Personal Growth - To each his own
by Suma Varughese
Spiritual freedom is the most fundamental of all freedoms, says Suma Varughese
It was dinner time at the Sathe family one Sunday night. Delicious aromas wafted from the dishes as Avijit and Alka took them to the table. Mom had made Parsi brown rice and dhansak dal, vegetable cutlets and a lovely tossed salad. The family tucked in hungrily, while waiting for Nisha to join them. Ten minutes into the meal, there was still no sign of her.
“Where’s Nisha?,” asked Mom.
Avijit grinned sardonically, “She is busy chanting.”
Mom sighed wearily. Nisha had just joined a Buddhist group whose spiritual practice was chanting, and she was taking it very seriously. Most of her spare time was spent with her fellow chanters, while mornings and evenings were devoted to an hour of chanting. It was almost impossible to get time with her, and coming late to the dinner table was becoming a habit.
“I hope this is one fad that wears off quickly,” said Mom under her breath, as the culprit walked in, looking a little self-conscious and guilty.
“Buddham sharanam gacchami,” said the irrepressible Avijit. Nisha ignored him and walked with great dignity to her place.
“Sorry to be late,” she muttered, before busying herself with the food.
“How’s the chanting going?” asked Dad, after a while.
“Loving it,” said Nisha shortly.
“What about it are you loving?” persisted Dad.
Nisha recognised that she could not fob off the discussion anymore. She had dreaded the time when her family would want to know more about her practice. It felt like something deeply private to her. Besides, she was not quite sure where they stood on Buddhism and it made her uncomfortable to be part of something the rest of them were not.
“Dad, you know how I have always been so shy and reticent and find it impossible to speak in public?” Her father nodded.
“Well, this chant is making me so much more peaceful and happy. I rarely get disturbed or agitated and I feel so much more poised. I just love it.”
“Good for you,” said Dad.
“You mean, you are okay with this, Dad?” asked Nisha. “I thought you guys may object to my venturing into Buddhism. After all, we have been following Hindu rites and rituals and I thought Buddhism may be a little hard to swallow…”
“Sweetie,” said Dad, “I think I speak for your Mom and me as well as Aji and Ajoba when I say that we truly are above religion. Yes, we observe festivals but that is because festivals are celebrations, and we love celebrations. As far as spirituality is concerned, we each have our own practice. Ajoba here is a Vedantin and I am a karma yogi. Mom is a combination of bhakti and jnana yogi, and Aji is pure bhakti. So you are most welcome to join the potpourrie. If chanting is helping you, then I am only too glad about it.”
“Gosh, I thought you guys would be so angry with me,” said Nisha. “People are generally so touchy about religion.”
“Nisha,” said Dad, “spiritual freedom is fundamental. According to me it is even more important than political freedom. No one has the right to tell another person what to think or who to worship. That is their own prerogative.”
“This practice is giving you something others have not given. So you have every right to follow it. If we were to stop you, we would be militating against your growth and natural tendencies,” said Ajoba.
“Wow,” said Nisha. “What a liberal outlook.”
“The more you evolve in spirituality, the more you realise that there is no one way. There are thousands of ways because people are so different in their outlook,” said Mom. “It’s like climbing a mountain. The higher you go, the more you see.”
“Well, Dad,” said Avijit, “suppose I were to tell you that I am an atheist, how would you feel about it?”
“I would feel fine about it. Not believing in God is part of the process of coming to have a direct relationship with God, so I would think it more or less par to the course.”
“Dad and I were atheists in college,” said Mom.
“Really?” chorused the children, “when did that change?”
“We did a lot of mind-expanding courses like EST and gestalt and somewhere along the way both of us kind of stumbled into spirituality. And, of course, Ajoba was always a huge inspiration with his wisdom and humane approach,” said Mom.
“The point that I want to make is that we know experientially that understanding oneself, or life or God are not just inter-linked, they are also a process, and we would not stop anyone from going through it,” said Dad.
“So basically it’s a free-for all,” said Nisha. “But what happens if I find that Buddhism is not for me?”
“Nothing happens. You will move on. Perhaps something else will take its place, or perhaps you might move into atheism for a while, like Avijit. Whatever it is, be sure that it is the next step in your growth.”
“So all of us can be on various different explorations and still be able to get along with each other?” questioned Nisha.
“Why not?” asked Mom. “As long as we respect each person’s right to think the way they do, there should be no problem. The problem would start if you were to try and convince us to embrace Buddhism too!”
“No fear of that!” said Nisha. “To each his own.”
“I’ll drink to that,” said Dad, holding up his glass of
water and quaffing from it, while the others laughed.