Tag Archives: religion

Unintended Consequences

PHOTO PROMPT © Peter Abbey

Shadows interrupted St.Michael as he was working. He tried to brush the interruption away without looking up, “Can it wait? G needs this report ..like yesterday.”

“I have waited long enough in the dark”

St.Michael looked up. He knew Shadows could not be brushed aside easily or locked up in a cell. Shadows crept closer and invaded his personal space.

“What is it now?”, he barked , his tone not befitting a Saint.

Everyone around pretended not to hear and buried themselves in their work. St. Michael sighed. No one had seen the writing on the wall when G announced, “Fiat Lux“.

— end —

Note: Fiat Lux means ‘Let there be light’.

This 100 word story  was written for the 100 word photo challenge. More details about this challenge can be found at:

https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/28-october-2016/

Click on the Froggy below for other amazing takes on the same prompt by fellow “Friday Fictioneers.”

PHOTO PROMPT © Peter Abbey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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?

 

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:

The Lotus leaf

FF_santoshwriter (1)

Gautama sat under the shady banyan tree meditating, contemplating the cause of all human misery. After decades of contemplation he arrived at an answer:

“The root cause of all misery is attachment. One’s mind needs be detached from life, like water on a lotus leaf”.

A drought-stricken village buzzed with the news of the enlightening discovery:

“Gautama has found the cause of all misery!”

“Let’s go hear it. Maybe now we can save our failing crops. Our dying cows!”

They all packed to go, except Sudama. He continued to dig a well ,undeterred by the unrelenting sun. Beads of sweat glinting like diamonds, rolled off  his torso, like water on a lotus leaf.

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The above 113 word story , set in ancient India, is based on religious quotes on Lotus leaves/water from the Bhagavad Gita and Buddha’s quest for enlightenment.

The ‘Gita’ has a quote which roughly translates to :  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.”

This is written in response to the 100 word photo challenge posted by Rochelle Wisoff-Field each week. PHOTO PROMPT – © Santoshwriter

Click on the ‘blue frog’  below to read other amazing takes, that fellow Friday Fictioneers have, on the same photo prompt.

Happy Blood day !

This piece is in response to a writing101 course’s Day 10 prompt : Tell us something about your favourite childhood meal. Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

The one food that was always a treat and comforted me and has deep roots in my memory is: Blood. I loved the spongy texture of blood almost like Jello except for that …er… bloody taste. The dark brown, almost black dish cooked with finely chopped onions and garlic and chillies adding the spicy flavour …with crunchy split chick pea  seasoning with mustard adding the textural contrast. To this the smell of the curry leaves and a dash of coriander leaves …ah… Heaven!

Now , this was not an everyday meal. Although I wouldn’t have complained if it was. But you can’t go about killing everyday. Maybe the once a year ritual of this dish added to the charm. And maybe I would have gotten tired of it if we  managed to make it an everyday item, like rice.  You never know….

My grandfather talked about his father (my great grandfather) proudly , how he killed with one clean sweep of the long knife, severing the head from the body in one single stroke. I have always imagined that scene in my mind but never watched it live. We are a violent clan….I feel that in my blood sometimes (dear husband, Beware!)…and I carve ,occasionally ,for that coppery, irony tang on my tongue with that hint of garlic.

We are not vampires obviously….the garlic thing must have told you that much. Just plain old village folk from a remote village in southern India, who believe that our god/goddesses like mutton…like us ..after all Man made God in his own image or is the other way around? I always get confused….  So anyway, we fatten up a goat and save it for that one day – when the whole village and the immediate family living in cities all gather together – to chop or rather sacrifice at the altar the aforementioned goat (with one clean sweep if the ‘chopper’ was as good as my great grandfather )…a  goat that we first decorate with a  flower garland and add a make-up of vermilion and turmeric….Seriously ..we really know how to dress our food.

We called this day : ‘Jatara’ . It was like a wedding celebration combined with Diwali and Pongal because it was celebrated with the whole family and all the families in the village. We were all one community. I got to see all the cousins ..and almost everyone who I could possibly share a strand of DNA…my blood. Maybe that’s what made the ‘Goat blood poriyal’ so tasty….being surrounded by my own flesh and blood.

