Another question from a Hyderabad youth:
Why should I choose to find enlightenment? In religion or God? Or anything for that matter. If I choose to believe/follow some religion or god, nothing changes. The sun would still rise in the east and set in the west. I wake up daily and mind my own business. I am born into a typical Brahmin family and my parents pursue me to follow religion and do puja. My views on this matter are a little different. I don’t follow any religion or god, and I don’t pursue others to do what I am doing. Why don’t people just understand that? Someone wants to follow a religion or god, by all means they can, I am not stopping them or against them, why cannot people think in the same way?
Good question. But this is not new and from time immemorial the same question was asked in different times by different people in different ways. And we Hindus have a long tradition of Charavakas (also called ‘materialists’) and in the ancient time (in Greek I think) Epicureans (‘eat, drink and be merry; tomorrow you are going to die’).
The first thing that we need to understand about religion is that it is not the correct word to translate ‘dharma’. It is a not the correct English word for particularly translating any of our Indian sampradayas. Similarly ‘philosophy’ doesn’t fit our term ‘dharshan’ as western philosophy is completely different from Indian (though I am not competent to talk much deeper about this).
So I agree with you that choosing any religion, thinking about Hinduism as another religion, is very difficult. At the same time we have to live with the reality that Hinduism has also gained this new identity and we have a place for using it in similar way. So according our Indian tradition (also according to our Constitution, about which I am not too familiar) following Hinduism is not following some religion. It is a worldview, culture, tradition, way of life, civilization, etc. So when you remain or follow the so-called Hindu religion, you are not following or remaining a Hindu because of its ‘religious’ identity or connotation but with all its various meanings and scope.
Regarding the sun rising and everything going on routinely, it has nothing to do with religion or spirituality. (I prefer to use the word ‘spirituality’ to religion, though that too is not so simple.) It is a search for our own personal need as a ‘human being’ who is in so many ways different from the rest of creation (provided if you still believe in ‘creation’).
So with a God or without a god, you can still search for some spiritual truth that will help you first to remain a human to yourself and to others so that you can relate to them in a more meaningful and useful way for both you and others.
Regarding God I have only one thing to say. As J.I. Packer said in Knowing God, “Your god is too small.” All our conceptions about God are our own making. I often say that if we can comprehend God or express about Him/Her/It without the limitation of our human mind, then He/She/It still will remain less than our mind.
Finally I agree with you that one should not interfere in the freedom or right to choose any path or sadhana that best suits a person. But if you ask “Why can people not think in the same way?” then you are doing the same thing you are blaming others for. What I mean here is this: you expressed your view that you don’t like others to impose their view upon you or anyone. Similarly you cannot expect them not to do what they think is correct according to their understanding. For example your parents have every right to teach and guide their son in what they think is best for him. But they cannot superimpose it on you. If you, as their son expect them to do their ‘dharma’ to give all the best for you from their lives, this too is part of that package. They have every right to share their view about their tradition and think that it will helpful for a son to follow his ‘dharma’ (putra-dharm=dharma as a son). How they do it is a different question, but as their son you cannot question their motives, as that is their dharma as parents.
More later. And here I would like to end this with a quote that will go well with our questions on so many things:
Fish gotta swim
Bird gotta fly
Man gotta sit and say
Why why why
— Thomas McEvilley, Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, Delhi, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, (2002), First Indian Edition, 2008. Foreword. pp. xxxi-xxxii.