People often ask me whether I am religious. I can never give a straightforward response to that. Yes, I believe in the existence of a supreme intelligence, who I look up to for guidance and succour. When things are going good I thank Him (or ‘Her’, as it suits), when things are going downhill, I bombard Him with why me? He is my constant companion in fear, hope, in happiness and in moments of despair. But what do people mean when they ask, whether I am religious? Do they mean to ask “do you pray and engage in religious rituals”? I pray only under duress, rarely visit temples, do not believe in rituals, and I never fast, unlike most of my friends. Yet I think of this higher being as my protector, benefactor and expect ‘His’ unconditional love. That’s unrealistic isn’t it, considering I hardly work towards this relationship!
But tell me one thing, why do we pray? Is it because it makes us feel good or is it because we are expected to? We meditate to feel closer to ‘Him’, to find inner peace – and rituals are supposed to be a means to that end. But if we are getting stuck with rituals as the end, is it making us any better? We are living in a fast-paced world and many of us lose sight of the intent behind these rituals. It is now more like a duty that has to be performed, rather than being a construct within which we can seek enlightenment.
I know am treading a tricky path – most of us take our religion rather seriously. When we observe Monday fasts, or a Friday fast it is never sans expectations. For many of us religion works as a barter system. Dear God, if you make my son pass this exam, I promise to fast for 12 consecutive Mondays or I will not touch a morsel of food till the moon comes out, for the long life for my husband. One dares not deviate, even if it’s food that one thinks of the whole day, in fear of retribution. We dare not question our age-old traditions because we have fear lurking at the back of our minds. Why are we God- fearing when we should be God-loving.
Once, when I was much younger, I decided to fast on a religious occasion. I was miserable, hungry and salivating even at the sight of karelas. God was the last thing on my mind. So, now you know why I don’t fast anymore.
I do not consider myself an authority on religion – but for me, being religious means respecting other human beings and being kind to others. I try not to be judgemental and am allergic to being sermonized. For me, happiness is my religion. Only if I am happy can I make others around me happy. Only if I believe in love, will I be able to love others.
I have often wondered why unscrupulous people – businessmen, criminals and politicians included – seek the refuge of religion. Do they fear God or do they fear losing their ill-gotten wealth and power? Is God their insurance against misfortune? Their fingers will be crammed with rings with a rudraksha peeking out from their safari suit, the forehead smeared with a large tilak, yet they’ll feel no remorse while cheating their workers of their rightful pay. Isn’t your religion supposed to make you a better person? How can you cheat, steal and murder with impunity and host Jagarans expecting instant deliverance!
Religion was possibly created by our ancestors to try and explain the unknown. It was handed down from generation to generation and formalized into faith, rituals and traditions. As I see it, most religions were conceived to create a moral fabric and taught us to love rather than hate and divide. Buddhism and Jainism found a social following when other prevalent forms of religion at the time were letting people down, creating power lobbies and propagating social evils.
Any ideology when institutionalized is at risk of getting corrupted. Even today religion is constantly being abused, customized by our self-proclaimed leaders to further their vested interests and retain their influence and power. A pastor threatens to burn the Quran. People are getting maimed and killed in the name of ideology. We are living in a world that is getting increasingly paranoid, with each school of influence intent on proving its point right. Is mankind really moving forward? In this age of strife and growing mistrust, shouldn’t we rather broaden our minds and be tolerant of opinions that differ from ours? Isn’t humanity meant to be connected spiritually by the same thread, even if of different colours? I see God in nature’s creations, scientific findings be damned.
So here’s my take. I may not be religious but I wish to awaken the dormant supreme being within me. I agree that most of the times, I lose my way and get engrossed in the business of living. It’s a constant struggle, trying to know my true self. The path of self discovery is not always pleasant. But I wish I could free myself from the fears that plague me. I wish I could become less selfish, less needy of other’s approval. I wish to be spiritual and spirituality knows no religion. I wish to lose to my religion to regain my faith.