“Rule for a peaceful life- Keep your hearts open, spirit free and tongue in control”
Riddhima struggled to empty her heart out. To recall that horrendous night was like stepping on the tail of a venomous snake that can paralyze the soul.
Riddhima was very happy to have got her leave sanctioned for a week. Busy work schedules have taken a toll on her relationship with Suyash. She reached her apartment early with an intent of making that evening special. She planned surprise but was served with shock when she entered her house (she always thought it to be her home though). Suyash was in a compromising position with Riddhima’s friend Sara.
Riddhima’s entry rattled them as they were not expecting her around at that point of time. To say the least Riddhima was shell shocked and was in a complete state of disbelief and anguish. An utter silence ensued.
Sara “Riddhi give me a minute I can explain. You are getting it all wrong. This is not how you see” tried to handle the situation.
Riddhima ” You are right, I was wrong all the way. Now my stupidity needs no explanation after what I just witnessed. I have to say only one thing to you – SHUT UP AND GET OUT!”
Sara left without any counter argument. Now Riddhima turned to Suyash who stood perplexed there silently as a thief caught in the act.
As he was expecting Riddhi to blow him up, she silently walked past him to her room. She was hurriedly packing up her bags as she fought her tears back. Anger and resentment were building up in her as she was moving to and fro between her almirah and suitcases. She couldn’t believe where she landed herself, a person she was in love with was deceiving her with her own friend. Suyash made after Sara made an attempt to explain things and it was anything but remorseful.
Suyash “Look I can explain. It happened in the heat of the moment. One such incident shouldn’t effect us. Stop behaving childish. We entered into this relationship because we never wanted that typical husband-wife drama. You should move on”
At the end of his rather shameless confession Riddhima smirked and said “Hope you understand the meaning of relationship. It’s about emotions and not about lust. And for one last time I agree with you – I am moving on. So badly I want to slap you for being a jerk but since I once loved you and I am responsible for the choices I make in my life I am letting my better sense to prevail and call it quits”. And she left that apartment. Took shelter at her friend’s paying guest accomodation for few days before she moved to Kolkata as she got a new job there. The same night she spoke to Avinash as well as she could think of no one else to confide herself with.
Doctor heard patiently to Riddhima’s story. Empathy and medicines, she gave both. Doctor said “The best medicine which I can’t prescribe on a piece of paper is that you should be in the company of people who love you without any conditions applied. More you realise your worth in their lives better you will be”.
Doctor’s words sure left an impression on Riddhima’s mind. And she decided to meet Avinash – the only name that figured first in her mind as the doctor mentioned “people who love you without any conditions applied”.
Riddhima and Avinash met that weekend. Riddhi told Avi about her doctor’s visit and that she narrated what tormented her for so many days.
Avi drew himself closer to Riddhi, wrapped his arm around her shoulder and said “Riddhi, may I ask you one thing?”. When she nodded in affirmation he asked “did you ever spoke to your parents about what all transpired that made you leave the city your roots dwelled in? Remember you told me that you will speak to them when I urged let me handle it and didn’t let me speak?”
Riddhima: No, I know that they are already very upset because of me. I couldn’t muster enough courage to face them. I only informed them about the new job offer in Kolkata. I really can’t see them break because of my actions.
Avinash: what actions? Stop blaming yourself for the degraded ways of a jerk first of all. Secondly, I don’t understand the fear of opening up to one’s parents. You opened up your heart to me without doubting for a second if I could use it to leverage any advantage.
Riddhima interrupted “don’t talk nonsense Avi. You never judged me, always had my back then how can I hide anything from you. But parents!! You saw how they were against my moving in decision. And with all this fiasco how can I face them, won’t they be taunt me for my choices?”
Avinash: Now you give me break. This is the first time ever you enraged me. You are judging your parents that they would judge you! I really pity your thought process dear. They will differ in the ways they see and think, this is natural for the generation they belong to. But let’s not get into that discussion. Remember the day when I asked “from whom you are running? Whom you are trying to fool?” Let me answer this for you – you are running away from the truth that you matter to your parents no matter what. My suggestion to you – go talk to them once, and I am here anyways for every help you need”
Riddhima by this time was moved to tears, tears that she held for so long and now refusing to restrain themselves. She embraced Avinash tightly as if she found the solace and refusing to let it go. After a while she freed him from her embrace and said “promise me that you will be there for me on ever cross road of life and guide me which way to pick”
To this Avinash smiled and in his usual playful manner replied “no conditions applied but charges yes for my consultancy services Madam”. Both had a good hearty laugh.
