Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds…. ”

– Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was born Feb 12, in Hardin Country, Kentucky. His family upbringing was modest, his parents from Virginia, were neither wealth or well known. At an early age, the young Abraham lost his mother and his father moved away to Indiana. Abraham had to work hard splitting logs and other manual labour. But, he also had a thirst for knowledge and worked very hard to excel in his studies. This led him to become trained as a lawyer. He spent  8 years working on the Illinois court circuit; his ambition, drive and capacity for hard work were evident to all around him.

He married Mary Todd and had four children, although 3 died before reaching maturity.

As a lawyer, Abraham developed a great capacity for quick thinking and oratory. His interest in public issues encouraged him to stand for public office. In 1854 he was elected to the House of representatives and he tried to gain nomination for the Senate in 1858. Although he lost this election, his debating skills caused him to become well known within the Republican party. This reputation caused him to be elected as Republican nominee for President in 1860

The election of Lincoln as President in 1861, sparked the South to succeed from the North. Southern independence sentiment had been growing for many years and the election of a president opposed to slavery was the final straw. However, Lincoln resolutely opposed the breakaway of the South and so this led to the American civil war. The civil war was much more costly than many people anticipated and at times Lincoln appeared to be losing the support of the general population. But, he managed to keep the Republican party together, stifflying dissent by promoting the various Republican factions into the cabinet. Lincoln oversaw many of the military aspects of the war and promoted the general Ullysees S Grant to oversee the northern forces.

Although the war was primarily about succession and the survival of the Union, Lincoln also issued his memorable Emancipation Proclamation that declared forever free those slaves within the Confederacy.

Eventually after 4 years of attrition the Federal forces secured the surrender of the defeated south. Lincoln had saved the union and also brought to head the end of slavery.

Dedicating the ceremony at Gettysburg Lincoln declared

“that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain–that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom–and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln was tragically assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, an actor on, April 14, 1865. He is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential and important presidents. As well as saving the union Lincoln was viewed as embodying the ideals of honesty and integrity.

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Adolf Hitler

adolf-hitler
adolf-hitler

Adolf Hitler (1889-1945)

“I want war. To me all means will be right. My motto is not “Don’t, whatever you do, annoy the enemy.” My motto is “Destroy him by all and any means.” I am the one who will wage the war! ”

– Adolf Hitler

A Short Biography of Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler has become infamous as a personification of human evil. His name is inexorably linked to the Holocaust and extermination of Jews and other ‘undesirables’. He is also seen as the principle cause of the second World War in which over 70 million people died. Yet, in the midst of the Great Depression he captivated a nation with his mixture of charm, xenophobia, and almost supernatural allure.

He was born in Austria in 1889 to relatively humble beginnings. His early life gave few hints as to his future destiny. He was a comparative failure and something of loner. He was twice rejected from his application to study art and after struggling to survive in Vienna, in 1913, he moved to Munich. In his early life he imbibed the anti-semitic feelings which were common for the times, but displayed little political interest. On the outbreak of the First World War he joined the German army and got promoted to Corporal. He survived the war and in 1918 – like many other German officers was bitterly disappointed with the perceived ‘betrayal’ of the German surrender and the harsh retribution meted out by the Versailles Treaty.

Against this backdrop of defeat and threat of turmoil within Germany, Hitler turned to politics and set up a fledging political party – the Nazi party with its mixture of nationalistic and fascist policies.

In 1923, Hitler led his small Nazi party in an attempted seizure of power – known as the Munich beer hall putsch. The putsch failed and Hitler was sentenced to a lenient jail sentence. It was in jail that he wrote ‘Mein Kampf’ a rambling exposition of his philosophy which included his growing anti-semitic ideology and ideas of an idealised Aryan race.

“… the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew. ”

– Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter 11.

On his release, Hitler then turned his attentions to gaining electoral support and contesting the elections of Weimar Germany. The onset of the Great Depression provided fertile ground for his radical and extremist policies. Against a backdrop of 6 million unemployed people – many in Germany felt there was a clear choice between Communism and the Nationalism of Hitler’s Nazi party. With the help of his powerful rhetoric and his own private militia, Hitler, led the Nazi party to victory in the 1933 elections. He was made Chancellor and in 1934, on the death of Hindenburg the President in 1934, Hitler declared himself the supreme leader and ended all pre-tense to democracy.

