Pray, pray, pray. Not in the name of religion. But in salutation and gratitude to a Higher Energy, to make the world a better place.
This story in The Hindu yesterday – Nuns’ visit to temple causes flutter – caught my attention. I found the furore over the visit of the nuns to the Srirangam temple quite unnecessary. What was appalling was the clarification offered by the Tamil Nadu government – through the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department – that the nuns were “politely asked to leave the temple as they were in their religious attire” and that the “nuns did not take out their rosaries and pray”. Reading the story, I told myself – “Gosh, when is the world going to grow up and be inclusive?”
Let me hasten to clarify that I am not against any particular religion. In fact, I am against the concept of religion itself in the first place. Also, while I do acknowledge the presence of a Higher Energy and believe wholesomely in the power of prayer, I am totally opposed to the popular idea that God is to be worshipped in a “place of worship” and only through practising religion and through being ritualistic.
To be sure, I too have visited several places of worship seeking inner peace and clarity on the meaning and purpose of Life. Initially, I did find the energies equally uplifting wherever I went. Whether it was my native shrine in Palakkad, the Mangottu Bhagavathi kaavu, or the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty at Ajmer or the Vatican or Tirupati or Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi or Sai Baba’s samadhi at Shirdi. But these visits provided me only temporary spells of relief. Very soon the impact of a place or its energies would wear off and I would be left thirsty – seeking “something” that was at the same time undefinable and elusive. Besides, I realized that far too much effort was required to be invested in seeking and worshipping God – through practising rituals and religion. And the outcome of the effort was always inadequate – it left me incomplete and unfulfilled. So, as my quest for inner peace intensified, I found my interest in religion waning.
The problem I had was not with any religion in particular but with the idea of religion itself. I discovered that it is religion that gives certain people the power to manipulate, the license to divide and the freedom to hold followers (of the religion) as hostages. These so-called “high priests” of religion use fear to make people toe their line. I find the whole idea that you must fear God ridiculous. Why would you fear a creator who has created you as a human in the first place; all of us have been created, none of us asked to be born; so, isn’t the human form a gift, a miracle? Think about it. You may well have been created as an inanimate object or as an animal or bird or plant – why are you created human? When you understand this dimension of your creation, you will awaken – as I did – to the futility of religion. Creation, the Higher Energy that powers the Universe, just created humans. We humans, through employing our insecurities and desire to control each other, invented religion and the idea that God a) must be feared and b) is found only through ritual and in a certain place. Ever since religion was invented a large mass of humankind has remained divided – and enslaved – in the hands of a powerful few – all in the name of fearing God and practising religion! We thrust religion upon each successive generation – surely, no new-born chooses a religion, it is mostly “embraced” without choice; and the few that choose a different religion in adulthood are driven by their own quest, their own insecurities and their fears. So, the slavery to religion continues.
Just look at what religion has done to our world. It has divided humanity. It has made us intolerant of each other, it has led us to kill, plunder and spread hatred and disharmony. And that’s why I believe totally in spirituality. Now, religion and spirituality are not one and the same. Religion is mass-driven, fear-inducing, ritualistic and plain regressive. Spirituality, on the other hand, is deeply personal – to each one their own – and celebrates the idea of being human, of all of us being one. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness – it is understanding that if you have been created, you will be looked after, provided for and cared for; that this journey in the human form is temporary; that while you are here, you must be happy, be inclusive, be loving and be giving to all around you. In spirituality, as I understand it, there is no God to “go to” or “fear” – you just surrender to a Higher Energy, you acknowledge the impermanence of every thing, including this human form, and trust the process of Life by being eternally grateful for your being human and for this human experience. Prayer, in a spiritual context, to me, is this act of total surrender in eternal gratitude.
So, pray, pray, pray. Not in the name of religion. But in salutation and gratitude to a Higher Energy, to make the world a better place. Which is why I believe the nuns must have been allowed to pray at Srirangam. Or menstruating women must be allowed to pray in Sabarimalai. Or anyone must be allowed to travel to and pray at Mecca. Not that these “places of worship” must be democratized but because religion must be done away with. What the world needs today is a lot of prayer by a lot of humanity – and clearly not religion!
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.
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.
Affiliation to a God or a religion or a ritual is a personal choice.