The next day Riddhima called Avi again to inform him that she booked her ticket to Delhi, she is going to meet her parents after a long time…….
Avinash sat on the sofa sipping while, an action movie on the screen. The perfect evening to wind up. But his mind was not in the movie. He was lost in the past. He remembered the small piggy tailed Riddhima. They were next-door neighbours and practically grew up together. He had a lot of friends but she was the one who used to help him out when he was in trouble. As a young boy, he had a knack of getting into trouble and then face the wrath of his strict father. Most of the time she would come to his rescue. Be it sneaking in some sweet delicacies when he was in time-out or giving him an alibi when he got into trouble. She would always say that you would do the same for me when I am in trouble.
When they stepped into adolescence both got busy with their own sets of friends and studies. But whenever they met they brought each other up to date. She told him about her first crush on the head boy of the school. He told her about his first kiss with his girlfriend. How she teased him about it all the time. She used to call his girlfriend dumb and he used to be so angry… That’s another story that the relationship with this girlfriend didn’t last long.
And then there were these famous arguments they had. They could argue on any topic under the sun. That was because when it came to life both had a diametrically opposite view on everything. But maybe these arguments let them stay grounded and not move too much to one end of the spectrum.
The tables turned when she got her first job. She seemed to be getting into a lot of trouble after that. Oh want an uproar there was in her family when she moved in with Suyash. Ridhima’s mom called Avi to drill some sense into this Riddhi. But no matter what anyone said she was determined to do her own thing.
Avinash supported her through it all in fact calmed down her parents and talked them into accepting the live-in.
But then that night almost one year into her relationship with Suyash. Avinash got a call from Ridhima. She was hysterical.. Crying shouting, completely broken.
When the beer spilled on his lap he realized that he was so angry on the mere memory of that night that he was unknowingly crushing the beer can.
Ridhima had on the other hand plucked the courage to speak to a doctor. Or maybe was so desperate that she had to see a doctor. She walked into the doctor’s room. Dark circles under her eyes were already telling her story. “I can’t sleep. Even if I get to sleep the demons of my past and present keep haunting me. I tried having Restil too that is not helping me either.”
“I am desperate doctor.”
“My whole life has turned topsy turvy. It’s affecting my work also.”
The doctor heard her through and asked her a few questions about her age, diet, stress levels at work, and other things. Doctor asked her when did it all begin.
That fateful evening when she entered the room with her hand full of flowers and big romantic plans in her eyes. The day her life shattered into pieces, flashed in front of her eyes. Wondering how to put it all in words.
Riddhima didn’t want to remember any of it. Suyash’s cold behavior, his insensitive attitude and his bitterness towards her. It was over. That chapter of her life was closed and she desperately wanted to move on. But something kept holding her back. Why was she still awake at 1:15 am?
“Enough is enough. I got to get some sleep.” She thought. She drank some more water and put on her headphones that was playing some light jazz. And she desperately tried not to think of Suyash. Her mind slowly and gradually drifted to deep sleep.
Riddhima is sitting with her colleague Mahi and having a cup of coffee at the office cafeteria. Her eyes randomly searching for somebody and she finds Suyash sitting in one corner of the cafeteria alone. He looked like he was upset or maybe he was crying. Riddhima just wanted to go and give him a nice tight hug and shower him with love right there. Suyash is mine, he is not supposed to be sad ever as long as he has me. Mahi catches her staring at Suyash.
“You really like him, don’t you?” teases Mahi
“Yeah, sort of. But I don’t know if he feels the same.” Blushes Riddhima.
“Go and find out for yourself. He is right there – go and buy him a coffee” says Mahi with a big smile.
Riddhima a bit unsure of herself still goes and gets another cup of coffee for him. She slowly walks towards Suyash and sits next to him. She looks at Suyash and is immediately startled. It wasn’t Suyash. It was Avi.
“Avi, you? What are you doing at my office cafeteria? I thought I saw Suyash.” Screams Riddhima.
“It doesn’t matter Riddhi. You just need somebody to be your love. How does it matter if it is me or Suyash.” Says Avinash with tears in his eyes.