His rise to power was swift and comprehensive. Many ordinary Germans were enthusiastic at the success Hitler’s Germany soon started to achieve. Hitler began an extensive programme of road building, rearmament and this helped to radically solve the unemployment which crippled many economies at the time. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Hitler tried to showcase his country as a model of dynamism and progress. But, in addition to the economic successes, Hitler began a systematic policy of discrimination and harassment of the German Jewish population and any other segment of society that did not fit in with the Aryan ideal. This became increasingly brutalised and vicious. No dissent to the regime was tolerated and this totalitarian state was enforced through a ruthlessly efficient secret police – the Gestapo and SS

Hitler also sought to regain territory lost in the Treaty of Versailles. This was the justification for the anschluss with Austria and later the reclamation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. But, Hitler’s ambitions did not merely rest on regaining lost territory. He also began eyeing new territories and in 1938 successful gained the whole of Czechoslovakia. Anxious to avoid war, allied leaders pursued a policy of appeasement and gave into Hitler’s demands.

However, when it came to Poland, Britain and France decided to oppose Hitler’s intentions and when Hitler invaded Poland, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. Yet, it soon became apparent that Germany had built one of the most poweful armies ever created and were technically superior to the allied armies.

Until the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, Hitler’s war machine appeared unstoppable. A parade of stunning military victories led to one of the most successful military conquests in history. Yet, by invading the Soviet Union and on the entry of the US into the war, even Hitler’s Germany had overstretched itself. Slowly the tide of war turned and in 1944, the Soviets in the East and Allies in the West began their long march through occupied Europe to eventually meet in Berlin.

Almost until the end, Hitler retained a fantasy of gaining a last minute victory through imaginary weapons and now imaginary armies. It was not until Soviet troops were within earshot of his Bunker, that Hitler finally admitted the inevitable and committed suicide.

During the war, Hitler met with his other Nazi henchman to agree on a plan for the ‘final solution’ of the Jewish problem. This involved the systematic and complete elimination of the Jewish population. Over 6 million Jewish people died in various concentration and extermination camps. These camps also saw the deaths of millions of other undesriables, from Russian prisoners of war to Communists, homosexuals and Gypsies. It remains a crime of unprecedented scale and horror.

Lord Buddha

Lord Buddha
Lord Buddha

The founder of Buddhism. Lord Buddha was a prince, who forsook the comforts of a palace to seek enlightenment. He realised the essential unreality of the world, in the bliss of nirvana and spent the remainder of his life teaching others how to escape the endless cycle of birth and death.

Buddha was born approximately 400 BC. He was a noble prince and it is said his father sought to shield the young prince Siddharta from the pain and suffering of the world.

However, at one point, Buddha sought to find a greater meaning to life. So, in disguise, he left the Palace and wandered around the Kingdom. Here, Siddhartha came across, death, old age, illness and suffering. This showed him the transitory nature of life, so he resolved to seek the meaning of life.

Siddhartha left the Palace, including his wife and child, and travelled into the forests to spend his time meditating with other ascetics.

In his quest for enlightenment, the Buddha fasted excessively so his body wasted away; however, enlightenment remained a far cry. At one point, a passing women gave him some food to eat and the Buddha realised it was a mistake to seek enlightenment by torturing the body. He regained his strength and resolved to follow a ‘middle path’ of avoiding excesses of fasting and feasting.

On one day, the Buddha decided to sit under a Bodhi tree until he attained enlightenment. For several days, he sat in meditation seeking nirvana. He was tested by various forces which tried to prevent him realising the goal.

However, the Buddha was successful and entered in the blissful consciousness of nirvana for several days. On returning to normal consciousness, The Buddha made the decision to spend the remainder of his life teaching others how to escape the inherent suffering of life.

For many years, the Buddha travelled around India, especially around the Ganges plain and in Nepal, teaching his philosophy of liberation. His teachings were transmitted orally and not written down until many years after his death.

“For centuries the light of the Buddha has shone as a beacon beckoning men from across the sea of darkness. Like lost children, millions of seekers have reached out to the light with their heart’s inmost cry, and the Buddha has shown them the Way. The world stood before the Buddha with it’s ignorance, and the Buddha, the Enlightened One, gave man Truth. The world offered its age old suffering to the Buddha’s heart and the Buddha, Lord of Compassion, showed man the Dharma.”

