Thursday, September 18, 2008

हे भगवन !

Everyone has some concept of God which they believe in. Those who don't believe in it are actually those who simply disagree towards the use of the word "God" for the set of principles which they turn to for guiding them thru life. I have a set of principles too. My concept of God might be very different from what many people believe in, but it is surely very much compatible with theirs. After spending lots of time looking at people and probing my inner self and reading books and stuff, i have finally been able to put into words some of the things i believe in.

I believe that the entity "God" has four (or more) functions for those who believe in it/him/her. I think people are a bit confused about the various implications of the word "God". They mix up these four (or more) different things that the word might imply and hence i think thats the basis for all this war and turmoil between people of different religions who interpret the four (or more) functions differently.

Indian parents teach their kids about god and religion since childhood. People are forced to blindly believe in stuff without asking for reason. 12 years of studying science and 4 years of studying engineering still doesn't change their rock solid belief in the principles which were passed on to them by their parents. Now I am no one to question those beliefs but then isn't science like a religion in itself then?

At home you are taught to follow certain religious rites/rituals and develop certain virtues without being given the liberties of asking your parents "why" we do this? And at the same time at school/college you study science which tell you to question everything you come across.
Two different preachings.
Two different religions.
No wonder people (specially engineers) are so confused...

And confused engineers are bad for society. It was not some invisible force that was watching over you and taking care of you when there was an engine failure in the airplane you were in and the captain was still able to bring you safely to ground. It was actually sheer human ingenuity. Countless people might have sacrificed their lives in numerous crashes before you to provide valuable lessons for man to make his flying machine more perfect, more safer for you, for himself. We can't just expect God to watch over us and save us every time we take off in an airplane, that way all those crashes and live which were lost would have been attributed to God being angry at us and then no one would have even cared to study the cause and effect of the disasters and we would still be living in the Dark Ages.

My concept of god:

Function of "God" 1: As a creator of the Universe
The first function of the word "God" is to act as a placeholder for "The Creator of the Universe" whoever he/she/it might be. This makes you wonder if there actually exists a creator in the first place!
Well I simply think that just because something exist, there must be a creator. So since just because this universe exists, there must be a creator. And as engineers we ask, how do we know the universe exists? Well the answer in my opinion lies in The Anthropic Principle
Some extracts from the wikipedia article on Antropic principle:

In physics and cosmology, the anthropic principle states that humans should take into account the constraints that human existence imposes on the kind of theoretical universe that can support human life. Our present universe is of course the only one we can ever actually observe, but we can speculate about such things as the probability that our universe formed within the finely tuned limits that support human life. Our human understanding dictates that the only kind of universe we can occupy is one that is just like the one we are in. If it were a completely different kind of universe, no human would occupy it.

Roger Penrose explains the weak form:
The argument can be used to explain why the conditions happen to be just right for the existence of (intelligent) life on the earth at the present time. For if they were not just right, then we should not have found ourselves to be here now, but somewhere else, at some other appropriate time. This principle was used very effectively by Brandon Carter and Robert Dicke to resolve an issue that had puzzled physicists for a good many years. The issue concerned various striking numerical relations that are observed to hold between the physical constants (the gravitational constant, the mass of the proton, the age of the universe, etc.). A puzzling aspect of this was that some of the relations hold only at the present epoch in the earth's history, so we appear, coincidentally, to be living at a very special time (give or take a few million years!). This was later explained, by Carter and Dicke, by the fact that this epoch coincided with the lifetime of what are called main-sequence stars, such as the sun. At any other epoch, so the argument ran, there would be no intelligent life around in order to measure the physical constants in question-so the coincidence had to hold, simply because there would be intelligent life around only at the particular time that the coincidence did hold!
—The Emperor's New Mind, Chapter 10

And I am somehow also reminded of a quote from Douglas Adam's H2G2:

Once something actually happens somewhere in something as wildly complicated as the Universe, Kevin knows where it will all end up — where "Kevin" is any random entity that doesn't know nothin' about nothin'.

So as far as "God as being the creator of the universe" is concerned, I consider sun to be my God. It,s not the creator of "The Universe" but it is responsible for the creation of "My Universe" and me. Life on earth wouldn't have been possible without the existence of The Sun. So Sun can very well be called the "God of Earth and Humans".

