At the end of the day faith is a funny thing. It turns up when you don't really expect it.
Mimi Schmir, Grey’s Anatomy
I have observed people fight out the religion question on Facebook. These are friends, people whose intelligence I usually respect, people with logic in their statements. Both sides of the argument appeal to me – the problem is, they represent various stages of my own dalliance with Faith.
For days now I have watched, refusing to be drawn in.
Religion and Faith are two completely separate chapters, make no mistake. Not just for me personally, I believe the way they are practised by the world at large, it is clear: these are distinct entities. While faith may not always be about God or religious methods, worshipping a divinity is also not the only anchor for faith.
Gagan had got very angry with my final aspersions in The Ownership of Affection that Chris McCandless had gone to meet his maker in the end. Those were the author, Kraukauer’s words in the book, not mine. It was his turn of phrase I had liked. Whether we do meet anyone post ‘the end’, I have no clue, but I firmly believe in living by a higher conscious. If God, Religion and Faith are to meet at a common crossroad, my choice is purely utilitarian.
I look for purposefulness in all things. I am convinced about the rationale behind all of Nature’s designs, even where I can’t see that reason often. I accept the boundary of my intellect and the limited dimension of my mortal existence…humbly, I bow to the unknown.
My ignorance cannot be the yardstick of cosmology. So for me, there is nothing in the Universe that doesn’t fit in, no excess. In Hugo, the script writer John Burton says this marvellously about machines. I have no proof that this is how things are, neither do I have any that they aren’t. This is the crux of Faith, holding onto sublimities with child-like fondness.
I hate wastage. Wasted food. Wasted words. Lately, wasted emotions. I’m a champion of recycling utilities, doing things to make actions count. Gandhi’s greed-versus-need axiom makes a lot of sense to me. People can ogle in incredible disgust at the way I patiently scrap out the last rice grain from a bowl or slurp the last bubble of smoothie – I try to be as noiseless as possible for their sensibilities’ sake, trust me, which doesn’t make it any quicker or easier – but passing on unused resources is one of my ideas of a good deed.
‘The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number’ learnt in an Ethics class in college was always the ideal I’ve worshipped. In Art, in achievements, the high-est, the most perfect, that superlative was always equated with God.
Bentham and Mill may have got it right except for this small little problem. They envisioned a common good, assuming that living beings are a bunch of clones. We are not. We are individuals – we have needs, dreams and capabilities distinctly original. Each of us is unique. It takes a lot of cajoling, convincing and brain washing to get us communalized – we form clans for the selfish motive of survival (watch the first hunting scene in 10,000 BC, that’s how it has been ever since.)
In trying to find this great-est good for the great-est number, certain delusional practices have been made justifiable. And that is what I find objectionable about organised religion: it overrides Individuality. It overlooks the cornerstone of my Faith – that every life, the poor homeless destitute, the bedraggled kitten thrown out to the gutter, the tree poached for timber, the fruit plucked in vegan enthusiasm, the calf starved by the dairy industry, the goose tortured for foi gras, the fawn killed by the mother cheetah to feed her starving young – are important in the purposes they serve, being rampantly killed…or being so wontedly alive.
As Indians, as secular democrats, we are witnessing first-hand the dangers spawned by religious, and regional, communalisation. Communalism is not a practice I choose to promote.
Neither for me those who lock themselves for hours in the puja rooms, and spend the rest of the day bitching, whining and never having a decent word to spare for another. The human heart and human behaviour are manifestations of religiousness for me. Religion that doesn’t teach our spirits to be peaceful or kind, have summarily failed itself.
Utilitarian consequentialism echoes the principle of Karma, and the doctrines of Christ. I find perfect harmony between the principles of existentialism and the teachings of the maverick Paramahansa Ramakrishna. Joto mowt, toto pawth, he preached, there can be as many roads as there are followers; Je sohey shey rohey, in tolerance is survival.
I was an arrogant prick as an adolescent, believing in my capable hands lay my destiny. I turned a smug atheist at a tender age. Agnostic I never was, nursing a Pantheistic germ in my early spirit.
It took a pie dog’s death bed to get me into prayer mode in earnest. While in very early childhood, prayer was a celebratory thing, more social observances than deeper stirrings, more of playing with the dolls on my grandmother’s altar, (she was charmingly liberal about her religious ways, never stopping us grandchildren from smothering her Krishna) it took lives, and deaths, of dear ones to bring home the meaning of unquestioning submission.
Yes, those same dirty, diseased, scavenging, sub-human lives temples normally keep their doors locked upon, those very same made me connect to Faith; returned to me what I never had in the first place. God became this unfazed and imperturbable older brother I could go unload my worries to: let God and let go, they say.
Most of my adult life I have tried to dodge the bullet of emotional uncertainty. I have searched for islands of rest. Prayer became unanimous with thankfulness. Godliness became a way of conscience-cleansing lifestyle. Do not envy. Do not gossip. Do not spread malice. Do not deliberately harm another. Do good where you can. Help. Share. Be gentle. The highest form of wisdom is kindness (Talmud Torah.)
When I had to embark on the greatest battle of my life, the fight for survival, the fight against a loved one, night upon night a random page of the Bhagavat Geeta sheltered me, gave me light, gave me courage, gave me the strength to do evil knowingly, for the demands of the hour.
I am an ignorant being. I don’t know much about world philosophies. I cannot debate knowingly on theological principles. Whether there is a God or not, is beyond me. Organised communities repel me yet mass faith intrigues me. I question everything but accept everything. I’ve done great harm in my life, I’ve hurt maimed killed, in full awareness, and live with the consequences of that ache.
Yet, those islands I’ve chased haven’t always deluded me. Life has been exceedingly kind. Somehow, the universal equations have worked themselves out. From a pacifist to a fighter to a pacifist to a fighter, someone’s held my hand through the rough turns. I don’t call myself God’s Spoilt Child for nothing, bemusedly, gratefully.
I’ve quarrelled, bullied, defied, denied, walked away in rage, forgotten and forsaken my God; but my God, the gentle older sibling, the caring ever smiling, wise, amusing friend with that wicked sense of humour, has rarely forsaken me. With time, we’ve just learnt to forgive and live with each other’s fallibilities.
Such is the nature of faith. It turns up, and stays on, equally unexpectedly.