Spirituality demands nothing of you. It invites you to just be and to let Life take you on your journey – one moment at a time.
A whole lot of people out there are confused between spirituality and religion. They think that people who lead religious communities are spiritual. It need not necessarily be so. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness – it helps you understand that all Life is equal just as it is impermanent. When you realize the true nature of Life, you simply want to be (who you are) and don’t want to anymore become (something, who you are not!).
This morning’s papers reported the shocking story of a lady reporter having been asked by members of the Jain community to move to the back row in an auditorium because they didn’t want a woman sitting in the front row, when their munis, their gurus, who are celibate, sat on stage. Rashmi Puranik, a journalist with a Marathi news channel, was asked by members of the Shree Santacruz Jain Tapagachh Sangh to move to a back row at a function organized by the Jain community to felicitate Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for banning beef in the state. The organizers felt that Puranik’s presence would “offend” the celibates. I found the approach of this section of the Jain community outrageous. I would like them to ponder over how their “venerable” saints, the munis, the gurus, were created on this planet if they found the presence of women “offensive”. The way this Jain Sangh behaved with Puranik is not just regressive in the context of respect to women, it is an assault, a slap, on all of humanity. I am glad Fadnavis said what he finally did at the event, but only after Puranik raised a stink over the treatment meted out to her: “We are in the 21st century. All practices that discriminate against women should be stopped. A society progresses only when women get due respect.” Apparently, the Sangh has issued a statement saying the issue had been misrepresented and that Puranik was only asked to join a row meant exclusively for women. I am sorry. But I find that argument too weak and untenable – aren’t you still discriminating on the basis of gender?
But there’s yet another, equally larger, issue that begs clarity here. Which is, the role of religious leaders. These leaders, like the religions they represent, are confusing humanity. Their avowed rituality, their dogmas and their faulty, often illogical, belief systems are in place only so that they can lead and control their followers. Instead of awakening and inspiring people to the right way of thinking, living, working and winning, they are promoting fear and guilt in the garb of championing religious discipline. I, for one, don’t see any value or virtue in celibacy. In fact, it is impossible for anyone to be celibate. And truly no one is. Indulgence need not be with the physical sense and form alone. Those who claim and profess celibacy in a physical sense may have never stopped fantasizing encounters in their minds! And why work hard on suppressing a natural urge when, by being truly spiritual, you can allow it to arise within you and yet remain unmoved by its presence? A truly awakened person is one who can, in the company and presence of a woman, nurture a feeling of compassion and love for her. Trying to claim the same while asking for women to not cross your path is, to put it bluntly, cowardice.
We met our astrologer, Balan Nair, yesterday. A very learned man. A scholar. He’s truly world-class, a subject matter expert and a no-nonsense, no mumbo-jumbo professional. At 82, he has 64 years of experience in seeing how human beings are tossed around in the ocean of worldly Life – samsara sagaram, according to him! Seeing me wear rings on my fingers some years ago, he had remarked: “Sir, you look educated. Do you think a stone can change your destiny?” That’s how practical and evolved he is – for the record, I internalized his message and chucked my rings! So, my wife and I always find his perspectives enriching. Yesterday, he said this to us (referring to the gut-wrenching experience of a bankruptcy that we are still going through as a family and as a business): “Each numbing experience in Life has a teachable point of view. You will learn as long are you have the willingness to learn – and unlearn. Anybody can go to a forest or sit in a cave and become a sanyasi. But the one who can deal with the pulls and pressures, trials and tribulations, and the continuous churning of the samsara sagaram, of this chaotic world, and yet be above it, that person alone is truly spiritual and a real winner.”
That’s a simple, awakening perspective from someone who has seen a lot of Life. I wish those who sit on powerful social or community pedestals, controlling religions and people, learn from this man’s wisdom. Only then can we create a spiritual world that celebrates all of humanity. Only then can we rid ourselves of a dogmatic, ritualistic religious order that divides basis gender and social stature and exploits the vulnerable among us!