religion

Religin actually. Truly and verily intoxicating, this brew. Religion can be taken in good quantities resulting in real health, if one is sane headed & centred, but religin even in small quantities is quite toxic – what’s more, religin seems to be in abundant supply too!

I did not understand the context of the extended & off-tangent quoting from the king james version of the bible by ‘Anu’ – she posted her comments on the blog – subsequently, ‘Anu’ and I had a little email conversation – but, as per her request not to share it on the blog (I respect her decision) I am not sharing it, though sharing it probably may have been useful – am not very sure. But, I have approved her ‘quotey’ comments on the blog.

The only thing that I am sure about is that, this set of comments and email interchanges puzzled me a lot; on an earlier occasion too, there was this quoting from the bible with little else by the same ‘Anu’ and I so did not allow it because it would have added zilch or zero additional info/insight to the post. But this time, I did it, hopefully this will be for the last time.

I had a little bit of conversation with some folks with whom I share a lot of interests, and realized that there are nutticisms of various kinds, including that of yours truly.  Anyway, it is amazing as to how the mind systematically sees only what it believes in. There is no scope for even a cool zephyr to enter the portals of the mind, once the avenues are closed and the portals act like a staid stack, you know what I mean, LIFO. What loss of human potential, what a terrible waste. Heck, we can’t even recycle human minds to make good soil, no, not yet.

I strongly recommend a good dose of life, taken twenty-four hours a day to persons like ‘Anu.’  Everything will be all right in no time. Good luck, and may you be embarassed by light, just kidding.

Anyway, given the context, my recommendations in terms of books and stuff follow, don’t get unduly put off – it may appear to be a garish show off, a silly tom-tomming one at that, but I know that it IS. Ha ha!

Seriously now, I have had the luck & inexplicable privilege of enjoying the following books and authors and films and much else – have benefited a lot too from them, one way or the other, and it is one nice listing that I can share with a few acquaintances that I have been left with… Ah, the nostalgia value!

Enjoy!

Recommended books:

Anthony de Mello – a Jesuit priest (a damn good one at that), the soul of the Sadhana Institute of Lonavala, India. He has written fantastic books gleaned from his decades of experience of being an aware inquirer, not an evangelical conquistador. He is also a veritable antidote to the feelings of exclusiveness stemming from one in the evangelical mode about ideas/religions/cults. His books are very strongly recommended, practice of them much more so. You should not read his books in one go – but sip them in, whenever you feel like it. They work on the principle of homoeopathic potencies. Re-reads of these tomes are a must.

Alas, Tony is no more, but his books and anecdotes continue to exhilarate and provoke thought fragments and facilitate insights. (I know Gangarams on MG Road, Bangalore stocks them and the price points of his books are so low for such a stupendous and wonderful value they offer, so…)

More info on Tony here: http://www.demello.org/

I seriously wish, there were more folks like him. What sense of humour, what humility! What perspectives!

Bahuroope Gandhi – Anu Bandhyopadhyaya; this is one of the finest books on bapuji, life, human potential and karma, if you will. Thanks to that nice wizard Arvind Gupta, this book is available online. Read it, cherish it, read it to your children.

Aesop’s fables / Panchatantra / Kalilah wa Dimnah / Jataka tales: Nobody even needs an introduction to these canonical books – except perhaps the Arabic one, though it has existed for centuries, which once again is a beautiful and retargeted translation of the Panchatantra. How many perspectives on Dharma (lamely translated into english as ‘duty’) can one get through this simple expositions of complex scenarios…

Asimov’s guide to the bible: This is more than a good 1000 pages long (and strong), if my memory is correct, but is a damn good read. Asimov, the encyclopaedic scholar brings in a lot of insight and comparative knowledge to his book, as usual! Recommended. It can be finished in a few sittings.

Jesus, the son of man – by Kahlil Gibran: This is a good literary piece and gives a pratiloma point of view about Judas and Jesus without being acerbic or wrenchingly academic. Nice. One does not need to read the Gospel of Judas, to understand his points of view. A reading of this nice literary work would do.

Why I am not a Christian – by Bertrand Russel: When I read this first – may be in the early 1980s, I was completely taken in by its essentially polemic nature. Repeated and rational whiplashes directed at the clerical institutions/structures and antediluvian thoughts… Quintessential Russel. But now, I have learnt to delete the polemics and retain the juice of his insights, though am not very successful at the constant implementation of it.

