Together the lands of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and the Maldive Islands are called a subcontinent because natural barriers isolate them from the rest of Asia. Chief among these is the Himalaya mts., "the Roof of the World," which runs for 1,600 miles along the northern frontier. The Baluchistan desert and the world's second highest mountains, the Karakoram range, continue the barrier west to the Arabian Sea, and the jungles of Myanmar (formerly Burma) complete it on the eastern end. The only easy way to get through this barrier is via the mountain passes in the northwest; Khyber Pass, on the Afghan-Pakistan border, is the most famous of these. Consequently, most of India's invaders came in from the northwest. Once they were in, the same geographical barriers discouraged attempts to leave again, so the descendants of these raiders(1) usually stayed in India. The only major exception was the British, who came from the sea.
Once they were through the passes and across the Indus River, the invaders had a choice between the blistering Thar desert to the south, and a fertile plain called the Punjab to the east. Naturally most of them chose the Punjab, and many battles that determined India's future were fought here. East of the Punjab was India's other great river, the Ganges. The Ganges is the heart of India today, but the forests along and the heavy monsoon rains made it less inviting than the Indus at first. Civilization developed in the Indus valley in the third millennium B.C., but 2,000 years went by before the Ganges valley had cities too. The swampy delta of Bengal presented an even greater challenge and was not civilized until 300 B.C. The easternmost region, between Bengal and Myanmar, is called Assam, a land of hilly jungles split by the Bramaputra River, which flows out of Tibet to join the Ganges in Bengal. Assam's main ethnic group is related to the Thais, and geographically and culturally, this region was part of Southeast Asia, rather than India, until the British took it in 1826.
South of the Ganges, the 3,000 foot-high Vindhya mountain range separates northern India from the south. Its dense forests, peopled by savages, prevented the southward spread of civilization until the third century B.C. Many military and romantic legends have been created by the struggles between civilized men and the forest peoples of the Vindhyas; in isolated pockets these tribes still maintain their primitive way of life.(2)
Most of southern India is occupied by a plateau called the Deccan. It is bordered on the east and west by two mountain ranges that parallel the coast, the eastern and western Ghats. The Deccan is not very hospitable, being quite dry in most places (the monsoon season here only lasts six weeks) and split by canyons with jungle-lined rivers where water can be found. Farthest to the south is the land where the Tamil people live, a fully tropical land with mountains (the Cardamons) reaching to 8,000 feet. The Tamils have always been interested in commerce, and much of India's seagoing trade went through Tamil ports.
It is not only geography that divides the land; the people themselves are divided! For most of Indian history they have divided the subcontinent into many small states. Uniting them is a formidable task, and the only government that succeeded in ruling the entire subcontinent for more than a generation was a foreign one--the British! There is no place on earth where more languages and dialects are spoken (the New Delhi government recognizes 1,652). Many of these languages are Indo-European, distantly related to English, while others may come from those spoken by the land's original inhabitants, 5,000 years ago.
Another problem with Indian history comes from the Indian view of time. Few Indians are interested in their own history; in fact, they didn't think they had a history until archeologists discovered it! Alexander the Great, for example, is not mentioned once in Indian records, although he conquered the Indus valley and the Punjab; apparently the locals didn't think he was so great. This attitude comes from the idea, no doubt derived from the theory of reincarnation, that time goes around in circles. To the Hindu mind, what will happen has happened before, what has not happened will never take place in the future, so what's the point in studying the past?(3)
Finally we should mention religion, since it has always been an important part of Indian life. The Indians are probably the most religious people in the world today. Today you can find Hindus, Moslems, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, Jews and Parsees (Zoroastrians) there. The history of India is both religious and political; what passes for Indian history is a combination of undated facts and outright legends. This has often made it hard for historians to understand India's past, because the most reliable sources of information come from non-Indians. This interest in religion rather than politics has also affected India's role in the world community; unlike the West, few Indians have had a vision of empire-building, and the only place where they tried to spread Indian culture was Southeast Asia.
But now, on with our story . . .
The Indus Valley Civilization
The first civilization of the Indian subcontinent arose on the banks of the Indus River, in modern Pakistan. This civilization was completely forgotten in the dark age that followed its end; British archeologists rediscovered it in 1922, and they not think such a civilization even existed! Since then two major cities, called Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, and several lesser sites, have been excavated.
