Sunday, January 25, 2015

Atheist who Prays

Today I felt very philosophical and thought this is the time to narrate my religious stance. This is not in any way an advocate of what is right or some nonsense like that. Religion or the lack thereof is a very personal choice. Why I'm writing is for my own record and I think it'll be an interesting read for people who like this kind of stuff. Plus, I really don't have the energy to hear debates on what I believe in.

So after all those disclaimers, let me begin :)

First, a little background about me. My mother is a religious person and my father is an atheist. When I was a child, I was brought up by religious rituals as well as the usual values of respect, honesty, service and discipline. I would not laugh at others for making a mistake. I would not hit people who hit me. On the downside, my childhood failings were anger and jealousy. By and large, anger is an emotion I've conquered but I'm not so good with jealousy yet.

I was a very religious person. If I stepped on a book, I'd think Saraswati would curse me and pray. If I was scared, I'd say 'Muruga' ten times until I calmed down. I went to the temple every Friday and prostrated before every idol. I prayed everyday with full zeal.

When I was about nine, I started having my first misgivings about prayer. My sister was thought to be deaf for a long time. My mother had tearfully prayed at every temple, promising all kinds of things, coconuts, flowers, a trip to Pazhani, what not. Finally, my sister started talking and listening and my mother packed us all off to Pazhani. A mix of bad planning and timing, that trip was one of the scariest memories of my short journey in life. I did not understand the concept, I did not see why we had to take so much trouble to fulfil what I could only see as a bribe. Isn't God supposed to be above all these emotions?

Amidst my turmoil and incessant questions, my father gently introduced his ideas. Now I know his leanings aren't entirely atheistic, as Dan Brown says, he has no problem with God, he has a problem with man's interpretation of God. He was extremely practical and reasonable, he classified the types of prayers and he went on to explain how each is a manifestation of an insecurity - fear, greed, guilt, injustice or ignorance. He also mentioned praying for everyone to be happy is also an acknowledgement of fear. I also explored my daily observances. A person's degree of belief in God was not directly proportional to their peace of mind.

Armed with my new found philosophy, I went around gloriously denouncing tradition and religiousness. At one point, my mother was moved to tears at my blasphemy. My father was utterly displeased with me. He told me all these ideas should not hurt others, love is really the only religion. He was also very convinced about Karma. I can recount several incidents where people who have hurt me unjustly have been punished in the exact same way, sometimes in much more measure than my suffering. Similarly, instances of my arrogance have got a sound beating.

I again straightened out my beliefs. But at this point, I lost my mind. I was by now thirteen and I realized one day I will die. I will cease to exist. It doesn't matter what I achieve, this is but a fleeting dream. I lost purpose in life. What is the point of anything?

So what did I do? I started praying.

I started praying everyday for me to live another day. I was very very sick as a child and I had no confidence in my body. My mind was restless once again. I started devouring religious books. Across religions, I've read quite a lot of stories, read about histories and observed similarities and dissimilarities. I also found religious texts overly prescriptive with no immediate logical explanation.

To me, the Advaita philosophy is very attractive. To my understanding, God exists in both the creator and the creation. Today my belief is centred on the power of life. To the people who believe God exists, God really exists because they are in some sense, a manifestation of God. To the people who do not believe in God, there is no God. The planet forms a delicate order from chaos where I simply do my duty regardless of the result. I'm no saint, sometimes I'm in body-ripping pain - physical and emotional because I cared too deeply about some result. And those times I pray fervently. I pray for peace of mind. Even though I don't believe mythological stories word for word, everyday I pray. Prayer is a way to surrender to my fate. Only my soul knows what hardships it has been through and what successes it has tasted. A prayer makes me independent. This new year, I resolve to reduce my complaints because I truly am blessed in many ways. Every instance of blinding agony has been followed by the sweetest agony.

I believe the science of prayer is such that I focus my mind away from the seemingly insurmountable insecurities that plague me. Praying gives me blind hope, blind faith and blind optimism. I also believe boundless hope has helped me develop an indomitable will. Or as some people say, a characteristic stubbornness. I still have a very long way to go. I am very sensitive but I strive to not let it show. I pray to someone who I do not believe in. I have my model of reality but I live on a fairy tale island where I can believe somebody else will take care of me. Also, I focus my energies into belief. I believe obstacles are removed by Ganesha. I believe it is my inherent belief that is responsible for me to believe in the seemingly impossible, perform in pain, work for something with no visible gain.

I believe in karma, and in some sense I pray to that. I believe every time I'm in pain, I wash away my own sins. I help others as much as possible, to the point of being taken for granted. I believe that's their karma. If someone has hurt me, I don't want to take revenge on them or celebrate their downfall. I observe. If I'm lucky and pure of heart, I do see karma work. My own weaknesses are jealousy and ruthless competition propelled by an underlying lack of confidence in myself. I pray, I have faith and I believe God has some grand design for me. Yes, the God who I don't believe in. I believe it's a psychological concept that gives me something to root for.

I am an atheist who prays everyday.

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