A Question of Belief

I take my beliefs seriously, and sometimes, I feel compelled to express what I believe and why. I’m not sure if it has any impact on the rest of the world — maybe it’s a way of clarifying my own thoughts about my beliefs in my own mind.

In the 21st Century, the biggest challenge — really, the only significant challenge — to Christian ideas and beliefs is science and the scientific method. As Neal Degrasse Tyson stated in the first episode of the brilliant new television program Cosmos, the scientific method is so powerful that, in a matter of a few centuries, it has taken us from Galileo’s telescope to the moon and beyond — to nuclear power, Wifi and to the edge of quantum computing and biotechnology. Who can honestly foresee where it will continue to lead us?

But even though science continues to push the boundaries of explanation of the observable universe, and pushes the limits of observation of the universe itself, there still remain some kinds of questions about human experience that science is incapable of addressing adequately — philosophical concerns such as the purpose of human existence, the nature of human consciousness and identity, the metaphysics of human morality, the role in our lives of the humanities and arts, and, most notably, the nature of the human heart.

I don’t want to delve into the details of the philosophical questions I grappled with on my journey towards my Christian faith because doing so would be an arduous trek into some obscure conceits. Ultimately, what I personally find most compelling about Christianity, is an intangible, undefinable sense of veracity that seems to transcend any purely intellectual attempt to grasp it. Perhaps that is what a leap of faith amounts to — making a decision to believe in something without complete knowledge, but with a reasonable, reasoned sense of the authenticity of the object of one’s faith. At the same time, one must be careful to keep an open mind and always ask questions, not allowing oneself to become trapped by dogma.

Like Giordano Bruno, whose life and vision were dramatically portrayed in episode 1 of the television show Cosmos, I guess my own faith is inspired by a sort of personal vision or insight that helps me reconcile what I know in the context of my scientific background and education and what I believe in the context of my faith. The difference is that my vision seeks to transcend science and religion (even as it is a concrete idea, not a mystical vision), and I hope that I do not meet with the same level of derision among skeptical scientific thinkers as Bruno did among religious people for his vision of a universe modeled after Copernican ideas.

The idea that inspires me is that the creation of the universe may be analogized with a more mundane act of creativity that we are more familiar with. If God’s creation of the observable universe can be thought of as something like, e.g., J.R.R. Tolkein’s creation of middle earth or C.S. Lewis’ creation of Narnia, it somehow makes more sense. If we think of God as existing beyond space and time and creating the universe as a continuity, in the way that an author writes a book, then the universe may have a history of billions of years, even if it was, in a sense, created only a few millennia ago, from God’s point of view. This would be similar, in a sense, to Tolkein writing his books 60 years ago, but his middle earth having a chronology or history of, perhaps, thousands of years.

We human beings, trapped in the continuity of our universe, would be incapable of comprehending or appreciating the space-time continuum that God might operate in even as the characters in a book might be incapable of comprehending the continuity of the universe inhabited by the book’s author and readers. The difference, of course, is that the drama played out in our universe is seemingly impromptu and unscripted — real life happens as a product of human free agency, not, as far as we know, because it has been pre-determined or scripted by God (though some philosophers might argue to the contrary).

Anyway, to speak in simple terms, it helps me to think of the universe as something between a novel and a dream — a product of the creative imagination of an omnipotent intelligence beyond space and time, i.e. God. But because the characters in God’s “novel” have free will and, as such, could influence the “plot” of the story with their own actions, things started going wrong when the “characters” started violently attacking and killing one another — depicted in the Bible as being initiated by a primordial act of fratricide — the story of Cain and Abel. Naturally, God, the author of this “imagined” universe, becomes concerned and attempts a series of interventions, which the characters in the “novel” perceive as supernatural events. Ultimately, God decides to write himself into the story as the protagonist to bring order to the chaos — and so, he creates Christ, who, though he is no different from any of the other characters in the story, happens to have God’s own consciousness projected onto him. God identifies with the protagonist of his story, even as an author might identify with the lead character in his novel, and, in that sense, Christ is perceived as the very son of God, with a Divinely inspired mission to redeem mankind from its unfortunate condition.

