RACE FOR RELIGION

Pidgin English replaces Pidgin Sanskrit and the history of Southeast Asia moves forward into the new millennium. The Indian influence seems as though it were always benign and probably one of the best justifications of India’s reputation as a guru-culture, i.e. a culture of teachers and teachings. It appears that that is exactly what they did in Southeast Asia about two thousand years ago, both as traditional Brahmanists and as the reformers, Buddhists, bringing not only religion, but alphabet and much new vocabulary. But as is always the case, ‘teacher, teach thyself.’ Hinduism in its original form is forever stained by its embrace of the caste system, a polite form of racism. There is always the danger of this in any culture with more than one race, of course, and the religious acceptance of it seems no more than an afterthought to justify what was already the case. While Buddhism never addressed the issue specifically, its lack of a caste system must have made it more attractive, all else being equal. Islam certainly capitalized on the inherent tension in the caste system and complemented it with its simple, but strict, teaching accessible to all, and an army promising plenty of spoils for the victors. To the present day Buddhist temples are centers of learning, if basic, in Southeast Asia and were for a long time almost the only centers. Islamic schools serve much the same function in its sphere of influence. It’s an open question as to why the history of the area is entirely dependent on Chinese annals for chronology and corroboration, given the advanced state of Indian learning and literacy.