Everyone is familiar with Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech.” But less familiar are some of his other brilliant sermons. One of which includes his sermon, “Questions that Easter Answers.” Whether you celebrate Easter or Ostara, the theme of the holiday is rebirth. Spring emerging from winter. Life restored after death. Or the transition from life into death, which is not an end, but the gateway to a new and more powerful reality.
The mythos of Jesus dying and returning from the dead is an archetype found in many ancient religions that preceded Christianity. Most similar is the Egyptian God Osiris who did the very same thing.
So in his speech, Martin Luther King addresses some of the questions raised by this holiday. Is there anything after death? Do we just die and cease to exist, or is there a greater reality? And then that brings up another question, is there an invisible spiritual reality that is even greater than this one. So great in fact that our current reality is but the shadow of an unseen, powerful, spiritual world.
Quote From MLK’s Easter Sermon:
You walk out at night, and you look up at the beautiful stars as they bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity, and somehow you think you see all. But oh no, you can never see the law of gravitation that holds them there. You look at this building, and you look at its beautiful architecture, and you think you see all. You look out and you walk out this morning, and you look over at the beautiful capitol building and all of the surrounding buildings, and you think you see all.
The materialist would say that’s about all. But oh no, you don’t see. all You can never see the mind of the architect who drew the blueprint You can never see the faith and the hope and the love of the individuals who made this church possible. You can see the external bricks, you can see the building, but you cannot see the internal forces that brought it into being.
You look up here this morning and hear somebody talking and you cry out, “Yes,
I see you, M L King.” But I’m here to tell you this morning that you don’t see me.
(No) You look here, and you see my body. You see my external being. You see something
that’s merely a manifestation of something else. But the real me, you can
never see (Amen). You can never see that something that the psychologists call my
personality. ( Yeah) You can never see my mind. You can never see my ideas. You can
only see my body, and my body can’t think. My body can’t reason. My body only
moves at the dictates of my mind. And so this morning, Easter tells us that everything
that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see. The visible IS a
shadow cast by the invisible. Easter cries out to us that the idealists are right, that it
is ultimately mind, personality, spiritual forces that are eternal and not merely these
material things that we look about and see.
For, one day, the gigantic mountains will pass away. One day, even the stars that bedeck the heavens will move out of their course. One day, the beautiful building of Dexter will not stand here. But there is something that will stand. There is faith, there is love, there is hope, there is something beyond the external that will stand through the ages.
In the past I wrote an article called The Original Trinity, Brought to You By Egypt since the spirituality and culture of ancient Egypt most likely had an influence on the formation of early Christianity. The Cult of Isis was highly popular in Rome before Christianity arrived on the scene. Ideas like the sacrifice of the God Osiris and salvation through his death have strong parallels to the Christian faith, as well as the trinity of Osiris, Isis and Horus.
I have also written about the shared connection between Hindu and Celtic culture.
Yet another interesting theory to examine is the possible Hindu origins of Christianity. As I have said in past articles, the Ancient World was much more interconnected than modern people believe. There was a great sharing of knowledge and exchange of culture – especially among trade routes. Cleopatra wore Chinese silks. Greek was once the dominant language of the Seleucid Empire – a territory containing what is now Kuwait, Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan and Turkmenistan. Variants of the Greek language are even still spoken in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan today. And Alexander the Great’s Kingdom stretched all the way to the borders of India. There were even Greek coins minted in northern India for a time.
(Borders of Alexander The Great’s Kingdom. 323 BC)
So what does this all this Greek stuff have to do with Christianity? The New Testament authors wrote in Greek. Greek was the language of scholarship during the years the New Testament was written (in 50 AD – 100 AD). Much of this is due to the spread of Hellenistic culture from Greece into the Middle East by the conquests of Alexander the Great several centuries prior. Yet what this possibly entails is that the early authors of the New Testament (and other early Christian thinkers) were plugged in to the culture and thought prevalent throughout Rome, Greece along with the Middle East. And what is very probable is that Christianity was influenced by the many other cults and religious ideas of the era (Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the Cult of Isis, etc.) This is quite likely considering the striking similarities between those religions and Christianity.
Yet is it also possible that the ideas of Hinduism were thrown into the mix as well? I cannot say with complete concrete certainty whether this is true or not, but we do know that there was an interchange between Greek and Hindu cultural ideas in the Hellenistic Empire that came out of places like Bactria and the Seleucid Empire.
Then there are also concepts in Christianity that never existed in the prior Jewish tradition, but do have striking similarities to the Hindu Tradition.
Let me list these below:
Baptism: John the Baptist and his Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. This is very similar to the Hindu practice of plunging into the Ganges River to wash away their sins.
The Avatar: Many Christians have said that their religion is unique in that they believe that God came to Earth as a human being in order to teach man how to avoid sin. And yet Hindus believed that their Gods had been doing this for centuries before Christianity ever existed. For instance, Krishna was believed to be born 14 centuries before Jesus’s purported existence. Hindus believe that whenever profound evil spreads widely throughout the earth, the Supreme Being comes to earth in the form of a human person in order to uproot vice and to establish virtue so that the earth may get rid of sinners. Lord Krishna was such an incarnation.
