantime an Islamic state called Mysore stopped any Hindu Maratha expansion further south than Goa. From 1600 onwards European Christian traders were setting up headquarters in India in the midst of Hindu Muslim battles. Eventually the Christian English came to rule the whole of India:-
400 YEARS AGO
The following pages trace the development of the English buccaneering traders who vastly outnumbered by the Indian indigenous population and European trading competitors set to establish the biggest empire the world has ever seen mainly through naval supremacy financed by a Jewish banking system.
1600 CHRISTIAN EUROPEANS ESTABLISH TRADING POSTS IN INDIA
The foundations of the British Empire and the English-India story.
The English ended up with the largest empire in the world, rather than the competing and originally more powerful French, Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch. The "Jewel in the English Crown" was India. How was this achieved when all of the above listed European countries were trying to do the same thing and at the time were more powerful than the English. France in particular, in the crucial years, was economically stronger and with a much larger population. (England 7 million, France 20 million.) The answer was the British Navy. At the end of the day it came down to a hundred year dual between England and France and little England won each key battle. (Not to be confused with the earlier 100 years war, 1337-1453, between England and France when the English tried and almost succeeded in retrieving much of the land in France which Norman English Kings had originally ruled but subsequently neglected.)
First steps to Christian world empires
The Americas were the first lands colonised by European Christians, purely by chance in fact, as the explorers did not know the Americas existed. They were sailing west to find new routes to China for silks and porcelain (china) and to Java, Indonesia for spices. The shorter routes east were blocked by the hated and feared Islamic Ottoman Turks from about 1400 onwards.
Spain was the first off the mark west, financed by the Christian anti Jewish fanatics, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, commencing of course with Columbus. (An Italian-Genoese but financed by the Spanish royal family.) The Spanish at this time were the most powerful nation in Europe but were barbaric plunderers, not colonialists. They eliminated the established cultures in Mexico and South America while they stole their silver and gold. The Role of the English was almost as barbaric, being "the pirates of the Atlantic". Hiding in the Caribbean, they high-jacked much of the stolen gold from the Spanish ships. (The gold from one Spanish ship could double the normal annual income to the kings purse.) The first colonising ventures of the English (who followed the Portuguese by 100 years) was the building of sugar plantations in the Caribbean using slaves as labour bought in Africa. Virginia in North America followed soon after, with people like Sir Walter Raleigh creating organised tobacco plantations (1584-89). At exactly the same time Europeans were following the sea routes discovered by Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gamma, to India via South Africa and were setting up trading posts in the Indian sea ports when Indians were ruled by the highly sophisticated Islamic Mughals (from 1526) The British East India company was set up in Calcutta, east India, in 1600 and the Dutch equivalent in 1602.
For the English to achieve simultaneous domination of both North America and India it was the French who had to be removed from both countries. In fairness to the French, they had equal interest in land battles in Continental Europe, (France wanted to conquer both Spain and the German Austrian Hapsburg Empire) whereas as we have seen elsewhere on this site, after Henry 8th , the English gave up land retrieval in Europe and concentrated on keeping European Roman Catholic Christians at bay by building up a world beating Navy. The Dutch threat was removed when in 1689, the English asked William of Orange, the Protestant Dutch Grandson of England's Charles 1st to become King of England. After this period the Dutch concentrated their South East Asia efforts in Indonesia.
The Buildup to Empire 1550 TO 1750
It is interesting to have a closer look at the 150 year period from about 1600 to 1750 to assess the magnitude of England's achievement.
- 1588 English Naval tacticians under Francis Drake were already formidable as they defeated the much larger Catholic Spanish Navy which was sent with the Pope's approval to invade Protestant England ruled by "that bastard woman" Queen Elizabeth the 1st . (Spanish Armada)
But the story really started some 100 years previously
- 1434-1500 European trade with the Far East, which was mainly spices from Java, particularly pepper and with China for silk and porcelains, had been made impossible or at least very expensive and precarious via the traditional route through the Mediterranean to Alexandria(Egypt) and the Red Sea because of the hostile Islamic Ottomans headquartered in Istanbul Turkey. Actually the strength of the Ottoman Navy was due to a deal they struck with Barbarossa or Red Beard who was a North African Muslim sea pirate. Hence the Barbary Coast.
