By Jamuna Rangachari February 2010 Seekers identify with spirituality rather than religion but if we could think of religion free of its rituals, habits, creeds and beliefs, the two would be one. What is more, all religions would thereby reveal their essential unity, resolving one of the premier sources of discord in the world Fetter or Faith? The benchmark If a practice does not resonate completely with human values, surely there is something wrong Any tenet that is based on judgement of others, or something that takes one away from any part of the universe is essentially flawed A practice that is harmful, needs to be discarded or reinterpreted Understand the origin and context, and apply it only if it is still relevant and in a way, that suits the current context. In other words, apply it as an adult and not a parent or child.Answers From the Higher consciousness Why do Hindus believe in caste? We all are different and each of us has a specific role to perform. This is not determined by birth but one's innate preferences, choice and ability. There surely is no higher or lower as long as all duties are performed ethically. Why should a specific name be used for worship?What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, said Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Surely, Christ, Mohammed and all others would have approved. Truly, the name does not matter. The right principles do. Does vegetarianism make one more peaceful than non-vegetarianism? Jainism, whose core belief is non-violence, abhors non-vegetarian food. In today's times, vegetarian food is proven to be healthier. If you wish to follow a vegetarian diet for better health, do so. However, do not condemn or preach to anyone. Understand and accept all choices. After, all, non-acceptance is also one type of violence. Never forget that what comes out from your mouth is more important than what goes in it. Buddha and some other prophets did not recommend idols and symbols. Still, symbols are quite useful sometimes to concentrate. Can we use them? You are free to use them, but never be dependent on them. Again, it is the minimising of dependence that is most important. Jews consider themselves to be a chosen or special group. How do we understand this? All creatures are equal in the eyes of God, but human beings are more empowered and hence, chosen to show the right direction to the world. Therefore, yes, all human beings, not just those born as Jews, are the chosen ones as they have the power to make the right choices. What is jihad, which the Muslims talk of? Struggle may be required for justice and truth sometimes. If so, do it with courage and conviction. However, remember to use the right tools, not ones that cause agony and bloodshed. Why do only some and not all Hindus wear a sacred thread? my son queried, looking at the photographs of the ceremony we held when he was younger. When I told him it was a significant milestone, he further queried why it was only Brahmins and not all Hindus who went through this ritual, unlike customs like the Bar Mitzvah of the Jews or the Navjote of the Parsis, both of which are also performed for similar reasons of stepping into adulthood. My understanding was shaken to the core and this set me questioning the isms or organised rituals more and more. If Vedanta talks of God within each of us, why does Hinduism not treat everyone equally? If Islam means peace, why are wars fought in its name? If Christ symbolised forgiveness and compassion, why does Christianity condemn sinners to eternal hell? The list goes on and on and on When one is told to accept something because it is the practice, I have felt, if God or a Higher Consciousness did not wish us to question, He would not have given us the ability to seek and question. What then stops us from doing so? Is it that we do not know where to begin? Transactional Analysis and fallacies In his book, I'm OK, You're OK, Dr Thomas Harris lucidly explains the three distinct aspects in our personality, that of a parent, child and adult. A parent acts dogmatically based on what has been told to him by people in authority, a child acts due to feelings of rejection or inadequacy, while an adult acts rationally after self-examination, self-exploration and experimentation. Most of our perceptions of religion are due to a parent or child perspective. We follow rituals and customs either because we have been told to do so by people in authority, or because we are afraid that something negative will happen if we don't persist in following the customary path. If only we were to examine the practices in the context of the times in which they originated, we would perhaps understand and apply them in a better way. Kamal Malhi, a seeker from Mumbai agrees, saying a break from conventions is essential for a true seeker. The quest Truly, all seekers have had to go on individual quests to seek answers, with obstacles of conditioning strewn all through the path. When I read a pithy tale in a book with Sufi and Zen tales, it really set me thinking, says Nancy D'Souza, a seeker from Mumbai. The tale is of a young boy who was told, You will be taken care of as long as you wear the amulet, when he sets off to a forest. The boy clutches it firmly and goes to the forest. Nothing happens to him and his faith grows stronger. Till one day, he loses the amulet and is completely paralysed with fear. The tale ends here, urging us to think, is your faith in the amulet or in a higher power? This triggered a great quest in Nancy, who went on to question, seek and find her answers in all wisdom traditions, not with the fetters of a restricted viewpoint but with complete freedom. Actually, this made her understand her own religion in a better way. When Christ said, I am light and love he meant he had reached a higher consciousness. We all must bow to and aspire to become not Christ, the person, but Christ who symbolises this state, she explains now with complete clarity. So is the case with other religious leaders who have been open to wisdom without any fetters. There is so much we have to learn from all traditions. We were sent to yoga and vipassana workshops. This has only made me a better Christian and a more mature human being, says Father Prashant, a Jesuit priest who strongly supports inter-faith initiatives. Bringing out acceptance too as a key virtue, he continues, Christ was the epitome of compassion and acceptance. By not understanding people of other faith and accepting them, are we not doing him a disservice? Jihad is a struggle. In recent times, the satyagraha of Mahatma Gandhi is certainly a jihad as it required tremendous courage and perseverance, said Maulana Wahiduddin, when I queried him on the concept. A tireless crusader himself, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan has been on a mission to free Islam from the hold of self-interested clerics, and broadcast its message of peace and tolerance. John Abraham'It is only by working with the principles of compassion that one truly spreads the message of Christ. One cannot help recalling the other Khan Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan who was perhaps one of the few people who had the clarity and vision to realise what a potent message satyagraha had for Muslims. When people were surprised at a Pathan advocating non-violence, he said, There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or Pathan like me subscribing to the creed of non-violence. It was followed hundreds of years ago by the Prophet all the time when he was in Mecca. Excited at the prospect of a brave and disciplined Pathan enlisting, Gandhi welcomed him with open arms. Right till the end, both of them were among the few who remained true to the principles of satyagraha and non-violence. Denis Khan from Mumbai was born in an inter-religious union and lost his father in the Partition riots of India. In the tumultuous times that followed, his mother took sanctuary in a Christian missionary school and counselled him to never lose faith in the goodness of man, whatever the situation in the world might be. Today, Denis, retaining his faith in the human spirit through all his travails, says, When asked to pick two commandments from the ten, Christ replied, 'Love God with all your soul and heart, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.' These would be the ones I would pick. Is it not the same as Islam's brotherhood? As a child studying in a convent school, K Gitanjali Balakrishnan, a seeker from Bangalore and disciple of Mahavtar Babaji, often wondered if proximity to Christ would be denied to her on account of being a Hindu. Today, understanding clearly what Christ is she expounds, When Christ said, I am the way, the truth and the life, he was talking about the I am presence. He meant it the same way as Krishna does in the Gita when he says, I am the essence in everything. Further, when Christ says, You will not reach the father except through me, he is saying that we will be able to experience God only when we get in touch with our Higher Self also called the Christ Self. It is no coincidence that Krish also means Christos. Truly service-minded people would never discriminate, based on their tenets. For instance, when I called John Abraham, founder of Vision in Social Area, an organisation that helps rehabilitate street children in Mumbai, to ask if he would accept a disabled Hindu child in his institute, he asked, Isn't he a human being? He added, It is only by working with the principles of compassion that one truly spreads the message of Christ. Most truly religious or should I say, spiritual people never have a problem with other religions as they are after all, streams of wisdom. As Sarah Ban Breathnach says in the book, Simple Abundance,The more we allow ourselves to recognise the wisdom and truth in other spiritual paths, the closer to wholeness we become. The fact is we often confuse anthropology, sociology and culture with faith
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