Recently I was shopping at a chain store for groceries. This store gives out samples to taste as part of their promotion of special items. I must confess that I seek out such free-bie whenever I see one! Being a vegetarian I could not pass up the opportunity when I saw the vegetable samosa that was on promotion. Samples of small bites of samosa were available to taste. The lady handing out the samples cautioned every one “Be careful. It might be hot. It has curry in it”.
For those who are not familiar with the Indian spices – which is the case for most people outside of India – curry is the hot spice that adds taste and flavor to Indian dishes. This is a prevalent notion just as Yoga is a form of exercise for physical fitness or meditation is a process to keep your mind calm. None of these generic descriptions of these terms is accurate.
In reality curry is a generic name for a collection or mixture of spices. Even beyond that, the mixture of spices used by Indian cooks is never the same. While there is always a basic theme, the spices used and their proportions are generally left to the mood and creativity of the cook. This is what makes authentic Indian food far more unpredictable in its consistency for taste. While “curry” is used in various parts of India, the texture of the food as well as the taste of the same dish from the regions is different.
On reflection our understanding of God seems to be much like the understanding of curry. Everyone has a generic view of the “God”. Yet, each one of us have our own and unique view of God, conditioned by our knowledge, education, life experiences and introspection?
Everyone looks up to God as the last resort, someone to look up to when all else fails. “God save the Queen” is the national anthem of Britain. Politicians take their oath to God, when taking office “to protect and defend the constitution”. Every religion invokes God in one form or another.
For some, God as the savior of last resort – when all else fails – is the beginning and end. Fear of God makes them behave in certain ways. Faith in God gives them hope to strive and pursue their activities in the face of looming uncertainties. In due course God becomes their mystical super being. Concepts of heaven (as the place of God) and hell (as the place assigned to those cursed by God) dominate their thought and belief.
For some others God is more of a goal post, an ideal to strive for. They see God through divinity in their actions as well as in the action of others. For them the divine qualities are enabled by traditions and moral codes passed on through generations. Personal view of God as understood through religious teachings dominate their thought. When faced with changes in the society or natural order around them, they struggle to adapt to these changes.
Others try to learn and understand what will God do in daily life? They describe such manner of behavior as divinity. They try to understand when divinity comes into play in our actions and when divinity seems to dwindle. They learn that our opinions and judgement cloud our reasoning and analysis. Higher levels of reasoning and action that is in the best interest of all – objectivity – is seen as divinity. They also recognize that “reasoning”, “action”, “interest”, etc. are all subjective. These are influenced by our limitations. In other words they seek objectivity, while conscious of the subjectivity of each of us as individuals.
Basic life processes – like breathing, digestion, assimilation, sensory perceptions are the same for each of us (Objectivity). But each of us experience or enjoy these processes differently (Subjectivity). We are aware that the laws of nature – governing the above human processes as well as all other aspects of the universe – are truly invariant and hence objective. The sun that shines, the wind that blows, the earth we sleep on are all the same for a king as well as for a poor nobody. Yet, each of us, experience them in our own personal or subjective manner. Those who reflect on all these marvel at this paradox.
Those who can accept this paradox as the way it is, describe the source of the paradox, its evidences and effect as the laws of nature or “Brahman”. Those who cannot accept the paradox – that the laws or forces of nature merely exist – seek a source or creator for these forces of nature and call that as the God. Most of us can accept this invariant Brahman most of the time, but need an authority figure “God” that governs our variability in action, feelings and thoughts at least for a few moments!
God is a generic name for a collection of views and understanding in each of us. Even beyond that, the collection of views on God is never the same for the same person! The way one relates to God at moments of despair is different from the way one approaches God at the safety and comforts of life. While there is always a basic theme, the approaches used and their proportions are generally dependent on the mood and circumstances of the individuals. This is what makes the role of God – as we relate to It – far more unpredictable.
Just as “curry” adds spice and flavor to the food, “God” adds a sense of purpose, direction and frame of reference for our life as individuals and as part of a larger order (the universe). Yet our understanding of the God is very much personal. Strangely our experience with curry is also very personal and our understanding of what is it is based on reflection as well! Such introspection may also broaden our perspective and appreciation of Yoga and Meditation?