26 January 2008

Ritual Purity or Rank Superstition?

Many Indian ideas about ritual purity, especially with respect to the body, have made their way into contemporary Buddhism. I want to look at a few examples of this. An examination of the origins of these ideas in Brahminical thought may be cause to re-assess the relevance in contemporary Buddhism.

A couple of years ago I was showing a friend of a friend (a follower of Tibetan Buddhism) some of my thangka paintings. One of these hung at the foot of my bed so I could see it first/last thing. "You don't sleep with your feet pointed at that do you?" - there was a note of shock in the question. "It's very bad karma" she said. I pondered this for some time before coming to any understanding of it. I knew already that Buddhists were not supposed to point their feet at shrines. But why? Because in India the feet are considered ritual impure. But again why? The feet are ritually impure partly because they are in contact with the earth, and the dirt and shit that cover it. But again why the ritual impurity? I think it goes back to the famous Purisa hymn in the Rig Veda. In this cosmogonic myth the four social groups - Brahmins, Ksatreyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras - are born from the various parts of Brahma's body. It later versions it is Prajapati's body. The Shudras, serfs, are born from Brahma's feet. The Shudras are not the lowest rung on the Hindu scale, but they are the lowest rung of the people who are not considered outcasts or untouchable. Shudras are not permitted to enter temples, nor to hear the sacred mantras. This is so much a part of Indian culture - one touches the feat of a respected elder in greeting for instance - that even the new Buddhists honour it though they are frequently from backgrounds which high caste Hindus consider beyond the pale, so ritually polluting that their touch requires elaborate purification rituals involving ironically cow shit and piss. When in 1923 Dr Ambedkar drank from a tank in a Brahmin village, they tipped a load of cow shit into it to "purify" it!

But feet are not ritually polluting in Western cultures. Although foot odour is universally considered uncool at best, it is the odour not the foot itself that offends. The foot is by contrast sometimes even an object of desire in the west! Where I come from it is de-rigour, and completely natural, to go about in bare feet in summer. So why am I adopting this Brahminical value into my practice of Buddhism, which if anything denies the validity of notions of ritual purity?

Right shoulder to stupa
In the centre of the warehouse I worked in two years ago is a 7m high stupa which is both beautiful and impressive. Buddhists traditionally keep a stupa, or any revered object or person, to their right-hand side. Some people who work in the warehouse go to elaborate lengths to go around the stupa clockwise, to keep right shoulder to the stupa. Some go about it quietly, while others are (at times) vocally critical of people who dare to go anti-clockwise, showing their left-side to the stupa. But why I asked? What is the point? Because, I was told, it is traditional. I am not superstition person and I found this puzzling. Again I think this goes back to Brahminical ideas of ritual purity. Even today in India the left hand is impure because it is used for cleaning the anus after taking a dump. The Indians use water and not toilet paper for this. So the left hand is unclean, often quite literally, and one eats with the right. Hence if you revere someone you keep your left hand away from them. Additionally the outcastes were required to dress with their left shoulder uncovered, while the higher castes uncovered their right shoulder - this uncovering the right shoulder is a constant, if entirely incidental, theme of the Pali Canon.

Now I'm right handed and I wipe my arse with my right hand. So by the logic of ancient India my right side is impure and I should either go clockwise around the stupa, but walk backwards; or go the other way. But after I wipe my bum I wash my hands and consider them clean at that point. No literal or ritual pollution! My own belief that it is the quality of awareness of the significance of the stupa which is important - and I can go any way around the thing if I have the right attitude.

Tantra and ritual impurity.
My other example emerges out of the antinomian practices of the Tantra. Antinomian means "released from moral obligations". It originates in a Christian context, but with reference to Indian religion it relates to actions which are ritually impure. So the tantric yogin chooses a consort from the untouchable castes, frequents a cremations ground and messes about with bones and skulls, and consumes meat, alcohol and sexual fluids. These are some of the most polluting things a caste Hindu could do. The point is that the Buddha does not make distinctions like pure/impure . So the yogin experiences these intensely polluting activities with a view to maintaining their equanimity in the face of very strong provocation, to overcome their cultural conditioning around the notion of pollution. For the first time there is a sense of cross-over with western culture. We too have taboos around death that mean human remains are disposed of very purposefully, and according to laws and special customs. However contact with death is not ritually polluting as it is for the Brahmin - it does not require lengthy ritual cleansing for instance. Meat eating, drinking liquour, and even the odd mouthful of sexual fluid, are not particularly taboo in western society. Having sex with a low class person might be seen as tacky in some circles, but again not ritually polluting in a way that requires ritual cleansing.

