Tag Archive: worldviews


Yoruba bronze head, 12th century.

Yoruba bronze head, 12th century.

By Sharon St Joan

To read part one first, click here

Hundreds of years ago, if you had lived in a small village in central Africa, before its “discovery” by Europeans, you might have lived in a thatched roof hut that kept out the sun and the rain, with a dirt floor that was swept clean every day. From birth to death, you would have lived in a stable community of your friends and relatives, in a society where you belonged and had a place, where there was work to be done, as well as a rich tradition of art, music, and a spiritual life. If you were walking through the forest, and you felt thirsty, it would have been entirely safe to drink from the clear, sparkling waters of a stream. Although you would not have had what we would call luxury, you would have known a world of trees, sky, animals, and the early morning mist that floated over the river where the elephants gathered. You would have lived in the untouched beauty of the natural world.

If you became ill, you would have been treated with herbal remedies, their efficacy tested by being passed down through generations. If you were dying, your village would have gathered around you, singing prayers for you, as your soul left to go on its journey.

At that time, back then, there were no GMO crops or insecticide-laden foods, no miles and miles of plastic trash, no debris littering the ocean floor, no smog-choked cities, no factory farms, no miles of concrete where once there had been forests filled with wild animals, no industrial waste, no nuclear waste, no trash on the moon or in outer space. Yes, horrible things could and did happen, then as now, but it could be argued, nonetheless, that the scale of horror was much less then, than it is today.

Certainly, very bad things could take place. It would have been possible to be eaten by an animal — though a lion at that time, living in a more undisturbed habitat, might have been less likely then, than now, to attack a human. Still being eaten would not have been pleasant.

A lion in Namibia.

A lion in Namibia.

But which is worse really, to be eaten quickly by a lion in the darkness of the night, or to be eaten piecemeal over many decades by human greed, hypocrisy, mediocrity, corruption, and the soul-destroying nibbles that kill off all life and destroy the natural world?

If we look closely, with open eyes, we will be able to see quite clearly that the modern world, for most people and for most animals, for the trees, and the earth itself is suffering, on an unprecedented scale. In our climate-controlled houses and apartments, we live in a bubble, wrapped up in our technology, yet still cut off from many realities of much of the world.

The moon in the western sky, California.

The moon in the western sky, California.

Nevermind that we as a society have gone to the moon and back – is our civilization peaceful, enlightened, kind, gracious? No, it really isn’t.

We tend to resist this imperfect view of history. We cling to the view we were taught in school. After all, there is something comforting in imagining that we are at the summit of human existence and that everything has led steadily upwards, culminating in the grandeur that is us.

So, if perhaps we have realized that we are not quite as grand as we had imagined, if we have begun to suspect that we, as the human race, are all slipping and sliding inexorably downhill, in this corrupt and miserable current age, does that mean that all is hopeless? Should we give up trying to do anything meaningful? Should we just sit down under a tree, hold our head in our hands, and accept the fact that we are doomed?

Should we just forget any causes that we’re devoting our life to – any more meaningful purpose, like freeing people from oppression, saving innocent animals from suffering, or saving the forests and the earth’s wild places?

Should we just decide that everything is impossible and give up?

No, because however dark the world may be, magic and miracles are always possible because, by definition, they come from a higher level that is not bound by human limitations.

A couple of contemporary examples might help. I’m reminded of a couple of people who have not been content to stay put in the boxes the found themselves in. They are completely different from each other. Here is the first one.

Susan Boyle at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 2013

Susan Boyle at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 2013

If you haven’t done so already, it’s worth watching Susan Boyle on YouTube when she appeared in 2009 on Britain’s Got Talent. It’s worth watching just to see the expressions of the judges on the show change from bored condescension to joyful astonishment. It was clear that the contestant on the stage in front of them, Susan Boyle, at that first appearance, had not the slightest idea how to present herself well, and the three judges were ready to dismiss her as a silly, ridiculous figure – until she began to sing, at which point they opened their mouths and raised their eyebrows in incredulity. Before she had finished singing, these rather jaded judges sprang to their feet, along with the entire audience, all applauding, one judge, Piers Morgan, stating that this was the greatest surprise in all his time with the show.

