There used to be a time when the pseudosecularists had their way with me. I didn’t think much of Hinduism… the whole ’emphasis on rites and rituals’ didn’t go down well with me. In retrorespect, I’ll say it was just that I was lazy and wanted a justification to avoid walking all the way to the temples, standing in queues to get a darshan of God. But back then, I was convinced I was doing the right thing by looking outside of my faith when I was in “doubt”.
Add to that all the Godmen being proved fakes, and…. you get the drift.. Being a Hindu was uncool when I was fifteen.
And the family wasn’t really fixated on the religion question… when they could accept Aunt Sheila and her orthodox Christian hubby, and Uncle Ganesh’s Muslim wife, and numerous others, I was sure nothing I would do would be an issue.
Why, they only laughingly refer to the incident where a relative fell in love with a Christian lady, but in the process of converting to her faith, he was so enamoured by the teachings of Christ that he threw aside all plans of marriage and joined the Clergy.
So what do I change my faith to? Islam was out of the question, as irrespective of any leaps of faith, I couldn’t for the heck of me stand to see a fellow living being slaughtered, halal or not. And the only way I’d have a lamb for lunch was if it was seated next to me, chomping on grass while I ate my ghaas-phoos lunch. And I didn’t think I could devote so much of my faith to God, and go without food for extended periods.
And Christianity…. well, for all that my teachers said at school about how ritualistic Hinduism was, they introduced more rituals where we thanked God in the morning, in the evening, before meals, after meals, before lessons, after lessons… and my good friends Veronica and Joy said they attended Catechism classes on Sundays… oh, lazy me wouldn’ t want to put in so much effort. So what if the Sunday school teacher was goodlooking… in Veronica’s words, “he was soon to be a Father”.
Anyways, I didn’t want one of these mainstream faiths which are involved in communal riots. I wanted something “different”.
I was more or less non-violent (apart from when it came to showing the class bully his place) and vegetarian. Jainism would have held its sway, ably helped by the serene environs of the Jain temple in the neighborhood, but for the wee bit of extremism in denying oneself the pleasures of the world. No roots and tubers, no honey, no silk, and that was just the beginning. Bahubali’s statue at Shravanabelagola might be impressive, and the Mahamastakabhisheka a treat to watch, but maybe I’d consider this way of life after I’m retired. Not before.
I needed something a little less extreme. Something more inclined to the ‘middle path’.
I devoured all the stories about Bodhisattvas. And the legend of Asoka’s conversion too. All the stories about the Buddha too. The detached sort of philosophy was nice. No rites, no rituals. Or atleast so I thought… I hadn’t been to a Buddhist temple. I was regaled by the Buddhist monk characters in Tamil novels about the Pandyas, Pallavas and Cholas. They seemed so serene, so sure of their philosophies…
And then I visited the Namdroling monastery in Kushalnagar. Serene place, with Buddha-like sayings pasted all over the place. The childlike innocence of the Tibetans was appealing. Their curious little traditions were, too. The butter lamps made the whole place look so meditative.
But after I was back, reading the Amar Chitra Katha stories about Bodhisattvas turned out to be disturbing experiences. The story of Vasavadatta and Upagupta unsettled me. What was Upagupta’s brilliant idea? He was so insecure about having a beautiful wife that he waited until she turned ugly? Did he want to make 100% sure that no one other than him would get her? And what was the whole point? To recruit another follower of the Buddha? What a twisted, convoluted way to do so!
When you are in doubt, even the slightest thing tends to unsettle you. That was the last Buddhism saw of me.
I was sick of all these age-old traditions. Their founders are so long-dead that the followers spin yarns which have gotten distorted with age and possibly perverted to suit selfish ends.
So, well, I went for this new-age philosophy whose founder was still alive.
Art of Living. A bunch of my friends bucked the trend too. I would probably have become a very active follower, and possibly a teacher like Seema Ramchandani who quit Viva! to become an AOL teacher…. if it hadn’t been for an AOL teacher my folks knew personally who (gasp!) ditched a (double gasp!) job interview as (gasp like you’re in the last third of the Sudarshan Kriya) “Guruji was in town”.