This is one food that takes me back to the deepest roots of my being…back to that so very unique and vibrant agrarian culture …. back to that sense of belonging to millions of others…all pulsating together as one … back to the simple times when superstition reigned supreme unquestioned by reason….where right or wrong we got together each year to taste some blood!

P.S. The  government banned animal sacrifices in temples.  I haven’t been to  my village Jatara in more than 25 years….It’s been a while and sometimes when I watch vampire movies I wonder…..

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 .

Who I am and Why I’m here

 
This post is triggered by the “Blogging 101” course’s first assignment: write and publish a “who I am and why I’m here” post.
Although I have stated some of my reasons to write in my first post , I thought this was a great opportunity to summarize the intent and establish the theme of this blog.
The some questions were posed to help get us started:
  • Who am I?
    • Answer: I am.
  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
    • Answer: Because I can.
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?
    • Answer: Have a meaningful conversation with society.
That’s it..No need to read further if you are someone who gets the meaning behind the cryptic and minimalistic answers.
The answer “I am” has a very profound meaning in various religious contexts. Yes, Religion will be a strong theme in my blogs. Why? Because religion impacts all aspects of our life: Internal and/or External. Our evolving concepts on religion will help define the future of the earth: either making it a better place or a war torn hell.
Why blog publicly? “Because I can” . And there is a significant percentage of women who can’t. Women have fought for and won several battles to get basic rights such as to vote, to own property , to have an education and to work. Yet gender equality is not fully within reach.  Gender inequality will be another topic that I would want to write about. Some people have defined me as a ‘feminist’ but I have some reservations about that word. One day I’ll post more on that subject.
From a very young age I heard about this “society” ,,,As in ,”What will society think of you?”. “Society will not accept you if you talk like this!” .So I have always been curious about who all make a society and how to communicate with this mass creature – of multiple eyes, ears and mouths- and initiate a meaningful dialogue. My hope is that through sharing thoughts and ideas through the medium of blogging I reach multiple ‘societies’ and finally get that conversation going.

Prayer – A short story

“Pray”, he commanded.

She felt the cold steel against her forehead. Smooth, almost soft against her skin.  She knew how much violence that it was capable of unleashing.

The other girls looked up to her and were ready to follow her lead. For she was their unelected leader since their kidnapping two weeks ago. She looked into the eyes of her friends, one by one. She saw fear, defiance, sorrow, helplessness, resignation – all the emotions she too felt in various degrees. She made her decision and theirs.

She contorted her body to the position that his religion dictated. Closed her eyes as was expected and the darkness slowly crept in and erased the images in her mind. She moved her body through the series of motions that was prescribed. Uttered the syllables taught the past two weeks and the chant increased in tempo as the others joined.

Her mind first concentrated on getting the new routine going – sending signals from memory …coordinating the sound and motion. Soon she was lost in the ennui of misplaced faith yet strangely after a while the mind stilled. There was no noise even though hundreds of  vocal chords made sounds. The darkness was replaced with white light. This must be god she thought. A god whose gender , name and shape was neither what  she has learnt as a child under the love of her family nor one that her captor professed as the one true god.

But if these chants and motions evoked it , it must be his god, she deduced. Maybe he was right. Maybe his faith was true. The light turned red  and danced in her mind , painting beautiful scenes that words could never describe; answering all her questions, those that she didn’t even ask. Then it stilled. She felt its truth; hope and joy followed.

He watched her face go slack as she prayed. Watched as the muscles relaxed and a soft smile spread across her lips. As he watched her face he saw that the fear dissolved; defiance got redefined; sorrow disappeared; hope radiated. Soon she was glowing. He was entranced and felt the power of his steel diminishing. The power dynamic shifted imperceptibly.

She opened her eyes and looked at his face. Her pupils dilated. She smiled beautifully. A smile so incongruous to her surrounding and situation that it surprised him.

She wondered why he looked so surprised. Was it because he didn’t expect her to smile ? Or was it because of the unexpectedness of the sniper rifle’s bullet piercing his forehead at the point where the red light danced a few seconds before ? Or was it because his god answered her prayers?

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 !