Her immensely powerful and profoundly expressive, beautiful voice seemed to spring from another realm that had nothing to do with her awkward appearance. Within the next nine days after the show, her videos had been viewed over 100 million times. Her debut album was a record-breaking success, and she has soared to stardom since then and is a multimillionaire many times over.

To be continued in part three…

To read part three, click here.

 

 

Top photo: “This work has been released into the public domain by its author, WaynaQhapaq at the English Wikipedia project. This applies worldwide.” / Wikimedia commons / “Yoruba bronze head from the city of Ife, 12 century.”

 

Second photo: Author (photographer): Kevin Pluck / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A lion in Namibia.

 

Third photo: Author (photographer): Jessie Eastland / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / Wikimedia Commons / “Western Moon setting over Mountains, High Desert, California.”

 

Fourth photo: Author (photographer): Wasforgas / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / “Susan Boyle singing at the Edinburgh Festival Theater, July 12, 2013.”

 

© Sharon St Joan, 2013

 

To see the video of Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent, click here

 

 

 

Agni_god_of_fire

Agni

 

 

“Vedic Mythology” was written by A.A. Macdonell and first published in German, in Strassburg in 1897. In 2000,  it was republished by Low Price Books in Delhi.

 

 

It is an in-depth study of the Rig Veda, the oldest book in the world, and of many other ancient Sanskrit works – a compilation of all that is recorded in early vedic descriptions of all the major gods; celestial gods, terrestrial gods, atmospheric gods, even abstract gods.

 

 

All is carefully catalogued, with footnotes giving all the sources, and exact accounts of how many times each deity is referred to with which attributes. It is a remarkable book.

 

 

Since the Rig Veda is amazingly poetic, the section of Vedic Mythology, for example, that describes Dawn, whose name is Ushas,  describes her as “the most graceful creation of vedic poetry.”  Ushas is young, though ancient, since she is born anew every day; clothed in light, she shines now and will always shine; she is immortal. Awakening the four-legged animals and causing the birds to fly up into the sky, she removes “the black robe of night” and sends away the darkness. As a resplendent being, her beams of light are like herds of cattle, and she comes to be known as the “mother of cattle.”

 

 

Many of the other gods are also living elements, like Agni, the God of fire. He faces in all directions and is said to have a burning head. Possessed of wings, he flies, and is portrayed as a bull, a horse, a divine bird, or the swan Hamsa, and once, as a raging serpent.  Shining like the sun, he destroys darkness and can see through the gloom of the night.  Driving away darkness, he is called the “goblin-slayer.”  There is much, much more about Agni, who is worshipped as one of the most sacred beings and who is invoked in at least 200 hymns of the Rig Veda.

459px-Suryatanjore

Surya

 

Surya is the sun, represented sometimes as a great eagle or a brilliant horse. He is the eye of the sky and is said to be the Lord of Eyes, the one eye that can see beyond the sky, the waters, and the earth. As an all-seeing being, he casts away illnesses and evil dreams.

 

 

Hundreds or Gods are portrayed in the Rig Veda, in some of the world’s most beautiful and inspirational poetry.

 

 

The world of the Rig Veda is a living world — the Gods, the elements, the forces of nature are alive, awakened, conscious beings who interact with each other.  It is a cosmos filled with beauty.

 

 

One might contrast this with the universe as we are given to see it today, with our modern, “scientific” worldview — where there is a presumption, unfortunately, that nothing that is not organic is alive.  All the stars, the galaxies, the supernovae, the quasars, comets, Oort clouds, dark matter — all that we see out there with our giant telescopes is somehow missing something.  It is gigantic, immeasurable, vast beyond any imagining, and yet there is something not quite all there. We are told that none of these great beings are conscious — nothing is really alive in quite the same way we humans are. Some will concede that animals may have some sort of “lower” consciousness, but the prevailing view is that really it’s pretty much us as humans, who seem to be at the pinnacle of creation, as far as consciousness goes.