The Indus civilization, now called the Dravidian or Harappan culture by historians, started as a cluster of villages on the west bank of the Indus shortly after 3500 B.C. They grew slowly for a millennium, none of them covering more than twenty acres, and then around 2500 B.C. they were suddenly replaced by cities of 20,000 to 50,000 people. These cities did not grow out of small towns, like their counterparts in the Middle East, but appear to have been designed completely from a master plan before they laid the first brick. The streets followed a grid pattern, instead of winding every which way like the streets of ancient cities elsewhere. Buildings conformed rigidly; two structures that served the same purpose looked alike, with no fancy frills like columns or windows to tell them apart. The very layout of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro is so much alike that the same architect could have designed both. How this was done is unknown; conquest of the region by a fully civilized invader is unlikely, since no evidence has been found of any non-Dravidian people living here this early. We now believe that Sumerian traders came from Iraq to the Indus, teaching the elements of civilization to their customers. Once they learned the basics, the Dravidians developed society, writing, architecture, etc., in their own way, and no longer imitated their (Sumerian?) teachers. As they prospered, they spread their civilization up the Indus to the Himalayan foothills, west to today's Iran-Pakistan border, and south to a point about 150 miles north of Bombay, covering a land area larger than that of Egypt or Mesopotamia.
Everything discovered so far suggests that Dravidian society was peaceful, technologically ahead of its Egyptian and Sumerian counterparts, and extremely efficient. An ingenious sanitation system provided indoor plumbing to every house of the city. In the center of each city were ventilated granaries, a citadel to house the rulers, and a swimming pool, which appears to have been used for ritual bathing, a common practice in India today. Units of measurement were the same everywhere. Whoever ruled over this had an incredible degree of control over the society, but we do not know anything about the government. It seems to have involved some priest-king, which was the rule in other bronze age cultures. It also was a very utilitarian society; no art has survived, save for a few sculptures. We do not even know which city was the capital; both Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro are equally qualified.
The reason why we know so maddeningly little about the Indus civilization is because we have never deciphered its system of writing. The only examples of it that we have are pictographic symbols on stone seals; the longest inscription found so far is only twenty symbols long. Longer inscriptions undoubtedly existed once, probably written on some perishable medium (Wood? Papyrus? Leaves? Animal hides?) that has not survived to our time. Figuring out what kind of religion they practiced is also difficult, since they built no temples. It seems to have been fertility-oriented, with worship practiced in homes or at the ritual pool. The chief Harappan deity appears to have been very similar to the modern Hindu god Shiva, since some of Shiva's symbols (the bull, an erect phallus, or a man with many faces) are common.
Merchant ships regularly traveled between India and Mesopotamia as early as 2300 B.C. The main Indian export was cotton, since the Indus people knew how to grow and spin it before anyone else did. Timber, ivory and jewelry were also taken to the Persian Gulf. The Sumerians called India Meluhha, and in return they shipped gold, silver and tin, since those metals are scarce in India. Indus style seals have been found in Mesopotamia, and occasionally a cuneiform clay tablet turns up in the Indus cities. Harappan jewelry found its way to places as far away as Egypt and the Maldive Islands.
The Dravidian civilization had remarkable staying power. Whenever a flood or earthquake damaged one of its cities, they would rebuild it, brick for brick, on the same pattern. No street or house would be changed or moved in any way. Likewise the entire civilization went on for four centuries (2300-1900 B.C.) without any perceptible change. Few civilizations, not even the Egyptians, have displayed so much conservatism. After 1900 B.C., however, the cities slipped into permanent decline. No single cause appears responsible. The climate seems to have become more arid, causing crop failures with increasing frequency. Bad land management practices could have ruined the fertility of the soil, or poisoned it with salt leached up from the water table. Flocks of sheep and goats could have overgrazed, and loggers could have caused similar damage to the ecology by felling too many trees. Around 1800 B.C. the foreign commerce stopped altogether. The reason may have been that it was getting too risky; a new warlike race was migrating off the Iranian plateau.
The invaders, who called themselves Aryans (from Arya, meaning "noble" or "kinsmen"), first conquered Afghanistan. Then they moved across the mountains into India. As they did so, the farms were abandoned to them, increasing the problems of crowding and famine in the cities. The rulers responded to the danger by strengthening the walls of their citadels, but not the walls of the cities; perhaps they feared their own subjects more than the Aryans.
