In the history of the Western romance with “Eastern Philosophy,” innovative ideas often masquerade as ancient doctrines, fulfilling the fond hopes of Western spiritualists, theosophists, and table-tappers everywhere, for the “discovery” of ancient, pre-Christian scriptures that would reveal the outlines of something they fondly called “Natural Religion.” These outlines, not surprisingly, mapped neatly onto existing Deistic philosophy derived from Platonic, neo-Platonist, and Pythagorean notions, with a frisson of mystical asceticism.
The Jesuit Forgeries
There is more than a coincidental likeness between the writings that we have been sold as “translations of Eastern religious texts” and the philosophical aspirations and strategic intentions of the “translators.” This is most evident in the alleged “search for the Rig Veda” allegedly undertaken by the Jesuits who administered the Portuguese colony in 17th Century India, in collaboration with the East India Company, from their headquarters in Pondicherry, India. What a little research reveals is that no such search was undertaken, because the Jesuits were busy creating forgeries of “the Vedas,” now known as the “Pondicherry Vedas,” the most infamous of which is the “Ezour Vedam,” mendaciously popularized by Voltaire as a true gem of original Vedic religion, although he certainly knew it to be a forgery based on his extensive correspondence with Indian Jesuit scholars.
Voltaire's Adoption of the Fraud
Voltaire cherry-picked the text, eliding its true character as a Socratic dialogue, in the course of which the Brahmin “Choumantou” articulates a supposed “original Vedic teaching” from a lost line of “Northern rishis,” who carry the original monotheistic teaching that has “degenerated” into Brahminical ritualism and the caste system, that excludes the lower castes from religious instruction. The Ezour Vedam was written in French, and translated into Bengali, Tamil and other modern languages, then printed into “catechisms” to deceive Indian Brahmins with false proof of monotheistic doctrine in Vedic scriptures. Books were rare artifacts for Indians, who were not big consumers of paper. The entire library of Tamil books Ziegenbald compiled in 1708 totaled less than 150 volumes. On the other hand, the Jesuits had been publishing dogma with Gutenberg’s invention for around a century. It was a classic collision between a pre-literate society and a society armed with libraries and printing presses -– a collision that Marshall McLuhan describes in dramatic terms in Understanding Media, the Extensions of Man:
Unethical Media Warfare
“…of all the great hybrid unions that breed furious release of energy and change, there is none to surpass the meeting of literate and oral cultures. The giving to man of an eye for an ear by phonetic literacy is, socially and politically, probably the most radical explosion that can occur in any social structure. This explosion of the eye, frequently repeated in ‘backward areas,’ we call Westernization.”
Using McLuhan’s metaphor, the Jesuits were ideological bombers, demolishing the beliefs of potential converts with false tales about Indian beliefs, using mass-produced, printed texts to explode the existing Brahminical order. They were engaged in an act of cultural misappropriation and misrepresentation so outrageous that it deserves to be called fraudulent scholarship, and identified as a form of unethical, un-Christian ideological warfare against those who are allegedly the benign targets of conversion.
However, modern scholars have been at pains to protect the Jesuit forgers from the charges that any just observer would level at them. Urs App ascribes their extensive deceptions, of which he has encyclopedic knowledge, as part of the great interfusion of religious thought between East and West, to be celebrated now, more than ever, when the Dalai Lama has appeared to crown all of these ecumenical efforts with his mystical blessing. Greater nonsense has rarely masqueraded under the label of scholarship.
App’s ability to impute religious intent to the elaborate lies the Jesuits spun is matched only by his zeal in separating them from the taint of “colonialism,” notwithstanding the fact that the Jesuits were the civil administrators of the colony. Jesuit authority over the whole of Pondicherry cannot be doubted, since in its final days under French East India Company rule, the head Jesuit authored the city’s defiant last ultimatum to the British who were besieging the town, which was duly ignored, leading to the humiliating capture of all the inhabitants.
The departing French literally boarded ships for Europe with the clothes on their backs, and the Jesuits left behind their entire forgery factory in Pondicherry for the British East India Company’s own translators, who had been tasked with the job of “finding the Vedas.”
The irony of the Ezour Vedam, of course, was that it did not pass along the Christian Gospels, it did not reveal the true “Mystery of the Faith,” i.e., Christ’s death and resurrection. Rather, the Ezour Vedam transported Indian readers to a desert devoid of true doctrinal ancestors, from which the only exit would be Christianity -– deemed by the “Northern Rishis” to be the ultimate revelation of their “Ezour Vedic” lineage. Given the brazen deception they undertook, it will not surprise you to learn that many Jesuit priests masqueraded as Asians, discarding their priestly habits, donning Chinese and other eastern clothing styles, and teaching syncretic doctrines that attempted to coax the natives first into monotheism, and then, by slow degrees, into something that resembled Christianity.