– Sri Chinmoy

Teachings of the Buddha

Some of the fundamentals of the teachings of Gautama Buddha are:

* The Four Noble Truths: that suffering is an inherent part of existence; that the origin of suffering is ignorance and the main symptoms of that ignorance are attachment and craving; that attachment and craving can be ceased; and that following the Noble Eightfold Path will lead to the cessation of attachment and craving and therefore suffering.
* The Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. ”

– Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was born in Transkei, South Africa on July 18, 1918.He was the son of a local tribal leader of the Tembu tribe. As a youngster Nelson, took part in the activities and initiation ceremonies of his local tribe. However, unlike his father Nelson Mandela gained a full education, studying at the University College of Fort Hare and also the University of Witwatersrand. Nelson was a good student and qualified with a law degree in 1942. During his time at University Nelson Mandela became increasingly aware of the racial inequality and injustice faced by non white people. In 1994, he decided to join the ANC and actively take part in the struggle against apartheid.

As one of the few qualified lawyers, Nelson Mandela was in great demand; also his commitment to the cause saw him promoted through the ranks of the ANC. In 1956, Nelson Mandela, along with several other members of the ANC were arrested and charged with treason. After a lengthy and protracted court case the defendents were finally acquitted in 1961. However, with the ANC now banned, Nelson Mandela suggested an active armed resistance to the apartheid regime. This led to the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which would act as a guerrilla resistance movement. Receiving training in other African countries, the Umkhonto we Sizwe took part in active sabotage.

In 1963, Mandela was again arrested and put on trial for treason. This time the state succeeded in convicting of plotting to overthrow the government. However, the case received considerable international attention and the apartheid regime of South Africa became under the glare of the international community.

Mandela’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment and from 1964 –1981 he was incarcerated at Robben Island Prison, off Cape Town. In prison the conditions were sparse; however, Mandela was with many other political prisoners and there was a strong bond of friendship which helped to make more bearable prison conditions. Also, in prison Nelson Mandela was highly disciplined, he would try and study and take part in exercise every day. He later said these year of prison were a period of great learning, even if painful.

During his time in prison, Mandela became increasingly well known throughout the world. Mandela became the best known black leader and opposition to the apartheid regime. Largely unbeknown to Mandela, his continued imprisonment led to world wide pressure for his release. From the mid 1980s, the apartheid regime increasingly began to negotiate with the ANC and Mandela in particular. On many occasions, Mandela was offered a conditional freedom. However, he always refused wishing to put the political ideals of the ANC above his own freedom.

Eventually Nelson Mandela was released on February 11, 1990. The day was huge event for South Africa and the world. His release symbolic of the impending end of apartheid. Following his release there followed protracted negotiations, (often interspersed with tribal violence). However, eventually in April 1994, South Africa had its first full and fair elections. The ANC with 65% of the vote were elected and Nelson Mandela became the first President of the new South Africa.

” The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”

– Nelson Mandela

As President, he sought to heal the rifts of the past. Despite being mistreated he was magnanimous in his dealing with his oppressors. His forgiving and tolerant attitude gained the respect of the whole South African nation and considerably eased the transition to a full democracy.

“If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness. ”

– Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela retired from the Presidency in 1999, to be succeeded by Thabo Mbeki. Recently ill health has curtailed his public life. However, he does speak out on certain issues. He has been very critical of the Bush led invasion of Iraq. He has also campaigned to highlight the issue of HIV / AIDS in South Africa.

He is currently married to his third wife Graca Machel

Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 (jointly with F W De Klerk)

Jesus Christ

Jesus
Jesus

Jesus Christ is the central figure of Christianity and undoubtedly one of the most influential figures in the development of western society.

Due to lack of accurate historical records, there is some dispute over the exact details of his life, and teachings. The most widely used sources are the 4 canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is estimated that these were written over 70-200 years after the death of Christ. There are also many other non-canonical gospels such as Thomas, Peter and Mary. Of particular importance was the discovery of the dead sea scrolls, which uncovered texts previously lost.

Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph of Nazereth. According to the gospel of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. They also suggest Mary was a virgin and the birth was a miracle of the ‘Holy Spirit’

According to the Gospels, the birth of Jesus was proclaimed to shepherds in nearby fields. Later on Jesus was visited by 3 wise men from the east offering gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

Not much is known about Jesus’ early life, the Gospels concentrate on the last couple of years when he was active in his ministry. However, Jesus is believed to have followed in his father’s footsteps and trained to be a carpenter. Some have also suggested during this period Jesus travelled to India and Persia where he learned something of India’s spiritual tradition before returning to Nazareth to begin his ministry.