Harappa appears to have been abandoned suddenly around 1700 B.C., when the inhabitants couldn't stand living there anymore. Mohenjo-Daro came to a violent end about 200 years later. The topmost level of that city is filled with sprawling skeletons, many showing sword or axe cuts. It is very likely that the Aryans themselves were responsible for this massacre. The Aryan war-god, Indra, was known as "the fort destroyer," and where else were there forts to destroy?
For a generation or so afterwards, the ruined cities were occupied by squatters who left Afghan-style pottery and a shambles of slumlike dwellings where the granaries and courtyards used to be. The Dravidians fled south and east; cities in those areas, like Lothal, lasted much longer, until about 1200 B.C. But finally those places were deserted, as the inhabitants merged with their stone-age neighbors from nearby forests.
No other ancient civilization was destroyed as completely as this one. Whereas many monuments and some of the lore of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and pre-Columbian America have survived their overthrow, we know the culture of the Indus valley through archaeology alone. A dark age now descended upon India, lasting for nearly a millennium. When the curtain rose again, around 600 B.C., a different civilization would be there, one centered on the Ganges River rather than the Indus.
The Vedic Age
The Aryan newcomers were a light-skinned Japhetic people, related to the Medes and Persians of Iran. They were a proud race of nomads, who lived by herding cattle and making war upon their neighbors. When they went to battle against non-Aryans, they usually won, because they had superior bows, swords, and most of all the chariot, a new weapon that had an equally devastating impact when it was introduced in the Middle East around the same time. Most of what we know about the Aryans comes from their literature; they did a remarkable amount of thinking for uncivilized people. Like their distant relatives in Europe, the Greeks, they were insatiably curious about the world around them. During this time they composed songs and prayers in their language, Sanskrit, passing them down by word of mouth for centuries until they invented a Sanskrit alphabet. We know these verses as the Vedas, and because of their importance the preliterate era (1500 to 600 B.C.) is called the Vedic Age.
The earliest of the Vedas, 1028 hymns called the Rig Veda, were composed before 900 B.C.; some describe geographical landmarks in Afghanistan and were probably composed before the Aryans arrived in India. Chieftains called rajas and priests called Brahmans already existed at this time, though class distinctions were loose compared to the caste system of later eras. The descriptions of their chief foes, the dasyus or dasas ("slaves"), allowing for the normal exaggeration of propaganda, give us an accurate look at the Indus culture. They are portrayed as short dark demons with unbecoming features like thick lips and flat noses. They were wealthy, living luxuriously in fortified places. Most loathsome was their worship of the phallus.(4)
In spite of these expressions of contempt, there was interaction between the Aryans and the conquered Dravidians. The Sanskrit language picked up non-Aryan words as time went on. Religions and cultures must have also mixed, but it is very difficult to tell which influences are Aryan and which are non-Aryan. Finally intermarriage blurred differences between the races. The caste system, which later acquired religious overtones, seems to have been originally devised to keep non-Aryans "in their place." The earliest divisions of caste were into four major groups: priest (Brahman), warrior or king (Kshatriya), peasant (Vaishya), and serf (Shudra). An early hymn describes the four castes as originating from the dismembered parts of the primeval man:
"When they [the gods] divided the Man
into how many parts did they divide him?
What were his mouth, what were his arms,
what were his thighs and feet called?
The Brahman was his mouth,
of his arms was made the Warrior,
his thighs became the Vaishya,
of his feet the Shudra was born."
Lowest of all were the pariahs or "untouchables," people who were regarded with such disdain that they were not given an official caste, but relegated in status below all others.
The Aryans, like most peoples at this time, believed that many gods actively worked in the world around them. The Vedas list 33 gods and an unspecified number of goddesses. No god was considered king over the others, but at this early date the most popular was the god of war and storms, Indra, who is usually portrayed as a lusty warrior who enjoyed both fighting and feasting. Other important gods were Surya (the sun), Agni (fire, from which we get the word "ignite"), Varuna (law), and Rudra (archery and healing). As the Aryans pushed deeper into the jungles of the subcontinent, they also encountered, and eventually adopted, non-Aryan gods like Shiva, Ganesha (the elephant-headed god of wealth), and Krishna. Finally Brahma (creation) and Vishnu (life), two of the chief gods in modern Hinduism, were also worshiped, but they were not considered very important yet.