Happy Enlightenment Horse-shit
But Europe knew nothing of the Ezour Vedam’s purpose in India, thanks to Voltaire’s adoption of the forgery to elaborate his Orientalist fantasies, in which India became the original fount of reasoned religion, a place where good sense had once ruled, under the aegis of a Deistic cult that grew directly from the native soil. Of course, if monotheism had been the original Indian religion, what had happened to fragment their beliefs into the polytheistic carnival of deities that so distressed the colonizers, who saw lasciviousness, wantonness, and license writ large in the sprawling pantheon and its innumerable ritual cults? In a word -– degeneration.
The Search for a Universe Without the God Hypothesis
To discuss degeneration, we must pause and turn our scanner on the mistaken understandings of human origins that were current among the best and the brightest of Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and that continue to bedevil us in this modern day. The Enlightenment pundits were groping towards an explanation of human origins that didn’t rely on Yahweh breathing life into a lump of clay shaped like a man of mud, then extracting a rib-bone from that creature, to give Mr. Mud a mud wife. Having cast the Catholic Church out of the temple of government, French revolutionary political factions moved their operations into various monasteries and took over their names. The Jacobins, for example, took their name from an order of monks whose monastery they acquired as HQ; likewise, the Cordeliers named themselves after the Franciscan monks whose abbey they expropriated.
The French Revolution aggressively extirpated the symbols of Religion, adopting decimalization, a new calendar, and a host of other social innovations intended to enshrine a secular order. Social revolutions that espouse atheism always leave a lacuna, however, that stirs nostalgia in the propaganda department for beliefs that can be used to placate, console, and distract the populace from inconvenient realities. Napoleon would ultimately fill this lacuna with his ambition, unleashing the hordes of nominally free Frenchmen upon the monarchs of Europe, toppling many, until at last they regrouped under the leadership of the British and Russian monarchies, crushed his armies, and at the Congress of Vienna, restored monarchs to their thrones in France and Austria, and put in place protections against future such revolutionary activities. But Napoleon’s commitment to empirical analysis and bureaucratic chain of command were enshrined as state policy. Napoleon was an artillery officer who understood the mathematical description of the solar system that the mathematician Laplace delivered to him, establishing that planetary orbits are stable. Laplace was the first to reveal this aspect of the workings of what was increasingly perceived as a clockwork universe, but Napoleon observed that Laplace gave the Creator no place in his analysis. Laplace replied, “Your Excellency, I had no need of that hypothesis.”
Elimination of the active participation of the Deity from their hypotheses became a passion for students of what was then called “Natural History,” the history of “nature,” which provides the basis for our own existence. The Enlightenment natural historians were trying to emerge from the encompassing shell of religious doctrine that formed the medieval view of the world, but their views were marked by the mold in which they were cast. They discarded old explanations that attributed our existence and all of its features to Providence, and sought new answers to questions like, “How did this earth come to be? How far away is the sun? How old are the seas, the mountains? Why are living forms so diverse?” But what we now consider to be the correct answers to these questions were in no way obvious, and during the three hundred years of the colonial era, Europeans entertained many mistaken theories about how human beings originated, populated the earth, and assumed all our diverse body types, languages, and cultures.
The theory of “degeneration” was one of those mistaken notions, that colonialists used to weave a view of the world that flattered white Europeans and denigrated the dark people whose lands they were colonizing. Loren Eiseley explains the motives and views of those he dubs “the degenerationists.”
“In its new phase at the mid-nineteenth century it represented the last stand of the special creationists against human evolution. In brief compass, this school of thought regarded existing savages … as degenerate peoples fallen away from a more ideal condition. *** A writer in The Contemporary Review observed that ‘In the savage races of the present day we seem to find the human faculties, not in their fresh virgin state, tending to develop into something better, but arrested and benumbed by long acquiescence in grovelling habits. Therefore I think that we are justified in regarding these races as the swamps and backwaters of the stream of noble humanity, and not as the representatives of the fountainhead from which it has been derived.’ The fall of the ancient civilizations of the Near East and the more recently discovered remains of the Moundbuilders were all presented as clear-cut evidence that man was capable of relapsing from a civilized state. *** The degenerationists had neatly inverted the anthropological argument for evolution: man had not arisen from savagery; he had sunk to it, particularly in those regions most peripheral to Europe.”
-- Darwin’s Century, Loren Eiseley, page 299 – 301 (1958).
