Coming full circle–my journey of faith

When I hear the oft-repeated assertion that one is an atheist or an agnostic, I idly wonder if they just mean that they are anti-ritual-of-the- Hindu-kind, which leads me to reminisce about my own turbulent brushes with dharma, over the decades.

My journey has been an eventful one, sometimes painful and at other times exhilarating, going all the way from implicit faith, to questions and arguments, to skepticism and rebellion, to an extended period shorn of religious rituals, and finally to implicit faith once again, as I complete my circular journey.

Though I believe that one’s faith is a personal matter and not meant for discussion or dissection, I wanted to share this special journey. This had been a stand-alone piece, but I have decided to add some chapters that I had mentioned, but passed over, in subsequent posts. Maybe it will help someone out there, who is grappling with dilemmas similar to the ones I had dealt with. So I have made this my opening article of the series. Please read and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments so that other readers may benefit from our experiences.

This post had the honour of being selected by my friend Beloo Mehra to feature on her blog Matriwords in three parts, embellishing it with stellar quotes and thoughts from Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s writings. 

—————–

 As a child coming from a devout family that set great store upon religious rituals, I had gone through the entire gamut of them–visiting temples and taking part in sundry religious activities. This included classes of Bhagavad Gita chanting, shloka classes, attending bhajans and going on prabhat pheris in the chill winter mornings of Nagpur–among other things. One had no say or choice in the matter of participation, but I enjoyed most activities as any child would.

My faith in God was so implicit that I was certain that He would somehow protect me from all dangers and problems. So when even after frantic appeals to Rama, I still found the street dog chasing me, or when the teacher asked for the homework copy which I had forgotten to bring, despite my frantic prayers that she should be absent–I didn’t for a moment question blame Him for letting me down. Instead, I firmly believed that it was only by His grace that the teacher had only scolded and not punished me or that the dog had stopped at chasing, without attacking me.

As I entered the teens, I was beset by confusion, doubts, questions and of course, half-baked knowledge of everything including religion and God! Ironically, in the face of my ‘knowledge’, all the doubts were suppressed. I discarded all my prayer rituals and adopted a superior attitude because I believed that I knew everything about religion and God. Hadn’t I gone through the religious drill and found it wanting, a pain even? Temples with their commercial approach, put me off them completely. And, when I heard bigots of other\er religions extolling their own and abusing others, I was put off big time. I wore a permanent sneer when matters pertaining to religion or rituals were discussed.

Fortunately, I didn’t sneer at God or question His existence, even during the most cynical phase of my life.

At the height of my cynical phase, I had had the temerity to even question my Father’s devotion. After all I could think of God without any prop, while he needed his murtis, mantras and pictures of deities. Didn’t that make me qualified enough to question his faith?

‘Do you actually think of God for three hours when you do the puja? I can meditate on God even if I pray for one minute,’ I told him, the superior tone and sarcasm scarcely masked.

Anyone who was steeped in ritualistic worship, would have been offended and angry. My Mother used to be. But Father’s reaction and reply took me by surprise.

‘You have really attained gnanam if you are able to do it and are infinitely greater than most of us who need an image, a vigraha or murti, or a temple to be able to meditate on God. As for the elaborate puja, if it keeps me busy for three hours, what is the harm? Otherwise I will drive your Mother crazy sitting at home’. The last said with a smile, as he had retired recently.

I looked up at him quickly to see if he was being sarcastic, but he was not. He meant every word in his infinite wisdom, for he must have seen through my pompousness, but felt that I had to find my own answers and that I would, eventually.

His reply should have humbled me, but I am ashamed to say that it didn’t–drunk as I was with my ‘enlightened’ state! If anything, it only made me cockier.

I grew up, got married, had kids, went through the ups and downs of life–all of which toned down my cockiness. I had by then realised the power of prayer. Articles and scientific study reports affirmed the same and these appealed to my ‘scientific’ mind. I prayed when I felt overwhelmed, I prayed when I was happy. And I taught the children to pray too. They had the freedom to pray in whichever manner they wanted but they were taught to acknowledge a God. After following all the rituals during festivals and other religious occasions half-heartedly for a few years post marriage, I finally told my Mother-in-law that I didn’t want to do them because I didn’t believe in them. She, like my Father, was understanding, but unlike him, was disappointed and upset for a while.

I had also started my slow descent to earth around that time. I still didn’t go to temples and didn’t observe any religious ritual save the lighting of the lamp in the puja, but stopped mocking those who did. It was the beginning of the transformation, albeit slow. I soon realised that I was but a miniscule dot in this vast universe and that I knew next to nothing about anything. What is it they say? ‘The more you learn, the more you realise you know nothing.’

I believed that I was following the path of karma that Swami Vivekananda advocated and busied myself with the business of life. Here too, my ego was supreme, as I thought that I was in control while going through the daily routine, working outside and inside the home. It was a while before I began understanding that I was able to do all that I did, only with Divine help.

With this realization, finally came some humility, I am relieved to say.

I remember another conversation I had with my Father during this phase.

‘Why does God let good people suffer so much? Is it true that those who reject Him are punished?’