A Portuguese writer summarised the aims of the Christian Kings as the solution to the Islamic blockade of the Mediterranean as:
To discover what lay beyond the Canaries; to trade with any Christian who might dwell in the land beyond: to discover the extent of the Islamic dominions, to find a Christian king who would help him fight the infidel; to spread the Christian faith; to fulfil the predictions of the horoscope; which bound him to engage in great and noble conquests and attempt the discovery of things that were hidden from other men.
The main seafaring/trading nations of Europe were, Italians from the city states of Venice and Genoa, Spain, Portugal, Holland and to a lesser extent England and France. The Royal families of Spain and Portugal took the initiative and financed brave seafaring explorers to find another route for this trade. Initially the Spanish went West and discovered America and the Portuguese went East round the southern tip of Africa and set up safe haven ports en-route to Java in (Portuguese) Angola, (Portuguese) Mozambique, Mombassa, the Indian west coast(Goa) and Malacca in Malaysia.
- 1500 The Spanish, following the lead of the Genoan Columbus, emigrated in large numbers to South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. The Spanish became rich with the gold and silver they found belonging to the local Aztec and Inca civilisations which they destroyed. At the same time the Portuguese started sugar plantations in Brazil manned with slaves bought in Africa.
- 1607 The English set up their first official colony in North America in Jamestown Virginia. (Note; 7 years after the formation of the East India Company in Calcutta) (Sir Walter Raleigh was a prisoner in the Tower for treason at the time) In the next 50 years many North American settlements were made by the English who dominated the east coast and central Canada (Hudson Bay company 1668). At exactly the same time the French, using the St Lawrence and Mississippi rivers, settled in central North America from Quebec, the capital of New France 1608, to New Orleans, 1699. Then the Spanish who dominated Mexico moved north along the American west coast towards Los Angeles in 1780. The Russians who occupied Alaska and the North American West Coast moved south towards Los Angeles. The Dutch had a colony in New York then called New Amsterdam. 1626-1664.
- 1750-1770 At this time the two huge land masses of North America and the Indian sub-continent, were part occupied and ruled by the English and French plus of course the local "native" populations which the English called both Indians. In North America the Native Americans or "Red Indians", were relatively small in number and still almost a stone age civilisation. In India at this time the population was huge by comparison (some 200 million) and were highly cultured and civilised Hindus ruled by the Islamic Mughals. During these 20 years, the English removed the French from both territories and the battles with France returned to a solely European theatre. The tactics used by the English to remove the much larger French forces from both India and America simultaneously was by blockading the French Atlantic coastal ports thus keeping the French supply ships in harbour and the French troops short of reinforcements, armaments and any special foods. The key French coastal battles took place in 1757 and 1761.
- 1757 At the same time the English under Baron Robert Clive won crucial battles in India against the French, notably at Acrot and later against the ruler of Bengal at Plassey (north of Calcutta) giving them total control of the rich province of Bengal (now mainly Bangladesh).
The Black Hole of Calcutta. This well known but relatively unimportant story took place in the English wars against the Ruler of Bengal when the latter attacked a small fort in Calcutta and imprisoned 145 men and one woman in a dungeon only 18x18 feet for one day. It was also said to be the hottest day of the year and 25 died from heat exhaustion. Money generated from taxing the relatively wealthy Bengalis enabled the English to finance a huge standing army (mainly locals) and conquer the rest of India.
The English had another advantage over the French during these times, a source of money to finance the army and navy. This was because both Oliver Cromwell and Charles 2nd had realised that Jews were the best bankers in Europe and agreed to them resettling in England. The Jewish banking families financed virtually all England's war efforts whereas the French who hated the Jews were generally strapped for cash.
