Friday, January 13, 2006

Gods and Prophets - Are they relevant today ?

This is a follow-up of my previous blog "Principles, Values, Whims and Fancies".

I will not categorize myself as a totally rational person. I take comfort in a power which is beyond my scope. Though I am not a fatalist, I humbly believe that I cannot totally determine the outcomes of my effort to the utmost degree of accuracy. I believe in destiny but also believe that destiny is not handed over a golden plate to me; rather I have to work towards my destiny. Before you conclude that I am a confused nit-wit, let me just assure you that all this prelude is just to set the stage that I believe in a supreme power.

But I do not believe that that supreme power would ever ask for a human sacrifice to test your faith or that that supreme power would condemn you to the darkest corner of the netherworld if you pray to anyone else or that that supreme power will poke your eyes if you do not wear a yellow dress to her temple. Frankly, the supreme power is not interested in these trivias. The fact that most of the world's religions bank on fear tactics does not tell a lot about the supreme power the religions believe in but it tells a lot about the people and the timeliness of the scripture - primitive, barbaric and ante-diluvian.

Agreed! we cannot judge people- who lived in a different time and in a different place, based upon the values that are currently deemed 'acceptable'. A thousand years ago, even civilized kings considered the practice of demolishing the figure-head statues kosher and within the confines of the rules of conquest. But we cannot equate them to the current day barbaric Taliban who destroy the historic Bahmani Buddha statues just because they do not like those idols. Not too long ago, sharp minded people believed that narcotics enhanced their minds and consequently geniuses (including the famous Sherlock Holmes portrayed by Doyle) took large doses of narcotic. We cannot categorize those geniuses as the same as today's pot-heads.

The corollary and a more subtle but important point is that we cannot really exalt all the behaviors, whims and fancies of people - however "noble" they were, who lived in a different time and a different place as virtues in today's world. Though that seems so simple and common sense, if you think about it for a second, you will find that this common sense is not too common. People rationalizing their meaningless gestures in today's world - fasting for political purposes; weaving clothes from the charkha (spinning wheel); drinking goat's milk, just because Gandhi did it and I have not even started ! It is very easy to misconstrue my position here. Gandhi is a noble soul and a great leader but he has given us much more valuable thoughts to ponder about than these silly practices. If it is a touchy matter to talk about Gandhi, my follow-up point is even touchier. Let me see if I can straddle the thin line.

"347 people got killed in Hajj stampede"; "100 killed in deadly stampede in Kumbh mela". My thoughts and prayers are with the near and dear of the deceased. News of this type has become common not just these days but almost annually or cyclically every time the event happens. Normally the media covers this as newsworthy for a week. Some people console themselves that it is just fate; some people say that since this tradition is one of the pillars of the concerned religions and since religion is one of the pillars of the society and society a pillar for the world, these traditions must go on inspite of the tragedies and even radical some say it is better to die in God's place rather than live in a Godless place (material world).

This is where I have problem with mindless religious afficionados. There are numerous other places to think about and thank the Supreme power in which you have faith. If you are particular about the place, there are numerous other times to visit these holy places without getting caught dead in a stampede. Why this place - why now ? Yes, a noble prophet, a good soul walked this place thousands of years back and preached a religion a long time back. But why make a mockery of all the good preachings by the noble man by mindlessly following millions of people to a death trap just because some contemporary wizard says that approximately this was the time two thousand years ago this incident happened? Why do we forget all the good things these prophets taught but hold dear all the trivias? Is it because the latter is easier to follow and demonstrate whereas the former too difficult? People have come to believe that just these symbolic gestures purify their souls and it does not matter how they live the rest of their lives.

Eleanor Roosevelt said “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people”. There is a lot of truth to it. How often do you hear the Christian proselytizers talking about peace and love taught by the noble Christ compared to how often they talk about "Christ - the person"? verdict: Small minds. How often do you hear the Hindu fanatics talking about the virtues of doing work ethically and diligently - values taught by Lord Krishna, compared to how often they talk about "Krishna - the person"? verdict: Small minds.. Whether it is the Hajj or it is the 'yatra' from Kashi-Rameshwaram, the idea of pilgrimage is to demonstrate and personally feel the physical and mental strenght that is needed to undertake such an arduos venture. The idea of pilgrimage is to understand that inspite of all the differences we have, the color of the skin, hair, geographical allegiance, the disparity in wealth, we all are brothers and sisters; and we read that the fellow pilgrims stomped over the dead brothers because they will be delayed for a symbolic gesture ceremony. None of them that did that understood the idea.. All they can think of are 'event' and 'people'. verdict: Small minds.. Even without any twisted interpretation of religion - as done by Taliban and Al-Qaeda, even with the most straight interpretation of religion, I feel the religious world filled with small minds. More importance is given to whose God is better than whose God without even considering what principles the religions teach.

