My Journey to Enlightenment
In India, more than anything else people are more interested in your religious identity. I encounter many funny and awkward situations where people are confused about my religious identity. Most of them are quick to find that, I am a Hindu because of my name, Sreelakshmi, who is the Godess of wealth. But when they hear my daughter's name - Lyra, they again go puzzled. Maybe mine is an intercaste marriage, they assume. Kids too, face the same kind of questions amongst their peers. My kids answer spontaneously, "I am a human", which makes them kinda weirdos. There is much more to this story though which I will tell you next time.
There are quite a lot of cults. I want to be very clear that I don't back up any of these cults including atheism or whatever. I am not in any of the groups too. I believe once you are into a group, you think less and start follow them. I just follow my own thoughts based on my life experiences and knowledge I acquired by scientific reasoning. Books were much helpful in this regard. So whatever I say, it is only my personal opinion. I do not go and pick pros and cons of each cult, I criticise them as a whole. I do respect others choices of belief, yet I would like to share the insights which I have got so that, if it helps someone to have the courage to move on to a different path. That's the whole point.
Yet there are two which got my attention. Humanism and Atheism. A humanist may or may not be an atheist. "While atheism is merely the absence of belief, humanism is a positive attitude to the world, centred on human experience, thought, and hopes." Though this is the definition, I feel atheism also centred on human experiences and science. And that's why, I decided to write a bit more so that, I hope at least some of you could really understand the concepts and may get a chance for self evaluation. This is not to insult anyone or anything, but these are the mere personal thoughts and experiences of a humble human being based on real facts.
The History says it all!
Now, let me tell you the story. Like most of you, I too had a strong religious upbringing. My early childhood memories of beliefs are tangled between Guruvayoor Krishna, Jesus Christ and Mother Mary. Krishna, because I was born in a Hindu family and my mother is a deeply pious woman who is a strong devotee of Lord Krishna. Jesus Christ, because during those days, the Christian Missionary schools were more popular in educational sector of Kerala. Christian schools are always known for best quality education. They were infamous amongst students for stringent rules but was quite popular amongst parents. Irrespective of our religious identity, all children from different communities studied there. Hence, I completed my whole schooling in schools ran by priests and nuns. So, my belief system was a bit complicated. My mother taught me that, all Gods are same. It's just that, we call them in different names. I believed in this beautiful theory which helped me to build tolerance and respect to all the religions and Gods. Though I believed in this wonderful theory, somewhere inside I always had this hidden soft spot for my Hindu Gods. Yet, personally I hated going to temples because of the long queues and rush. Imagine the humidity of Kerala and you are standing shoulder to shoulder where you smell sweat and bad breath all around you. Then, in that utterly irritating condition, you are forced to pray in front of the deity. I used to just patter the prayers instead of praying. On the other hand, I loved going to churches as the place itself was calm and melodious like a choir. There was no rush. Even if there was rush, people always maintained the distance in the queues. Why? I found the answer later. Each church is under a "Sabha" and the people live in a particular area only come to that particular church on particular days. Same with Mosques too. Casual visits are comparatively less. It was the perfect place to have a conversation with the almighty. I never prayed, but I used to have deep conversations which I later realised that those conversations were with my own conscience. They were my own thoughts which sought clarifications and affirmations.
My dual belief system continued for long years. Meanwhile, my family members found new human Gods who emerged in that era and were indulging in new forms of spirituality. I continued going to church, reading Bible, praying the Rosary along with completing my bachelor's degree in an Ashram where I used to be a hardcore disciple (I pretended to be one actually), going to Bhajans, do yoga etc. It was a mutual understanding between my Krishna and Jesus Christ. Neither of them were worried, nor my family. My best friends were from Muslim community and I knew their rituals and traditions too. As I hear many 'Kerala stories' nowadays, I never had a single experience from none of them. I understood one thing, as children, none of our religious identity mattered during those days. We were all equally naughty. We all had similarly good as well as bad thoughts. No one's religious identity made them better than others. In spite of zero conversations about religion or God, I must say, there was a substantial urge to defend our own religion or God whenever it was questioned at any point.