Heck, I had a life. Rock satsangs were great, but I did not want to be so close to something so all-overpowering that would probably make me ditch everything else in life.
Hey, what about Aurobindo Ghosh’s followers in Pondicherry? The twenty minutes of silence at Auroville was such a nice feeling I wanted to experience it again. The place seemed so energized, with a quiet, calm force, with everything positive about it. But it sort of faded out.
That’s coz the visit to Auroville brought back memories of the visit to the Lotus Temple. One of the most peaceful places I’d ever visited. Ten times more peaceful than Auroville. There was no enforced silence there even… you’d just be silent of your own free will there, because the silence was so beautiful you just wanted to let it be.
So there I began an intense web search for everything about the Bahá’í faith. Everything seemed perfect. They combined the best of everything. You were free to lead your life as you please. You had no rites and rituals to follow. And what made it more attractive was that these innocents who followed this non-intrusive, non-proselytizing religion were persecuted in Iran – back then, I always backed the underdog (I even rooted for Kenya in an Australia-Kenya match once).
So how do I join the brotherhood? I just had to write to some address. I started going through the philosophies. God, did it read boring or did it read boring. They prohibited monasticism. GREAT! They considered work to be a form of worship. Even more brilliant. I’d probably just join right in.
They seemed like some closely-knit brotherhood. Almost like some Priory of Sion or something. Hmm.. heck, what was this! They considered Krishna one of their Gods! Oh and no stories of benne-kadhdha-Krishna? Man, they made Krishna out to be some boring philosopher, not the fun flamboyant young God we heard stories about, and made seedai and murukku for, and painted little feet leading up to the puja room every Janmashtami….. heck, wasn’t I against rite and ritual?
Turns out, I liked religion to have some sort of a relevance in my life. I didn’t want to go out searching for the true ‘I’, like Ramana Maharishi (who is apparently a far-relative of mine… trust these grannies to record family history) did. I don’t think I felt a need for it. I did not mind the rites and rituals… they gave me something not-so-boring to do.
I didn’t have to give up my life for a religious quest; I could even achieve the same if I said work is worship. And if i wanted the religious quest, I could do that too.
My religion wasn’t fatalistic that I’d say ‘sab moh maaya hai’ and trudge on the middle path. Serving God wasn’t the main objective of my life. And God wasn’t a punishing-type entity that He/She/It’d mind if I thought of myself more than I thought of God.
And my religion was an organic one – it blended into every aspect of my life. Right from my being born, from my first taste of solid food, from my first letter… it was ceremony alright, but the star of the show wasn’t some unknown entity (whose existence was more in doubt than Subhas Bose’s), called God, but me. And God, any God was just a sideshow here who got a request from all of us to bless the event.
My religion is centered more around me than about any or all of the 33 crore Gods it is known for.
We worship money, we worship food, we worship our tools, we worship our books. How much more closer can religion get to life and just continue to augment it and not dictate how it is to be lived?
Oh and best part, I don’t have to be spiritual. Or debate whether God exists (the sort of debate where you hear the most hackneyed of arguments given in the most passionate fashion) – religion continues irrespective of whether God exists or not. And you can say God is Elvis, or Paul McCartney or even Guido van Rossum for all you care, it doesn’t make a difference. And your bunch of rituals can involve your daily puja to Tkinter or Stallman. Or Ram Jethmalani or Sonia Gandhi. Or if you want, to your reflection in the mirror, like Nana Patekar in Bluffmaster.
So… well… this tale has the standard ‘there is no place like home’ ending. And since then, I don’t bother about the meaning of life or any higher goals we might have been made for. Religion and religious debates and lectures only serve to bore me. Ditto with new-age philosophies on how to live life and what it means… drop dead Mr. Coelho. So in case you want to debate about the validity of what I believe in and all that jazz, it’d be more responsive to talk to a wall. Or an idol of Krishna/Subramanya/Mother Mary/Ganesha/Shirdi Sai Baba… they’d probably drink milk or shed tears of blood, making them more responsive than me.