Thursday, July 8, 2010

Edwards Dalrymple Interview

William Dalrymple has a new book affording a glimpse into the shifting state of religion in India.

Bob Edwards' talk with him was very interesting, Dalrymple's book might be a home run for an audiobook, I will check audible.

I was unaware of some of the more voodoo-y aspects of some of the sects.

I was also unaware of the fascinating and near impossible feats of the Jains Priests and their deep history.

Worth a listen and a read.

I can't locate the full Edwards interview, but here is a piece with NPR:

Dalrymple explains that Jainism is the older, "sister religion of Buddhism" — established by Mahavira, a sage who "came from the same world as Buddha" — the "sophisticated, urban" landscape of the Ganges basin around 500 B.C.

Both Mahavira and the Buddha founded their respective faiths in reaction to the "materialism" and "sensuality" of this early Indian city-state. Jains and Buddhists both strove to "keep away from the pleasures of the flesh and withdraw from the world," but, Dalrymple explains, Jainist asceticism was more severe; the Buddhist "middle way" was a reaction to the Jains' extreme ascetic approach.

"To give just two examples, Buddhist monks shave their heads," Dalrymple says. "The Jains pluck out their hairs one by one in a ceremony that's deliberately painful. Likewise, Buddhist monks can beg, but Jain monks have to just signal hunger by arching their right hand over their shoulder. Beyond that, they're not allowed to ask for food, and they're never allowed to touch money of any sort."

The Jain nun Dalrymple profiles in Nine Lives "had given up all her worldly wealth ... had given up her family, and was wandering the Earth, treading as lightly as possible." But Dalrymple found that she was tortured because she had unwittingly violated one of the rules of her faith: she had become close friends with another nun, who had walked beside her for 20 years.

"When that nun got ill and found that she was dying slowly, she undertook what is for Jains the final step of Jain asceticism," Dalrymple says — a ritual refusal of food. "It's a process which they do over two to three years, in a very set way they've been doing for centuries. And of course, they die." To a Jain, such gradual starvation is not tantamount to suicide. Like Buddhists, they believe in reincarnation, so refusing food voluntarily is like "giving up one set of clothes to go on to the next life."

The nun, devastated by her friend's death, was disappointed in herself for becoming so attached to another person. "In both Buddhism and Jainism, a lack of attachment means detachment," Dalrymple says. "And to be truly detached, you can't love. You can't form close friendships. And she realized that she had not followed ... the dictates of her faith because she loved her companion."

The nun says she was "punished" for her love: "I formed not just an attachment, but a strong attachment, and that left an opening for suffering," she says.

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