The World’s Most Enlightening Region
Review of the documentary:
The World’s Most Enlightening Region
by Rev. Ray Wade, Birmingham
I witnessed people being moved by this film when shown at the Parliament of World’s Religions.
Like the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” a real historical example of 2000 years of ongoing religious harmony in one region is worth dozens of emotional or rational arguments supporting religious peace. This documentary provides such an example and shows peaceful transformation of extremism. This region is in Kerala, India. Caution: unless you have a special reason to know the names of the locations [except Kodungallur and Kochi] and people in the film, ignore them and focus on the themes.
The producer, N. S. Xavier, who grew up in Kerala has been practicing psychiatry in the U.S. since 1979. He is an author who has received endorsements from Nobel Peace laureates Prof. Eli Wiesel and President Oscar Arias, Fr .Richard Rohr, Rev. Tony Campolo, Dr. Deepak Chopra and others. He makes an insightful and pragmatic distinction between the inner voice of conscience which uses reason and the Golden Rule with an open mind versus the “inner parrot” or “superego” programmed by social influences without using reason and fairness. He shows how religions promote harmony and happiness by nurturing conscience and how religions cause problems by shaping superego contradicting conscience. The historical and the psychiatric perspectives make this film especially enlightening.
Historically, this location was blessed by a port, Muziris which existed near or in Kodungallur, famous for selling spices especially black pepper which made it a center of international trade in the first three centuries of AD. Pliny The Elder, in the first encyclopedia called Muziris India’s most important commercial center. Also some Jews fleeing persecution or doing trade settled in Kodungallur even before Jesus’ time. Many believe that St. Thomas, a disciple of Jesus came to Kodungallur because he could speak to the Jews in Aramaic. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, a large group of Jews then migrated to Kodungallur. Because of traders, Islam spread here from its beginning and has continued to remain peaceful and moderate.
Interestingly, not being exclusive the followers of St. Thomas, also called Nazranis, integrated Indian philosophy and culture. They emphasized goodness so much that when the Portuguese Catholics came there in the 16th century, the Catholic Archbishop convened a synod which condemned the Nazrani’s belief that all good people can achieve heaven. Like the local culture, the Nazranis emphasized cleanliness and they wouldn’t go to church without bathing and wearing clean clothes. The Portuguese attempts to isolate Christians from others failed to a great extent.
Kodungallur was a center of education. And the region had great rulers, the Chera kings in the first 500 years in the “Sangam age” and from 800 to 1100 years A.D. They were unique historically for supporting Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups. The Sangam age, which was before the spread of the caste system in Kerala, was a time of prosperity, equality, and peace. The Thirukkural, written in the Sangam age, was influential and nurtured conscience. Leo Tolstoy learned the concept of nonviolence from this book. Examples of nonviolent approach are seen in the first struggle against a foreign power in India when a large number of Nazranis swore that they would not obey the Portuguese. Later, they formed a new denomination. Nazranis damaged Portuguese spice trade by not selling them black pepper. Reformers transformed the extremism of Hidu caste system and the other three religions also made reforms by using conscience. Thus a “Jewish Gandhi” reformed racism in a Jewish community.
This region is intimately connected with six or seven religious mystics—three Hindus including the living sage “Amma,” two Muslims, one Jewish and possibly one Christian, St. Thomas. Religious mystics promote inclusive, peaceful and deeper spirituality with conscience. They provide a bridge to science since many great scientists including Einstein and five other modern Nobel Prize winning scientists expressed a mystical worldview. The documentary’s time limitations prevented Dr. Xavier from more detailed explanations of conscience and superego but his book Fulfillment Using Real Conscience provides details with historical, social and clinical examples.
Links to the documentary are on http://www.nsxavier.com