It is difficult to choose one favourite writer because there are quite a few whom I admire. However, for the sake of the latest Indispire theme, I pick Nikos Kazantzakis because of his particular relevance in today’s India which is being torn apart into fragments by certain political forces which pretend to have religious motives.
Though the Greek Orthodox Church considered excommunicating Kazantzakis for writing the novel The Last Temptation of Christ, the idea was rejected because even his bitter enemies could easily see that Kazantzakis was more spiritual than the religious leaders. When the clergy was campaigning ferociously for his excommunication, Kazantzakis’s reply was: “You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I.”
He was not exaggerating. The tragedy with most religious people is that they don’t explore their religion as deeply as people like Kazantzakis. Deep exploration is what makes the religion genuine. Those who pursue such exploration experience both the agonies and ecstasies of spiritual quests. Kazantzakis experienced them and transferred them into his fictional characters.
Jesus is a dominant character in many of his works. The Jesus in The Last Temptation is torn between his divine mission and his human passions. While Christian theology admits the dual nature of Jesus as both man and god, it is not willing to give the human side its due. Kazantzakis’s Jesus goes through the agonies of a normal human being with his need to love and be loved, to enjoy the delights of human relationships including sexuality. The spiritual side wins in the end, after much doubt, fear and guilt.
It is necessary for any spiritual seeker to go through those doubts, fears and guilt in order to confront the divinity within. Most people take the short cut of accepting the truths given by the scriptures and the religious authorities. Most such people just go on through life doing their jobs and fulfilling their duties including the religious rituals. God is a kind of panacea for them, a shelter in times of trouble and a psychological buffer in other times. If such people face problems of identity, they are likely to wield their religion as a weapon against the people belonging to other creeds. Those with some criminal inclination are sure to exploit the negative potential of religion as a socially divisive force.
What I admire most about Kazantzakis is the genuine agonising spiritual quest undertaken by his protagonists. Zorba the Greek is arguably the best novel of his. The narrator of this novel is in search of the Buddha while Zorba, the protagonist, is an anti-Buddha with his intense passion for life and its sensuality. When the Buddha teaches us that human desires are the cause of our suffering, Zorba teaches us how to live happily with those desires.
Zorba teaches us that happiness can be as simple as a glass of wine and some roasted chestnuts. Zorba has learnt to have no ambition and yet to work like a horse as if he had every ambition. He lives far from men, has not need of them and yet he loves them. Life, for him, is as beautiful as a fairy tale.
A little madness is essential to be happy, Zorba teaches us. Those who seek to be perfectly sane, those who calculate their profits and losses accurately, those who live by the rule book are not worthy of the paradise that Zorba reveals to the narrator.
PS. Written for Indispire Edition 171: #FavoriteAuthor