1750 ENGLAND NOW DOMINATES AS THE WORLD'S SUPERPOWER.
The English rule in North America, India and Ireland and commence their colonisation of Australia 1770
So for a short time thence tiny England ruled the two huge continents of North America and India and enjoyed total freedom in exploiting Anglo, Indian and American trade, to fuel the rapidly advancing Industrial Revolution at home. Australia was initially used as a penal colony as the English in North America no longer would have convicts dumped on them. Stupidly the English got greedy and imposed bigger and bigger taxes on the North American colonies to pay for the huge standing armies they thought they needed in this country. One of the better known taxes was on tea shipped from India in English ships to the tea loving English in America. (Boston Tea Party). The American colonists revolted and then with the help of the hated French, who wanted their own back on the English, the Americans gained independence in 1776-1783. However the English have had a very special friendly relationship with the now USA ever since-to the consternation of the French. The English blockade of French ports went on until 1805 culminating in the historic battle of Trafalgar when the English under Nelson beat the combined French and Spanish fleets on the Atlantic side of the straits of Gibraltar. The story ends with the defeat by the English, led by the Duke of Wellington, of the French land armies led by Emperor Napoleon at Waterloo in Belgium in 1815.
So the English had defeated the French, Spanish and Danish fleets and all the key colonial prizes were in English hands. England had also secured a trouble free shipping route to East India via safe, English owned ports in, South Africa (the Cape), Mauritius (taken from the French) and Ceylon now Sri Lanka.
Returning to India circa 1600
1600-1700 By the end of this period all the main European trading nations had set up eastern commercial operational headquarters in India. All the bases were for trade with India and further east with Indonesia (Java) and China. England, Portugal and Holland had 6 each and France and Denmark had 2 each. They all had major settlements around Calcutta in wealthy Bengal (now partly Bangladesh).
1700-1800 At the end of this period the English had ousted all the others except for the friendly Portuguese on the West coast in Goa and the friendly Dutch. In addition by military might and playing off the Hindu Marathas against the Muslim Mughals the English ruled huge tracts of the Indian subcontinent. Notably all the south and east coasts and the whole of Bengal and the Ganges valley up to Delhi. The administration was not the British government but the commercial British East India Company who by monopolising all the trade of the rich state of Bengal could afford to finance their own army of 100,000 Indian troops under British command. It is worth noting that at this time the British East India Company had 50% of the worlds international trade.
The Climax and the Demise of the British Empire
1816, The English defeat the Gurkhas. Gurkhas is the name given to an Indian tribe from near Nepal who because of their fighting skills have been in the British army ever since. A Gurkha regiment of the British Army is, even today, respected worldwide.
1818, the English defeated the huge Hindu Maratha territories in central India and thence became the rulers of India via the non government but commercial trading body the British East India company. In the next 30 years the English, now dominant and arrogant, enlarged their "Indian" domain to fortify the centre: -
1824 The English take Burma on the eastern frontier. (now called Myanmar)
1843 The English conquer Sind (Now southern Pakistan)
1849 The English conquer the Punjab (now split between India and northern Pakistan) This is the main centre of the Sikh community who now came under British rule.
English rule of the Indian sub Continent now stretched from the Afghan border (North West Frontier) in the west into Malaysia then called Malaya in the East with a total population of some 350 million subjects to England's 20 million.
Thus all religions in India now come under Christian rule and British Protestant missionaries abound. Conversion is low other than a few in the lower Hindu castes who obviously see an instant opportunity to get to heaven rather than the 1000s of years of reincarnation ahead of them. Hindus and particularly Sikhs are heavily influenced by the Christian values of their rulers which they feel must be good as they are the values of the all powerful conquerors. However no mass conversions ensue. The majority of English sent to India by the East India Company remain superior and disinterested or even disgusted with these "primitive faiths" but a small minority are highly moved. Particularly they find Hindu women much better in bed than the prudish and sexually ignorant English girls back home and some set up mini harems and even arrive home with an extra Islamic Indian bride or two to the consternation of their English wife.
