By Rohini Mohan
Religion is a way of life in India. Secularism was constitutionally thrust upon us and for better or for worse this intimately exposed us to the history and the ritualistic details of the various religions that have found a home there. In India, religion is in us and all around us. There is a temple or a mosque or a Church at every corner. Religion comes blaring out at us as devotional music from loudspeakers. It is in our textbooks in school; it is a big component of our cinema and is a huge part of our upbringing at home. We grow up with all these religions and we wear ours on our sleeves.
We are an emotional people and religion adds to our fervor. Starting from the partition of the country to the recent Raman Sethu controversy, religion has been at the core of almost every earthshaking controversy and life changing event in India. The smallest slight is intolerable and brings out the worst in us, inciting us to kill and maim without remorse. We live together, but we are always at each other’s throats.
We have also lived with a slow strangulation of the societal structure from the very beginning of life as we know it. The caste system was only further fueled by the Divide and Conquer policies of the British and continues quietly to this day. Let us not be naïve enough to ignore its existence in Urban India. It exists but takes on the hue of an economic divide. Life goes on, in luxury for some, in abject misery for most. And the haves squeeze the have nots, and they squeeze them and the divide widens.
It is startling how we will casually spend two thousand rupees on a single meal but will balk at paying a few rupees more than that for the entire monthly sustenance of the driver or maid. It is appalling that we will not allow them to sit with us at our dinner table or eat from the same crockery and silverware. It is amazing that we expect to lord it over them and then expect their undying loyalty.
Most surprising of all, we practice all of the above in our day to day lives and those of us who have had the privilege of an education call ourselves and our country ‘spiritual’. Somehow, in our minds the religious influences that we have subliminally imbibed by osmosis and the fact that we are a product of scriptures that are centuries old gives us the right to call ourselves spiritually rich. Religion and Spirituality and two different animals, and yet in our minds we cannot separate the two.
God has very little to do with spirituality. A spiritual person is incorporeal, ethereal; he looks outside of the realm of the mundane and immerses himself in the metaphysical. A spiritual person puts spirit over matter. He does not concern himself with what is on the outside. Color and race, religion and money – these do not a human make in the eyes of the spiritual person. We may know our scriptures and may be able to chant the Vedas and Slokas in chaste Sanskrit, but that makes us religious at best. Treating people as we do, differentiating between them and then blaming it on the way things are, will certainly not contribute to us achieving our spiritual goals.
I am proud of my country for her rich culture and her brilliant minds, her natural beauty and her tireless history. But that is as far as I will go. I cannot bring myself to tout her spirituality in that holier than thou way until I am convinced that we even understand the meaning of the word and have a hope of living it to some small measurable degree. A holy river, a few holy men and women, yoga, – that is not spiritualism.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,…
Then, maybe, you have started out on the road to spirituality.
*Verse extracted from ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling