Monday, 3 June 2013

Religion: What it has taught me

To me religion is not just praying to God. Its the means which taught me things like being organized, disciplined, etc. to make me a better human. We can learn a lot of things from our religion/traditions/culture etc. I follow Hinduism. So, most of the things I mention here are related to Hinduism. However, with very limited knowledge I have, I will mention examples from other religions as well.

Organizing: When I came to Edinburgh to start my PhD, the first religious conversation I had with my friends here was related to number of Gods in Hinduism. If you keep the religious details aside, I learnt how to be organized from it. We have Gods/Goddesses for every major event in the life, starting from birth till death, in fact even for after death ! Brahma is responsible for creation, Shiva is responsible for destruction, and Vishnu is responsible for maintenance. We have Saraswati Devi for education, Lakshmi devi for money, Vinayaka for starting any work, Anjaneya to overcome fear etc. More than anything I see how to organize things, how to divide things into small modules and distribute it so that a task can be accomplished in most effective manner. I try to keep my things, like computer programs I write, songs, movies, videos etc., in an organized manner. If I am in a bad mood, I pick the playlist which soothes me. If I am chilling out with my friends I pick something like the playlist of comedy videos. If you are organizing an event, how convenient it will be to divide it into small tasks and distribute among appropriate individuals rather than one person trying to handle everything or more than one doing same thing. If I have to make an analogy with computer science, how effective is it to write small functions/modules which do particular task rather than writing a single function which does all the work.

Love others: One of the concepts of Hinduism, which really impressed me is "Adwaitham (non-duality)". In simple terms, it says there is God in everyone. This implies that I am God and person next to me is also God. If you take this in an extreme negative sense, one can argue that I am God and I can do anything. If you look at the positive/actual sense, there is no difference between me and the person next to me. I love the person next to me as I love myself. This is similar to Christianity's 'Love thy neighbor as thyself'.

Gratitude: There are several deeds through which religion helps to show your gratitude towards elders. When my father passed away, I was 7 years kid. As part for the rituals, I tonsured my head. I didn't know the inner meaning at that point of time. In Indian culture hair is symbol of dignity, beauty etc. Also, I personally feel one looks smart with hair than without. By tonsuring head, one shows that looks of mine are less important compared to the respect I have for the person I lost. As part of death anniversary rituals, every year, in addition to father, one pays tributes to grand father and great grand father as well if they passed away. This time I did the rituals in Glasgow Hindu Mandir in North Indian style. In addition to paternal grand parents, the priest asked the names of maternal grand parents as well. I felt very bad that I don't know the names of my maternal grand and great grand fathers and the fact that they passed away long ago before I was even born didn't convince me. I know a lot of my friends who don't know the names of their grand or great-grand parents. If it wan't for this rituals, forget about gratitude, I wouldn't have even remembered the name of my paternal great grand father. 

Morals: Festivals have a deeper meaning. I feel that their main purpose is to inculcate morals values. For example, Christmas teaches sacrifice, Ramzan teaches discipline, Diwali teaches triumph of good over bad. There are several Hindu festivals around the year. On an average there is at least a festival per month. In India, I see, festivals are the major events where different members of the family meet and spend quality time with each other, different members in an area (be it village or city or town) come together to show oneness. 

Discipline: Coming to discipline, I have to mention my Muslim friends. During my schooling, we stayed next to a Muslim family, who are very close family friends even today, for about 6 years. Namaz and Ramzan are two things which inspired me a lot. Whatever might happen, they do Namaz 5 times a day, entire year, on specific timings. During Ramzan they do fasting by not eating or drinking any thing from dawn till sunset. More than anything I see things like discipline, self-control, self-restraint in it. One can see such discipline in military generally. But Islam brought it to every day life. Closest match in Hinduism are like Ayyappa swamy mala, fasting during festivals etc.

Order in Society: No religion encourages violence. Just like judicial laws, religion defines good and bad deeds and the tells advantages of doing good and disadvantages of doing bad. In Hindu mythology, there is entire purana, called Garuda purana which describes the punishments for different bad things one does. Religion always tried to bring harmony in the society. There can be some instances which portray it in a negative way. I say they occur just because some selfish people for their personal gains misinterpret (intentionally or unintentionally) the actual sense and take a wrong direction. Speaking of India, people talk a lot about hatred and riots between Muslims and Hindus. We stayed next to Muslim family for 6 years. I can't think of a weekend without playing with their kids. Aunty treated my mother as her elder sister and shared both her happy and sad moments. They are not so educated but their respective religions taught them to love their neighbours but not love the neighbours of same religion !

Science to common man: In this age of 21st century, how many so called educated people are applying science in their real life activities? Hardly any. But, I see lot of scientific value in the every day deeds of our ancestors. Most of them don't know the scientific value behind their deeds. They follow it because of their religion or culture or tradition. To name a few of them are eating tulasi leaves daily (which have high medical values), using mango leaves to decorate house during festivals (provide better oxygen supply as there will be more people), using turmeric (kills germs) etc. One of my friends asked me if those deeds have so much scientific value to them, why didn't ancestors told the scientific value along with the deed? For that, I say, its not how much knowledge you have that matters, how you communicated it and how much impact you created in making others follow matters. For an illiterate, understanding the science behind a deed and following it is easy or following it as a belief? There are several such things, which the modern day education couldn't incorporate into so called literates but religion incorporated into so called illiterates centuries back. Lets take a simple example of five elements of life. We treat and pray to them as Gods and especially, Sun is also called as "Pratyaksha Daivam", which means "visible God". With the busy life most IT professionals in the crave for money are doing jobs which doesn't allow them access to sunlight. They go to office before sunrise and come back to home after sunset. This is leading to several diseases due to deficiency of Vitamin D. Every spiritual person in my native village in the name of praying to Sun God stay in sunlight getting D vitamin daily. Illiterates without knowing are following the healthy practices. So called educated youth, in the name of old traditions neglect them, suffer the consequences, find the reason and start doing it because of medical problems.

So, in short, there are lot of things one can learn from their religion/culture/traditions. In the name of modern education instead of ignoring them, start seeing their actual purpose !

P.S: My knowledge of different religions is from different sources like family, friends, stories, movies, speeches etc. If there are any technical mistakes, I will be more than happy to correct them.