1857 Mutiny. India at this time had been invaded by zealot missionary Christians as Britain was in the throes of a fundamentalist fervour. A good example was the Scottish missionary and explorer Doctor David Livingstone (1813-73) who was the first white man to fully explore the most inner parts of "Darkest" Africa. Many like Livingstone tried to spread Protestant fundamentalism and Victorian prudish values in India and like Livingstone in Africa they failed to get any converts and generally antagonise the locals. So English attitudes to their colonial subjects in Victorian times was, high and mighty, with little regard to local customs and cultures, little regard also for developing a local economy indeed exploiting it would be the general objective. Christian dogma states clearly that the only route to salvation is through Jesus Christ the son of God, which means that all other faiths must be wrong and their followers second class and indeed heretics. By comparison both Islam and Hinduism were at this time, welcoming and interested in other faiths. Islamic rulers generally allowed non Muslims to live in peace in their territories. Even though English generated trade and much improved the gross trading position of the Indians, the English saw that all the value added goods were manufactured in England leaving the Indians the tasks of unskilled peasants. Indeed by 1853 India had lost its worldwide market for textiles and was actually importing cloth from England. Finally the Indians revolted which commenced as a mutiny in the East India Company's army which was largely manned by locals controlled by "Victorian" British officers. The British officers failed to consider that the pig and cow fat used to lubricate the rifles might be religiously impossible to accept for Muslim and Hindu soldiers. A bitter revolt lasted 14 months and when finally subdued the government in London decided to end the long period of rule by the East India Company and administration was taken over by the British Crown in London.
The next 100 years
Queen Victoria was enthroned as Empress of India in 1877 by the British of course. However Queen Victoria never visited India. By 1885 the Indians were sufficiently fed up with British rule and confident in their own abilities to set up their own Indian National Congress. However independence was not gained until 1947, after the Second World War. Then the English were no longer in a military, financial or mental position to resist the pressures from India for independence and all military forces "East of Suez" were withdrawn.
During the previous 150 years the English rulers had tried to Europeanise the Indian society with Christian values and Victorian bureaucracy. At least there was relative peace between Hindus and Muslims but the overall benefit to India in general is very questionable but the benefits to England were considerable. The British Indian Army manned mainly by Indians, defended all British interests from East Africa to China. This was particularly important in the Second World War not against the Germans but the Japanese who marched into many British territories east of India. (Burma, Singapore, Malaya etc) Of particular interest to the Japanese was the oil and rubber production in Burma and Malaya. The British centre for Burmese defence was Calcutta. It was touch and go whether the Japanese who, easily over ran Malaya, Singapore and Burma reached India. After huge losses on both sides the British, with much help from the Indians, finally prevailed.
The influence of Christianity
Christian influence prompted new thinking amongst Hindus rather than conversion to Christianity. In 1820 Indian Hindu, Ram Mohan Roy founded Brahmo Samaj to develop Hindu worship towards a single God. Ram Roy spent much time in England where he finally died. In the same way the Indian Muslim Saiyid Khan formed Aligarh and intended to modernise Islam. After the end of the First World War 1918, when the English were seen by all Muslims as responsible for the downfall of the huge Islamic Ottoman Empire, Muslims in India persuaded their Hindu friends to commence the elimination of the British in India. The British retained their authority by developing a repressive semi police state which only made matters worse.
