Me, Religious?

“Gotee, what’s wrong with you man?”, a friend asked.

“Why, what happened?”, I asked back, wondering which of my idiosyncrasies was she referring to.

“You’re reading the Bhagavad Gita it seems! You’re going to temple daily. Knowing you, and the rate at which you change, I think after five years in the US, you’ll come back a Christian!”

I laughed. But the part about Bhagavad Gita didn’t really amuse me. In fact, it confused me. Why should anybody reading the Gita or the Upanishads be immediately labeled as “religious” ? BTW, It’s not just me, I found another blogger who had an almost similar conversation.

My interest in Hindu way of life started not with the rituals or the ceremonies, but with the stories from the ancient texts, which my grandma used to narrate. Her purpose for doing that might only to keep me occupied, but each one of those stories made me think. I couldn’t simply gulp it down when encountered with what appeared to be an inconsistency. I used to tire her with a question after every sentence. Thankfully for me, she was patient enough to dissect the context of the story and help me find the answer. I liked this part of being a Hindu. And I was not forced to go through the other parts either.

In fact, going to the temple was something very personal, which I used to do during my birthday or some other festive occasion. I remember not liking the fact that I couldn’t play cricket on sunday mornings because my team-mates, most of whom were Christians, had to attend the sunday mass. One of them even asked me, “Don’t you have to go to the temple?”. My answer was, “Yes, but only when I feel like.” Probably because of this non-compulsion I was bold enough to question everything. Why wear the sacred thread, why go through all the rituals, why participate in utsavs? I never got a satisfactory answer, but no-body forced me to blindly follow it either. My philosophy was – be good, do good, and there is no need to believe in God or perform the rituals. The rituals have no meaning if you don’t understand what they are for.

This continued for the rest of my life. Like most people, I was thought that Hindu way of life was only about mindless rituals. And having grown up reading English books, watching English movies, my idea of a religion was unfortunately defined by a book, a prophet and a God. Thus, I believed that the Hindu Religion, instead of having one book,  one prophet and one God had several of them. I was happy in my ignorance.

However, the recent “Hindu-Terror”  campaign by the main-stream media made me think. For whatever it’s shortcomings, mindless violence was something I could not associate with the Hindu thought. Maybe I haven’t read enough, I told myself. The mainstream media cannot be wrong. I should find out more – this was my reaction. Also, I had a rather spirited argument with wanderlust, which I thought I lost due to my ignorance.

Thus, for the past two or three months, I have been reading books, listening to lectures, reading articles and papers on Hindu philosophy. And I must say, I am impressed. I am impressed , at the intellectual ability of some of those Rishis to probe so deep into the nature of the human mind. What I find amazing is that the template they came up with is so damn flexible that anybody can mould it to suit their purpose. There is no rule book, with rigid do’s and don’ts. There’s no prophet or God, whom I have to pray, without which I won’t attain salvation/heaven. There is no particular way of praying. It’s so damn open. Even if you don’t believe in God, not a problem. Because “God” is nothing more than the place holder for what you may want to call the ultimate truth. That’s the Hindu way of life. The reason for multiple gods is that a Hindu considers God to be a personal concept. Hence it doesn’t make sense for him to impose a single “God” on everybody. Probably the word “God” is not right here. The word should be on the “way” or “path”. Hindu believes that the ultimate reality is infinite, and to realize it, there can be infinite ways or paths. Some try to attain it by means of rituals, some through good deeds, some through knowledge, some through devotion. And not having a rule book helps. A Hindu can introspect, analyse and dissect the ideas propounded by his predecessors, just like how modern scientists do. Just think of it, abolishing age old customs such as Untouchability and Sati, and encouraging the alien concept of widow-remarriages, would these have been possible in a country with majority of “Hindu” population, if there was a rigid set of rules that governed their day to day activities? From time immemorial, providing a shelter and religious freedom to the outcasts, be it Jews, Syrian Christians or Parsees, has been a norm in this country. Would that be possible if the indigenous people were so intolerant. Consider the field of philosophy. We have multiple schools of thoughts like Advaita, Dvaita and Vishistadvaita based on their interpretation of Self. These are somewhat well-established schools. Despite that, a recent philosopher like Aurobindo Ghosh could re-interpret scriptures and come up with a new concept of “Evolutionary Philosophy”.