The central feature of the Vedic religion was sacrifice, which was usually done to obtain a favor from the god it was directed at. Usually sacrifices were done under the influence of a drink called soma; nobody today knows what soma was made of, but it was a powerful hallucinogen that made the drinker think he was tougher than the world. The most common practice was to burn the offering, so that Agni could deliver it to the appropriate god in Heaven. Other methods were also used. The most unusual was a horse sacrifice called the Ashvamedha. A white stallion was released to wander freely for a year before it was recaptured and sacrificed. During its year of wandering a detachment of warriors followed it. The king claimed every place visited by the horse; if another king or chief owned the territory he had to submit or fight. Many petty wars started because of this custom. Others were started by cattle rustling; the Rig Veda's word for conflict translates as "search for cattle."
At first the sacrifices were simple procedures that any good Aryan could perform, but as the Brahmans grew rich and powerful they took over the rites, surrounding them with magic rituals so elaborate that only a trained Brahman could do them right. Any mistake in the ritual could destroy the patron. The priests demanded payment in cattle and gold for their services, and they charged a steep price; one text mentions a fee of 1,000 cows.
The latter half of the Vedic Age, about 1,000 to 600 B.C., was a time that changed almost every aspect of Aryan life. The Aryan migration into the great Ganges valley sparked this. Because the climate of the Ganges was wetter than that of the Punjab and the Indus valley, a Southeast Asian grain, rice, replaced barley as the Aryan staple. The Ganges was very fertile, but it also required enormous labor to tame. Under these conditions, the nomads settled down, and agriculture replaced livestock herding as the main livelihood. A tighter, more centralized government evolved, and tribes stabilized into kingdoms. Population increased rapidly, and cities appeared, but a common heritage did not keep these states from feuding constantly and absorbing their weaker neighbors. One major war between two rival factions was written down as an epic called the Mahabharata; at 100,000 stanzas, about fifteen times the length of the Bible, it is the longest poem ever written.
As society changed, new literature developed, and with it Hinduism evolved into the form which now exists today. The first new text, the Brahmanas, was a series of commentaries on the Rig Veda that explained and justified the complex religion the Brahmans had produced. After that came epics like the aforementioned Mahabharata and the Ramayana (the story of Rama, one of Hinduism's most popular heroes). The most beloved of Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita, was also composed at this time, and later inserted into the Mahabharata.
Most useful to us are the Uphanishads ("Meditations"), a series of 108 scriptures produced by individual Brahmans who had withdrawn from the world in a quest for ultimate truth and knowledge. A common feature of this period was the number of religious thinkers who became hermits because they were disenchanted with Vedic ritual and the growing materialism of everyday life. They invented the practice of yoga and a key doctrine, reincarnation. Originally the Aryans had pictured the afterlife as composed of a carefree Heaven called the "World of the Fathers," and an unhappy place for sinners called the "House of Clay." Now in its place came the belief that man must live many lives until he reached a state of perfection that allowed him to become part of the gods. The collective deeds (karma) performed in each life determined the form a person would assume in the next life (they expected a real scoundrel to come back as a bug!). Those of the lower castes found this belief comforting because it meant that proper behavior could cause them to be reborn as Brahmans. Vegetarianism became a logical application of this doctrine; no one wanted to eat meat or wear leather out of fear that it might come from somebody they knew!(5) Asceticism, meaning the denial of the pleasures of the material world, was seen as the best way to achieve righteousness and it was practiced by those who wanted to break out of the cycle of rebirths as soon as possible.
Later Hinduism found a place for the ascetics by declaring their practices acceptable provided they had (1.) studied the Vedas under the guidance of a guru (teacher) for ten to twelve years, and had (2.) already married and raised their children to adulthood, freeing them from their earthly responsibilities. Always a flexible creed, Hinduism added the teachings of the ascetics to its own, declaring that there were many ways to enlightenment, each suited to a different temperament.
By the sixth century B.C., the once supremely confident Aryans had turned into what we might call a national neurotic case: a whole race of pessimists that had come to think that life and the universe would never get any better than it was now. Instead of sacrificing to get something they wanted, they were now supposed to give up wanting. It became pointless to take pity on the sick, the poor and the untouchables; unfortunate people were seen as paying for the bad karma they got in the last life. They now saw the endless cycle of deaths and rebirths as depressing. The result was many middle and upper-class folks experimenting with new philosophies and seeking a better way of life.
