Sunday, July 17, 2011

About My Questionable Religious Beliefs

As I have been writing about religion, and at times approaching the topic with some sort of cynicism, many of my reader-friends have raised this question whether I really do believe in any of these religions or I am just being dismissive about everything pertaining to religions. I think it is time to clear some dust on this front.

I always remember my artist friend Manjunath Kamath’s take on the believers and non-believers. He tells me that he himself had gone through a period of staunch religious belief and the adherent rituals. Then there was a phase of doubt. Today, he finds no problem in doing some private rituals, like burning some incenses before a few idols or pictures and chanting a few mantras.

If it makes you feel good then it should be done without any fail. If it makes your family feel good, your neighbour feel good and your society feel good and above all if it helps you to be a good human being and good to the fellow human being, then I would say religion is a must.

But then I always have doubts on organized religions. Anything organized and too ritualistic is disturbing and threatening for me, including the security guards checking your cars boot and pushing a slanting mirror fitted on a iron frame with wheels under the front of your car and giving you a nod of approval. Phew you are not a terrorist. I am irritated for two or three reasons; one, first of all a terrorist does not go into a mall with his wife and two kids. Two, by looking inside your boot or pushing that mirror under your car you do not find ‘bomb’. Maximum you could see is the car’s gender. But alas, cars do not have gender, they have only class.

This routine check up is ritualistic like any other ritual pertaining to religion. When the ritual is done in an organized way it becomes intolerable.

For example (I am not against the fundamental principles of any religion. So this is just an example), I see the ISKON or the Krishna Conscious people, beating their drums and singing their songs right in the middle of the road. That’s fine. But they stop the people in their vehicles, ask them to roll down the glasses and force a few copies of Krishna Literature into their unwilling laps. You buy or don’t buy, but the threat is palpable; you have to see the books.

Plus, when they leave the place, they throw all their Bisleri bottles and plastic waste right in the middle of the road.

I am not interested. Am I wrong?

Let’s take any religion, Hindu, Sikh, Islam, Parsi, Christian, Arya Samaj and anything including the Resident Welfare Associations; one fine morning they come up with this idea of having a Sobha Yatra or a langar (a procession with the idol or a community food and water serving respectively). They sweep the road, women close their eyes and sing bhajans, from a moving chariot they distribute ‘prasad’ to people and by the time procession cross your gate, you see a landscape after battle left behind on the road, now fully strewn with crumpled plastic cups, pattas, plates, banana peels and flowers.

If this is the lesson that a religion teaches me, then I don’t want that religion.

Then you see the force feeding of the langar runners at times organized by the Resident Welfare Associations or those people who don’t have anything worthwhile to do on Sundays. In the name of social service they litter the streets and threaten those people who refuse to drink their coloured water.

The story is different. Manjunath speaks of a believer who is caught between four atheists inside a car. The believer does not want to accept that he believes in religion or god because of the sheer majority of the atheists inside the car. Then comes a temple on the wayside that the believer cannot avoid noticing. And believers have the tendency to raise their hands to chest or ears to show respect to Gods.

What does the believer in the car do in that situation?

According to Manjunath, the believer would raise his right hand and scratch his chest. By doing this he could pay his respects to god as well as escape from the criticism of the atheists friends.

We all do scratching our chests because we are hypocrites. We don’t want to accept that we believe in God. Now things are changing fast. The modern we become the faster we turn believers and ritualists.

But the intellectuals are hypocrites. You go to the studio of an artist and you find a freshly offered garland and a freshly lit incense before the picture of a god. And you look at your artist friend and he would say, ‘ assistant does all these.’

That’s why I respect artists like Sudarshan Shetty who in an interview said that he is a believer and he visits temples and respect certain traditions in his own way.

We have to remember that he does it in his own way. He does it as a very private feeling.

But there are artists who give interviews about religion and accept their religious or quasi-spiritual faith and when the interview get published in a newspaper, put the link on the facebook and write a status like ‘Hilarious comments by me’.

They are hypocrites.

When you do it, accept it.

Practicing any religion or ritual is not a crime. As I said before, if it soothes you and helps you to become a good human being, you should be a religious man and ritualist.

I am a religious person and a spiritual person. But I don’t belong to any religion. No religion owns me.

I say this with certain kind of assurance and surety because I believe a religion is something that teaches you about the fundamentals of life. It makes you to involve in life deeply. It makes you to go deeper and deeper in your experience.

Both in pain and pleasure you find your life and you take both with equanimity, tells my religion. And being a religious person of that sort is a blessing, I think.

About rituals. I do go to temples. Not too many.

I go to temples which are not the ‘happening’ temples. I follow the customs there. I remove my shoes. I do ablutions before I enter the premises. I stand before the idol and fold my hands and pray. I feel some kind of peace.

I don’t know what I pray. After becoming a father of two kids I pray that they should be unhurt throughout their lives. That’s all.

But as you know, temples do have an economics. No temple wants to be a non-happening temple. All the temples want to be happening temples. So they introduce new rituals to attract people. The more people involved in it, the more the rituals become complex and wide.

When silent temples turn noisy and crowded, I stop going there.

Slowly, I would, I am sure it is inevitable, stop going to any temple.

When I drive down once in a while to Jamia Millia Islamia where my wife works, I pass a cemetery which is located a few feet above the level of the road. I see all those memorial stones and dry mud dunes, and I feel a tremendous sense of peace engulfing me. I see myself sitting under a lonely tree amongst the dunes and looking at the road down there where all people rush to their respective daily destinies.


layered said...

such a relief to know that I am not alone! Yes, i am talking about religion of my own... mine is seems the same as yours, Sudarshan and Manjunath's....
another point... your 2nd para was talkin abt "good" things that should be the purpose of any follower of religion, i guess all these terrorists do believe at one point that they are doing some "good" only... to whoever/whatever...
anyway, am so glad to know that there are people like me... usually most of my friends are atheist... as i get along with them better than the religious ones ;)

waswo x. waswo said...

I used to hate Voltaire's quote "If God did not exist, he would have to be invented." I was born into a weird family that was a mix of Christian fundamentalism and social liberalism. With the polarization of American society I don't think such families are possible anymore. But I grew up a true-believing Christian liberal. My brother, a science and math wiz, forged ahead into complete atheism. I followed. It was liberating to discard religion. But then in later life I came to think Voltaire's quote had validity. As you say, if religion offers you comfort in adversity, helps you to live a good life, holds together a happy social order...then perhaps we need it. I myself merged some science-inspired concepts of the vastness of time and space with a spiritual transcendentalism. When I am honest with myself I know my morality is still heavily based in the Christian ethos of my childhood. But I still our reliance on religion to get through life's adversity an answer to our problems...or part of the problem itself? Does religion keep us from facing the facts? Like you, I prefer the small temples. Or at least a quiet, meditative space. The thing I hate most now is dogma. We all travel by different roads.