So it would seem that adopting Indian antinomian practices which are entirely "nomian" (if there is such a word) in the west is a bit pointless. And yet the shrines of Westerners, and Westerners themselves, are adorned with skulls, and bones, and other reminders of death - although I think the significance is lost on most people who simply see them as reminders of impermanence. We make a big deal about the "left handed" tantra, which once again invokes the Indian left-hand-bum-wiping thing and involves acting out polluting actions, and contrast it with right-handed tantra in which one only imagines doing the dirty thing. But to us those things aren't dirty, we aren't ritually polluted by them. Some things we may find unethical, and in that case we may feel remorse if we eat meat or drink liquor, it is not the same thing as ritual pollution.

I doubt that traditional Buddhists reading this are going to want to change the tradition. Some of these things go very deep - are embedded in our canons of scripture for instance. But the Buddha was quite critical of superstition (mangalikā) and we can read for instance the Mangala Sutta as a critique of superstition and a call to just practice the Dharma - i.e. to make yourself pure by good behaviour, not through rituals; have good fortune (also mangala) through reaping the benefits of good behaviour, not through omens, divination, or other superstitions and/or rituals. Let us not turn back the clock on the age of reason in adopting this ancient religion, let us investigate the origins of superstitions and decide whether they are still relevant, and move on if they are not.

image: www.clear-vision.org

19 January 2008

Locating Tantra in Historical Narratives

SamanatabhadraScholars are still at odds with each other, and with traditional Buddhist narratives, on the issue of when tantric Buddhism came into being. This essay is an overview of an emerging narrative which relocates Tantra in history, away from representing it as the death throes of Buddhism, but without accepting traditional stories which trace Tantra back to the time of the Buddha in 5th century BCE Indian.

From probably the 2nd century sutras began to appear which contained and were focussed upon a form of protective magic. These "dharani sutras" were to prove very popular in China. A little later, perhaps the 4th century, dharani style mantras began to be interpolated into well known Mahayana Sutras, particularly the Lotus, Lankavatara, and Golden Light Sutras. The Golden Light Sutra contains an obvious predecessor of the five Buddha mandala. Indeed there is an alternative version of the Golden Light, which was translated into Chinese earlier than the version which formed the basis of the English translation by Emmerick, and in that alternate and possibly older version, it is clear that a visualisation meditation is intended. By the early 5th century a more or less clear version of a tantric initiation appears in the Karandavyuha Sutra, and mantras were aimed at gaining rebirth in the Pure Land. However scholars agree that a fully formed Tantra definitely can be found in the mid 7th century - this being marked especially by the composition of the first systematic tantric text the Mahavairocana Abhisambodhi Tantra in which mantras are properly a tool for Awakening for the first time.

The early presence of various elements, such as mandalas and mantras (of a sort) which were later adopted by tantric Buddhists, has given rise to the misleading nomenclature "proto-tantra". If for instance the use of mantras constitutes "proto-tantra" then the entire Vedic tradition is proto-tantric. The term is meaningless. It makes more sense to just say that the mantra is Vedic. Similarly Tantra incorporated aspects of Shaiva practice - which is not proto-tantric, it is Shaivite. Ronald Davidson argues in his book Indian Esoteric Buddhism that despite the presence of some elements of tantric Buddhism in earlier periods, that a fully formed tantric movement came into being, quite suddenly, in the mid 7th century. This, he argues, was a response of Buddhism to the political and social chaos resulting from the destruction by the invading Huns of the Gupta Empire with it's extensive trade networks and many wealthy lay merchants.

Early Western scholars struggled to understand the history of Buddhism in India and came to some conclusions, that in retrospect look quite suspect. Some contemporary scholars have argued that this is because those 19th and early 20th century people were applying ready made historical narratives to India rather than observing what was there. The argument is that protestant critiques of the Catholic Church, which were in turn based on the understanding of the story of the Roman Empire were in operation. English and German scholars especially were expecting to find a three act narrative: an original Buddhism based on the founders own words and preserved in a canon of texts; a mature period of consolidation and missionary activity; and a period of decline and descent into idolatry and moral turpitude. Theravada Buddhism was shoe-horned into the first category largely, perhaps, because they had an intact canon and celibate clergy. Mahayana Buddhism was seen as a degeneration, for introducing elements of devotion, but did at least coincide with the spread of Buddhism to Central and East Asia. Tantra however was not even Buddhism, it was a distortion of the rational message of the Buddha, and the "pure" conduct of the Theravada monks.