Since so many people were looking for enlightenment, one would expect somebody to stumble across an answer. Two ascetics that did started teaching doctrines so radically different from Hinduism that they became new religions in their own right. One was Mahavira (540-468 B.C.), the founder of Jainism; the other was Siddhartha Gautama (563-483 B.C.), better known to us as the Buddha. Jainism would never become popular outside India, but Buddhism would find powerful patrons that would spread its teachings extensively until it became the most important religion of the Far East.
The Man Who Woke Up
Siddhartha Gautama was born to a minor raja in the foothills of the Himalayas. According to the legends that have grown up around the facts, he was a promising son from the start. Before his birth a wise man predicted that if he kept his mind on worldly matters, he would grow up to become the world's greatest emperor, but if he saw the real misery of the world, he would become the world's greatest teacher instead. Siddhartha's father definitely wanted him to become a king, so he sheltered the child from all sickness and decay, surrounding him with youth and beauty constantly.
As Siddhartha grew to manhood, it seemed that his father got his wish. When he was not in school learning the skills of war or the traditions of his culture, he went on tiger hunts. Back in the palace were more delights: a garden full of mango trees, and a sizeable harem that would be his on the day he became raja. Before long he also had a beautiful wife named Yasodhara. However, not long after the wedding came four incidents that would change the prince's life completely.
According to legend, Siddhartha was riding with his charioteer, Channa, in the sheltered precinct, and he discovered a gnarled old man whom the guards had somehow overlooked. Siddhartha asked Channa what that creature was and learned that people grow old. Not long afterward, on another ride, the prince saw a man covered with sores and shivering with fever, and learned that people get sick. The third sign he saw, a corpse being carried to the cremation ground, taught him that people die. But the fourth sign gave the unhappy prince hope; he saw a cheerful holy man who had nothing but a yellow robe and a bowl for begging. With that he knew what he had to do to find real peace in the world.
The palace was no longer a pleasant place for him; the next time he went to his father's harem, he saw the kingdom's most beautiful women as they would one day appear, with grey hair and wrinkles. Soon after, his wife gave birth to a son, but he felt no pride. That night, he said goodbye to them while they slept and rode away in his chariot with Channa. When they were well beyond the palace grounds, he got out of the chariot, removed his clothes and cut off all his hair, and said goodbye to Channa as well. Now that he was separated from everything that had ever belonged to him, he was ready to begin a new life.
The young ex-prince began his quest by learning about the Uphanishads from a guru he met. That failed to satisfy him, so he went with five other seekers into the forest to practice the most extreme asceticism possible. Siddhartha outdid them all, eating only one grain of rice a day, and continuing this discipline until he could feel his spine whenever he rubbed his stomach. Yet self-torture did not teach him the meaning of life, so after five years he gave up and went to a village to beg for food. His companions were appalled to see him eating and drinking again with enjoyment. They called him a reprobate and left him.
Siddhartha, now 35 years old, wandered to the kingdom of Magadha, and there he sat under a great tree that is now called the Bodhi (tree of wisdom). For seven weeks he stayed there, vowing not to move until he discovered the cure for suffering. After rejecting the evil spirits that offered him greater powers and pleasures than the ones he enjoyed as a youth, he descended into a trance that was somewhere between life and death, a perfect realm he would call Nirvana. When he woke up he became the Buddha, meaning the Enlightened One. Afterwards, as he tried to explain to others what had happened to him, he met again the five ascetics who had spurned him. They sensed at once the change that had come over him, and to them the Buddha preached his first sermon.
The Buddha's message was that there are four absolute truths: suffering is inevitable in this life, desire is the cause of suffering, suffering ends when desire is forsaken, and that the cure for desire is the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path, simply put, is eight rules to live by:
1. Hold the right views.
2. Have the right aspirations.
3. Use the right speech.
4. Show the right conduct.
5. Pursue the right livelihood.
6. Expend the right effort.
7. Maintain the right attitude.
8. Practice the right meditation.
The Buddha believed in the doctrine of karma, but his goal was not to get ahead in the next life. To him, the ultimate goal of following the Eightfold Path was to get to Nirvana, which literally meant "the blowing out," as of a candle. By reaching Nirvana, one could escape the whole sorrowful cycle of human existence through oblivion.