The administrator of my apartment block’s facilities came by the other morning. He wanted a contribution of Rs.100/- that the apartment owners’ association was collecting to conduct a puja and distribute prasadam to the poor and needy. I told him that I don’t make any contributions in the name of God, religion or rituals. He seemed a bit lost with my reply. It was evident he wasn’t expecting that response from me. So I explained to him that I preferred in celebrating the God within each one of us, in bowing to humanity than being part of any practice that was divisive and bred either a superiority complex or instilled fear among people. My perspective was lost on him, surely. I guess he must have gone back and simply reported to the management committee of the association that I refused to pay up. And the members of that committee may have drawn their individual inferences from my decision.
But I couldn’t care less.
I am fine with feeding the poor and needy. We must all support and be there for each other. But why bring our efforts under the umbrella of religion? Why bring God into the picture? God is a personal concept. Affiliation to a God or a religion or a ritual is a personal choice. And that’s how it must be. Inviting God into our social contexts, into culture, is what’s messing things up. Which is why I ask, why color any socially relevant, beneficial initiative with this God thing?
I see it like this. I am not sure if there is “a” God like the way it is popularly perceived. But I do know that there is a Higher Energy that is powering the Universe. An Energy that is clearly beyond human comprehension. So, if we just offer whatever we do to the Universe, to this Higher Energy, it is enough. Why do we want to label this Energy? Simply, the breath that each of us takes, what keeps us alive, is the same. You don’t live any longer or problem-free because you have a Hindu breath or a Muslim breath or Christian breath. In the grand, beautiful, inscrutable scheme of Life’s design, religion and God, are totally irrelevant. It appears to me that humans have invented religion and God to control each other. So, no God or religion for me please, thank you! I simply surrender to this Higher Energy a.k.a Life and I am humbled being able to serve humanity in my own, limited, small way.
I certainly believe the time has come for us to stop complaining about the rot in our social fabric and culture and instead do something about it. Anything that pits one human being against another on the grounds of God, religion, rituals, caste, race or creed, must be expunged from the face of this planet. My thinking and effort may be too irrelevant, and laughable too, but at least it makes me happy that I am able to make a small contribution to make our world a better, inclusive, pluralistic, place.
Celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
The Kerala High Court has overruled a bureaucrat’s decision to allow women to wear churidars at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I believe the bureaucrat K.N.Satheesh, the Executive Officer of the temple, was being very progressive when he made that decision on November 29th. But the court ruling only proves, yet again, that in India we seek to protect and perpetrate gender biases in the name of tradition and culture.
I don’t want to go into the long list of instances of gender bias unleashed against women and their right to worship at religious places in India – Sabari Malai is a case in point, as also the general thumb rule that women having their periods should not enter a temple. Clearly, at the core of all the arguments seeking to protect culture and tradition is a diabolical male chauvinist effort to deny women equal rights.
My view is that God is an over-rated idea. I don’t deny that there is a Higher Energy. And you may call it God. But to box God into a religion, into a place, into a gender, into a socio-religious and culture specific framework and hold humanity to ransom basis tradition and orthodox practices is cruel. If God created the Universe and all of us humans, what right does one set of those humans, the self-styled mandarins who administer and control religions, have to deny other fellow humans the joy of worshipping their creator?
The only way forward for humanity is to abandon the God idea as it exists. And embrace Godliness.
I simply love Mother Teresa’s idea of God: “I believe in person to person. Every person is Christ to me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is the one person in the world at that moment.” This is the core idea on which she served humanity, so selflessly, all her Life. Osho, the Master, explains this concept beautifully: “I say there is no God, but there is Godliness. So I destroy God as a person. God is more like a fragrance than a flower.” Essentially, this means, we must celebrate the essence of God than seek God’s physical presence.
But society, tradition, culture, religion, dogmas – all these and more – want you to keep searching for God in a physical form. They want you to go find that form and confirm God’s presence. But the truth is God has never been found; God is still missing! Even so, the folks running religions want you to keep searching so that they can control you. Just imagine, as John Lennon beautifully pleaded in 1971, if we had a world where no one believed in religion and everyone stopped this search for God! Now, who stands to lose? The seekers or the administrators of religion? See, there you already have the answer – this is why the God theory is going on getting propagated. So that you and I can be controlled, generation after generation after generation. Think about it. Why does God, the creator, need propaganda – after all, God created the Universe. And God’s biggest advertisement is this beautiful, bountiful world that we have. Yet, there is so much propaganda about God, important, about fearing God: don’t wear churidars here, don’t enter there, you can’t enter a place of worship when you are menstruating, you can’t eat this, you can’t drink that and on and on. Why? So that that the propagandists, in the name of God, can keep you and me under their thumb.