Similar Advice from Krishna and Jesus:
(BG stands for Bhagavad Gita)
‘Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead’ (BG 2:11) with the sense of Jesus’ advice to ‘let the dead bury their own dead’ (Matt. 8:22 ).
Krishna’s saying, ‘I envy no man, nor am I partial to anyone; I am equal to all’ (BG 9:29) is a lot like the idea that God is no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11 ).
And ‘one who is equal to friends and enemies… is very dear to me’ (BG 12:18) is reminiscent of ‘love your enemies’ (Matt. 5:44 ).
Krishna also said that ‘by human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma’s one day’ (BG 8:17), which is very similar to 2 Peter 3:8.
Early Church Father Saint Augustine praises India:
“We never cease to look towards India, where many things are proposed to our admiration.”
(The Hindu Trinity)
This is an obvious one. Hindus have the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Christians have “The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Similarities in Religious Practice:
The way in which Christianity was practiced by the early church fathers, as well as some modern Christians is also more similar in certain ways to the Hindu tradition, than the Jewish one. In this I’m talking about the practice of asceticism among monks, bells in the church, incense, altars, holy water, chanting prayers on beads and even the serving of sacred bread (prasadam).
What many people today don’t understand is that the doctrine of Christianity wasn’t formed all at once. Most written accounts of the life of Jesus did not exist until a couple decades after his purported existence. These accounts were presented by a number of different authors and had somewhat conflicting stories about his existence. These written accounts are known as the Gospels. Also, it is worth knowing that not all of the gospels that were written even made their way into the bible. Only four gospels became the canonical writings for the church. The rest were burned, destroyed or lost. Historians estimate that the first written gospel, the gospel of Mark, was written sometime after 70 C.E, which means that at the earliest, it would have been written 40 years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.
So in its formation over time and through hearsay, it can be said that a lot of the Christian religion in the early days of its creation was syncretic jumble of the different cultural and theological ideas in the region, whether it be Egyptian, Roman, Greek, Celtic or Hindu. While it is difficult to say with certainty what traditions did and did not make it into the mix, it is an interesting topic to examine.
Sufism is described as the mystical dimension of Islam. Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” Alternatively, in the words of the Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, Sufism is “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.” The world famous poet Rumi himself was a Sufi mystic.
Sudan is particularly interesting in relation to this topic, because they have one of the largest Sufi communities in the world. See pictures below.
“In Omdurman, the largest city in Sudan, the Qadiriyya Sufi order meets every Friday outside Sheikh Hamed Al Nil mosque, which houses the tomb of their 19th century Sufi leader.” (Image and Text Source – The Guardian)
“As the sun lowers, a sound system crackles to life with Islamic chants. Followers sway backwards and forwards and form a large circle around a troupe of musicians.”
“‘I’ll tell you a secret – if you’ll believe me,’ shouts Ahmed Mohamed Alamin, a 30-year old pharmacist, over raucous cymbals and drums. ‘During dhikr, we fly to the heavens.’” (Image and Text Source – The Guardian)
“In stark contrast to the white jalabiya [long dress] worn by most male members of the assembly, the dervish elders distinguish themselves by sporting more brightly coloured and patterned outfits.” (Image and Text Source – The Guardian)
For more information and pictures, go to the GUARDIAN for original article.
Poetry from Rumi, 13th Century, Persian Sufi Mystic
The Yazidi religion is believed to be around 6,000 years old in fact. Yet throughout their long history they have faced 72 genocides and soon they may unfortunately be facing genocide number 73 at the hands of the group formerly known as ISIS (Which now calls itself “The Islamic State”). Why all the hate towards this small, but ancient group of people? This is due to one major misconception about their religion – the idea that they worship Satan. Not only do the Yazidis not believe in a devil, but they don’t believe in hell either. In fact, the evil Satan is more of a reality in the Judeo-Christian religions than for the Yazidis.
GOD’S HIGHEST ANGEL IS A SAVIOR RATHER THAN A DEVIL
The reason for this misconception is because they believe that God created the Earth and designated seven angels to preside over his creation. The highest of these angels is Tawsi Melek, who is also known as the “Peacock Angel.” He is the primary figure in the Yazidi religion and is the one who filled the Earth with colorful things, such as flora and fauna. Yet this mighty Melek is similar in some aspects to Christianity’s Lucifer and Islam’s Shaitan. When God created Adam, he asked his angels to bow down to the humans. All angels obeyed except for Tawsi Melek, who replied, “How can I submit to another being! I am from your illumination while Adam is made of dust.”
The key difference however, in the Yazidi religion, is that Tawsi Melek was right not to bow down to the humans, and he was right to stand up to God. He was not thrown into hell. Instead he descended to Earth and wept for all the pain in the world. His tears ended up extinguishing the fires of hell. Thus, the Yazidis do not believe in a hell with a devil, but rather they believe that evil is man-made. They hold that the source of evil is in the heart and spirit of humans themselves, not in God’s highest angel. In the Yazidi religion, Tawsi Melek is a bringer of knowledge and life. It is interesting that Lucifer is also a bringer of knowledge in the Christian religion – yet this aspect of Lucifer is seen in a negative light by the Christians, while Tawsi Melek’s knowledge is mainly a positive force in the world of the Yazidis.