As the Buddha grew older, he gained many followers who strove to live by his example. He also gained the attention of Bimbisara (543-491), Magadha's first important king. According to one tale, the Buddha was visiting Bimbisara when a priest approached the king and told him to sacrifice fifty of his finest goats, assuring him that if he did so, both his prayers and offerings would go "directly to Heaven." The Buddha asked the priest if his father was still alive. The priest answered that he was, and the Buddha inquired, "Then why not sacrifice him?" Delighted, Bimbisara kept the goats and banished the priest. With the traditional power of the Brahmans broken, the kingdom of Magadha had made an important step toward becoming an empire. It would be nearly three centuries before a Magadhan king converted to Buddhism, but their tolerance of the new creed allowed its fortunes to grow along with their own.
The Straightest, Narrowest Path
The yellow-robed followers of the Buddha were not the only Indians who rejected the teachings of their ancestors. At the same time a second group of mystics wandered the countryside "sky-clad," meaning stark naked. They called themselves Jains, meaning "conquerors," and they called their leader Mahavira, the "Great Hero." Like the Buddha, Mahavira was a prince (originally named Vardhamana) who had renounced his exalted status to become a wandering ascetic. He first joined a group of religious nudists called nigranthas ("free from bonds"), staying with them for ten years until their leader died. He then left with a group of followers from the sect and in his thirteenth year of searching he experienced the revelation that showed him what to teach others.
Mahavira believed that the soul consists of tiny particles called jiva, which can be found in every living thing: people, animals, even flies and worms. Humans were caught in the cycle of reincarnation because every good or bad deed committed in a lifetime attaches itself to the soul. Unfortunately, the soul is weighed down and prevented from escaping this universe because in an ordinary life bad deeds attach to it faster than they can be removed. The only answer is to practice a self-discipline so strict that it will burn up all accumulated bad karma and reduce the influx of new bad karma. The greatest evil is the destruction of life, and Jains will go to any extreme to keep from doing it. They only walk in daylight to avoid accidentally stepping on any of the soul-laden animals around them, carry dusters to whisk away insects from where they sit(6), and ask the permission of the grass before they walk across it. Jains do not practice agriculture because it is too damaging to life, so most of them become merchants. Eating meat is strictly forbidden, and Mahavira admitted that even the eating of vegetables was a necessary evil. Because of this, he showed little interest in maintaining his own life; at the age of 72 he practiced the ultimate self-discipline by starving himself to death.(7)
Jainism has undergone no fundamental changes since Mahavira's time; its followers, though, have stopped the practice of public nudity to avoid offending potential converts. Salvation in this life may be possible for any Jain, but it is only a sure thing for Jain monks, who renounce all property and sex along with the ways of violence. Jainism has no gods of its own (Mahavira never bothered mentioning them), so in practice pictures of Mahavira and Hindu deities are venerated.
Jainism has always had a very limited appeal, because its disciplines are too strict for most people. Another turnoff is the Jain attitude toward charity; good deeds and acts of kindness are considered pointless, and even harmful to one's soul, if they are done with the expectation of something in return. There are three and a half million Jains in India today, but almost a hundred times as many Buddhists can be found all over Asia.
2. This place was also the setting for Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.
3. The Hindi word for "tomorrow" is the same as "yesterday."
4. The Aryans eventually adopted this custom, though. Today wherever Shiva, the god of destruction, is worshipped, the phallus--called the linga or lingam--is one of his emblems, symbolizing that he has the power to both create and destroy.
5. It was about this time that the Aryan form of wealth, cows, became sacred. Ever since that time cows have been seen as an example of how to live peacefully. It is ironic that today's militant Hindus often use the phrase "cow protection" to justify acts of violence against Moslems!
6. According to one very modern-sounding Indian myth, one day all the animals held a meeting to decide what to do about human beings. The vote was near-unanimous: humanity is a threat to nature and must be destroyed. Only the mosquito spoke up for us; she liked people because they are so delicious! As a result, mankind was spared, and today grateful Hindus and Jains always think twice before swatting a mosquito.
7. The Buddha, by contrast, taught a more moderate doctrine and died moderately; at the age of eighty he overdosed on a meal of spoiled pork.
© Copyright 2000 Charles Kimball
the Middle East