‘What has God got to do with your own karma?’ Father asked me simply. ‘He gave you the power to think and act, didn’t He? You are only reaping what you sowed, not just in this life, but also in many other previous lives. And no, He does not punish anyone. It is your own fear and negative thoughts about your paapa karma that invite calamities and hardships on yourself.’

That sobered me up further, making me realise that each one of us is responsible for our actions and that, it is in our hands to shape our lives both in this and the next birth. God merely helps us along by giving us the strength and the wisdom to cope with events.

In the following years, first my Father and then my Mother-in-law passed away. I had become older and hopefully slightly wiser. But I had no one to bounce my ideas off. They both had had similar faith but diametrically different ways of reacting to questions on God and religion. One encouraged them and the other exhorted implicit faith and felt that questioning age-old beliefs was impertinent and disrespectful, to say the least.

I realised it pretty late in life not to reject or condemn something without trying to understand or experience it, to the best of my ability. This is a personal discovery as every experience necessarily is, and therefore bound to be varied. I rediscovered implicit faith; you might discover nirvana.

But the most important thing is to open our minds as we go through the journey, soaking in the experiences along the way picking up the lessons from the one or rejecting the ones from the other. 

Let me sum up the truths I realised along the way as I wandered through these paths over the decades:

  • God doesn’t ask for anything except devotion and faith; how you show it is entirely up to you. I have modified my prayers, started going to temples as I realised the powerful vibrations in them were healing, but I avoid the large and crowded ones as I need space and peace to commune with the Divine.
  • ‘Religion’ and ‘rituals’ are not synonymous or interchangeable. Rituals were put in place to with a specific purpose by our ancestors. For instance, funeral ceremonies often are theraupeutic, and even a cursory examination of those would make it apparent. By proclaiming to be an atheist, most are merely saying that they are against ritualsmore specifically Hindu rituals. I also realised that to be put off the Divine, looking at the rituals, is like missing the wood for the trees.
  • We are entirely at liberty to reject or adapt the rituals that suit us. Which is what I have done over the years. From completely rejecting every ritual, I picked and chose, as from a smorgasbord of them and formed my own set of rules and rituals. I have not imposed them on my family, as they are individuals capable of creating their own if they choose to.
  • I realised that Hinduism is the most democratic religion, perhaps the only one in the world. One can practice, not practice, be ritualistic, be agnostic or even be an atheist and still remain within the religion without fear of being excommunicated, penalised or punished in any way or persecuted for blasphemy. That is because it is a dharma and not a dogma. It is like being born to a set of parents–you can’t deny the parentage no matter what.
  • I realised or rather rediscovered the power of chanting. When I am disturbed or in doubt, I automatically begin chanting a mantra for that occasion. I have personally found its efficacy on countless occasions. The monotonous cadence and rhythm of the mantras have the power to calm and ground me when I am disturbed, even distraught.
  • I realised the meaning of secularism–not in the hypocritical political sense, but in the true sense. Most importantly, I understood that I didn’t have to be defensive about my dharma.
  • I realized that the state of women has little to do with Hindu dharma per se. Centuries of (mis) interpretation of our scriptures has resulted in the degeneration of the society and the status of women. It would be a great mistake to let such interpreters and commentators on the one hand or a few fanatics on the other, to turn you away from spiritual pursuits. Haven’t we had women galore from vedic times till some centuries ago, when they rubbed shoulders with the best minds and intellectuals, being rishis, queens and more? Try to find out more from authentic sources before judging and parroting western slogans on the empowerment of women. This is from someone who learnt it the hard way.
  • I realised that rejecting something without experiencing it or understanding it is like saying that a dish is sour or bitter by just looking at it without tasting. I had done this mistake during my ‘enlightened’ phase–when I had rejected Hindu dharma without understanding anything about it, because of some unsavory experiences taken out of context.  But never in my worst cynical phase had I turned my back to it or wanted to try another path.

To conclude, today when I do puja and go to temples, I do it in my way, out of my own will and understand why I am doing them. I find solace in the rituals that I have created for myself. An orthodox practitioner of these rituals might find them wanting in substance and form, but they are offered sincerely and with love, and I know my Deities accept the offerings.

What is more, I have returned to my childhood state of utter faith in God and His powers after a long and bumpy journey of discovery and understanding. And let me tell you, coming full circle has never been so satisfying!

.The turbulent teens

86 comments

  1. […] the earlier parts of the series here, here and […]

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  2. […] the first two parts of this series here and […]

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  3. shanayatales · · Reply

    I believe I first came across this post a few years back when Beloo had shared it on her blog. Then I re-read this a few weeks back when you shared it on Facebook, but I couldn’t comment because I was caught up in the chaos of getting things ready for vacation. But now that I’m back (from the holiday), I came back to re-read this one more time and share my thoughts here.

    But before I get into my thoughts on this subject, I want to thank you for writing this. I can’t tell you how deeply this resonates with me, and how eerily similar it is to my own journey of faith. Though I guess I haven’t come a full circle..yet.

