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!
Isn’t humanity’s altar higher than religion’s?
The Supreme Court’s recent order banning the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi during Diwali this year is most welcome. But, as it appears, it’s not quiet welcome in a family WhatsApp Group that we are part of!
Joining the mindless cacophony (on social media) of right-wingers, some members of our extended family ‘see’ the Supreme Court order as an attempt to ‘muzzle’ Hindus and promote other religions. Since the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi is banned only until November 1, and because the ban is not effective during Christmas and New Year, these self-proclaimed custodians of “culture and religion” allude that this order will, in effect, promote Christianity. One venerable member of our family remarked that “slowly children will be weaned away from Hindu culture and be converted to Christianity”. Even as Vaani and I were discussing how preposterous seemingly “well-heeled, well-educated” people in our own circle sound, a young lady, who has married into our family recently, spoke up. She said she could not “tolerate this blatant, non-secular, intolerant, Hindutva stance” in a family group and so she quit the group. Vaani and I completely support and endorse her call for sanity, for fellowship and for us all to “first be human”.
In times such as this, I wonder where are we headed as a people? Does being Hindu also now mean being anti-other-religion, anti-secular? Is being secular now the new meaning of being anti-national? If pro-Hindu jingoism has pervaded an apparently familial setting, then clearly it is the nadir for India as a secular idea. I don’t seriously understand why we don’t get it. Is being a staunch Hindu a license to run roughshod over anyone who has a different faith or viewpoint? Isn’t humanity’s altar higher than religion’s?
It is imperative sane voices speak up and be heard. I am glad someone added the young lady back in our family group. I know it becomes suffocating to hear a biased, non-secular viewpoint, especially when a majority in a group are leaning in favor of that view. But this is when we must speak up. We don’t need to necessarily raise our voice to be heard. We must raise our discourse. And so, many more like that young lady must speak up.
Simply, when we all come from the same source, and will end up with the same source, why allow ourselves to be divided by a petty idea called religion?
Here’s how I see it and I will say this again and again and again – no matter what! I was born human. I was raised as a Hindu. But I am glad I have shed my Hindu (and all religious) affiliation to reclaim my right to being just human!
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.
Empathy and compassion are key to heal the world.
The other day I bumped into a friend to whom I owe money. I have kept him in the loop, sending regular updates, on our situation (read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal). But I was meeting him after a few years. I told him that I was very sorry for the continued delay from my end in keeping up my commitment. I thanked him for his patience and understanding. He replied, “How can I hold it against you for what you are going through AVIS? I won’t say I don’t need the money back. But I don’t feel short-changed either – by you or by your situation.”
I sat that evening and replayed his perspective in my mind. It was practical. And at the same time it was deeply spiritual; very simple, yet profound. Most of the time, we look only at our situations, our needs, our wants when we demand or expect something from someone. We rarely consider what their story is, what they are going through. My friend’s attitude reminded me of the value of compassion and empathy in relationships. Even in a complicated one where I owe him the money, where I am answerable to him, he had the compassion to not hold it against me, to not judge me for what he thought of my prolonged situation. I sent him a text message that night: “Thank you for being truly human.”
Talking of this incident reminds me of an experience we have been having with someone eminent. We know this person for the past year. The first time we met we spent a good amount of time chatting with him. We exchanged business cards and promised to stay in touch. But whenever we met him after that first meeting, he behaved as if he didn’t know us. This happened again two days ago when he came to a conversation I was curating and hosting – in response to my invitation! When I walked up to him and said hello, he was dismissive and moved on. I was perplexed. So I asked a common friend if this gentleman had poor social skills. The common friend clarified to me that this person had a problem remembering names and faces – it was form of amnesia! Imagine, if we were to judge this person as someone who had poor social skills or someone who was a snob – how tragic would that have been?
Simply, if we can all reach my friend’s state of being non-judgmental, I believe we will have a more beautiful world to live in. Think about it. It’s doable. Surely!
Aren’t you incredibly lucky already, that you are created human – the one who gets swine flu – and are not created as the swine that gives the flu? Why do you need any more luck?
At the end of my Fall Like Rose Petal Talk recently, someone in the audience, a business leader heading a large corporation, observed that Vaani and I were very lucky to be surviving this ‘treacherous’ time in our Life. He said, “I just can’t wrap my head around this. But hearing your story makes me believe that miracles do happen. I can clearly see that, every time you are both at the edge of a precipice, something, call it grace, someone, perhaps God, has come and bailed you both out financially. You both are incredibly lucky!” Interestingly, a reader of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal (Westland) wrote to me yesterday sharing this link on how a Cornell professor has researched the connection between luck and money.
Now, I have nothing against or in favor of luck. Just as I have nothing against or in favor of money. But why aren’t we celebrating that we are human, that we are alive? Why do we need to examine luck at all, and why give it undue importance, especially from a material perspective? For instance, we consider someone ‘lucky’ if they win gold in a slogan-writing contest, but those others who competed – who could think creatively and express themselves – were ‘unlucky’ because they didn’t win!