Tragically, instead of believing in ourselves, and our own Godliness, we tend to, out of fearing God, believe the propagandists. The weaver-saint Kabir tried to awaken us, way back in the 15th Century, when he sang:
“Moko kahan dhoondhe re bande
Main toh tere paas mein
Na teerath mein na moorat mein
Na mandir mein na masjid main
Na Kabe Kailas mein
Na main jap mein na main tap mein…
Kehat Kabir suno bhai saadho
Main toh hoon vishwas mein”
This means, “Where are you searching for me (God)? I am not in a pilgrimage or an idol, nor in a temple or a mosque, not in Mecca, not in Kailash, not in mantras nor in penance…I am in your faith.” What he said then is so, so, true even today. I hope the women who are being denied entry into the Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple, and the judges of the Kerala High Court, who passed that order disallowing churidars, pause to reflect on Kabir’s verse again. The former then may find solace and the latter may find perspective.
But, clearly, for a better world, the idea of God as a physical presence has to be abandoned. For this we humans must embrace the essence of God, the Godliness in each of us. And this begins with respecting our women first. Because, without women, simply, there can be no humanity.
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The problem with searching for what isn’t there is that it takes you away from what is there!
We recently bumped into a couple who had attended one of my Talks a few months ago. The gentleman said he was very moved by our story and inspired by our ‘courage’. He suggested that we attend an Isha Yoga Program led by a prominent member of Jaggi Vasudev’s team. He felt we need to ‘put into practice a method that can attract abundance and inner peace into our Life’. Both Vaani and I politely declined his suggestion. He was a bit taken aback by our response. Noticing his discomfort, I told him that we had nothing against Jaggi Vasudev personally but we are saying no because we don’t believe that there are any methods to live Life.
The Isha philosophy has somehow never appealed to me personally. Nor has any other. In the past, people, out of sheer compassion and love for us, perhaps even concern, have recommended various approaches to us to help us ‘solve our problems’. Someone said that we must follow Buddhism, another said we must try or Pranic Healing or Reiki, my former secretary said we must embrace Christianity, a friend suggested we meet a Pir Baba at a mosque on Pycrofts Road (Chennai) who would look at eggs and tell us how to get rid of the ‘evil spirit that had gripped us’. So, the suggestions have been plenty. But we have consistently declined embracing any method, any practice.
Not that we haven’t tried anything ever. We did pujas, pariharams, went on pilgrimages to various shrines, across religions, wore rings on all fingers, fasted on specific days each week and followed several, several, methods and practices. But none worked for us – forget solutions, we didn’t even feel the peace we were desperately seeking! What I am going to say now applies to Vaani and me. There is no suggestion that anyone must agree with us or that it will work for others. After years of trying various approaches, we have realized that Life cannot be methodized. This understanding alone has worked for us. So we love it. And religion, practiced in a God-fearing, ritualistic, mindless, divisive manner, as it is done today, doesn’t work. At least it doesn’t work for us.
They say religion is for those who want to go to heaven. And spirituality is for those who have been to hell. Vaani and I have been to hell, are in hell, and are loving it here. Because if a problem-ridden Life is hell, then, no one is ever going to be living a problem-free Life. So, in a sense, we are all in hell already. Instead of loving what is, and learning to deal with it or work on changing it, we clearly don’t want to merely pine for – and suffer for – an aspirational state.
Spirituality is an inner awakening. It is understanding the divine, the godliness in you. And realizing that everything about your Life, including this lifetime is impermanent, except your divinity, or as every scripture points out, except your true Self. As Osho says, there is no God, just godliness. Or as German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (1844~1900) asked so thought provokingly: “Which is it, is man one of God’s blunders or is God one of man’s blunders?” So, spirituality inspires us to live our temporary, soon-to-expire, human lives, intelligently, beautifully, happily. On the spiritual path there is no religion, there are no methods, no mantras, no practices. There is just an awakening; an empowering awareness that there is no logic to Life, just magic, everywhere, in every moment, in everyone!
I am reminded of Baal Shem Tov (1698~1760), the mystical Rabbi, who implored his followers to drop all rituals, all methods and all practices and simply trust Life. He used to say: “Trust Life, trust God, and whatsoever has been given to you, enjoy it! Enjoy it with such deep gratitude that every small thing matters and becomes holy, becomes sacred, becomes God.”