    —-

    Like you, I was born into a very devout family. Where (MS Subbulakshmi’s) Kausalya Suprabhatam was the song we woke up to. So believing in God, trusting him, and turning to him for woes small and big was a way of life. There was simply no questioning it.

    And I don’t think I have ever questioned His existence ever – even as I went on a roller coaster similar to yours, when it came to questioning religious and cultural beliefs, but mostly the rituals.

    My current stance on rituals is – I don’t blindly indulge in everything, and I do question most things (almost everything) before I adopt them, but I am not a rebel without a cause either. Once I find a valid explanation, I almost never second guess/question it again. So you can say I treat Hindu rituals like a Buffet system, where I mostly pick & choose what suits me, and more importantly, holds meaning for me.

    And side note, but this is also the thing I love about this religion as a whole (even as I second guess the rituals) – the democratic and all accepting nature of it.

    That being said, like I mentioned earlier, I don’t think I have come a full circle yet. Because I am still not a regular temple goer or someone who even prays in front of the home temple on a regular basis. Even though my parents do, and so does my husband. He actually adopts the rituals without question, but doesn’t ever force his ideas on me. Like I don’t force mine on him.

    But I have to say there is a contradiction here. Not sure if contradiction is even the right word, but I’ll explain – so, while I don’t ever feel the need to go to temples or pray in front of idols at home, I do envy the people who do and find meaning in the gesture.

    Sounds ridiculous, right? I mean you would think (and rightly so) that why not do it then. What’s stopping me? Nothing really. But it also doesn’t feel important to me. Even as I envy others whom it holds meaning for.

    This is something I can’t explain even to myself in my own head, so I understand (and I am sorry) if I have thoroughly confused you. But I feel like while I am taking about faith & my relationship with it, this is something I cannot leave out. This contradiction that I don’t even understand myself.

    I am hoping I’ll figure it out one day though. 🙂

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    1. Thank you for this lovely comment and thank you for sharing the post on FB. I think blogs have become passe and unless shared on other SM, they don’t get the kind of readership they once got, even as recent as a few years ago. Yes, you must have read it on Beloo’s blog, but I updated it since and posted it as the first of the series I am doing on this topic. The next two (or three) are about the glossed over teen years of this journey. Do read them too.

      As for envying those who immerse themselves in rituals and find peace, I can understand it completely, as I used to have the same feeling towards women who seemed to be content with their lot in life. I knew I’d never be happy unless I had some control of my life, and yet I envied those who seemed to be none the worse for letting others decide the course of their lives. They seemed so ‘free’, if you understand what I mean! It happens when our better sense or reticence prevents us from letting others decide our choices, even if the option seems very attractive!

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  4. […] the post on my spiritual journey, Coming full Circle, I had mentioned my teenage years in passing as being turbulent, with doubts, scepticism and […]

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  5. […] especially during my teens, I had a secret admiration for many of his qualities. I have detailed in one of my posts, how I used to argue with him on the futility of his ritualistic pujas and parayanams, and how he […]

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  6. […] I wrote the post Coming full circle, I had not dreamt that one day it would be featured in one of the spaces I consider sacred and […]

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  7. […] of awe and deep beauty during every visit to her blog. One particular post of hers, titled “Coming Full Circle” touched me deeply. It was originally published on her blog more than two years ago. I have read […]

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  8. Zephyr, this is a gem of a post! Thank you for sharing your journey, so beautifully and in such sincere and heartfelt words. One of my all-time favourite Hindi movies is Guide. (I am a big-time Dev Anand fan). I have watched this movie countless times. And everytime when that scene comes on where this village headman tells Raju, the guide, who is now living as a Swami in the village temple – Bhagwan ke paas jane ke raaste bahut tede mede hain (something to that extent), I tear up. It is really this zig-zag of life that shows us our path to the Divine, isn’t it so?

    I grew up in a fairly religious family, with my mother following a few rituals – daily aarti (morning and evening) and observing some fasts etc. though she wasn’t very strict about the latter. But she never, like any Hindu parent, compelled us children to observe any ritual. Only during some special pujas like Diwali or once or twice a year we would as family participate in the whole affair. Whatever spiritual seekings my siblings and I have been on is perhaps a result of that freedom we felt growing up, freedom to pursue our own inquiries but to be done so in a spirit of reverence. There were some family conversations about existence of God and discussions on Ramcharitmanas etc which I fondly remember.

    I am myself not an overtly ritualistic person, I guess I wouldn’t even call myself a religious person as such. But I have tremendous faith in the Supreme Force- by whatever name we may call THAT, or we may keep That Nameless or Formless. But I fully respect people whose paths involve participating in rituals, because I think I now understand what these rituals symbolise and why they are necessary. Actually, come to think of it in many ways, we all have our own rituals of sorts (they may not look like rituals to us because we are so used to using this term to define other people’s practices. But if we are honest with ourselves, we all have some rituals that help us get to a concentrated place within us).

    I like the way you speak of true secularism in your piece. It reminds me of how I feel equally at bliss when I hear some bhajans or Sikh shabad or Sufi prayers.

