Sunday, February 10, 2013



When my friend had asked me “Isn’t spirituality a very personal thing?”, I did not pause to answer and I said “yes”. That was sometime ago and I had posted ‘Spirituality- A Personal Awakening’ on this blog. But when the next question was “Who is your favourite God?”, I was at a loss and could not respond immediately. I was given time to think over and answer. I have been thinking and find it very difficult to come to a conclusion. You may ask why it should be so difficult if I believed in a God at all. I should be able to decide since there were so many of them – a wide range of choices, being born in a Hindu household the choices were many, there was Ganesh undoubtedly the most popular God. There is no street corner in Chennai without at least a small pavement temple. In fact he is an artist’s delight. I have a whole collection of Ganesh idols, in varying shapes, sizes and materials, but all of them are in my showcase. Then there is Siva next door dwelling inside a temple more than thousand years old, surrounded by some wonderful pieces of sculpture. Or I have a choice of Vishnu in any one of his ten avatars. May be I can narrow it down to Krishna, his Bhagavad Gita has been a guiding force and finds a prominent place in my bookshelf. Krishna has fascinated me because he was both human and a God (so was Rama, but he is too idealistic for the likes of me). If I had been a Muslim, it would have been Allah, and Jesus Christ if a Christian. So you see the choice is very wide and one is bound to get confused if asked to choose.

Let me first clarify, I do believe in God. I do puja and meditation regularly and have been doing so for many years. If you ask me how I do it, I can only say I do it the only way I know and that involves lighting the deepam, offering flowers and some prasad and then I sit for meditation. What I do is ‘my’ ritual and I do it not because I want something but as a commitment to a higher power, which I am neither able to define nor describe. But I know that it is helping me towards an authentic life. Years ago I read a book called ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’ by Herrigel a professor of German philosophy who was interested in mysticism. During his sojourn as a diplomat in Japan he enrolled in a class for archery taught through Zen practices. I quote from his book The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, he becomes one with the perfecting of his technical skill, though there is in it something of a quite different order which cannot be attained by any progressive study of the art". Why I have chosen to quote this is that while doing puja this is how I have started feeling, completely empty and rid of the self, there are no strings attached. Then there is the popular book by Robert Pirsig ‘Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance’. The common theme is usually that doing an ordinary task, such as fixing your motor cycle can have a spiritual dimension.
It is interesting to note that on the gopuram(tower)  of the Siva temple next door the words ‘Anbe Sivam’ is displayed in neon lighting, literally meaning that ‘Love is God’.

I do not believe in the labelling of people as theists, atheists or agnostics and if one wants to be labelled as one I cannot understand why. The very negation of a concept will give rise to its existence.

I am fascinated by the Bhagavad Gita mainly because it seems to address all the questions that haunt us in the process of living our lives. I have not read the scriptures of the other religions, but I am sure that they all address these questions. Chapter eleven of the Gita deals with the vision of the Cosmic form. To Arjuna’s request to see the divine form of the Supreme Being, Krishna reveals to him in the form of the Vishwaroopa darshan. I have been overwhelmed by the description of the form of the Divine for it only highlights that the Supreme power is beyond definition and anything and everything that you envisage or do not envisage are all are contained in it. A student of mathematics will understand by relating it to infinity, something that is beyond definition yet contains all the numbers you can ever think of.

When one looks at the sky at night and sees all those stars and can never see any boundary, there seems to be no end to the spread of the universe. Every new discovery brings with it further frontiers to be discovered.

I have mentioned earlier and I shall repeat it again as I feel it is relevant here. This is about the film ‘Anbe Sivam’, the actor is an atheist by his own admission but in the movie he does believe in a God and he sees him in the tears being shed for an unknown person, he sees God in the person who comes to kill him but drops the weapon and asks for forgiveness. So he does believe that in the humanity of man lies God. He does not believe in a God who is vengeful or grants favours to those who worship him. I like that for it defines the code by which he lives.

So we come back to the basic question ‘who is my favourite God?’. Whatever your beliefs, whatever names, you still spell God with a capital ‘G’. My puja shelf is filled with the idols and pictures of God in his various manifestations. There was a time when I was lost thinking as to who among them should be given first preference, but now for me all of them seem to have merged and I see them as artistic representations of each one’s perception of a personal God, an entity who we are unable to understand nor define. We cannot define for in trying to do so we destroy his omnipotence and reduce him to a level wherein we bind him to the very ravages that we are subjected to and in which case he becomes no longer useful to us. He is a hope for our eternity and therefore stays as such.

