Why is there so much suffering in, and around, us – despite so much emphasis on religion and rituals?
We were with some friends yesterday. And the conversation slowly wound its way to us sharing notes on the inscrutability of Life and the power of prayer and surrender.
A friend threw up these questions: “Is ritual an enabler for prayer? Is it necessary to be ritualistic to realize God – and happiness and equanimity? And does any ritual aid the process of surrender?”
Now, those are important questions. And I believe the answers, as I have gleaned from learnings from my lived experiences, lead us to a deeper, better, understanding of Life.
We must realize that we have all been created without our asking to be born. This is a choiceless birth for each of us. So, we must recognize that there is a Higher Energy, Creation, that has given us this human form and has given us this opportunity to experience this lifetime the way we are experiencing it presently.
I see this Higher Energy as Life itself. And I humbly submit to its intelligence, to its might and to its grace.
Some look upon this Higher Energy as ‘God’ – and their religious conditioning gives this ‘God’ a name, shape or form. But clearly, there is no disputing that there is a Higher Energy that powers this Universe, that has designed, and is administering, the cosmic Master Plan. Otherwise, why would you and I be human? We may well have been created as a less endowed species in the animal or plant world or even be an inanimate object – after all, they were all created too, without any of them asking to be!
So, to me, there are only two states to be in – eternal gratitude and total surrender. In fact, it is when these two states are maintained in unison, it is when they confluence, in us, in our view of our world, that true happiness and equanimity can be experienced and sustained.
Prayer is nothing but a way of expressing gratitude – Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’, Thank ‘you’! And prayer itself denotes surrender – I don’t know, I don’t understand, so I give myself up to ‘you’. The ‘you’ here is the Higher Energy, Creation.
This is all there is to Life. It is simple, easy to understand and easy to practise. The truth is you can never understand the mind of Creation. You simply cannot understand Life. At best, you can be forever grateful for who you are and what you have, and in complete surrender, flowing with Life for what it is.
We however complicate this process of flowing by resisting what is, by bringing in our logic, desire and expectations. Much of all human distress stems from our wanting our Life to be a certain way – to be different from what it is. As long as we want something, in a certain fashion, we will suffer. And that is what is happening to – and in – all of us.
The human mind, when it is suffering, is like a smoldering cauldron of myriad, uncontrolled, often wasteful and debilitating, thoughts. And religion, as a means of suggesting a method to calm the mind, to weed out debilitating thoughts and emotions, recommends rituals. The larger idea is that the rigor of ritual – in spirit and activity – will help you learn the value of gratitude and surrender. Deep at the core of all rituals, across religions, is this idea of complete, total, surrender. But what have we been conditioned to believe? Practise rituals to cleanse your sins; be ritualistic or you will be punished by ‘God’; if you want your prayers answered, your wants fulfilled, follow this ritual or that; rituals can banish your ‘bad’ phases and so on and on. Bottomline – we have been fed loads and loads of garbage in the name of religion and rituals. Which is why, despite all the rituals, despite all the religiosity in us, many of us are still unhappy, fearful, worried and are suffering endlessly!
So, my answer to my friend’s questions was this: “Do you normally need any apparatus to help you breathe? Not really. But, if your body systems are weak, well, you do need a ventilator. Similarly, do you need a method to practise gratitude and be in total surrender? Surely not. For, if you understand that being created in this human form is a blessing, you can only be grateful, you can only be in surrender. But if you don’t realize – or reflect on – this blessing, well, you then need a method, a device – a.k.a ritual and/or religion – to help you along. But, clearly, no method can help you live happily – in gratitude and surrender – unless you are willing to flow with Life’s Master Plan, for you, the way it is.”
Don’t fight. Don’t resist. Simply, trust the process of Life.
August 1 is special for Vaani and me.
It was on this day, in 1996, that we decided to embrace entrepreneurship. I had come back to India in July that year, from Singapore, after serving as the traveling, globe-trotting, Executive Assistant to dealmaker and tycoon C.Sivasankaran. I was clear I did not want to take up another employment. So, Vaani and I conceptualized and set up our venture, imagequity+, with a Vision for it to be the world’s best consulting Firm from India. We grew very fast in the first six years of starting up and were even ranked as a qualitative global player in our space. But a couple of business decisions we took – while choosing to hold on steadfast to our values – led to our Firm going bankrupt and plunged Vaani and me, and our precious family, into prolonged periods of worklessness and pennilessness.
