Friday, 28 March 2008

God, Religion and Belief

There have been times when I have written something because I felt the need to do so, and there have been times when I have written because I felt that if I didn't do so, something great would go terribly amiss from my life. The latter thing happens considerably less frequently with me, and it's occurring now.

The existence of God, and the merits of religion have long been debated and discussed. I am not trying to merely repeat all that. This time, I'll question my inner self for the answers that I need. There are a lot of questions in my mind regarding faith, and the sooner they are solved the better. I would consider myself lucky if some of my readers cared to help me in my search, for it's a long and arduous one, and has been going on and on for years no one can possibly count. If not in me, in the minds and hearts of those who pause to think why birth and death exist. For I believe that ultimately every odyssey on the path of religion and spiritualism ultimately leads to the two elementary and yet unquestionably important questions: birth and death.

Let me try to elaborate to the best of my abilities. Birth, I believe, is not wholly synonymous with the appearance of the first "living" being on the universe. When I use the word "birth" I take it in a wider sense-- the genesis of the universe. Yes the very same vast vessel which is home to everything that is known and unknown to us. The funny thing is that we aren't even unaware of life beyond our universe, if you do understand what I mean! But let's not stray from the topic at the core of this essay. Scientists have long accepted the Big Bang Theory as the most plausible explanation for the birth of the universe, which states that the whole of matter was condensed in a extremely small and highly heated volume and for some reason that matter suddenly expanded giving rise to galaxies, and constellations-- planets, stars, nebulae and every single celestial body we know.

Now, here's my question: what made that earliest "atom" expand all of a sudden? I am not much aware of any explanation about this particular question. Most research about the cosmological birth of the universe is about how it all happened. But my question is, why did it happen? Or rather, what made the big bang happen? Could not the theoretically assumed condensed mass of matter remain in the same way for eternity? And it's precisely at this point where I think that the existence of some otherworldly force becomes relevant. (As a parallel idea, think about this: the book of Genesis says, "God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light".) Some supposedly scientific-minded people have always steadfastly maintained that one cannot be scientific and religious at the same time-- that believing in God is ultimately rejecting the cold logic of science. How then could the authors of the Bible predict the same theory that 20th century scientists have formulated and proved long after the Bible was written? Does this small example not somehow convince one that religion and science ultimately do point to the same direction: and that it is ultimately a choice between what you like to believe you are following. The religiously inclined rational man knows that he is almost as much scientific in his thinking! No wonder that one of the foremost proponents of the Big Bang was a Roman Catholic priest named Georges LemaĆ®tre.

Now comes the most important question: what is God, and if at all he exists where can one find him? Frankly, I don't have definite answers to any of the two above questions, but I do know what I want to believe. Confusing, ain't it? Let me elaborate. I believe God is omnipresent and omniscient, like so many scholars before me have said. It's not in any specific place that God resides. He is everywhere. Basically, that would be calling every single atomic and sub-atomic particle in the whole universe a manifestation of God (though, I am not asking one to "reduce" the whole grand concept of God to such a dry scientific fact at all: given a choice, even I would refrain from doing so). God is hence present in all physical and chemical processes, and every single thing in our lives is therefore a direct wish of what God wants us to do. Again, let's go back to the Holy Book. It says that humans are made in the image of God. The simplicity in what I believe is therefore vastly useful-- it proves (one can exclaim, "very scientifically!") that we are indeed made of God, since we are after all a cluster of cells! If the remarkable conclusions of this simple belief is not enough, let's delve even deeper.

How does God affect our decisions? Or is He at all instrumental in deciding our actions? The answer is 'yes' again. I shall explain quite simply. If one is indeed so devoid of humour and charm to reduce the human thought and decision process to chemical reactions inside the brain, so be he. The very fact that every single process in the universe (including chemical reactions inside our brain!) is ultimately a series of changes between particles, their configurations and energy states simply shows that God (the aforementioned elementary particles) ultimately affects our decisions. Having said all this, let me say that I believe in a greater God! Oh no, I am not going into another foolish debate regarding whose God is better, and whose religion is more foolhardy (two recommendations in this regard: Tolstoy's short story The Coffee House of Surat and Narayan Gangopadhyay's comic masterpiece Tin Bidhata). When I say "greater God", I refer to a more complete representation of the Almighty: a representation not only limited to the basic physical state of Him, but also to the inner self of God himself. And this representation, I know, is conscience. If we were all created in the image of God, I believe we all have God trapped in our souls. And this God is our own inner voice: the guide that is omnipresent (got the connection now?!), always waiting for us to seek it's help. Even in the darkest of nights, there is but one who can guide us to light. For light is God, and God is light! And light is the ultimate realisation of life-- the enlightened one assimilates into the greater universal self leaving his worldly remains behind! Which brings me to the second part of the two all-important incidents: death.

And so here's a poser again: can anyone tell me what will finally happen to the universe, which is scientifically generally believed to be expanding ever since it's inception? Or as an afterthought, where do we go after we die? Now of course, religion has an answer ready for that: according to the righteousness of one's deeds, his soul enters one of the two gates of Heaven and Hell. I don't believe that physically either of the two exist. They are, as explained by countless philosophers before, merely two states of the mind. The guilty goes through living hell, and the righteous man knows mental peace a.k.a. Heaven. But beyond that, I am quite clueless. And I believe that so is everyone! For if we discover the secret behind our genesis and ending, the purpose in our lives will be lost. Here are my questions regarding the matter: where does that soul go after all, say after it's tenure is over in heaven or hell? Or does it come back as proposed by the karmic circle? And if it does, what exactly decides which body the soul will enter in it's next life? Yes yes, my questions almost border on childishness, but believe me when I say that I am not being facetious.

