Article penned by Sqn.Ldr.H Srinivasan(Retd)….
It is always a pleasure for the old to ramble, when they spot a keen pair of ears to listen to them. It feels so free and friendly to banter, rather than sermonise. Whatever I offer to tell you is not anything originally mine. Religion is one of the most talked about, argued about, and yes, fought about subjects in the history of mankind. My endeavor is to pick out a few choice grapes from the vineyards of religion, and offer them …old wine in new bottles.
During my days in the Air Force, I had some very intimate friends. They did not believe in God or religion. Come to think of them, they are some of the best and upright human beings I have met. I have also come across some people in the course of my lifetime, who are highly religious and claim close companionship with God. My personal association with some of them confirmed an old saying that “Godliness is not necessarily Goodliness”.
Before drawing any conclusions, let me admit that the two examples mentioned above are polar opposites. They belong to a minority. The majority, people like you and I, are a good mix of Godly and Goodly. We are the silent majority, the backbone of our religion. Hinduism, to us, is really a way of life rather than a religion.
Philosophers have compared Hindu religion to an ocean. Any number of rivers emptying themselves into it doesn’t make a difference to the vast ocean of water. Almost all the religions in the world have found a niche for themselves in India. Hinduism has basically supported the teachings of all, because almost all of all religions find their essence from the wisdom of Hinduism.
The essence of Hinduism, the beauty and the sublimity of it is in its flexibility. It does not take a rigid stand. One can follow one’s own convictions, in harmony with one’s true nature. One has the liberty to worship God in the way he likes to. Be it in the form of idols, as nature in its beauty, or as a Being with innumerable forms or Being without a form. Neither does it go to define Him in terms of knowledge. The upanishad sums it up. It declares “He who says he knows Him knows Him not, but he who knows that He knows Him not really knows Him”
Religion is a technology dealing with the development of the individual. Human beings require specific direction in life and living. Animals are programmed for a certain type of existence. They lead a life accordingly. Human beings are far more evolved. It is the birth right of man to progress in this ladder to higher evolution. This is the aim of life and this is the aim of religion.
Our religion is rich. We have inherited a legacy of untold value. But there is an ironic twist to it, almost bordering on despair. We are sitting on a treasure without knowing about it.
I am reminded of a story. Once there was a poor old Brahmin. (Come to think of it, in almost all stories we have read, the Brahmins are poor and old!) He had no means of sustaining himself as he had become weak and unable to work. He would sit under a tree outside a temple gate. He would accept with gratitude whatever was given to him as alms by passing devotees. Life was difficult, he could hardly sustain himself on the meager alms. Finally he passed away.
The temple was undergoing renovation. The area outside the gate where the old Brahmin used to sit was being dug up. The workers digging the area found a huge treasure. It was right under the spot, where the old man was sitting for years together. Little did the poor old Brahmin know that he was sitting on top of a treasure, and yet asking for alms.
We, the ones living in the present generation, have a problem. It is a problem of recent origin. We can call it as the problem of plenty, and in the same breath the problem of Scarcity! A classic oxymoron. Let me explain.
In the last half a century, we have been through changes which human history has not seen in the last 500 years. As a boy of nine years, I recollect my duty each day at dusk . It was to clean the glass shade of the hurricane lamps, top up the kerosene and light the Vick. Electricity was not available for household lighting. In early 1950s the town got electric connection for homes, and that heralded an era of things to come. What followed was a series of rapid, mind bogging array of inventions, facilities, conveniences and luxuries. The radio, the telephone, the television, the cinemas. Locomotion from the age of horse carts to Volvo buses, super-fast trains, and the aero plane. The Xerox machine, the print technology, the computer, and the internet. Healthcare, penicillin, x-Ray, and M.R.Is. As someone has put it aptly, the common man nowadays, has the luxuries that were not available to a Moghul emperor.
“Great for you, awesome, rock it, have fun,” should be the reaction all round. But it is not to be. With all these conveniences, the world should have been a better place to live in. Science has made a colossal contribution for the welfare of mankind. But, are people happy? In what otherwise is a perfect world there seems to be only worry, suffering and sorrow. Peace alludes mankind. The world is in a self-destruct mode with the press of a button. This is a paradox.
It has been brought out by the thinkers that the root cause of suffering is because man is not looking within. Most of the thinking is done by outside forces. Science looks after the comforts and conveniences externally, for the body and the world. Whereas religion looks after the development of the inner self. Science deals with facts. Religion is concerned with values. Both science and religion have to go hand in hand. Otherwise there will be a dichotomy. Progress becomes lopsided; either materially or spiritually. As Einstein has summarised “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”
Scientific education is taught systematically in schools and colleges. It is not so for religion. For a majority, religion begins and ends with rituals. Religious knowledge is confined to heritage of a few rituals, dos and dont’s, and yes, a heavy dose of superstition, a hangover from the earlier generations.
Hindu religion is not stagnant. With the changing pace of the world and the circumstances, religious thoughts are moving in harmony. The tremors of change are felt by the present generation in a vibrant mode, because the changes are rather rapid. Blind faith and mechanical rituals are being replaced by logic and reasoning. Religion is no more a rule book of dos and don’ts. In place of rigidity and dogmas, the present generation is attempting to rationalize values with their practical applications in life.
It is easy for my generation to empathize with the change. My generation grew up in the age of Beatles, the flower children and the smoky coffee houses. That was the beginning. We see the more dynamic next generation impatient to get going, seeking solutions. The journey inwards has begun. The roads are not mule tracks, neglected over generations. There are spiritual highways being built. The GPIs have replaced worn out sign boards!