Religion makes bad spaghetti of a beautiful recipe called Life!

Religion, as it is preached and practised today, divides. Period. There’s an urgent need to refocus on the only religion that is – and matters, humanity!
The amount of intolerance that some people have for others, in the name of religion, is shocking. Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Praveen Togadia’s call to his supporters, a couple of days ago, in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, urging Hindus not to allow Muslims to buy land in Hindu localities may or may not end up being classified by the Election Commission as a “hate speech” – but it surely smacks of stoking intolerance. If you thought Togadia is a fundamentalist and there’s nothing surprising about his view, consider those expressed this morning by my well-heeled, erudite friend, who, on facebook, chided a community of south Indian Brahmins for “aping” the north Indian wedding culture by introducing “baaraat, mehndi and sangeet” at their weddings. My friend himself is a Brahmin but belongs to another sub-sect. He posts with reference to the ‘other’ Brahmin community: “We know that your wedding ceremonies suck….Cultural slavery is what you are leading now. You will sacrifice your traditions to imitate the northies. You are encouraging slavery of a different kind.” He even threw in an expletive which made the sentiment he expressed tragically derisive.
Think about it. What’s our world coming to? If this is the way people are going to react – being intolerant of each other’s preferences, practices and opinions, we will soon be left with walled cities and communities all around us.
But there’s still some hope. The famous Shehnai exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan’s (1913~2006) family served some “heart-warming” sentiment yesterday when they politely declined to nominate Narendra Modi for his candidature, when he files his nomination papers from Varanasi on Thursday. Khan Sahab’s youngest son, Nazim, said that his family did not want to propose any candidate for any party. “Hum ko sirf kala aur sanskriti se matlab hai – We are just devoted to art and culture,” he affirmed. Khan Sahab himself, though a pious Shi’ite Muslim, was a devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of wisdom and arts, and used to perform frequently at the Kasi Viswanath temple on the banks of the Ganga. India Todaypaid tribute to Khan Sahab on his passing, saying: “In his lexicon, music was the highest form of spirituality. “How can you call music ‘haram’ (sinful)?” he constantly argued with  orthodox Islamic clerics from Banaras (Varanasi) to Baghdad, adding, “If it is ‘haram’ then let there be more of it.”” People like Khan Sahab were not maestros without reason – they saw humanity as the only religion and music (art, culture) as its only expression.
And here’s another story that shows how humanity is still in safe hands. Vasant Bondale, then 76, was, in July last year, returning to Mumbai from a Scandinavian tour via Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight when he suffered a heart attack, mid-air. The pilots asked the nearest ATC tower – in Karachi – for an emergency landing. The permission was granted. And doctors at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi performed an emergency surgery saving Bondale’s Life. Those who know how much political and religious rhetoric gets thrown across the border by both India and Pakistan will appreciate this story better. An Indian Hindu, on a Turkish airliner, lands in Pakistan and has his Life saved!? Incredible! Bondale’s wife, Nalini, sums it up: “I was not scared of landing in Pakistan as the priority was to save my husband. It was of course on my mind that we had no Visas, but the Pakistani authorities never brought it up. They treated us like family!”  
Simplistically – we have sure heard this before – all of humanity is one big family! And if we have to preserve this family, we have to revisit religion. It’s important we know what religion really is – and understand it the way it should be understood. What I have learnt from Osho, the Master, is that true religion is like science. It is a quest. Science explores the objective while religion explores the subjective. The objective exploration deals with things while the subjective exploration deals with being. And just as there cannot be different variants of science – you don’t have a science that’s different for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs or Christians; the Law of Gravity, for instance, is the same, irrespective of who you are – similarly, the science of being cannot be different for each of us just because we have decided to clothe ourselves with different beliefs. These belief systems have come about because the mandarins that control religion across the world today wanted power – and gullible followers wanted social acceptance. If anyone challenged the power structure, they were ostracized by society. So, people fell in line, and over generations, ‘diktats’ became ‘beliefs’. And people who ‘subscribed’ to beliefs soon became ‘religious’. That’s why – and how – we have a fractious social structure today, controlled by “the religions” – who make bad spaghetti of such a beautiful recipe called Life!
True religion deals with the flowering of internal awareness, the science of just being, which we also call spirituality! The only religion we must champion or align with, therefore, is humanity. Everything else is irrelevant!