Riddhima jumps out of her chair spilling coffee all over her. And when she looks down at her dress, it was covered in green algae. She looks at the spilled coffee around her and it is not coffee but it is green algae. She feels disgusted and runs to the washroom to wash herself.
In the washroom, when she looks at herself in the mirror. She sees her mother standing behind her. She turns around. “Mom?”
“Its ok beta. It is only me. Suyash is a good boy. You must get married to him. Other girls of your age are having babies, I don’t know what is wrong with you. People have started talking about you now.” Says her mom.
Suyash and Avinash are also standing next to her. They both say – “Yes Riddhima, you should get married. You need a man to make you feel loved. Why are you running away?”
Riddhima runs out of the office on the road and runs as fast as she can. She realizes that there are some cars and trains chasing her. She runs even faster but looks like her home is nowhere visible. She realizes that these vehicles chasing her and finally going to hunt her down and she collapses.
Riddhima wakes up. She finds herself sweating profusely and out of breath. She jumps out of her bed and drinks some water. She feels like puking and runs to the washroom. No puke comes out but she feels sick to her gut. What a horrible nightmare! What does it mean? Mom, Suyash, Avi, Mahi, the cars, the trains – what does all this even mean?
She washes her face multiple times and looks at the clock. It was only 1:55 am. She had hardly slept for 30 mins and this horrible dream woke her up. She now knew that she has to see a doctor the next day. This insomnia and these nightmares would make her go crazy otherwise.
The story in the flashback…
Just as she was thinking about her live-in relation with Suyash, the doorbell rang. Riddhima went to answer the door. It was Suyash with a pizza box in his hand.
“Hi!” Suyash said.
“Oh, you didn’t tell me that you are going to get pizza today,” Riddhima said, surprised, as she bolted the door.
“What? Why should I ASK you? We are not married, so stop behaving like a typical wife.” Suyash retorted as he placed the pizza box on the table.
“Why are you over-reacting? I just asked you a simple question. I had already made dinner for us, so that is why I was asking.” Riddhima said angrily.
“Dinner!!! Oh my my! You made dinner. Hahaha! Well, now tomorrow you will say you want a baby. Cut it now, what’s going on in your mind Riddhu?” Suyash asked sarcastically.
“Oh, c’mon Suyash! Please STOP over-reacting”, Riddhima pleaded. “I told you the other day my physician advised me not to have outside food frequently as it’s not gut-friendly. That’s the only bloody reason I cooked. Besides, I was going to discuss with you about hiring a cook. I have already asked our maid to send someone”.
“Another intruder into our privacy! What’s there to discuss when you have already decided? Besides, I am least interested in these maid talks. Keep this stuff to yourself only. Now, excuse me and let me have the pizza before it gets cold.” Suyash said as he sat down to have his food.
Riddhima too went into the kitchen, reheated the arhar dal and jeera aloo that she had prepared and served herself. She preferred to have her dinner in the bedroom as she was upset with the cold behaviour of Suyash.
Shifting from the North to the East was actually a knee jerk reaction for Riddhima – a decision that she took in a jiffy and made sure that it materialized. After all that had happened, she just wanted to be as far away from Delhi as possible.
She had been in a live-in-relationship for close to three years much against the wishes and counsel of her parents. A carefree bird that she was, she found nothing wrong in sharing home space with a man whom she loved and who claimed to love her. Moreover, she never wanted her wings clipped by nagging in-laws and bugging children. So, marriage was a term she had struck off her dictionary since her college years.
When she joined TRANSCO – the MNC of her dreams, life took a rosy turn. Not only did the job make her economically independent, but also brought Suyash into her life. Suyash was her Team Leader in one of the projects that she had been assigned and had already had five years of experience in the company.
One thing led to the other and soon they could not wait to take coffee breaks to see each other. Within months, Riddhima was sure that she wanted to live her life with him. Nevertheless, she wanted a second opinion. And who else would give the go-ahead if not Avinash!
Animatedly, she picked up the phone and called up Avinash.
“Hey, Avi, can you spare a few minutes?”, said an excited Riddhima as soon as Avinash answered her call.
“At your command, Riddhi. Tell me what’s eating up your already half-existing brain”, he replied amidst splits of laughter.
“Listen, I think I have found him”, Riddhima said emphasizing the last word.
“Who was lost and whom have you found, Riddhima?”, said Avinash continuing with his humour.
“Be serious a bit, will you? I know I am right. I just want to be sure”, Riddhima said thoughfully.
