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Saturday, November 24, 2018

Comparative study of Cultures

 Churinga is an object, which could be a rock or a bird or an animal and which is of religious significance to one indigenous tribe in Central Australia. In his book on the primitive religions of the world, Emile Durkheim describes an initiation ceremony. During the ceremony, the initiate is shown a Churinga, when the following words are spoken: “You are this body; you are the same thing as this”.

Is it not amazing that these words are practically the same as what the Upanishad says: “Thou art that”? In this ceremony, the churinga stands for the universal, primordial force. It is a symbol of the infinite, a totem, an icon.  

This is one of the benefits of comparative study of customs, myths, rituals and religions of different countries, societies and tribes. In ancient time, when travel was confined to relatively short distances these customs and myths evolved with very little admixture. With increasing ease of travels and of communications we became aware of several societies and their customs and comparative studies became possible. These studies have shown the commonalities between societies and their concepts of the universe. These studies show that knowledge is not a private property of any one society and great ideas have arisen from different sources. Hopefully this awareness will lead  to better understanding between cultures, customs, beliefs and religions.

What we find is that every culture faced the same set of problems in different settings and solved them in its own way suitable to its contexts. Human conditions are the same all over. Our solutions are different. No one solution is better than the other. Each solution is appropriate to its context and level of understanding. All solutions belong to all of humanity. There is no need to feel superior or inferior. It is wiser to be open and tolerant, not be possessive or clannish about ideas, treat others with different point of view with respect and learn from all cultures.

An Indian philosopher-poet said: “Wisdom is in accepting truthful knowledge, whatever its source”.

For those who wish to look at the origins of human societies and understand the common substance behind the outward symbols which divide us, I suggest four books.

                Emile Durkheim   The Elementary forms of Religious Life. (Karen Fields Translator) 1995

                This believing world   Browne L. (1926)

                The Lessons of History – Will and Ariel Durant (2010)

Outlines of an Historical View of the Progress of the Human Mind (published in 1802) - Marquis de Condorcet (Kindle Edition 2010)

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