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!

Your ego obstructs your living Life fully

If you are not living Life, fully, freely – it could be that your ego is coming in the way!


Humility is the key to your spiritual growth. But your ego is a big deterrent. It has to first be expunged.

A Japanese king sent his minister to meet the Zen Master Lin Chi. The king had a question. He wanted to know the difference between hell and heaven. Lin Chi told the minister to ask the king to come personally if he really wanted to learn the answer to his question. The king arrived to meet Lin Chi and bent down to touch the Master’s feet.

Lin Chi reacted violently to the king’s gesture: “You idiot! You don’t even know manners?”
The king was shocked. And in a rage, he immediately drew his sword to attack Lin Chi.
Lin Chi said: “Wait a minute! This is the door to hell”
The king was surprised. He put his sword back in its sheath.
Lin Chi now said: “Good. Now that is the door to heaven.”
The king said he did not understand what this was all about.
Lin Chi explained. “Hell is not anywhere else, in some after-Life, but is in your ego. How does it matter if I called you an idiot? Why did you get so angry that you were ready to take a poor man’s Life? Who was hurt? Think carefully – it is your ego that was hurt. And when you abandoned the hurt – in your quest for learning from me – you put the sword back in the sheath, you expunged your ego and so rose in your heaven. Heaven is where there is no ego.”
Lin Chi’s wisdom is so pure. So beautiful. The biggest hurdle on the spiritual path is the ego. How does it matter whether people call you an idiot or a great mind? At the end of the day, it is what they think, it is their opinion. You cannot concern yourself with people’s opinions. You cannot live your Life based on them. Know who you are. That’s enough. You don’t really need to depend on what society thinks of you. It is your ego that depends, that thrives on societal opinion! Your ego keeps you enslaved in a social context. To live Life fully, freely, that context does not really matter.
The ego is what causes all your misery. So, to rid yourself of your suffering, get rid of the ego. A simple way to expunge the ego is to drop the “I” in every context in Life. A friend of mine came to me to share his feelings over a messy divorce that he was going through. He said, “I have been betrayed, I have been trampled upon and I am being accused. I feel so stupid, so used. I must get rid of this feeling of injustice and shame. Is there a way?” The Buddha has taught that one way to be free is to drop the “I”. I shared that learning with my friend. And asked him to say the same statement again without using “I” anywhere in it. My friend tried and this is how it sounded: “Have been betrayed. Have been trampled upon. Am being accused. Feel so stupid, so used. Must get rid of this feeling of injustice and shame.” And that’s an interesting method, isn’t it? Without the “I” the statement is without a personal context. It is just a reporting of fact and feeling. And therefore, a solution to the situation, appears almost instantaneously! With the “I”, a resolution, or an escape from that hurt, would have been unthinkable!
Osho, the Master, points to what a beautiful Life await us if we can drop our ego. He says: “The ego is preventing everything. Your ego is making you a beggar, while you are an emperor of a vast empire. Of course, that empire does not belong to the outside world. It is in your own being. Which has the vastness of the whole Universe.”

Make sure you live when you are still alive!