    There was a time I couldn’t feel much in temples, but thankfully that phase of ‘closedness’ has passed. And now in most temples, with the Grace of the Divine I can find some sort of an experience, some beauty which stays with me. I am slowly discovering the magnificent temples of Tamil Nadu, there are so many to explore. So far have only scratched the surface (the famous ones at Thanjavur, Darasuram, Gangaikondacholapuram, Madurai, Trichy, and a few at Kumbakonam).

    I can go on and on, but already this comment has become way too long, so I stop here. Just want to say thank you once again for this most beautiful post! The concluding paragraph is so well written. Love and hugs.

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    1. Thanks for reading and liking Beloo. Your views mean a lot to me and you know why 🙂 Like your parents, mine had also left me alone especially during my teens when the questions begin and doubts are rife. Father was indulgent, mother unhappy. But all the stumbling and loss of way made me understand how each one has to find peace in his or her own way and in their own time too. I have come to the conclusion that the ritualistic path, is as good as the others and less taxing on my brain, which sometimes struggles to understand philosophical truths and abstract theories. As I have mentioned in the post, chanting is my favourite stress buster and comfort activity 🙂 Also as you have pointed out, we all have some ritual or the other but only when it has some religious connotation does it immediately attract the ire of the non-believer or agnostic. I am looking forward to one of your posts to complement this one — onw which will talk to me through Shri Aurobindo and The Mother’s words 🙂

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    2. What I like best about Hinduism is that it doesn’t lay down rules to be followed by us and makes us responsible for our actions and their fruits. When we have the power to shape our future in this birth and the next, isn’t it the most wonderful thing? There is no one sitting there to punish or reward us. The same with modes of prayer and practice of rituals. The rules are set by vested interests and we are entirely at liberty to reject or adapt them to our suitability. Which is what I discovered over the years. From completely rejecting everything, I picked and chose as from a smorgasbord of them and formed my own set of rules and rituals. You are right. We follow so many rituals without assigning any name to them, even not acknowledging that they are! I have said in many places that true followers of any religion have respect towards others. I remember a Muslim and a Christian friend of my father — he in his dhoti, turban and chandan on his forehead chatting with both on everything under the sun! So I can understand why you enjoy the various prayers 🙂 As for me, now I understand what my father meant that he needed props. I guess it is hereditary — I need them too 😀 But unlike back during my teens I don’t question the way people practice their faith, as long as they don’t interfere in another’s method or attack their faith in any manner.

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  9. I don’t believe in rituals because I have little time or patience for them. But I do believe in divine presence and believe every setback happens for a reason. How much we take from it and move forward depends entirely on our maturity.

    But I’m disappointed that certain sections of our society use religion to prove their superiority and to control.

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    1. G. N. Balakrishnan · · Reply

      The mere presence of spark of faith in Divinity, proclaims your mental maturity to blossom forth into a full blown Lotus in years to come. The rituals are there, only as a prop for beginners, having faith, but not the where with all for the Real Gnana, transcending these formalistic rituals. The factor of your faith in Destiny or call it as Fate, in all that happens around us, can reassure any one of similar thinking, to lead them on the path of rightful conduct, action and words.
      But as you rightly observed, when there are poor ignorant souls to be misguided-and exploited, there is bound to be a mush room growth of INSTANT MASALA of solution to every problem. One has necessarily suffer the deeds of one’s past Karma.

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    2. In life, we choose what we like/need and go ahead. The same way, it is about faith. We have to make our own selection and then find solace in it. And no, for me, faith is not just about coping with the unpleasant but glorying in the pleasant too. Sometimes it is unbelievable that there are nuggets of joy even in the most unpleasant and sorrowful times. Rituals are very personal and one should do what one wants to do. Period. The flip side of institutionalised religion is the need for one to prove one’s superiority and convert others to that belief, overtly and covertly.

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  10. I feel that when we are young we are cocky and question everything and want to make our own rules and regulations in life, but as we age, we mellow and mature and try to understand other’s point of view too and then life teaches us many things and we find a new perspective..atleast that was the way with me:) and now I see the same attitude in my daughter and DIL..

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    1. Very true Renu, except that maturity is independent of age and sometimes even the young are more mature than older people. Sometimes all it needs for the youngsters is for someone to give them the right reasons to do something than just say it is tradition or custom and then they will do it.

