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Biblical & Hindu Miracles


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A very entertaining read!

MARK TWAIN

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Biblical & Hindu Miracles

- G.B. Singh

Mark Twain

Source: FourStarters.com

Mark Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), was truly an American phenomenon so much so that the National Geographic once called him the “Mirror of America.â€1 I have said before that East can never produce a Mark Twain, and I also believe that America cannot produce another one. I must admit at the outset that I had never heard of Mark Twain while being raised in post-British India, but on migrating to the United States I stumbled onto his writings and thereupon became an ardent reader of his books and poetry. I need not emphasize how famous and well-respected a figure that Mark Twain was and continues to be in American society. Twain was an indefatigable traveler, having crossed the Atlantic ocean 27 times during his travels around the globe.

Mark Twain wrote five books of travel out of which three namely, The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad and Following the Equator, are related to his travels abroad and two, Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi, within United States. I have been attracted to these travel writings particularly a journey to British-India and his expose on Hindus and Hinduism as described in Following the Equator. For reasons that I have failed to understand, Following the Equator happens to be the least known among all of Mark Twain’s works. And when, however, so rarely, there do appear excerpts or conclusions drawn from this book, I have been repeatedly left dumbfounded at the lack of depth, or outright misinformation that is usually directed at the readers or the listening audiences. Three examples should suffice my point:

1. When celebrating the two hundredth birth anniversary of our nation, the Embassy of India in United States published a book titled The United States And India 1776-1976. In this book, on pages 153-155, Mark Twain’s visit to India is described. Not only is the description superficial, it also leaves the reader confused and perhaps even disappointed, and tragically it leaves an impression of Mark Twain being sloppy. Unless the facts are checked, it is difficult to acknowledge that the author of this book Mr. M.V. Kamath has edited Twain’s writings in such a way to project a better image of India at the expense of Mark Twain himself.2

2. On July 14, 1995, while celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 125th birth anniversary at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C., Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the keynote speaker, remarked:

Mark Twain called India “the most extraordinary country on earth.â€3

The audience listening to Mrs. Clinton had no inkling that the First Lady had quoted the great American littérateur out of context.

3. Recently, I read Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Andrew Hoffman. One paragraph caught my attention:

Making a grand circuit of exotic India following a fanciful route organized by Smythe, the Clemenses started at Bombay on India’s west coast, traveled across the country to Calcutta on the east coast, and then headed north to begin a return trek including towns along the Tibetan and Afghan borders. Sam lost days here and there from illness, but his progress did not seem determined by any set schedule of appearances, since Smythe altered the plan of the pilgrimage as they went. The Clemenses traveled at a leisurely pace, resting for a few days at a royal palace, rising early to catch a glimpse of the Himalayas, touring the famous Jain Temple with young Mahatma Gandhi as a guide. As tedious as Sam found Australia, he found India stunning, marvelous. If the threat of oppressive heat had not chased them from the subcontinent, Sam would gratefully have extended their stay (my italics).4

I am fully aware that nowadays proper historical research is becoming a dying art. Did young Mahatma Gandhi act as Mark Twain’s guide at the Jain Temple as claimed by the author? The fact is Mark Twain did come across an individual named Gandhi in Bombay during his first week in India, but it was definitely not Mahatma Gandhi. To be more exact, Twain had actually met Mr. Virchand A. Gandhi, Honorary Secretary of the Jain Association of India. As such, this "Mr. Gandhi", in 1893, had participated in a mega event, the World’s Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago where he represented his Jain religion. Mahatma Gandhi, at this stage of Mark Twain’s travel, was living in South Africa.

It almost seems like there is an unrestrained temptation, or even a compulsion, in the literature to somehow relate Mahatma Gandhi's name to that of Mark Twain's and we see that Mark Twain is being associated with Gandhi at the most unlikely of all places, South Africa.5 How? After finishing his India and then Mauritius tours, Mark Twain traveled to South Africa in 1896. He landed in Durban on 6th May 1896 and stayed in that city till the 13th, a weeklong stay during which time, Mark Twain gave out performances at least twice to well-packed audiences. This was the time Gandhi could have come and watched Twain during his well-publicized performances. But that did not happen because Gandhi did not go.

