Faith is deeply personal. It is a communion between the Source and you. Nobody and nothing, least of all, religion and law, can come in between you and your faith.
|Picture Courtesy: Internet|
I was amused reading in the papers this morning that the ruling of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court stipulating a dress code for visiting temples in Tamil Nadu has come into effect from yesterday. Obviously the new dress code has evoked mixed responses. The Hindu reports that devotees were “bemused and irritated, stopping just short of being outraged”. I am not surprised. I will not be surprised either if someone challenged this order. I do sincerely hope it is struck down. To be sure, Justice S.Vaidyanathan, who was concerned “over the use of improper clothes worn by many people visiting temples”, has stipulated that “men should wear a dhoti or pyjama with upper cloth or formal pants and shirts and women should wear a sari or a half-sari or churidhar with upper cloth,’ and for children, ‘any fully-covered dress’.” So, anyone coming in jeans and/or shorts will be denied entry to temples in Tamil Nadu. Similarly, sleeveless-tops, spaghetti-strapped tops, skirts and mini-skirts are a strict no-no.
I was even more amused reading a fellow citizen’s view favoring the new dress code: “If clubs can have dress codes, why not temples?” With due respect to the honorable judge’s ruling and to those favoring this new system, I would like to invite attention to why we must not confound an already complicated situation.
Really, to me, what matters is who you are – not what you wear or how you worship or who you pray to.
Let me tell you a story. The disciples of a venerable Master invited him to visit Benares with them. The Master asked them why they were embarking on the trip. One of the disciples replied, “We want to take a holy dip in the Ganges so that we can cleanse ourselves.” The Master smiled and said he was not keen on the making the trip. He instead gave them a bitter gourd fruit, karela, and asked them to immerse the fruit in the Ganges and bring it back with them. The disciples found the Master’s instruction weird but did not question him. When they returned in a few weeks, they handed back the bitter gourd fruit to their Master. He asked them if it had indeed been immersed in the Ganges. When they said yes it had been, he asked them if it would be tasting sweet now. One of the devotees responded with utter bewilderment, “How can a bitter gourd taste sweet, Master? A bitter gourd is always bitter. How can immersing it in the Ganges change its intrinsic quality?” The Master beamed his big smile and said, “So it is my child. How can you cleanse yourself by merely dipping in the Ganges? You are who you are. Look within and if you don’t like who you are, work on changing yourself. You can’t expect change by merely visiting a temple or taking a dip in a river!”
I relate to this perspective fully. For someone like me, even going to a temple to worship, is a wasted exercise. I feel communion with the Source, the Higher Energy, that has created us and governs this Universe, can happen any time and any place. It saddens me, therefore, that we now have a dress code that dictates how you must show up to worship. But Tamil Nadu is not the first state to have this sartorial idea – some of Kerala’s temples have had, for years now, strict dress codes too. Besides, it is not only Hinduism that’s confused with rituality, division and protocol. Religion as a concept is all messed up. It has become a fear-mongering charade – anyone telling you that God will punish you or that something is a sin wants you to be scared. If you pause to think about it, God has never come forth and said, do this or don’t do this, God has not said be scared of me; yet every religion and every vendor of religious discourse insists on inducing fear. So the truth is that those who peddle religion dogmatically want you to be scared of them. Isn’t it tragic that you cannot celebrate your creation and be one with the Creator, whenever you want, wherever you want; and that you must be fearing rule(s) that religion’s peddlers want you to follow so that they can control you in the name of God?
I must hasten to inform that I am not an atheist. In fact I like Swami Vivekananda’s (1863 ~ 1902) definition of an atheist: “Only the one who does not believe in himself or herself is an atheist.” I am not against religion either. But I refuse to practise religion the way (some) people expect me to practise it. Just like you, I too was created without my choice. Religion was imposed on me too, through family – it is therefore a human act. Whereas, to me, my creation, just as yours, is divine. So, the best way to celebrate the divine in me, is to communion with the Source, the Higher Energy, the way I want to – and when and wherever I want to.
I owe this perspective to Kabir who has written these immortal lines – rendered here beautifully by the legendary Bhupinder – way back in the 15thCentury!
मोको कहाँ ढूंढें बन्दे,
मैं तो तेरे पास में ।
ना तीरथ में ना मूरत में, ना एकांत निवास में ।
ना मंदिर में, ना मस्जिद में, ना काबे कैलाश में ॥
ना मैं जप में, ना मैं तप में, ना मैं व्रत उपास में ।
ना मैं क्रिया क्रम में रहता, ना ही योग संन्यास में ॥
नहीं प्राण में नहीं पिंड में, ना ब्रह्माण्ड आकाश में ।
ना मैं त्रिकुटी भवर में, सब स्वांसो के स्वास में ॥
खोजी होए तुरत मिल जाऊं एक पल की ही तलाश में ।
कहे कबीर सुनो भाई साधो, मैं तो हूँ विशवास में ॥
Translated, it simply means that the Creator, the Source, the Higher Energy, is not in places of worship or in rituals or in penance or in prayer, but is (to be found) within you – in your faith, in what you believe in. So, pray if you must – and for all you care even in the buff in your home – but pray to the Higher Energy within you, the one that keeps you alive and has helped you read, and hopefully internalize this post! J