Philosophers have pondered the why’s of suffering for thousands of years. One such famous piece of philosophical literature has the following plot:
“The Lord of Heaven gives permission for a truly virtuous man to be tested. The bet: if wealth, status, family and more are taken from the virtuous man, he will forsake his virtue. But lo and behold, he does not! He is faithful to the Lord of Heaven.”
It sounds like The Book of Job (from the Jewish tradition), but it is from the Hindu tradition: The Legend of Harischandra. Job is thought to have been composed between 500- 300 BCE, while Harischandra was mentioned in the Mahabharata around 700s BCE. So, if your favorite tradition is the Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps this will help you see that your scriptures are not so unique — nor are your wonderings. For the rest of you, perhaps this will help widen your evaluation of religion in general.
I first learned of this story last night as I watched a 1948 b&w Tamil (South India) film on netflix called “Harischandra” by K. S. Prakash Rao. And I was amazed to learn, according to wiki, that this moral legend deeply influenced Mahatma Gandhi who watched it several times in his childhood. Indeed it continues to inspire billions of Indians to this day. It has been put into movies several times and is performed in plays all over India.
I have modified my Religious Scripture diagram to help you compare the timing of these two classic ancient texts on suffering and morality (click it to enlarge).
After watching the drama, I can see how it can be inspiring within the Hindu culture. Like the Book of Job, however, I don’t find it impressive or inspiring. Both are considered “Great Literature” by their believers, but I can not recommend Harischandra except to the most stubborn Indophiles. Besides, it was 2 1/2 hours long!
Interestingly, both Job and Harischandra share to two horrible morals:
- We have no right to question God (the gods or our dharma) for the terrible things happening to us.
- All wrongs done to us can be made right by restoring property to us.
In Job, for instance, God give Job back 14,000 sheep after 7,000 are taken from him. God also allowed 10 of Job’s children killed and gets ten back, but the new daughters are more beautiful than any other women in the land. HT: “Is There Justice in the Book of Job?“
While in Harischandra, the King looses his son and all his wealth but after his horrible suffering, all is OK when they are returned to him.
The ending of Harischandra is also reminiscent of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. He is to behead his wife, out of duty, and as he swings the ax, the ax turns to a garland of flowers.
Did one tradition influence another? I doubt it. People are people everywhere, so it is not surprising that they create similar stories and similar solutions separately, even if bad solutions.