Why I refuse to call myself a Hindu

Can we just be human, pleeeaaassse?

My good friend Girish Pradhan was stopped from entering the famous Kapaleeshwarar temple in Mylapore yesterday. The temple authorities wanted to ascertain that he is a Hindu. Girish sports a beard and apparently that’s why the “clarification/proof” was sought.

I have been thinking about this episode ever since Girish’s wife Weena posted a status on Facebook last afternoon. And interestingly, adding to the discourse brewing in my head, I ended up watching a Subhash Ghai film “Black & White” (2008, Anil Kapoor, Shefali Shah, Anurag Sinha) on TV last night. The film deals with some searching questions on Hindu-Muslim unity, on how a terrorist is born and why most acts of terrorism are led by Islamic fundmentalists. While the film was engaging for most parts, it didn’t quite answer all the questions it raised. And that is the problem. No one seems to have the answers – even though a majority of people think peace, think secular! We are all, as well meaning citizens of the world, stuck in a situation where a few people hold us to ransom with their anti-human ideas of religious fundamentalism.

Before this post is conveniently misinterpreted and given a communal flavor, I must hasten to confess that I was born to Hindu parents. But I refuse to call myself a Hindu. My religion is humanity. Period. And Life is my God. In fact, later this month, on 29th April, Saturday, I host famous dancer Zakir Hussain on my popular show – The Bliss Catchers – at Odyssey Bookstore, Adyar. Now, Zakir is a Thirupaavai Upanyasam expert. Had Zakir and I tried to enter the Kapaleeshwarar temple, and if we were asked to prove ourselves as Hindus, undoubtedly, Zakir would have won himself an entry ticket! And I would have failed miserably – I don’t wear my poonal (sacred thread), I don’t know any shlokas and, of course, I may have well refused the test. To me, a God who resides in the smelly, dark, sanctorums of a temple, or for that matter who is ensconced in any “place of worship”, watching over apathetically, even as people fight each other in the name of religion, is no God at all.

Clearly, we cannot afford to be like God. Not anymore. We must not sit back and allow the rot to happen. I believe each of us has a responsibility to heal our world. I am not even talking of healing the entire world. I am suggesting we begin with our small Universes, our circles of influence.

AVIS-Viswanathan-The-difference-between-divinity-and-God

First, we must make religion irrelevant in our actions, in our pronouncements, in thought. Let me explain. I have another friend, who often brags that he prefers keeping his second apartment locked up, but he says he will not give it to Muslim tenants. Such thinking must stop. Religion, if at all it must be practiced, is a deeply personal affair. And must be kept that way. Flaunting your religious belief is what makes it relevant. And when there is a mass relevance, fundamentalists seize advantage, they want to induce fear, control you and brainwash you. Some of them take it to a destructive level – they turn barbaric and murderous. Sadly, this is what is happening around us, with alarming frequency. Second, let us understand the difference between divinity and God. Divinity is Life’s way of expressing itself – you will find divinity in a sunrise, in a raindrop, in the stillness of a valley, in a bird chirping, in a child’s eyes, in you, in me and in every aspect of creation. God, on the other hand, is a human invention, who does nothing to save the world from anarchy and extremism. Yes, there is a Higher Energy that governs, guides, nurtures and protects all of us. And we are all created by that Energy and we carry that Energy in each of us. So, to me, every form of creation is God. I don’t relate to God again as one Supremo who resides in a designated place of worship. This theory and its belief is downright divisive and abhorrent. Finally, can we just soak in the essence of this immortal song from Yash Chopra’s directorial debut Dhool Ka Phool (1959, Manmohan Krishna, Mohd.Rafi, N.Dutta) “Tu Hindu Banega Na Musalmaan Banega, Insaan Ki Aulad Hai, Insaan Banega…”? Sahir Ludhianvi’s inspiring lyrics remain relevant to this day – can we just be human, pleeeaaassse?

I know millions of people out there echo these sentiments that I share here. The time has come for all of us like-minded folks to step out and speak up for humanity. My prayer is this: let’s stop being closet secularists. Only when we make religion irrelevant in the public domain, can we make religious fundamentalism irrelevant and powerless.