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  11. Extremely sorry for the belated comments on your article. An excellent autobiographical account of your metamorphosis from an unbeliever to a convinced convert to religious faith and its trappings. It is but natural for an youngster to skip what does not attract him/her and avoid all that is based on heresy and faith, not directly experienced through our senses, which dominates one’s mind at that stage of life. For most, they need the prop when they confront circumstances beyond their control. Your father’s sagacious advice, perhaps has kindled your subconscious mind to submit yourself for the path of destiny, which takes one to the highway of spirituality and faith. To tell you frankly, I do not go to temple exclusively to worship, but if I happen to pass through the temple, I make it a point to visit and pray inside the garbhagraha, with all my heart. But, being born in a family highly devoted to religious faiths and rituals, I did not question the implicit faith of the elders in my family. My father was a great devotee of Siva, doing Panchayathana Pooja and my elder brother a dedicated Sree Vidhya Upasaka, both doing daily Pooja with idols, lingas, tantras etc. As rightly mentioned by you, I used to / using to purposely avoid visiting temples on festivals days, when the swelling crowds, will vitiate the atmosphere of devotion and concentration, which is an essential element of faith and devotion. I firmly believe that a single MINUTE of concentrated meditation and devotion is more worthy than hours of distracted ritualistic practices. But knowing fully well that these rituals are only tools to engage more and more, a mind that is ever turbulent and wayward, I appreciated those who indulge in such practices, leading one gradually to the right path or GNANA or wisdom. Even to-day when, so much is being talked about against some religious leaders, I firmly believe that they have attained some stage of mental maturity and do not question them, as such,, but only pray GOD to give them the right method of approach, even if they have erred.

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    1. It is so good to see you here after a long time, GNB 🙂 I have missed your insightful comments. Contrary to what you believe, I was never a non believer, just someone who sneered at ritualistic worship. But my father, who also dis the panchayatana pooja and Ramayana parayanam every single day, gently prodded me towards introspection and understanding of my own psyche. But still it took decades for me to realise it. Temples still mean small ones where there is little disturbance for prayers. I didn’t have the courage to question the elders about rituals and their relevance when I was very young, but became bolder when I was a little older. Most of us need to go through these phases of questioning and understanding before being able to find our path, I guess.

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      1. My apologies to you for using a wring word. What I meant was that at such a tender age , adolescents are susceptible for such doubts and the factor of credibility urges them out of curiosity to question every thing till they are satisfied fully. It is the atmosphere prevailing in one’s environment, namely, the family, which primarily shapes the thoughts of the young individuals. Being born to parents with a devout faith in Hindu Shastras and rituals, the timely advices and guidance from the parents, put them on the right track, but the process of evolution takes some time for the faith to take firm stand. But in a number of cases I have known, this process goes on indefinitely, and the immaturity prevails far far longer. I was in Canada for 3 months, to visit my daughter and I could hardly attend to read such thought provoking articles, being engaged with my grand children. I was only spending my time frivolously with Facebook and Twitter and your articles deserving greater attention and concentration, led me to postpone my reading of such absorbing reading material to a later date. Hence my apologies for the belated comments.

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        1. It is perfectly fine for you to comment at your convenience and even reading my posts, GNB sir! I value them no matter when you comment. As you have rightly pointed out, immaturity sometimes lingers longer than the youth. It has nothing to do with chronological age, but the maturity of the mind. It is true though, that the young ones need someone mature, who has affection for them, to guide them instead of those with vested interests or are themselves confused.

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          1. I always look forward to reading your very illuminating and interesting postings. Thanks for understanding my problem in finding time to read and DIGEST the gem it contains every time. Thanks and regards. . G.N. Balakrishnan

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          2. Thank you, GNB for reading and liking 🙂

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  12. I am ok with any kind of faith that is not imposing. I am not very comfortable with overtly religious people. They make me very uncomfortable because after a point they want you to look at the world their way. I have a major issue with that.
    I do not pray regularly but I do have friendly chats with God at times. 🙂 And I have reached this point after going through major ups and downs in my relationship with the supreme being.
    Lovely post Zephyr!

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    1. Among all friends, God is the least demanding and the most understanding 🙂 One doesn’t even have to be religious to have faith. That is one of the ‘realisations’ that I had come to. But being religious is fine too. All we need is tolerance towards every kind of believer. Have you read Mitch Albom’s Have a little Faith? It is a wonderful book.

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  13. Lovely post and can’t agree more. Posts like these from you were sorely missed and glad to see you are back 🙂

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    1. Thank you, A-Kay. It’s great to have you back here too 🙂

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  14. I watched Anbe Sivam (with English sub titles, of course) last night with Vinni. And I loved how the protagonist (a communist, atheist) describes who God is – anyone who can shed a tear for a stranger is God, anyone who is willing to change for the better is God. I am God if I am doing a selfless deed for someone, you are God if you are doing that extra bit for another soul. Such a beautiful perspective to live by. Even though one is an atheist, one has faith in the power of goodness and selflessness – something that spirituality teaches too. This clearly diminishes the line that divides atheist and theist.

    This is a beautiful post that compels the reader to introspect their own take on faith, as is clear by all the lovely comments!

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    1. The movie sounds interesting. I remember a song from the old film Hum panchi ek dal ke, in which the lyricist says that can be found in the factories, mines, fields and so on — where human endeavour can be seen. There is an interesting observation about atheists. Even they have a belief — that there is no god. And in Hinduism, the atheist is considered the biggest bhakt of all because he keeps repeating the name of God and denying His existence 🙂 I decided to post this after a lot of thought and did only because many of us go through these doubts and confusions. The comments on my post always give it more depth. Thanks for yours!

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  15. Wow! This was beautiful!! Felt as if was reading about myself!! Loved it!
    Great to have you back in the blogging world!!

    Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!

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    1. Good to see you back, Deepak! Glad you liked the post and identified with my struggles.

