Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In search of that cosmic identity

Serious believers, of which there are far fewer than those who reflexively mouth their faiths in their gods, think about their existence by reading the holy books and reading commentaries on them.  They contemplate on what their gurus have to say.  They might go on pilgrimages, even if the holy places are on hills, in their quest to understand how all these came about.

I remember how reverential the old and frail Japanese tourists were at Ajanta.  A Korean tourist, who didn't seem to have any friends or family with him, was at one point sitting quietly as if he was meditating in that setting.  In this post, after the visit to Costa Rica, I wrote:
With every step, the spray from the falls increased.  It was delightful. Soothing. Comforting. Welcoming. Peaceful. I was overjoyed.
I reached the railing at the end. I could feel a lot of the spray. I felt the waterfalls washing away my pain. My disappointments. My problems. My worries. I stood there with my arms stretched outwards on the sides.  I remember feeling one with the waterfalls. There was a strange sense of oneness with the world.
Perhaps that is what the faithful feel when they go for a holy dip in the Ganges. The river washes away the problems if they feel that oneness. Oneness with the water. With the world.
I had always speculated, tongue-in-cheek, that most of my travels are my own versions of pilgrimages. In this case, it seemed so much to be the case.  It was bliss as I stood there getting damp from the spray from the falls.
I suppose the difference between the holy scriptures that the believers read and the great literature that I read is this: the holy books claim that they have the answer.  Which is when the follow-up question arises; to quote Tolstoy:
You say to yourself, "It can't be that it is so simple and that still people do not see that if two affirmations contradict each other, then neither one nor the other can hold the unified truth that faith must be.  There is something here.  There is some explanation." ... Why is the truth held not by Lutheranism, not by Catholicism, but by Orthodoxy?
We struggle.  Or, as John Steinbeck puts it:

We continue to ask "why?"  The Hindu philosophy contends that taking the cause-and-effect route will never get us to the answer, which is also what Steinbeck writes as "an answer is invariably the parent of a great family of new questions."  The Hindu philosophy, therefore, directs us to turn the inquiry inward, which is also what the Buddha did in trying to sort out the whole damn thing ;)  I am not willing to trust any book that claims to have the definitive answer, nor any mortal who claims to have the definitive answer.  I will, therefore, continue on with my pilgrimages and scriptures, though it doesn't seem like I can become the Path itself.


Mike Hoth said...

As one of those few serious believers, I can make myself even rarer by respecting your opinion on not trusting a book! I find that it is easiest to grapple with reality from a baseline. My faith is that baseline, because the more I learn about the world and everything in it the less I can fathom the notion that random chance formed all things.
Of course, getting all your answers from a book is something I would wholeheartedly discourage. Coming from a former monk (Did I ever bring that up? I don't think I did) I hope that holds some extra weight. If my holy book is truth, then other sources should strengthen my belief. So far, nothing else has convinced me that I am wrong and much has convinced me that I have found my answer. If you find your answer, who am I to tell you that you are wrong?

Ramesh said...

Amen to Mike. His is one of the most scintillating of comments I have read in this blog.

Sriram Khé said...

Let me provide a couple of examples of where that book-based truth runs into trouble. ;)

A bakery turns away a customer because according to the book that the baker believes has *the* truth, the customer leads a life that is the book says so wrong that the baker should not engage in economic transactions.
A mother and father reject medical treatment for their three-year old kid because according to the book that these parents believe has *the* truth, accepting that medical treatment is so wrong that the kid's suffering and death is morally superior.

In both those cases, they are convinced that they have found their answers in their respective books. Society cannot, should not, tell them they are wrong?

Sriram Khé said...

Or how about this one:
ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape http://nyti.ms/1L7DPBF
According to the book that the ISIS maniacs consider to have *the truth*:

"One 34-year-old Yazidi woman, who was bought and repeatedly raped by a Saudi fighter in the Syrian city of Shadadi, described how she fared better than the second slave in the household — a 12-year-old girl who was raped for days on end despite heavy bleeding.

“He destroyed her body. She was badly infected. The fighter kept coming and asking me, ‘Why does she smell so bad?’ And I said, she has an infection on the inside, you need to take care of her,” the woman said.

Unmoved, he ignored the girl’s agony, continuing the ritual of praying before and after raping the child.

“I said to him, ‘She’s just a little girl,’ ” the older woman recalled. “And he answered: ‘No. She’s not a little girl. She’s a slave. And she knows exactly how to have sex.’ ’’

“And having sex with her pleases God,” he said"