The problem lies with the relationship we have with money. I believe we humans don’t see money as a resource that must be deployed for living Life fully. We don’t see it as a means, we instead see it as the end. Does it matter that you don’t have money or things when you have good health, you have a loving family and caring friends, when you have a home that you can come back to and when you can still sleep like a baby when you hit the pillow? This tendency to focus on what we don’t have – and if it is money in question, then no one can ever have enough of it – is causing us to remain unhappy, to suffer.
Life has to be lived celebrating what is. Not analyzing why what is the way it is. And definitely not lived by moaning about what is not. Yesterday, we were at one of the finest hotels in Chennai, talking to a couple of senior managers about our work and our Life. Neither of them were influenced by our impoverished financial status. They treated us with so much warmth, so much dignity. They heard us out and considered the value we can create for their teams, instead of evaluating our net worth. This is the kind of celebration that I am talking about – this blessing of being human, being compassionate!
And let me tell you, if you remove material reference points from your Life, if you don’t consider money to be an object, all of us are, uniformly, without doubt, incredibly, incredibly lucky to be born human. Think about it. You have been created without your asking to be born. Isn’t it possible, employing the same theory of probability that you use in other contexts, that you could have been created as something else – a swine, a reptile, a tree, a rock…whatever? The very fact that you are human, that you have a smartphone, that you can read this blogpost and internalize its point of view, in your own unique way, that, to me, is evidence of how lucky you are.
Personally, I have evolved beyond considering the luck factor in my Life. I remain overwhelmed and humbled by all the grace and abundance that’s raining in my Life – non-stop, 24×7. I believe being human, being alive, is a miracle. So, I simply experience Life for what it is, without questioning, without analyzing, anything. And in each moment, I offer a simple prayer to Life – “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Be vulnerable. Be clueless. Don’t hide how you are feeling.
I watched ‘Talaash’ (2012, Reema Kagti, Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor) again on TV last evening. In the movie, Roshni asks her husband Suraj an all important question: “Is it wrong to feel vulnerable and go find your own way of dealing with your vulnerability by doing what gives you peace, what gives you happiness?” They have lost their only son in an accident and both are groping in the dark – angry, grief-stricken and depressed. Roshni decides to wear her vulnerability on her sleeve, she talks openly about her helplessness while Suraj simmers in anger, self-pity and guilt. Now, which approach is right?
To me Roshni and Suraj are not fictional characters. They are just celluloid depictions of people like you and me, of ordinary folks who are stumbling along through Life.
Don’t you often find yourself not knowing what to do in Life? Life has hit you strong and square. You feel numbed, paralyzed and rudderless. Suddenly you are not living. You are merely existing. The chores go on – eating, cleaning, bathing, working, sleeping…whatever, but you are not present. You are lost in the dark abyss of how you are feeling. You see no light. You are blinded and held captive by your cluelessness. I have been there, so I know. I have felt exactly this way. And, through a lot of stumbling, standing up and falling again, and again, I have struggled and found a way out of this state. As in, I have not found solutions nor have I solved the problems I have. Even now, in Life, I don’t know what to do. But I do know that being vulnerable and not knowing what to do is not a sin. And sharing how you feel is not wrong. So my way out has been – wearing my Life on my sleeve!
I have learnt that you must act exactly the way you feel. When you feel low, don’t try to put on a brave front. Sit down and cry if it makes you feel better. Tell people around you how you feel. Don’t worry about being judged. If it makes you feel better, share your despondency, your cluelessness. How would you deal with someone who puts up a Facebook status that says, “I am feeling lost in Life.”? Wouldn’t you reach out, be empathetic and share some time with that person making him or her feel better? I can assure you that should you do the same – as in say that “I have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with” – people will open up their hearts and homes to you.
Many of us resist sharing our vulnerability because we think it is a big, bad, cruel world. The experience Vaani and I have had, over the last 8+ years, sharing our Life, situations and problems openly, has completely disproved this assumption. Every step of the way, we have been greeted only with compassion and love. I found that people love people who are like them – normal, vulnerable and who are dealing with pain with no methods or pretensions. So, I would never recommend hiding how you feel or running away from what makes you feel low or vulnerable. Not knowing what to do in some situations in Life is perfectly normal; it is part of being human. Trying to go against what’s a natural response to Life is what causes suffering and leads you to depression.
So, be guided by the feelings that you want to get rid of. Do whatever it takes to make you feel better. From my experience, I can assure you, telling the world how you feel, sharing your cluelessness, helps immensely. Because while our stories are dissimilar, there’s always someone who’s walked your path before, and who will always appear at the right time, to share a perspective, to hold your heart and to give you a warm hug!