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  16. I agree with the article. In its entirety.

    Religion, by itself, has to be left to the individual. Let them decide which way they want to go about it.

    I think I’ve narrated these anecdotes more than once. But still.

    My paternal grandfather once took his mother to Haridwar. Looking at the amount of muck and dirtiness around, she refused to bathe at the ghats. She said, “I’ll bathe in my own house and think that the water from my well is of the Ganges. And I’ll purify myself thus.” My grandfather brought some of that practical agnosticism with him to Mumbai, and raised his children with similar ideas. To the extent that my father can be practically defined as a complete atheist.

    My mother’s family is on the other edge. The community deity ‘resides’ at her father’s house, and my cousins still continue their religious services to the goddess every morning, that has continued, if I am correct, for atleast 4 generations before them. She was a bit frazzled, she once confided, when she came newly-wed and found that our house didn’t have a single picture of any god, leave alone a proper home temple itself.

    Growing in such a clash of cultures has given us a completely different outlook to life. Just as yellow and blue merge to give green, these completely different outlooks have given rise to new, different but not diffident, concurrent yet not similar, views within my family. My father has grown to understand that religion need not mean ritual, and can mean meditation too. My mother has learnt to identify which practise is blind ritual and which is necessary, and discard what is not needed.

    Me: I don’t care. Whatever brings me peace is welcome, whatever doesn’t, needs to be peacefully made to leave.

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    1. I am glad you agree with the post and yes, you have shared the story about your mom and her family and then yours. But some incidents and stories fit in and are relevant when they are recounted in multiple places and this is one of them 🙂 Your last line sums up the entire post in a nutshell ….peacefully made to leave… Well said!

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  17. Zephyr ! Excellent way of highlighting the faith, be it in GOD or higher power. Only one thing I know is that GOD is omnipresent………..and faith everlasting if you have one!!!! Thoughtful summation. Great post !

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    1. How true, Radha! Faith indeed is everlasting and helps us tide over a lot of rough spots in our life. Glad you liked the post 🙂

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  18. The sum-total of my understanding of Faith in my 44 years on earth is that everyone has a different version of it, and that it is ok to fall anywhere on a grade that runs from zero through hundred when it comes to Belief.
    And that I must bear no judgment on another person’s Faith. I have faith that that is the right thing to do.
    Great post, Zephyr.

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    1. Thank you Rickie. Yes that is exactly what I am trying to say! You have so succinctly summarised the over 1500 word laboriously done post in such few words 🙂

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  19. That was a beautiful write-up…

    Though I never lost my faith in the Almighty, somewhere along the way, I lost interest in rituals. But your post once again reminds me why many continue to do. Each one of us find comfort in our own ways. For me short prayers. wherever I am, at whatever time it maybe would do..but it may not be the same for another.

    Also, as you mentioned in your comment, rituals are a way of life/culture..once this is lost many associated elements will also be lost forever. So let me appreciate those who continue to believe in them irrespective of cheating priests, commercialization etc. I am sure even they had their moments of doubt.

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    1. Thank you Asha. I believe in short prayers too since that way I am able to concentrate on God better. But the pooja ritual and going to the temple are something that I have discovered to be of great solace and that is only in the recent past. The most important thing for me is that I am able to look at all forms of worship, prayers, lines of thought and lack of faith — all without judgment or rancour. That I find is the best result of this journey spanning several decades. Yes, the touts, the greedy priest and the rest must have their moments of guilt, but for them it is their way of making a living and God must have made a scheme for them to do so 🙂

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  20. I am half way through the circle…Probably…And I do believe in a Supreme Power , though I am not certain if it’s what we Humans perceive as ‘God’. Of-course , Science always had a justification for most of it , nevertheless , there definitely is a Super-Power who makes things happen….Having said that , I personally don’t feel like visiting those ‘Temples’ where God is supposed to reside…Not sure if we get to meet ‘God’ , we definitely get to meet a bunch of evil touts and commercialized Sadhus..who loot you on the pretext of communicating with God….I am pretty sure God doesn’t charge an Entry Fees in-order to listen to his followers…So what does this touts charge us for??

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    1. One of my ‘realisations’ says that God doesn’t expect us to worship in any particular way or visit temples. It is upto us to do what we feel is right, but first we should be sure of it and then embark on that path, else we will be restless and quick to offend or defend when someone thinks and does differently from us. Commercial temples can’t be wished away, but we can always stay away from them, can’t we? Even the most abstract thing like God is finding scientific basis — at least that is what the Boson particle is all about, or am I wrong? So it is best to keep one’s mind and thoughts open. One never knows what is going to be thrown up next in our lives.

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  21. You have depicted your journey through the various stages impeccably—-as only YOU can.I can glimpse shades of my own thoughts at many places but i have yet to come across a temple which accorded solace or peace.To me,it comes from my own thoughts and life experiences.

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    1. Why do you need a temple when you can find the solace and comfort in whatever way you are communing with the Maker or the Supreme being or Nature, or whatever else it is that you believe in? Temples and rituals are only incidental and not the norm. I was half expecting you to skip this post 🙂

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      1. Haha-no way….you know i was half way through the last post’s comments when the power went off and then i just lost track.