Vaani and I have spent the longest time, as business partners, as a family, these past 10+ years enduring this bankruptcy.
Interestingly, it was also on this day, in 2014, that my Book, Fall Like A Rose Petal, was launched. When it became evident to us, in end-2007, that we were heading into a phase of uncertainty, financial distress, cluelessness and darkness, I intuitively started writing a journal, sharing our daily experiences and learnings. I addressed each day’s entries to my two children, Aashirwad and Aanchal (who were then 18 and 13), in the hope that when they turned adults, they may benefit from those Life lessons.
You see, in the early years of my career as a journalist, I wanted to be famous – and rich, and powerful – one day and write an autobiography that would showcase to the world ‘how I had done it’! Clearly, I was not just naïve in my thinking then, I was perhaps conceited and struck by hubris as well! And so, let me tell you honestly, I had never quite imagined that my first Book would be all about my spiritual journey – where I share reflections and lessons on happiness, contentment, compassion, love, forgiveness and faith – my evolution, from a rat race runner to the happynesswala that I am today! Yet, that’s exactly the way it has turned out to be.
So, that’s our big learning, for Vaani and me, from the past decade that have lived through: no matter what you desire or dream or what you plan, Life has a mind of its own; it always happens at its own pace and in its own time. Therefore, don’t fight Life as it happens to you – simply accept it for what it is. If you want your circumstances to change, go work on them. But without expectation. With total detachment. And in complete surrender. Know this: Life will always bring you to where you must arrive. So, trust the process of Life. This is the key to happiness – this trusting is what taught Vaani and me the art of being non-worrying, non-frustrated and non-suffering. This is what has taught us to be happy despite our circumstances. To be sure, our bankruptcy is far from over, but we have learnt to be resilient, patient and happy while living through it.
August 1 is therefore special on two counts. For the first part, it denoted our being successful – when we turned entrepreneurs in 1996; we had broken free from the shackles of employment and, to my then-myopic view of Life, it signified freedom, success and ‘arriving’! And for the second part, with the launch of Fall Like A Rose Petal – interestingly, on the same day that we became entrepreneurs – we had chosen to be useful even when success – which is, fixing our bankruptcy – was elusive.
These past four years, since the launch of my Book, have been eventful surely. But they have also been very, very meaningful. They have been purposeful. Because we still don’t have the means to travel and promote the Book it may not have made it to bestseller lists. But it surely has connected with all those who have read it. And there’s always someone who is writing in every week to share how our journey and our learnings have made a difference to their Life. Just yesterday, a reader, who had received the Book as a gift from his father, pinged me on Facebook to share this: “Words cannot qualify or quantify the impact you and Vaani have made to my Life through your sharing. I have learnt a very valuable lesson from your Book – postpone everything else, but never postpone your happiness.” Interestingly, at this time, while we don’t have a publisher yet, the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal is ready – it is translated by the veteran writer Charukesi and edited by another legend, V.Ramnarayan; Sivasankari has graciously written the foreword to the translation.
On a day that marks these two anniversaries for us, Vaani and I are soaked in gratitude; we are anchored in equanimity and prayer. We believe that our Life is playing out exactly the way it is meant to be. I don’t know how long this bankruptcy will take to fix and when we will eventually turn zero-debt. But we are eternally grateful for this experience which has taught us what Life truly is, what happiness is and has given our Life a Purpose – which is “Inspiring ‘Happyness’”! So, we continue to share our learnings with audiences who care to pause and reflect – through this Blog, through our signature Talks and curated, non-commercial conversations and our specialized workshops.
And like everything else that has happened in our Life in this past decade, we are sure all our debt will be repaid by us and the Tamizh translation of Fall Like A Rose Petal too will launch in its own time. For our part, we continue to trust the process of Life and well, as the story in my Book goes, we continue to fall like a rose petal!
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!