All three synoptic gospels say Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist, at the River Jordan. This symbolic baptism was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Following his baptism, Jesus spent 40 days in the desert where he was tempted by the Devil. However, he passed the test and refused any temptations of wealth or worldly gain.

Jesus’s teachings were characterised by short pithy statements that used striking imagery to capture the imagination of listeners. His most famous teachings are the sermon on the mount.

Sermon on the Mount

Matthew 5

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.

—–

A key characterist of Jesus’s teachings are an emphasis on forgiveness and unconditional love. These represented a departure from the old scriptures which emphasised an eye for an eye. Jesus taught his followers to ‘love their enemy’ and ‘turn the other cheek’

“But I tell you not to resist an evildoer. On the contrary, whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well.” – Matthew 5:39

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. (Matthew 5:38-44)

Jesus Christ also taught that the Kingdom of heaven was within. To attain this state he taught it was important to be willing to give up attachment to the world and maintain humility and simplicity – to be like a child.

“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, `Lo, here it is!’ or `There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you (or “within you”) Luke 17:20

It was the radical nature of his teachings and a growing following which aroused the suspicions of the authorities.

Jesus was also known as a healer. The gospels recount many miracles where Jesus was able to heal the sick and even resurect the dead (Lazarus)

In the last months of his life, Jesus entered into Jerusalem and was greated enthusiastically by crowds who shouted ‘hosanna’. Jesus then entered the main temple and created controversy by overturning the tables of the money lenders; criticising them for conducting business in a sacred temple – claiming they had turned the temple into a ‘den of robbers’

Later that week he celebrated the passover meal with his 13 discples. He foretold he would be betrayed by one of his own disciples and turned over to the authorities.

This later occured. Judas betrayed Jesus to the temple authorities by kissing Jesus. Judas was paid 30 silver coins for his betrayal. But, he later repented of his action and hung himself from a tree.

The Jewish elders asked him if he was the Son of God. Jesus replied ‘It is as you say.’ The Jewish authorities passed him to the Roman authorities with the recommendation he be charged him with blasphemy. It is said Pontius Pilate was reluctant to have him executed as he didn’t see the crime against the Romans. His wife had a dream he which she felt him innocent and his wife tried to persuade Pilate to release Jesus. Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged in the hope this would appease the Jewish authorities. However, they still wanted to see Jesus executed. On the feast of passover, it was traditional for the Roman authorities to release one prisoner. However, the crowd chose not Jesus but Barabas – a convicted criminal. Pilate washed his hands saying it was not his crime.

Jesus was then led upto the calvary to be crucified. He had to carry a cross and at one stage fainted – and was helped by Simon of Cyrene.

The three synoptic gospels say that Jesus died on the cross, with a Roman soldier puncturing his side with a spear to prove that he was dead.

Nature of Jesus Christ

In the history of early Christianity there was much debate about the nature of Jesus Christ. Some felt Jesus was a direct incarnation of God, others felt he was both divine and human. There were different branches of Christianity emphasing different aspects. For example, the gnostics emphasied the immanence of God, and the ability for followers to have a direct relationship with God.

In 325 AD, the Nicene Creed formalised the Christian church teachings about Jesus. They accepted 4 gospels as canonical and rejected many other gospels. The Nicene creed also gave great emphasis to the writings and letters of St Paul. St Paul emphasised the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the importance of the crucifixion and resurrection.

Different Views of Jesus Christ

Enlightenment views
Many key figures in the enlightenment / renaissance felt Jesus to be a supreme teacher of moral and religious ideals, but rejected claims to divinity and miracles such as the virgin birth. For example, Thomas Jefferson wrote the ‘Life and Morals of Jesus Christ’ (known as the Jefferson bible. Benjamin Franklin also looked to Jesus Christ as a great moral teacher, but, didn’t accept all the teachings of the Christian church.

In the Hindu / Indian tradition Jesus Christ is seen as a realised Spiritual Master. A person who has achieved self-realisation or God-realisation. Jesus Christ is also looked upon as an Avatar – a realised soul with a special mission to uplift a wide number of souls. Many Indian spiritual Master see Jesus Christ as divine an ‘incarnation of God’ But, do not accept that Jesus Christ was alone in achieving this spiritual realisation.

In Islamic tradition, Jesus Christ is seen as an important prophet of God.