Religion – What are the words and sentences that can define it? Is it a belief or a set of ideas and attitudes? Is it a system of thought? Is it a value system or a code of practices? Is it a set of rules and more for a heterogeneous group of Homo sapiens to live in semblance of socio-civic order? Is it a conglomeration of customs and rituals? Or, is it a search for an intangible higher truth or reality?
To me, religion is all this and a little more. It’s a personal diktat. That comes from growing up in a modern Tamil Brahmin home, schooling in a Catholic convent and later learning at Kalakshetra, Chennai, where theosophy is the predominant slant of thought, yet dancing to religious myths and texts and working in a secular government office.
Religion is my intensely personal and private space, which I escape to, in happiness and sorrow. For want of better words, I call that space ‘religion’.
Tying to explain Hinduism to an American English professor, I said, “In Hinduism you could follow practices governed completely by rituals. You could be an atheist if you followed the Carvaka philosophy, or a pantheist treating the whole world as divine or a polytheist believing in a million deities. You could be a pluralist if you believe in Ramanuja’s Vishistadhvaita; a dualist if you believe in Sankhya philosophy or Madhvacarya’s Dwaita (which talks of two realities, Prakriti/nature and Purusha/God); you could be a Monotheist and believe in one God – or a Monist and believe in one Reality!”
“Phew!” he said, “You can never be excommunicated from Hinduism!” True, isn’t it? Hinduism encompasses every possible facet of religious enquiry. Yet each of us strongly believes that our predilection is the only way, and others are lesser mortals. But why? Didn’t the Rig-Veda say, ‘Ekam Sad Vipra Bahuda Vadhanti’: ‘Truth is one but sages call it by different names’. Isn’t this wide-angled vision what Hinduism is all about?