From Durban, Mark Twain boarded a train and proceeded to the city of Pietermaritzburg, reaching there at 9 P.M.--a mere three-hour journey. This journey was uneventful and should have never been read and delved into any further. But, Robert Cooper the author of Around The World With Mark Twain somehow wants us to believe that this journey carried with it an underlying symbolic significance and a "mysterious" connection to Gandhi. Let us examine this view? Incidentally, three years earlier, almost to date in 1893, young Gandhi took the same train at the same time that a racial incident was sparked on the railway platform that continues to live in infamy. Accordingly, we have been told ad nauseam that Gandhi was pushed out of the train onto the Pietermaritzburg's rail platform because he had refused to move to another less desirable compartment when instructed by the railway authority even though Gandhi held a valid ticket. What has not been appreciated is the fact that this incident came to light not in 1893, when it should have, but in 1909 precisely sixteen years after the alleged racial discrimination.6 There is no contemporary evidence available vouching for the incident and its authenticity. Did it even happen? Will it be too much to infer that by raising this incident sixteen years after it had happened, in a book published in 1909 in England7, Gandhi was playing the "politics of victimization" with the sole purpose of winning favors from senior British colonial officials?

A few years ago in mid 1990's, I met a group of Christian missionaries getting ready to go to India to bring "good news of Jesus" to the Hindus. Strangely, their faces exhibited genuine trepidation. They were vaguely aware that introducing Christianity in India for the last three centuries or so has essentially been a dismal failure. Something else bothered them even more and that was while Christianity was losing its numbers in America, Hinduism was experiencing a growth. Dismayed that they were at this unusual set of circumstances they appeared desperate. I couldn't resist but wonder at their wisdom and marvel at the depth of their logic which went like this: American Christian missionaries are going to India to convert Hindus, who as they perceived one day in distant future will--sometimes in the next millennium--travel to, convert America back to the Christ--the same Christ who earlier had lost to Hindu forefathers migrating generations earlier to once that was Christ-centered America. In a nutshell, the future of America is to be mortgaged and then shaped by the Hindu converts from India who in future will migrate here to evangelize us!

This incident got me thinking that, perhaps, missionaries need not go far away and squander their resources when they can benefit from Mark Twain. He, more than anyone else, had laid out an example for the Christian missionaries to learn from. Speaking for a fictional missionary, while in Sydney, Australia, Mark Twain in his own words spelled out the quandary for all those familiar with the realities of encountering paranormally infested Hindus:

“It is not surpassable for magnitude, since its metes and bounds are the metes and the bounds of the universe itself; and it seems to me that it almost accounts for a thing which is otherwise nearly unaccountable--the origin of the sacred legends of the Hindoos. Perhaps they dream them, and then honestly believe them to be divine revelations of fact. It looks like that, for the legends are built on so vast a scale that it does not seem reasonable that plodding priests would happen upon such colossal fancies when awake.â€8

Mark Twain had an uncanny insight into the Hindu mind. This is evidenced by his stellar performance by way of an answer. Speaking in his own words for the fictional missionary, Mark Twain laid out the story, the juice, the riveting tale, the mindset, and the raison d'être that is breathtaking:

“At home, people wonder why Christianity does not make faster progress in India. They hear that the Indians believe easily, and that they have a natural trust in miracles and give them a hospitable reception. Then they argue like this: since the Indian believes easily, place Christianity before them and they must believe; confirm its truths by the Biblical miracles, and they will no longer doubt. The natural deduction is, that as Christianity makes but indifferent progress in India, the fault is with us: we are not fortunate in presenting the doctrines and the miracles.