Gandhi-Indian Hindu 1869-1948
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatma) One of the best known names in any part of the world, Mahatma Gandhi led the push to get the British out of India by his peaceful policy of non-cooperation which largely meant non payment of taxes. When he was 20 he studied law in England and practiced initially in British South Africa defending the rights of Indian immigrants in that country. His vision for India without the British was for Muslims and Hindus to live peacefully together but in this he failed. When the English left there was an immediate Hindu-Muslim blood bath which resulted in the splitting of India into three, Muslim Pakistan in the west, Muslim Bangladesh in the east plus India. In the Second World War against the Japanese, the British only gained support from Gandhi and the Indian Army by promising that the British would give India back to the Indians at the end of the war. In 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist for letting down the Hindu people. Likewise Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, daughter of Mahatma Gandhi's political partner Jawaharlal Nehru was assassinated in 1984 by a Sikh member of her bodyguard. The Sikhs were angry that she had promised them their own land in the Punjab and not delivered. Her Prime Minister son Rajiv Gandhi was also assassinated by religious extremists.
Today India, compared with almost 100% Muslim Pakistan and Bangladesh, has about 200 million Muslims living amongst 800 million Hindus and 10 million Sikhs. That is the Muslim population of India is greater than either of its two Muslim neighbours which were created to be Islamic states. Not surprisingly tension between India and Pakistan has always been high and is now of some concern to the rest of the world, as both are Nuclear powers. A solution is now very difficult because of heightened rivalries between the more fundamental Hindu and Muslim sects, together with the disputed border territories of Sikh Punjab and mountainous Kashmir. Pakistan was early in aligning with USA and likewise India chose Russia. The fall of Soviet power has made the Indians all the more nervous.
Buddhism once the faith of the Indian rulers now hardly exists in any of these three countries and in the general region is confined to the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Burma and Sri Lanka.
Further Information and Summary on Sikhism, Buddhism & Hinduism
Hinduism, a summary
- A religion or better a philosophy which evolved over 4000 years. No founder like Moses, Jesus or Mohammed.
- Life is an illusion or similar to a dream. When you wake it will be in heaven. There are many ways to heaven. For example Christianity. That is Hindus accept the ideas of Christianity but Christians do not accept the Hindu customs.
- Many gods plus one supreme deity Brahma. Priests are called Brahmins. The Gods do not look after you. You must find your own way.
- Scriptures are the Vedas which are a series of poems or hymns plus a commentary. The oldest have origins going back over 3000 years.
- Men are not born equal. Your status on earth depends on your past life. Good people go up and vice versa , the principle of Karma. This is the Caste system. A priest is the highest and the lowest is an Untouchable. Note do not confuse Karma with Kama as in Kama Sutra which is the enjoyment of sex and other good things in life.
- There are three recognized paths to heaven or the release(Moksha) from the cycle of Reincarnation
- A path of good works (dharma)
- The path of knowledge (inana)
- The path of devotion (Bhakti)
The founder of this religion was Nanak, born in the Punjab area of north west India in 1469. This was some 25 years before the Christian Portuguese Vasco de Gamma landed in India. Many westerners say Sikhism is the best bits plucked from Hinduism and Islam which to a certain extent must be true as India in Nanak's time was a Hindu country ruled by Muslims. Sikhs themselves deny this secular explanation because Nanak received his divine concepts in a vision from God. Herewith some of the main features of Sikhism.
- God. Sikhs like Muslims (and Christians and Jews) believe there is one ultimate deity. Sikhs are quite happy to refer to this one God as Allah when talking to Muslims and the appropriate Hindu God when in the company of Hindus. (Like Krishnan). In Punjabi this God is called Akal Purugh. (Timeless One). Western listeners could be excused for thinking that Nanak was describing the God of the Muslims, Christians or Jews when he was trying to describe the God he believed in.
- Reincarnation and the Caste system. Sikhs reject these ideologies and believe a good man can go straight to heaven at death. They believe all men and most notably women are born equal. Probably the first and only religion to have this as a fundamental. Unfortunately as Sikhs have always been a minority religion and putting such an emotive belief into practice in a medieval male dominated society has proven to be impossible.
