Friday, September 14, 2007

Faith...

A few days back was the festival of "Avani Avittam". When I was a child, it was something I took for granted - that my father and my two brothers would change their sacred threads (Poonal) on that day followed by Gayatri Mantram the next day. I did not think much about all this then. Now my mother is staying with us. She is deeply religious and follows a lot of traditions and rituals. (I have to add she is also very liberal and progressive in her thinking in many ways). I do not have anything against her beliefs and in fact I enjoy a lot of the traditions we follow, well for the sake of tradition at least. It gives us a sense of joy, a sense of discipline to some extent, a sense of belonging. But I do not necessarily believe in everything in the way she believes... I grew up believing God in much the same way my mother does. Worshipping Rama, Krishna, reciting slokas and going to temples, performing pujas, celebrating Ganesh Chathurthi, Deepavali and what not. I did not question God then. I suppose growing older can make you go in the direction of further believing in God and going further down the religious path or it can make you more cynical, question God and in some ways form your own version of God different from the one you grew up with. I fall in some in between category here. I still follow some traditions and I still would go to a temple and pray in front of the deity if the surrounding are peaceful. I enjoy singing some religious hymns. I have a little shrine in our home with pictures of different Gods. I celebrate or try to celebrate some of the festivals. But my version of God has changed. As a child I probably had a simplistic version of a carrot and stick God - do good and he rewards you, do bad he will punish you. And later it was more of a benevolent God who was all powerful and made amazing things happen. And with time, I started questioning my understanding of God and also saw that religion and God were two separate entities. God then became a deeply personal entity and I still grapple with its identity in my mind. I still believe in prayer, yes to the same deities I grew up with, but it is a meditative prayer not a religious one in the traditional sense. This is my current state.
B on the other hand is agnostic. Well at least as I see it. He too has his own version of God I think - but he definitely does not believe in the rituals we perform but will go through it for the sake of having grown up with it and to just go with the flow when others are involved. He used to wear the poonal thread (since our wedding which is when he started wearing it) but it was me who told him to not bother with that since anyway he does not know or believe in what it stands for. It did not make any difference to him. His parents though religious always gave him the freedom to be who he chose to be and did not force him to do anything he didn't want to. A few days before Avani Avittam when my mom asked him if he will be changing his poonal, B plainly and frankly said that his poonal was upstairs in the closet. That set off a non stop rant for one week as to how it was so important that we follow these rituals and I should be telling B to follow them etc etc. I told her even his parents did not force him, how can I...and that got her further upset with me. B was indeed going to change his poonal anyway for the sake of my mother. We don't mind going through the motions of certain rituals to just please people like my mother. But when my mother started praising certain people just because they are religious and follow these rituals to the dot, I found it very upsetting. One person she praised is someone who is hot tempered and will be unreasonable to anyone and every one irrespective of age and is that way with his wife too. B on the other hand may not follow these religious traditions but is an incredibly genuine, kind person and is extremely respectful to people like my mother and has integrity and is principled. I don't say this because he is my husband (which is what every spouse says I suppose) - but he is that way sometimes to the point of irritating me because I feel some people don't deserve kindness or respect. When my mom insinuated that person X is worthy of praise because he is so religious it made me angry but I did not lash out at her and further upset her. I controlled myself and just said a few things mildly. B just performed the ceremony and now wears the poonal just to please her (and to save my back or I will get yelled at).
I was glad to know that even Mother Teresa had a crisis of faith. I wonder if every one has a crisis of faith at some point in their lives. At the least they may question the version of God they believe in I suppose. I could not have said it as eloquently as Einstein did when asked if he was religious (and I subscribe to this line of thought): "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious." (More on Einstein and faith here).
I believe that God is omni present and all-powerful - that divine grace that somehow orchestrates the complexities of this universe from the atom to the galaxies - something beyond our comprehension. I cannot fully comprehend God but I do believe in a force stronger and bigger than what my mind can conceive of - I find it in the beauty of nature, in the industry of one's own job, in music, in beautiful writing, lyrics, in science and in the minds that unravel the mysteries of nature, in the love I feel for people, in the innocence of children, in the unadulterated joy my children show at times, in the goodness of people that comes through at certain times. I cannot define it but can only feel it. It is not the Rama or Krishna I grew up with who I still worship just so I can give form to this abstract concept that I believe in. I struggle like every one but I hope I am able to give my children the freedom to understand and form their own version of God and form their own religion that adds beauty to this world rather than tarnish it in meaningless ways.

