Know your true Self. Know your God. Be free!

When you know your true Self, you will know God and you will be free!
This morning’s papers run a story saying the famous music composer Ilayaraja’s son, Yuvan Shankar Raja, has embraced Islam. It would have been good had the story merely reported a happening, an event – even though, strictly, that is avoidable! But one paper goes on to speculate if Yuvan’s father had an issue with his choice. And that, I believe, was totally uncalled for. What choices people make with regard to their Life, especially in the context of their religious leanings, is, really nobody’s business!
The story, however, got me thinking on a different plane. There’s often this confusion between religion and spirituality. Most people use these words interchangeably.
Conceptually, they may well be right. But in reality and practice the two take different approaches – albeit to the same end!
Spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. It is deeply personal, intense and liberates the seeker. You set out on the spiritual journey – seeking God, seeking answers to many existential questions, seeking to know why pain and suffering have to be endured – but you really end up finding yourself, your true Self.
Religion attempts to deliver all of this, but fails miserably. Not because religion is bad or ineffective. In fact, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, Jainism – you name them, each of them is so beautiful. They are profound and empowering. But the champions of religion, the high priests, are devious and divisive. Promising salvation and deliverance unto an external God, they divide humanity and drive people to becoming mindlessly ritualistic. Which is why people have an issue with other peoples’ religious choices. Think about it: people don’t have an issue with what shirt you are wearing, but why do they get alarmed with the mere mention of your religious preference? All the fanaticism about finding God and trying to establish one religion as superior to another is the cause for all disharmony in the world. Religion doesn’t make your Life any better – it binds you and holds you hostage, making you “fear” God! In fact, the way it is championed and practised today, religion makes bad spaghetti out of a very good concept. The truth is, you – and I – were not born with a religious affiliation. You were born human. You have the same amount of blood – 5.5 liters, just the same as anyone else. And that blood is red in color – for everyone, irrespective of what religion they follow!
It is said that religion is for those who want to go to heaven – and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! There’s a great meaning in that seemingly light-hearted truth. Again it’s a matter of personal choice. If you want to understand Life and experience bliss, if you want freedom from suffering and you want lasting inner peace, then understand your true Self. If you want balms for your pain, if you want just a reassurance that “you will be taken care of”, if you want to “feel good” and bask in the presence of godmen and godwomen – follow the rituals that your religion’s leaders prescribe. Neither path is wrong. Neither approach is right. Ultimately, what works for you is always the best!
I simply love Swami Ramkrishna Paramahamsa’s (1836~1886) words in this context: “Even if you have faith in the 330 million Gods that you worship, and no faith in yourself, there’s no salvation for you!” This really sums it all up. Your search for meaning, be it through a pilgrimage to the world’s holiest sites, or through a simple, inward journey, will ultimately bring you to yourself! Your true Self. In knowing and understanding that Self, you encounter your God. And you will be free!
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Nothing can prevent you from realizing your True Self except you

This morning’s Times of India reports that the Akal Takht, the highest temporal Sikh body, bans Sikhs from keeping the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book and the “living, active Guru” of the Sikhs, in homes that also have bar counters in them. I don’t quite see merit in such a sanction.
Sikhism, as I have known and understood, is one of the world’s youngest religions, founded only around the 15th Century. It is not a religion that draws upon one line or school of thought. It is inspired by Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism and several others. It is also the only religion that is not built on the teachings of a single Guru, but is based on the teachings of 10 Masters, with the Guru Granth Sahib, being the final and ever-living Guru. To me, it is not even a religion – it is a beautiful confluence of various streams of wisdom. Which is why Sikhism, and the Guru Granth Sahib, are very contemporary and very relevant even today. Nanak, the founding Guru of the Sikhs, said that ultimately what __ or the only thing that __ matters is The Truth. And The Truth, he said, was unspeakable. Which is why he, and his successors, sang it. Which is why the Guru Granth Sahib is in verse, containing 1430 angs (limbs or literary sections), actually hymns, complied and composed between 1469 and 1708.
Perhaps, by virtue of their religion being so young, or maybe their upbringing is based on practical and liberal tenets, I have found Sikhs to be very fun-loving, friendly and caring. They live Life to the fullest. They are never self-obsessed and choose always to get involved, and to serve whenever they get an opportunity. They are also the only set of people on the planet who can laugh at themselves. The innumerable Sardarji jokes that we come across is strong evidence of this. No other community will be so tolerant if they were to be the butt of so much global ribbing and ridicule. So, when a stricture is passed on such a wonderful people, it does shock and surprise.
I have another personal reason and learning to share. Understanding and realizing The Truth that Nanak sang about, and that which every spiritual path will take you to, does not require abstinence. In fact, intelligent living does not demand anything from you. It only wants you to be. To live in the moment and experience the Now. This will happen, only after a person’s quest for inner peace, through pursuing material matters of the world, draws no result. Only when seeking outside is futile, does man consider seeking within. That’s when, as Nanak taught, and Sikhism preaches, the individual sees the panj chor (Five Thieves) of ego, anger, greed, attachment and lust, as distracting from being on The Path. So, in essence, each one of us has to find our ways to get on to The Path – through experience, through stumbling, through falling and through learning. No religious diktat exists nor can any direct anyone to The Path, unless, she or he really wants to be on it. Whatever dos and don’ts abound around us, are the handiwork of the mandarins that want to control, using the name of religion, and causing fear of retribution by an external God, to coerce the masses into submission.
Simply, nothing outside can distract you or prevent you from realizing your True Self – and the Godliness in you – except you! As Nanak himself has sung it so beautifully: “As fragrance abides in the flower, as reflection is within the mirror, so does the Lord abide within you. Why search for Him without?”