- Women. A woman can be a priest (Guru) but there aren't any. At death Sikhs totally reject the old Hindu custom of widows jumping on the funeral pyre of their husbands. (A custom not banned until the arrival of the English). These beliefs reinforced the rejection of the Caste system where women are regularly cast with the lowest in society. In a Hindu society girls are a huge financial burden to their parents because in their arranged marriage culture a future husband or more likely his parents, are persuaded to take a particular girl as a bride by the size of her dowry (a bribe in cash or kind) rather than for her good looks, child baring hips or intellect. In the past it was not uncommon for girl babies to be murdered at birth. In the present time, it is unfortunately the case that expectant mothers, if their husbands can afford it, will have an amniocentesis test to establish the sex of the embryo and if a female, to have an abortion. It might be surprising to western readers that Nanak's Sikhism did not have a wider appeal in India.
- War and self defence. Sikhs are permitted to defend themselves as a last resort if attacked. With such revolutionary modern views in a Medieval Islamic Hindu society, attacks on Sikhs were common and still are. It became common for Sikhs to always carry a defensive and concealed dagger. A ceremonial dagger is carried by many Sikhs to this day. Hindus feel that as Sikhs reject the Caste system they are a disruption to society and this is made worse by the rejection of the Dowry rules. Muslims, as readers can now understand, would attack Sikhs because their women were equal in society and would "flaunt" their bodies by not covering their faces or worse, when outside the home. The English recruited many Sikhs into their army as they were practiced fighting men.
- Dress code. Men practicing the Sikh faith must not cut their hair, but must ceremonially wash it daily and keep it wrapped up in a turban. The ceremonial dagger is sometimes disguised as the ceremonial comb, carried to keep the uncut hair tidy. Such dress rules make it either difficult or impossible for immigrant practising Sikhs to integrate into a local mother culture and make them a target for ridicule by the typical undereducated Anglo Saxon male youth. This is a particular problem in schools because Sikh boys always wear knee length shorts which they would normally keep on even in the shower. In England these shorts would be worn under long trousers. Their origin goes back to India where most men wore full length tunics which Sikhs found restrictive when fighting.
- Family names. Practising Sikhs have another unique method of public identification, they all have the same last name, Singh. (Male version) This has sometimes proven difficult for immigrant Sikhs when filling in forms. The idea of everybody having the same name is to eliminate the possibility of being identified as belonging to a particular Caste which a family name clearly does in India.
- The route to heaven. Nanak preached there were five disciplines to follow to achieve enlightenment.
- Piety and Duty
- Knowledge, flowing from Awareness and Study
- Wisdom, which flows from human intelligence and Knowledge.
- Grace. At this point students may experience the presence of God.
- Truth. This is the final goal and can only be experienced and not described. Similar to the passing of night as the soul enters a new day. Western readers will see this is quite different from the simple Western rules like the Ten Commandments. Readers must remember that all the home grown Indian religions have a Mystical element which was positively influenced by the mystical branch of Islam. (Sufi)
- Scriptures. Sikhs have their Bible, Vedas, Quran or Talmud, it is called the Guru Granth Sahib. It is treated with perhaps even more reverence than the aforementioned "Bibles" of other faiths. The title makes it sound like a person who is a Guru. This is deliberate. There were 10 Sikh Gurus in all including Guru Nanak who died in 1539. The last Guru Gobind Singh died in 1708 and it was decided there should be no more, other than the accumulated writings of the other Gurus to be called the "Guru Granth Sahib". Much is written in verse (similar to the Quran) to make it sound pleasant and also to make it easier to commit to memory. Guru Nanak started the tradition with the help of his musical travelling companion Mardana, who was a Muslim. Nanak wrote 947 hymns. The fifth Guru was responsible for over 2000 hymns.
- Religious Centre and territorial homeland. We have seen that Nanak was born in the Punjab which was originally bigger than it is today and unfortunately now straddles both India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Mrs Ghandi promised the Sikhs the Punjab as a separate Sikh state. When she failed to deliver she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Amritsar built in 1609 as a Sikh fort in the Punjab is now a Sikh temple. In England some would say the area of Southall in West London, close by Heathrow airport is a Sikh homeland. Southall is now almost exclusively Sikh as the original Anglo Saxon inhabitants have moved out.