As a person who had lived in different parts of Kerala and had been with different people from all parts of Kerala during these forty years, I can vouch that, the people from Ernakulam and Thrissur (central part) are more open and tolerant to other religions. This comes a long way, and history proves it. The old Kingdom of Cochin also known as Perumbadappu Swaroopam(which consisted of present Ernakulam, Thrissur and other parts of central Kerala) was famous for it's harbour. It was the main trading centre during those days. The Cochin Kings welcomed everyone who came to their shores. The Jews, the Dutches, the Arabs, the Portuguese, the Konkanis, the Parsis, the Jain's, the Iranis and many more. They also gave equal importance to education of boys and girls unlike other kingdoms of Kerala. All these are rooted in their soil, backups for their comparatively modern culture. Now also, there are thirty six different communities who speak different languages happily living here in harmony. This is why I always felt and experienced that, the people from central parts of Kerala are the most tolerant ones towards anyone around the world. They are very much open to intercaste marriages to the extent that most of them don't even force to convert. I have seen it in my near and dear ones' families itself. Most of our temples have no restriction for non-hindus. Many temples have some rituals done along with mosques or churches. We have temples, mosques and churches next to each other. Never ever have we had any intolerance issues.
Apparently, I would like to shed some light on our so called culture too. There were homosapiens who came here first and there have been various people coming ever since. The migrations and invasions happened as it happened everywhere around the world. It doesn't make any difference if you are an Indo- Aryan or Dravidian. Thanks to Genetics. Genetics has reaffirmed that the historians are right. According to genetics if you want to dig out who we really are, then you will travel back around two-three lakhs years and reach somewhere here - The anatomically modern humans are originated from "Y-Chromosomal Adam" and "Mitochondrial-Eve". Read again the word "anatomically modern humans". If you travel back 4.4 million years backward, you can see 'Ardi' the fossil of a woman who walked on two legs ever before the brain was developed. These are important on these days where people are trying to erase the "Theory of Evolution."*
*(All references given at the end).
The present India came into picture post Independence. Prior to that, we were a mixture of our current neighbouring countries and various cultures. South part was quite different from the North. Even in the North-East and South-West you can see these differences. The Mughals never invaded Kerala and Tamilnadu except a few parts of Travancore.
Let's learn about the three main religion's arrival.
St.Thomas is the one who introduced Christianity in India. He arrived at the ancient seaport Muziris on the Kerala coast in AD 52. As per local tradition, Islam reached the Malabar Coast, as early as the 7th century AD. Unlike these two religions, Hinduism has no founder but it is a fusion of various beliefs. Even the Mayan civilization had similar beliefs and rituals. It was a way of life rather than rules and regulations. Around 1500 B.C Indo-Aryans came in and blended with the indigenous people who lived here. The Vedic period began, the caste system emerged and the Vedas were composed during this period.
It has been clearly proved that, we are evolved by natural selection, not some random gods who made us from air. (At the end, I shall give the references of the books or articles about these terms if you want to know about the real history, where scientists had done research for years and published evidences and theories based on their studies.) Do not believe anything blindly. Whatever you get fed on, think logically and ask questions. If you are not getting logical answers or real proofs then reject it. It is as easy as that. Ignorance is our biggest enemy so read more and gain knowledge. I have seen highly educated people go completely illogical when it comes to belief.
P.S : Remember, whatever comes in Social Media is not a proof. Anyone can make a post or video. But posts with real numbers and published articles affirmed by authorised organisations are considered as proofs.
If you look at history, the invasions and migrations were different in different places, the cultures were different and it follows as it is today as well. That is the beauty of unity in diversity! We never had a single common culture! Whilst most parts of India followed patrilineal system, many South and North-East societies followed matrilineal system of succession. We can not inherit or blindly follow all these cultures, as it is not practical in the current world scenario. So, everything has its own good and bad, even the greatest cultures and civilisations. As human beings, we also evolve and live a practical life. Do not follow blindly. What is the point in fighting over our past? Fighting over religion made by some humans? What do you earn from it? Who really earns from it? Ask yourself. Do we want to repeat the history? Wars, killings, do we really need all that? The people who really benefit from all these propagandas are politicians and leaders. The common man always loses.
I asked myself these questions and that is the reason I abandoned religion. When you are a believer, however good you are, you will never be able to think or see out of your religion and Gods. A believer is a believer. You can get tricked all the time very easily and the terrible fact is that, you will be so close minded. Your learning curve goes down. You learn things only which are needed for your survival. Life is more than that. Your scientific temper can go against your belief systems. I have experienced it numerous times. Every time I chose my belief over scientific proofs without any logical reasoning. I realised it only when I came out of the religion!