However as research has filled in the gaps in history, and as methods especially in anthropology have become more sophisticated another picture emerges. There have been streams of Theravada Buddhism which have remained vital, and these fortunately have flourished in the west. However generally speaking the Buddhism of traditional Theravadin countries is moribund: the bhikkhus do not seek Awakening or even meditate; and when not lost in the abstruse categories of abhidhamma they are meddling in politics. This is not to say that early Buddhist methods (don't mention the 'H' word) were not effective if practised, only that the keepers of the texts ended up preferring to chant them as protective spells rather than put the contents into practice (a tendency that can be seen in every type of Buddhism in every county). Where they are practised the most ancient methods are as effective as any that came later, and some of the most inspiring Buddhists in contemporary times have roots in Theravadin reform movements.

The Mahayana is said to have emerged in part as a response to the formalism of early schools of Buddhism which emphasised scholasticism and had drifted into thinking of dhammas as actually existing (a subtle form of eternalism). A closer look tells us that there were many often competing Mahayanas. Arguments continue on exactly when and where Mahayana ideas began to emerge, but Gandhara with influences from Greek, Persian and Central Asian invaders must be at the top of the list of contenders - Indian writing kicked off here, as did making images of the Buddha, both of which had enormous effect on the Mahayana. Many Mahayana ideas - especially regards the Perfection of Wisdom - display links with this part of the world. Ironically some scholars have begun to refer to early, non-Mahayana, Buddhism as "mainstream", when that name more properly belongs to the Mahayana as it was amongst these communities that the Buddha's message was kept alive and constantly renewed, whilst conservative early schools preserved their canon, they did nothing with it.

Finally, and in full contrast to the Western view of it, tantric Buddhism was a reinvigoration of a waning Indian Buddhism which was reeling from incursions from the Huns - whose cousins were heading west to wreck Rome. Trade networks broke down and with it large scale support for monasteries where Buddhism was centred. Social chaos meant a change in priorities and required something new from the religious communities of India. The result was a brilliant synthesis of many existing elements providing both an invigorated search for Awakening, and a powerful protective magic - the two essential elements of (Indian) religion, which despite rationalist views had been present in Buddhism right from the beginning (to judge by our scriptures anyway). Buddhism, let alone Tantric Buddhism, did not survive the subsequent invasion of the Islamic Arabs and Turks that followed the collapse of the Guptas, and when Nalanda was sacked in the 12th century Indian Buddhism was already dead on it's feet. But Buddhism continues to thrive in adjoining areas such as Ladak, Bhutan, and Tibet right down to the present. The Chinese eventually ousted Tantric Buddhism, but it did survive in Japan in part by syncretising with Pure Land Buddhism and creating a strong power base in the laity.

Contra the views of scholars in the 19th and early 20th centuries then, a new view is emerging which looks at Buddhist history in a different light. Theravada far from being pure "original" Buddhism is a quiet, stagnant backwater; Mahayana carried the spiritual impetus of Buddhism forward and out of India into Central and Eastern Asia, and west as far as Persia as well! However it foundered in the breakdown of post Gupta Indian society. Tantra in this view, far from being a degeneration, was a vitally needed renewal in times of maximum upheaval and uncertainty - a positive revitalising response to changing times, rather than a fall into decay. While Buddhism in for example Sri Lanka mouldered (and the ordination lineage died out twice!), Buddhism in Tibet churned out saints and seers by the dozen.

The "original" spirit, the living heart of Buddhism was never situated in formalised rituals and preserved texts, though this view exists in Buddhism and helped to reinforce Protestant presumptions: it was and is in the hearts and minds of Buddhist practitioners striving for Awakening. Some of that spirit has been transplanted into "Western" soils now and we will see whether it can continue to grow.

