The other day I was walking towards a bus stop and the onerous task of travelling almost three hours to meet a friend was dampening my enthusiasm on a Saturday morning. I almost got killed by a bike rider, obviously riding on the wrong side of the road to save some fuel and/or time (not too unusual in India I suppose). As I dodged his assault, I happened to spot a frail old woman walk towards and place some money on the forehead of the cow. I stood to observe her. The man who held the cow’s leash asked the woman to place the money and then pray for her wishes to be fulfilled. He then asked the woman to kneel before the cow and get the blessings of an animal that is considered sacred in the Hindu tradition.
My first thoughts… “Shrewd guy. He’s using her superstition to earn money!”
I walked ahead…a few paces down the road, I couldn’t help but look back. But this time I saw the woman’s face – wrinkled, worried, at the edge of her misery.
And this time my thoughts… “Hope!”
I realize that she may have been superstitious but what she gained out of the act was ‘Hope’.
I had a discussion with a dear friend, who is an atheist, about what it is that has kept ‘Religion’ alive through all these years. His explanation was that religion is misleading, misleading to such an extent that it hides reality behind veils. That religion has more or less become a business now-a-days is no debate and most of us would agree to it. What is interesting though is that while most of us do not actively follow any religion, we are quite skeptical about God. All of us are agnostic, as my friend put it. We may even go to the extent of denying God or his existence, but in the most trying times, we actually turn to Him (or a version of him that we are comfortable praying to/wishing) nevertheless.
In fact, let me talk about myself. I am training to be a scientist. Science encourages me to question, to question everything that exists. Science asks me to look at rational explanations rather than to believe in the unexplainable. Having grown up in a not-so-religious Hindu family, I am not superstitious. I don’t go to temples at all. I don’t really follow spiritual leaders or pay heed to propaganda. In fact, in my head, God probably doesn’t exist. But I hit rough patches now and then like everyone else and then I pray (some people take solace in saying they ‘wish’ for things to come true and not necessarily ‘pray’ to anyone/anything but for me it’s the same thing – to put your faith in something/someone else). And when I pray, I pray with all my heart. And it helps. Not in the sense that I feel someone will take care of my business but just in the sense of knowing that my prayers may come true, however it is that that will happen.
Does it make me a believer if I pray/wish for something? Well, not really. Here’s what I think. God may not be real. Let’s give it a thought here…if all those forms of God were real and they were all sitting in Heaven assessing each one of us, it would be bedlam with so many differences of opinions within themselves!!! So God(s) may not exist. There’s certainly nobody up there making our wishes come true. But what’s real is Faith! It’s faith that one must have in order to keep moving ahead. Faith helps in being optimistic. Faith gives the courage to test the outcome of something. Faith gives direction to the otherwise idle life.
And it’s faith that the woman gathered in exchange for her money. And that faith gave her Hope. It doesn’t hurt to have some faith in life, does it? You don’t have to go to a temple/church/mosque/synagogue to build faith. Faith is what you have within you.
In any case, you might like to read this book called ‘Have a Little Faith’ by Mitch Albom. I think the name is a little misleading for you would expect some deep philosophy in favour of religion from a book with that title. But I assure you that it is a beautiful account in the words of a rabbi how religion and faith are mutually exclusive! Enjoy the read…and Have a Little Faith!