Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Fast Food God(s)

India has a wide array of antique literature of Philosophical and metaphysical nature. There is a gambit of Indian philosophy from the origin of the universe (albeit totally non scientific /speculative) to our existence embedded within the broad spectrum of ancient spiritual literature.

Philosophical and metaphysical ideas were not unique to India; the Greeks had a fair share of those too. What is interesting is the fact that such philosophical ides from Europe migrated to become more meaningful scientific ideas. In India, these ideas died -replaced by mindless amount of rituals.

What could be the reason?

Swami Vivekananda blames the Brahmin Priests squarely for this. According to him, the priesthood community stand to loose the most if people moved away from Ritualistic /Superstitious practices to the idea of Supreme Brahman (the eternal fundamental cosmic entity). If everyone started to sit in cross legged position chanting Om and begin their internal realization, the temples and priests will go out of business. He offers no other scientific/archeological proof but the logic seems plausible.

I think the disappearance of the philosophical thoughts from Indian society is more to do with the attitude and life style. (The Brahmin priests might have contributed to this).

Ritualistic practices involve no thinking whatsoever. It is quick and the perceived benefits (from the point of view of the devotees) are huge. Understanding Pathangali’s Yoga Sutras or the Advaita philosophy of Adhi Shankara requires considerable amount of thinking- even to reject some of those to be absurd. Take this for example: "Not the non-existent existed, nor did the existent exist then" (ná ásat āsīt ná u sát āsīt tadânīm)- Nasadiya Sukta (Rig Veda). Whatever this is suppose to mean. My mind goes blank!

Rituals are easy, you pay the priest and he does all the hard work for you. It is all done and over within a mater of few hours and is usually followed by a large feast. On the other hand asking questions such as : “Who am I”, “Where do I come from”, “ What would happen to me after I die”, “ What do I mean by I”, etc. requires considerable amount of thinking. Finding answers to such philosophical questions offers no great benefits. But breaking coconuts to Lord Ganesha guarantees a pass in Math exam!

In the old days, perhaps wandering men had a lot of time to think about such complex ideas. These days the busy software engineers need fast and quick fix to everything. A quick tap in the cheeks, a few half swats before Ganehsa, a quick whiff of the holy fire, and a tiny smother of the holy ash is all the time people have. Paramathama or Para- Brahman (Supreme Soul) has no time and place. Priests will have to work overtime to make up the rest. In a way, Hinduism outsources the spiritual responsibility.

It is therefore not surprising that the only groups that have interest in the philosophical thoughts and can understand complex ideas happen to be the Atheists, Agnostic and the Skeptics! Perhaps these groups have the natural curiosity to browse thorugh these ideas. Or may be  if people start to understand philosophical ideas they move more towards skepticism and loose interest in religion and rituals( as in my case).

99% of the Hindus (although they claim ownership of these ideas) have no idea that such complex philosophic texts exist let alone understand what they mean. In reality rituals will continue to serve the hard boiled devotees. The advent of the internet continues to support this cause. All you have to do is give your credit card number and the priests will take care of everything. No you know why the titile-Fast Food God.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

3 Men + 1stone = 4 Men

The lady of the house organised a special pooja every year. It was a big ritual involving a few priests and a lot of Homam ( open fire). Every year before the pooja, the lady would instruct her daughter- in- law to catch their Pet- Cat and secure it in a bamboo box. She didn’t want the cat to run around and cause nuisance (plus the open fire may be dangerous to the cat and the priest). The daughter- in- law followed the orders sincerely for years- catching and securing the cat before the pooja. The lady of the house died and the daughter- in- law took charge of organising the ritual. She continued the task of catching the cat and securing it in a bamboo box. Years passed and the cat died. The next year pooja date was fast approaching. She went to her husband and told him that she needed a cat for the pooja. Puzzled, her husband asked her why on earth she would need a cat for a religious ritual. To which she replied : “Before the pooja, we need to put a cat in a bamboo box. That is a very important part of the ritual, my mother-in-law taught me”!

Millions of the religious rituals and symbols evolved this way. Because religious rituals were passed on without any explanation, a large number of rituals got passed on which doesn’t make any sense today. Yet because we are always told to follow a ritual without questioning the relevance or validity, we simply follow, blindly.

Some of the traditions, customs and rituals might have had some meaning in the old days. But should we really need to carry them around?  And why can't you question them?

Here is a run around of some of the superstitions that I have come across in my life and my speculative explanations.

