A regular reader of this blog (they are rather rare to find and Choti Mata is insanely grateful whenever she can locate one. So, thanks a ton, Vagabond!) asked Choti Mata to answer this simple question. So, Choti Mata did. Try to answer the question that is. It is still a try because no matter how simple the question sounds, it just isn’t and by the time Choti Mata was done with this post, she thinks she had figured why truth seeking ascetics tend to end up in the Himalayas. She is still not sure if Himalayas do really hide those elusive answers in their frozen caves but she definitely relates to the frustration that might lead to the belief that they actually do.
Do you believe in God?
It is a trick question. Almost…if you take into account the fact that this question, if not in so many words than in some form, format or variation is perhaps the single biggest reason behind few of the bitterest and often the bloodiest discords of our times.
This, however, is not a post about those discords and their nuances. This post is not about theists and atheists. Or about seculars and religious fundamentalists.
This is personal. And I shall answer it, personally.
Personally, this is perhaps the best time for me to answer this question. Personally, this is also the worst time for me to answer this question. This is not a rambling paradox. And this is not a contradictory statement made for impact. The timing is indeed complicated. There are real reasons behind this complication. Perhaps, at some point of time in future, I will elaborate on those reasons.
This post, however, is not about those reasons. Or about my abstract philosophical musings. I chose to touch upon them because timing is relevant. For a question that follows us along the crests and troughs of our life, timing is fundamental. Because it is easy to say ‘YES’ when you are at the crest. And it is awfully easy to go with ‘NO’ when life has thrown us into a trough. The answer is variable and every version is as true as the other at least in those given circumstances.
The best time to answer this question is when you are neither at the crest nor at the trough. When you are on one of those never ending curves that are so complex that you don’t even know if it is a definitive rise or an outright fall or somewhere in between. The uncertainty of that journey is the true test—the point where there are no easy answers. Not to that question at least.
I am at that curve right now. Which why, this is the best time to answer this question. Because the answer would be a lot more accurate. And this is the worst time, because the answer is not easy.
Or maybe it is.
Before I get into the rambling, philo-spiritual discourse that this question warrants, I will give a straightforward answer to this question.
Yes. I believe in God. Absolutely, unequivocally…and hopefully, irrevocably.
I believe in God…or more accurately, I believe in the idea of a Higher Power or Higher Consciousness. I also believe, as do most spiritual disciplines in some form or spirit, that while this Higher Power/Consciousness is universal, its manifestations are a matter of personal faith and hence variable—not just on the basis of our religious/cultural beliefs but our experiential realities as well. And hence the multiple identities that are attributed to it—God, Universe, Life, Destiny or Self.
Each of these manifestations is as true as the other, as powerful as the other and as divine as the other. It is this fascinating multiplicity of the Universal that makes this whole idea so enthralling and intriguing and yet, so difficult to comprehend.
But as I said before, this post is personal. And I am going to focus on the God that I believe in.
God for me is not an idea borne out of religion—although religion does play a crucial part in how I identify the manifestation of my God that I can relate to and also dictates, broadly, how my initial relationship with my God was formed. This is further bolstered by the fact that I belong to a family that is extremely culturally inclined and where daily prayers and elaborate rituals are, to date, a sacrosanct tradition.
Traditions are a part of the culture I belong to. They are a part of my identity. And they add value—not necessarily the kind of value that conservative fundamentalists tend to insist on—but there is undeniable value in social, familiar and spiritual currency. The value that continues to justify organized religions in our societies despite their evident drawbacks.
I enjoy traditions. I am well versed in them. There have been many memorable occasions where I almost ended up in an altercation with the priest designated to perform a certain ‘puja’ because he had messed up the order of the said ‘puja’ or done something that I knew was not what was traditionally done.
Yes, I am that well versed.
I am aware of the rituals and pujas and all sorts of traditional practices. I am also a professed liberal who prides herself in her open mindedness and who doesn't believe in most of those traditions. I participate in a whole bunch of those very traditions because they are fun. I have no affinity for long drawn rituals that make no sense.I don’t subscribe to senseless taboos and illogical superstitions. I don’t perform rituals just because I have been told that performing them will ‘please’ certain Gods or not performing them will ‘anger’ them. But I do perform/participate in the ones that I really and truly enjoy (usually because there is great food at the end of it and/or the whole family gathers for it and ends up having a blast).
Yes, paradox is the theme of my life.
Yes, paradox is the theme of my life.
Personally, my culture/tradition repertoire includes several chants, Rudraksh and quite an elaborate establishment of Gods that my mother has lovingly created at our home. Again, I don’t do this because I want them to fulfill a wish. Or because I am scared. I do this because it helps me make a real spiritual connection with my God. I do what feels right…and what makes me happy. I do what I think helps me connect with my God. And that is a conscious, personal choice which can vary drastically from one individual to the next.
I believe in God. But I don’t believe in heaven or hell. I don’t believe in the commonly perpetrated image of the God where he is projected as some sort of a strict guardian with a stick in hand, waiting for us to make that minor/major slip up so that He can bash our heads at every available opportunity. I do not believe in the idea of a God who is cruel or capricious; who hands out harsh punishments and needs to be placated and pleased with bribes and offerings; who is unpredictable and who needs to put us through rigorous ‘tests’ to ensure that we are up to some sort of an elusive mark.
That is one scary God. And definitely not the God I believe in.
If there is a Higher Consciousness…if there is a God, I think He would be an embodiment of infinite compassion and understanding. Given the sheer scale and diversity of the Universe that He has created, I believe, He has to be infinitely liberal and open minded…and empathetic beyond all human limits. To attribute human follies to our God—human follies like anger, greed, impatience, narrow mindedness and hatred—is not only problematic but fundamentally wrong and against the very idea of having a God in our Universe, no matter what religion, sect, timeline or geographical location is being taken into account.
God is a beautiful idea. My God is a beautiful idea. He (yes He…irrespective of my feminist bearings, my God is a He…and for good reasons). He is the reason why I exist…why I can get up in the morning and fight for my dreams. He is my biggest support system…my greatest strength…the light of my life…the peace for my soul.
He is my soul.
He is my everything.
Believing in God, for me, is like breathing. You take Him away…I am as good as dead.
Some of the most powerful spiritual traditions of the World talk about having a relationship with your God—a relationship that is rooted in pure love and faith. That is the kind of bond that is considered to be truly spiritual—the real path to peace and happiness.
To think of God as an overbearing, almost scary force alienates us from His love—prevents us from understanding the spiritual depths of our souls. A bond borne out of fear, no matter how pure or sacred, is bound to be fragile and to a large extent unfulfilling. If we seek fulfillment and joy, we need to stop being afraid of our Gods. We need to start forging a relationship with them. In my limited experience, uncomplicated faith and unconditional love are the simplest and shortest route to our God, no matter who He maybe.
Believing in God is fulfilling and sustaining. Those of us who have been blessed with this gift of faith are lucky.
The true bliss, however, is for the luckiest of them all—the ones who are in love with their God. Sufi traditions believe in an all encompassing version of love that they feel for their beloved, their God—a love that has no boundaries, definitions or segregation of any sort. A love that is so complete that it transgresses all limits of human understanding; fills every void in the human soul and is enough in absolute terms. It sounds a little impossible but I am more than a hundred percent convinced that it is not. That love of that kind is exists and is attainable.
That love…that is my kind of aspiration.