Someone I know told me recently that he found it very difficult to “give up” worldly Life. And so, he concluded, he would never be able to lead his Life with detachment or be able to let go!
I politely reminded him that there really is no need to “give up” anything in order to live! I invited him to understand the true essence of spirituality before he came to his conclusions!
Here’s what (I have learned from Life and) what I shared with him. Spirituality is the flowering of inner awareness. It is the realization that at the end of this lifetime, nothing, not even your experience through this Life that you are living right now, will matter. And through this realization, what is also known as enlightenment, or bliss, you learn to be happy with what you have and lead a Life of contentment and inner peace. Over time, through continuous practice, you cultivate an attitude of detachment. As your awareness grows, so does your ability to live fully, in a “let go” mode!
To be sure, a person who is spiritual, or enlightened, need not abdicate anything. She or he can continue to live in this world, surrounded by all things material, and yet, as the Bhagavad Gita recommends, be above it. As one Zen Master taught his disciples, who wanted to know what enlightenment was: “It is not at all complicated. It only means when hungry, eat. And when tired, sleep!” Most of the time, we complicate our lives by making choices that are clearly avoidable! And then we complain that our lives are meaningless, are not getting us anywhere and that we are unhappy!
Being enlightened does not mean you are more knowledgeable or holier or that you have all the answers. It only means you are more aware – that, often times, in Life, there are no answers. That you simply live the Life that you have been given! Here’s another Zen story to illustrate this point.
The Emperor asked Master Gudo, a renowned Zen Master of his time.
“What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?”
“How should I know?” replied Gudo.
“Because you are a Master,” answered the Emperor.
“Yes Sir, I am” said Gudo, “but not a dead one!!!”
Spirituality clearly is no rocket science. We believe it is because we are trapped in our own small worlds – bogged down by worry, fear, anxiety, grief, anger, hatred and jealousy – and are so caught up in the worldly cycle of earning-a-living, that we have stopped living! Step out and break free from whatever is limiting you. Go live your Life the way you want to. Remember: we live only once – as far as we can believe. Make sure you live when you are still alive!

The Universal Prayer to Life


Life is a continuous process of unlearning and learning, repairing and renewing.

Many a time what you think, what you say and what you do may not be in harmony. And that really is the cause for all unhappiness. Or sometimes you may be thinking, saying and doing things in one way but others, often companions, observers, onlookers, will be thinking differently. And they may opinionate differently. This can be another source for unhappiness.

So, in either of these situations, how do you restore the equilibrium? How do you anchor within? How do you come back to being happy?

Some years ago, I would lean on religion for repair and renewal, but while I found such experiences ushering in peace momentarily, the peace at most times didn’t really last. When the experience was over, the hard-won peace was also gone. Besides, I never understood or experienced happiness through religion. Further, through a Life-changing experience that I have been through in recent years, I have lost all interest in religion, as it is preached and practiced today. I find it ritualistic and divisive. In the name of pluralism it alienates us humans from each other. They say spirituality is the flowering of internal awareness. They also say religion is for those who want to go to heaven, and spirituality is for those who have been to hell! I have been to hell and I identify with both these sayings closely. 

I composed this prayer some years ago. It was a fervent plea from me to Life to show me the right way, through the labyrinth of fear, anxiety and uncertainty that tormented me at that time. It has since become a prayer to Life, whom I have come to recognize as the greatest Teacher. That’s why I always spell Life with a capital ‘L’! To me, Life is the Higher Energy that embraces and nurtures all creation. Each day, during my ‘mouna’ (silence periods) session, I pray to Life, reciting this prayer slowly, savoring each word, and relating it to my experiences of the previous day. Since I don’t understand Sanskrit, and since most of Indian Hindu prayers are composed in that language, I have been unable to relate to any of them seriously. English, however, as a medium, helps me internalize each sentiment and embed my daily learnings firmly in my soul!

Teach me, O! Teacher…

Teach me, O! Teacher, each day as I awake and arise, to be humble. To respect another Life and to accept that just as I am entitled to my opinion, others are too. To contribute selflessly and without expectation.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to forgive every act of unkindness and injustice to me. To unlearn and forget what may not be relevant to me as I journey along.

Teach me to conquer anger and to attain that state of ahimsa, when all violence inside me subsides, and true love prevails.

Teach me to avoid hatred and jealousy. To resist ruinous temptations and to employ discretion at such times that I may waver.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to soak in and converse with the silence that engulfs me and for me to discover the real me in it.

Teach me to lead a Life of action, skillfully and selflessly, to live in this world and yet be above it.

Teach me, to remain detached from the fruits of my action and to know that if the motive is pure and the means are correct, in the end it will all be fine if I do my best and leave you the rest.

Teach me, O! Teacher, to be eternally grateful for this Life and this experience!

You too can try it. Learning, unlearning, repair and renewal, on a daily basis, are guaranteed. Peace and joy are both intended and assured outcomes too!