“Jayji”, Grandma points out the hanging light-bulb to 3 month old crying baby , in an attempt to console and distract the baby.
All forms of light were “Jayji” – “Jayji” was baby-talk . “Jayji” meant God – a benevolent, soft God.
When the baby is 6 months old and able to sit on her own and is learning to use her hands, the grandmother sits in front of the baby and gently claps chanting “Ram. Ram, Sita -Ram”. The baby smiles at her . Grandma reaches forward takes the little chubby hands in her own weathered hands and teaches the baby how its done. The baby learns and claps on her own – mimicking grandma and keenly watches the grandma’s mouth that continues to chant ” Ram. Ram. Sita-Ram”. “Jayji” now gets a name. The baby’s brain records the attention and nurturing from a adult..the sense of fun..the sense of safety…and associates it with the chanting ” Ram. Ram. Sita-Ram” and the vibrations that sound creates.
Then when the hand coordination skill increases the baby is encouraged to steep the hands together in prayer to “Jayji” in front of the idols. “Pray to Jayji”, grandma coos. “jayji” is no longer light and now has a specific solid form. And when baby responds with the right gesture the baby is rewarded with a hug and praise: “what a smart child. She learnt it so quickly”. All the adults congregate to witness this event and the child basks in the adoration the simple task of putting palms together, generates. The brain’s paths to the social reward centre is strengthened.
Add to this the positive reinforcement of special sweet food on religious holidays, new clothes and other fun events- the package is complete – the brain’s pleasure circuits are ablaze with sugary religious fervour.
Religion and tradition were fed to us through our mother’s milk, grandparent’s hugs ever since birth. Our brains were hard-wired with religious beliefs by the time we realize that we are separate entities – different from our family – and before we are capable of thought.
I have woken up to find “viboodhi” (sacred ash) on my forehead when I was a child. Grandma said that I was screaming in my sleep and they had to put this sacred ash on my forehead to ward away the evil spirits. My brain didn’t question this “fact”. It simply recorded that the viboodhi is a magical elixir that wards of danger. It becomes a panacea. It’s only later that we read about and learn the power of the placebo but by then the brain circuits are welded in place.
These are just a few of the hundreds of such interactions that we have with those who care for us and protect us – that drive the myths, superstitions and habits of religious beliefs and traditions deep into the psyche.
As one grows older God- He/She- is no longer a benevolent “Jayji” now, but an egoistical god who is angry at minor transgressions. God becomes an exacting school teacher who deducts half a point for every spelling mistake. A feared algebra teacher who doesn’t care that you got the answer right but deducts marks for not showing all the steps or showing too may steps.
Now fear joins pleasure to drive adherence to religious practices. Fast on Monday – No meat on Saturday – Light lamp everyday – Make ‘x’ prasadams (food offering) to offer to god – where ‘x’ is an integer equal to 3,5,7, 9 or 11…, never 2,4,6 or 8…. ) the list goes on.
Religion and the adherence to rituals becomes a familiar heuristic solution to all of life’s problem- all our fears, all our doubts.
This was how my religious and spiritual framework was built too. It served me for many years and then one day it didn’t. A small glass house can support and protect an young oak tree from a unseasonal frost but it would also prevent it from reaching it’s true growth if left there permanently. Religion and rituals is a glass house…atleast to me.
It’s not easy to break that which comforted you and nurtured you. Not easy to reconfigure the neural pathways that were laid since babyhood – from blind irrational faith based in pleasure and fear to a rational belief based in logic and love.
As I sit in a pooja that we have performed several times at home …my son – now grown up enough to have independent thought -whispers in my ear : ” what a fickle god”. He is referring to the story in the Sathyanarayana pooja that goes like… “God then killed the merchant’s son-in-law because his daughter, Kalavati, ran to the river bank to meet her husband who she hadn’t seen in years and forgot to eat the prasadam- which was the last step of the pooja.”.
Is God really that fickle? Probably no. The answer better be no! I Hope it’s no! Pray ,no!!! I took a deep breath to calm the panic ,” It’s the humans who are fickle”, I tell him.
The explanation given for this vengeful act of god is:
“Prasāda is symbolic of God’s Grace which Kalāvatī ignored as she learned of her husband’s safe return. One can understand her eagerness in wanting to be re-united with her beloved, but one must understand that if one forgets to be thankful for gifts received from the Lord, one would have to go through another test until one remembers to remember.”
Anyone see the uncanny resemblances of God to teachers?
I also wondered why such a story came about and maybe it did to reinforce the need to follow protocol and keeping up the terms of an agreement
If a doctor needs to follow a protocol during surgery- remember to take the scissors out of the stomach , failure to follow can result in death of the patient and then maybe a lawsuit and the doctor’s life can be ruined. Failure to follow prescribed steps – keep up promises – could result in death/disaster in many life situations and every individual in society needs to have that mindfulness and focus when doing a task so that the world operates efficiently.
Mindfulness and following agreed upon protocols/agreements are good message to reinforce . But did we have to make the God “fickle” to reinforce that message? Maybe the fear tactic works for children and immature adults….but if you are an self-aware and mature individual should such stories scare you -Put you into an panic if you were unable to have the prasadam? Blame any catastrophe on that one act – example:” not eating prasadam” – without thinking through root causes logically?
How good is a religion that only causes fear and panic and a sense of doom if it’s rituals are not able to be followed? Can we have religion without the fear of non-adherence to rituals? Can we reconfigure neural pathways of pleasure and fear to rational thought ? Can God become “Jayji” again ? That soft benevolent light without shape or form or name?
Can God , of all religions, become just pure love again?