Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Question of Faith – 1

There is a new, well undertaking ( for lack of a better word) which I need to set upon next week, which has met with some stubborn resistance from the MIL – for no other reason than the timing. The inauspicious ‘Pitrupaksh’ fortnight devoted to ancestors where the so-called auspicious projects are avoided.

S, predictably enough, loses his temper, every time the topic is brought up. He had to pay a substantial fee a few years ago on some investment because of this, and consequently views the whole Pitrupaksh thing with an extremely jaundiced eye and gets exceedingly irate about what he claims is debilitating ritualistic superstition designed to stop people from living freely.

Having said that, I don’t think he is an atheist or an agnostic or a sceptic – or a believer for that matter – but somewhere in that fuzzy gray zone in between. I think that pretty much mirrors my views on faith and God too – but more on that later.

That is something that has intrigued me – how does one manage to separate rituals and superstition from faith. Rituals necessarily implies that the belief in a higher power, almighty force what have you – who manipulates your life as per the sudden whims and fancies. Thus the composite of rituals are in effect offerings or bribes or good-behaviour in exchange for which this almighty force doesn’t finger too much with one’s life. Which always seems to me of a very transactional relationship. A fasts on Saturdays and Hanuman will protect him from Marquis de Sadesati. X doesn’t wear a red thread and is asking for trouble. You cannot travel on an inauspicious day. If two bad things happen in a family, you need to do an elaborate puja to appease some God who has it out for you. By and large, if you look at it, they are all pulling you back rather than giving you that impetus to soar.

Somewhere the ritualism takes over coherent thought and becomes quite inextricably linked with faith. And rituals BECOME the religion.

The sad part is that even for a lot of educated people it is difficult to break away from these rites or practices of what-have-you. The eclipse a couple of months ago, is a case in point - I know a girl, who is extremely well-educated, independent and has all the exposure and worldly wisdom and cynicism one would expect - but because she is expecting a baby, she (on instructions from her family) followed a number of quite hare-brained rituals like not cooking anything that required cutting and eating only at certain times. She explained that she doesn't believe in these things in the ordinary course of things, but cant take a risk when it comes to her baby.

In spite of myself, I can grudgingly respect that.

These are the moral dilemmas about which I am not sure how I would deal with. If I was in her position I might have done the same - the illogical, fear factor overwhelming cold reason( of course, I would have despised myself for doing it too).The current quandary about whether to do or not to do is a bit of a foregone conclusion - as far as I can see, there is no leeway on the date - so that takes care of that. But there are so many other quandaries like this, isn't it?

That is the problem with these so-called rituals or superstitions or whatever - somehow its less about emotional anchorage and more about becoming an emotional millstone.

P.S. To be continued
P.P.S I am not sure this post is particularly coherent or has a point. Hmmm. Disjointed thoughts being typed out. Ah well.


Thanatos said...

I believe that our ultimate god is a giant cupcake in the sky. With icing. And sprinkles.

And he doesn't give a shit about ancestors and eclipses and trouble making planets.

mentalie said...

i think it's the indian 'grey' way of approaching these things that makes it such a dilemma. everything is so open to interpetation. you could have a big religious ceremony for every death anniversary, or you can go have one ceremony at kaashi and be excused for the rest of your life, or you could just go to the temple and feed the poor every year instead. so many possibilities, so many loop holes and combinations...depends on what you believe in, what your mother/MIL believes in, what the rest of the family will think, what the neighbors will say, how much time and money and inclination you have on hand, etc, etc, etc...!

P said...

I don't think one can separate rituals from faith. If you have faith, you also have fear. And if you have fear you can't say no to rituals. Non-believers can say no to all rituals and superstitions because they are not afraid of being punished. Being in the gray zone however is a much complicated situation. One goes through self-torture as well as creates difficulty for others around.
And we Indians have an additional problem...even if one is not afraid of being punished by God for not following the rituals prescribed by the believer relative, one fears they will be punished (emotional atyachar) for saying no to the said relative. That is why so many of us Indians are in some or other part of the gray zone.

shub said...

Sigh. Most of the things I (grudgingly) agree to go along with depend on how big a deal deal it is to my folks etc. I try and put my foot down where I can, other times I just go along. A little compromise goes a long way, and keeps them happy, bas.

Meira said...

