Continued from PART 2
PART 3 (Conclusion)
I remember another conversation I had with my father during this phase.
‘Why does God let good people suffer so much? Is it true that those who reject Him are punished?’
‘What has God got to do with your own deeds?’ father asked me. ‘He gave you the power to think and act, didn’t He? You are only reaping what you sowed, your karma of not just this one, but also many other previous lives. And no, He does not punish anyone. It is your own fear and negative thoughts about your transgressions that invite retribution on yourself.’
That sobered me up further, making me realise that each one of us is responsible for our actions and it is in our hands to shape our lives both in this and the next birth. God merely helped us along, never punished.
“When I look back on my past life, I see that if I had not failed & suffered, I would have lost my life’s supreme blessings; yet at the time of the suffering & failure, I was vexed with the sense of calamity. Because we cannot see anything but the one fact under our noses, therefore we indulge in all these snifﬂings and clamours. Be silent, ye foolish hearts! slay the ego, learn to see & feel vastly & universally.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 12, p. 445)
In the following years, first my father and then my mother-in-law passed away. I had become older and hopefully slightly wiser. But I had no one to bounce my questions off. They both had had similar faith but diametrically different ways of reacting to questions on God and religion. One encouraged them and the other exhorted implicit faith and felt that questioning the age-old beliefs was tantamount to blasphemy.
So by trial and error and of course, tribulations, I came to realise many things in the past decade or so:
I realized that God doesn’t ask for anything except complete devotion and faith; how you show it is entirely up to you. I modified my prayers, began going to temples as I realised the powerful vibrations in them due to the faith of those who came there, but I avoided the crowded ones as I needed space and peace to commune with my God.
I realized that too often the words religion and rituals are used synonymously and interchangeably whereas they are NOT.Rituals were put in place not only to bring discipline to one’s life, but also take one’s mind away from unpleasant things at times and nurture culture and aesthetics at others.
But unfortunately they have been distorted beyond recognition and reason. This has only served to alienate the questioning individual from religious rituals and consequently from religion and God.
As a corollary of the above, I realized that disliking rituals and so being put off God is like missing the wood for the trees.
I realised or rather rediscovered the power of chanting when I am disturbed or in doubt. I have personally found its efficacy on countless occasions. The monotonous cadence and rhythm have the power to calm and ground me when I am distraught.
I realised the meaning of secularism – not in the hypocritical political sense, but in the true sense. I find it comforting when the mullah at a mosque runs the peacock feathers over my head and back while chanting or when a priest makes the sign of the cross over me while invoking God’s blessings — just as much as I find it gratifying to receive prasad in a temple. I realised that these are all manifestations of the power of God, meant to soothe the disturbed soul.
I realized that the state of women has little to do with religion per se, at least not Hinduism. Centuries of (mis) interpretation of our scriptures has resulted in the degeneration of the society and consequently the status of women. Our ages old religious texts have been literally mauled by vested interest groups over the centuries. It would be a grave mistake to attribute regressive motives to them and thereby turn you off spiritual pursuits.
I realised that rejecting something without experiencing it or understanding it is like saying that a dish is sour or bitter by just looking at it. I had done this mistake during my ‘enlightened’ phase — when I rejected religion without understanding anything about it, because of some unsavory experiences taken out of context. Often we are tempted to create the system based on second hand experiences or rhetoric and theoretical knowledge. If we have no patience or willingness to go through the experiences, the conviction and thereby the foundation are bound to be weak, no matter which religion we choose.
I realised that Hinduism is the most democratic religion — perhaps the only one — in the world. One can practice, not practice, be ritualistic, be agnostic or even be an atheist and still remain within the dharma without fear of being excommunicated, penalized, punished or persecuted for blasphemy. (In Hinduism, the atheist is considered the biggest bhakt of all because he keeps repeating the name of God and denying His existence!) That is because, it is a dharma and not a dogma. No one can be converted into or out of it. It is like being born to a set of parents. You can’t deny the parentage even if you abandon them.
I realised that the so called rules and rituals are set by vested interest groups and people themselves, and so we are entirely at liberty to reject or adapt them to suit us. Which is what I have done over the years. I have not imposed these on my family, as they are individuals capable of creating their own rituals if they choose to.
I came to realise how each one of us has to find peace in his or her own way and in their own time too. I have come to the conclusion that the ritualistic path of Bhakti, is as good as the others and less taxing on my brain, which sometimes struggles to understand philosophical truths and abstract theological theories.
I realize that I have just gone back to the days when I did those as a young girl. If I have come back to my childhood state of utter faith in God and His powers, I have done so only after a long and eventful journey. I have not studied philosophy or theology or the Vedas, but my convictions are born out of my own experiences.
Let me tell you, coming full circle has never been so fulfilling!
“God within is leading us always aright even when we are in the bonds of the ignorance; but then, though the goal is sure, it is attained by circlings & deviations.” (p. 444)
In conclusion, I want to say this: Don’t ever be tempted to reject or condemn something without trying to understand or experience it, to the best of your ability. This has to be a personal discovery as every experience necessarily is, and therefore is bound to be varied. I rediscovered implicit faith; you might discover nirvana. Therefore, the most important thing is to open our minds as we go through the journey, avoiding cluttering up our minds with preconceived notions, and soaking in the experiences along the way, before deciding if we want to accept or reject the findings. Till then let’s hold our peace and let the world be.
“There are two for whom there is hope, the man who has felt God’s touch & been drawn to it and the sceptical seeker & self-convinced atheist; but for the formularists of all the religions & the parrots of free thought, they are dead souls who follow a death that they call living.” (p. 441)