Assimilating a Notion

     Many of us are tempted to ask. Why a belief? What is the meaning, purpose, and significance of a belief? Where was the origin of a belief, a casual encounter or a purposeful progression, its scientific understanding of how something happens, not quite why, the evolution of faith and its diversification, the parallel, purposeful, diversified establishment and growth of such beliefs, the intent of establishments and the tactics of spreading and marketing the beliefs? Fascinating, yet, perhaps not always appreciated.
     Why do human beings need a belief in a supernatural power? How has such a belief been universally understood and practiced based on a very similar concept of a divine head, termed god? Why does it have to be practiced through an organized entity called a religion? If the ultimate concept is the same, how is the approach and practice to attain the destination been so diverse and dissimilar? How did such an indistinct, indistinguishable, formless, and unseen entity gather such an ultimate, overwhelming, ubiquitous respect and universal submission?
     Obviously, there is a compelling reason, a need, and demand for such a collective, human surrender. Those who believe in the divine concept belong to a variety of shades, from those who blindly, faithfully and steadfastly assimilate the celestial reality to those who derive at that notion with an intellectual and even scientific elucidation from learning the scriptures; and a vast majority spreading the spectrum at various degrees. Each of these adherents has arrived at their comfort levels for reasons convincing and comfortable to themselves. And to all of them, the conviction gives them enough compelling reassurance to adhere to the practice of their choice.

There is a need for a God!

     The origin of such a dominant, commanding practice transcending all the barriers that exist in human civilization must have evolved on similar grounds. It must have appealed to the needs of the common man who found solace in such a finding as much as it satiated his curiosity and thirst for finding the ultimate truth. From its beginning, the faith must have gathered enough understanding and convincing pieces of evidence through experience that it spread along various routes and beliefs to far corners of the earth. After the initial establishments, the various faiths must have grown along diverse paths and philosophies, influenced and motivated through different interests based on its organization and visions of its leaders. Most of the religious establishments took off in different directions, got divided into a multitude of sub-organizations based on similar philosophies but conflicting ideologies and vested interests. Such developments can be traced in explaining the ongoing fights between factions of the same religions, often much worse than the ideological differences between totally different religions.     Basic and absolute traits that are essential to enhance the quality of human life are righteousness, morality, and spirituality. It requires a certain presence of mind that qualifies to analyze, evaluate and tabulate such traits and to establish purposeful criteria for a meaningful life. The definition of each of such qualities may vary within the confines of the understanding of the individual based on their upbringing and the extent of the accumulated value system. Even though such education and realization of values normally arise from a religious background and upbringing, an adequately intelligent human being can practically assimilate such values from lessons learned from day to day living. If one pays attention to life surrounding them, gets interested in observing their abilities, limitations and eventual outcome of every little event that happens in their life, it does not take long to figure out the design of things and the overall impact of one’s own input. The criteria that one applies and the philosophy of how it is applied to evaluate such an outcome may depend upon the religious fundamentals and tenets that are imbibed in one’s mind. As much as most of such teachings influence us in a positive and productive way enhancing our own lives and contributing to the benefit of others around us, there is a tenacious minority who is misinformed or tends to misconstrue such information and negatively utilize the glory of sublime religious teachings.
     ‘Dharma’ in Sanskrit may not have a better equivalent in English than ‘righteousness’. Essentially it is an expectation, perhaps with some divine connotation, from a human being to utilize his or her life in a very sublime fashion. It is a standard set from guidelines generated and prompted by one’s moral and ethical conscience to conduct his activities in the most profound manner. One is expected to use his own parameters to propel and navigate his deeds within the righteous guidelines that glorify his birth as a human. Human beings are subjected to their own mental scrutiny about every decision or deed that they undertake, as an ongoing process happening constantly during their waking hours. We could say that such decisions, even though they seem to be automatic and habitual, are screened and processed through the conscience of that particular individual before they are released and applied into action. Every such screening process is influenced by a sense of righteousness of that particular individual, perhaps with variations based on fluctuations within the broader personality of the person.
     Morality similarly is a measure of dignified human behavior that is built around broad yet distinct doctrines applied and understood in a global fashion. Morality transcends restrictions and limitations of racial, linguistic and religious barriers and essentially reflects on one’s proper rearing and ethical surroundings of their upbringing. It is measured by universal codes of conduct that have created certain unwritten rules understood and practiced by most of the societies around the world. The sense of right and wrong as accepted by the societal norms is the ultimate and decisive yardstick that determines the ethical standing of a people. A subjective assessment, for whatever it is worth, of a particular group of people as a social order may be made based on their sense of morality that usually guides their behavior.
     Spirituality, on the other hand, is the framework that fills in the essential philosophic elements that are cultivated from one’s particular religious education and understanding. It is hard to conceptualize an attitude of spirituality without the backdrop of a religiously cultivated mindset. During the formation and progress of each religion, such philosophic doctrines are incorporated into their folds that help to spiritually guide its followers in their fundamental behavior. Such principles form the foundation and practical guides in all matters of their spiritual dealings.
     It is interesting to observe that as much as every religion educates, preaches and expects its followers to abide by certain noble doctrines as instructed by its founders, such endeavors from totally different sources surprisingly zero in on very similar results. If one painstakingly follows such teachings from any religion with devotion and honesty in an attempt to attain the offered enlightenment as the ultimate goal, the results are likely to be very comparable, if not precisely the same. Even if such an eventual goal may be limited to very few divine personalities, spirituality as a purpose and as a philosophy enhances and elevates human life. Yet the sad irony is that distorted interpretations and dubious approach and applications of religious guidelines are what we often witness today as diabolically opposite to what is meant of spirituality. Furthermore, in spite of the fundamental similarities of the various religious philosophies as well understood by the scholars, there are even purposeful manipulations or misinterpretations that tend to compare and claim that each has superiority over the others.
     To accept and stay comfortable with the perception of religiosity arise from a conviction that such is essentially a requirement of attaining totality in life. In most societies, such a fundamental philosophy is inculcated and as one grows up, it becomes ingrained into their elemental personality and way of life. Perhaps out of fear of the unknown checking on one’s behavior and thus restricting and screening every decision before one converts such into action, the belief becomes part of the inner guiding force. Such a belief not only guides one through proper channels as dictated and approved by their upbringing, but it also provides a cushion of comfort on which the believer can rely during their times of duress. Thus belonging to a particular religion encloses them in a fold of acceptance of divinity that provides the comfort of confidence and a safe haven of shelter.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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