I read an interesting article in the Guardian about how some Hollywood movies embraced Hinduism without us even noticing it. Well, some of us did notice. It was not hard to see the connection in Matrix or Interstellar, subtle as it was. Any others that come to mind? Well, you can read the full article here to see if you ticked them all.
Meanwhile PK, a Bollywood movie, is creating much fuss at the moment on home turf for its views on the more obvious aspects of Hinduism.
It is not a shockingly bold movie by any account, nor does it say anything new, so I don’t understand what the fuss is about.
Those offended by such things like a character playing Shiva shown hiding in the toilet, are as laughable as those presuming that the average Hindu can’t tell the difference between Shiva and Shiva.
So while I don’t understand the protests, I do think that PK misses the point. By a mile and a half.
There is a lot wrong with religion or rather the pursuit of religion these days but traditions, rituals and ‘idol worship’ are not it. The real issues facing us today, religiously speaking, are intolerance, chauvinism, fanaticism and mindless violence.
However, PK barely touches upon any of these and instead spends an hour and a half trying to show the futility of age-old traditions, rituals and customs in light of the ‘real’ god, the Absolute.
This, I think, is such elitist nonsense. Who is to say that performing rituals takes away from the idea of the Absolute? It is not a case of either, or.
All cultures across the world, over the ages, have had elaborate rituals to connect with and celebrate the Absolute. Often these rituals and customs are chronicles of time holding within them entire histories of a people. Sometimes, it is the only record. As is the case with several ancient tribes which continue to survive in remotest parts of the world. Are we, the ‘modern intellectuals’, going to rubbish them because the poor souls don’t understand the true nature of God?
If God can only be experienced and not taught or preached then the ancients probably understood God better than we do, anyway.
What is wrong with worshipping rocks, rivers, trees, animals, the ocean, the sky? Is it really base and uncultured to see the sacred in Nature or to see all aspects of Nature as divine?
Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan is based upon the revering Nature as divine. And Japan we would say is a ‘developed’ nation. So Nature Worship is not just for the ‘backward’ as you would like us to think.
(I personally think that now more than ever is the time for us to treat this planet of ours as the most sacred of all things. More than any God in heaven. If we destroy it, no divine power can help us. But I digress….)
In the case of Hinduism or Vedic Culture, the history and the traditions go back to over 5000 years. It is the only known culture in the world today with such a long,unbroken heritage. Its myths and tales, rituals and customs are a precious glimpse into a vibrant past. And a vital link to a continuously evolving present. What travesty it would be if we were to lose that !
The ancient seers, the rishis, understood this. When they moved from exploring the external world in the Vedas to the inner Self in the Upanishads, they did not discard old forms of worship. Both flourished side by side. They knew that great religious breakthroughs do not carry everyone along at once.
The same scriptures that described the rituals in great detail also stressed upon going beyond them.
This has had a very favourable outcome. Michael N. Nagler writes in his commentary, Reading the Vedas, “ India is probably the only country in the world where we see tolerance of different stages of evolution of religious consciousness. Thanks to its paradigm of diversity and its cumulative strategy for preserving culture, those individuals and communities who respond to outward forms of worship have kept their place and dignity in the system, while other individuals who have had a mystical experience have been free to transcend all religious forms and not only follow their own path but become beacons for the culture as a whole.”
A passage from the Chandogya Upanishad-
Ordinary mortals do what they are told, and get attached to anything: their religion, country or piece of land. Everything they work for, religious or secular, comes to nothing. Only those who find out Who they are and what they want, find freedom, here and in all worlds.
Of course there is the malaise of blind faith and exploitation in the name of religion. There are criminals masquerading as God-men, babas who defraud scores of innocents everyday. We need to continue to expose the lot and put them behind bars. But do bad babas mean we have no good gurus ? Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivanada, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Yogananda Parmahansa are just some of the great spiritual leaders and thinkers that we’ve had.
And of course, there is a big difference between faith, blind faith and superstition which needs articulation over and over again.
Having said that now let’s talk about the value of tolerance. The virtue of letting each man find his own god. Or not. Let us talk about celebrating the incredible diversity of humankind without judging each other or,worse still, killing each other for it.
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