As a society, are we becoming increasingly insecure and afraid of the spirit of free enquiry? In the name of 'faith', are we closing the windows of meditative reflection and critical consciousness and refusing to accept that there could be many ways of looking at what we tend to take for granted? Otherwise, how do we explain the taboo on any critical question that interrogates the beliefs and practices implicit in organised religions?
If our sentiments are hurt so instantly, and, instead of engaging in a meaningful debate and contemplative reflection, we love to file FIRs in police stations, what sort of message are we conveying to the world? Imagine Friedrich Nietzsche in contemporary India declaring ‘God is dead’; or Karl Marx equating religion with the ‘opium of the people’; or Kabir Das reminding us that ‘God is neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash’. Possibly, a police inspector from Uttar Pradesh or Gujarat would knock on their doors, and arrest them!
I am not saying that one’s religious beliefs and practices have to be necessarily condemned; nor am I pleading for some sort of hierarchy-the secular intelligentsia looking at the believers with some sort of contempt.
Instead, I am pleading for an environment that allows us to look at everything, be it science or religion, with freshness and openness. Hence, a creatively nuanced critical/ meditative thinking ought to be seen as a distinctive feature of a healthy and democratic society.
A responsible critic, it ought to be asserted, does not promote hate speeches; nor does she/he find some vicarious pleasure in the act of hurting others through the instantaneity of toxic social media messaging or in some sort of publicity stunt.
Instead, she/he seeks to make us realise that far from being just ‘Hindus’, ‘Muslims’ or ‘Christians’, we ought to redefine ourselves as seekers and wanderers continually trying to decondition our minds and seeing the world with creative surplus and trusting the aliveness of our own experience rather than the frozen words we quote from the Gita, the Puranas, the Bible or the Koran.
It is precisely this creative quest that organised religions have often killed. In this context, let us be honest enough to accept that quite often, the ‘certainty’ of organised religions has caused intellectual dumbness as we prefer to lose the authenticity of inner experience and realisation.
Instead, in the name of some sort of psychic security, we love to become non-reflexive parrots; we tend to believe in everything the ‘sacred’ texts have said; or, mechanically, we internalise the bundle of rituals that are supposed to 'salvage' us. In other words, we become part of the crowd with different names and colours.
Well, Jesus might have experienced the redemptive power of love. However, the question is whether as 'Christians', do you and I really experience the deeper meaning of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount? Or, is it that our ‘pragmatic’ selves worship the power of money rather than the life Jesus led?
Or, for that matter, Nachiketa in the Katha Upanishad might have understood the meaning of the riddle called ‘death’. But as ‘Hindus’, do you and I really experience it — the falsity of pride implicit in the notion of ‘ego’? Or, do you and I just quote the slokas like a tape recorder, while perpetuating all sorts of violence in the name of caste and patriarchy?
In fact, when the routinisation of organised religions or the mechanisation of ritualism deprives us of the process of self-actualisation, we end up carrying the heavy baggage of identity markers. Our religious practice remains limited to the act of offering namaz five times a day, or visiting the Hanuman temple every Tuesday, or Sunday prayers in the Church. It is based on the fear of sin rather than the ecstasy of inner abundance.
Moreover, as, because of inner emptiness and absence of deep realisation, we are not really sure whether there is something called ‘Enlightenment’ or moksha, or the ‘kingdom of heaven’ (for most of us, these are just words we have memorised), we remain perpetually vulnerable and insecure. Any critique, therefore, shatters us, and we react to it violently.
In contrast, a truly spiritually enchanted seeker would have behaved altogether differently. Possibly, Gautam Buddha would not have gone to the local police station to get an FIR lodged had someone doubted his Enlightenment. Instead, he would have looked at his critic with the magic of a compassionate smile that conveys everything. And Ramakrishna would not have pleaded for a hate campaign against filmmaker Leena Manimekalai and politician Mahua Moitra for their ways of looking at goddess Kali. Possibly, he would have blessed them by saying: “You too are my Kali; I see the glimpses of the divine in you.”
And possibly, unlike police inspectors, noisy television anchors, legal experts and even judges, the likes of Kabir, Rumi and Nizamuddin Auliya would have handled Nupur Sharma, Salman Rushdie and MF Husain more gracefully and meaningfully. Is it that the religiosity of love, compassion and inner experience is systematically killed by the priests, mullahs and political manipulators of organised religions? Is it the reason why supposedly ‘Christian’, ‘Islamic', ‘Buddhist’ and ‘Hindu’ states have often engaged in war and violence?
As a teacher, I have often asked myself: what does it mean for our children to grow up in a society that loathes the spirit of free enquiry? What sort of worldview will they internalise as they see everything being turned into its opposite-goons into sadhus; toxic words into gospels of everyday life; and the cult of violence into a religious act? The possible dystopia shatters me.
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