Have you read Scott Adam's 'God's Debris' ? Superb book. Available as a soft copy on the net.

manuscrypts said...

many rituals had a scientific/practical reason at their time of inception... but since religion increasingly became erm, a holy cow, no one bothered/dared question them.. now its all one big 'buy one get one free' bundle :)
and anyway, faith and organised religion are/should be two different things..

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Thanatos - thats probabaly the best imagery i have heard about God. Soft and fuzzy and delicious no?

Mentalie - I suspect half of these came up from convenience. so no one really knows what is the right way. all said and done, some of it is so hardwired into our genes, that we take a lot of stuff for being the gospel truth (pardon the pun) rather than stuff which might have come up by some random ancestor

P - i dont know about that - faith and spirituality is supposed to make one freer isnt it? You pass the onus of worrying to someone else, something greater than one. As opposed to being constantly terrified of THAT being

shub- I do the same most of the times. But the point is where does one draw a line. The husband as i mentioned had to pay some humungous amount of money - was that worth it? God knows.

Meira - will google and find it. Sposed to be another called sky hooks as well.

manu - of course - and a lot of these are very quaint reasons as well - which have NOTHING whatsoever to do with faith. Unfortunately they have become so inextricably linked together that one cannot seperate them.

D said...

I have been mulling over all the ritualism that becomes pronounced during the pitrapaksh myself and was planning to do a post on it myself!

I rebel against almost all forms of ritualism except those that are not forced on me. There are some rituals that I follow because I see them as a continuation of tradition. For example, the pujas at the time of various festivals. I am bound to them not by superstition but by my keenness to preserve the traditions of the culture I follow. My religion is also part of that culture.

It helps to have been brought up by a set of parents who are not superstitious but who believed in God and instilled the same faith in us.

D said...

I'd just like to add this very interesting quote from Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert where she talks about how we must keep those rituals which helps and dispose those that don't: "This is what rituals (ceremonies or celebrations) are create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma so we don't have to haul these feelings around with us forever weighing us down."

AmitL said...

Cyn,I have a very simple theory for our traditions and rituals-namely,if they're not doing any harm to me and they make others happy,so be it!!Better to flow with the tide than to resist.:)Try it!

Satish Bhat said...

Cyn,I believe every day is God given and hence they are all equally auspicious.

But some fears are hard to break. So why take them head on? Circumvent.I publicly start with a miniscule part of my work some days before and hence duck the "dont start on this day/week" rap. Works fine for my mom. Hope it helps your case :)

Maddy said...

you got me thinking - what if i said rituals are believed by more people than superstition.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

D - actually i think festivals and pujas are where this contradiction comes to the fore very sharply. I am married to a bloke who is not from my community - however, i find a vast difference in rituals for festivals (to be honest i dont know whether thats a community thing or a family thing). but in such a case, what is the right thing to do? cant do a mix and match, adopting all will be too much . I think that quote encapsulates ( so much better) what i was struggling to understand - when does it become a burden?

Amit - the point is some of them actually do some harm - they can cause a great degree of anxiety and/or guilt. so what does one do then? Take the eclipse for instance - if this girl who is working had some major crisis at work and had to go and did not have the luxury of following those rituals. i am sure she would have been quite torn. and for what?

satish - thats probabaly the best policy in most cases - but what about the times one cannot do that because of whatever reasons? there are often many other pressing prerogatives which dont allow one that flexibility na?

maddy - thats probabaly true - but sometimes its difficult to seperate the two no?

AmitL said...

Well,that's people-you can't change everyone's way of thinking...but,at least as long as one's own thinking is clear,the world seems a crazier place than our mind,to me!:)But seriously,I agree-if these rituals do harm,then,they're not worth the attention they get!Let's see if the next old generations fare better at not following them than the current ones.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

I do the same thing AmitL does. Hardly care for god or anything these days. Blah.

D said...

I agree with you about conflicting rituals when you marry into another community. Sadly, I have no answer to that and grapple with the same dilemma :(

P said...

hmm ya it's supposed to...but how many people around you does all the religious/spiritual things because they are in love with God? At least most of the people I know do such things either to avoid bad things happening to them or to get something better in life. Maybe if people really have faith as opposed to believing in a so called faith, it would work. In that case, no rituals will be essential anyways. But I think only few people in this world are gifted with that kind of faith.