It is not uncommon that some random conversations lead to profound outcomes. I came across such an experience last week. It has been a week of meeting many of my good friends. Relationships with some of them last over forty years. I was visiting one such friend for a short time. On his table was a book on Rig Veda. This was the context and the common interest which resulted in our very engaging conversation on the basics of Hindu Philosophy.
At the end of this conversation my friend said, “We know that all religions have such beautiful frame work. They are simple and not so difficult to understand and comprehend. With all that, why is it most people are drawn into rituals which merely promote vanity, foolish reverence and subordination to a few who are seen as the religious leaders?” While I do not wish to cast all religious leaders in such a negative light, one must admit adoration of religious persons for wrong reasons is very common.
My friend continued, “I can understand that poor, uneducated people falling into such traps. Why these highly educated professionals also indulge in rituals and isolate themselves into narrow groups and subsets in their worship and religious practices?” I reminded my friend that academic education and professional qualifications by themselves do not make a person wise, philosophical and spiritual. Wisdom and spiritual evolution comes from reflection, analysis and introspection.
Then I told my friend, “You are well aware of the basic principles of Hindu Philosophy. You are also concerned about the pitfalls of foolish allegiance to rituals and their blind following. Then why don’t you teach them to youngsters? Why don’t you engage the next generation in meaningful discussions so that they can follow religious practices and rituals with a clarity in their thought and a better sense of purpose”?
My friend told me how he attempts the same in his own way. To make his point he described a story: Once there was a teacher with many students. He told all of the students that God is within each of us as well as outside, everywhere. God is watching everything and all the time. After a few classes of repeated lessons on this theme, he did not offer them any food for a few days. Then one day he gave enough food to each student and told them, “I know you are starving and ready to eat the food. You can all eat your food under one condition: Make sure nobody can see you when you are eating”. The students ran away to far corners and hiding places and ate their food. When they returned the teacher asked “Have you all eaten your food?” One student replied “No sir. I have my food with me. I have not eaten it”. While all the other students were shocked, this student continued, “Sir, you told us not to eat the food when someone is watching. You have also told us that God is watching all the time. Then how could I eat the food no matter where I hide?”
God is a point of reference, to calibrate ourselves. God within each of us is reflected through the divine qualities in our action. https://sipractce.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/god-and-curry/ Such divinity within precludes vanity, greed and foolish allegiance to rituals. Such divinity always shines. It has no hiding place. It is not dependent on education, academic excellence or professional qualifications. Such divinity brings clarity for abstract concepts of love, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, helpful to the needy, etc. As a result they are applied in real life with happiness within and bringing harmony all around.
My friend continued, “I tell my children God is within. You can go the temple to worship or follow rituals as a matter of practice. They give you certain way of conditioning your mind and maintain a focus on the divinity inside of you. But do not lean on the rituals as a permanent crutch”. My friend added, “These days whenever we leave on a family travel, with all children inside the car, I ask them ”Is God safe and well positioned inside each of you?” When they say yes, we start our journey.”
Following are verses from Bhaja Govindam written in 8th Century AD, which truly reflect the essence of the above conversation:
- Oh, you man of foolish mind, offering your prayers to the Lord. What good will come of your meticulous observing of rituals, while lacking in an understanding of the principles behind them?
All religions and rituals teach us pathways to internalize the view that we as individuals are mere microcosm and part and parcel ofof the universe at large (Thath Thwam Asi); anything and everything exists (or lives) enabled by and as witness to the laws of nature at work (Aham Brahma: I am Brahman). Such knowledge and awareness promotes Objectivity (which reflects as divine qualities in our actions, experiences and in our way of living).
- There are those with long (and matted strands of) hair, others with shaven head, some perform rituals of extreme pain (like starving) and others parading in religious robes. All these people, while proclaiming to preach religion and divinity do not truly see the all-pervading Lord (Brahman). Sadly all their efforts are disguises merely to make a living.
All forms of religious teaching or practice of rituals without a clear understanding of the basic principles behind them end up merely as efforts to satisfy the preacher’s needs (desire) such as hunger for food, emotional or intellectual hunger. Every effort to teach (and learn) scriptures must be to gain the true knowledge of “What is life? How it should be lived? – in an objective manner fostering true inner peace as well as peace and harmony all around. This is the obligation of the students as much as it is an expectation for the teachers.
- One may travel in pilgrimage to holy places, observe vows, practice rituals and perform charitable work. But all such efforts while lacking in knowledge (and understanding that all rituals stand for certain principles leading to divinity in our daily life) do not liberate any one even in one hundred lives, according to all teachings.
Religious practices and rituals without understanding of the basic principles lead to intolerance and violence we witness in so many places and in so many ways. With a genuine understanding and appreciation of the basic principles behind them, religion and rituals promote peace and harmony within, tolerance, inter-racial cohesion, inter-religious collaboration, etc.