If you think about Life deeply you don’t have any other way to look at Life than with gratitude. This whole Life is a gift. The experiences that you have been through and are going through are unique gifts – that teach you and awaken you – too. When you realize this you will wonder why did you ever complain about Life, why did you have to struggle with and suffer in Life, instead of celebrating it!
Because you think you have to ‘solve this problem of Life’, it has come to mean a set of things that you don’t have or keep aspiring or searching for. Which is why you are looking for methods, which is why an external resource, a God, or religion, or ritual, is seen as a possible panacea. But are you at peace with your Life, are you happy, despite being religious, despite practices and rituals? To be sure, this search is futile because there is nothing, no one, to be found; there is nothing to be solved. You miss this simple truth about Life because while you are running amuck chasing what isn’t there, you never feel grateful for what is there, for what you have!
Life is happening in every moment. If you are not present in each moment you will miss the most spectacular show in, and of, your “entire lifetime”! You may define some moments of your Life as good and great and several others as plain drudgery. That’s perhaps because you don’t see the blessing in each moment. If you pause to look, every leaf looks beautiful in the sunlight, and differently beautiful in the darkness of the night, every cloud has a silver lining and everything around you, in you, is a miracle! What method do you need to see all this? What practice can help you see what is evident? How much more abundance do you need than what is and that which you don’t already recognize? When you do awaken to Life’s magic and beauty, you will stop searching for methods and start living with gratitude!
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Don’t try to overanalyze Life. Just take it as it comes.
This is what I told a friend who wanted to know what’s the method I practice to live my Life with “so much equanimity in the midst of so much strife”. I added that there are no methods or mantras to live Life. Each one chooses a way and, over time, they keep reviewing, refining, reinventing that way till they come to the point where they are ‘just being’, they are immersed in the present moment, with no grief about the past and no expectations from the future or no anxieties about it.
My friend insisted that there must be a method and our Life’s Purpose is to find that method. I simply said, “That’s your way brother, go with your sense of your way and it will eventually bring you to where you must be.” My friend dismissed my perspective saying that I was being “very spiritual”. “Spirituality”, he said, “is very abstract and what the world needs are logical, practical insights.”
I simply smiled back. I am sure, over time, my friend too will discover that spirituality is deeply personal, simple and practical. It is not religion. Religion, as it is practiced today, has methods and mantras. It is ritualistic and holds you hostage, reminding you constantly that you must be God-fearing. Spirituality, on the other hand, is simple. It is merely the flowering of inner awareness. This awareness sets you free. This awareness helps you understand that all Life is impermanent, and that, therefore, you must not squander this lifetime. It champions living in the moment, ‘just being’ and celebrating Life!
People often miss any spiritual perspective because they find ‘just being’ a very difficult thing to do. They want to be in control of Life. But ‘just being’ means sitting back and watching the magic and beauty of Life being in total control. So people see spirituality as ‘beyond’ them because they are so caught up in the quagmire of worry, anger, guilt, sorrow, suffering and the ‘earning-a-living’ syndrome. They have an ostrich-like mentality – their heads are buried deep in their ill-formed beliefs. Their minds are closed – although there’s so much grace, so much abundance, freely available, they are still focused on what they don’t have, steeped in scarcity. Kabir, the 15th century weaver-poet asked us to think: ‘What if a fish said it was thirsty?’ Wouldn’t that be the stupidest of situations? Won’t you tell the fish to go re-examine its brain? How can a fish be thirsty when it is always in water?’ Quite similarly, the human mind is being foolish by seeking peace outside and by not looking within. By not allowing this flowering of awareness to happen from within. So, you conclude that you can’t be at peace, you refuse to look within and choose instead to be enslaved by your self-imposed limitations. Only when the awareness within you blooms, only when you understand that you can be in control while controlling nothing, only then will you see the Master in yourself.
This understanding is elusive because, while being profound, it is, at the same time, too simplistic. That’s why, it doesn’t come to everyone – especially when they are employing their education, their logic, in trying to make sense of Life. The truth is Life doesn’t conform to any framework or rules. Least of all your logic. Clearly, there are no methods or mantras to live Life. It is simple – and uncomplicated – when you unquestioningly accept its paradoxical, often inscrutable, nature. So don’t dissect or analyze Life – live it for what it is, with what is!