At the outset, I would like to point out that I don’t mean any offense to any particular community or religion in this article. I strongly believe that there are a lot of good practices across the spectrum to pick up and learn from. What I am trying to point out in this article is the challenge or anarchist behaviour exhibited by various communities. It is very easy for us to point fingers on politicians and say ‘XYZ is exhibiting anarchy ’ but what about our own customs and superstitions? It is very imperative for us to dig a little deeper and try to see whether any logic / scientific reason fits a particular practice.
For instance, many Hindus have a custom to not clip nails in the evening. On careful consideration of the matter, there is a very logical reason for the same. In good old days, we did not have electricity and the bright source of light used to be the sun [daylight]. If one attempted to clip nails in poor light [evenings], there was real danger of injuring the fingers. However, it would be difficult to explain the same to so many people and hence the religious insinuation for the same. Similarly, particular days were chosen to fast in the name of Shiva, Ganesha, Lakshmi etc.
It has been proven beyond doubt that the moon has a lot of impact on human body, mind and earth. The moon phases impact the tides in the sea, moods of a person etc. In the same way, in the cosmic dance that takes place, there are certain days when moon is best poised to deliver benefits to the human body provided there is not much food intake. Just as the body and mind need rest to recharge their batteries, so too, the digestive system needs periodic rest to make itself fit and fine. The ancient sages had a fair handle on which days the best results could accrue on the basis of lunar cycles and appropriate days to fast were determined. Again, just to ensure that the practice goes through with minimal resistance in the larger interest of the people, religious insinuation was used.
In Jainism, there is a practice to avoid eating anything that grows below the surface of the earth [onions, garlic, potatoes etc]. If one looks at the radiation readings in India over the last few years, the areas near Somnath, Gujarat, Pokhran, Rajasthan, Agra and many such places in India show high levels of radiation levels. When Mahavir Jain was around, he was particularly concerned about the bad effects of radiation on food grown below the soil. Hence the advice to avoid such foods. Today, the era is different but people still follow the custom blindly! On the other hand, in those days, vehicle meant a chariot that would be driven by horses. He was of the opinion that one should not damage another living being for one’s own comfort. Today, that is not a challenge because we have cars. Don’t the Jains drive cars if they can afford them? Also, Mahavir Jain was against too much gratification for the body [the same is covered in Bhagvad Gita as well] He was a learned soul and hence his nudity also had a charm in it. His only point was don’t get identified with gratifying the body that you forget your real conscious self. However, the message has got lost in interpretations where in the real message is lost and just the custom is remembered.
Christians keep on saying that eating meat, drinking wine is ok because Jesus Christ did the same thing. However, the very same people forget that Jesus also said, ‘Thou shall not kill’; ‘forgive and forget’ Do they remember this? Do people learn to forgive and forget? Do people remember not to kill? In modern history, the west has led the front in wars, bombings and brutal killings all in the name of ‘defence’. Muslims keep on saying it is ok to have 4 wives. What people forget is that during the time of the prophet, the middle east was always in a state of internal war. There were a lot of killings and hence the gender ratio got skewed i.e. too many females and too few males [due to the war] Something had to be done to keep the gender balance intact and hence the provision to marry multiple women with a proper logical and scientific vision.
All these rituals, superstitions etc remind me of a fable in Japan, where Zen blossomed. In one of the monasteries, there was a cat that used to run all over the place and disturb the meditation practice and dinner for the senior monk. The disciples were on the verge of driving out the cat when the monk had a change of heart. He asked them to tie the cat to the table’s leg to his right. He then asked for it to be given a fish and he used to have dinner by lovingly staring at the cat from time to time. Looking at this, the cat used to calm down and eat the fish in front of it. This practice continued for many years before the monk breathed his last. The disciples had a good look at this custom day in and day out and were surprised to see the tranquillity experienced by both the monk and the cat during dinner. One fine day, when the monk passed away, the cat passed away too within a couple of days. One of the disciples was named successor to the senior monk who would now occupy the senior chair at the dinner table. As soon as dinner was served, the new monk looked to the right and said, ‘I won’t be able to have my dinner unless a cat is tied to my right and served fish. This is exactly how my teacher used to have dinner’ Can you see the paradox? What was originally intended to be a ritual to ensure that both the cat and monk can be at peace suddenly became a powerful stimulus; the real message was lost.
This is the challenge of modern-day man in many ways. We like to blindly follow rituals /superstitions in the same of religion without examining various facets carefully. We are extremely selective in picking messages i.e. we only pick messages that suit our temperament and lifestyle. All this in the name of religion and customs. To top it all, we engage in duels, riots just to prove one set of customs superior to the others. All this was very well covered in the movie Oh My God. Nevertheless, my whole point is that one is free to follow whatever customs one wants to. However, awareness is critical and the attitude of ‘holier than thou’ is wrong. We all human beings have some positive aspects to our personality and some negative aspects. It is better if we focus on eliminating the negative aspects and realize that there is just one supreme force that creates and manages all living beings. Just by giving it a different name, the essence cannot be lost.
By Nagraj Nagi