11 January 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary -- 1919-2008.

I grew up in small town New Zealand. Although I had my trials and tribulations, Taupo in the 60's and 70's was a great place to grow up. There was a more or less constant skirmish going on in our neighbourhood between the Pakeha kids and the Maori kids - which I look back on as being more to do with social conditions than race. We were the targets for their anger. But apart from that you could wander the streets without fear. If child abuse, rape, and murder were happening then as kids we were blissfully unaware of it. We walked to school and played in the street - something that no one seems to do anymore, at least in England.

Out the back of Taupo is a lump of a mountain, partially covered in forest. Tauhara hovers at the edges, a shy presence that looks over the town, but does not loom even though the foot hills are only a few minutes drive away. In those days one could climb it - the walk being difficult but rewarding. These days local Maori prefer people not to walk on the mountain, which is a shame. From the top one can see for many miles in every direction. At the far end of the lake, perhaps 100 kilometres away are the triplet of volcanoes, two of which - Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu - have erupted in my lifetime. The third, Tongariro, like Tauhara, is dormant. Maori legend has it that they are were a tribe of mountain beings who lived and loved in the area long before humans arrived. Standing on the lake front, the view to the west is obscured by high hills. To the east one can catch a glimpse of the Kaimanawa ranges - often with snow on their peaks in winter. We knew that our lake - 26 miles across - was, and is, in the caldera of a much larger volcano which last erupted around the time of Christ devastating much of the North Island along the way.

Later I moved to Auckland which is a city of a million plus people sprawling over a huge area. To navigate one triangulates using one or more of the many small volcanic hills scattered around. Most of the 63 volcanic vents in the area are just holes in the ground, some filled with water, but several rise high enough to be features of the landscape, and to offer spectacular 360 degree views of the city.

One other mountain looms large in my childhood memories: Everest. This is because in 1953 - 13 years before I was born - a great ox of a man called Ed finally reached the summit of the highest mountain in the world. Ed was a Kiwi, of course. There aren't many real heros in New Zealand history, and in those days we would not have considered Maori heros like Te Whiti o Rongomai one of ours. Ed was our hero. A genuine world class hero. In those days nothing much local was world class, and we probably still suffer from an inferiority complex. But Ed. He was our man. Tenzin Norgey was always acknowledged as having been with him , but in our minds it was Ed who did it, Tenzin kind of helped him along. (I think now that we didn't really give Tenzin enough credit and that a kind of naive racism was at work). To the rest of the world Ed became "Sir Edmund". But that was much too grand for us, and for him, and so he was always just Ed Hillary - nothing much needed to be said because this guy was the first to climb Everest, and after that... well we don't (or didn't) like to to get too carried away with praise and celebration. But everyone knew, and we were proud as can be of Ed. Ed was the fulfilment of the myth of the New Zealand Man, perhaps another reason why we tended to overlook Tenzin. Although most New Zealanders won't have read a book called "Man Alone" by John Mulgan, it somehow came to define a romantic ideal which all of our fore-fathers aspired to. It was about one man pitted against society, and then pitted against nature. He was rugged, self-reliant, and not bound by social conventions. Our version of the Hollywood cowboy I suppose only a lot less glamorous! Ed on Everest was the apotheosis of the "man alone" myth - although obviously he was never alone. Myths are funny like that.

Ed was renowned for his modesty - a true humility which meant that he was uncomfortable of people making a fuss about his achievements. This quality is highly admired in the New Zealand man. And so we loved him all the more. Returning to base camp he reported said, laconically "well... we finally knocked the bastard off". In truth Ed was neither the best climber on the team, nor the first choice for the ascent. But when the first team turned back, Ed got his chance. My image of him is an a large and very strong man, with a huge heart. He was never going to give up, was absolutely driven. He just ploughed straight up there. Of course this is a romantic view. But he was big and strong and determined. I think this almost caused a disaster in Antarctica where he drove his team to a dangerous exhaustion - it was difficult to keep up with Ed.

Much of what I know is the kind of thing that one absorbs from popular culture, from primary school projects, and from watching TV. Ed was often on TV. After Everest he carried on climbing and lead some expeditions, but it was his work with the Sherpas that maintained his profile. After all having climbed the biggest mountain, there isn't much kudos in climbing a smaller one. However Ed began to go out to Nepal and started trying to raise the quality of life for the Sherpas. He built schools and hospitals, often with his own hands. And it was for this also that we loved him. New Zealanders love the under-dog, I suppose because of that old inferiority thing. And then best way to sort anything out is to get stuck in and build something, eh. Someone said on the radio this morning, that he went to Nepal 120 times! In 1985 the government acknowledged his defacto role and appointed him High Commissioner to India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. He was active in New Zealand as well. Always helping people.

There is a Maori proverb that goes something like:
If you are going to bow down;
Let it be to a mighty mountain.
Ed was a mountain of a man. I never met him or anything, but in New Zealand anyone famous is one of your mates, even one of the family. Ed was not just one of us, but the best of us. He embodied all the virtues a New Zealand man should have, and as far as I know none of the vices. The rest of the world will probably remember him as the first man to reach the summit of Everest - if the news coverage of his death here in England is anything to go by - but back home he will always be more than that. He was an icon. There are very few people who are so virtuous that you naturally admire them, want to follow them, be like them. Ed was like that. He was good in the down-home sense of the word. Honourable, generous, kind, humble. These are the virtues I pursue as a Buddhist of course. Ed was my first exemplar of these virtues. I know that high up in the Himalayas - the abode of snows - that the Buddhist Sherpas will be chanting mantras, doing puja, and praying for his fortunate rebirth. For one who has lived so well, I think there need be no anxiety about his future; if I am anxious at all it is because one of the great spirits of our age has left the world, and for all the good he did, the world seems a darker place than ever and we need men like him all the more.

Kia ora, kia kaha, Ed. Haera ra. Farewell. We'll miss you.

vajrasattva mantra for Sir Edmund Hillary

image of Ed by Graeme Mulholland via Wikipedia.

04 January 2008

Religion in India and the West

In studying Buddhism and its interactions with other religions I have been repeated struck by how different the Indian situation was and is from the West. I'm going at attempt to characterise the two situations by looking at two businesses. The Indian religious milieu is to my mind like the micro-computer market in the 1970's and 80's. Whereas Western Religion is like the telecommunications market. Both of these are dominated by an large monopolistic corporation, but the models are quite different.

Christianity has towered over the religious landscape of Europe and it's colonies for centuries now. For many years it was not only the local state sanctioned monopoly, but a Europe wide monopoly so powerful that it could dictate to kings. Heterodoxy was not tolerated. It strikes me that a similar situation existed in the US for most of the 20th century. The Bell System (aka AT&T) company's domination of the telecommunications market was near total. They owned the infrastructure for the entire telephone network, and entry into the market was virtually impossible except for a few very small niches. Bell used it's monopoly position, even used illegal practices, to stifle competition - resulting in a lawsuit by the Department of Justice. The Catholic Church too was concerned to stifle competition. We know that they used terror, torture, and murder to maintain their dominant position. The crusades were as much about making a profit as liberating the Holy Land.

If we follow this image then he break up of the Bell Company in the mid 1980's due to it's misuse of monopoly powers is matched in European Christianity by the reformation and the advent of competition in the form of Protestantism. Luther was protesting in particular about the selling of indulgences - the church offering to do the job of God (i.e. forgiveness of sins) and for a pay-off. Bell was attempting to use its enormous power to get a grip related technologies such as the fledgling computer industry. In both cases the upshot was a limitation on the power of the monopoly and the making of room for dissent/competition. Like Bell, the Church continued to be powerful. Like the Church, Bell continued to seek ways to expand their power by moving offshore and finding new markets in developing countries.

Taking this one step further I see the cellphone as equivalent to the rising popularity of both fundamentalism and non-aligned Christianity. The new technology was slow to start because it was expensive, but with the major infrastructure investment paid off, it is now cheap to offer cellphone services, and because these are closely linked to the aspirations and desires of the people, the uptake is massive. One can choose to subscribe, or to "pay as you go". Not only has the technology changed, but the market is open to competition, so that there are many cell-phone companies (which shops everywhere!). Fundamentalism was initially less popular for different reasons, but the popularity is similar to the cell-phone market now. They focus on a simple message (c.f. text messages) and focus on personal connections (with god and each other) and community. (I've previously argued that cell-phones are all about community.) Land-lines are still popular but will continue to decline in the face of increasingly personalised services, and evolving technology. Religion in the West is increasingly individualistic.