So, how different is this from the scientific-temper that we are taught about? True, there are many of those who call themselves Hindus without understanding the meaning of it, who approach it in the same religious fanatic manner that we see in other sects. But blaming the Hindu Philosophy for that is not only being short-sighted and lazy but also being stupid. It’s like saying, since the Arsenal  fans are crazy, Arsenal is a violent club.

Every group with a certain line of thinking, whatever is it, has a few flag-bearers and a whole bunch of followers. We identify the group usually by the flag-bearers. Consider the open source world. There are a few Linux fanatics who hardly know their stuff, but only take a liking to Linux because it’s “cool”. We don’t consider such fanatics to be the flag bearers of Linux or open source, do we? So, I fail to understand why it should be any different for the Hindu way of life.

There are multiple reasons for this, but I think one of them is staring in the mirror. I am an Indian and was born in a well known Hindu family. At the age when I could debate on Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel and Nietzsche with considerable ease, I had no clue whatsoever about what Hindu Philosophy was. In fact, based on my school education, I got the impression that the orient was filled with mysticism which was of no use in the modern world. But that’s not how I find it to be.

The another reason could be the nature of Hindu way of life, which due to it’s belief in infinite paths makes propaganda and marketing redundant. Think of it. When is propaganda necessary? When does marketing become essential? When you want more buyers, more followers. When you want to sell something to the millions. A Hindu doesn’t need to do that. Because the way or path for him does not start somewhere outside, but starts with himself.

Thus, for me, “Hinduism” is not a religion. It’s truly a way of life. It’s not a dead-philosophy with definite constraints, but a dynamic evolving philosophy that strives to thrive by manifesting itself in various forms. So, yes, I do read the Bhagavad Gita, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads, the Vedas, not to find the one perfect “way” to reach “God”, but to appreciate a framework of philosophy, that strives to be universal not by the strength of numbers but with the ease of adaptability.

Suggested Reading: Paper on Hinduism by Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions.

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About gautshen

A jack of many trades of which , Linux Kernel Programming puts food on the table. Also pursuing his PhD in the area Theoretical Computer Science at the Chennai Mathematical Institute. Is an avid reader interested in the Hindu traditions and philosophy. Loves Bicycling and Good Music. Name is Ranjal Gautham Shenoy.
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6 Responses to Me, Religious?

  1. Saraf says:

    Got here by chance.

    Interesting read. I faced similar, stronger comments a couple of years ago. Here was my take (typed in later from my paper blog)- http://aalhadsaraf.blogspot.com/2008/06/you-may-think-that-im-im-religious.html

    Nice to see the Mahabharata tag in here.
    If you haven’t already, you would perhaps love to read the 7 vol. sanskrit+hindi Gita Press version. Any abridged edition just does not compare. (If you want to study how stories can manipulate mental data structures, or even if you just want to read some non-fiction written in a style that knocks the socks off every work of -fiction- ever written too.)

    Enjoy.

  2. ego says:

    @Saraf

    Interesting perspective of comparing religion to OS 🙂

    I am reading the Bhagavad Gita Bhasya by Shankaracharya, with English translations by Dr. Krishna Warrier. One of spare time activities I would like to indulge in the coming year is to teach myself Sanskrit so that I can study these texts myself.