THE YAZIDI HOLY SITE – LALISH
When Tawsi Melek descended to the Earth to make our world more colorful, it is believed that he descended to a site known as “Lalish,” which is situated in Northern Iraq. After Melek descended to Lalish he met with Adam and turned him towards the sun, telling him that it was a symbol of the creator. He then added that Adam should pray towards the sun daily and taught him a prayer that all humanity should chant for the creator. Most Yazidis pray 3 times a day and most Yazidis also make it a goal to go on a pilgrimage to their holy site at least once a lifetime.
(The Yazidi Holy Site “Lalish” on New Years)
The Yazidi religious year includes four holy festivals:
- The New Year (The first Wednesday of April)
- Apparently the Yazidis also like coloring eggs in April. They do this to celebrate the colors that Tawsi Melek brought to the world.
- The Feast of Sacrifice
- The Feast of Seven Days, Sept 23-30
- The first Friday of December feast following three days of fasting.
Wednesday is also a holy day of the week for the Yazidis and Saturday is a day of rest.
A BELIEF IN REINCARNATION
So if evil people don’t go to hell, where do they go? Much like in Hinduism, Yazidis believe in the purification of the soul through a series of lifetimes. If a soul is pure, it will ascend into heaven. However, if someone lived a truly evil life, they will be reincarnated as a member of a different religion. The Yazidis are very proud of their own traditions and ethic group, which means that being cast out of the Yazidi ethnic and spiritual lineage is one of the harshest punishments imaginable for their people. In fact, Yazidis believe in only marrying within their ethnic pool, and narrow that requirement down even further to only marrying within their caste.
THE YAZIDI CASTE SYSTEM
(A Yazidi man healing a woman)
- THE SHEIKH CASTE
- The Sheikh caste is the highest of the three mentioned castes here. Sheikh is an Arabic word which denotes a ruler or an elder of a tribe. It is believed that the members of this caste descended from 6 of the 7 great angels (excluding Tawsi Melek). Members of the Sheikh caste are believed to have special healing powers.
- THE PIR CASTE
- The Pir Caste is also a significant spiritual caste, and much like the Shiekh, they are required to be at major life events such as marriages, circumcisions and funerals.
- THE MURID CASTE
- The Murids are a majority of the Yazidi people, who are basically “commoners” and do not function as priests.
THE YAZIDI’S SYNCRETIC ORIGINS
Having a caste system and believing in reincarnation sounds very Hindu inspired. This is no accident. It is believed that the Yazidis migrated to India after a major flood that happened 6,000 years ago. Then about 4,000 years ago they migrated back to their homeland in Northern Iraq. In fact, the Yazidi religion has similarities to Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, and Mithraism. It is probably because the Yazidis have encountered and lived among these people over the last 6,000 years of their existence, but due to their tight ethnic bonds – formed a unique religion to fit their people.
WHEN WAS THE YAZIDI RELIGION TECHNICALLY FOUNDED?
This is an update I decided to add after publishing the article. It’s a bit confusing because I state that the Yazidi religion is 6,000 years old. Some have argued with me that the Yazidi religion can’t be that old, considering that it has Islamic customs. However, one must realize that the practice of praying 5 times a day was not unique to Muslims. In pre-islamic times, it was a normal practice for many Middle Eastern cultures who bowed and prayed to the various phases of the sun throughout the day – including the ancient Egyptians and Zoroastrians.
Also, one must understand that the Yazidi religion is a fluid religion that has evolved and grown over time as a result of their contacts with other people. Much of what they believe today was codified in its current form in the 12th century A.D. by the reformer known as Sheikh Adi. Many Yazidis consider him to be an Avatar of the angel Tawsi Melek and his tomb is at the holy site of Lalish. However, even though its most recent reforms were established in the 12th century, many of the basic ideas are thousands of years old.
THE YAZIDIS TODAY
As mentioned in the introduction, Yazdis are a very small ethnic and religious minority. There are only 700,000 Yazidis in the world, and 600,000 of these Yazidis live in Iraq. Today the terrorist group that calls itself “The Islamic State” is terrorizing and killing these ancient people, along with driving them off of lands they have occupied for thousands of years. The “Islamic State” has only two options for the Yazidis, “convert or die.” They have also taken to selling Yazidi girls into sexual slavery.
It is very important for the world to know about the Yazidi people, what they are going through, and the beauty that their religion truly represents. The fact that they celebrate a colorful, peacock of an angel as a bringer of knowledge and life speaks volumes about their core beliefs – even if most of their religion is transmitted by word of mouth, rather than the written word. These are a people who have a rich and colorful tradition that masked men in black are attempting to destroy. Let us do well to understand, support and pray for these people in their hour of need.