28 comments:

DotMom said...

I agree. rituals do muddle religion.

Moppet's Mom said...

Noon! I know the feeling. I have a half finished post on similar lines in my drafts. Must dust it off and finish it.

rbdans said...

Beautifully written, esp the last para.
After reading the post in Dotmom's blog, I started writing one myself, left it half way as it brought back a lot of emotions.
I can completely resonate with your post. Though, I am not sure I can write it as wonderfully and with so much clarity as you did.

noon said...

dotmom- yes. I know your thoughts are kind of similar - from your nice post on this topic.

Moppet's mom - Please do post. Looks like a lot of us go through similar situations in this respect...

Rbdans - thank you... Please do post about this. WOuld be nice to read more views on this topic - which in my opinion is an important one...in the way we raise our children too.

SS said...

Such a thought provoking post noon ... IMHO, every goes thru' a crisis faith at some point or the other in their lives... I find myself wondering a great deal lately about how I'm gonna teach my son about God, about Faith and yes, religion too.

ranjani.sathish said...

A very thought provoking post indeed. I need to collect my thoughts on this before I can say anything :-)

Tharini said...

Dear Noon,

I read this post on Saturday morning, before getting bsuy with all the Ganesh Chathurthi preps, and absrobed it. Now I am back to tell you....that the crisis you have had is not a crisis, imo, but an awakening. I think you have captured the exact essence of spirituality and God...which is...what is the use os performing rituals regularly when your heart and intention is not pure?

No better thought than this is needed to understand God. That's it.

noon said...

SS - yes teaching them about God is not going to be easy. I never thought I would have any issues with this - but I want my children to pray and to be good people and to have some form of God in their minds. Why God - I suppose I grew up that way and somehow their becoming agnostic or atheistic doesn't feel good for me - but if in all their questioning they find their own understanding of God that they are comfortable with I will be happy. And more than anything I want them to be good,compassionate people.

noon said...

Ranjani - Do post your comment and also a post on this topic when you get time.

Tharini - I would love to read a post by you - your understanding of God and how you plan to teach your children about God and how you will answer their questioning of God...when you get time...
If some one is good but don't believe in God or any of the rituals, people (well a lot of people I know in the community) will not know where to place that person...somehow doesn't fit in. So much of activity in the Indian community is centered around pujas and bhajans are what not...
I really just want to ask some of the "religious" minded people who perform so many pujas and what not but flaunt their wealth (good grief even the priest in one of the temples I go to does so) and act so arrogant, do charity for the sake of showing off how "good" they are and wear all that on their sleeves for every one to see - when I see such people I feel sick - I know no one is perfect - we are all hypocrites in some ways - but there are different levels of it - and these people reek of hypocrisy - I mean the priest for god's sake - acting arrogant, talking sugar sweet to those who he knows to be wealth...and completely ignoring the ordinary folks who come there - not just me, I know this happened to a lot of people...there is no one to question all this. I certainly don't feel at ease to question all this - so it goes on. And in the face of all this, when I myself feel this way - how do I tell my children that they need to follow rituals which I myself feel nebulous about...anyway - you know what I am getting at.
Do post when you have time...

Tharini said...

Noon...I had posted something about my belief and more along these lines, in a brief way here:
http://winkiesways.blogspot.com/2007/04/food-for-soul.html

But perhaps, I shall do another one....talking in more specific terms, tho I don't know what I will write. Let's see. :)

karmickids said...

Just done a post on religion, you might find it interesting....agree with every word you've written

noon said...

Hi Tharini
Esp because of the post you mention here (Which I did read earlier too) I am curious to know your thoughts on this...

noon said...

Hi Kiran enjoyed your post - just posted a comment.

Tharini said...