“If you go on beating around the bush this way, how do you expect me to know what it is that you are talking about? Shoot straight”, replied Avinash switching over to a more moderate tone.
And so Riddhima narrated the whole thing right from day one, adding a line of apology in the end for having kept the secret even though she exchanged messages or calls with Avinash every other day.
Avinash was silent for some time.
“Come on tell me, what you are thinking”, pleaded Riddhima in desperation.
“Well, first, you owe me a Café Mocha on my next trip to Delhi – your penalty for hiding such an important slice of your life from me this long. And then, as far as my opinion is concerned, I have always believed in your choices, though not on your life principles. As far as your Suyash is concerned, having heard what I have heard from you, you have my go ahead. I mean you have already made up your mind, and I haven’t met him. So, what more can I say other than agree with you? But, about the question as to whether you should move in with him, you know my answer. We have had enough of our marriage vs. live-in-relationship debates for years. Not any more at this juncture”, replied Avinash at one go.
“Hmm . . . diplomatic reply. But, you wait, I’ll show you how a live-in-relationship ensures more happiness than the bondage of marriage. Ah! Ok . . . you don’t believe it is a bondage . . .”, Riddhima said with a giggle.
“So, Riddhi, all the best and you have my back at all times – never forget it”, said Avinash.
“I know and that’s why I chose to call you first. I’ll introduce you to him next weekend over video call”, said Riddhima with excitement back in her voice again.
They hung up.
Avinash went back to his cubicle.
And, Riddhima started spinning fabrics of gold in imaginary looms.
Suyash and Riddhima moved in together to a well furnished plush 3 BHK flat overseeing an artificial pool and park.
But, things started changing quickly – much sooner than Riddhima could have ever imagined.
No, Suyash wasn’t abusive. He wasn’t the possessive type either.
It was just that he kept himself away from the house as much as he could. They worked together, and that meant they left for and from work together most of the times.
The free bird that Riddima was, she desired a personal space, but she also wanted the warmth of the man that she was living with.
That was not to be.
Riddhima found it strange.
She had a heart full of emotions, but no one to pour them on.
Did she make a mistake?
The images of Riddhima’s life in Delhi were grim and as she was lying on the bed with her eyes wide open, all of them danced in front of her. Was that a life she was leading there? There was an utter silence prevailing in that house all the time, but there wasn’t any peace. There was no chaos in that house, but her heart and mind were restless always. There were no arguments or quarrels, but there were no conversations either. There were many beautiful people living in that house but there was no life in their togetherness. Everything at that house seemed beautiful but it was a house without a life. That house was nothing but a beautifully decorated tomb.
Riddhima felt like crying but there was nothing that she remembered for which she can actually cry. She wished if Avinash could have stayed with her little longer. He has always been her pillar being her childhood best friend. He has always stood beside her even if there were so many who could have stood beside her at those times when she needed them the most.
She saw her mobile screen flashing. There was a call. It was Avinash. “Hello, Avi! You reached?” She picked up as if she was so desperately wanting to hear from her childhood buddy.
“I knew you must be awake even if it is past 12AM. Yeah, I just landed and walking towards the parking lot to catch my cab. And please sleep quickly and try to get a life, now.” He said as they talked for sometime before hanging up.
“Huh, life!” She sighed as she remembered Avinash talking about crossroads when he was here a few hours ago. She got up from her bed and walked towards the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. She opened the fridge and took out the bottle. Pouring the water from it to a glass, she kept it back inside the fridge and started sipping the water while walking back towards the hall. She saw the torn pizza packet lying on the table and smirked. She could relate her life to that torn packet which had lost its value of being used again. She kept the glass on the tea table and picked up the packet and a few crumbs that had fallen here and there. He gathered them all and threw them in the dust bin kept in that room.
She then picked up the glass from the table and walked back to her room. She kept the glass, covering it with a coaster, and sat on her bed again, trying to sleep.
“Welcome back Miss. Stubborn” Avinash hesitantly accepted her decision. And within two weeks the house was set. As Avinash was working on settings of the house Riddhima came with coffee and persuaded Avinash to take some rest.
“Come on Avi, take a break, you need it. You have been working since morning, in fact since the day the deal was finalized” as she handed over the coffee mug to Avinash. “What shall I order today, it’s my treat, your wish is my command” Riddhima playfully said while surfing some online food portals.
