Hide and seek with God
After going through a journey from atheism to spirituality, Uma Valluri feels that a belief in God might help some, while others may live a good life without it
I lost my father even before I reached my 15th birthday. He had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just a few months before, though he had been ill with nonspecific symptoms for a year or so. During this period, my mother had tried all kinds of prayers and pujas, including offering a chaadar (cloth sheet) at a dargah (tomb of a Muslim saint) and attending a faith-healing session. Until then, we were a normal religious family observing festivals and lighting a lamp or so on the altar. My father would often take the name of Satyanarayana Swamy. We visited Annavaram and Tirupati. We also had a japamala with some glass beads that became our succour during the exam times, especially before the results!
My father’s life from diagnosis to death was a mere three months. I remember my mother was still sitting near the tulsi plant in my aunt’s house when my father breathed his last. She obviously knew there was no hope as, all along, she had been caring for him in the hospital. She was 41 and he was 46 when this happened.
When she broke down on receiving the news, complaining to God, well-meaning relatives told her it was karma or fate. And she took to that phrase and renounced her faith in God. She said, “If God cannot save me from my fate, I don’t need to pray.” Many people go through this phase on such occasions and then get back to normalcy. But being a strong character, she stuck to this stand till the end of her life some 38 years later. She never spared any opportunity to criticise people who prayed or believed in God and to argue that God did not exist. The first few years after my father’s death, this was more so. Being an impressionable teenager, I lapped up her opinions and argued with everyone around about the non-existence of God. And so it went on for 10 years without any problem.
Then I got married, and the next 15 years saw me go from resistance to tolerance of religion. Though I express it in a simple sentence, it was quite complicated. There were many routine pujas which husband and wife perform together as well as ceremonies around the birth of the child: offering its first hair at Tirupati, etc. Not to mention the role of the mother in instilling faith in her children.
Parallel to this journey of faith (or the lack of it) was the fact that life did not work out as I thought it would. I saw that most people around me would turn to God for problems beyond their control. How I wished I could do the same and my problems could vanish! On my sister’s advice, I started chanting the Hanuman Chalisa. But the conviction never came, and I couldn’t sustain for any long term results.
The building of connection
However, strangely, in the next few years, I did turn around and visited many religious places, temples, and did various types of pujas with complete faith. This was a very important segment of the journey. We took a trip to Kerala and Tamil Nadu and visited some old temples like Ananthapadmanabha, Kamakshi, Rameswaram and I felt good. In 2004, I was somehow drawn to Sai Baba through my sister-in-law’s family who are his very devout followers. I resonated with the lack of rituals on this path and the book Satcharita. Then in 2005, I met someone who taught the power of the Gayatri Mantra, which I chanted for some months. I also consulted a very reputed, experienced, and gifted astrologer who wasn’t commercial. He suggested some pujas, telling me that pujas or wearing gems, only give you confidence to deal with your situations; they may or may not change anything that’s happening. But I did the Rahu pooja in a Durga temple and felt very connected. That year I was literally immersed in God. I participated in the Navaratri pooja, received a lot of sacred kumkum and turmeric, visited Shirdi and had a close darshan of Sai Baba’s diety form during the aarthi. But, I still cannot sustain any practice for very long. Though I like to visit temples that are quiet, and uncrowded, and which allow me to sit for a while and meditate.
Around the same time, I attended a meditation session conducted by my friend Akila in her house. We read the book Celestine Prophecy and did all the exercises mentioned in the workbook. Another major contributor was Louise Hay’s Heal Your Life. A lady named Lalitha taught me mirror work and affirmations. And then I underwent a few past life regression sessions too. In this New Age literature, God was replaced by the Universe or Energy, and this gave me freedom to believe in God without having to perform any rituals. Also, it put the responsibility of my life into my hands, my thoughts, and my beliefs. Many other authors like Stephen Covey, Wayne Dyer, and Tony Robbins taught me how to look within myself and change my belief or thoughts if they interfered with my happiness.
Now, I want to answer the question: Does God really exist (for me)?
Well, one fact is that life is still not working according to my plans or desires. Like many others, I turn to prayer when things are bad, especially concerning loved ones. But life just follows its own course—sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.
Over the past 15 years, through the influence of Celestine Prophecy (people and incidents give you messages) and Louise L Hay (the world is a reflection of your thoughts) I got trained to look for the underlying messages in situations, believing that the Universe is talking to me through them, and I need to listen. A friend and I used to discuss our experiences everyday and what we were supposed to learn from them.
Yet, sometimes I feel so stuck in a situation that I don’t know what the message is and how to move forward. I lose faith in this process of introspection, like my mother once disowned God. But, over the years, I have reinforced the belief that this Universe is not a God to be worshipped in a particular way, but an Energy that is indeed alive and speaking to me. It is full of love and support for me, but I am so caught up in my struggles that I fail to acknowledge it. There are many synchronicities like finding the right person to do something, finding unexpected help, things just falling in place, some deep understanding . . . if I am aware. I think our saints also experienced God in this way, but that God had a form and we called it devotion.
At a deeper level, I have understood that there is a scheme of things beyond my individual control, and I need to just accept. Even this journey from atheism to spirituality is part of the bigger scheme of things. But turning to a higher power using the words that I know and emotions that I feel, uplifts me. All prayer is to awaken the power within me to deal with what is at hand. I call it divine grace. It magically opens up some help, some favourable aspects that were hitherto hidden from my view, and gives me new directions or just new interpretations. Sometimes, it just forces me to give up; it gives me a new storyline or ends it.
Unlike my mother, there are several people with unshaken faith going through a lot of trauma in their lives—disease, betrayal, poverty, loneliness, and so on. And in all cases, my interpretation of their life was that there was an unseen thread of some support in all their difficult situations. Some grace that saved them from total breakdown. And, I think, at some level, they recognise it and hence their faith is unshaken.
Ok with the present
By the way, even my mother had a life with its ups and downs, like all of us. She was in excellent health and active till her end. And she had her own serving of loneliness and emotional upsets. I couldn’t know her internal thoughts, but outwardly, she wasn’t punished for abusing God. Though, many years ago, I had secretly wished that she get off her high horse of atheism one day and fall at God’s feet!
I know a friend’s family whose members are atheists and are wonderful human beings—with sattvic qualities, a zest for life, and successful careers.
So, to sum up: Belief in God or a higher power may or may not contribute to one’s life story or to being a good human. If it helps, go ahead. If not, nothing wrong. As long as my consciousness is at a level where I want an external agency to help me, this agency plays the role of giving me the illusion of making me feel that I was helped.
At some point, I may move on from this thought. But until then, so be it.
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