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  22. Our journey has been very similar, Mami. The only difference being that the journey was along with my parents. They were never much devout. Nor there were any ritualistic activities at home. The max was that the diya was lit, morning and evening and we had a puja ghar. So together we have grown. Today they follow lot of rituals. Mine is simple, chant my 16 rounds of Harinam, read some Bhagvad Gita and Bhagvatham, offer food to the Lord before eating and thank him for everything and it is done.It helps that we have wonderful association.
    When I compare myself to what I was 10-15 years back I find I am a better person. What is more, I am relatively calmer as all my anxieties have been passed over to Krishna 🙂

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    1. That is such a sweet journey, where two or rather three generations have gone together but found different anchors. I already know some of your experiences on this journey and sometimes envy you for them 🙂 Satsang has the ability to lift us above the mundane to the sublime but only if the group is really ‘sat’. I am happy you have found it. May God bless you.

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  23. Though I have unflinching faith in God I’m not ritualistic. I believe in the power of prayer deeply and feel I can communicate with Him whenever I want to…
    Beautiful post Zephyr ! Keep them coming…

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    1. That is what is needed, Chitra — the ability to commune with one’s God. The means hardly matter and rituals are one’s personal choice. As long as we keep our minds open, all is fine. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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  24. “The more you learn, the more you realise you know nothing.” Amen!

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    1. Right, Ashwathy! Isn’t life a constant learning odyssey?

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  25. Hi Zephyr, you are my favorite blogger. And this post reminded me why. Stunningly beautiful with its honesty and authenticity. I am so much at peace with the world after reading this. Thank you for writing this. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely.

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    1. Beautiful comment, Srini! You have expressed my sentiments too over here.

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    2. That is so nice of you, Srini, but I realise that I am nowhere near you in this department. I will cherish your warm words of praise. However, I would have loved to have your words of wisdom added to the post through your comments. I know you must be very busy, but if you find the time, do share them, will you?

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  26. BM, loved this post. Knowing me a little bit, you must be knowing my devotion and ritualism . 🙂 Mine is a total opposite story to yours. Mom was and is never into devotion, prayers, temples and all that stuff. As a kid, festivals only meant wearing new clothes, eating payasam and other sweets or grand parents visiting us. As a teenager, I was an atheist. At least, I thought I was. 🙂 In college, I was like you. ‘enlightened’ self. Would accompany friends to Baba temple every Thursday but never stepped inside. For some reason that he only knows, I started praying. From then, my faith continued. However, I haven’t been a temple person. I would like to go when there is no crowd and like you said, to find peace with myself and with my god. Now, I am not in the questioning phase anymore if God is there or not there…but my devotion needs to become more disciplined and regular.

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    1. Festivals are always meant to be what you have said them to be, at least for children! Only as grown ups, it us who have to make the preparations for our children 🙂 Do you know something? I have also learnt to believe that our very devotion is because of God’s will. Which is why you suddenly began praying even after being so enlightened 😀 I will tell one secret. The best way to start praying regularly is to thank God everytime something good happens — like no traffic on the way to work, for instance. That makes us also realise how many good things happen to us. Try it.

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  27. The second paragraph is called ‘positive thinking’ by non-believers! Very nicely explained. Many of us think like that, Zephyr. If we meet with an accident and come out with slight bruises, we think that our prayers have helped in minimising the injuries. Many people in my mother’s side do navagraha/ganapathy homas every month, just to reduce the negative things in life. It might be true or no, I don’t no.

    My son always quotes all the sanyasy/sanyasins’ sins often. He hates his parents visiting temples. I love to visit ancient temples. Never like the commercialisation or money-minded poojaris, though. Sometimes I stand at a distance and pray, hating the poojaris’ attitudes. No need to take vibhooti from that man, I would think.

    Your father’s statement is right, I feel. Celebrating festivals also is for the same reason. Otherwise we will never do appam or kozhukkattai on ordinary days, which is good for health…Jaggery items are very good for health. We will just follow the routine.

    I read the rest with so much involvement that I forgot to come down and comment to every paragraph, Zephyr. I also chant ‘ram ram’ whenever, I feel that I am not able to control myself from depression/tension. It works. Say it fast and it really works.

    I don’t know to do pooja whole heartedly/with 100% involvement. But I think I believe that something is there to take care of us and we should remember him.

    Enjoyed reading this post, Zephyr. Did post-like comment too!

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    1. Oh I still remember how frantically I used to pray when that black dog looked balefully at me 🙂 Isn’t it a good thing to believe than curse God? I have heard many elders say, ‘It is only due to the prayers of the elders that he was spared worse pain,’ haven’t you? We visit temples for a lot many reasons, which I had written in an earlier post. I go to the one opposite my house only because of the proximity and the quiet I find there. I might not go daily had it been a little away or not so quiet. I have avoided such temples where the priests are arrogant and only defer to the rich and powerful or those belonging to the community to which the temple belongs.