Hope is what sustains us and carries us forward in the process of living our lives. Whether you believe in God or not in the form that people try to understand him, whether you believe in the theory of Karma or not, you always want to lead a life away from miseries and  leave a mark in this world, what I would term as leading an authentic life. For this you look forward for better things to happen that is you ‘Hope’. Kierkegaard perhaps the first existentialist says that life is filled with angst and the only way to overcome this is by a leap of faith to God. The question of rebirth does not really matter, it is Hope that matters, and in this context to me ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ offers a way of living that will give us the necessary courage to face the travails of life, and the supreme vision of something that cannot be defined or within the comprehension of the human mind. It is a code of life.

So if you ask me who my favourite God is, I shall not answer for he is beyond my comprehension.


Rao said...

First, I get the general import of the article and I will quote, tongue-in-cheek, one of my favourite lines from Scott Bakker's Warrior Prophet: "...for the sin of the idolator is not that he worships stone, but that he worships one stone over others".

But more seriously:
" is Hope that matters, and in this context to me ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ offers a way of living that will give us the necessary courage to face the travails of life, and the supreme vision of something that cannot be defined or within the comprehension of the human mind." I have several (slightly rhetorical and somewhat tangential) comments:

1. Does it still matter if it is false hope? Does objective truth not matter at all?

2. Ignorance can be confused with courage; more knowledge in almost all cases leads to more worries (which is what God was essentially telling us in the Bible, it seems to me). Does that mean we give up trying to know stuff and 'embrace the mystery' of the universe?

3. something that cannot be defined or within the comprehension of the human mind - Yet(if, by this, you mean the universe in general, for which I presume I could say God is a stand-in)!

For me, even if I were ever to accept that there is a God, the idea that He/She/It is fundamentally unknowable seems a tad defeatist about humanity in general and contrary to the principle of a benevolent God. Surely, a compassionate God who condescends enough to bother with human affairs would also make it so that He is easily comprehensible with a minimum of effort?

I also think this is a bit ambiguous: "The very negation of a concept will give rise to its existence" - the negation of a concept merely acknowledges the existence of a contrary /view/, not the existence of the fact in question itself. So it is good to have labels, if only so that we can have a discourse between different groups.

Rao said...

Another quote from Bakker, one that resonates with what you say in your piece :) "The vulgar think the God by analogy to man and so worship Him in the form of the Gods. The learned think the God by analogy to principles and so worship Him in the form of Love or Truth. But the wise think the God not at all. They know that thought, which is finite, can only do violence to the God, who is infinite.
It is enough, they say, that the God thinks them."

Varsha said...

God, karma, faith, belief are those that we need to guide us through the maze of life.
It is a concept which we give a form so that we can visualize that power and live life as we wish to.
We all seek divine help from someone superior to us in times of fear, anxiety or distress. We all pray diligently and lo and behold we feel comforted by the fact that the help is coming to us. We feel fortified and meet the challenge of our life with the grit, courage and determination that is needed at that time.
So who came to your rescue? The powerful one within you. When they said God lives within you, what did THEY actually mean?
Having a favourite God is a personal choice. Calling and identifying oneself as a believer or non believer etc is also a matter of personal choice.
As long as we pick the correct teachings, do not be fanatics, respect every human being without discrimination for his/her ideologies, Religion and belief do not harm mankind. Rather it is good as followed correctly they teach people the correct things to follow in life.

Induchoodan said...

I have been following the discussion on spirituality keenly. I am of the opinion that the idea that science can replace religious beliefs is based on the assumption that man is a purely rational being. But unfortunately the rationality of man is only an outer shell. Inside the shell he is a completely irrational being pushed around by emotional upsurges which can be traced to his animal ancestry. The modern man, in spite of his great scientific achievements is emotionally quite often at the same level as the street dogs. Evolution has mucked the human condition. Imagine the street dogs quarreling with each other with nuclear bombs and biological weapons. We are coming to a critical stage where the very existence of mankind is threatened by the scientific discoveries.
The problem can be solved only if mankind can evolve emotionally in tune with his intellectual advancement. It is here where the concept of God and spirituality plays its role. The idea of God as the unifying supreme force brings harmony and emotional solace to man which science at no stage could provide. People who deny the need for God are people who do not have any understanding of the duality of the human psyche.

Unfortunately we are having competing concepts of God which in itself is generating strife and disharmony. But I think this will be a passing phase and synthesis of these religious concepts will take place after a crisis. I am an optimist.