To the point of the topic - Are Gods and prophets relevant today? A resounding yes in terms of timeless principles and values they taught us - universal brotherhood, love, peace, sympathy and celebrating life. These are eternal principles and they will never fade and neither will we have any strifes and contentions. But if all we are doing is to simply dress like them, blindly imitate what they did and visit the place where they were a long time back, then I cannot differentiate this behavior from that of mindless teens trying to imitate what their favorite rock artistes do.
This is a fad and ephemeral and it MUST fade into oblivion when the next fad comes along.

Peace Out

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At 6:01 PM, Blogger Gaurav said...

Well, I wouldn't jump to conclusions so fast. People follow the practices preached by Gandhiji because they TRUST him. Just the way they trust their ancestors and pray Ganeshji before starting any auspicious occasion. There must be some good reason why Gandhiji started those practices. I say this because I know that he was a thoughtful and compassionate human being. (Charkha's reason was self-sustenance and deeper economic model. Goat milk is actually lower in fat content than cow or buffalo's milk.)

Also, the part you are missing about making a pilgrimage is the fact that people believe in hindu calendar and the effect of stars/planets on humans. So many people believe in the age old practices and effect of planets that they forget the direct effect of their own actions on others.

Otherwise, I agree with your message. Good one.

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely written, Sai.
Gods and Prophets are as relevent today as they were before. I am not a religius person but I appreciate the good things that religion brings to the table, something that is not highlighted enough today. Maybe because its hard to measure (how do you measure how many bad things might have happened in absence of religion) or maybe because its not newsworthy (dog bites man not interesting but man bites dog is newsworthy).
Society works when its people are motivated to do good things and avoid doing bad things. Law provides the stick and can only go so far in policing our lives. The religion provides the carrots (rebirth as Jennifer Lopez's dog, lets say :-) ) and the stick and motivates (or scares) people to behave well.
There are ills that come with religion but I think when you weigh it against good, I think its a good deal.
So why are people not encouraged to follow ideas of religion as opposed to the persons. I think you answered that already. “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people”. In a average society, what percent of people have "great minds"? 1-3%? what percent "average minds"? 30%? The rest are all "small minds" my friend. And nothing wrong if small ideas work with them. If they are more motivated by people than by ideas, so be it. Important thing is that they are motivated to behave in a way that's beneficial to the society.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Principles, Values, Whims and Fancies

For discussing the concepts of faith and religion, we need to establish some fundamental vocabulary. I found the following words pretty useful for taxonomy.

Principles: This is the universal truth - a moral compass. The principles are universally common for every homo sapien for sustaining a society - Dont steal, Dont kill in a non-war situation, Dont commit adultery etc., While these are pretty basic, it is hard to imagine a society which can survive without these principles. Every decent human being should follow these principles and there are no 2nd choices.

Values: While they are as important as the principles, there is no one universal value. My personal value can be different or even diametrically opposite from another person without either one being right or wrong. Eating habits for instance. The 'values' form the root of the family tree and gives a strong foot hold in the world personally. Hence it is mandatory and expected that one should communicate those values which they found important on to their children and progenies especially when they are young when they would listen to you(watch little TV, eat vegetarian, pray to Vishnu etc.,) But it is insane and unethical to impose these values on any and every stranger that comes on the way. An analogy would be every mother is important for her kid but it is childish if we compete 'whose mother is better than whose' It will only result in some peeing competition.

Whims and Fancies: Very self explanatory. You like red color dress and let that whim stay with you. Dont even bother telling me why you like it or why I should like it even if I am your kid :)

Now with the vocabulary set, religion, mother tongue(s), eating habits etc., I see as mainly 'values'. It is important to educate your kids about those 'values'. You gotta tell your kids their values may not be the same as someone else and why it is still ok. But in immigrants (whether it is tamils living in Bombay or Indians living abroad), it is despicable to see how mostly people try(unsuccesfully) to avoid standing out. They want to just become one of 'them'. Starting from naming the kid with mono-syllable names just so that they can be addressed easily by Americans to not educating the religious values for the fear of being labeled as 'uncool' by the kids, you can see these attempts conspicuous in Immigrant families.

While these values MUST be taught to their kids, it is equally annoying when some one tries to impose his/her values on others. If there is one thing I am proud of being an Hindu, it is the fact that we do not have any formal procedure for proselytization. I find it despicable when the religious fanatics accost strangers in the name of Christ or Mohammed or whomever to talk them in to changing their religion. They truly believe that their faith is a 'principle'not a 'value'.

Even worse is when people mistake their 'whims and fancies' for 'principles' and try to impose that on people. I have heard people saying that they dont like people because of the way they look or how they dress.. Stupid they may be, one can never underestimate the potential of a group of idiots especially if they own a gun ;) Next time when you like or do not like another person or an act ask yourselves whether our inclination is due to 'principle', 'value' or 'whims and fancies'. Likewise when you hear anyone preaching, ask yourselves what they are preaching 'P', 'V' or W&F'. I have found much easier to segregate the content once I understood this classification.

