The Practical Wisdom in Religious Texts
Right through my childhood, my parents tried to instil a love of religion in me and my sister. They are a very orthodox couple, and in our house, pujas were performed in right earnest throughout the year. Both myself and my sister were encouraged to believe in God and to be god-fearing. But my parents’ plans simply did not work out. Both myself and my sister did not grow up into religious adults. My father performed my thread ceremony when I was in the ninth grade. He used to insist that I recite the Gayathri mantra every day without fail. Initially, out of respect for my father, I used to do what he told me to do. But with the passage of time, I began arguing with my father about the usefulness of all the shlokas that he insisted I recite and the religious texts he insisted I read.
Pretty soon things came to a flash point and finally my father gave up trying to force things down my throat. But later, during some of the most depressing moments in life, I would quietly close my eyes and recite the Gayatri mantra and honestly, the process would calm down my frayed nerves and make me feel peaceful. I read somewhere that all the hue and cry about the Gayathri mantra was unwarranted and the mantra was simply designed to make a person breathe deeply while chanting it. It was actually the slow and steady breathing which resulted in calming the nerves. And it is a well-known scientific fact that deep breathing slows down the thought processes and controls our mind. This according to many people obviated the need for reciting anything. All a person needs to do to calm down is to simply sit and breathe deeply.
Later at some other time in my life, I began examining the verses in the Gita and tried to understand some of the points mentioned in it. The first thing that struck me was all this talk of attached detachment. What the Gita seemed to suggest was that a person should remain completely detached from the results but at the same time act infinitely towards the goal. Well, this sounded like utter gibberish to me. If a person wants to act towards any goal the basic requirement is motivation. It stands to reason that if a person is not worried about the result then he/she will simply not feel motivated enough to act. It is only out of attachment to the outcome that the urge to act is born.
I felt the same is true of Vishnu’s Kalki Avatar wherein it is believed that when there is a complete breakdown in man’s moral code Lord Vishnu will appear as an avatar and destroy the universe. A new era of prosperity is supposed to begin after this event. For quite some time I continued to consider all religious tales and texts to be utter nonsense. I have had numerous arguments with friends and colleagues about religion and various things connected to it.
Well, I turned 53 a couple of months back, and with age, I have mellowed down. This led me to rationalise some of the things that I had learnt in my childhood. Once again I revisited the question of attached detachment. After a lot of thinking I arrived at the conclusion that what the Gita says cannot be taken literally. Another conclusion I arrived at was that if we separate the wheat from the chaff, the Gita does make a lot of sense. To explain this let me borrow Einstein’s famous equation:
Ideally speaking the above equation tells us that matter gets converted to energy when it moves at the speed of light. And the important conclusion the equation actually leads us to is that it is impossible for matter to travel at the speed of light. The equation describes an ideal state of affairs that simply cannot be achieved. Let us juxtapose this idealism to the philosophical question of attached detachment. Looking at it in this context, the attached detachment mentioned in the Gita is also an ideal towards which human beings have to strive in order to attain their goals, even though this state is unachievable. It is not meant to be taken literally.
Similarly, let us take the case of the Kalki Avatar. As I mentioned above when it is time for the Kalki Avatar, Lord Vishnu is supposed to put in an appearance and destroy everything in this universe. This avatar is supposed to take place when human beings reach a point of total moral depravity. A new era of prosperity is supposed to start after Lord Vishnu destroys the universe. This is again an idealistic statement and it simply means that human beings should strive to be morally upright and should have an acceptable moral code at all times.
Our religious texts have a lot of unpalatable nonsense. But the point is one has to just grasp the wisdom in them and not take them literally. It would indeed be foolish to try and be totally detached from everything in life. Similarly it would be rather naive to keep a lookout for Lord Vishnu. The need of the hour is to look at our texts with a more open mind and just glean the immense wisdom present in them.
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