Stop being a ‘thought terrorist’!

You are human first. Your gender, your religion, your nationality, your qualifications and your income come later and, quite honestly, don’t matter at all.
Misbah Quadri
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu
This morning’s Hindureports the shocking story of a 25-year-old young lady, Misbah Quadri, being denied accommodation in all of Mumbai just because she is a Muslim! “Mumbai – of all places?” I thought. If Mumbai has become so parochial, the rest of India may well be damned! But this is not an isolated story or occurrence. The other day I was at a friend’s place for dinner. And he openly acknowledged that he would never rent his apartment to Muslims. He confessed: “Call me conservative or anti-Muslim, I cannot simply trust people who belong to that religion.” My friend is educated, widely traveled, does business globally and yet he holds such a regressive view? Within my own family, I have someone who cannot refer to Muslims without using an expletive alongside. This is a sad trend and needs to be condemned with as much intensity as it is being propagated.
When I think about it deeply, dispassionately, I believe we are finding it convenient to generalize and to hide behind our insecurities and flawed assumptions. While it is true that most acts of terror in the world are conducted by Muslims, it is wrong to imagine that all Muslims are terrorists. Perhaps, people find it simpler to banish an entire community because they have never tried to – or wanted to – be discerning in their judgment. Another reason why people cannot understand or appreciate Muslims may be because of their inscrutable practices, rituals and traditions – from circumcision to Muharram to the ubiquitous burkha. But that is no valid argument. Every religion, the way each of us is raised, every community has its own idiosyncratic methods and beliefs. If you find a burkha restricting women empowerment, then you should find the Hindu practice of disallowing girl children from performing the last rites of a dead parent equally restrictive. A sandhyavandanam can be as banal as Muharram if you don’t understand the significance of either.
I think there are as many reasons to divide humanity in this world as there are people on the planet. We don’t need to invent newer ways or choose to alienate a particular community or religion just because we don’t know or understand someone or something. Those who think they are very smart in exercising options such as the ones my friend has chosen, or what building societies in Mumbai have chosen against young Misbah, are actually sick in their heads and hearts. The very thought that you can discriminate against someone just because he or she belongs to a particular community or religion is an act of violence. As Gandhi would say, it is himsa (violence) of the highest order. It is worse than the acts of terror that kill people around the world each year. We must drop this tendency to be violent in our thoughts, in our perceptions, that lead us to discriminate against fellow human beings – urgently and wholeheartedly.

Fundamentally, let’s remember that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Humans who practice love and compassion. And humans who indulge in hatred and violence. If you cannot immediately decide which category someone belongs to, it is fine. But don’t imagine they belong to the latter category just because they come from a community that you think is redoubtable. If you do that, in the absence of valid, irrefutable evidence, unfortunately, sadly, you will be indulging in himsa too! When you discriminate against someone, you are being violent in thought. And, to be sure, thoughts can kill – they are like cancer, chewing away humanity! So, unless you are one, stop being a ‘thought terrorist’! 
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I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual

Just because you don’t like the message, don’t shoot the messenger!  
A couple of days ago I received an email forward of a media release purported to have been issued on behalf of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Art of Living organization. I don’t know if the release was indeed issued on Sri Sri’s behalf. I hope not. The release attacks, albeit in a veiled manner without naming them, director Rajkumar Hirani, actor Aamir Khan and their movie PK, for “projecting sadhus (Hindu saints) in bad light”, for “promoting dargahs (Muslim shrines) and putting down ashrams(Hindu monasteries)” and for “influencing young minds”. The release also says that the makers of PK have been funded by a terrorist to put down spirituality.
I find the content of the media release preposterous. And the charges against Khan, Hirani and PK baseless. Whoever authored that release and whoever authorized its circulation neither understands spirituality not do they understand PK’s message.
Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is the realization that comes from within that you are the divinity that you seek. Spirituality is deeply personal, it is intense and it is liberating. It sets you free. Religion, on the other hand, tries to achieve the same result but ends up making bad spaghetti out of a good recipe. Not because there’s anything wrong with the recipe. But because the cooks, the high priests of the various religions (as the PK character says in PK, “the managers of the various companies”), have hidden and divisive agendas; they promote ritualism and hold gullible people – like you and me – hostage! In the movie, in one brilliant scene, PK picks up a new born baby to inspect if the baby is born with a “stamp”, a means of identification, that he or she was actually created (“sent down”) to be a Hindu or a Christian or a Muslim. The message is stark and uncomfortable: that our religion has been thrust upon us. We are born free to simply be human. But the label of Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Jew and such is stuck on us as an afterthought. Our family and society force us to follow the religion that they have chosen for us. To add to the confusion, people who are self-proclaimed leaders of the various religions, induce fear among their followers saying that if you question what is being told and practiced, you will be punished by your God! PK makes another important, uncontestable point – the God, he says, that created you and me, is different from the God that we humans have created to suit our convenience. God, the creator, is compassionate, loving and is ever present – within us. The God we have created, he says, is forever elusive, being “managed and protected by agents and managers” and making people fearful. The truth is where there is fear, there is no faith. And when there is faith, there can be no fear. Faith is like light and fear is like darkness. You can bring light to drive away darkness. But you cannot bring darkness into a room which is well lit. You cannot, therefore, claim you have faith in a God, your God, and yet be fearful of either God or Life or both!!
The media release makes one other ridiculous, erroneous point. It states that people who consume alcohol are not spiritual! Spirituality is totally unconditional. Being spiritual means just being. You can be whoever you are. You don’t have to abstain from anything, you don’t have to fear anyone, you don’t have to fast, you don’t have to pray and you don’t have to follow any rituals. You just have to be who you are and enjoy being who you are. Spiritually empowered people employ this freedom, this fearlessness, this faith – that they will be taken care of and provided for by the Universe – to live in bliss. To them nothing is a sin. And nothing is forced. They live simply – seeing the divinity in themselves and in everyone and everything around them.

I seriously hope Sri Sri’s ashram did not issue that release and that the mail I received was just one of those hoax forwards. If it was indeed a genuine communication, I pity those who put it out – for they are missing PK’s central message and shooting the messenger, Aamir, just because he’s seen, per worldly definition, as a Muslim.  PK is not about Hindus and Muslims. It is not about Hindu Gods and a Muslim God or a Christian God. It is about you and me and how we are allowing ourselves to be trapped in the vicious cycle of religion, rituals, godmen and fear. Watch PK if you can and care. And even if you don’t want to watch it, raise a toast when you drink tonight!! To Christmas, good health and happiness. My toast, however, is to the authors of that redoubtable release: “Hey, I drink alcohol…and I am spiritual”!