Noon..a post is in draft. Will take me a while...because of how intense the subject is and how much I want to say! :D

The Inquisitive Akka said...

Crisis of faith?Tell me about it!Right now I do not look at or enter the pooja room. I just believe that horrible things happen and sometimes good things happen and you just muddle your way through it all. There was this quotable quote in Reader's digest this month. I don't remember it exactly but it was something like " The biggest joke is when you tell God you are planning your future". That sums it up in a nutshell. You have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow.

Poppins said...

A lot of religious posts going around!! Very well written, I loved reading it.

Terri said...

noon, that was very well written. You showed amazing self-restraint with mom ;)

Sundar Narayanan said...

first time here. came here after seeing your comment on Terri's

nicely written..

to each his/her own !!

at the end of the day, this ceremony is all about renewing (or literally pledging) your commitment to learning and the quest for knowledge (and more importantly understanding) for brahmins.. this in the days when knowledge and understanding were the means of livelyhood and respect for these folk..

it also is a chance to eat some vadai and paayasam...

:)

you can read my take on this

http://sundar72.blogspot.com/2006/08/what-is-up-with-dot-dude.html

and

http://sundar72.blogspot.com/2007/04/knowledge-is-power.html

if only we could sit under banyan trees and ponder the truly unanswered questions in the universe, and get to eat vadai and paayasam...that would be lovely!

mnamma said...

@Noon: Wonderful post Noon! I lurk here often but have not left comments. I have seen those type of people too - who are perfect in following traditions to the letter but who do have questionable morals and pride bordering on arrogance. The last paragraph particulary was very thought provoking!

noon said...

Tharini - eagerly waiting to read your post...take your time though...

noon said...

Hi Inq Akka - I can imagine how you feel...That angle to this whole post - I did not address - the crisis of faith that happens when you go through horrible things yourself or when you see others - really good people who do not deserve it at all going through terrible things - that is another side to this whole thing. How do you sustain the faith you have? So many thoughts are coming to my mind - esp what my uncle (my aunt's husband actually) who is going through a rough time with his cancer thinks...karma and such. Anyway - so many thoughts on this.
Yes it is so chaotic really sometimes - life just goes on smoothly and suddenly in a fraction of a second things can change - one just never knows...
I think of you often and wonder how you are doing...

noon said...

Poppins - good to have you back! Thanks...

Terri - thanks...
Self -restraint - partly because I don't want her to feel more upset than she already feels (about my dad's passing away) and partly because I know the ranting won't stop if I react strongly - she will go into intense/deep thought mode - all emotions just showing in her intensity when she is sitting and thinking about all this!

noon said...

Hi Sundar,
Thanks for visiting...
Vadai Payasam yes of course good - except here I have to make it (well mom made it this time but if she is not around):)
I have not read your post yet - will do and respond.
BTW - just saw your blog site picture - see that you are wearing the poonal - will make sure my mom doesn't see it! And your daughters look so cute - smile looks great!

noon said...

mnamma - thanks so much.
Yeah - arrogance from being religious - tell me about it! They think being religious is a virtue in itself that absolves them of all other short comings!

a bystander said...

Here is a point of view. Too long for a comment.

Squiggles Mom said...

I think sometimes people need something to hold on to when they are going through tough times, something that enables them to hope. For a lot of people that's religion, for fewer it's an unseen and inexplicable power. I sometimes wonder if we did manage to explain all the intricacies of nature we might find that there is nothing so special after all. Just a culmination of small things which have together made something special.

noon said...

Bystander - thanks for dropping by. Interesting - your post. Agree with the "why God" part of it totally!

Squiggles - I agree with you.
And I wonder about that too - your last point. But we will never really know - the universe/cosmos is way too big and complex that we will never exactly know - the facts will keep on evolving...

Aryan's Mom said...

Hi Noon,

I have made it a point to read your blog everyday and I showed this one to my hubby. He doesn't wear a poonal anyway but indeed he agrees with your thought behind it. I make vada payasam or poran poli(Just to make sure it is a festive day) on that day as it would be Rakshabhandhan day form hubby's side.
Well written and good provocation...