Do I have any evidence to support these ideas? No, but it is a theory that attempts to explain certain facts about the universe, such as the origins of human consciousness and morality, man’s relationship with God, etc. And even though it may not have any mathematical underpinnings to elucidate its meaning, it has the virtue of providing a coherent explanation of some Christian ideas. Much as the theories posited by major scientific theorists (Newton, Einstein, etc.) attempt to explain the observable scientific facts of our universe.

In that context, the miraculous and the marvelous are well within the realm of possibility. If one is limited only by the extent of our imaginations in our power to disrupt the fictional universes we might create, then a God, with an infinite imagination, would have an infinite power of intervention into the universe of his creation — our universe. Perhaps, some day, we might see such a display of his powers! In any case, it remains interesting to note that one of the New Testament gospels begins with the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God . . . .”

Thus, I am inspired by this somewhat grandiose cosmological vision, which may appear to be bordering on the fantastic, but is, ultimately, no more fantastic than one of Einstein’s thought experiments! And while it is lacking in specificity, it is, at least, no less empirically verifiable! Ultimately, it inspires me and gives me faith along with some speculative answers to some of the questions that I am faced with. And while it may be far from the truth, at least it works as a theory, providing an explanation, however imperfect, of the observable facts, in a way that, perhaps, Newtonian physics provided answers before Einstein appeared on the scene!

Meanwhile, even as we reflect on these profound themes, I encourage you to check out Horizon Cybermedia‘s current, ongoing production — a multi-part web series entitled American Castle: The Secret World of William Randolph Hearst. I hope you enjoy it!

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

 

300 Years

300 years is a long time.

300 years ago, America was still a British colony. There was no Declaration of Independence or U.S. Constitution. 300 years ago, France was still ruled by an oppressive monarchy and aristocracy. 300 years ago, the steam engine was considered to be cutting-edge technology. 300 years ago, the British Empire was expanding world-wide and Europe was just entering the Age of Enlightenment.

And yet, the earliest complete extant version of the Christian New Testament dates from about 300 years after the crucifixion of Christ. The Codex Sinaiticus was probably commissioned by and produced at the behest of the Roman emperor Constantine, after the First Council of Nicaea was convened to establish Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire.

This leads one to wonder—how much does the familiar figure of Jesus Christ from the modern editions of the Bible actually resemble the historical figure of Yeshua, the Nazarene (or Essene)—the Hebrew prophet who preached in Jerusalem in 30 AD and was brutally executed by Roman occupying forces for heresy at the behest of the orthodox temple priests of Jerusalem? The prophet who subsequently came to be known as “Kristos” (or “Christ”)—Greek for “anointed one”—when he came to be widely renowned as the “Son of God?”

How much of Christianity, as we know of it today, is an accurate reflection and representation of the life and teachings of Yeshua? How much of it is a distortion, possibly inspired by political propaganda, cultural shifts, errors in translation (from Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek to Latin, the Romance languages and, finally, to English)? Not to mention centuries of religious pogroms and inquisitions and the banning and destruction of who knows how many texts!

The simple fact is that we don’t really know. For centuries, Christianity has based its knowledge of the life and deeds of Jesus, the primary architect of the Christian faith, on the authority and credibility of the New Testament. But how credible is the New Testament when we really take a long, hard look at it? The version that survives today dates from the time that Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman empire. When we think of Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of the separation of church and state, one has to wonder about the very origins of modern Christianity, arising out of the politicization of a persecuted religion. The irony is that Constantine, the Roman emperor who established Christianity as the Roman state religion, was, in many ways, no less ruthless and psychotic than his predecessors, such as Caligula and Nero, who were notorious for persecuting, scapegoating and murdering Christians whenever it was politically expedient for them.

When you think about the fact that Christianity is, in its origins, the most apolitical of religions—as epitomized by the Biblical story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness—the devil offering Jesus all the world’s kingdoms as a reward for Satan-worship—one has to wonder to what degree Christianity itself was distorted and corrupted by the very political forces that made it such a powerful world religion. By becoming a “world religion” or “state religion,” did Christianity, in effect, become worldly and corrupt, thereby undermining its own message of rejecting worldly corruption in favor of the spiritual “kingdom of God,” at the very moment it began to take shape as the modern religion we know of today?