The real spirit of spirituality
Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.
- George Bernard Shaw
My ashram life during degree days, was indulged in spirituality, yet I could not see any miracles happening, rather my miseries in life were increasing day by day. The more I felt low, the more I prayed. The more I prayed, the more I was feeling emotionally low. Each time I prayed I kept ranting about my worries, my problems. So, basically I was growing unhappy, worrying and storming the heavens with my prayers. Each prayer time was a reminder of my problems, my worries, my plight. I heard some of my friends had miracles in their life. Later I learned about permutations and combinations and realised they were random coincidences that happens to most of us but we don't notice them until they are big enough to be noticed. A few said they saw Kaali Maa and Krishna itself during bhajans or darshan times. Unfortunately, this too I couldn't see! This made me think that I might not be as good as them in terms of prayer, dedication and spirituality. If God is our mother or father, how could a loving parent see their child suffer? Why would a parent give trauma and never give a helping hand to their children, even though they pray so hard? Sometimes I felt God must be punishing me for I am not a good child of his. He might be angry at me. I did many things out of fear. Fear of hell, fear of God! This continued and it became worse as I ended up ruining my life, experimenting with my life in search of love and peace which I did not find inside any religious buildings nor in Gods. I was living in "Trishanku Heaven", not knowing what to do.
I decided to stop praying. Then I started seeing miracles in my life! I was less worried, I was able to make decisions on my own and bear the fruits of them without blaming others. I understood what is the real meaning of Karma. It is you, only you who can control your life. Whatever is happening in your life are the results of your deeds. Things were much clear when I began to see things through my "human" eyes. I was being more rational, began to think out of the box, understood the exact meaning of acceptance and tolerance. I was in peace with myself and my life, which in turn made me happy within.
Imagine you are falling into a pit and believe that God will come to rescue you. The others who already fell in the pit, assure you that God will come for your help but you must obey his rules. They are giving you an assurance of false safety.
There are a few who think that, God has put me into this pit to test my strength or this is the punishment for my deeds, so I must accept it as it is. Whatever it is, believe me, you will be in the pit forever until some random person may appear to rescue one or two of you, which all of them will again mistake as a miracle of almighty. There will always be random coincidences which will keep you in the loop of illusion of miracles. If you have learned Permutations and Combinations in Maths you will understand what am I talking about. Unfortunately, I am very bad at this subject otherwise I would have explained it well. There will not be a permanent way out until you decide to come out of the pit and at least try for it.
Hence, decision-making is an important aspect of your life, your happiness. Do not wait for religion or Gods to help you, do not let them take decisions for you. Being religious is not a bad thing, but being blind in religion and God is. When you are blindfolded, you just take whatever is being fed to you. You don't question, you don't reason. Hating or descriminating people in the name of religion or sexuality is bad. Spending money in the name of God, instead of spending on poor is bad. Being radical is bad. Inside the pit you are always under the misconception of false safety and you are even ready to take arms to defend it. Your love for religion should not be hazardous to other human beings around you.
Spirituality is nothing but love and kindness. If you can not love or be kind to your fellow brothers and sisters then there is no point in praying to thousands of Gods and doing poojas and rituals. I have seen people who don't take care of their parents or abuse their wives, go to temples and bribe the Gods abundantly. Are these the values and culture we are imbibing? I always hope to see the same queue in front of the orphanages, old age homes and hospitals as in front of the temples and churches so that, the money you spend even if it is a small amount, can be used to help someone in real need. Unfortunately, this is going to be a mere dream until our cults, religions and Gods exist! I have seen people who are rich enough to eliminate an entire state's poverty surrender all of their wealth to some human gods or so called gurus!! How does that become charity? All these foundations are super rich because of these kind of religiously rich but helplessly poor in humanity and commonsense.
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful.