 

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Spike Fear, Embrace Uncertainty, Have Faith

To peacefully journey through Life you must understand uncertainty and let go of all that you fear.
Indeed, none of us knows what lies in store for us in each approaching moment and, most of the time, we are running scared of this uncertain, unknown, dark future. The way to nullify the impact of the lethal cocktail of fear and uncertainty in Life is to have faith. The faith that can remove fear and help you embrace uncertainty is not the faith that religion tries to dispense and that we all claim we profess. All religious faith is dogmatic, puerile and fanned by seeking to identify with a power that (we are made to believe) is outside of us. God, per all religions and their diktats, fatwas, gospels, is external. Which is why anyone who is deeply religious will still be plagued by worry, anxiety and fear. Whereas, true faith is having conviction in creation itself, in the Universe and its Master Plan. The same energy that powers you__and me__and keeps us alive also created the mountains, the trees, the gorges and the valleys, the petals and the fruits, the oceans and the drops of water. It is part of the Master Plan that the Earth goes around the Sun and not the other way round. It is the same Master Plan that divined you were born to the family that you call your own and were endowed with whatever faculties you had at the time of your creation! That Master Plan has no flaws.
Knowing this, feeling this and living this reality in wondrous amazement is faith. When there’s this real faith, no imposter__religion, dogma, beliefs, rituals, superstitions__can get anywhere close to you. Nor can fear and uncertainty torment you! Where people have true faith, no explanation is required and no amount of explanation works for those who don’t have faith!

Jaluddin Rumi, the 13th Century mystic Persian poet, described living in faith thus: “Do you think I know what I’m doing?…As much as a pen knows what it’s writing, or the ball can guess where it’s going next.” He compared himself to a flute, a wind instrument made from bamboo reed, that cannot create music, unless it is played by a master flautist. So are we, he said, played on by Life. Thinking that we have no song in us is letting fear and uncertainty get the better of us. Knowing that our lives will be music is faith. Spike the fear, embrace the uncertainty, keep the faith and you will live happily ever after! 

Sorry Sadhguru, I humbly disagree with you!

Don’t be waylaid by religion, tradition or rituals. Just celebrate yourself and go do what you want to do – as long as it makes you happy!
Women in Maharashtra have raised the demand of wanting to enter the Shani temple in Shani Shingnapur – which currently does not allow women inside its sanctum sanctorum or chauthara. Even as the issue is being hotly debated, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s elaborate – and what some people call ‘brilliant’ – explanation on why women should indeed be disallowed from entering certain shrines, is doing the rounds on social media. Vasudev’s premise – available here  – is that certain temples have consecrated energies that are likely to have a detrimental effect on women; he explains that it is a biological thing and since ‘in the very nature of female biology, occult forces can have a deeper impact on their system’, women should not be exposed to such places.
I find all this drama totally avoidable.
At a very basic level, as we of course know, there are men and there are women. And there is a higher, inscrutable, energy that shapes our ends. Some call it divinity. I call it energy. Yes, there is a science behind planetary influences on people, places, events and things. But that science and its understanding are beyond the grasp of a majority of us. More often than not we ordinary folks are being misled in the name of tradition, religion, the occult, superstition and rituals. Even if there are influences of a particular planet – the one in question here is Shani or Saturn – on someone or some place, so be it. Isn’t it always what it is? To claim that the female biology responds differently to Shani’senergies – as Vasudev professes – than male biology does, represents primitive and unevolved thinking. It is also highly improbable that this theory can be proven without invoking evidence from another, questionable, dimension – which is purely a human invention – religion.
I believe it is time to drop all this human-made diversity and resolve all this confusion that confounds our co-existence. Let’s learn to simplify our lives and unify humanity in the process.

The best way to live is to celebrate who you are. Male. Female. Whoever you are, just celebrate yourself. After all, the Life-giving source – the breath that you and I take and what keeps us alive – is the same. For the same reasons, religion is totally avoidable. It is unnecessary in fact. Yes, there’s a higher energy that governs all of us. It is both the creator and the destroyer. But such is Life’s nature – where there is birth, death will follow. So, as part of celebrating yourself, if you want to go some place to celebrate that higher energy (if you believe the energy is location-specific) – Shani Shingapur, Sabarimalai, Mecca, Vatican, wherever – simply go. Don’t get waylaid by people who tell you what religion dictates or what rituals demand or what their understanding of planetary influences is. Do what you must. Just be sure to be happy doing what you are doing. Nothing else – no one else – really matters!