When I was young, and wide-eyed and naive; when I wanted everything here and now, I spoke to my maker thus…In poetry and prose…

you hold out promises
of rebirth
like holding out colourful toys
to quiet a stubborn child
when I want something
you can’t give

and you use words
that scare me
karma, prarabdha, vasanas,
stand
between me
and my desires

i don’t want rebirth
i don’t understand karma
all I want
is my life,
this life
to live over again

all i want
is fulfillment
of all my desires,
good or bad,
right or wrong

if you can’t give me that
don’t
give me empty words either

for of what use
is a second life?
of what use is a life
where even desire may never be the same?

do I sound like a stubborn child?
can I help that?
aren’t we all petulant, stubborn children
in the eyes of the maker,
if there be one?

is that why
my maker holds out only promises
in the way of holding out toys
when s/he can’t give us what we want?

Bharathi Ghanashyam

Does Hinduism encourage escapism?

Must one really shed attachment if one wants to attain inner peace and moksha? But what about ambition?

“Thy right is to work only, but never to its fruits. Let not fruit of action be not thy motive nor let thy attachment be to inaction” – Bhagawad Gita.

My relationship with both – my religion and my child – are much the same. Both are irreversibly symbiotic, the first because I was born into it, and the other because she was born out of me. I love both even at times when it is difficult to; and I owe allegiance to both, regardless of circumstances. How can you abandon either, child or religion?

But a good parent, and a good Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, is one who can be objective about the ‘warts’ as it were. Even so, as I set out to examine some warts that are evident to me in Hinduism’s basic tenets, I do it with a sense of trepidation.

At various stages in my life, doubts about my religious proclivities have assailed me (as they must have many). What were my true feelings towards being a Hindu? Did Hinduism encourage escapism? There is so much about it that confuses me. Beginning with the way this religion is practised. Replete with seemingly irrational rituals and indecipherable rules for worship, the same rules and rituals can be so full of meaning when interpreted in the right way. For instance, asking forgiveness of a tree before cutting it, as some tribes are known to do, reeks of meaningless ritualism. Look deeper and you find sound ecological sense in the ritual.

Hinduism also seems so escapist at times. Owning, or even desiring material possessions has always left me in a quandary. Must one really shed attachment if one wants to attain inner peace and moksha? Then where does that leave ambition? Doesn’t ambition come out of desire? Isn’t it a form of escapism to be without desire and therefore ambition?

Then again, let’s talk about wishing for the fruits of our actions. Doesn’t the Bhagawad Geeta say, “The action alone is yours, not the fruit”? Why would I act if I didn’t want the fruit?

What does my religion say about actions, right or wrong? Hinduism does not have any fixed theories about heaven and hell; it does not propound the belief of a ‘‘day of reckoning’’. On the contrary, it says your deeds in this life, good or bad are carried seamlessly into the next and you often reap, in the next life, what you sow in this. I certainly will not know what I’m paying for when I’m living out my next life. Convenient, isn’t it, this kind of amnesia? Does that mean I can sin in this life without fear? Some more escapism?

One can go on and on because Hinduism is full of such contradictions. But it is also a fearless religion, in that it lays itself open to interpretation and introspection. Look once, you will find one meaning, look again, you will find another. Each person, Hindu or otherwise, is free and welcome to delve into its mysteries and find the path and interpretation that suits him/her the best.

I have reached my own conclusions about the conflicts that have troubled me from time to time.

Right or wrong, I believe that above all, Hinduism teaches equanimity and acceptance. It equips you to deal with success, cope with failure and it teaches you the wisdom of taking the path of least resistance, the convenience of living like water. It shows you how to fit the vessel you are in at any point in time. But then I wonder, am I rationalising, am I being an escapist?

Bharathi Ghanashyam

First published in Deccan Herald 06 February 2006. More relevant now than any time ever.

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