My Flirtations with Faith and Conversations about Conversions


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.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
This entry was posted in analysis, Controversies, Flashback, Priya's Travails, Secularism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to My Flirtations with Faith and Conversations about Conversions

  1. the Monk says:

    All roads lead to Pratchett/Heller/Adams/Vonnegut/Russell/House. 😀

  2. karthik says:

    Blasphemy! You forgot to mention Matrixism.

    I rest my case.

  3. Logik says:

    Many ‘asides’ in the article made it juicier. The one about the lamb was a wacky sight.
    You kinda forgot the joos, and the church of the spaghetti monster.
    I want to be a hindu-joo – joo for the money, hindu for the funs.
    A neat read.

  4. Tuna Fish says:

    Hey! If you dont fit into any religion, you can start your own religion 😛 ; You can make your own philosophies and prolly recruit a few followers ;P

  5. Tuna Fish says:

    You havent considered Bhakti and Sufi movement saints, yet and the various Bramho Samaj/ Arya Samaj etc

  6. wanderlust says:

    @the monk:
    and the church of stallman, too.
    @karthik:
    I didn’t go through a Matrix phase. For some weird reason, I never watched the movie.
    @logik:
    i became aware of spaghetti monster after my doubting-religious-self-discovery-theology phase was done.
    who/what is a joo? giki-woogle says its a jap surname, nothing more… that can’t be it, can it?
    @tuna fish:
    that’s the point no? I found out i did fit in.
    starting a new religion is quite a pain… Akbar started Din-E-Ilahi, and it was Akbar, goddammit, and he could get only one follower apart from himself. That too,that was Birbal and i suspect he joined the religion mainly to humour the mad emperor’s whims.
    The Bahai faith reveres a lot of Sufi saints.
    And Bhakti/Sufi/Arya Samaj/Brahmo were all movements that augmented existing religions… their latter-day equivalents would probably be Sai Baba, Art of Living, Mata Amritanandamayi and a whole host of such movements.

  7. Shreevatsa says:

    Well, L. Ron Hubbard made a lot of money. 😉
    [Trying to say something other than “Gah, you say ‘anyways’ too”]

    I think the point of Hinduism is that it is so loosely defined that it can be whatever you want to see it as, from ‘just rituals’ to ‘no rituals’ to an almost science-like experiment-observation-conclusion search for answers to anywhere else at all.

    The question is: are you adopting a religion or an identity?

  8. wanderlust says:

    @shreevatsa:
    im battling the habit, trying to use other phrases and words.

    i think defining ‘hinduism’ would be like defining ‘australianism’ or ‘singaporeism’. or eskimoism.

  9. Logik says:

    Jews is what me talks aboot. They are relatively peace-loving. They did commit only one famous murder. And the Iq levels match. And the money is good.

    People create arbit controversies to sell their books,
    Some preach it to be self-helpy.
    L.Ron Hubbard, the greatest salesman ever, made a religion out of it. [ and so did one fine lady :), inadvertently ofcourse ]

  10. wanderlust says:

    @logik:
    joo… ahhh phonetic english 😀 missed that. for a second i thought you were pronouncing zoo like a guj-joo.

  11. karthik says:

    “I didn’t go through a Matrix phase. For some weird reason, I never watched the movie.”

    My point was merely that if none of the existing religions suit you, you can always make your own. You know, to kill time until the arrival of The One.

  12. wanderlust says:

    @karthik:
    see reply to tuna’s comment.
    and… i have no knowledge of Matrix concepts etc… but can’t you believe you are The One?

  13. karthik says:

    I’m puzzled; Why would your made-to-specifications hypothetical religion require followers other than you?

    I think “Matrix concepts” is an oxymoron. And at the risk of sounding condescending (I don’t mean to, really), I’d say you’re free to believe anything you want.
    This discussion reminds me of the Electric Monk, one of Douglas Adams’ wittier creations.

    The latter bit about killing time until the arrival of The One was entirely an exercise in mirth. (Pardon me if it wasn’t readily apparent.)

  14. wanderlust says:

    >>Why would your made-to-specifications hypothetical religion require followers other than you?
    it would be called ‘priya’s idiosyncrasies’ and not ‘priya’s religion’ then.
    I don’t know anything about The Matrix or why it has a cult following, and any mention of the same makes me switch off. I assumed it was something like Objectivism with some beliefs and the like.
    If you are free to believe whatever, wouldn’t that make everyone in the world a Matrixist?

    By your previous comment, I assumed Matrixism was just an exercise in waiting for The One… and so I asked the next logical question: can’t one proclaim oneself to be The One and end the tiresome wait and mindless timekilling newReligionMaking? Like you have hundreds who believe they are Kalki, the next avatar of Vishnu… and thousands who believe them… it isn’t that easy in Matrixism, I assume?

  15. sg says:

    makes a nice read, but doesnt lead me anywhere..but i guess it wasnt supposed to 😀 😛

  16. karthik says:

    “I don’t know anything about The Matrix or why it has a cult following, and any mention of the same makes me switch off.”

    Ditto. The apotheosis of a pretentious, purposefully obfuscated, snazzy commercial venture is hard to take seriously- it appears to be one of several cases of rampant fanboyism in popular culture.

    “If you are free to believe whatever, wouldn’t that make everyone in the world a Matrixist?”
    Beyond having read (and laughed at) the website I linked to, I have no connection whatsoever to Matrixism. So when I said you could believe anything you wanted to, I was speaking in a general context.
    As for your final suggestion, let’s see you dodge a few bullets before staking your claim. 🙂
    So far, this has been a terribly botched attempt at humour.

  17. wanderlust says:

    @karthik:
    you had me thinking you were a matrixism turncoat or apostate or something.
    dodging bullets… i don’t think i’ll bend backwards just to be recognized as The One. and hope that one-liner puts the humour back into this thread.

  18. harish says:

    Hehe chennaagide.
    Ayyo, initially I thought it was another ‘communal’ post. Ondu tara bhaya aagbiTTittu…in these secular times aa tara ‘communal’ posts odloo baardu. Aamele, gottaaytu ‘communal’ alla anta…That’s it then for my fixation with ‘secular’ and ‘communal’.

  19. wanderlust says:

    @harish:
    ‘communal’ posts bareyovaru normally US-inda baritaare. US-annu naavugaLu hosa homeland antha ankoLodu is not very far away akasmaat ee elections-oo hogidd elections tara nae idre.

  20. Arjun says:

    “That’s it then for my fixation with ’secular’ and ‘communal’.”

    Really? He he, you’ll rediscover your fixation again, you devious Hindu.

    [Priya] Good post. I’m not particularly religious, but I see no harm in being so.

    About the pseudo-secularists. Any other country and we’d have had a Schliemann-like expedition to verify whether or not the Sethu was man-made. Here, the government takes pains to submit an affidavit in the negative without even the most perfunctory investigations into the matter.

  21. wanderlust says:

    @arjun:
    when you use such an adjective with the word Hindu, you need to spell it Hindoo. adds to the effect.

  22. Pingback: Childhood, censorship, and other things « The NITK Numbskulls Page

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