Most religions have anthropomorphised Sun into a human form. Best example being "Jesus" in Christanity. Yes I watched Zeitgeist and I do believe in what is being said in it.

The Sun is the single most source of power on earth. Its life giving light nourishes as like a parent nourishes its kids. This makes it seem omnipotent to us.
As the earth rotates on its axis, it makes the sun seem to rise and fall everyday making it appear to us as omnipresent. It gives us a sense that our creator is watching our every move and would judge us on the actions we do. The ancients rightly worshiped the sun as their god and thousands of years later, men hungry for power over other men have twisted that concept and anthropomorphised it their gain to tame the vast public into submission.... these are the men who decide for other men what actions they must do (the good) and what they must not (the bad) because their god is watching them and would judge them on a certain day called "the judgement day"..

Well I am not the one to buy all this. I think our creator (who ever that might be) is like a scientist and our universe is like a big experiment which he/she is performing. He observes each of us, and tries to induce various situation to observe how we would react to those circumstances. Some of these are good and some are bad. Its is impossible for us to know who his next target would be so we must just live our lives to the fullest and just be ready to take head on whatever life (or our creator) throws at us.

In simple words, as an icon, I believe in the Sun as my creator and I believe it is just a waste of time thinking how God might treat us tomorrow. I think we all have moral values instilled in us by our elders since our childhood which allows us to distinguish good from bad and so it should be pretty easy to take the right path no matter how difficult it might seem at each of crossroads in our life. Thanks to our neural net which works overtime to help us find out and learn the good things even in the presence of the noise created by the bad things.

Function of "God" 2: As a Moral Judge
I have covered a lot of part related to this function towards the end, under the previous heading. As engineers, we believe in science to guide us to take care of ourselves and our environment and to prosper as a race and progress as a society. But science hasn't progressed enough to give us answers to each and every question which might crop up in our head. Science cannot explain everything, at least not yet. So when we are faced with a decision, we need a way to choose the "right" from the "wrong". In most cases science can help us decide relatively easily ("killing people randomly is not good" or "walking to the nearby store is better than taking the car, which causes pollution"). But there are times when science is not able to help you decide. Thats where God/Religion fills in the gaps and comes to the rescue.

Our elders tell us that if we do good, then we would go on to heaven after death and that God will decide who has been bad and who has been good after looking at the whole of our life. They have played on our fear of death to get us to do the "right" thing always. But there are times when the distinction between "right" and "wrong" is pretty vague. And these are the oppurtunities for power hungry men. They manipulate the people to rule over them.

So how do you decide what to do when you are faced with a dilemma? Well I think all the answers lie within us. We just need a catalyst to bring them out. For me, my friends and family are the catalyst. I ma glad to have so many good friends. Whenever I am in doubt, I can rely on them to just enforce whatever it is that I was already thinking. Sometimes you just need a person you trust to just be there for you and inspire you to listen to your inner self and do the right thing. Hence our parents always warned us to be wary of bad company!

Function of "God" 3: As a source of Inspiration
There also times when people feel depressed for no particular reason or because of reason out of their control.. minor things which cause irritation. Sometimes a few bad things happen one after another and causes "acute" depression and at other times "chronic" bad mood builds up over time due to various miniscule incidents. Lack of sleep and stress are main factors for these conditions. At times like these you feel as if the world is a real shit place to live in.

To come out of such loops, people turn to things like meditations while others turn to drug abuse. For me there are many sources of inspiration. I am able to draw inspiration from all sources - the young mother teaching her little daughter poems as she waits for her school bus to arrive in the morning, parrots flying around gaily amongst the concrete jungle of buildings, a tiny sapling growing in a pond of muddy shit, an earthworm struggling to wriggle across an open road full of passing traffic to get to safety and a young lady being courageous and telling off a stranger to stop teasing her or else face the consequences...
But then there are times when everything seems so dull and irritating. At these times your friends could help you handle the "Bad day" but then you would risk passing on your bad mood to them. Thats where "the Sun" comes to my rescue again. Sometimes just a walk outside or a look outside the window is enough to lighten up your mood. It makes you realise that the Sun has risen today and so today is just like any other day and everything is going to be just fine! Its effective enough to help me to a large extent to contain my anger and frustration and depression within myself and prevent it from passing it on to my friends. And then I just wait for the night time when I can sleep and just get the day over with!

