Category Archives: Religion

Irrational faith to Rational belief

“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?

 

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The billion dollar bridge

PHOTO PROMPT © The Reclining Gentleman

No one would have blamed David and Dawood had they severed  their childhood friendship.  Their friendship survived terror attacks and fundamentalist governments.

They believed in their respective Gods. Although they must have believed more in  humanity , without even being aware of it. Good people, you can say.

They searched for the “Light” , righteously , as dictated by their respective religions, through charity and piety and humility.

David found it at the end of the tunnel- as an oncoming train.

Dawood found it on a billion dollar bridge – as trampling feet.

“Why?” , they cried . The benignly indiscriminating light shone mercilessly in response.

————————– end ——————————-

The above story is my attempt to make sense of the death of the 700+ Hajj victims – who were trying to in their own way to do the right thing by their faith by making a pilgrimage. And other such senseless and painful deaths that happen  apparently even to good people of all faiths.

Why?  Would we get an answer that we can understand, in this lifetime ?

——-

This 100 word story  is written in response to the 100 word photo challenge  posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Field each week.  This week’s photo was provided by fellow Friday Fictioneer/ storyteller The Reclining Gentleman

Click on the ‘blue frog’  below to read other amazing takes on the same photo prompt:

Chennai High Court – Do you know how to spell DEMOCRACY ?

A bunch of people , men and women of various ages, who subscribe to a political ideology in a democratic nation (Chennai, India) decide to perform a symbolic act , the removal of the mangalsutra/Thali, to support the emancipation of women in a patriarchal society . No one was hurt or could possibly be hurt in that event.

What’s the big deal? Let this tiny fraction of the society do what they want to do and go home. You watch their event on TV or don’t watch it. You agree with them or don’t agree with them. You do what you want to do. Maybe organize an event to counter that symbolic gesture to promote your culture. Simple..Right? That’s how democracy works. Right?

Apparently not. Well, another group of people’s sentiments were hurt…that is a big deal. You see this “sensitive group of people” , the guardians of ‘Indian Hindu Culture’ as they call themselves , can’t tolerate freedom of someone else’s expression.

I understand such zealous-fanatical-about-culture entities  exist in our society….but the High Court? What were the Justices thinking? Or rather were they thinking?

Here’s some news coverage on this issue:
The Times of India articles says:

At a special sitting that began at 8.15am, the Madras HC reversed an earlier order and stayed DK’s programme. A bench comprising Justice Satish K Agnihotri and Justice M Venugopal said fundamental rights, freedom of speech and expression along with freedom to assemble peacefully could not be exercised if it destroyed the fabric and ethos of Indian culture, and caused law and order problems. The sitting was held in Justice Agnihotri’s residence. The bench gave its order at around 9am.”

Is the High Court bipolar? Give approval for the event one day. Revoke it the next day!

So if a criminal, with enough proof to be sentenced to death, has a bunch of goons who can cause law and order problems if they don’t like the verdict , will he or she be sentenced to prison one day and set free the next day?

Do they really understand what true Indian culture is ? Know that Hinduism is a tolerant religion ?

Someone please submit a petition to the High Court, that Indian men in Tamil Nadu are hurting  Hindu/Indian sentiments and destroying the fabric and ethos of Indian culture by walking around in western wear…by not wearing the traditional Indian dress of Dhoti. By not wearing the Metti. By not wearing the thilak/namam on their forehead. Will the high court then order all men to dress as per Indian tradition?Overriding their personal freedom to wear what they want?

No more of this western ‘Hindu/culture eroding’ dress:
Only this Outfit embracing true “Hindu/Indian culture”

Justices and people of India, please remember India is a ‘DEMOCRACY’ not  ‘ D  E M O C R A Z Y’.

#BringBackOurGirls

It’s been a year!  A year since 200 or so girls were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria by Boko Haram. Of all the tragic anniversaries that gets marked in history, this too will be remembered.  In most tragedies though, the victims are dead and the only resolution is retribution or the pursuit of justice. In this  tragedy though , there are kidnapped girls out there still hoping that they will be rescued.  And that somehow makes it more tragic …to think something can be done yet to see nothing happen.

While women are fighting for equal pay and other social equality rights in developed nations there are women in the rest of the worlds still fighting the ancient enemy: religion.  Is the Nigerian government and the International community thinking, “Well, the girls are alive. Just suppressed. Forced to marry under the threat of being killed. Forced to live under the benevolence of a violent man. But alive and obviously fed. So why is that a big deal?”. I wonder if the inaction is due to international politics, logistics of fighting the enemy or just that they are ‘only girls’?

http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/africa/nigeria-kidnapping-anniversary/

I wrote a piece few months ago in “Prayer” ….forcing a happy ending in fiction …It’s time to start pushing for that Happy ending in real life. It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls .

KISSism – A new religion

Diwali

It’s Diwali 2014….the ‘festival of lights’ for Hindus. The ‘light’ symbolizes, among many things, victory of good over evil; knowledge over ignorance.

For years I have scrambled, like many of my fellow Indian Immigrants in the US, to recreate the Diwali of our Indian childhood days, before and/or after working hours and all after-school sports activities. My efforts have always fallen short of expectations that others have that I should uphold the traditions of our culture. Traditions that dictate that on a school/work day I wake up early than usual to prepare specific set of “labor intensive and high fat/sugar delicacies” to offer the God(s)as ‘prasadam’  and somehow assemble the family bathed and dressed at 6:45 am for a  two minute “mini pooja” before they disperse to catch the school bus. To me, my religion has been a source of stress, resentment and pain. Sometimes, just a meaningless chore.

The basic “chore” portion of the tradition of Diwali is to light lamps inside and outside the house.  Make special delicacies to mark the occasion and share it with family and friends. These symbolic gestures usually satisfy the “tradition police” and they think this concludes their religious duties. The “fun” portion of the tradition is that we wear new clothes and burst fire-works. No one seems to go beyond the ‘chore’ and ‘fun’ into the ‘core’. The true meaning of Diwali – to reflect on the Almighty and  illuminate our minds, and share that inner light with the world to light up someone’s way home and give back to society- is either lost or not enforced.

So I decided to break free from those invisible chain of disapproving words and looks to start a new tradition. If there is no room for my new tradition in my religion, I plan to start my own religion(a sub-sect maybe). That’s how serious I am. Have a cool name picked up: KISSism. Where KISS stands for ‘Keep it Simple Sweetheart’.  In “KISSism” the only tradition will be that we demonstrate love, compassion, empathy, acceptance, gratitude and most importantly common sense every day. And on special occasions, like Diwali, take the time to collectively come together to reflect and replenish the soul, over food that is easily available, tasty and healthy. Have fun if possible. Also to spread cheer in the society we live in by giving back.

On Diwali day, we are going to wear our new clothes and go about our daily routine of school and work. In the evening after soccer practice and homework, when we are all relaxed and our minds open to contemplation, we are going to offer freshly baked vegan brownies to the God(s), along with fresh flowers from our garden as our ‘prasadam’. We are then going to sit down as a family and share our reflections on “light”, list the things we are grateful for and list the things we can do to better ourselves. This Saturday, we are going to drop off some food for at a local food drive for needy families. My Diwali plans are all set! My soul feels light  with these achievable and meaningful goals!

Wish you all a stress free, pragmatic and light filled Diwali !