In essence, would it be too radical to suggest that “Jesus Christ”—a Biblical personality with a Latin name—is, in fact, a pagan idol and that Christianity, as we know of it today, is a false religion? If the modern “Jesus Christ” is a corrupt, distorted representation of “Yeshua, the Nazarene,” the Hebrew prophet who preached in Jerusalem in the first century C.E., then perhaps millions of ardent Christian believers worldwide are inadvertently worshipping a false, pagan idol!

These are some of the ideas entertained by Ashwin Sanghi’s ingenious and fascinating novel, The Rozabal Line. The novel examines the intricacies of religion and human motivation, against the unfolding tapestry of history, all told in the vein of a nail-biting modern thriller.

Stay tuned to this blog for an upcoming announcement concerning my association with this novel and my reconnection, after several years (decades, even), with the book’s author.

Until then, check out Horizon Cybermedia’s website at http://www.explorationtheseries.com for the engaging travel video series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar. The current video in the series visits Big Bear Lake, CA. The upcoming video in the series visits the Buddhist sculptures of the Kanheri cave temples at the Borivli National Park near Mumbai, India.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

– Posted using WordPress from my iPad

Was Jesus Christ a Buddhist?

Most of us assume that Jesus of Nazareth, the founder of the Christian faith, was an orthodox Jew and that Christianity as a distinct religion was really founded by his followers, the Apostles. But is that really the truth? Could it be that Jesus was, in fact, a member of an obscure Jewish sect known as the Essenes or the Nazarenes—that he was, in fact, “Jesus the Nazarene” rather than “Jesus of Nazareth?” And could it be that his membership in this sect, which apparently had its foundations in Buddhist philosophy, and its origins in the doctrines of Buddhist missionaries from the court of the Buddhist Indian emperor Asoka, was the source of his conflict with the orthodox priesthood in Jerusalem? A tension between orthodox Jews and the Essene sect which contributed directly to Jesus being crucified by the Romans for religious heresy?

These are just some of the possibilities entertained by author and historian Ashwin Sanghi in his gripping and highly entertaining thriller, The Rozabal Line. The novel is an engaging tapestry of startling scope and complexity, brilliantly weaving together themes and ideas, characters and situations, historical events and future speculation into a gripping drama spanning space and time with style and aplomb. The novel centers around Vincent Sinclair, a devout Roman Catholic minister, who is plagued by horrifying visions brought on by traumatic experiences he undergoes in the course of his life. In his attempt to find answers, he takes a sabbatical to visit his aunt, to whom he is very close, and embarks on a world-spanning journey that takes him from London, England to Mumbai, India; from the sparkling beaches and resorts of Goa on the western coast of India to the picturesque Himalayan state of Kashmir in northern India. Through hypnotherapy and “past-life regression,” he “travels” to the past, where he witnesses such events as the crucifixion of Christ, the carnage of the French Revolution and social upheaval in medieval India and, by projecting his consciousness into the future, a vision of Armageddon in Tel Megiddo, Israel.

His journey takes him on a quest for a mysterious text supposedly discovered in 1787 by Alphonso de Castro, a Portuguese Jesuit missionary, during the Portuguese occupation of Goa beginning in the late 15th and early 16th centuries and continuing to the mid-20th century—an occupation that included a ruthless and bloody inquisition by the Catholic church, leading to the forced conversions, torture and executions of thousands of Hindus, Muslims and Syrian Christians (Christians who had been converted by the Apostle Thomas’ mission to India in the 1st century A.D.). This text is, supposedly, an authoritative text of mysterious origins that is, apparently, so controversial and threatening to the Catholic church that they are prepared to kill indiscriminately to keep it from being discovered. The document, about which I will not reveal any more so as not to ruin the story for readers, apparently resolves the issue of Jesus’ true fate and life history—an issue which is the controversial centerpiece of the novel. The novel suggests that Jesus had visited India during his formative years and actually survived the crucifixion and returned to India, where he spent his remaining days in the region of Kashmir. The novel suggests that the tomb of the Jewish mystic Yuz Asaf in the city of Srinagar in Kashmir, a tomb that dates back to A.D. 112, is, in fact, the tomb of Jesus Christ Himself.

