30 December 2017

Cynic or Believer?

Recently, a dear friend of mine remarked that I was a cynic. I wasn't surprised - it wasn't the first time someone had called me a cynic. Yet, each time, it pushes me in to the throes of self-questioning. More specifically, it makes me wonder if I have the right outlook towards life and the world.

I wasn't always a cynic. In fact, even now, I don't think I am genuinely a cynic. I would probably describe myself as an idealist. Now, I don't want to confuse you with isms and so I will explain that a little more. For the longest time, I believed that the perfect world could be created/existed. That  more often than not, people are nice, follow the law and do the right thing. It is a matter of record that at some point in my life I even wanted to be Prime Minister. As cliched as it may sound, I wanted to be the change I wanted to see. One of my principal motivations for pursuing law was also this. I wanted to fight for people's rights. I wanted to make a difference. I really believed that the world could be made a better place and that I could do it. I wanted to live a life that mattered.

However, my idealism didn't come alone. It came with truckloads of expectations and immense disappointments. Each time I tried, I failed. The more I trusted others, the more I believed in the world, the more I involved myself with the world, the more I lost hope. To be fair, my cynicism is more a product of my unmet high expectations than any negativity in the world. I expected the best from everybody - that they would give their all. Perhaps, I still do. 

I am sure that my current state of mind is a product of several disappointments. While writing this post, I did list them out. However, it started to appear as a long rant and I had to let it go. Suffice to say, that there are several instances and on each of those occasions a warm and gooey part of me died.

However, writing this post made me realise that I was truly blessed. That resurrected some of the warmth and gooeyness. In specific, this year has been a roller coaster and I have come out fine. I finished by law degree. Finally, I travelled to Kedarnath and Badrinath. I bought a new phone. I composed tons of nonsense poetry. I met many wonderful people.  Danced like a crazy at many weddings. If I really try, I will see the immense love that fills my life. 

I am a theist. I am not going to go into details of my belief. At this juncture, it is enough to state that I would like to believe that the world is filled with pure consciousness. The essence of everything and everyone is that consciousness. There is nothing other than pure consciousness. If that be the case, how can I have a grudge with the world, which in essence is pure consciousness. Therefore, my cynicism is directly in conflict with my desired beliefs; and clearly the former has to go.

A New Year is about to start. New beginnings usually bring about some amount of hope and possibility of change. Here's to a less cynical and more grateful and contented new year.


Image Source - https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CYsyANSWMAAu7UW.jpg

10 September 2017

Pitru Paksha

Every year, during the dark fortnight of Bhadrapada month, Hindus venerate their ancestors by performing Shraaddha pooja. It is believed that an offering of pind (rice) and tarpan (water) is received and accepted by the ancestors. The rituals usually involve feeding Brahmins as also making an offering to animals such as crow, cow, dog etc.

However, it appears (though I have no empirical basis for this), that the performance of Shraaddha among educated Hindus is declining. My guess is that increasing atheism, disbelief in caste, disbelief in ritualism, intangibility of the receipt of offerings, lack of knowledge pertaining to Shraaddha etc. are the reasons for the decline. I am not going to venture into the legitimacy of these reasons.

My concern is the total and complete abandonment of the practice. To my understanding, every ritual/practice has two aspects - the physical and the mental. The physical aspect is the physical act of actually carrying out the practice/ritual. The mental aspect is the thought that one must have/cultivate when performing the physical act.

To give an example, lets take the offering of water to idols. The act of bringing the vessel, collecting the water, offering the water etc. are the physical aspects. The thought that I am offering water to god and s/he is accepting water, like a mother accepts anything from the toddler, is the governing mental thought during the performance of the physical aspect. Please note, that the mental thoughts may change with the change in the gunas of the individual; however, the physical aspect remains the same.

Now back to Shraaddha. My hunch is that the abandonment of Shraaddha is primarily driven by objections to its physical aspects i.e.: alleged waste of food, the inability of food reaching ancestors through the pooja/mouths of Brahmins etc. Rarely, have I come across an objection to the mental aspect i.e.: veneration of ancestors. In fact, the concept of veneration of ancestors is common among various cultures/faiths across the world and also across the length of human life. On first principles alone, I believe there is reason for veneration - i.e.: we owe a lot of our present lives to our ancestors, not just in terms of inheritance, but also in terms of the gift of life. I am not aware of any objection to having gratitude towards ancestors.

My fear is the non-fulfilment of the mental aspect of Shraaddha. We have objections to the physical aspect of Shraaddha. As a result, we abandon the practice of Shraaddha. Since there is no longer a physical act wherein the mental aspect can be incorporated, and owing to the rigours of modern life, I fear that the mental aspect of remembering our ancestors remains unfulfilled. The abandonment of the physical aspect, without anchoring onto something else, causes a loss of both - the mental and physical aspects.

My submission is that a physical anchor is necessary for the mental aspect to play. Without a physical anchor, the mental aspect will last only for a few seconds, if at all. At the end of the day, most of us operate at the gross level and hence the presence/absence of gross elements has an impact on the mental processes. Unfortunately, we need triggers to be grateful. It is nice and fluffy to argue that gratefulness is a state of mind. But it is incredibly hard to make the mind constantly grateful. If it were that easy, then we would not have been this selfish and goods hoarding race that we are now.

If a physical aspect is important for the mental aspect to play, there are only two ways to resolve our objections to the physical aspect - (i) understand the ritual of Shraaddha and its significance; or (ii) find an alternate physical aspect.

I am not competent to explain (i). For this, I would recommend reading Chapter IX of Vol. IV of History of Dharamsastras by PV Kane. The book is freely available online. The book extensively deals with all the texts pertaining to Shraaddha. The book is an authority on the subject of Dharamsastras. The author is Bharat Ratna awardee.

However, I can recommend on (ii). If you do not believe that ancestors are fulfilled by the performance of Shraaddha, then simply donate food to the hungry/poor. It may not still fulfil the ancestors, but at least by the act of donating, you would have remembered them and felt grateful for whatever they have done for you.

While (i) is purely religious, (ii) is completely secular. One can believe in (ii), even if one is an atheist. There can hardly be any objection to donating food to the hungry, in remembrance of one's ancestors. The only religious aspect in (ii) will be the timing of the donation i.e.: the period of Shraaddha. If, however, you are able to formulate a new time period/occasion for making the donation, then from a secular point of view, that is okay.

Therefore, in summary, my conclusions/unasked for advice is as follows:
If you believe in Hinduism, start with (i). If you are not satisfied with (i), definitely do (ii).
If you do not believe in Hinduism, or do not want to go through the enquiry of (i), definitely do (ii).

Don't abandon the veneration of ancestors. Your entire life is not just your own making.

Image - https://www.yesmywish.com/image/magictoolbox_cache/8c95d73fec130487c102a73bf1ab42ce/4/2/423/thumb500x500/742683735/Shraddh.jpg

5 September 2017

लोग क्या कहेंगे ?

जीवन भर रहा यह दुःख
की न जाने लोग क्या कहेंगे
फिर भी बनाया मैंने फेसबुक
अब नई तस्वीरें लगाता हूँ
और खुशी से प्रतीक्षा करता हूँ
की न जाने लोग क्या कहेंगे !