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!
Today’s Podcast says that there are no methods or mantras to live Life. To avoid suffering we must simply stop wanting our Life to be any different from what it is.
Listen time: 7:14 minutes
In a crisis, take it one moment, one step, at a time!
Yesterday, I delivered my Fall Like A Rose Petal Talk at a large IT company where I was invited as an Author to speak to about 200 managers. A member of the audience wanted to know what methods we are employing to go through our enduring crisis.
Vaani and I looked at each other and smiled at hearing that question. People often want to know if there are methods and mantras to live Life. In fact, a publisher friend who went through the first draft of my Book Fall Like A Rose Petal told us that it would flop if it did not have a list of To-Dos at the end of every chapter. We ignored that advice, with due respect to our friend, because we have learnt from our experience that there are no methods to live Life. Each one of us has to live through our stories in our own unique ways. Every moment has to experienced fully, unconditionally, no matter what the circumstances are. This is the only way you can be free from suffering even when you are in the throes of pain.
However, a deeper awareness of Life immensely helps in going through it. Just know that, no matter how ethical or compassionate you are, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how much talent or wealth you possess, there will be times when Life will be very, very challenging. You will feel defeated and deflated in such situations. But don’t despair. Because the entire essence of Life is to face whatever comes your way. Think about this – did Life promise you a turbulence-free ride at any time? It is your conditioning that makes you want only what you want. You want comfort, care, compassion, love, good health, money and, perhaps, an easy Life. But there are no guarantees that Life’s going to grant you all that you want. So, often times, you will have to encounter neglect, hatred, misunderstanding, cashlessness, worklessness, disease and a very, very tough Life – a Life that you don’t want! You will believe that it’s impossible to live such a Life. You would want a way to end all your suffering. And the way to do that is not to give up on Life, but to give in to it, to accept the way your Life is, face it and live in the moment.
So, especially in a crisis, you take one moment, one step, at a time. Life’s pretty much like the headlights of your vehicle. You know where you want your vehicle to go. You know the destination. But in the darkness of the night, the headlight can’t get you to see the destination. Yet it can light up the distance, a few feet at a time, and as you make progress you get to see what lies ahead. This goes on, until of course, it is daylight or you reach the destination you were driving toward. Life works exactly the same way. The night, the crisis, is not going away immediately. A new dawn awaits you, but it is never dawn until daylight arrives. So, in the darkness of the night, follow the headlight principle. Don’t expect the entire road to be lit up. Be content with being able to see just a few feet at a time. In Life, therefore, don’t expect clarity and answers to what lies a week, a month, a year down the road, or in the distant future. Just know that you will survive, that you will get all that you need, that you will be cared and provided for. Know that you will ultimately prevail.
I am reminded of a lesson that my guruswami (the one who leads a group of pilgrims) shared with me on my first pilgrimage to Sabari Malai (the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa in Kerala) years ago. He said that the climb was going to be very grueling – it’s a distance of 5 kms up very steep (at one point up an almost 75-degree incline) hills, to be covered by foot. We would all suffer, he said, if we kept thinking of when the climb would end. “Instead keep your thoughts on the destination, with wanting to see the Lord. Feel the air in your lungs. Enjoy the scenery. Don’t think about the climb and you will be able to make it with great ease,” he advised.
In any challenging context in Life, all your suffering comes when you think of what you are enduring and wish that you didn’t have to go through what you are going through. Instead experience whatever is. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the uncertainty, the fear, the anxiety – feel everything without wishing it away. Through this continuous feeling, your ability to withstand anything, and endure, will be greatly enhanced. Your problems may not go away. But you will be able to deal with them better.
Life, I have understood, is just a string of experiences, from birth to death. As long as you do not impose conditions on what you are experiencing, at any given moment, no matter what it is, you can always face it.
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Make your entire Life an offering to the Universe, and you will be the prayer yourself.
Last evening I was caught in the middle of an artificial traffic jam caused by motorists thronging a Shirdi Baba shrine. The mess was artificial because it was time for the arathi and everyone inside and outside the temple was shoving, elbowing, honking and pausing to catch a glimpse of the deity. Chaos is a mild word to describe the situation, it was complete mayhem!
And I caught myself thinking – do we really need to be so demonstrative with prayer and worship?
To be sure, my perspective on the subject too has evolved over the years. There was a time when I wore rings on my fingers and visited temple after temple seeking solutions to my problems and answers to my questions. I visited Tirupathi on the trot for 17 quarters, on the first day of each quarter – Lord Venkateswara was the corporate deity, as I had understood, and paying obeisance to Him at the beginning of each earnings cycle was mandatory. I visited Tiruchendur and Sabari Malai once every year. I even went with Vaani to Tirucherai, to offer special prayers to the Runa Vimochana Lingam (the Shiva shrine dedicated to debt relief). I have also visited Ajmer and gone to the dargah of the Garib Nawaz, Khwaja Moinudeen Chisty, there. I have been to the Vatican and to Velankanni, to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in New Delhi and to almost all the churches and temples in Kerala and Goa. I have visited Shirdi several times and, at one point, I even used to fast on Thursdays – considered to be Sai Baba’s special day. While I did feel energized at each of these ‘pit-stops’, I still found something missing within me. I was still restless and disturbed. Worry, anger, grief and guilt haunted me despite my best efforts to be pious and prayerful. And I always wondered, ‘Why was I not finding inner peace’?
It was my practice of mouna – daily silence periods – that led me to understand that peace came from within and not from any external source – however holy and haloed the source is hailed to be. I realized that our conditioning has led us to look outside of us than within us. There is a popular notion that we have, thanks to our upbringing, that prayer is an action that requires a time, a place and certain necessary and sufficient conditions. Each religion preaches worship through prayer differently. Therefore, while all of us have become adept at praying, we have become completely incapable of living! Even when in prayer, the mind is distracted, often anxious, fearful and disturbed!
How can merely, mechanically, by rote, chanting a mantra or reciting a hymn, compensate for intelligent living? This is my humble, personal view – born out of my own evolutionary experience. Over the years, I have learned that your entire Life, the way you live, think and work, can be prayer if you understand that this lifetime is a gift and that you must forever be grateful to Life for this experience! Choosing forgiveness over angst, love over hatred, postponing worrying than postponing happiness, serving over seeking deservance, gratitude over expectation and making each moment count are all ways in which you live your Life prayerfully. When you do this, repeatedly, over days and months and years, you become the peace that you seek.
This doesn’t mean that Life will not serve you any more problems. There will be problems; perhaps even more than you would imagine! But you will be able to deal with each of them effectively, efficiently, because you are now anchored in peace. It is only because you relegate peace and prayer to a specific time, and do it with a ritualistic obsession and not with deep fervor – immersion in the moment – that you don’t escape fear, worry, anxiety, guilt, grief and suffering. But if you make your Life your prayer, being grateful for all that you have, you will be always soaked in peace!