“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature,” declared Joseph Campbell, illustrious mythologist. Myths, rituals, and prayers help in making our heartbeats match the beat of the universe.
It’s about the harmony between oneself and the world outside. It’s about discovering the meaning of that world in spite of its apparent harshness, absurdity, and terror. It’s about discovering the harmony between the self and the universe.
Literature has helped me much in the process of discovering that harmony. Any good work of literature makes me probe the defences I have erected against painful truths about me as well as the world outside me. Good literature chips away those defences. Truth is revealed through a alchemical process. Good literature also has the potential to heal the ruptures caused by the chipping away of the facile inner illusions and self-delusions. Good literature takes the reader beyond his “intellectual games and ego-preserving strategies,” to use Rollo May’s phrase.
What literature does for me, religion may do for many others. That’s why I don’t question people’s faith. Religious rituals, superstitious as they appear to a rationalist, have many psychological functions to fulfil. The sacred thread given by the priest at the temple and attached to the bike may not have any power to save the rider from accidents as far as science and logic are concerned. But the faith of the rider in that piece of string has magical powers. Magic lies in the heart of the believer. Magic lies in his faith.
I am unable to accept religion and its rituals simply because they don’t resonate with my heartbeat. In fact, my heartbeat goes berserk when I’m faced with religion most of the time. I endure the agony of dissonant beats because of circumstances. I’m a hypocrite to the extent I endure that agony. I pretend to the society around me that I’m religious so that I don’t hurt their sentiments.
I wish the religious people possessed the same magnanimity. The magnanimity to respect other people’s beliefs or lack of them, other people’s practices however stupid they may appear to an observer. The problem with religion is the lack of that magnanimity among believers.
That is because, I think, for most people religion stops at being that magical thread on the bike or some such miraculous symbol and nothing deeper, nothing that has touched the core of their hearts making the beats resonate with those of the universe.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 115 #rituals which asked the question: “We Indians give too much importance to rituals...visiting a temple on a particular day , fasting for religious reasons...are these relevant in this age ? or they are just a solace to fight our fears and insecurities ?” [Maya Varde]