Thursday, November 05, 2009

the Carpenter and the Prince.

i am NOT a religious person, but i am a fan of religion. not in the spiritual sense, moreso the cultural one. to me religion is the "cultural manifestation of spirituality." it's the one thing most people care about to carry on throughout their lives, pass along over the generations (as via the all-important "non-fictional" stories), because it's one of the few things that is "bigger" than us. think about it. in 100 years, people won't care about the Beatles, Weezer, or even Justin Timberlake (well ok, maybe JT), but they will know about Jesus, the Buddha, or Ganesh. granted, the latter have MUCH bigger fan clubs than the former, but that's part of my point.

so anyhow, awhile back something interesting occurred to me about religious history. specifically regarding the two oldest (remaining) religions in the world - Judaism and Hinduism. i'm pretty sure it HAS to have occurred to someone else (as all interesting things do), but i have yet to hear/see it anywhere. so let me share with you some quick stories:
there was once this carpenter (some would say he was more). he was actually Jewish. he lived somewhere in the middle east/"cradle of civilization" part of the world. anyhow, he didn't like the way his society was functioning, so he started doing things his own way. common sense stuff, really. all you need is love, and such. eventually a bunch of people started following him. then the authorities caught wind of this "heretic" and took care of him. problem is, they didn't get the job done. this carpenter came BACK, and his followers became more. this is where it becomes fuzzy for me. i think he stuck around for awhile, and then went to go see his dad. but most people haven't seen him since.
there was once this prince. he was actually Hindu (well, at least raised as one). he lived somewhere in India/the south-Asian peninsula. anyhow, he didn't like the way his society was functioning (too much pomp + ceremony), so he decided to to figure himself/it all out and leave it all behind. and i mean EVERYTHING. we went off and tried to become an ascetic (extreme monk). but that didn't really work out - he found quite a bit of hypocrisy there. along the way he bet a bunch of people, good and bad. all of that taught him quite a bit. but he needed to ponder on it some more. so he went and sat in a field for a while. a really long while. eventually, he had an "a-ha" moment and achieved what some would call enlightenment. they even started calling him the "enlightened one." soon he had a TON of followers. those who didn't like him tried taking him down, but his "middle path" never really got in their way (and most times converted his opponents into followers). he lived happily ever after. then he died. and reincarnated. over and over and over again.

now i'm not sure which happened first, the carpenter or the prince. but i'm pretty sure you know who i'm talking about. if not, well i'm not telling.

what i find most interesting is the odd parallels in these stories: roots in still-existing but ancient religions/cultures (and resisting them). a form of exile. a form of rebirth. and the fans, oh the fans.

today, the former carpenter is a pretty popular guy. they've made not one, not two, but a TON of "different" religions in his name, with a ton of evolved variances + rules (often of convenience). these "fan clubs" are huge. in fact, the president of the biggest one is a pretty influential old guy who makes lots of state visits. he has his own car, city, and a really big hat. over the years, there's been quite a bit of strife (not just physical, but verbal) in his name (both the carpenter and/or the old guy, but moreso the carpenter). most of the people mean well, but i think the worst comes from the fringes - where people don't really think thru the consequences of what they say and do (and the true meaning of the carpenter's teachings) but to be fair, over the years, there has been quite a bit of good in his name too.

today, the former prince is also, a pretty popular guy (but sadly, not AS popular as the carpenter). he's been reincarnated a bunch. in fact, his reincarnation today also makes a lot of state visits. he used to live in a really nice place in the mountains. but he got kicked out awhile back (by the Chinese, who really don't like him). he fled to the homeland of his former life (India), and hangs out there most of the time. but he goes around the world spreading his message of peace. he doesn't have a city, car or big hat, but he a bunch of bands once held a big concert in honor of his cause. they stopped doing that because it was missing the point though. this former prince sticks to his guns of peace and the middle path, but it's a long term gamble, around which the rest of the world can't seem to wrap their heads.

the big difference between the stories is WHERE they continue in society today. the former cause (let's call it "Carpenter"), rooted in devotion to a sort of martyr. it is HUGE and continues to thrive, in it's purest form, and even in the many related, constantly splintering versions/interpretations. the latter cause (let's call it "Prince"), rooted in the common sense teachings of a continued reincarnate, is doing alright, but certainly not striving, but it will endure.

i don't really think either is bad, but i see far more abuses in it's name. devotion to a divine cause (or religion) does that. it creates absolutes. that is certainly true of Carpenter (and most other big religions). if you believe you have some divine force on your side, that becomes an easy excuse to do what you want. even though you might be ignoring the root teachings out of convenience (subconsiously?). so for this reason, things like Carpenter aren't much for me, other than in their stories and lessons.

i'm a fan of both (and many more), really i am. i just tend to think TOO MUCH about ALL of them - which i find odd since i choose to follow neither. probably because i read too many comic books as a kid (but that's another post). i have close friends who are way more knowledgeable (spiritual?) about them all (specifically Carpenter and Prince), and i continue to learn a LOT from them (not just about their cause, but by their example). unfortunately i also know a TON more people who claim to be OF religion, but really don't follow thru on it's root lessons.

i guess we are all flawed this way. besides, doing the right thing all the time is hard stuff.

i guess it wouldn't always be right if it was easy.

[DISCLAIMER: i am NOT a Justin Timberlake fan]


  1. Anonymous1:13 PM

    great post. to your point about the pattern, joseph campbell writes a lot more about the "hero cycle" and the monomyth. good stuff!

  2. Great way to look at these religions, Raman, and I can't wait to talk about it further some time. I was surprised not to see what is probably the fastest growing religion, Islam. Perhaps "The Carpenter, the Prince, and The General?"

  3. thanks for the notes!

    joseph campbell lived just down the road (in white plains). too bad i got hear about 22 years too late. good thing he wrote lots of his thinking down. i'm assuming you'd recommend "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"?

    and yea...Islam IS the fastest growing religion (interestingly enough, with Catholicism right behind it, though the latter's "volume" #s are nowhere near as high), but i've always struggled with drawing too many parallels with it and the other major modern religions (it's quite puzzling and unique in it's simplicity).

    if anything, it's a reverse parallel, as TPM (the prophet Muhammad), went from becoming an enlightened leader to a military general (which many speculate drive the interpretive schisms in modern Islamic faith). all that being said, i frankly need to do MORE reading on TPM (but for some reason, it's not available in comic book form). any recos?


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