Avi fixed his gaze at her face “whom are you trying to fool, you think I don’t know what pain you are going through. You are trying to run away but from whom. Look, we can together try to fix this and for that, you don’t have to come and stay so far. Do you fear of crossing paths with those who wronged you? I am with you, why are you letting your apprehensions get better of you? Please let’s go back. I was never in favour of you coming to this far off place. You have never been away from your city, city where you grew up, that has your family…” and as Avi let his emotions flow Riddhima questioned, “how about a Pizza?”
This almost irked Avinash “you think this is a joke?”
A sarcastic smile escapes Riddhima’s face “Avi you know me so well!!! I needed this space” silencing Avinash.
After a while…
The pizza was delivered, they savored it. Few more chores were settled and Avinash took leave. Avinash was Riddhima’s childhood friend. Professional commitments brought him to Kolkata whereas Riddhima was in Delhi all these years.
As soon as he left an eerie silence engulfed. Riddhima lied on her bed tossing uncomfortably. Is it the new place, new beginning, or the old memories that kept her up? She couldn’t understand. She sharply stood up and sat upright, perplexed as her past rallied in front of her eyes…
The world is not only crowded with religious Gurus. Moreover, it is crowded with the Good Samaritans and one of those Good Samaritan IS IN MY LIFE.
In my childhood, my family went through a too hard phase of life. If I can sketch that phase with an exemplary picture, the picture would be “the house of cards crashing down at once”. It was such a phase that unmasked many of our trusted friends & relatives, the intention of their heart, the intensity of their love, their secret scheme in relationship but among all of them one person and their family stood as a Good Samaritan for us. Neither biologically nor religiously they are our relatives, we just have friendship relation. As I revisit that phase of my family, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in reference to the parable of the Bible “The Good Samaritan” is too appealing to me –
The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:
‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’
But… the Good Samaritan reversed the question:
‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
Surely, the goodness of the Good Samaritan made it evident for God to teach us “GO & DO LIKEWISE.” In God’s understanding the act of the Good Samaritan is counted as “righteousness” whereas the attitude of the thoughts of the Priest and the Levite in the story maybe counted as Religious but not righteous.
The root meaning of the word “RIGHTEOUSNESS” is the character trait or quality of being just or right in the eyes of God and human beings. Raising above the meaning, in spiritual context God has called us (men & women) for “RIGHTEOUSNESS” and with this very intention God has created men & women in His image (the spiritual image of Wisdom, Knowledge, & Understanding) to be righteous. As God’s expectation from us is, we would be found blameless, holy, and free from all kinds of accusations in His sight.
Righteousness is not merely obedience in performing religious duties, abiding by the religious traditions & rituals, chanting prayers, and sacred words. Moreover, it is experiencing the love of God by loving God with all our heart, mind, and soul since God loved us in such a manner that He sacrificed His begotten son for us. Secondly, exhibiting God’s love by loving every human being as we love ourselves. All other laws, rituals, and religiosity is below this standard of living.
The intent of righteousness is the restoration of the relationship. Righteousness is exclusive in it’s demands but inclusive in its outputs. For the Good Samaritan for my family amidst of his struggles, his righteous act demanded him to go many extra-miles just to help us but the result of his righteousness included two generations though they belong to two different religions – Hinduism & Christianity. The Bible stamps out such teaching saying,
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.“
Well, considering the present global scenario of religious insecurity and religious hatred the profound question is “If God has created us for righteousness and it is only the righteous lifestyle that God excepts from us, then why people are so much into a religious war and religious violence citing the protection of their religions?
NOW globally more than 61 nations are experiencing a high incidence of hostilities motivated by religious hatred, mob violence & lynching related to religion, terrorism, and harassment of women for violating religious codes. More than 84% of the world population who identify themselves with a religious group have been affected by religious hatred. Apart from the non-reported incidents, in February 2020 alone, 36 people in Delhi city are killed due to religious violence and on the report, approximately 280 religious violence is reported every year in India.
Instead of gambling the blame game on each other, the weighty reason is we are primarily evil from instead rather than the evil we see outside. In simple, we hate people of other religions not because our religious group hates them or our counterparts have victimized our faith rather it is because the hatred residing in our hearts initiates the hate and gives enough space to the evil thoughts to play the horror of religious violence. Describing the condition of the human heart, the Bible says,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. Out of the abundance inside of the heart the mouth speaks.
