Chapter TenAs Yeshu’a stood upon the deck of the Arab dhow, roughly painted in two shades of blue and with yellow floral designs; which was more of an attempt at concealing the weather-worn wooden hull beneath. Its single graceful triangular sail pointed to the sun, making it quite distinctive, compared to the square red sails of the Roman vessels, at anchor nearby.
Yeshu’a was allowed to travel for half fare since he agreed to work during the passage, commencing by helping to load goods aboard and stowing them below deck. When not working, his ‘quarters’ was sleeping upon the bales of Egyptian cotton immediately beneath the beams of the wooden deck.
The following morning, as the dhow pulled away, and the sails were unfurled to catch the light breeze, Yeshu’a did not expect to see the lone figure of his dear friend Yusuf, standing at the shore, with his hand raised in farewell. Many years would pass before they would have sight of each other again. Yeshu’a felt a deep gratitude to his Bedouin friend, for the many occasions he assisted him. Looking upwards to the sky, Yeshu’a noticed a black raven perched on the very tip of the mast above him. Gazing down from its lofty perch, the raven surveyed the scene below, as if checking to see that all was well, before taking flight. The dhow moved slowly out into the deep waters of the river Euphrates and almost immediately, orders were barked to the crew, who jumped to setting about coiling ropes and other such sailing duties. The boat was primarily a cargo vessel, but it also carried a few paying passengers on this occasion.
By way of his passage duties, Yeshu’a was put to assisting the cook; a tall, well built, mild-mannered African of middle-age, who had been enslaved to his Arab master since he was a young man. It was part of Yeshu’a duties to prepare the meals for passengers and crew. Cooking was carried out on deck, where it was cooler, since during the day it was impossible to stay for any length of time below deck, in the oppressive heat. Thus it was his practise to rest on deck, when finished his duties, for the duration of the entire journey to Sindh, where the Indus river and its tributaries, the Ravi, Beas, Chinab and Jehlum rivers, joined the Arabian Sea, while at the Indus delta there stood the flourishing merchant city of Patala.
During the long sea voyage, Yeshu’a was befriended by an elderly Indian gentleman, who was more of a philosopher than a merchant. He enjoyed his evening’s discourses with our young traveller and suggested that Yeshu’a should stay with him, and study with a little-known religious group called the Jains, who were followers of the god Djaine.
“You would be more than welcome to stay in my home for as long as you wish,” the merchant suggested. “I have young children of your age. You will fit in nicely.”
“I am grateful for your kind offer, but I have no knowledge of Jainism,” Yeshu’a replied.
“Oh. We live more by principles, than by mere worshipping of a deity. Indeed, I suppose our principles are a form of worship,” said the merchant, Shiv Kumar by name, as he continued to explain the Jains beliefs
“It is one of the oldest religions in the entire world, dating back 3000 years, when is was established in the Indus river valley region. The word Jains comes from Jinas, meaning “conquerors”; who have conquered all their desires and feelings, and obtaining in return infinite knowledge and wisdom.”
Impressed, Yeshu’a asked, “Do you have infinite wisdom?”
There was a long pause before Kumar replied, and a faint smile dawned upon his lips as he stretched his legs and leaned against the gunwale of the boat.
“I must be honest and say that I aspire to that level of wisdom, but I need still to continue the quest, having much further to go!” he chuckled.
Kumar went on to explain, in more detail, the main principles of their religion; Ahimsa, being non-violence; Satya, to speak the truth; Asteya, not to take anything without permission; Bramacharya, limiting possessions to those needed. The most important being Ahimsa, which should be practised in both thoughts and actions. Life is dear to all living creatures therefore no one should kill, nor harm, nor talk or think of killing, or harming any form of life. Fasting for up to eight days is also an important duty.
“You are of the Jewish faith, are you not?” inquired Kumar.
“Yes, that is true,” Yeshu’a replied.
“Well, part of your worship consists of the killing of birds and some animals, as sacrifice. This is abhorrent to us.”
“It is written in the Holy Book that Moses built an alter surrounded by twelve pillars, which represented the sons of Jacob, and the twelve tribes of Israel. Blood was a part of that offering,” Yeshu’a replied. “I am saddened to agree with you, for I never felt it was a correct thing to do,” he continued, weakly.
“You are so right, my young friend. It is not the creatures of creation that should be ceremonially sacrificed, but the animal within us that should be destroyed,” Kumar said, echoing the identical thoughts he expressed to Yusuf some time before.
The practice of sacrificing animals in an attempt to appease God, was part of the ritual worship experienced by Yeshu’a since he was a child.
