It wasn’t long ago that ‘Happy Navaratri’ messages started flooding my phone and pictures of Hindu Goddesses started flashing over my social media. The auspicious 9 days were here and suddenly people around me had begun fasting and some of them had gone to the lengths of not drinking water, while for others not consuming alcohol and non-vegetarian food is their equivalent of fasting for next 9 days. I wonder if the latter category of people think that God too is a hypocrite? It probably is okay for them they think that as per God, it is okay to butcher animals for 356 days a year but these 9 days should make up for the bloodshed. A counterintuitive argument could be God created food chain and put us on the pyramid to probably not abstain from eating only what is natural. But, nevermind. Coming from a Hindu family, none of this comes as a surprise to me however the question remains: why is there so much suffering in this world if the God is as loving, kind and powerful as the scriptures say He is.The feminist in me cringes while reading the last part of this sentence, but as a matter of fact, God is imagined to be a male across most religions. All the more questioning the authenticity of the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. There has to be some logical justification for the holocaust, wars, famines, floods, rapes – some rationalization except for Drake’s two words: ‘God’s plan’.
Interestingly, almost 1.2 billion people on Earth are non-believers, agnostics or atheists. This numbers is almost equal to Islam followers which is world’s second most followed religion. According to the philosopher William L. Rowe, ‘agnosticism’ is the view that human reason is incapable of providing sufficient rational grounds to justify either the belief that God exists or the belief that God does not exist’. Until something earth shattering occurs and we decide to base all our beliefs on facts, eventually becoming an atheist. Despite this, 75 percent of world’s population continues to practice some form of religion or another. Believe in God or not, religion is so deeply ingrained in our society that sometimes it’s presence is overlooked.
After all, what drives faith? Also, how relevant is the concept of religion in modern times?
The most accurate description of religion that I came across on the internet is, ‘a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.’
The origins of Homo Sapiens dates back to 200,000 years ago but inconclusive evidence suggests that origin of religion goes back to Homo neanderthalensis, approximately 300,000 years ago, who used to bury their dead- an evidence of the use of ritual. Suffice to say, even the primates couldn’t go on for long without connecting to some kind of spiritual energy.
Even the law relies on the religion to derive its moral compass hence, making murder a legally punishable act. Imagine living in a world where killing people is morally acceptable. Most of us wouldn’t be reading this article. Another example of this would be abolition of Capital punishment in most countries that is primarily based on the fact that only God can create and take life. Even our major festivals, that deeply affect our social calendars are all for religious purposes. Diwali marks the return of Hindu Lord Ram to Ayodhya from a fourteen-year exile (vanvaas) and symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance”. Christmas is to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. For Muslims, Ramadan is a holy month dedicated to prayer, Quran recitation, introspection and fasting during the sunlight hours. Similarly, for Easter, Hanukah that have their own religious foundations.
I think a more important question is to ask oneself is can we exist without religion? Maybe not all parts of what was written thousand of years ago is relevant in today’s day and time but I believe some parts of it can be used even as guiding principles. For example: for starters, I think life indeed would be simpler if people stopped indulging in the seven(7) sins as per the Bible: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath and pride. These sins, as per Hinduism, have nothing to do with God, but everything to do with our own self, our Karma. It’s more like ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. These sins are not a rebel against God/deity/centralized superpower, contrary to some modern religions.
It’s beautiful how Buddhism preaches to strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods/deities. Another life changing take away lesson comes from Buddhist philosophy are the Four Noble Truths, that state the Truth of Suffering, The Truth of the Cause of Suffering, The Truth of the End of Suffering, and The Truth of the Path that Leads to the End of Suffering. The First Truth is that suffering, pain, and misery exist in life. The Second Truth is that this suffering is caused by selfish craving and personal desire. The Third Truth is that this selfish craving can be overcome. The Fourth Truth is that the way to overcome this misery is through the Eightfold Path. As per Buddhism, the eight-fold path is the way to reach Nirvana- rightness of belief, resolve, speech, action, livelihood, effort, thought, and meditation.
