Friday, April 29, 2011

K Haridas Nair Not all aspects of religiosity are on the rampage while neither is spirituality fully in slumber. Yet this is the perception one gets from the media today.

Every child is a gift of creation. Yet he or she gains a sense of identity through their upbringing. No one is born with a religion but most children are born into a religion.

Religiosity is about the rituals, rites and regulations, the dress code, the forms of worship and the nature of the belief in the transcendent. Every religion is distinctive in this area.

But every religion also has an essence that can be described as spirituality. This is more about the goal than about the path. While religiosity is about fitting in with the world as we know it, spirituality is about the inner journey and the contribution that comes from within to shape the reality outside.

When we talk about religiosity on the rampage we must first admit that no religion can claim the moral high ground. The problems are with Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhist and religionists in general and not with their faith. As religion is integral to identity it is very easy for this to be manipulated. Issues of poverty, class, colour, caste, economics and opportunities, to mention a few, can all take religious connotations even though at root the issue is often basically non-religious.

This is the challenge that issues of identity pose in today's world. The black-white divide in America, the religious divide in India, the linguistic and ethnic divide in Sri Lanka, the ethnic and economic divides in many African and Asian nations. All these divides hold potential to become religious divides because religion remains a very strong factor of identity.

Conflicts within religions is also an issue. Every religion has its own history and divisions: Catholic and Protestant Christians; Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhists; Sunnis and Shia's within Islam and the Shaivaites, Viashnavites and many other sects within Hinduism..

To move from an exclusive mindset to one that is more inclusive requires a different level of education. Those who have studied and found meaning and purpose in their religions are able to progress while those who have not studied remain vulnerable to the pre-packaged viewpoints of others .

There are two key emotions that shape any individual's journey through life. One is love and the other is fear. Fear, like water, flows to the lowest level. Love, on the other hand, is akin to climbing a mountain. Effort is needed.

When we go to our places of worship, what is our key motivation? I grew up a Hindu. I found I would go to the temple more willingly near exam time. I would pray like hell that God would do for me what I had not done for myself – ie pass the exams with flying colours. This was my kindergarten level of belief. Many today continue at this level of understanding, regardless of how well educated they are in other areas.

Learned graduates from top universities have been known to beat their wives and abuse their children. While secular knowledge is important when it comes to making a living, ‘knowing oneself’ is critical for all, no matter what our religion, when it comes to living a life of quality and meaning.

Without understanding ‘oneself’ how are we going to understand the ‘other’ and also God. This discovery is not done through the rational mind. It calls for silence, for deep introspection, for listening to the quiet inner voice and through developing a deep sense of connectedness.

Al Ghazzali the renowned Sufi saint speaks about four elements in the metamorphosis that turns an average person ‘from an animal into an angel’ Knowledge of self; Knowledge of God; Knowledge of the world as it really is and Knowledge of the next world as it really is. Until we know ourselves we cannot fulfil our potential as human beings.

The bamboo tree spends the first three to four years digging its roots deep into the ground before it shoots up to great heights. Without depth you cannot gain height and I believe this notion of depth is what spirituality is all about.

Throwing labels and slogans around just breeds hypocrisy. Instead we have to walk the talk and with humility begin to make a difference and ‘be the change that we want to see in the world’. Mohamad Asad the noted Austrian Muslim once said, ‘It was not the Muslims that made Islam great; it was Islam that made the Muslims great’.

So is spirituality in slumber? The more appropriate question is, ‘Are you in slumber?’ This is the challenge facing all of us.

This is an edited version of a talk given to an interfaith group in Kuala Lumpur in April 2011. You can download the full text below.

K Haridas Nair is Executive Director of an Educational Foundation in Malaysia, Vice-Chair of MRA Malaysia and is also active with several NGO’s in Malaysia in the areas of Inter-faith and Justice issues.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.