Anyway, I guess being descended from grandparents who either Aryans or Sikh, I am not so much inclined towards idol worship. But i do need an icon which I can sense with almost all of my 5 senses.. an icon which would give me a sign thats all well with the world... and what best icon other than our "Sun" itself. It makes its presence felt directly or indirectly thru all our senses... we can touch, taste, smell, see and hear it or its effect on life on earth. We don't need to go to any temple to worship the sun, we just need to step outside and look up. And as I hold my chest up high to look at my God, I feel as if he is as proud of me as I am of him.

Function of "God" 4: As a Guide for Life
This is what we call Religion. It comprises a set of principles to guide us to live a content and happy and fulfilling life. It is also supposed to show us how to live in harmony with others and with nature. But unfortunately men seeking power have reduced us to mere brainless idol worshipers (many of us indian don't even know why we ring the bell/gong when we enter a religious site). There are so many auspicious days in a year and we just mimic our parent as they perform the various rites and ceremonies. Again I am not the one decide what is correct and what is not. But I am not sure why people can't think of such ceremonies/rites for what they really are : as an occasion for fellow humans to gather together in small groups and share a sense of belong to each other.

Take the Ganesh festival for example. It was traditionally supposed to be a family affair until Lokmanya Tilak. He made it into a public festival. Now bring a larger group of people would seem quite effective in promoting brotherhood, but according to me, after a certain threshold (of around 100-200 people) the group of people turns into a mob - having a mind of its own - one which is very intolerant of anyone who doesn't have the same beliefs as itself. Such mobs are the fuel for religious riots and can prove counter productive. Then there is the case of using the cheaper plaster of paris rather than the traditional clay and vegetable paints. Due to involvement of politicians and people with commercial interest, the ganesh festival is turning into a futile and damaging competition. Mandals want to establish their superiority over others by making larger idols - ones which don't even get submerged completely in the ocean and washup on the seas the next day. The government officials have to use huge hammers to break the idols brutally and throw the broken pieces into the ocean.

People talk of people of one religion hurting the "religions sentiments" of the people of other religion.. what crap.. its hypocrisy when you cant respect your own God.. using hammer to break down the idols you worshiped for the past few days..

To me these ceremonies are more important because of the way they bring people together. Nothing unites people when they have a common goal which they all believe in. Although I might not have faith the same concept of God which my friends and family believe in, but I have an even more immense faith in the healing and goodwill promoting power of religious ceremonies. Its the togetherness which people share during such events which makes me a stern supporter of such activities.
But then all this shouldn't be at the cost of harming the environment. Who says you are not allowed to have the same amount of fun and excitement with a 2 centimeter high idol as opposed to a 15 feet high colossus. Its the feeling inside which should be larger than life rather than the statue itself. An what fun it would be to have few small ones made of clay - you would submerge them all with your friends and family in the sea and you can actually feel the heightened emotions as your "God" dissolves into the see, to return the next year to bless you all with prosperity. It would impart a sense of completion and finality of the ceremony and would leave you feeling exactly the way you are supposed to - feeling inspired and full of happiness and faith in yourself and our family/friends.

I think schools should teach children how to make idols of ganesha themselves using clay. That would inspire creativity and a sense of belonging. Besides it would teach children a plethora of moral values. And sculpting would surely be an added skill for all those aspiring to be engineers in the future.
It is somewhat like how we were taught to make rakhis in craft class at school and the girls used to tie them on the boys wrists!! It did promote brotherhood (or sisterhood for that matter) and also doomed the possibility of getting married to your childhood classmate in the future!

In any case making your own idols and then submerging them in sea would teach children a very important lesson in life: "to let go off of your creation or something which belonged to you for a very long time and become detached from it" in other words we would be teaching children the fact that "all things come to an end". It would take them one step closer towards accepting death as a part of life. It would teach them that its okay to be sad for sometime but whatever we have is now and here and that we must live life to the fullest with our loved ones.

Somehow god wanted us all to be together. Somehow we are all missing the point.