Monday, June 11, 2007

The Aztec's National Revelation

Lately I've been doing some broad and more or less random research through the internet looking for all sorts of claims of great public miracles to see if any of them well compare to the claims made in the Torah, but the truth is that they are few in far between and few even approximate the kind of story found in the Book of Exodus. Not that this means that the story in the Book of Exodus is 100% accurate history, but it begs for an explanation for why the very claim is made so uniquely.

See, the fact is that it's difficult to get a sizeable and self-contained group of people in one place to observe a single event. Times where that even happens in normal life are few and far between. You can get a large number of people, but that's not self-contained, i.e. of a single ethnic or national group so the cultural memory of whatever kind of event is not lost through dispersal.

Additionally, not only need there be an event, but it has to be a claimed event of significant cultural magnitude so that the self-contained group of people will supposedly retain it and pass it on to their children.

Now, the second condition is generally a function of religion while the first is a function of ethnic history and rather infrequently are the two things combined in anything but the most ancient-type peoples, of which the Hebrews count.

So the key is not to search for the origins of religions, especially the popular ones, which tend to be universalistic or otherwise widespread. You need to search for significant events that happen to a whole tribe and of which's stories were passed down within the tribe. There were likely many such stories in the past back when there were many more independent ancient tribes and few popular religions, but no doubt most of those are lost to us today.

The Jews have the unique benefit, in a sense, of retaining that original tribal/cultural memory while surviving into the modern world. Most tribes did not. And it is for that reason that such like-claims are so rare to see today.

So anyway, the key types of myths that I then went searching for from that point were tribal origins myths and migration myths where the whole tribe is ostensibly in the same place at the same time and experiencing the same things. One can easily see how the Exodus story fits into the category of a migration myth. And so I came across story of the Aztec migration.

The story is rather long and involved and so I recommend that anyone who's interested should do a google search and read up on your own, but the basic story is found here.

"One day, the legends say, a strange bird told the Aztecs to leave their country. It flew over the White Land crying 'ti-hui, t-hui,' which are the Aztec words for 'we must go'.

What can this mean? cried the puzzled people. They quickly gathered together. "The bird is calling us, said the priests. "He wants us to follow him."

The bird flew off towards the south. The tribes chose one of their number, Tecpaltzin, to lead them. "We shall go," declared Tecpaltzin. "A new homeland awaits us."

And so it was decided. The men set to and built boats, and soon the Aztec people were able to cross the water.

The legend also tells us that eight tribes of the Nahuas Indians came from the Ancestral Cave. These tribes had settled on the southern bank of the river Colorado, and were amazed to see the Aztecs arriving in their boats.

"Where are you going?" the princes of the Nahuas asked them.

"To find a new homeland," replied Tecpaltzin. The Nahuas were very excited.

"May we come with you?" they asked eagerly. The Aztecs agreed, and so they set out together.

The Aztec tribes decided to make a statue of their sun and war god Huitzilopochtli. Then the war god spoke to them through the statue:

"I shall lead you. I shall fly with you in the shape of a white eagle, with a serpent in my beak. Follow me wherever I go. Where I settle, build a temple to me, with a bed for me to rest on. Build your houses round the temple, and destroy the villages you find there. Worship the eagle and the tiger, and be a brave and warlike people. That is my command."

So spoke the god Huitzilopochtli. He had given the Aztecs a great task: to be noble, fight for the truth, and keep order in the world. His words were symbolic. But the Aztecs misunderstood, and they thought they were to enslave other people, occupy their countries, destroy their homes and behave like tyrants. And that is what they did.

The Aztecs praised their god, and swore to obey him. They set off on the great journey with the Nahua tribes. Three priests and a priestess bore the god's statue on their shoulders on a bed of reeds. On they went until they reached a suitable place to set up camp.

It was getting on towards evening. The Aztecs built a mound of earth and set their god on it. But before they could eat they heard cries coming from the tree. Alarmed they look up at the top of the tree, and at that moment, it split in two. They were terrified, for they knew this must be a sign from their god. They fell to their knees, weeping. Suddenly the god began to speak: "Wait, my Aztecs. you must part from the Nahua tribes. Call them here and tell them they must make their way alone." Tecpaltzin summonded the Nahua chief. "Our god has spoken" he announced.

