It is said that man is the sum total of his beliefs. These beliefs he has acquired during his life. Family, friends, society, school, books, television have all played a major part in creating his beliefs. The combination of right and wrong beliefs dramatically influence his behaviour and outlook on life.
In this article we will look at how people have been affected by beliefs of various types. The first article will deal with people on the secular path. The second with how people on the religious path have suffered because of incorrect beliefs. The last article with what are true beliefs on the spiritual path and what is the ultimate belief that every person, sooner or later, has to acquire.
Early in 1998 a group of sixteen well-to-do French and Swiss nationals in four expensive cars were going from Geneva to France. The group included three young girls and two policemen. After sometime they arrived at an Alpine forest near the city of Grenoble in southeastern France. All the passengers alighted from their cars and walked 1 km to a clearing in the forest. Then 14 people were sedated, laid down on the ground in sunburst pattern with plastic bags over their heads. They were then shot and set ablaze.
What prompted such an act?
Did the two want to steal the money of the others? Was there jealousy between the two and the others? Was there a vendetta between the killers and the rest of the people? Did a fight ensure among the sixteen?
Were the killers mentally ill?
The answer to all the questions is: No.
Because the two then killed themselves by putting a gun under their chin, out of the two one was a policeman and out of the three young girls killed two were his daughters aged two and four!
The police upon examining the scene found that the cars, money, etc. were all intact. And, moreover, there had been no struggle between the two and the other fourteen.
So why the incident?
The clue lies in the sunburst pattern. These people were members of a cult called, Order of the Solar Temple. This cult was founded by Luc Jouret in 1994 and this type of ritual was not uncommon in the cult. The cult has an international following. Such a weird act is the result of a wrong belief.
There are many such cults that believe in various types of rituals. All these cults have one thing in common - adherence to a belief of one kind or another.
Sometime in the first week of April 1997 in a spacious Rancho Santa Fe Mansion in San Deigo 39 bodies were laid out on their backs on bunk beds and mattresses. Each was dressed in black pants, flowing black shirt and spanking new black Nikes. Their faces were hidden by purple cloths. Those who wore glasses had them neatly folded next to their body and all had identification papers for the authorities to find. The house was immaculately clean.
These people belonged to the cult, Heaven's Gate. Their leader, 65-year old, Marshall Herff Applewhite told his followers:
'Planet Earth is about to be recycled. Your only chance to survive - leave with us.'
This was believed true by his followers and they committed suicide - supposedly to survive. Ironically, the earth has not been recycled and its residents are the real survivors.
Such final-act beliefs are not the only ones, other beliefs lead to other types of acts.
- It is well known that the ancient Egyptians put rich clothes, money, jewellery and other artifacts with the mummified body of the Pharoah in the pyramid. This was done under the belief that the Pharoah would take these things for his use in the after life. But history has shown that thieves made more use of this wealth than the Pharoah.
- Early this century ill people were put in a hall and all the doors and windows, under the strict order of the doctors, were to be kept shut to protect the patients from 'things' in the air. After making such a wise decision the doctors scratched their heads as to why the patients died rather than recovered. It was Florence Nightingale, who under much opposition, opened the windows to let fresh air in. Later it was realised that foul air prevented the patients from recovering. What they needed was fresh air from outside.
- During the period of 1910 to 1945 events took place which haunt people even today. These events happened because of one man - Adolf Hitler. His contorted belief that the Aryan race is the best and the Jews are destroyers of the Aryan culture resulted in the cold-blooded killing of 6 million Jews. These Jews were killed in very cruel and painful ways. Just one wrong belief by one person and look at the devastation.Wrong beliefs can be difficult to forget and there can be vehement opposition against anyone trying to uproot them. Such an incident was the argument between the geocentric and heliocentric theory of the solar system.
- In the 2nd century AD the Greek mathematician Ptolemy propounded that the earth is at the centre and the sun, and planets rotate around it. This belief persisted for over 1300 years. Copernicus published his theory of a heliocentric solar system in which all planets, including the earth, rotate around the sun. Some years after Copernicus published his work, Galileo was born in 1543. Later in his life, Galileo was harassed and imprisoned by the Inquisition and told to recant his support for the Copernican theory. Only after much trouble was the wrong belief discarded in favour of the right belief.
- A sterling example of how people had to suffer is because of wrong beliefs of the Eugenics Movement.The 18th century French philosopher Montesquieu said of negros, "One cannot well imagine that God who is so wise should have put a soul, moreover an immortal soul, into an entirely black body. It is impossible to think that these people are human beings."
Sir Francis Crick the discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA received a Nobel Prize in 1962 for his work. He was an advocate of the Eugenics Movement. This Movement believed in certain inhuman principles which can be stated by the words of Dr. Crick himself: "... no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and... if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live."
The Eugenics Movement embodied more than just a dislike for black people.
A famous person once said, "Some day we will realize that the prime duty, the inescapable duty of the good citizens of the right type is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding... Criminals should be sterilized and feebleminded persons forbidden to leave offspring behind them... The emphasis should be laid on getting desirable people to breed."
These words could have been uttered by an SS Officer or Adolf Hitler - but they were not. These were the words of the 26th President of the United States - Theodore Roosevelt.
Well known people who were adherents of the Eugenics Movement were: Alexander Graham Bell - inventor of the telephone and the microphone, Oliver Wendell Holmes - a well known American author of humorous essays. And Presidents of Universities.
Shriji Maharaj has said in His Shikshapatri, shlok 114.
"It follows, therefore, that erudition, knowledge and such other virtues of learned persons have their fruition if they are devoted to God and are associated with realised saints; for, without devotion and Satsang even the learned would degenerate." (114)
From the various incidents above we can see that having distorted beliefs is highly detrimental. These beliefs arise from the company one keeps, the books and magazines one reads. It is therefore, very important to be aware of these things and make sure that the wrong beliefs of other people do not influence us.