Apophthegmata PatrumThe Sayings of the Desert Fathers: This reads like a Kabir or a Mullah Nazruddin (in his reflective ones) or a one of those gazillion Bhaagavata sub stories. These desert fathers were/are living in the deserts of Egypt for the past nearly 1500 years or so and spend their life in contemplation and inner work – NO crusade, NO evangelism. NO attempt to hunt  & harvest pagan souls for the Christ. NO sickening blather about the sins. Only loveliness. (a good copy of this book, an English translation, I recollect, was available in the Connemara library of Madras – and hopefully is still available)

I didn’t realize that scans of this very interesting book are available online! One has to sign up with this catholic site, that’s all.

The Bible – both old and new testaments. A deep and incisive study would help. It is hard work, but it is one of those minimalistic things that everyone has to do, to understand how we work, how our cultures (and thoughts) have been shaped, how twisted and at-loggerheads some views within them are, how they don’t bother about internal consistency, how various points of view get accommodated, how Jesus was a brows-skinned man (if he actually existed, that is), how interpolations are made, how deification begins – creating larger than life persona of eminently normal people, what does hagiography mean, what are the political needs of creation of myths and then supporting them with elaborate religious structures (read: organized church, and its counter-poster child, the secularism; before the church came up with its arrogantly supposed authority over anything and everything, there was no need for secularism as a special tag / moniker – because secularism was all there it was) –  and how many commonalities run through various sacred texts of various religions etc etc.

Same goes with our Qur’an. Everyone interested in the history of human thoughts, should read it. Luckily Qur’an’s Indian language translations  (I have read only the English and Tamil ones, but have friends from 4 other linguistic regions in India, who have studied this book in their mother tongues) are far superior to  the ones for the bible; an example of the latter would be Gideons international propagated pulp tamil bible – it is one atrociously sad translation – neither transliteration not transcreation – not even transcription. But then, may be its shortcomings can be traced to the original tamil translation – which laboriously tried to Indianize the sentences & contexts. I must say that it was a valiant attempt, though.

If one does not have the ‘time’ to go thru the Qur’an, then there are some excellent books and pamphlets by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan of Delhi. What remarkable scholarship, clarity of purpose and humanism that this Maulana has! (In fact, I am pleasantly surprised that I could retrieve the mail that I posted to a list right after the bombings of September 11, 2001- about Sri Wahiduddin – it is here: [silk] Maulana Wahiuddin Khan).

Apparently, this good Maulana is also running an organization called Center for Peace & Sustainability, which I did not know about till this minute; it seems to have some canned broadcasts by him too.  Lovely.

I am not even going to talk about our Bhagavad Gita. But I would recommend the beautiful (and surprisingly priced so low) books of the Gita press of Gorakhpur, instead. I have just started studying ‘I am That’ of Nisargadatta Maharaj, a Kabir like figure. It is very promising too.

Also, I have to admit that I haven’t read any of the basic suttas of Buddhism – but I loved Pankaj Mishra’s ‘An end to suffering‘ – which once again is recommended. Paul Reps’ zen flesh, zen bones is also recommended, incidentally – it being one of the finest collections of zen and pre-zen verses and tales.

One thing that peeves me NO END is our tendency NOT to go to the sources, not being even prepared to do the (ultimately rewarding) hard work but instead, to merely WORSHIP them; in my opinion, when this mindlessly holy worsthip business starts off, there is no enquiry at all – only the effect of the opiate would remain, as my old friend Karl Marx would have to loved to say; it is another thing, if we have reached nirvana and therefore there is no enquiry at all – but tell me who has reached this stage?

Given half-a-chance, we choose the path of least resistance, ALWAYS. We are very consistent in this respect. But then, world moves forward ONLY because of the folks who DO NOT choose the path of least resistance.

Ability to quote (from the bible or for that matter, from Das Kapital) is something that anyone can do, BUT, the ability to understand things is a few orders of magnitude MORE difficult. I for some strange reason, could rattle off many of the psalms of david and many passages from the old testament, may be because of the musicality of the intonations – in the wasted days of my childhood.

That, I went to a particularly tragic & sterile missionary school could have possibly been a reason – but then, I must admit that I did not understand what I was rattling off. My cup NEVER runneth over, at least it was so, then! It was like writing a million sriramajayams in a notebook, rather ritualistically, or doing namaaz regularly without ever ‘applying’ or being aware – oh what a waste!

(after all these tiring, and sometimes fulfilling acts of diligently going through these ‘religious’ texts, one may begin to understand that a Mohammed, a Krishna, an Arjuna, a Raama, a Raavana, a Gautama or a Judas or a Jesus were only human beings or figments of imagination of our fellow human beings or legends or even myths from whom we can learn – may be, then we can begin again)

As ‘Sipayi’ says in one of our personal conversations:

Don’t you believe this is how religions are misunderstood? Admire the Prophet for putting an end to infanticide, child sacrifice many other cruelties of his time. Admire Buddha, Jesus for their innovative schools of thought and relentless search for truth and answers. That does not make them Gods, but only students, pursuers and good natured; they never claimed to be Gods anyway.

