Paul Kriwaczek, in his peripatetic book In Search Of Zarathustra, takes time to tell us about another religious leader from the Ancient Middle East besides Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism. It is the story of the religious leader, Mani, who founded Manichaeism in the 200s, nearly a thousand years after Zarathustra is thought to have lived.
Kriwaczek tells us that Mani was the artistic type, and tosses in the detail that he probably had one short and twisted leg. Mani was born into an offshoot of Christianity known as Elchasaitism. These folks believed in Jesus as the Christ, but detested the teachings of Paul (the Elchasaites would be far from the last Christians to question or disparage Paul’s twist on the teachings of Jesus Of Nazareth). Elchasaites were vegetarians who believed in no merry-making whatsoever– no music, no arts– not even laughter, according to Kriwaczek. They were particularly concerned with ritual cleanliness.
Besides being an artist in a town which despised artists, Mani was recognized as being, well, “different” right away. A disciple of Mani described him as being like “a bird living with other birds who do not speak the same language.”
Mani took the vegetarianism of his people quite a big step farther: he said that, besides not eating animals, people should not eat plants either. Yes, plants. Seems he couldn’t take it anymore when he heard a palm tree cry out to date pickers to “stop hurting my babies!” That would have been off-putting enough, but when blood began to ooze from where the harvesters’ blows fell, Mani decided then and there to stand up for the civil rights of the plant kingdom.
Generally speaking, Mani didn’t condone any sort of eating. Yes, eating. Mani believed, in his own words according to Kriwaczek, that from meals “come blood, bile, wind, shameful excrement and the foulness of the body.” He considered that “all defilement is from the body” and preached: “Behold! You, yourself, are clothed in it.”
Accordingly, Mani preached against meat-eating, soil-tilling, plant-harvesting, and even fruit-picking. You might think a faith of dirt eaters would die out, but in practice, the chosen ones of the religion (the “Elect”) allowed themselves to eat food if it had already been procured by the sinning common folk; in return for feeding them, the Elect overlooked the sins of the plant-murderers.
The deeper spiritual teachings of Mani’s philosophy, in spite of some of these more idiosyncratic beliefs, spread far and wide during the first millenium of this era. Manichaeism, as it came to be called, took deep root in parts of China, probably because the relatively new religion’s teachings of Light-versus-Dark found welcoming ground in the land of Yin and Yang. There he was known to some as the “Buddha Of Light.”
And here is the where the tie-in to Kriwaczek’s main topic of Zoroastrianism arrives. Mani taught that the Universe was an arena for a great contest between Light and Dark. This belief is thought to have been directly influenced by the Zoroastrian traditions which would have permeated his homeland during the third century. However –whereas Zarathustra had used Light and Dark more symbolically to stand for the struggle between the creator god Ahura Mazda and the The Great Lie, Angra Mainyu-– Mani taught that Light and Dark were literally, physically fighting it out.
Light and Dark started out separately in the Universe, but by these our wicked times, Darkness has invaded the Light, and Light has entered unto Darkness. Light wants to leave this Dark-defiled world, but It has become trapped in our bodies and, until we die, it cannot escape. Thus, you can see the anti-food angle: we would be doing Light a solid if we’d just croak. Eventually, with or without Taco Bell, Light and Darkness will be separate again.
Mani considered himself the “Paraclete” (advocate or comforter or intercessor) foretold in the Gospel Of John, and interpreted by many Christians today as the Holy Spirit, the Third Person Of The Trinity. Mani equated himself with the other big-time messengers of God, apparently specifically mentioning: Buddha, Zarathustra, and Jesus.
I want to end today’s post with my favorite line from Mani:
“May the pity of the Holy Spirit open your heart, and let you look into your soul with your own eyes.”
I’m not sure if that’s a blessing offered, or a curse.