The novel describes a world of intrigue and danger, of numerous intersecting plotlines involving a diverse cast of vividly rendered characters. It describes a world of mind-boggling mystery, with literally dozens of secret societies and fringe religious organizations, each with their fanatical agendas for world domination and Armageddon. The narrative relates how the murderous agendas of such fanatical religious societies as Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic society featured in Dan Brown’s novel, The DaVinci Code, intersect with those of the Taliban and Al Quaeda. Not to be outdone by Dan Brown, Sanghi brings the Illuminati, Skull and Bones, the Rhodes Scholars, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Aum Shinrikyo into the mix, as well as inventing some new secret societies such as the Crux Decussata Permuta, an ultra-orthodox Christian organization with Islamist connections, and the Lashkar-e-Talatashar, a hidden wing of the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, with a secret Apocalyptic agenda involving a nuclear catastrophe of tragic dimensions.

At the core of this dizzying panorama involving dozens of hidden organizations with intersecting political and religious agendas is an alternative version of history purportedly suppressed by the Catholic church through inquisition, intimidation and banned documents concealed from public view in the Vatican secret archives. According to this version of historical events, Jesus, in fact, had a deep spiritual and cultural connection with India, survived the crucifixion and raised a family with Mary Magdalene, his descendants surviving to the present day (as also suggested by Dan Brown’s novel The DaVinci Code). According to The Rozabal Line, not only was Jesus educated in India in the Essene and Buddhist traditions, he also retired to India with his family and settled down in Kashmir for the remainder of his days under the pseudonym of “Yuz Asaf.” In fact, he is venerated to this day as an Islamic saint by the Islamic population of parts of Kashmir, while Hindu texts, such as the Bhavishya Mahapurana authored by the poet Sutta in A.D. 115, supposedly describes an encounter between Jesus and the Hindu ruler Shalivahana in the mountains of the Himalayas decades after Jesus’ crucifixion in Jerusalem.

These ideas might seem controversial to the conservative Christian mindset, but regardless of one’s opinion about them, one has to wonder what controversial, potentially mind-boggling documents and artifacts must be concealed from public view in that vast, hidden repository of historical relics known as the Vatican secret archives. Who knows what potentially earth-shaking discoveries lie waiting in there, permanently inaccessible to the unsuspecting public. After all, one must keep in mind that the version of Christianity that survives to this day is, in fact, a heavily edited version that dates to the First Council of Nicaea, convened in A.D. 325 in the city of Nice, France, by the Roman emperor Constantine, primarily for political reasons—as the precursor to the adoption of Roman Catholicism as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Who knows what documents and doctrines were, since that time, dismissed as heresies by the Roman Catholic church over centuries of religious inquisitions. Who knows what value they might have and what Christianity might originally have been like as a nascent religion during the years immediately following the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Ashwin Sanghi’s novel dares to suggest that the truth is, in fact, startlingly different from the “official version” of the events handed down to us by the Church as a Christian religious institution and the state religion of the Roman Empire. He suggests that Christianity in its raw, essential form is truer to eastern mysticism than to western orthodoxy or fundamentalism—that the Church as a political and religious institution has suppressed the true form of Christianity and the true identity of Jesus over the ages in order to prop up its own religious and political agendas.

The truth is never what you expect. It is, in fact, a cliché to suggest that truth is stranger than fiction. But even so, the truth would have to be pretty remarkable indeed to outdo the standards set by Ashwin Sanghi’s mind-bending, thoroughly entertaining and enormously informative novel, The Rozabal Line.

Horizon Cybermedia continues in its aspirations to produce quality media content for the discerning public. Do visit our website at http://www.explorationtheseries.com for the latest episodes in our ongoing film series, Exploration with Uday Gunjikar. Stay tuned for the next episode in the series, coming soon, which visits the marvelous rock-cut Buddhist temples of the Kanheri Caves on the outskirts of the city of Mumbai, India. As always, I look forward to the pleasure of your company on these and future explorations through the film series.

Wishing you the very best,

Uday Gunjikar
Founder and CEO,
Horizon Cybermedia, Inc.

Note: The current edition of Ashwin Sanghi’s novel, The Rozabal Line, as pictured on Mr. Sanghi’s wikipedia page is, unfortunately, unavailable in the USA. My critique of the the novel is based on this edition, which Ashwin Sanghi graciously presented to me as a gift. However, readers in the US may still purchase a prior edition of the novel on Amazon.com, published by Mr. Sanghi under the pseudonym “Shawn Haigins,” an anagram of his real name.