But it’s no surprise that this is a hard path that Gautam Buddha laid down for his fellow followers, and most of the disciples (in the modern sense) eventually ended up praying to demigods (Asuras and Devas) for the earthly desires and wishes. If only escaping suffering was so easy. But the first 3 Noble truths are definitely riveting — because during difficult times, it’s the thought that matters. These wise words have the power to cure depression and impart stability and strength in face of difficult situations — a lesson that could be life-altering if a person truly believed that any suffering could be overcome.
However, contrary to a misguided belief — Nirvana does not mean to sit under a tree/live a life of a monk/chant mantras eyes shut-day in, day out. Those who think this are actually out of their depth here. It actually is a state of mind which can be practiced by anyone and everyone. Hinduism tactfully guides us towards “object of human pursuit”, or Puruṣārtha. The four proper goals of human life as per Puruṣārtha are:
· Dharma — includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and right way of living. These enables social order, right conduct, and virtuous behavior. Dharma, in another connotation, is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is the pursuit and execution of one’s nature and true calling, thus playing one’s role in cosmic concert.
· Artha — signifies the “means of life”, activities and resources that enables one to be in a state one wants to be in. Artha incorporates wealth, career, activity to make a living, financial security and economic prosperity. The proper pursuit of Arthais considered an important aim of human life in Hinduism.
· Kama — signifies desire, wish, passion, emotions, pleasure of the senses, the aesthetic enjoyment of life, affection, or love, with or without sexual connotations. Kāma is “love” without violating dharma (moral responsibility), Artha(material prosperity) and one’s journey towards moksha (spiritual liberation). Work, indeed, is worship.
· Moksha — signifies emancipation, liberation or release. In some schools of Hinduism, Mokshaconnotes freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, in other schools Moksha connotes freedom, self-knowledge, self-realization and liberation in this life.
Hindu literature emphasizes that dharma comes first and without dharma, Artha and Kama can lead to personal and social chaos. Dharma is then preceded by Artha and last but not the least, comes Kama. That is quite pragmatically spot on. It is almost utopian to imagine a life with just right amount of Dharma(moral values) blend into right inclination toward Artha(economic resources), be nourished with right amount of Kama(love) and know exactly when to stop and reflect for Moksha. But with balance, it probably is possible to devour into depths of depth of each in order to explore and savor life to the fullest. It must be at this point, that the inherent tension between Moksha on one hand, and the active pursuit of Kama and Artha on the other comes to a resolution. A meditation in itself if one state seamlessly transcends into another. An example of the opposite end of the spectrum can be read in ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ by Robin Sharma.
This right state of balance where Dharma, Artha and Kama meet to blossom into Moksha is termed as Nishkam Karmain Bhagavad Gita. It means: ‘act and enjoy with renunciation, do not covet’ or ‘Detached Involvement’, further laying the foundation for ‘Business ethics’ in the modern workplace. The Karma theory provides an operational basis for constructive achievement and is perhaps more relevant today than in the Mahabharata times. The doctrine of Karma Yoga emphasizes detachment and equanimous attitude towards success and failure and inculcating virtues like sacrifice, dedication, belief and greater good of the people as the motive for action. Nishkamta doesn’t obstruct any comparisons nor does it mean that one shouldn’t have any targets.
All said and done, if there’s one thing I realized being a grown up then that is — adults are as confused as children and we spend most of our lives making sense out of this confusion. It’s some part guesswork, some research and some just a matter of chance events, mostly attributed as luck, or fate. We remain fragile as a baby despite our fierce accomplishments and the depth of our own emotions blow us away. We find ourselves on our knees more often than we imagine and comes a day we find ourselves crippled to the extent of helplessness that reaches out only to faith, at times blind.
Faith is simply much more than an option for those of us who have experienced sheer joy or immense pain, because in our hearts we know that none of this makes sense. We did nothing to deserve either this happiness or the pain. But who do we thank or blame for this haphazardness? A supernatural power sounds like a good idea to hold on to our sanity.