Chapter ElevenYeshu’a had not seen such a mammoth temple before; the temple of “Jagan-nath,” which means “Lord of the Universe.” He strolled slowly along the broad avenue at Puri, stopping from time to time, to gaze in awe at its size and grandeur. Consisting of one main sandstone temple building in the centre, while being surrounded by numerous smaller temples, halls and cloisters, on four sides.
Each year many thousands of people gathered to view the three Hindu deities carried in procession, Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra. These were unfinished carvings, which were normally positioned inside the main temple, while one or two of the carvings were without limbs. Outside the walls of this pivotal centre of Hindu faith, gathered clusters of retched poor, old and young lepers, some equally limbless, mirroring the deities they worshipped, but prevented from entering the holy-of-holies! These outcasts were required to live on the margins of a struggling society; beggars on the Lord’s doorstep!
Such images confronting the young Yeshu’a, left him to wonder in amazement, as the young Lord Buddha had done before him, how man could sink so low while surrounded by so much wealth.
This was to be his home for the next six years!
Yeshu’a proceeded to study in the school adjacent to the Temple; his prayers, meditation and fasting, strengthened his desire to change the fortunes of the poor and the downcast. During this period he also visited Rajariha, Varanasi (Benares), and many other holy cities.
Varanasi being the centre of Hindu learning, was situated on the banks of the river Ganges, and it was here that he was introduced to the ancient scriptures, the Vedas, by the Hindu priests. He wore the ochre robe of a young student priest, a Brahmin, as he sat on the banks of the sacred river, while behind him a terrace of fine buildings rose from the water’s edge. He observed the pilgrims who came from afar to bathe in the sacred waters, cleansing themselves of their sins, and sprinkling the water in the air as they faced the sun. Funerals to the river-bank were frequent. Families were required to purchase, at great cost to them, the necessary wood to prepare the pyre for cremation, an expensive exercise, indeed, after which the ashes of the departed-one was tossed into the slow-moving river at sunset.
It was here in Varanasi that Yeshu’a gave his first sermon to a small gathering of the poor outside the temple where he spoke of the equality of all humankind before God. His words were sweet to the ears of the unfortunates gathered before him, but less so to the Brahman priests observing him from nearby. He said: “God the Father establishes no difference between His children, who are equally dear to Him. Respect God, bow down your knee before Him only, and to Him only may offerings be made.”
Not realising the difficult position he was putting himself into with regards to the Brahman priests in giving his discourse, young men laughed, saying, “You will not be very popular with your priests, with whom you share your meals.” While those elderly men and women amongst them said, “We are grateful for your kindness, young priest, but you must be careful lest you fall foul of your superiors. They are powerful to friends, but fearful to their enemies.”
Setting aside these comments Yeshu’a continued: “The eternal Judge, the eternal Spirit, is the One and indivisible soul of the universe, which alone creates, contains and animates the whole. He alone has willed and created. He alone has existed from eternity and will exist without end. He has no equal, neither in the heavens nor on earth.
“The Great Creator shares His power with no-one, still less with inanimate objects, for He alone possesses supreme power. He willed it and the world appeared. By one divine thought He united the waters and separated them from the dry portion of the globe. He is the cause of the mystic life of humanity, in whom He has breathed a part of His being. And He has subordinated to humanity the land, the waters, the animals and all that He has created, and which He maintains in immutable order by fixing the duration of each.
“The wrath of God shall soon be let loose on humanity, for it has forgotten its Creator and filled its temples with abominations, and it adores a host of creatures which God has subordinated to it. They that deprive their brothers of divine happiness shall themselves be deprived of it.
“Help the poor, assist the weak, harm no-one, do not covet what you do not have and what you see in the possession of others.” He continued, that man should guard against arrogating to himself the authority to deprive his fellow beings of their human and spiritual rights.”
“Verily,” he continued, “God has made no difference between his children, who are all alike and dear to Him.”
Those who listened to Yeshu’a’ words, be they be on the steps of the temple, or in the market place, were up-lifted in spirit, but the priests standing quietly at a distance, were enraged and felt their authority threatened. They needed the rich merchants, as well as the political “establishment,” for the financial support. Equally they resented the ideas he was preaching to the sudras (untouchables), as they began to turned away from the Brahmins and the rich Kshatriyas.
Brahmins taught that Brahma created all things, including man, whom He divided into four classes according to their colour: white (Brahmans), red (Kshatriyas), yellow (Vaisyas), and black (Soudras). The teachers instructed their people that God gave the first group the government of the world, the laws and the power to heal and judge mankind. While the second caste, the Kshatriyas, were made warriors, with responsibility for defending and protecting society; Kings, governors, troops, etc. belonged to this group. The third, the Vaisyas, were destined to plough the fields, breed the animals, carry on trade and commerce, with the authority to enter the temple and listen to the Vedas on feast days only.