(hope ‘Sipayi’ does not mind my quoting him, without permission)

Recommended films:

To Verdener – Two Worlds: This is a very fine Danish film of Niels Arden Oplev. It is about a girl who struggles to come out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses cult – and does indeed manage to get out. A good, to use the cliché – ‘a coming of age’ – film. More information:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1065318/

So many scenes and characters were reminiscent of the cute anecdotes of Anthony de Mello. It is based on a true story and I very strongly recommend it.

Interview with a Saint – Father Tadej (1914-2003): Tadej was a Serbian orthodox christian monk – Father Otac Tadej.  I got to know about this remarkable man only a few years back. The interview is so nice and in places, I could almost smell facets of our Ramana Maharishi of Tiruvannamalai in him. And of course, shades of our own Anthony de Mello too, what with his unorthodox views!

This is one of the nicest documentaries on ‘religious’ figures that I have seen. The film is in Serbian, therefore do insist on english subtitles if you want to get it. More information here: Information Service of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

10 questions for the Dalai Lama: This documentary of Rick Ray is splendid and well made – questions are relevant and answers, very candid and excellent. The fact that such folks are still walking the earth, I mean the Llama, means really something. It fills one with optimism and hope. More information here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0819354/

In all probability, NammaShaale MediaLib will have a copy of these three films, post summer vacation.

(my thanks to ‘Anu’ who provoked this listless list. But for‘her, I would not have found out about Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s website and the online availability of apophthegmata patrum! Whirled Wide Web, here we come)

Thanks & you can wake up now! 🙂

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Comments

  • wordrunk  On May 10, 2009 at 2:20 am

    I’d be interested in hearing what people think about religious or value education in schools. It appears that many kids today believe that we(many of us) are naive and over idealistic when we speak about religious tolerance (dont like that word much, it implies a judgement having already taken place). I believe that maybe thats because we understand too little about religion and beliefs and shy away from any discussions that may add to that understanding. How do we get children to be open minded, to see the good and eschew the bad in all belief systems? Can we teach values? Without being preachy or boring? There was a recent outcry from one set of kids whom a member of our family mentors, against our revered (?) father of the nation – too unrealistic was the consensus. Is that how they see all those who believe in a set of ideals / values?

    • Ramjee Swaminathan  On May 11, 2009 at 11:49 am

      Thanks for that comment, wordrunk.

      I don’t know whether you consider me as one of those ‘people’ – but, I am going to give my take anyway.

      I am of the opinion that Religious education is a good addition to any school curriculum – but the teachers of this would be really hard to find. It is one thing to find reasonable sciece or math or lagnuage teachers – but to find good teachers for religion would be a few orders more difficult. If this teacher is some nutty ‘missionary’ kind of guy, then the children and the school had it – it could have really lasting damages. The last thing one would want in exposing the kids to religion is, to reduce it to the following two silly things:

      1. Creationism Vs Evolution
      2. My God’s is longer than your silly God’s. (sorry)

      I am then drawn to the batallion of appalling parents – who have this monotheistic view of religion and that only their god is the saviour of the universe and all that stuff. How could one even begin to address this!

      I know for sure that warldorf (of that impossible Rudolf Steiner) have this religion accommodated in their curriculum – but I wonder how they do it though.

      Having said all that, when you mention ‘religion’ to folks – the instant reaction would be a gag reflex. I don’t know whether you have noticed this, woordrunk, But, this is slightly better than the case of monotheistic moms and dads.

      I think it is only because most of them have left their brains safe in their safe-deposit lockers, where as their bodies are doing time, what else!

      While on topic, I recently read a book called: Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong: And What We Can Do About It – by William Kilpatrick – a good book. I think you would want to read this book too – and you know who to ask. Details at: amazon .

  • Ramsubbu  On May 27, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Hi Ramjee,

    Could I borrow this book?

    I find this religin topic very interesting. But I have also heard people getting “enlightened” however briefly so, all the same, become “spiritual” after the intake 🙂

    If we can distinguish spiritual from religion clearly, you got it in. Many times I feel I am spiritual but not religious. Havent been to a place of worship for years. . .Kids are naturally spiritual. they have the “stuff” in already. If we, parents, could just stay away from dumping our fantasies and puranas onto our offsprings, blaming everything on god and fate, bribing gods with money and good eateries ( I love this part though!), they can see the white and black. Or white in black and black in white whatever.
    Religion, according to my limited understanding ( no kidding, I do understand somethings sometimes.), as practised widely is about amending the past or preparing for the future. Missing out here and now. If we could somehow bring this “now” business into the grasp of a child. . .but BTW, they are always there and then. So what do we have to do? Now, now now should be out mantra.

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