Map_of_Vedic_India

Map of Vedic India

 

There seems to be something radically amiss though with this view of the universe.  It could almost remind one of the pre-Copernican days when Europeans believed that earth was the center of the universe, with the sun and all the other heavenly bodies revolving around it.  Well, here we are again, with humans placed at the center of the universe — not this time at the physical center, but, at a central place in terms of consciousness.  Only we it seems, can look out, over the millions of galaxies and consciously contemplate the universe.  No one else, we are led to believe, can be as aware as we are.

 

 

This, however, is a remarkably unsatisfying view of the universe. Except for sizzling hot suns and unexpected super explosions that come about now and then, the universe as we currently view it, is cold, dark, immense and unfathomable — in short, not very friendly.  This seems to bother even scientists, and one wonders if a certain cosmic sense of loneliness is not at the root of the perpetual search for life on Mars — the billions of dollars spent and the amazing engineering feats of sending all the rovers to look for life or water or something that could be evidence of life.  Then there is the search for habitable planets among nearby stars.  Around 600 planets have so far been found, that could, it seems, harbor life, and the majority of scientists now believe that there is little doubt that there is life on other worlds — whether these are ‘higher” life forms is not so certain.

 

 

Simply put, we as humans do not wish to be alone.  An unfathomably vast “dead” universe strikes us as somehow not quite right.

 

 

In his introduction to “Vedic Mythology,”  A.A. Macdonell writes, “The basis of these myths is the primitive attitude of mind which regards all nature as an aggregate of animated entities.”  A.A. Macdonell, who was born in India of European parents, was an extraordinary scholar who wrote a brilliant and amazing book about the Vedas. Nonetheless, if we step back a moment, we can see the picture of a European gentleman who, while studying a civilization that has existed for at least 5,000 years, and possibly for many, many thousands of years before that, made the observation that the current age (including 1897 as part of “current” time) in which we live is “superior,” while the brilliant, poetic, and immensely wise civilization on the ancient Indian subcontinent was somehow “lower” or “primitive.”

 

 

How exactly it was “lower” is quite hard to see.

535px-Indra_deva

Indra

 

Perhaps there is something to be said for the concept that the universe is truly an alive, dynamic, amazing place, filled with Gods and great beings, that the stars are divine, that the forces of nature have their own form of consciousness, not in any way “lower” than ours.  Perhaps we have all this while been mistaken about the nature of what we call “progress.”  Perhaps we are not the pinnacle of creation after all.  Perhaps the cyclic view of the ages, believed by virtually every culture other than our own — that first there is a golden age, and that each succeeding age represents a step down on the scale, until we came to the final age, which comes to a close, and then we return to an age of brilliance, kindness, compassion, greatness, and heroism – perhaps this cyclic view is the true view — the Gods are real, the forces of nature are alive and aware, the animals are innocent, magical beings, and the universe is far more wondrous than we have been led to believe. Perhaps that is the real reality.

 

 

Top photo:  Wikimedia Commons / Source: http://www.atributetohinduism.com/Hindu_Scriptures.htm / This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. / Agni, god of fire, shown riding a goat, in a miniature painting from an 18th century watercolor

 

 

Second photo: {{PD-US}} / Source:http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/bce_500back/vedas/surya/surya.html / “This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.” / Wikimedia Commons / Surya receives worship from the multitudes; Tanjore School miniature painting, 1800’s “A Painting of Surya. India, Tanjore School, 19th Century. The nimbated Sun God depicted upon his chariot surrounded by attendants with smaller figures at left in obeisance.”

 

 

Third photo: Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.           

Attribution: Dbachmann / Map of northern India in the late Vedic period.

 

 

Fourth photo: Source: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectid=3080760&partid=1&searchText=indra&fromADBC=ad&toADBC=ad&numpages=10&images=on&orig=%2fresearch%2fsearch_the_collection_database.aspx&currentPage=1 / {{PD-Art}}  {{PD-US}} / circa 1820 / Wikimedia Commons / “Painting of Indra on his elephant mount, Airavata. Painted in South India (probably Thanjavur or perhaps Tiruchchirapalli)…”