Buddhism is 2500 years old and had a founder similar to Christians with Jesus or Islam and Mohammed. In the case of Buddhism it was a rich man called Siddhartha Gautama, known now as Buddha, who was born into a Hindu family about 560 BC. As a rich boy he was kept inside his castle walls by his parents where he was surrounded by intelligent healthy people and was fortunate to marry a beautiful Hindu girl who gave him a son. Then one day he was riding his horse far from the castle grounds when he met a poor sick old man covered with sores and blisters clearly not far from death. A little later he met a monk who was also old and poor but seemed radiantly happy. These two chance meetings worried him deeply and he began to think there might be more to life than living as a wealthy recluse. He took one last look at his beautiful wife and son and dressing like a poor monk, with a shaven head he left his palace for ever. He tried all the normal routes prescribed by the Hindu priests to find the real purpose of life like studying the scriptures and self denial (in his case he tried fasting until he was a walking skeleton) but all to no avail. Finally he sat under a tree and vowed to himself that he would not move until the answers came to him, which they did after a stay of 40 days and nights. From that moment on he was called Buddha or Enlightened One. He preached his rules of life until his death 45 years later.
Buddhism is like western/middle eastern religions which have strict rules but without a God. This means that salvation or, in the case of Buddhism, a release from the cycle of reincarnation, is achieved by one's own efforts and without the help of any supreme deity.
THE RULES DEFINED BY GAUTAMA BUDDHA
Certain of the rules of his local faith, Hinduism he denounced immediately:
- The Caste system. Buddha says all men are born equal.
- Women are equal to men. The custom of widows throwing themselves on the dead husbands funeral pyre was forbidden
- The divine scriptures of the Hindus (Vedas and Upanishads) Buddha said were worthless.
- Buddha also said the concept of man having a soul and the concept that all things on earth were unreal (a dream) were also wrong.
- Buddha also said that the concept of God was wrong and here we must assume he was referring to the many Hindu gods but modern Buddhists do not believe in a God either.
The Middle way
Buddha had experienced both extreme self denial and blatant decadent sensuality. He said both were wrong and the right path was somewhere in the middle. He preached the four Noble Truths.
- Look around, you see suffering everywhere, why
- Because Man is greedy, selfish and lustful.
- Man is ignorant of his faults. He must study in order to realise his faults and control them.
- Then he must follow the middle way or eightfold path. (Eight Commandments?)
Eight philosophies to consider and follow.
- Have the right outlook every day in your life.
- Have the right lifelong aims
- Say the right things or think before you speak.
- Behave correctly, like you don't kill or indeed loose your temper.
- Work and play with some thought of what you are doing.
- During work and play put in some real effort and for a real purpose.
- Have the right frame of mind and thoughts.
- Meditate, as in Yoga Meditation, to clear your mind, to seek the right path and help you to achieve the right balance.
Clearly these eight rules offer a much wider interpretation than the Ten Commandments which are the basis for western laws. Many in the west find this wider freedom allowing an individual to make up his own mind more helpful than dogmatic Western and Middle Eastern religions.
We have seen that 500 years after the death of Buddha his followers were spreading his message outside India into China and finally into Japan. Now there are more than 350 million followers. The main countries which have significant numbers of Buddhists are: Burma, Nepal, parts of China and some 30% of Japan, Ceylon-Sri Lanka, Bali in Muslim Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam and Tibet, Thailand, Laos and Kampuchea.
After the horrors of Second World War and then the Korean and Vietnam wars many Christians and Jews looked for a new meaning for life and many Christians have taken to Buddhism particularly Zen Buddhism which concentrates on looking for the right way through meditation. Some of the best known converts are the actors and artists:
Harrison Ford, Richard Gere and Tina Turner.