"We are listening," replied the chiefs.

"He has ordered us to wait. The time has come to say goodbye."

The Nahuas were very sad. "But what about us?" they asked.

"You must go on without us," Tecpaltzin told them.

"Can't we stay with you?" asked the Nahuas asked sadly.

But Huitzilopochtli had forbidden it, for he did not wish his people to share the promised land with the Nahuas. So the Nahuas parted from the Aztecs and went on their way alone.


Then, for some years, they lived at Tollan, which people now call Tula. Up and down over Mexico, hither and thither they wandered. Not until the year 1216, after a migration that had lasted for nearly 60 years, did they come upon AnĂ¥huac, the high plateau valley.

They stopped dumbstruck. Far below stretched the high plateau, dotted with lakes and bordered by mountains. It was, the ancient legends tell, a "Field of Dazzling Whiteness". Everything seemed to be brilliant white: the trees, the reeds, the meadows, the water - even the fish and the frogs. Were they really all so white, or was it simply that the new Mexicans were blinded by the beauty unfolding before their eyes?

The people fell to their knees and prayed. The chiefs and the priests wept with joy.

"At last we have come to our sacred land," they told the Mexicans. "It is AnĂ¥huac, the Land by the Water. Our wishes have been granted. Rejoice, everyone. Rejoice, for our god has led us to the promised land." But could their wanderings really be over? Anxiously they awaited a sign from their god.

And suddenly the voice of Huitzilopochtli thundered forth.

"Stay, Mexicans! With all your strength and all your wisdom, make this country your own. Though you sweat blood and tears, you shall win what you have been seeking. Gold and silver, precious stones and splendid finery shall be your reward. You shall harvest cocoa, and cotton, and many fruits. Beautiful gardens will delight your eyes. This is your country!"

Wow, now doesn't that sound awfully similar to another story we've heard? The Aztecs considered themselves the 'chosen people' of Huitzilopochtli who lead them on their journey to a promised land. And apparently, through that time was a period of wandering the wilderness where their god spoke to them a good number of times. Especially impressive is that last time where it makes it clear that Huitzilopochtli was heard by the whole people.

In the part that skipped, Huitzilopochtli tells them to not longer go by the name Aztec, but by Mexica - and this is the founding story of Tenochtitlan, which became the capitol city of the Aztec Empire and is today located under modern Mexico City.

*To note though, this is only a very recent field of study for me and I have not confirmed this story's accuracy. There is a real paucity of data on the internet about it. I guess there aren't enough Aztecs around. So I ordered a book that is supposed to have good data on this subject and then I'll be able to confirm, or qualify as needed.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Buddha's Many Miracles

Each year there are four special days: They are the day of miracles, the day the Buddha was enlightened, the day the Buddha first taught the four noble truths, and the day he descended from the god realm of Tushita to Jambudvipa. There are six realms and in the human realm there are four great continents and eight subcontinents. The continent we live on is Jambudvipa.

According to the lunar calendar the first month is the miracle month. When Shakyamuni was forty, six great Hindu teachers, who represented the six schools of Hinduism that existed at the time, challenged Shakyamuni to a competition of miracles. At that time great kings and noble families sponsored teachers who could perform miracles. So Buddha accepted the challenge. He accepted because many would be benefited and achieve the arhat state and people of the future would be inspired to practice as a result of his demonstration. The first day to the fifteenth of the first month are precious and the fifteenth is especially great. The competition happened in the Bihar in India at Sravasti. 80,000 Buddhists and 84,000 Hindus attended the competition.

On the first day Buddha held his toothpick, put it on the ground and it turned to the wish fulfilling tree. It was decorated with jewels, like a Christmas tree. On the second day Buddha manifested two wish fulfilling jewels. The third day the king offered to wash Buddha's feet. When Buddha washed his feet, he threw the water and it became a pool with the eight special qualities of water. Whoever drank or touched it were healed. Today there is a well there where small amounts of water are offered for sale. It is useful for treating disease. On the fourth day it rained and the rain filled the eight canals. The fifth day Buddha emitted golden light from his mouth and people could see beings of the six realms being liberated. On the sixth day Buddha transformed some energy and everyone became clairvoyant and knew each others minds. On the seventh day Buddha manifested as the wheel turning king and many people converted to Buddhism. Up to that time the Hindu teachers had not shown miracles. On the eighth day the gods from Indra's palace sponsored the meals. They served Buddha and made offerings to him. Buddha's hand pressed the side of his seat and a thundering sound was emitted. Five frightening giant cannibals came out of the ground and they went for the seats of the Hindu teachers. Vajrapani also threatened the Hindu teachers. The Hindu teachers ran away. Vajrapani manifested a great storm. It became a tornado which picked up the Hindu teachers and their retinues and tossed them in the water. 60,000 Hindus converted that day and many monks attained the arhat's state and understanding. The gods showered flowers.

Some believe the eighth of the first month is the Buddha's birthday. Others believe the fifteenth of the fourth month is Buddha's birthday. Why do some believe the eighth. When Buddha dwelt at Sravasti, where he was for twenty four years, they were not allowed to build on the land were the monks camped The monks were required to live under a tree or in a small hut or tent. The land in Sravasti had three land owners. The land owner asked when is your birthday. Buddha replied in the first lunar month. Some marked his birthday then, according to the Vedic calendars.

The first to eighth day are the competition days. From the eighth to the fifteenth, Buddha showed miracles without competition. On the eighth day Buddha grew his body until the Brahma realm was under his chin. On the tenth day Buddha's body grew to the top of Akanishta. On the eleventh day, the Buddha he was not visible but the sound of his voice was heard everywhere. On the twelfth day light from his body radiated to all of samsara and developed loving kindness in all. On the thirteenth day Buddha manifested light from the spot between his eyebrows, filling all space with Buddhas, all who taught the dharma. On the fourteenth day the flowers that were offered by the gods filled all of space and on each flower a Buddha manifested and taught. On the fifteenth day Buddha gave the energy so that all beings could see all the six realms. Many people converted to Buddhism after seeing the lower realms with their own eyes. There are eight great stupas. One is called the miracle stupa and was built to commemorate this event. So that is the first great day., the day of miracles, from the first to the fifteenth of the first month. Tibetans celebrate the new year at this time.

"When the time came for the contest, the Buddha cast a mango seed on the ground; instantly the seed took root, and a great mango tree arose to shade the hall. After defeating the six philosophers and converting them to his teaching, the Enlightened One performed the Great Miracle of the Pairs.

"Standing in the air at the height of a palm tree, flames englufed the lower part of his body, and five hundred jets of water streamed from the upper part. Then flames leapt from the upper part of his body, and five hundreds jets of water streamed from the lower part. Then by his magic power, the Blessed one transformed himself into a bull with a quivering hump. Appearing in the east, the bull vanished and reappeared in the west. Vanishing in the west, it reappeared in the north. Vanishing in the north, it reappeared in the south. ... Several thousand kotis* of beings, seeing this great miracle, became glad, joyful, and pleased."

-Mahavastu (Buddhist scripture)

*A koti is equal to 10 million.

Now that's a pretty public series of miracles, eh?

P.S. Pass on this little nugget to the next person who tries to convince you that Buddhism is not a religion.

The Milk Miracle

Presented below [from here] is the story that shocked the world on September 21, 1995 - the day when the Murtis of Ganesh Ji around the world started to accept milk that was offered.

The Supernatural Event of This Century Is Experienced Simultaneously Worldwide

It all began on September 21st 1995 when an otherwise ordinary man in New Delhi dreamed that Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Wisdom, craved a little milk. Upon awakening, he rushed in the dark before dawn to the nearest temple, where a skeptical priest allowed him to offer a spoonful of milk to the small stone image. Both watched in astonishment as it disappeared, magically consumed by the God. What followed is unprecedented in modern Hindu history. Within hours news had spread like a brush fire across India that Ganesha was accepting milk offerings. Tens of millions of people of all ages flocked to the nation's temples. The unworldly happening brought worldly New Delhi to a standstill, and its vast stocks of milk-more than a million liters-sold out within hours. Just as suddenly as it started in India, it stopped in just 24 hours.

