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!

It is sinful to waste Life by merely “existing”

“You live only once, so please LIVE! Don’t Exist!”
This is what I have learnt from my dear friend Ejji Umamahesh. I got to know Ejji providentially! I used to write a weekly column for The Indian Express (now The New Indian Express) called “Positive Signs”. I shared inspiring stories and perspectives from my experiences through my column. Ejji, as I was to discover, was an avid reader of my column. One day, almost 12 years ago, I received an email from him. He introduced himself as a “retired rat race runner” – and that was it, we became, and have remained, great friends ever since.
Ejji in Varanasi last week on the “Highway to Swades
Ejji started his career as a toilet cleaning supervisor at the once-iconic Safire Theatre, in what was then Madras. In 1970, he set up Ejji Maintenance Contracts, the first building cleaning service company in India. A year later, he founded Ejji Domestic Services which offered on call services of electricians, carpenters, plumbers and such at home, which again was the first of its kind in India. In 1991, Ejji “quit the rat race” because he had wanted to “earn a living” for only 20 years of his Life. Ever since, Ejji has been living his Life, “doing only what he wants and only when he wants to do anything”. Right now, as you read this, at 65, Ejji is driving through India, capturing the “The Idea of India”. He is on the journey, aptly called Highway to Swades, with three other like-minded seekers – which covers 20,000 km, over 55 days, traveling the entire east coast of India, the North-East, the Hindi belt of Bihar and UP, going high up into Himachal, through Jammu & Kashmir, down through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, coastal Karnataka, Kerala and back to Chennai! Ejji is a collector of vintage cars, loves car racing (he is the Deputy Secretary, Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix), is a theatre enthusiast and has even done a cameo in Mani Ratnam’s ‘Aaytha Ezhuthu’! Ejji, to me, is the quintessential explorer – always experiencing Life by living it to the fullest. However, since 2011, he calls himself a “congenital sybarite” – a sybarite is one who is self-indulgent in their fondness for sensuous luxury!!! That’s Ejji, Unplugged, for you!!! He’s never in one place – peripatetic as they say – having been at Katchal, one of the Nicobar Islands in India on January 1, 2000, to witness the “millennium sunrise” to traveling to most (often lesser known) parts of the world and to currently picking up the sights, sounds, smells and voices of India in this high-voltage election season.
I have often asked Ejji how he manages to do all what he does. And he has always replied: “I have just enjoyed being myself. Most people give up on being themselves only to be conforming to what is considered to be normal. People fear what others may think of them and their actions. So they don’t live their lives the way they want to. Thankfully, I did not care and still don’t care about what others think of me!” Ejji is also quick to add, lest we conclude that he has done what he has at the cost of his “worldly” responsibilities: “My Life has had just one important obsession – my family! There’s nothing that I have done which took precedence over the rightful duties I owe my family. Only after my obligations to my family were met, did I venture into the bohemian lifestyle that became my hallmark.”
I believe the greatest lesson anyone can draw from Ejji’s Life is to live. Not necessarily the way he has lived. But to live Life the way you want to live. Most of us postpone doing what we love doing for social, financial, career or family considerations. You can postpone something if you have a lot of time. But how do you decide or know how much time you have left to live? With each moment that you choose to do what you don’t love doing – because you imagine you have no choice but to do it – you are losing yet another moment to live your Life.
So, postponing living – the way you want to live your Life – is not an intelligent thing to do. Not all of us may succeed in drawing a line saying enough of “earning a living” – now, let me just live! But we can make a beginning – in doing at least a few things each month, each quarter and each year. Living, like existing, is addictive. Once you start enjoying living a full Life, then nothing else will matter. You will then realize how futile and sinful it is to waste a precious gift called Life by merely “existing”!

Offer this lifetime to serve Life!

There is a famous book by one of my favorite authors Robin Sharma titled, “Who will cry when you die?”. I like to ask the question differently: “How will you be remembered after you are gone?

We will all be remembered after we are gone. Make no mistake about that. Have no doubt. The “how” of it is what you__and I__have a choice with. You can either make your lifetime memorable and have people remember you as one who served, who inspired and whose Life is the message. Or you can fade away, as a friend of mine wryly says, having been “a burden on the planet” – having lived a self-obsessed Life and having been totally “un-useful”.

The other day I was, out of sheer curiosity, watching Tamil film actor Prakash Raj host the inaugural episode (his first ever) of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” reality show’s Tamil equivalent on Star Vijay. On the show, he celebrated a contestant who had dedicated his entire Life to support a marginalized, tribal community. Prakash Raj then went on to say what a big difference it makes when people reach out and touch the lives of people who are helpless, and in dire need. He narrated his own story of the day, years ago, when his father had passed away. He was a struggling upstart in the Kannada film industry then. He said he did not have any money that day to cremate his dead father. He recalled how, when he sat wondering what would happen, someone came by and bailed him out. Simply out of the blue. It turned out to be noted Kannada star and director Ravichandran. Ravichandran gave Prakash Raj Rs.5000/-, without him asking, and saved him, as he disclosed, “embarrassment and a lifelong burden of guilt”. “I will always be grateful to Ravichandran Sir for what he did for me and will always remember him as a great soul,” said Prakash Raj.

Veer Bhadra Mishra  – Mahant Ecologist
That’s a learning I picked up from the past week on how we can make a difference in an individual’s Life! And then there are those who touch the entire ecosystem. The Hindu this morning carries an obit titled ‘Warrior for a River,’ by Omar Rashid, of Prof.Veer Bhadra Mishra, noted environmentalist and mahant (head) of the famous Sankatmochan temple in Varanasi. Mishra inherited the position of mahant of the temple when he was barely 14, after his father’s death. But he has, since 1982, been involved in leading the Sankat Mochan Foundation, a non-profit, non-political body, that works for keeping the river Ganga clean and free of pollution. Most Indians revere the Ganga and consider it holy. But almost all Indians know that it continues to be among the most polluted and contaminated water bodies in not just India, but the whole world. Mishra’s raison d’etrewas to clean up the Ganga and restore it to its once pristine state. Rashid reports that Time magazine declared him the magazine’s “Hero of the Planet” (1999) for bringing the plight of the Ganga to the world’s attention and inspiring other river activists. “For his commitment to the river, he rightly won the epithet ‘Ganga Putra’ (Son of the Ganga). Varanasi will also remember him for his “Ganga-ethics” and his personal relationship with the river, which motivated him to say: ‘I am part of Ganga and Ganga is part of me.’”, writes Rashid, hoping that the day will come when Mishra’s dream of the Ganga being free of even a drop of sewage will be realized!

All of us have this good gene in us that inspires us to want to work outside of our own myopic view of the world and climb out of our own needs’ spectrum. Yet we are also so very caught up in the whirlpool of seeking deservance that we fail to seize the opportunity to serve. A simple way to get started is to flip the paradigm and stop wanting to be only successful and instead aim to be useful. Stop saying you deserve (more) and instead try to look for ways to serve (more). This lifetime is a gift. And you may want to be remembered for having used that gift judiciously for helping make this world a better place. Offer yourself to serve Life! There’s no other God than Life. There will be no other opportunity than NOW!