Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Religion: Just a Personal Opinion

In the debate that we had on this blog, an interesting remark was offered to me:

"...religion is something personal, a set of practices followed by an individual(s). The moment people bring it to the streets, use it as an instrument to win votes,discriminate,divide,kill people,the essence of their religion is already lost.In short,religion should be kept at home/temples etc,not at government offices."

Well, the statement was no doubt intended in a well-meaning sense and one has to agree wholeheartedly that
a) religion should not be used for petty gains and violence, and
b) religious bias should not have a place in governance.

So what is the interesting part then?
"...religion is something personal, a set of practices followed by an individual(s). "
That is!

It is unfortunate that religion has been relegated to being just another "personal opinion". Anything I say about dharma is just "what I feel is right". Of course, it is partly true but then, one has to realise what does it mean being and thinking like a "Hindu", or a"Muslim" or a "Christian". It is not my own intellection completely. It is a result of thought process originated and developed over many centuries or in our case, many millennia ago. It is still developing in our own minds even at this very moment, provided we give it a chance. In a way, it is like the computer called "Earth" in Douglas Adams's "The Hitchhikers' Guide to Galaxy".

Firstly, the very core of any religion deals with "sanghatan" and "samithi"-- organisation and assembly--to bring people together and hold them in a common bond, provide for their sustenance, and give them a purpose and something to live for and cherish. It is this very core that has helped civilisations to grow, architectural marvels to be built, and elevate arts--music, dance and panting to heavenly heights. Here, we quickly realise that this exactly is both the final purpose and the very beginning of an ideal "nation-state" as well. The idea of a nation state and patriotism towards it comes only when its adherents are one in thought, speech and action at atleast some basic level (even when there is no external aggression, mind you!!). So the said remark plainly goes against the very idea of forming a nation state.

Secondly, it is naive of an individual who restricts his religion to his "dev-ghar" (or "devuni goodu" in telugu) to expect the same from others. Even now, after centuries of Muslim, Christian & secularist dominance which obliterated not just a part of our heritage, history, and culture, but much of our identity as well, most people in Bhaarat share a common bond mostly because of our Sanaatana Dharma. Will they leave their mother, the deity of Dharma, who has been sustaining them all along, without causing any disharmony to the rest of the world, through countless generations? It is even more stupid of us to believe that people belonging to Abrahamic religions, each of which insists that its way is the only right way as its core motif, will keep their religions to their homes.

Having voiced my concerns over the comment, I must emphasise that I am only describing a current trend and not ridiculing any individual.

Lastly, I must point to one more thing-- what our Bhaarat has come to mean in recent years among a section of the "new and emerging India":
A rising enterpreneurial giant confronted by
1) a geographical area with redundant internal divisions,
2) a dysfunctional governing body and corrupt administrative and policing bodies, and
3) a set of common threats and dangers to the citizens to be lived with.
The rest is personal life.

This, I feel, is the problem. All of the three points above do offer a kind of bonding with neighbours, but one that is born out of negative feelings of fear, hatred, apathy, and helplessness.

When personal life includes our Dharma itself, how can we form a healthy bond with fellow countrymen at all? Dharma was never meant to be kept locked inside homes. The successive failure of governments in achieving the expected "good-governance" or "Dharma-rajya" is matched by our own lackadaisical perspective towards bonding with our neighbour using a positive approach. Come external invasion and we can easily see how a country can be mobilised into one single unit. But need we wait till such an act happens to be united under one banner?

The governing body-- either the legislature, or the executive cannot help the nation until the nation itself has a strong undercurrent in a positively directed manner. Do not forget that whoever sits in those legislative or executive chairs is not too different from you or me. The national feeling has to come from bottom up. If we ourselves change, we can expect people like us in those positions.

So how to cause this change? Clearly, you cannot move a whole nation that is so ancient and young at the same time, without regards to Her history, for therein lie the switches of Her awakening. We just have to tap the resources within ourselves to effect this change. For once, if we just give heed to what our grandparents used to say about how our country was once in the Golden Era, it is enough to cause a chain reaction.

We have to realise our proud history and awaken to the reality of what we were. There is a need for us to become ourselves again. There is no other feeling that can move our country forward.

I would like to see the current of our Sanaatana dharma pervade our nation and each person envisages herself/himself as a part of our nation, and we can proudly step up to the altar of the world and reclaim our place and pride as Bhaarateeyas.

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