All major religious orders start well. They initially have a holy book which they say is the revelation of God; which is above everything else. Alright so far. The Quran, the Torah, the Old Testament, the Guru Granth Sahib, the Vedas etc.
After a few decades, centuries or even a few centuries after the constitution of the initial holy books, they start creating oral traditions, texts and sub-texts. These texts are then coded into seperate books and form the bulwark of the religious traditions, often overshadowing the initial thought.
I am not a scholar of religion, so please don’t expect incontrovertible facts in the narrative below; I am open to corrections if pointed out and would be the first to accept an argument that shows I am wrong. That being said, lets switch to the issue at hand, i.e., the distortion of religious orders.
First on my own Sikhism before I discuss others: Guru Granth Sahib is the Holy Book that is considered a living Guru. Besides, there is another Holy Book called Dasam Granth, written by Guru Gobind Singh. However, quite a lot of the Sikh tradition is governed by books written by none of the Gurus, but by books of a guy called Bhai Nand Lal who is said to have recorded Guru Gobind Singh’s statements. Anyone who questions Bhai Nand Lal is a blasphemer. The Rehatnama, the Tankahnama, the two books that prescribe the dress-code that defines Sikhism has been written by none of the Gurus but by Bhai Nand Lal; the Granthis of the Five Takhts have adopted it as ‘Sikh Maryada’. We all know the current crop of Granthis toe the lines of the political masters – Badals; the same might have been true for earlier Takht gate-keepers who toed the lines of the British. Translations by British authors rule the prevailing interpretations. The Dasam Granth, which was earlier prayed to regularly was sidelined because it did not match the views of the political masters. The Sarbloh Granth which had a larger amount of Hindu linkages has been dumped out of sight, so that the wedge between Sikhs and Hindus is not cured.
Similarly, Muslims had the Hadiths written two centuries after the Prophet Muhammad revealed the Quran. Prophet died in 632 A.D and the Hadiths were written in 850 A.D. In two centuries, who knows what was changed by the powers that be… today, the Hadiths form the iron frame of the Shariah (Islamic Law) and its interpretations are taken as final. No one questions the Hadiths. And if you question them, your head is likely to be cut-off. Moreover, the Khalifas or Caliphs built their own traditions; and in their quest for political power started a Civil War within Islam, the Shia-Sunni conflict that continues today even after 1200 years.
Christians initially had the ‘Old Testament canons’ which was quite close to the Hebrew Bible, and was supposed to have the word of God. However, what we know of as the prevalant Bible today is the ‘New Testament’ written about 5 decades after Christ, with some Gospels in it written over 150 years after Christ. It mostly contains Gospels of the followers of Christ. It is not inviolable since many versions of the Bible are spread over Catholics, Protestants, Syrians, Armenians and the Orthodox Church. Many Gospels have been lost; some Gospels like Judah’s Gospel are said to be quite different from what is now believed. There are Gospels that say Christ was married to Mary Magdalene, there are Gospels that say Christ had descendents. All these Gospels were dumped into a dustbin. The Gospels suiting the Roman Emperors and later the Pope might have been filtered in; forming the New Testament, which we now call the Bible. Most probably a lot of it was edited to suit the Popes that used it to rule the world; the reason that the entire Meditarranean World had to face the Crusades, the reason why the world is still at war with itself.
Hinduism does not have any single book which forms its core ideology. The ‘Vedas’ however are said to be the words of Lord Brahma himself; so they might be taken as the prime source. Later Hindu texts of Upanishads, Smritis and Puranas turned the Vedas on their heads. Earlier Gods were dumped, Indra, Agni, Varun etc; and new ones created. The philosophy of Advaita Vedanta (God is one philosophy) was dumped. For a five thousand year old religion, a five hundred year old text by a guy called Tulsidas re-invented the religion. He re-wrote the Ramayana and turned a hitherto little known God into the most prevailing deity. Most temples and cults of Rama worship were created after Tulsi-das. A local Maharaja called Shivaji propoaged the worship of Ganesha which has now become a Pan-India movement. Moreover, a pop artist painter called Raja Ravi Verma created visions of the Gods which have out-shone all previous portraits of Hindu Gods in ancient temples, with all idols being converted to the Ravi Verma style.
Buddha said there is no God. They made Buddha a God. I have’nt read much on it, so am unable to comment on the specific distortions that have crept in, suffice to say that Buddha’s simplicity of thought has been converted into a rigid monastic order.
It is natural evolution, no problem in that. None of these would have been an issue actually, if these religious orders had not used the later interpretations and evolutions to create problems in the world:
a) A verse of the New Testament talks of the ‘Second Coming of Christ’ after the Jews re-take Jerusalem. This one verse has been the reason for creation of Israel, supported by the then prevailing Christian kingdom of Britain; just because the power that were in early 1900s believed that the Second Coming of Christ was near and needed to be facilitated by giving back Jerusalem to the Jews.
b) Most of the so-called Islamic teachings so rigidly followed by ISIS, and earlier by tyrants like Ghazni, Abdali, Aurangzeb were the words of the Hadiths. The Hadiths justify whatever they do to women, things like slavery, brutal killings of ‘Kafirs/ Infidels’ etc., all in the name of Jihad, in the name of spreading their vision to the ‘Jahilia’ world. They used the Hadiths to say that an ancient five thousand year old Indian civilisation was a wasteland of ignorant people, they called it Jahiliyat. And they went on to destroy it. The political motives of the later Caliphs lead to the Shia-Sunni strife that still eats the world apart. Certainly, the world would have been a better place if someone would have stuck to the Quran itself. The world has been bearing the brunt of the Hadiths for many centuries now in the name of Jihad, which is perhaps a mis-reading of the teachings of the Quran.
c) Just about a hundred verses of the Tankah-nama and another hundred of Rehat-nama, written by a guy called Bhai Nand Lal, has changed Sikhism to the extent that it overshadows the entire Guru Granth Sahib in forging of the Sikh identity. No one dare question it, or else he would be a Tankhaiya and would be ex-communicated from Sikhism. This text forms the back-bone of political motives aimed at creating an orthodox strain of Sikhism while discarding all others. Not to forget that this same strain was used by the British to rule India, Sikhs forming the bulk of their army for over a hundred years. And the same strain is still being used by Badal to ex-communicate Sahajdaris and maintain control of the Sikh clergy.
d) A distorted monolithic vision of an ancient tradition is being used to create a Hindu vision that seeks to subjugate others that disagree with them. Under the guise of Hinduism, they kill people in the name of protecting cows, forgetting that Vedas specifically mentioned beef as a holy food, forgetting that Sita is said to have served beef to the Rishis and that the tradition of beef-ban is recent. The statues of gods and goddesses that were earlier glorious in their nudity were covered in garish costumes and Raja Ravi Verma’s artistic vision has re-invented the Gods. Painters like Husain who painted Bharat-Mata in the ancient Indian traditions, were chased out of India into exile. The name of Lord Rama is used to kill people.
I am sure most other religious orders have the same issues. I haven’t studied the texts of the Jews and can’t comment on them. But it is quite likely that similar later texts have distorted the earlier Torah.
There is no solution to this problem though, so no comfort in that thought.
They are going to fight each other for centuries as they have always done in the name of religion. In the name of clash of civilisations, for a plot of holy land in Jerusalem, or for a holy land in Ayodhya, or in the name of establishing Islamic rule over the world.
What would be the result, only God knows, or maybe not.