“But the truth is, we are by no means so well equipped as they think. We have not the easy task that they imagine. To use a military figure, we are sent against the enemy with good powder in our guns, but only wads for bullets; that is to say, our miracles are not effective; the Hindoos do not care for them; they have more extraordinary ones of their own. All the details of their own religion are proven and established by miracles; the details of ours must be proven in the same way. When I first began my work in India I greatly underestimated the difficulties thus put upon my task. A correction was not long in coming. I thought as our friends think at home--that to prepare my childlike wonder-lovers to listen with favor to my grave message I only needed to charm the way to it with wonders, marvels, miracles. With full confidence I told the wonders performed by Samson,a the strongest man that had ever lived--for so I called him.

“At first I saw lively anticipation and strong interest in the faces of my people, but as I moved along from incident to incident of the great story, I was distressed to see that I was steadily losing the sympathy of my audience. I could not understand it. It was a surprise to me, and a disappointment. Before I was through, the fading sympathy had paled to indifference. Thence to the end the indifference remained; I was not able to make any impression upon it.

“A good old Hindoo gentleman told me where my trouble lay. He said, ‘We Hindoos recognize a god by the work of his hands--we accept no other testimony. Apparently, this is also the rule with you Christians. And we know when a man has his powers from a god by the fact that he does things which he could not do, as a man, with the mere powers of a man. Plainly, this is the Christian’s way also, of knowing when a man is working by a god’s power and not by his own. You saw that there was a supernatural property in the hair of Samson; for you perceived that when his hair was gone he was as other men. It is our way, as I have said. There are many nations in the world, and each group of nations has it own gods, and will pay no worship to the gods of the others. Each group believes its own gods to be the strongest, and it will not exchange them except for gods that shall be proven to be their superiors in power. Man is but a weak creature, and needs the help of gods--he cannot do without it. Shall he place his fate in the hands of weak gods when there may be stronger ones to be found? That would be foolish. No, if he hear of gods that are stronger than his own, he should not turn a deaf ear, for it is not a light matter that is at stake. How then shall he determine which gods are the stronger, his own or those that preside over the concerns of other nations? By comparing the known works of his own gods with the works of those others; there is no other way. Now, when we make this comparison, we are not drawn towards the gods of other nation. Our gods are shown by their works to be the strongest, the most powerful.

“The Christians have but few gods, and they are new--new, and not strong, as it seems to us. They will increase in number, it is true, for this has happened with all gods, but that time is far away, many ages and decades of ages away, for gods multiply slowly, as is meet for beings to whom a thousand years is but a single moment. Our own gods have been born millions of years apart. The process is slow, the gathering of strength and power is similarly slow. In the slow lapse of the ages the steadily accumulating power of our gods has at last become prodigious. We have a thousand proofs of this in the colossal character of their personal acts and the acts of ordinary men to whom they have given supernatural qualities. To your Samson was given supernatural power, and when he broke the withes, and slew the thousands with the jawbone of an ass, and carried away the gates of the city upon his shoulders, you were amazed--and also awed, for you recognized the divine source of his strength. But it could not profit to place these things before your Hindoo congregation and invite their wonder; for they would compare them with the deed done by Hanuman,b when our gods infused their divine strength into his muscles; and they would be indifferent to them--as you saw.