But it was just beginning elsewhere as Hindus in India called their relatives in other parts of the world. Soon our Hinduism Today offices were flooded with reports from around the world. Everywhere the story was the same. A teaspoonful of milk offered by touching it to Ganesha's trunk, tusk or mouth would disappear in a few seconds to a few minutes, not always, but with unprecedented frequency. Reuters news service quoted Anila Premji, "I held the spoon out level, and it just disappeared. To me it was just a miracle. It gave me a sense of feeling that there is a God, a sense of Spirit on this Earth." Not only Ganesha, but Siva, Parvati, Nandi and the Naga, Siva's snake, took milk.

Here it is on wiki:

The Hindu milk miracle was a phenomenon reported to have occurred on September 21, 1995. Before dawn, a Hindu worshipper at a temple in south New Delhi made an offering of milk to a statue of Lord Ganesha. When a spoonful of milk from the bowl was held up to the trunk of the statue, the liquid was seen to disappear, apparently taken in by the idol. Word of the event spread quickly, and by mid-morning it was found that statues of the entire Hindu pantheon in temples all over North India were taking in milk, with the family of Shiva (Parvati, Ganesha, and Kartikeya) apparently the "thirstiest". By noon the news had spread beyond India, and Hindu temples in Britain, Canada, Dubai, and Nepal among other countries had successfully replicated the phenomenon, and the World Hindu Council (an Indian Hindu organisation) had announced that a miracle was occurring.

The apparent miracle had a significant effect on the areas around major temples; vehicle and pedestrian traffic in New Delhi was dense enough to create a gridlock lasting until late in the evening. Many stores in areas with significant Hindu communities saw a massive jump in sales of milk, with one Gateway store in England selling over 25,000 pints of milk,and overall milk sales in New Delhi jumped over 30%. Many minor temples struggled to deal with the vast increase in numbers, and queues spilled out into the streets.

And here's a video.

So, can millions of eye witnesses in India and all over the world be wrong? Or are you going to convert to Hinduism now?

Curiously, though, Deut. 4:28 has this to say, "There you will worship man-made gods of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell."

Nothing about drinking there.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Null Hypothesis

One thing that I hear pretty frequently from atheist circles is that given the question of God, since there is no evidence supporting that hypothesis (something I'd contest, anyway) they simply select the null hypothesis saying that there is no God. On the face of it that kind of formulation seems pretty reasonable. - it even has the nice scientific jargon to make it look like it holds authority, but what really is the question and the real null hypothesis?

The real question is not "Does God exist?" - but "How can we explain existence?" and "What is the nature of existence?" If these were taken to be scientific questions then scientific hypotheses in the form of the numerous theological theories out there could be used to answer them. And the null hypothesis? The null hypothesis is that existence and its nature are due to nothing but chance. The null hypothesis is not the rejection of another hypothesis, but the statistical assertion that chance alone is responsible for the results. Even the claiming of ignorance does not a null hypothesis make. It is the assertion of chance.

Now, maybe some people find the chance assertion to be reasonable, but I don't. There are way too many awesome things happening in our universe to chock it all up to luck. Even in the absence of stringent scientific results, I am lead to believe that the null hypothesis is missing something big.

Furthermore, of course, the atheist must still explain how chance itself can operate in non-existence which 'preceded' our universe. Usually they will posit some sort of Superuniverse which has the power to produce a great number of universes and we just lucked out that one was made which could support life.

But one must note how this Superuniverse Hypothesis is no longer a null hypothesis at all - it is a very specific idea about the higher order of existence. And, of course, it must be noted that this hypothesis has no scientific evidence to support it. So why should they accept this hypothesis with its same dearth of evidence (I would say a worse dearth) over any God Hypothesis which they so strongly object to? They only prefer the Superuniverse because it leaves out God, not because of any inner strength to the idea.

It's hardly a scientific issue - it's just philosophical bias.