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


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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