Enjoy (your) God! Cheers!!!

God has to be enjoyed, not feared! Live your Life simply, purely, being present in the moment, and you will experience the God that you always seek. Today is as auspicious as any other day. This moment is as sacred as any other. It is our beliefs, primarily conditioned through the medium of religion, that have taken us away from enjoying Life for what it is and have led us to fear (a) God! And anything that’s feared cannot be enjoyed!
Mandarins of religion, historically, down the ages, have written or propounded principles that are aimed at scaring people that something grave will happen to them if they “disregard or ignore” an external God! As a child, I was warned, by my grandmother, that if I don’t eat my meals on time, “sami vandhu kanna kutthum!” (God will come and pierce or gorge your eyes out). So, the first conditioning we often receive is to “fear” God. More recently, a family member who lost her mother, was not allowed to attend the obsequies by her husband because someone else (a distant relative) had died in his side of the family – and per traditional “religious” practice/protocol you must mourn your husband’s loss first over your own! What kind of a religion is it if it prevents a daughter from mourning the loss of her mother and being with her own siblings and father in a time of grief? But such absurdities abound – and worse, they are adhered to because the protagonists “fear” God will harm them if they “dare to disregard, disrespect” or “sin”!
There’s a story from Guru Nanak’s Life that delivers an awakening message. It is said that, per Islam, sleeping with your feet in the direction of Kaaba, which is one of the most sacred sites for Muslims and is in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, is not permitted. Now Nanak is believed to have visited Kaaba and was found sleeping with his feet pointing to the Kaaba. The Imam, the holy priest, of Kaaba came over and angrily shook Nanak awake. He asked Nanak to explain how dare he point his feet at the holy site.
He thundered at Nanak, “Whether you are a Muslim or not, can’t you obey the rules? Shame on you! Now change your direction and go to sleep.”                                                                                                                                                                      
Nanak replied humbly: “Sir, I have tried but it is just not working out. Why don’t you try pointing my feet away from the Kaaba?”
The Imam was furious. He violently dragged Nanak’s feet away from the Kaaba. But however much he tried, the Kaaba moved too, to be always ending up facing Nanak’s feet. The Imam tried a hundred times. But a hundred times, the Kaaba moved following Nanak’s feet.
Nanak laughed and said: “This is my problem. I also tried. And I also gave up. In which direction do I point my feet? I realize that every direction is holy – and all creation, existence, is divine.”
So it is. A memorable point-counter-point among three famous Urdu poets, spread over 200 years and three generations, further amplifies this message!
 The venerable Mirza Ghalib (1797~1869) was once caught drinking alcohol in a mosque. He said, when asked to explain himself, “Sharaab pene de masjid mein baith kar, ya who jagah bata jahan khuda nahi…” It means: “Allow me to drink in the mosque or tell me a place where God isn’t present (so I can go drink there!).
Allama Iqbal (1877~1938), perhaps offering a counter to Ghalib said: Masjid khuda ka ghar hai, peeney ki jagha nahin, Kaafir ke dil mein ja, Wahan khudaa nahin… It means: “A mosque is God’s abode, not a place to imbibe alcohol, go to the heart of a non-believer, as God does not reside there”
Ahmed Faraz (1931~2008), offered his take on Iqbal’s, saying: Kaafir ke dil se aya hoon mein yeh dekh kar, Khuda maujood hai wahan, Par usey pata nahin… It means: “I have come from seeing a non-believer’s (perhaps referring to himself) heart, God is resident there too…but the non-believer doesn’t quite know this!”
I am not sure if an external God, a Creator of the Universe exists, in reality. But I do believe that all of creation is so beautiful, so divine. And each of us has been created to experience this. Through this experience, we will find our God – within us! As Kabir, the 15th Century weaver-poet says: “As oil is in the oilseed, so is the Lord within three, unrevealed”. I also have come to believe that this God within has to be enjoyed, not feared! As the Quran says, Bismillah ir Rahman ir Rahim__meaning, if you believe there is a God, then that God is, in the name of Allah, Benevolent and Merciful!

Here’s hoping that this Eid, you too celebrate the Universal Energy that powers you and enjoy the God that resides in you!