Following it in the Bible the LORD God says,
I do not delight in sacrifice, or I do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices I look for is a broken and contrite heart.
And what do I, your LORD God require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly before ME.
For that, I the Creator, the LORD God of this universe, sacrificed my begotten Son “Jesus” on the cross as the remnant for your sins and to give you eternal life as you believe in my Son “Jesus”, you appear before me as “Righteous”.
I saw him kneeling in prayer after the service was over in church and people had started filtering out. He knelt with hands folded and head bowed down for quite some time before getting up and moving out. I was struck by the open devotion. Christians are not usually seen kneeling in prayer in formal church congregations. Kneeling in praise and prayer is mostly confined to private home spaces and informal worship congregations.
I saw him do so Sunday by Sunday. He was a familiar face from my Coaching class, but we hadn’t befriended each other. Weeks later when the ice broke and pleasantries were exchanged, I asked him about his faith journey. To my utter dismay, he said that he didn’t really believe in God!! In the months and years of our acquaintanceship that followed I was to learn that he acknowledges God for two reasons – one, because his mother insists that does so and two, he doesn’t want to invite the wrath of God and let something bad happen to him by skipping a Sunday church service.
Whoa!! That was quite a revelation for me. A 27-28 year old young man with patterns of behaviour that he does not believe in! This was years before. He is still the same, rather more diffident!
While parents can and need to instill faith values in children, rote faith does more harm than good. When God is known for who He is, faith exudes automatically. Religion can be passed on down the generations, but faith cannot be. Faith is personal.
The world today stands greatly divided on the basis of religion. In my opinion, it is meant to be so. Different principles of different religions hold good for different people for different reasons and cannot be expected to be uncompromisingly unifying. Religion is a unifying force within ingroups. But when we think of two or more religions, one is the outgroup to the other. And so, divisions emerge.
One corrective thought that the world at large refuses to see is the difference between religion and culture and the difference between religion and faith. This is what I would be focussing on within the limited cope of this article..
Having been a student of World and Indian Sociology for more than a decade, the stark difference between religion and culture is all the more obvious to me. There is no doubt an overlapping line between the two, but both are NOT the same. Culture is largely determined by the geography, apart from many other distinct features (which I will refrain from listing for the sake of brevity). And so we see people in different parts of the global hemisphere eat, dress, believe and behave in different ways.
From times in the far past, humans have been in awe of some supreme power ruling over their lives for which culturally appropriate and functionally reasonable entities were ascribed power. That is how each civilization and culture has contributed its share of gods, goddesses, demi-gods and deities to the world. To give just one example, we have Tefnut known as the Egyptian god of rain, Zeus known as the Greek god of rain, Indra known as the Indian god of rain and so on across various cultures – all revered as rain-causing deities (by those who believe) with deeply embedded cultural connotations and culturally appropriate ways of appeasements. Similarly, there are many more divine entities which are ascribed the functionalities of love, wealth, wisdom, famines, plagues, destruction, prosperity, fertility, etc. across almost all cultures, with very few exceptions. And so, we have this unavoidable amalgamation of religion and culture.
However, the two different constructs that they are, religion and culture though form a symbiosis of sorts cannot essentially be conglomerated into a synthesis.
This is because religion is supposed to find its basis in divinity. Whereas, culture is a combination of geography, language, norms, values, folklores and mores, art, architecture, music, dance, family, society, customs and religions (here goes the list of the distinct components of culture). So you see, religion/s is a subset of the larger set called culture. Equating religion and culture leads to constricting the wider domain of culture, while expanding the narrower turf of religion. Confusing identities and nasty conflicts eventually threaten to rule the roost.
I’ll pause on religion and culture here and switch over to the other distinction – religion and faith.
Religion, being a socio-cultural construct does its part in generating belief in and worship of the supernatural. Scanning through world history and geography would provide us deeper insights into how various religions were born. Just as we have the known planets and the unknown ones in the vast universe, we also have many known religions and many more unknown religions (not to mention the numerous sects, cults and denominations) spread across the length and breadth of the world with multifarious religious practices and rituals. To give an example, Hindu married women in India keep a day-long fast for the longevity of their husbands. This is called Karwa Chauth in Northern and Western India. The fast ends only after the moon is spotted in the evening sky and is seen by the fasting ladies followed by certain rituals. A very similar fast is kept by Hindu married ladies in Odisha at a different time of the year, and this is called Savitri amavasya. This fast by contrast, is observed on a moonless day and comes to an end in the evening in a similar way.
