Right. I attacked Sikhism when I was in Punjab, I’ve given Islam a kicking, and I’ve been patronisingly smirking at Hinduism throughout. I guess it’s time to talk about how badly Buddhism has let itself down.
Let’s have a brief summary of its history. Once upon a time, a man achieves enlightenment. He gains some followers and teaches them how to achieve it too. This man doesn’t talk about god. It doesn’t interest him. For him, the universe itself is god, and achieving enlightenment means realising your own oneness with the divine universe. The idea of there being a pantheon of deities is unenlightened thinking; praying to idols is a distraction from the higher aim.
Khuldabad is a small town near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The area is also known as the Valley of Saints, because of the significant number of onion-domed Sufi tombs dotting the landscape in and around the town. A dedicated tomb enthusiast could easily spend days here, visiting and exploring them all. I went primarily for one reason: to boost my Great Mughal tomb-spotting score up to the India-maximum of 4/6.
The Ellora Cavesare a World Heritage Site consisting of 34 cave temples carved into the bare rock of a hillside near Aurangabad. They date from three separate periods, from the 6th to 11th centuries CE, and are arranged in three groups, representing the dominant religion of each period.
Which means the good thing about the Ellora Caves is that they’re multi-genre. Just as you’re starting to get bored with Buddhist devotional sculpture, it switches to Hinduism, and then again to Jainism for the final act.
Cave 10 at Ellora, a Buddhist chapel with vaulted-effect ceiling and a massive Buddha in front of a stupa, surrounded by bodhisattvas
Elephanta is an island in Bombay harbour, with a small set of Hindu and Buddhist cave temples. The caves are artificial, the temples cut from the rock around 500 – 800 CE, and the complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an hour’s boat trip from the Gateway of India, and a popular sightseeing excursion from Bombay.
I’d had mixed reports: Peter and Corinna in Jodhpur had said it wasn’t worth seeing, and Abby in Pushkar had said it was. That returned the verdict to neutral, and I’d already exhausted the things to see in the city, so I decided to go for it.
In Jaipur, we visited the Albert Hall, an ostentatious Indo-Saracenic pile built by the British and now housing the state museum of Rajasthan. While we were there, I noticed a phenomenon occurring which I’ve often wondered about before. A young man was walking around the museum exhibits, scanning each cabinet and shelf with a digital video recorder. He wasn’t taking any time to look at the exhibits himself, just watching the swivel screen as he quickly passed from case to case, to make sure he captured every object in his sweep.
Now, let’s establish some basic truths. This video would be completely unwatchable. Not just because of the sickening motion of the camera (have you ever noticed how in television and film, almost all filming is done with static camera shots? And ‘tracking shots’, where the camera moves, are used only very sparingly, by expert directors? There’s a reason for this) but also because of the awful tediousness of the subject. I’m willing to bet that no-one in the entire history of humanity has ever sat down and watched one of these videos after their holiday. After all, if you don’t find the exhibits interesting enough to actually look at them while you’re there, you’re hardly going to want to watch them on a shaky, blurry video afterwards.
If you’ve read my post on Amritsar, in which I criticise Sikhism for its tendency towards idolatry, then you might be wondering how I feel about Hinduism, the most idolatrous religion of all.
Actually, I have a bit of a soft spot for Hinduism. Obviously, it’s just as wrong as every other religion. But you’ve got to love the way it goes all out, celebrating life and sensuality and excess as sacred.
Also, it wasn’t idolatry per se that I had such a problem with regarding Sikhism. Idolatry is a basic human instinct. It’s craven and misguided, and should be resisted, but it’s just a particular way of doing religion. What I really hate about the religious practices of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, among others, is the hypocrisy: they were all founded on the basis that idolatry was wrong, but then descended into it themselves. Hinduism doesn’t commit the same hypocrisy, as it never denies that there’s anything wrong with idolatry in the first place. On the contrary, it rejoices in it.
Apart from those few religions which started as conscious scams – Mormonism, Scientology – most begin when some well-meaning person has a sincere spiritual or moral insight, and tries to pass it on to others. But 99% of the human race are not in the market for sincere spiritual or moral insight. They just want something to bow down to.