February 26, 2006

Why do I pray?

This is a small excerpt from Riot a book by Shashi Tharoor.

The book is a fiction written around the events of Babri Masjid demolition and the riot that followed. The story revolved round an American social worker, Priscilla, who has come to India to work in a small town in UP and the district collector, Lakshman. Overall it is a good read. here is a small passage from the book... (I almost could have written these lines :)

Lakshman to Priscilla

Why do I pray? And how? And to whom? So many questions! Well I'm a Hindu - I was born one, and I've never been attracted to any other faith. I'll tell you why in a minute. How do I pray? Not in any organized form, really; I go to temple some times with my family, but they leave me cold. I think of prayer as something intensely personal, a way of reaching my hands out towards my maker. I recite some mantras my parents taught me as a child; there is something reassuring about those ancient words, hallowed by use and repetition over thousands of years. Sacred Sanskrit, a language alive only in heaven and kept from dying here on earth so that we can be understood when we address the gods. But I often supplement the mantras with incantation of my own in Tamil and English, asking for certain kinds of guidance or protection for myself or those who I love.
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Yes, I pray to Hindu gods. It's not that I believe that there is, somewhere in heaven, a god that looks like a Bombay calendar artist's image of him. It's simply that prayer is a way of acknowledging a divinity beyond human experience; and since no human has had direct sight of God, all visual representations of the divine are merely crutches, helping flawed and limited human beings to imagine the unimaginable. Why not a corpulent elephant-headed god with a broken tusk? Why is that image any less real or inspiring of devotion than a suffering man on a cross? So yes, I pray to Ganapati, and to Vishnu and Shiva, and to my memory of a faded calendar portrait of Ram and Sita in my parents' prayer room. These are just ways of imagining God, and I pray in order to touch those forces and sources of life that go beyond the human.
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Hinduism is a religion without fundamentals; no organized church, no compulsory beliefs or rites of worship, no single sacred book. The name itself denotes something less, and more than a set of theological beliefs. In many languages, the word for "Indian" is "Hindu". Originally "Hindu" simply meant the people beyond the river Sindhu, or Indus. But the word "Hindu" did not exist in any language till its use by foreigners gave Indians a term for self-definition.
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"Hinduism" is the name others applied to the indigenous religion of India, which many Hindus simply call Sanatana Dharam, the eternal faith. It embraces an eclectic range of doctrines and practices, from pantheism to agnosticism and from faith in reincarnation to belief in cast system. But none of these constitutes and obligatory credo for a Hindu: there are none.
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Every morning, after his bath, my father would stand in front of the prayer alcove, wrapped in his towel; his wet hair still uncombed, and chants his Sanskrit mantras. But he never obliged me to join him; he exemplified the Hindu idea that religion is an intensely personal matter; that the prayer is between you and whatever image of your maker you choose to worship. In the Hindu way, I was to find my own truth. Like most Hindus, I think I have. I am, as I told you, a believer, despite a brief period of schoolboy atheism - of the kind that comes with the discovery of rationality and goes with the realization that the world offers too many wondrous mysteries for which science has no answer.
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As a Hindu I claim adherence to a religion without an established church or priestly papacy, a religion whose rituals and customs I am free to reject., a religion that does not oblige me to demonstrate my faith by any visible sign, by subsuming my identity in any collectivity, not even by a specific day or time or frequency of worship. As a Hindu, I subscribe to a creed that is free of the restrictive dogmas of holy writ, that refuses to be shackled to limitations of a single holy book.
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Above all, as a Hindu I belong to the only major religion in the world that does not claim to be the only true religion. I find it immensely congenial to be able to face my fellow human beings of other faiths without being burdened by the conviction that I am embarked upon a "true path" that they have missed. This dogma lies at the core of religions like Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Take your faith: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me", says the Bible, Book of John chapter 14, verse 6. Or Islam: "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his Prophet", declares the Koran - denying unbelievers all possibility of redemption, let alone of salvation or paradise. Hinduism, however, asserts that all ways of belief are equally valid, and Hindu readily venerates the saints, and the sacred objects of other faiths. There is no such thing as a Hindu heresy.
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I am proud of my Hinduism: I take pride in its diversity, in its openness, in religious freedom. When the great Hindu monk Swami Vivekananda electrified the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, he said he was proud of Hinduism's acceptance of all religions as true. And he quoted an ancient Hindu hymn: "As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so O lord, the different oaths which men take, all lead to thee". My own father taught me Vedic shlok "Aa no bhadrah kratvo yantu vishwatah"- "Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions of the universe". Every schoolchild knows the motto "Ekam sad, viprah bahuda vadantu" - "Truth is one, the sages give it various names".

Isn't this all-embracing doctrine worth being proud of?

3 comments:

Bharathraj G. N. said...

well this piece is a bit partial towards hinduism anyway... especially where it says there are no dogmas in the religion.

@di said...

partial...hmmm.... may be you are true; but where does it say that there are no dogmas in Hinduism? You can't not have them in some thing which has spanned over millennia! It is just that the very core of it frees me to accept or reject any such thing based on my own beliefs/thinking.

musclebai said...

asindho sindhuparyantham
yasya bharathabhoomikaha
mathruboohu pitrubooschaiva
saha vai hindurismitha
Meaning:
He who considers the land starting from the Sindu river and extending upto the oceans in the south,as his motherland or fatherland;is a HINDU!!