By Suma Varughese
The Sathe family extols the value of respecting all faiths, says Suma Varughese
I had the most sublime experience today,” Mom said, as the family enjoyed a delectable Sindhi meal consisting of sai bhaji, kichadi, fried potatoes, and raita.
Everyone looked up, interested.
“I went to a discussion on Gandhi hosted by a Gandhian body. It began with interfaith prayers. They read passages from the texts of all the great religions, and sang sacred songs from all the faiths. I was weeping uncontrollably at the end of it.”
Alka looked astonished, “What was there to weep so much about?” she asked.
“To be in an environment where all faiths were respected and acknowledged, struck me as a rare experience, and a divine one. I somehow felt how pleased God would be to see his children gathered around, invoking his name in harmony.”
Dad reached out and held her hand for a moment, smiling tenderly at her.
“How beautiful, Abha,” he said.
The Sathe elders were diehard interfaith enthusiasts. For them any kind of fundamentalism or bigotry was inconceivable. It seemed to them self-evident that all faiths were an expression of mankind’s eternal strife to know and understand God and life, and therefore valid. It pained them to see religions attempt to suppress and stifle each other. Or carp at each other.
Avijit spoke up, his lips curled, “Well, that is not how it happens in college. My classmates are forever putting down each other’s religions, and glorifying their own. There is so much of factionalism these days. We have a Hindu crowd who will not mix with anyone, a Muslim crowd which keeps to itself, and a small Christian crowd also. Fortunately, there are the cosmopolitans who come from every religion, but they are diminishing with every year.”
“It’s happening even in my college,” Nisha moaned. She was studying in a renowned college in South Mumbai known for its liberal values. “There is a lot of right wing activity. People are fed ridiculous tales about other communities. There is so much of suspicion and distrust among each other. It’s sickening.”
Dad said, “That is why it is so important to respect different faiths. Only this will bring harmony and peace into the world.”
“Dad,” asked Avijit, “Why is it so difficult for us to do that?”
“Well, Avi, most of us have a huge difficulty in accepting differences. It’s difficult for us to allow someone else to call God by a name other than the name we call him by. You need a broad mind to recognise that while the truth is something for you, it may be different for someone else. Plus of course, long ago, religion got infused with power and became corrupted. Today, it is as much about retaining members so that there is more money in the kitty as it is about connecting with God. Maybe more so. And that is why they tend to derogate other religions and glorify their own.”
Mom added, “Plus, of course, each of us has the innate need to feel superior to the other. Since our identity is so intimately connected with our religion, it is important for us to feel that other religions are wrong, and only ours is right.”
“However, the important thing is to focus on our similarities and not on our differences,” Mom continued, “We are all children of the one God. It is utterly ridiculous to imagine that there is a Christian God or a Muslim God or a Parsi God or Hindu God. These are all different names for the same Power that has created us. There is only one Creator and we are all God’s creations. We belong to one family. We truly are brothers and sisters under the parenthood of God.”
Ajoba observed gravely, “Vedanta asserts that we are part of the One Reality which is God. This makes us interconnected and divine. Therefore, assumptions that only certain religious communities will go to heaven is baseless. We are all equal in the eyes of God. It is towards this truth that all religions guide their followers to move into.”
“Exactly, Baba,” said Dad, “And I like the understanding that everyone is at different levels, and therefore needs different paths to the truth.”
“People also have different temperaments, which also lead to different paths,” added Ajoba.
“Yes,” Dad said, “And when we get all this, and cultivate the love for the other that all religions talk about, then it will not be as difficult for us to permit them their differences. For instance, Avi, I simply can’t get why you need to be on your laptop or smart phone till two am every night. But because I love you, I accept that you are different from me and have a different lifestyle.”
Avijit grinned laconically, “Much obliged, Dad,” he said. “I will try and cultivate more differences that you can overlook out of love for me. Good training for your interfaith activities.”
Dad leaned forward and smacked him playfully. “Rascal,” he said.
He added, “In fact, you are right, because it is by practicing acceptance of difference within our own family and work spaces, that we can learn to practice it at a broader level. This is a practice I do all the time. Working on accepting my judgements, resistances, critical tendencies, the need to put down someone, the need to push someone away, the resistance that comes up when someone says or does something I don’t agree with. All these are moving me along the path of loving and accepting the other.”
“You’re welcome,” said Avijit cheekily, ducking his father’s approaching hand.
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