It contrasted dramatically with the principles by which Kumar and his people lived. The Jains’ belief was that all life was sacred, divine, and of equal value in the sight of God, as was human life. This was new thinking for Yeshu’a. It was his first concrete experience of another faith: a new way of perceiving God.
“But enough talk of killing. You will join me in my home, when we arrive in Bharath,” invited Kumar.
The weather for this journey was nothing less than perfect. The dhow sliced through the deep blue waters of the Persian Gulf, stopping briefly for fresh supplies in the port known today as Hormuz, before sailing bravely into the pirate-ridden waters of the Arabian Sea. The journey, altogether, normally took about two, perhaps three weeks, but on this occasion with the gentle, but steady winds, it was reduced to just twelve days. Their arrival on the north-east coast of Bharath, brings to mind another occasion, many years previous, when followers of Zoroaster chose to leave Persia due to persecution, arriving in Mumbai, bringing with them the sacred fire. Their leaders sent a request to the King of this land for permission to settle peaceably in this blessed land, only to be rebuffed. The King demonstrated to the Persians his refusal by returning to them a milk-container full to the brim with milk, illustrating in this simple way, that his State was “full-to-the-brim”!
Pondering this refusal, the Persians returned the milk-container to the King after sprinkling it with sugar, thus showing that it wasn’t their intention to “over-flow” the King’s domain, but to sweeten this new land with their presence. The King was suitably impressed by their argument and permission was granted for them to settle! Thereafter these Persians (in India) became known as Parsees: -meaning the people of Persia.
The city of Sindh was much further in-land than Yeshu’a had previously envisaged. It would have been a goodly journey on foot through the delta, but fortune shone on him.
“You will ride with me, my young friend,” Kumar insisted. He had a small party of servants who travelled on foot, or on camel, while Yeshu’a and Kumar rode in a wagon drawn by two black horses, with an overhead awning that protected them from the harsh sun.
“You travel light, with little possessions, I see,” Kumar commented.
“I have no need of heavy bundles, such things only slows one down. My blanket is all I need.”
Yeshu’a stayed with the Kumar family and the Jains community, learning a good deal of teachings that were new to him. They had advocated the purification of the soul through living a good and pure life, of non-violence, noble actions, thoughts and deeds towards all creatures, both animal and human. Their monks also vowed a celibate life, and a vegetarian diet, being essential to their spiritual goal.
During his six month’s stay with the community, Yeshu’a spent many hours in discourses with the head monk who always wore a gauze mask over his mouth and nose, thus avoiding any possibility of breathing in, or harming, any living thing that may be in the air. He also carried with him a broom with cotton tassels that swept the floor before him as he walked, so as not to harm any living creature, big or small!
When it was time for Yeshu’a to leave the many kindnesses he received from this compassionate community, great pressure was put upon him to stay and live the rest of his years among them. He explained that the chief reason for his sojourn was to make contact with the “lost” Tribes of Israel, and also to learn much of the wisdom from schools in this sacred land.
“You will always have sanctuary here should you be in need,” was their joint counsel, as Yeshu’a directed his feet eastwards to the great city of learning, Jagannath (Puri), in the province of Orissa, on the far coast of Bharath, where he was to dwell for six years.
From time to time he would visit the marvellous caves of Khandagiri, which were carved out of a solid granite hillside, about a century previous, now used as a Jain monastic retreat, and located just four miles from the temple of Jagannath.
While the journey was a long and an arduous one for a young man of fourteen years, he was sustained by the God-given love he had for all mankind. He spoke uplifting words to small groups along the way, being rewarded with meals and places to rest. On one such occasion, as he spoke to young children by a village well, a black and white abandoned kitten coiled itself around Yeshu’a’ legs and grew attached to him wherever he went. Yeshi’a would lift him up and place him inside his tunic with its beautiful head, with large eyes, peeping out. It became Yeshu’a’ constant companion on the long journey, and he would share with his newfound friend whatever food he had.
It was about this time that people began to gather to listen seriously to Yeshu’a and the teachings he expounded. His fame spread all along the route, from the west side of Bharath, to the east coast, up to his final destination in the province of Orissa, where the mortal remains of Hindu’s revered deity, Lord Krishna, lay.
Yeshu’a was welcomed enthusiastically upon his arrival, by the white priests of Brahma who gave him a joyous greeting. “So young, yet so wise,” the priests would whisper to one another, as they sat, with rapt attention, listening to the young man they called the ‘Soul of God’ -- or Hazrat Isa.
(During the course of his travels Yeshu’a would be called by many different names; names which would describe him and his holy work, in many areas of India and Tibet, and beyond. The Greeks would speak of him as Iesous, and the Romans, Iesus.)