    Thanks for the recommendation, I will take a look at it 🙂

  3. Saraf says:

    dear ego
    perhaps you won’t have to teach yourself sanskrit – just pick the gita press mahabharata (7 volumes – 1,00,000 verses for 1200 INR!) up, and as you read the translation and the sanskrit (keep a copy of the V. Apte Student’s Sanskrit-English dictionary – about 150 INR- at hand), it is not very difficult to pick up enough to appreciate the beauty of the darned thing. (darned, because then, all other recent languages seem fairly, well, -weak- in comparison. )

    If I may take the liberty of making another recommendation (perhaps I should send you email instead of posting comments in here), on the subject of the Bhagvad Geeta, alongwith the Geeta Bhasya, I would ask you to take a look at the interpretation of Sri Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (it is a two volume work titled – God speaks with Arjuna)
    http://www.amazon.com/God-Talks-Arjuna-Bhagavad-Gita/dp/0876120303

    Enjoy.
    🙂

  4. R.S.G says:

    Speaking of interpretations of scriptures, I have one nice find to share.
    Karna was probably born by Parthenogenesis

    It is interesting how perspectives, interpretations, inisights play such a role in our lives.

  5. Madhu says:

    “And I must say, I am impressed. I am impressed , at the intellectual ability of some of those Rishis to probe so deep into the nature of the human mind.”

    Some verses from the vedas,The Gita, Upanishads .. source : http://sanskritvoice.com

    ————————————————————————————————————
    Asatho Ma Sathgamaya,
    Thamaso Ma Jyothirgamaya
    Mruthyorma Amrthangamaya II

    Lead me towards truth from untruth
    Lead me towards light from darkness
    Lead me towards immortality from Death

    If god appears in front of me and gives me 3 wishes, what more can I ask for than what is said above? Absolutely brilliant! There cannot be anything more basic, more comprehensive, and more rejoicing.
    ————————————————————————————————————-
    Truth is One

    Ekam Sataha Vipraha bahudha vadanti

    Meaning:
    Truth is one But sages call it by various names
    (Source: Rigveda)

    Lets respect every religion, open our minds, and think wider.
    ————————————————————————————————————-

    One world, One family

    “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam”

    Meaning: The world is my family
    (Source: Maha Upanishad 6.71)

    Treating your fellow-human as one in your family is a perfect example of broad-mindedness. We should throw away race, color, & creed, and create a society of oneness.
    ————————————————————————————————————-

    Means to victory

    Satyam eva jayate

    Meaning:
    Wherever there is absolute alertness, there is victory. Victory has its basics in the ‘Sattwic’ quality of intelligence.
    (Source: Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.6)

    This is in the context of Dharma. The good will always have its victory over evil. It does not matter how much strong the evil force gets, the good will alway win over evil ultimately.

    The simple meaning of satya is “truth”. But, Satya also means the ultimate reality symbolizing eternity. This is the beauty of Sanskrit language to have multiple meanings for a single word. Every word in the Holy Scripture has more than one meaning, a simple apparent meaning and a deeper, inner meaning.

    ————————————————————————————————————-
    After Tyaga comes peace
    tyagat shanti anantaram

    Meaning: Peace instantly follows renunciation.
    (Source: Bhagavad-Gita 12.12)

    Here, renunciation refers to ‘Tyaga’. The meaning of ‘Tyaga’ (sacrifice in its true sense) is giving up of the tendency to possess the fruits of action, and not the action itself. It implies that we should perform our actions with utmost sincerity, and leave the results to be taken care by the god. Our actions (karma) should be done as an offering to the god, and the results be treated as the prasadha (karma phala) that we receive from him.
    ————————————————————————————————————-
    Live in harmony

    Here is the last mantra of Rigveda… A verse which is dedicated to the human world and is a prayer for harmony and peace among us.
    samAnI va AkUtiH samAnA hRdayAni vaH |
    samAnamastu vomano yathA vaH susahAsati ||

    (Source: Concluding part of Rigveda)

    Meaning: Let there be oneness in your resolutions, hearts and minds. Let the strength to live with mutual co-operation be firm in you all.