“In the old, old times, ages and ages gone by, when our god Ramac was warring with the demon god of Ceylon,d Rama bethought him to bridge the sea and connect Ceylon with India, so that his armies might pass easily over; and he sent his general Hanuman, inspired like your own Samson with divine strength, to bring the materials for the bridge. In two days Hanuman strode fifteen hundred miles, to the Himalayas, and took upon his shoulder a range of those lofty mountains two hundred miles long, and started with it toward Ceylon. It was in the night; and, as he passed along the plain, the people of Govardhune heard the thunder of his tread and felt the earth rocking under it, and they ran out, and there, with their snowy summits piled to heaven, they saw the Himalayas passing by. And as this huge continent swept along overshadowing the earth, upon its slopes they discerned the twinkling lights of a thousand sleeping villages, and it was as if the constellations were filing in procession through the sky. While they were looking, Hanuman stumbled, and a small ridge of red sandstone twenty miles long was jolted loose and fell. Half of its length has wasted away in the course of the ages, but the other ten miles of it remain in the plain by Govardhun to this day as proof of the might of the inspiration of our gods. You must know, yourself, that Hanuman could not have carried those mountains to Ceylon except by the strength of the gods. You know that it was not done by his own strength, therefore you know that it was done by the strength of the gods, just as you know that Samson carried the gates by the divine strength and not by his own. I think you must concede two things: First, That in carrying the gates of the city upon his shoulders, Samson did not establish the superiority of his gods over ours; secondly, That his feat is not supported by any but verbal evidence, while Hanuman’s is not only supported by verbal evidence, but this evidence is confirmed, established, proven, by visible, tangible evidence, which is the strongest of all testimony. We have the sandstone ridge, and while it remains we cannot doubt, and shall not. Have you the gates?’â€9

Here is Mark Twain at his best. He speaks the language of an elusive Hindu with all its intricacies. He knows well that Christians can trigger evangelical challenges to compete against Hindus with failures guaranteed; the Christian "salvation" myth faces a hopeless task of confronting the giant Hindu "salvation" myths; and the various biblical myths stand in despair when poised against innumerable grandiose Hindu legends. Moreover, what incentive Hindu has to embrace the Christian myth; which is so insignificant to him and so miniscule in comparison to his own that no sooner he opens his “black box†to behold the full range of myths and legends buried in, they blast out with a vigor of an active volcanic eruption!

Under this state of affairs, when you possess such an abundant unending supply of your own sacred tales, the question a Hindu may pose at you and rightly so is: why opt for Jesus? To be blunt, Jesus simply can’t compete. Of course, he would have no qualms of inducting Jesus into the Hindu pantheon but to have faith in Jesus only at the expense of his own ever burgeoning array of gods and goddesses is something that he will find unconscionable and, therefore, beyond consideration. However, the missionaries of today rebuff at such rubbish talk and the ones in question that I tried to acquaint them of Mark Twain’s analysis, narcissistically, refused to pay heed and went on to India, only to be arrested, interned, released and sent back.

REFERENCES

1. National Geographic. September 1975, page 300.

2. Kamath, M.V. The United States And India 1776-1976. Washington, D.C.: The Embassy of India, 1976.

3. The Gandhi Message, magazine of The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Foundation, Inc. Special Edition, Volume XXIX, Numbers 1 & 2, 1995, page 6.

4. Hoffman, Andrew. Inventing Mark Twain: The Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., page 408.

5. Cooper, Robert. Around The World With Mark Twain. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2000.

6. Doke, Jospeh J. M.K Gandhi: An Indian Patriot in South Africa. London: Indian Chronicle, 1909.

7. Ibid.

8. Twain, Mark. Following the Equator. Volume I. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1897, page 132.

9. Ibid., pages 133-35.

a. Samson: One of the biblical heroes in the Old Testament.

b. Hanuman: A major monkey deity of Hindus; one of many deities.

c. Rama: 7th reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, at least by some puranic accounts and not by others.

d. Ceylon: Now called Sri Lanka, a name of a country.

e. Govardhun: A certain blessed city where Lord Krishna protected the city inhabitants from the rainstorm, which was unleashed by another Hindu deity. Krishna used a mountain called Govardhana as an instrument of protection. Thus the name: Govardhun.

Note: Mr. Virchand A. Gandhi along with Narasimha Chari, Lakshmi Narain, H. Dharmapala, Swami Vivekananda, C.N. Chakravarti, B.B. Nagarkar, P.C. Mozoomdar, and a few others, had participated in the World’s Parliament of Religions, an international event held in Chicago in 1893. Except for the Sikh religion, all other religions of the Indian subcontinent represented their respective beliefs on an equal platform to Christianity--much to the consternation of its colonial and fundamentalist brands.

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