Just a final thing to say: is it necessary to believe in God? Even if God does not physically exist, which is a very safe assumption, after all? And I firmly answer, yes. Because one does need something to cheer him up during the darkest of times; because without belief, one may lose his identity when he has no one to help him. Only those who have known death and suffering closely will probably completely understand what I mean, and possibly better than me since I have myself never been through too much trauma. Take the Israelites during the Exodus for example, had they not believed in a greater power, they could not have won their land against all odds. (Thanks to Leon Uris and Exodus for this nugget!) God is the ultimate realisation, I believe. A realisation that permeates all worldliness. God is there in nature, in music, in poetry. Just open your eyes and feel Him. But do NOT for God's sake turn your belief into fanaticism. No God ever preached that he is greater than somebody's else's God. All humans are equal, as are their consciences. And so is their own God! I would prefer sane and hardworking atheists over religious fanatics anyday, said Suvro Sir. I second him.

And let me end this with a thoughtful line, that should hit one with a bang:"There is no believing in God, we either know him or we don't". (source: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts)

P.S.-- A relevant post on religion and spirituality by Sir.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

The Other Half of the World

Images: Two faces of womanhood

It’s 8th of March and I turned 18 last December; and having grown up and lived in the Indian society, I couldn’t help but wield up my pen to vent out my repulsion, part-remorse, yet part-happiness and pride in being a girl/woman on this Women’s Day. Firstly, let me make it clear to the readers that this is not coming from any ‘rational feminist’. No, I detest some people of my gender in a lot of aspects at that, and I’d rather say that women are bringing down the fate of other women, than blame the backwardness solely on men.

Female infanticide. That is, some are not allowed to born - not allowed to born because they are ‘girls’. The moment a female foetus is diagnosed, it is aborted. Or even if they are born, they are killed. Some grow up a little, grow up much to realise the vibrating life in them, but then are killed – rather their souls are killed the moment they are sold to the greedy ‘dalals’ because they are feminine physically and will consequently mature to please the hunger of some masculine beasts – the so-called ‘man’ of the society. (Now, again, this is another mystery of the universe! This is the same man – the same gender - who gives the feeling of security to a girl and comes in the form of an affectionate father or an inspiring teacher or a good friend. The latter kind is even worthy of worship!) Anyway, where birth itself is such a ridiculous tragedy, what to talk of life!

Some are clearly given the signal that they are to be married not after long, that they are to go to school, that they aren’t to think or feel, that they must stop dreaming about the nature and smelling the blissful breeze blowing, instead they should learn to fuel the charcoal ‘sigri’ and wiping the floor (from my own experiences in Bihar)… Coming to the much better-off section of the society, the general middle class mentality seems to go more orthodox as time passes by. Even if girls are sent to schools, they are preferably sent to traditional girls’ schools so that they may be kept well-apart from the opposite gender to avoid the obvious bubbling-over of ‘feelings’ in their adolescence. When they work hard to understand Physics or Chemistry or Maths, mothers insist that it’s no use and rather it’d be better to learn a bit of cooking and house-keeping (I must add that I find nothing inherently wrong in learning to do a bit of household chores: just that women must not be reduced to mere brainless housekeepers!)

To go one step higher, I see typical aunties busy with gossip-scandals of Mrs. This and Mrs. That day in and day out, or glued with their T.V.s watching the K-serials. To go a level still higher, there are models sporting in least possible piece of garments and making the world a more dangerous place for other women to live in-- therefore catalysing the dreadful process of commercialisation of the female body. That the beauty and chastity of a female human form is being used to sell cars and soap is a slap in the face of God-- something created aesthetically and beautifully is thus reduced to just a tool to boost sales figures.

What I ask is: are girls all about this??? Even asking this question poses a source of embarassment to women like Mahashweta Devi, Mother Teresa, Ashapurna Devi, Kiran Bedi, Sunita Williams, Kalpana Chowla and a lot more. To add to these well-known achievers, there are numerous unknown (rather ‘nameless’ in the world of fame) women I know who live their life with a greater mission – I’ve come across my mother, many Catholic Sisters and married and unmarried Ma’ams and Misses who have discovered joy and fulfillment in broader things of the world. But, day by day, it seems their count is falling low…

Now, again, a point on the contrary about the type I mentioned somewhere near the end of the fourth paragraph: I didn’t mean that section of my gender who so proudly claim to be focused on their 'careers' and have in their heads some aims to get an MBA or an engineering /medical degree, that subtle emotions lose importance for them. Most of them think looking at the sky and smiling (because it looks so beautiful today with white fluttering clouds) as damn silly and stupid. Ask these girls to read a novel, you’ll get a scowl in return. Ask them to see a classic black-and-white movie, again get a scowl. Ask them to listen to some Rabindrasangeet, welcome that lovely scowl the third time! Now, of course, they aren’t wrong – my liking or disliking really doesn’t grade people (absolutely NOT!). Just that I hope they were a bit less absorbed in such materialistic things, and certainly a bit more appreciative of philosophic brilliance.

I wonder why I hear so few girls yelling aloud, “Hey, I want to sing today! I want to go out in the rain and feel the storm today! I want to go out in the fields and stand on the grass in bare feet! I want to spend the day doing nothing – nothing at all. (Maybe, I do sound a bit hopelessly romantic here, but that's what I am; and I am happy that I am so!) I want to fall in love with the nature-- with the world!”

Of course, it’s not about escapism or laziness – it’s about opening the gates of mind and loving life most simply and being a human most naturally. It’s about rejuvenating our lost sensitivities and feelings. Women are treasured with enormous power to love selflessly and sustain pain endlessly – why not be a woman more truly? Why not make our inner selves purer, more selfless and ‘beautiful’ in the real sense? After all, we make the other half of the world and the world dearly needs more of goodness.