The aggressive colonial nations plundering the globe for territory, resources, and forced labor to fuel their imperial ambitions knew they were at the top of the domination game. The Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French had developed battle skills through centuries of war with each other over the European continent, Crusading in the Near East, and repelling Turkish and Moorish invasions. Their navigational and engineering skills exceeded those of the people whose lands they invaded, uninvited and unannounced. Their use of firearms overawed people whose most advanced weapons were blades and bows. Seeing themselves in the mirror of the faces of those they conquered, the colonial exploiters always saw themselves as superior, and the degenerationist theory provided a moral explanation for that superiority. The indigenous people whose lands they invaded had simply degenerated, while white Europeans had evolved into the finest examples of humanhood.
Applying Degenerationist Theory to Colonial Subjects
The theory of degeneration was used to explain how the people who built the pyramids became the hapless Egyptians, how the Romans who ruled the world became the Italians who couldn’t be bothered, and the Greeks, once the world’s intellectual Olympians, became, ah what shall we say? The Greeks.
Likewise, the ancient Aryans, the noble, virile charioteers who rode into Northern India and blasted the Indian subcontinent with Vedic wisdom had degenerated into the “Hindus.” And what religion did the Hindus practice? Of course. Hinduism. Until the Europeans arrived to call them all by one name, it had not occurred to the people of India to unite under a single identity. Nor had they attempted to unify themselves under a single, monotheistic Deity. India was and remains the land where every tree and rock may harbor a divinity. But for the invaders, this was unacceptable. It was evidence of degeneracy, of a lack of the type of will that was driving the entire colonial venture. Because the colonialist assault was draped in Christian missionary garb, the mission in India took the shape of providing the natives with the types of modernizing influences they would need to compete in the world of international trade. They needed to unite under a single God, attain a national identity, and stand up and join the British Commonwealth.
Thus, the people of India were provided with an ancient monotheistic religion that predated the current jumble of faiths. They could return to the worship of Brahman, the origin of all, and thus reclaim their ancient heritage. One of the most despicable characters in Indian colonial history, J. Z. Holwell, produced the Shastah, the best-known forgery of a monotheistic Indian scripture since the Ezour-Vedam of the Jesuits. Like the Ezour-Vedam, Holwell’s forgery was eagerly promoted as genuine by Voltaire. Thanks to Voltaire, these two forgeries established nineteenth-century European views of Indian religion.
While it is now universally acknowledged that the Shastah is a rank forgery, no one seems to want to blame Holwell for inflicting his third-rate Indianization of Paradise Lost on humanity. Worse yet, no one wants to mention Holwell’s reputation for publishing false reports for propaganda purposes. While most people have heard, vaguely, of the “Black Hole of Calcutta,” few know that the entire episode, in which an Indian prince is said to have confined hundreds of British subjects in a space too small to accommodate them, resulting in the death of nearly all, was concocted by Holwell.
Ready for World Citizenship
Max Muller published translations of the Rig Veda in 1869, thus cementing the impression that Vedic wisdom from millennia past had been brought to light by modern scholarship. But Muller’s commentaries on his works demonstrate considerable uncertainty about what he was actually translating. He received the documents he translated from the British East India Company, and translated them as a Company employee. He did not investigate the origin of those documents, which of course, could not be thousands of years old.
Indeed, the idea that Muller translated words that people have been passing along by reciting them from one generation to the next, for thousands of years, is an obvious fantasy. As mentioned previously, the Indians had virtually no native printed literature, and thus there were no old written versions of the Rig Veda to be found. There were only commentaries that purported to relate portions of the ancient scriptures within them. We do not even know what language people were speaking thousands of years ago in the region now called India.
Current theory proposes that they were speaking “Proto-Indo-European,” but that’s not something that anybody was writing down, and even if they were, they didn’t write on anything durable, so we have no evidence of it. It would have been physically impossible to find the Rig Veda, or any other literature from that period, in an “original edition.” Thus, when we ask ourselves what Max Muller translated, the answer can only be, “something that was written far more recently.”
Then the question would be, “Who would have an incentive to write it?” And the answer to that would be, “Not the Indians, because they had moved on to new belief systems -– Jainism, Shaivism, Vishnu-worship, Kali-worship, etc.” Only the colonizers, who had been programmed by Voltaire’s promotion of original Indian monotheism, as imagined in the Ezour-Vedam and the Shastah, would have the incentive to create yet another invented scripture to complete the religious makeover of their colonial subjects.
The Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj were organized to give “modern Indians” a respectable faith that would pull them away from “Brahmanic superstition,” and bring them into the modern age. By the time the World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in 1873, India had been prepared by two hundred years of colonization, missionary work, and imported religious scholarship to step onto the world stage. Swami Vivekananda had honed his “Karma Yoga” talking points to invest Indian monotheism with an aura of modern efficiency. And the deep backstory of Indian religion was in place, as well.