Mr. Cat, Please use the footbridge!
List of Bad Omen – Cat crossing the road, dog hauling, lizard making sound, bull thumping his leg, crow flying low, etc. When our ancestors lived in the jungles, watching animals and birds might be a critical activity. A group of birds suddenly flying out of a lake, a flock of deer running madly, etc might mean there is a predator (Lion or Tiger) around. So they probably categorised certain animal sound and movement of animals as bad omen which mean you wait and you proceed with caution. Is this the  root of the belief in bad omen if you see a cat cross your way? . I really see no reason why it should be an issue these days when you are living in a big city like Chennai. The only animals left in Chennai are the poor “”Cow Mother”’ with severe malnutrition living on cinema posters, and a few stray dogs. The only predator that I could see is the 3000 gallons blue water Lorries!

The Tamil month of Aadi is considered inauspicious. Nobody  is allowed to get married during this month. ( It is a good time to get married if you don't mind this, you can get marriage halls at throw away prices and shop keepers offer deep discount this time of the year to keep their stock turnover). Aadi is the month of the year when rice cultivation begins. It falls within the fertile climate window to grow rice. In the past, sowing rice seed was a labour intensive activity. It required the whole village to work on the farm. Marriage functions were labour intensive as well. In those days, there were no A-Z marriage contractors offering everything from underwear for the bridegroom to the right sized banana tree. In the absence comprehensive marriage contractors, the entire village would pull together the resources to organise the functions. So it makes sense to not have any marriage function during the month of Aadi. You don’t want to divert the labour resource away from cultivation, and cause economic downturn. I am speculating here. There may be a simpler explanation - some gray haired priest was too busy to organise marriage ceremonies, so he said “folks don’t get married on the month of Aadi”.

Some ritualistic faiths are plain  stupid.
Some of them are beyond any shred of reasoning and goes in to the realm of insanity. For example you cannot go as a group of three for any important engagement. You can go as a group of two, four, five, fifteen, four million, etc, but not 3. If you must, you should carry a stone with you.

So 3 men + 1 stone = 4 men.

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t?.

Mechanism of survival
So why does these rituals and superstitions survive?

If some old uncle says one should break three coconuts on the north corner on a Friday afternoon, subsequent generations follow the marching orders. A few of us like me, the curious ones ask questions and cause trouble! And generally we are ingored and branded as a part of global consperacy to take down the Hindu /Indian spiritual empire!!

A columnist for Times of India writes that sipping water three times boosts immunity. OK, can you please explain how? Let the whole humanity benefit from this- not just the Hindus. We can reduce the antibiotic consumption. All we needs to do is explain the mechanism by which immunity is boosted, and conduct some double blinded studies to prove this. Is it the water or the sipping process that boost immunity? If it is water, should it matter if I sipped it four times instead of three times? Can I fill the equivalent amount of water in an ink filler and drink it? If it is the sipping process then does it matter if I sipped beer three times instead of water?

Asking questions is a sign of disrespect. My Phd friend says I am offending his religious faiths by my comments. This is the age old tactics of religious people and gray haired uncles. When you push them against a wall with reasoning, they resort to this winging tactics ( you are offending my religious faith). I am asking an honest question here. That is how science works. We ask questions to scientists . They don’t get offended.  If I ask a scientist about the process by which malaria spreads,they don’t say, “shut your mouth, it is all been figured out by the great sage Ronald Ross”.

Sipping water may well improve immunity (although I doubt very much, I am really making a statement for the sake of argument), but we still need to explain just how.

Quantum Crap
With the advance of science we see emergence of new age gurus like Deepak Chopra. Now the intellectual idiots are offering more scientific explanation ( it is not any scientific but they use science mubmo jumo to justify certain things).  I  get some weird explanation to my 3men + 1 stone = 4 men problem using quantum physics from my double pHd friend in silicon valley.  “3 men’s individual souls combined creates enough quantum energy to cause cosmic vibrations to alter the state of inner consciousness in such a way as to produce synergistic karma which gets negatively charged” .

What the..............?. I just wonder how someone who is clever enough to understand whatever the above sentence means cannot understand the simple concept that a Sone is not equal to a man!

I was watching a programme on India in the CBC news channel. The program covered the state of the art Infosys campus in Bangalore. The achiement of Infosys is commendable. But here was something interesting. The spokesperson from Infosys  who was taking the reporter for a tour around the campus,  told the CBC reporter that the campus area used to be a burial ground/crematorium of some sort, and so Infosys first organized a grand Pooja to please the spirits before starting any construction. It looks like they had to first relocate the Ghosts to another part of Bangalore!

 I wouldn’t be surprised if Infosys’ Project Management manual includes ""Ghost screening and Spirit management"". After all, you need to take care of the ancestral spirits in the same way do with the shareholders.

Someone told me that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will not launch rockets on inauspicious times. The moon should be in the right box of the horoscope chart before the rocket launching (to the  moon) can begin. I sincerely hope this is a joke!

About Me

I am an Engineer by profession. Spritual and Anit-guru advice is my part time job!