The same religion, same objective, same country but different ways of observations and different sets of rituals according to the geographical divide of the land. Each set of rituals and practices has its own mythology behind it and is held precious by those who adhere to it.
So is it with all religions. Touring across the world (virtually for now 🙂 )would make these understandings even more obvious.
So then, are religion and faith one and the same?
The answer is NO.
One can practise or follow a religion meticulously without having faith in God (as in the case of my friend mentioned in the beginning of the article). Another can have faith in God without subscribing to a religion as such. The former is easier than the latter considering that religion is an identity-essential in society, with few having the option to refrain from such identities.
Again, it is the societal construct that attempts to synthesize religion with faith, the end result of which proves to be a mess. A church-going person is considered to be godly. A fervent ritual-observer is labelled as pious. A performance of certain ceremonials is thought to provide self-satisfaction. Keeping certain fasts, eating or not eating certain foods on certain days are considered to be signs of piety. These are the parameters on the basis of which we (others) assess ourselves and others.
It can be argued that these religious acts are indeed observances of faith. But, the truth is that inherited religion and the accompanying rituals make God and faith esoteric obscurities.
So then, should religious teachings not be imparted? Should faith not be propagated?
Both have their places intact. The Bible says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”
If we spare a thought to what matters before God – faith or religion, faith or rituals – we would undoubtedly have ‘faith’ as the answer. God is the echoing Truth of the universe and He treasures our faith in Him. Having God as the object of our faith would help wean away most of the undesirable rituals that have been getting passed on over the ages. He and only He matters.
In the inconclusive debates between theism versus deism or pantheism versus panentheism or atheism versus agnosticism and many more such isms, the truth about God is seldom sought after by the intellectuals and learned philosophers who prefer rather to establish their theories.
No matter what worldview we hold or what teachings have been imparted to us, it is worthwhile to embark on the journey to know God and worship Him for who He really is, not for who we think He may be. Not hollow observance of rituals or cultural religiosity, but a mere simple child-like faith in Him is what He requires.
A few months back I got a packet of carrot seeds and sown them in my garden. Days turned into weeks but no result. Instead, unwanted weeds cropped up all around. I pacified myself thinking maybe the soil isn’t of good quality or the seeds aren’t supreme. Yet kept checking. Meanwhile, in a small pot, I scattered few tomato seeds and surprisingly saplings did crop up in no time. What made the difference? In the first case, I buried (literally) the seeds quite deep making it hard for the feeble saplings to make it to the surface. On the contrary, I sowed the tomato seeds quite close to the surface and covered them with a thin layer of soil. Keeping the soil loose lets the seeds breathe easy and develop well.
What struck me actually? Not the principles of Horticulture but a valuable lesson that those tiny particles have taught me. When the seeds are sown really deep and the upper layer of soil is decked up too tightly the saplings never find it easy to develop – not just tender leaves but strong roots; roots strong enough to brave the weather and stand upright. And this has a close allegory to the way we perceive devotion or seek wisdom in our lives.
We have strongly and successfully confused ourselves with devotion towards God and attaining wisdom with a set of ritualistic practices. And that resulted in FEAR. Fear of facing God’s wrath if we fail to perform or practice rituals as per the rule book which is amended and molded as per personal conveniences!! And unfortunately, we forget that God can’t be a synonym for fear and which is conveniently cashed by few “caretakers” of religions in the name of God. And that forces the rigidity. Rigidity to do things as mentioned and deemed to be God’s will. Just as the seeds need the soil to be loosened to let them breathe, the rigidity of practices must be done away with. The fear-mongering must be stopped, enabling the emotion, the devotion of heart – “God Loving” dwell in.
Fear never lets the love thrive and when love ceases to exist the desire to know more extinguishes and that blocks the route to wisdom, period! On a lighter note, we must remember that God is not our thrice removed maternal uncle to sulk and swear at every trivial matter. He has created us to achieve higher purposes in life rather than navigating directionless with fear of choosing five minutes of folded hand prayer over 50 minutes of chants.
“Your gestures and words must exhibit and mean that you care and love to your loved ones. And do it right away for deadlines can be extended not lives. Memories matter whereas regrets don’t have value”.
Goal for life – have a compassionate heart that could feel the pain of a fellow being and a mind strong enough that won’t let me crumble in the times of personal distress.