    This mantra comes back to the simplicity of the fact of being human: a union of hearts and a oneness of spirit, the overcoming of isolating individualisms by harmonious living together, because Man as person is always society and yet not plural.
    ————————————————————————————————————-

    Lift yourself

    uddharedAtmanAtmAnaM
    उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानम

    Meaning: One has to work for one’s own upliftment.
    This should be your approach to understanding spiritual philosophy. Always do your duty and perform sacred acts. Your spiritual evolution is your own responsibility.

    Though this word is used in the context of spirituality, it can be applied to our material world as well. Only with self-will can one accomplish his goal. Through this self-effort, one can make even the weirdest of his dreams come true. But it requires a display of courage, discipline, perseverance and hard work to be a winner. Help yourself!

    uddharedAtmanAtmAnaM nAtmAnamavasAdayet
    Atmaiva hyAtmano bandhurAtmaiva ripurAtmanaH

    उद्धरेदात्मनात्मानम नात्मानमवसादयेत
    आत्मइवा ह्यात्मनो बन्धुरात्मैव रिपुरात्मनः

    “Let a man lift himself by his own Self alone, let him not lower himself;
    for this self alone is the friend of one self and this self alone is the enemy of oneself”
    (Ch-VI-5 from The Gita)

    For many, God is a magician who grants boons on request. But, thats not true! We have read about the great Kurukshetra, where Sri Krishna demonstrated the essence of Life. He delivered the Bhagavad Gita, and showed the way to Arjuna. He never took up arms, but gave the required clarity and stood by the side of righteous effort.

    Sri Krishna makes it very clear that we are the ones who should perform the action, and the fruits will bear in time. There can be no results if there is no effort!

    —————————————————————————————————

    Unity is divinity: ( Shaanti mantra )

    SahanA vavathu
    sahanou bhunakthu
    saha vIryankaravAvahai
    tEjaswi nAvadhIthamasthu mAvidvishAvahai

    Meaning:
    Let us all grow together, enjoy together, perform heroic deeds together; let our strength of intellect come together, let the bright intellects shine, and let us live without any hatred.

    In a nutshell Sahana is togetherness, and hence conveys the message “Unity is Divinity”
    ——————————————————————————————-
    What it means to be great :
    महाक्रमो महाकर्मा महातेजा महोरगः,
    महाक्रतुर्महायज्ञ्वा महायज्ञो महाहविः.

    mahAkramo mahAkarmA mahAtejA mahoragaH,
    mahAkraturmahAyaGYvA mahAyaGYo mahAhaviH.

    (Source: Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram)

    The essense: The one who takes long strides is called Mahakramah. It is essential to take long strides in order to achieve anything note-worthy in life. But, many fear to take even the first step towards the goal. Risks are a part of the journey to reach the destiny. So, leap ahead with enthusiasm, determination and the required skill to accomplish your dream.

    A Mahakarma is one who performs great deeds. We should always set our goal very high, and strive to reach it. There is no fun in setting low goals in order to give no chance for failure.

    He who sets his goals very high, and succeeds in achieving it becomes Mahateja, shining with the brilliance of success. Maha-Uragah means the great snake, referring to the entity that can empower others.

    So, when you take long strides and perform great deeds, you become brilliant and a great leader who can motivate and empower others. When such a person performs great yajnas, he becomes Mahakratuh. The two aspects of yajna are sacrifice and worship.

    The greatest sacrifice is when you offer yourself in self-sacrifice – Mahahavih. Only with sacrifice, things are achieved in this world. A person when he meets all the above qualification, he is GREAT.

  6. ego says:

    @Saraf,
    I found a place where I can buy the books in bangalore. Thanks for the tip 🙂

    @R.S.G:
    Interesting. But I prefer the Niyoga theory, since Pandu was apparently impotent. But I wonder, since Kunti was called Pritha, and Kunti’s sons especially Arjuna was called “partha”, whether the name Parthenogenesis has any connections!

    @Madhu:
    More examples, better 🙂

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