Finally, the Sudras, or blacks, which were deemed the lowest caste, were to be the humble servants and slaves of the first three castes. They were forbidden to attend the readings of the Vedas; and to come in contact with them meant contamination. They were robbed of any human dignity, human rights or care by a physician. For only death, alone, would free them from the consequence of their harsh life of servitude.
Because of these injustices, Yeshu’a spoke out, and in time the priests reproached Yeshu’a, demanding that he refrain from preaching to the low-caste sudras, or leave the school forthwith.
“How can it be wrong to up-lift the down-cast?” he asked. No reply was forthcoming as the priests turned their backs and walked away.
An old lady approached Yeshu’a, as he sat on the steps pondering the annoyance of the priests, she pressed a small coin into his hand saying she wished it was more, for he had given her hope and peace in her heart. When he looked into her eyes and he could see the few short days she had left.
“I shall keep this coin with me always,” he said, with a tender smile, and this he did till his dying breath, being an offering made with love.
The following day he was warned by humble people, who grew to love him, that his life was in great danger and was advised to depart quietly from Varanasi, by night, thereby reaching the nearby mountains, and safe sanctuary.
He had now gained in strength and confidence, and with the divine knowledge he was receiving, he would speak in public places of God’s love and compassion, and entreating the people to “return good for evil” - a radical teaching in such an age. He left behind in every village and town he journeyed through, a happier uplifted people, and his fame spread abroad as his feet took him northwards to the Buddhist monastery in Kapilavastu in Napal, the birthplace of Sakya-Muni Buddha.
The journey was a rigorous one being over steep rocky terrain, and with many exhausting days followed by bitter cold nights. He joined a small group of pilgrims on their way to monasteries in the Himalayas. Light flakes of snow heralded the oncoming of winter, so different from the smothering heat of the plains further south and in the cities of Jagannath and Varanasi.
At night, wrapped in his thick woollen blanket and huddled around the camp-fire, Yeshu’a thought of home, his father, his mother, brothers and sisters. He recalled their journey from Egypt in detail, and his good friend Yusuf, whose generosity assisted his travels, and also, the black raven that witnessed the many stages of his life’s journey. "What of John?" he would think to himself, "is he too preaching in the wilderness?"
He and his cousin, John, were of an age, who spent his years in the deserts and hills of Judaea, preaching, fasting, praying and baptising those who came to him. All this was in preparation for the day when he would serve his Master Yeshu’a. In the meantime, John was hunted from the cities by the priests and the religious teachers who felt equally threatened by the words of love and repentance he preached, and his condemnation of corruption within the temples and priesthood. There was no peace for anyone who would preach of love and freedom. He did, in fact, find some peace in the isolated regions in this land of Judaea, where he lived on locusts and wild honey, while attracting a large following, thirsting for his words of salvation. He knew his every move was closely monitored by the priest’s spies, and that they reported back in some detail, everything he preached. Dressed as he was in plain clothing of camel’s hair and a girdle of skin about his loins, and deeply tanned from life in the open, John appeared as one who might threaten authority. They saw him as a troublemaker, with possible political ambitions. They need not have worried, for he was only interested in changing the hearts of the people, not their politics.
For the rest of his journey, Yeshu’a slept wherever he could find warmth, be it at the pilgrims’ camp fire, or under the straw roof of a shepherd’s hut, for during those nights the cutting cold winds blew down from the Himalayan slopes. He missed the company of his kitten friend, which he was obliged to give up to a child when he entered the temple school at Varanasi. Now he had only his thoughts as companions.
He had long been aware of the bond that existed between the Essene communities in Israel and Egypt, and the Buddhist monks in Tibet and Nepal. It was during the 3rd Century BC, that Emperor Asoka saw Buddhism as a missionary religion and sent missions to many countries west, including Greece, where the followers of the noble Pythagoras welcomed the teachings.
The Emperor forsook military campaigns after the Kalinga battle of 261 BC. in which 100,000 were slain and over 150,000 taken as slaves. This was a major turning point in his life as well as of his people. He instructed his soldiers in the “righteous” teachings of the Buddhist philosophy. He even appointed “Officers of Righteousness” throughout his Empire, and personally oversaw the local officials.
For this reason Yeshu’a wished to study with the Buddhists, firstly, in Kapilavastu in Nepal, Rajgriha and later move on to the Buddhist monasteries at Leh and Lhasa in Xizang Zizhiqu (Tibet). However, the journey to Lhasa was a long and arduous one, over mountain ridges, sometimes covered in snow and ice. Mountain paths for the most part were narrow ledges overseeing precipitous drops of many hundreds of feet. He frequently came across long rows of cylinders, with carved invocations, placed at intervals along river-banks, so that the constant flow of water would keep them in motion. These were Buddhist prayer wheels, normally turned by hand, but these exempted their owners from the obligation of constant praying.