- Seneca The Younger (Roman Philosopher 4BC-AD 65)
When I was a believer I couldn't spot a single hazardous word in any of the holy books. Most of it, I was reading without even knowing the real meaning. I comprehended them with my open eyes later. When you read something, take your time and chew on the meanings of what is written instead of gobbling. Many of us take only what they want from the books and interpret as per their needs. There comes religious terrorism. It had happened and is still happening in all religions. Killing people in the name of religion, caste and Gods. An eye for an eye is not the solution. Fundamentalism is the real terrorism regardless of any religion.
We claim to be a civilised population but when it comes to beliefs we are still under the spell of uncivilised traditions and rituals. We say God is love and teach our kids, it is only "Our God". The religious cults hates non-believers rather than other religions because, they know that the non-believers are always critical thinkers and will be a threat to the religious cults. There is no point how educated or rich you are, until you start questioning and reasoning. If you are skeptical about the morality of non-believers, let me tell you, morality and your beliefs are not connected. It is purely connected to your conscience and your upbringing. How many of you can tell confidently that you have not even once crossed the limits of our so called moral standards? Humans are humans, we cannot become Gods. How to become a good human being is what matters. Good values are inculcated through one's upbringing, life experiences, good friends and most importantly by constant discussions with your own conscience.
Every religion is dying to increase their population to claim the majority. People are worried about religious conversions nowadays. Religious conversions happened everywhere in the world at all the times, that too massively. If you look back, Christian missionaries and ashrams were also part of it. It is happening in the present world too. Nothing new! It is an individual's choice. Ultimately, you are jumping from one pit to another. It doesn't make any difference. Our constitution clearly talks about freedom of religion in Article 25,26,27 and 28. Citizens are free to preach, practice and propagate any religion of their choice. Not all conversions are terrorist propagandas.
Take a look at the countries which are ruled by radical religious groups or under dictatorship. There is no democracy or freedom for the people. There is always wars, killings, financial instability etc. The only exception is United Arab Emirates because they have the golden ticket "Oil" with them. Do not tell me that "U.S is a Christian country, they don't have any issues. Look at the Islamic countries blah blah..." It is very clear that, whenever you preach radical thoughts and fundamentalism, spread hatred and bigotry, take revenge in the name of beliefs, change history, build religious buildings and statues all over, discourage scientific temper, encourage psuedoscience, all that lead to similar situations as in these countries. There are all kind of religious countries in the list. Nowadays, religion is flourishing taking the name of science and trying to prove their preachings based on scientific findings. Recently I saw a board of a religious holy book-teaching school's name adding 'Science' to it at the end!! I was awestruck, at the same time cracked up. The so called Vedic culture and Sanathana Dharma etc are the old caste system if you are not aware of it! The upper caste always wants to be on the upper hand even in the present days. If you take many famous temples run by uppercast where they get special treatments. They need your money but they don't need you because you are from a lower cast. Only thing is it is not visible to your blindfolded eyes.
So far, I learned this bitter truth, religion is the fuel of our world leaders. It is a never ending loop; religion-war-sell weapons-money-religion. It is all connected and if you still can't understand who are getting profited by all these, then I am helpless! I have read somewhere, "If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people."
Humanism - Not a cult but love!
We have schools to teach religious values. But do we have any schools or syllabus to teach basic civic sense? Why can't we teach them traffic rules from childhood? Also, some emotional intelligence, basic life skills and how to handle critisms and rejections? Latest in the addition, how to use social media without hurting others and about how drugs affect your life? Are these more important than teaching your child how to pray?
Teach your children that, 'Love is God' instead of 'God is Love'. Teach them to treat everyone as humans. Tell them not to fear God instead fear bad thoughts. Teach them to be kind and love all! They don't need to save a man-made cult from other man-made cults. Freedom from religion is a must for scientific temper, critical thinking and good mental health. At least let us save our future generations. Instead of wasting their time in praying, doing pujas and going to religious classes encourage them to spend time to read the relevant, learn, educate and grow.
If you really want to come out of all these attrocities and make a change in the world for the sake of humanity and love, being religious won't help you but leaving these cults will!!
(Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari is a great read to understand humanism in a better way.)
Hail love! Hail humanity!
I am concluding with the famous Epicurean Paradox.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
Early Indians by Tony Joseph
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
Article by Joseph Antony based on the below books:
The Fossil Men by Kermit Pattison
The Lucy Man by C.A.P Saucier
The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
Historical notes about Kerala History at Thripunithura Hill Palace and Mattanchery Synagogue.