In India the story is very different. The Brahmins are still the arbiters of orthodoxy in India and this is because of an accident of history. The original inspired utterances of the sages came to be codified in a language which only Brahmins understood which helped to create and sustain their hegemony. Compare this with the beginnings of Microsoft. Bill Gates was already in business when he bought the operating system that would become known as MS-DOS, and then in a coup forged an agreement with IBM to have it installed on all of IBM's computers. The phenomenal success of IBM micro-computers made Gates a fortune. Microsoft has never been considered the best operating system by anyone involved in computers, but it is the most widely used, and dominates the market. Non-industrial software that does not work on Microsoft is destined for a small niche market.

This original success showed the way. Microsoft frequently expands by buying products from a successful start-up, re-branding it, and putting a lot of effort into marketing. The biggest example of this is Internet Explorer - now the most widely used Web-browser software. IE started life as a modified and re-branded version of the early web-browser Mosaic (now defunct). This is also the strategy of the Brahmins. The assimilation of Shiva is an example of this, but the cult of Vishnu is even more striking. Each of the 10 Avatars of Vishnu is a god from a smaller cult, incorporated into the Brahminical pantheon - including the 9th, Gautama Buddha, whose message is summed up by Vaishnavites as "be kind to animals". Microsoft also prospered by hiring successful programmers from other companies. So Charles Simonyi the designer of the early Xerox word processor "Bravo" joined MS in 1983 to create MS-Word which offered many of the same features. The Brahmins used this strategy as well. When they assimilated another cult they made the priests honorary Brahmins.

For many years Microsoft maintained it's dominance because it's software could run on any computer which used the MS operating system, and this was, because of licensing deals, any computer made by IBM, or later any computer which worked in the same way (what we used to call IBM clones). Equally the Brahmins made sure that every ritual, ceremony, and rite of passage in India required the chanting of Vedic mantras, and only they knew them.

While both religious hegemonies have maintained their dominance in the face of competition the fundamental strategies have differed. We humans, I observe, have two basic strategies when confronted with "the other" - that is with strangers, with people who are different. We of course prefer not to be confronted, but when we are we have these two basic responses which are exemplified by Christianity and Brahmanism. The Christian church on the whole has reacted by stamping out heresy. This has softened somewhat but the attitude is still entrenched. A high profile example of recent times is the Anglican/Episcopal Church's response to homosexual Bishops. The homosexual is defined as other, and while there have been many accommodations this seems to be the line beyond which some Christians are not willing to go. In the Catholic church woman are the other. We can attribute this to biblical fundamentalism, but this is to miss the essentially human response I think. After all many of the Bibles strictures are regularly overlooked - the prohibitions against usury for instance, or the setting up of market places in churches for instance (every cathedral in the UK has a shop in it!).

In India the response is quite different. The other is not destroyed if some kind of arrangement can be reached. More often than not the other is assimilated. Various cults that were distinctly non-Vedic, have quietly been welcomed to the fold - "all is one, god is good". Perhaps it is the advantage of having a pantheon rather than a monotheon, but again this is a basic human response to otherness - try to make the other one of us by conversion. If they are willing to become "us" then that's OK. Witness the concerns about immigration in the UK today - the word assimilation is heard on a daily basis in the news - the concern is "will they become English, or will they make us change?" It is worth noting that neither Islam nor Christianity have yet been assimilated in India. Is this because they do not follow the same response to otherness?

Buddhism follows the general Indian pattern. Many of the forms and conventions of Vedic India were co-opted by Buddhists in the early days. There is also a perceptible Jain influence. Later puranic Hinduism was a source. Sometimes this influence was a reaction against something by Buddhists and an attempt to create a distinction, but other times some chunk of Indian culture is lifted bodily out of it's context and "converted". Many of the Vedic/Hindu gods appear in Buddhist scripture for instance as converts to Buddhism. Indra continues to have an important role in Buddhist texts long after he has waned in the Hindu world! On the other hand this assimilation has lead to problems for Buddhists down to the present. Buddhists have had to waste a lot of energy in India arguing that Gautama is not an avatar of Vishnu. Buddhism has at times succumbed to the take over attempts - the two are equally mixed in Nepal for instance; and in front of the main temple in Wat Po, Bangkok is a Shiva lingam covered in fresh gold leaf offerings. Present day Indian Buddhists also face hostility to their conversion from Hindu Nationalists on top of assimilation attempts - paradoxical as that sounds. Buddhists marriages were recognised in Maharashtra only in 2007.

Of course both of these comparisons are over simplifications but I think they give the flavour of the differences in the religious cultures of Europe and India.
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