All right that is the sprinkling from my side. Have a wonderful new year !


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At 5:34 PM, Blogger Gaurav said...

Nice post da. I completely agree. One thing I have the doubt on based on my (albeit very limited) experience is that thing you say about parents not teaching the values so that the kid doesn't stand out and becomes one of them. This, I believe, is more due to the humiliation by the peer group and inability of the kid to respond "coolly" rather than the reason you mention. I think only experience can teach us better. After all, they don't say without any profound thought, (Hindi)"Ganga gaye Gangaram, Jamana gaye jamanadas." or "When in Rome, be like romans."


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Sunday, January 01, 2006

A road trip to remember!

'Twas december and the ho-ho-hos were all around. It was time to be rewarded for being good and this year Santa thought that we were very good and gifted us with 4 days of paid time off - which means we had 10 calendar days to cherish. What better a way to spend time in December than to hit the asphalt and to head the way where Mother Earth has carved herself for the amusement of the mortals? So, we decided - Grand Canyon it was!

No snow, no storm, no flood. An added bonus was that we would be taking a travel not just in space but also in time. We decided to visit Petrified forest national park, Arizona where the memories from 220 million years ago are preserved for ever for retrospection. While Arizona has inherited all of Mother Nature's wealth, its neighbour - Nevada, is a pauper in terms of natural beauty. A lot of lip stick was needed for this pig and lip stick flowed aplenty to build a dream - that is Vegas, in the heart of a barren God forsaken land. So, a trip to the sin city was in the cards as well.

I will let the pictures tell the whole story but a couple of tips for people visiting the neighbourhood. Bellagio and Wynn has the best indoor decors especially during xmas; if your better half is artsy-partsy, they will ooh and wow the entire time and you will score a lot of brownie points :) Try staying in Rio, Gold Casino or Palms all of which are the closest to the heart of the Strip - the happening places like Bellagio, Caesar etc., If you are planning to stay in Stratosphere, make sure you are not staying in the Regency Tower extension of Stratosphere. You are better off staying in a Motel 6 for a much lower price. Last word of advice - beware of those hawks trying to woo unsuspecting tourists into wasting a couple of hours with a sales staff in return for a pathetic show and a crappy buffett. It is a complete waste of time.

If you are planning to visit the Grand Canyon, get away from the tourist hot spots such as Mather point, Yavapai etc., and head to calmer places like Hopi point and Pima point which are at the west end of the South rim. These places provide a better view of the River and the Canyon and a lot of privacy and an opportunity to spend a lot of quality time (ahem)! Taking a small hike in the Kaibab trail (not all the way to the floor) and visiting desert tower are very enjoyable. Food at market plaza near Yavapai lodge is excellent and very economic. Road trip east of Desert View Tower in 64 North is highly recommended. A lot of off the beaten path opportunities abound in that area - little River Colarado Gorge for instance allows you to see the gorges from very close distance. When AZ64 hits Cameron take AZ89-S to visit Sunset Crater. That whole area offers great vistas and is always free of flock of tourists.

The best part of our trip was a visit down the memory lane to the Petrified Forest National Park near Holbrook, AZ. Just the fact that this arid desert once was the bed of a river as wide as the current day Amazon was startling. The number of petrified trees with magnificent colors left us dumbfounded. Looking at the well preserved fossilized fishes, molluscs, dinosaur eggs, tropical leaves and dinosaur dung (fossilized silly) evoked a new found enthusiasm for geography within me all of a sudden. A walk along Blue Mesa in the middle of this park where the Chinle formations were shaded with Pastel colors was worth the whole trip. For those interested in semi-precious stones such as Amethyst, Blue Calcite, Obsydians this place is an absolute Mecca. We bought a lot of memorablia in the nearest museum outside the park - collecting any petrified wood or crystals inside the park is a punishable offense; so next time you visit our place, be prepared for a little Geology lesson from us :) Finally, we visited the petroglyphs in the desert left by Puerto Indians - antecedents for current day Hopi Indians, and the Painted Desert part of the park around sunset and marvelled at the hues and colors the desert sand reflected off the sun light and bid adieu to the wild wild Arizona and to a well spent year 2005. We reached the bay area late evening on the last day and welcomed the new year 2006 from the cozy premises of our home.

As always more detailed photo tour at my yahoo photo site. There are around 400 hand-picked photographs for your viewing pleasure; so take your time :)

So long,
yours truly

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At 12:40 AM, Blogger Sathish said...

Well written ! I liked the style of writing :-)

At 11:09 PM, Blogger Neeraj said...

hey sai old man! neeraj here yr old roommate.. just stumbled upon yr blog via my roommate who goes to scu as well.. nice blog there. and thats a darn good photo i must say of the asphalt .. what equipment/technique?


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