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.


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.


Witnessing is when you can soak in the suchness of what is!

Over time, become detached with yourself. Become a witness of your Life!

Last evening we noticed the amount of litter that had piled up on the streets around the Mylapore Tank owing to the Arubathimoovar festival at the Kapaleeswarar temple. Makeshift stalls had come up all over serving food and buttermilk to devotees who have been thronging the temple for the past week. The litter was created because the stall managers, and the devotees, both were being irresponsible with the way they disposed of waste – paper cups, plates, spoon, plastic gloves and such. I grieved looking at the state of affairs – no ‘Swach Bharat’ campaign can ever change the way we Indians think, behave and live, I thought. I was slipping into an anger – with the entire system – spiral, when I looked up at the sky and spotted the moon. It isn’t full moon yet, but the moon looked majestic and beautiful. I decided, for the rest of the evening, to soak in not what lay on the ground but what lit up the sky. I decided to be a witness – it helped me calm my nerves and enjoy the rest of the evening despite the chaos and mess around where we were!

awareness-be-let-meaning-meditation-osho-passive-relax-thingsTo be sure there is great value – and power – in witnessing. Almost all our suffering comes from wanting to control our lives – people, events, things. In every situation that you find yourself in, if you imagine you are a mere fly on the wall, a witness, see how your changed perspective changes the way you feel and respond. When you are a witness, you are more detached than an observer. An observer has an agenda. But a witness merely happens to be there. So, as a witness, you are not involved with the drama. It is like watching a movie – when it is on, you watch it on the screen; but you are not one of the characters. You may relate to the story and the characters but you are not in the story, you are not them. When the movie is over, you just get up and come away.

The key is, can you get up and come away from your Life, without necessarily responding every single time you are seduced or provoked to respond in a situation?

Most people misunderstand the practice of meditation to be an act of silencing the environment around them. It is clearly not that. You can say you meditate only when you have learnt to still your mind, drop anchor, and remain silent. The Buddha rightly called meditation “witnessing”.

Witnessing is when you can soak in the suchness of what is – without necessarily responding. When you are a witness, you are more aware than involved. In the witness state, you learn to not immediately respond emotionally to any situation. You are there, but you are not there either. So anger, grief, guilt, anxiety….none of these emotions hold you hostage; they may arise, but your awareness will remind you not to succumb to them. When you are a witness, you are detached from the screenplay of your Life. This clearly does not mean inaction. In fact the detachment helps you choose when – and how – you must act.