      As I have mentioned in Rachna’s reply, festivals are there to preserve culture and aesthetics of the people celebrating them. Leave alone prasad items, what about rangoli, decorations and dressing up? They all contribute towards celebration. Earlier, festivals and family celebrations were the sole occasions for celebrating, but now they seem to have become redundant since we party and celebrate all year round!

      Pooja for me is a ritual and as my father had said, if I am able to think of God for a few minutes without asking for anything, that is great. I am able to meditate on God more when I chant shlokas, especially in languages I can understand — Tamil or Hindi.

      Please don’t worry about the length of your comments. This is a place for discussion, so shoot away!

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  28. Life has come a full circle and that is what happens with those also not believing in God in their younger days!

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    1. Mmmm….I wouldn’t agree with you here SRA. I was a believer in childhood but the doubts set in during the teens and then the turbulent years. If I had not had rituals in childhood, maybe I would have clung on to some other form that appealed to me, but the underlying thing here is the implicit faith more than the mode of reaching God.

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  29. We are,well most of,very selfish.Generally,we think of HIM in times of difficulties.

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    1. That tendency changes with experience and wisdom, Chowlaji. We begin thanking God for the good things too. But I have heard elders say that God gives us difficulties so that we may not forget Him and that if we remember Him always, the hardships will reduce or at least become manageable.

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  30. lovely post, Zephyr!

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    1. Hey, this doesn’t read like an Anu comment! I would love it if you could share your own experiences 🙂

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  31. Cozy read, Zephyr! I grew up in an orthodox family that was quite devout as far as rituals went. To me most of it was amusing and not at all hard to go along with. Also, my Mom influenced me to a large extent, teaching me to live and let live. Eventually though, true faith only comes through experience, because, sadly we humans demand proof for everything. 🙂 Lovely post!

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    1. What gets my goat most often is the superior attitude of people who mock those who don’t conform to their beliefs or way of thinking. To me they are like my teen self, at least who had the good fortune of my father’s guidance! I used to hate festivals as a child because it made my mother tense and everybody was consequently either in a bad temper or tense. So I changed the rituals when I started observing them, making them manageable and easy for me and the others. Thank you for liking it 🙂

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  32. Though I am a believer brought up in an orthodox family,sadly I lack devotion.I rarely visit temples except a couple of my choice for I get easily distracted by the crowd and noise.I tell my prayers and chant slokas very early in the morning but very mechanically.My mind is restless when I pray or roll the beads and keep thinking of many things involuntarily unable to focus.
    I have read many spiritual books but they haven’t helped me.My only prayer to god is to give me devotion and ability to focus on Him.But I continue to pray and chant hoping one day, my mind will be tuned to God and remain calm.
    You seem blessed.

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    1. Sometimes we are able to concentrate even in a few minutes and at others not after hours, but as my father had told me, if it keeps one busy for that period and if it is like a regular habit, like eating and drinking, it is still fine. But why do you go through with it if your mind is not in it? Perhaps you should stop it for a few days or weeks and see the difference or lack of it. Then you can decide to go through with it. One can do a lot of things besides chanting shlokas or rolling the beads to feel close to God. Nature, a bird, the sunrise…anything will do. Even reading the Good Morning quotes you send out everyday is a prayer, KP 🙂

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  33. I am glad that life has come full circle for you in such a fulfilling manner. I loved reading the conversations you had with your father and how they helped you nurture your faith. I found them heartwarming. When we build our own belief system, it remains for a lifetime. If we blindly follow, it shakes us, makes our life hollow and leaves us cocky. As you rightly pointed out – It’s a journey of self discovery and each one is free to choose his own path, what matters perhaps is how much of conviction you hold that your chosen path will lead to the One you seek.

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    1. How right your are! The belief systems we build do stay with us, but it is important to make them after considering, weighing and choosing and discarding wisely. Often we are tempted to create the system based on second hand experiences or rhetoric and theoretical knowledge. If we have no patience to go through the experiences ourselves, the conviction and thereby the foundation are bound to be weak.

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  34. I have no knowledge of the scriptures and cannot quote religion or mythology. Unlike you, my upbringing was devoid of rituals. My mother kept a few fasts but never asked us to keep any. We celebrated certain pujas and took prasad without questioning what or why. We had a harmonious relation with the Supreme being. I remember praying in school as we were made to pray. Praying was a part of life. I prayed in the Chapel or a stray temple we went to. No one in our family took us to a temple even on birthdays or festivals. So, I was open to the concept of God, put off by rituals that I mocked and religion in turn. Then, I got married. My in laws were extremely ritualistic and religious. And, I followed the poojas and rituals gladly. I had nothing against God. Then, I lost my mother. One of the nicest people I knew, she suffered a lot from illnesses. That sort of made me question my faith in the Supreme Being because I had prayed the hardest to restore her health. Slowly, as I read about innocents losing life, corruption, the filthy thriving, my remaining faith in rituals left me. This world was not under anyone’s control, I felt. I still went to the temple mostly with someone else to honor their sentiments but not as much of a believer. I went to the temple on my mother’s anniversary to find some peace and pray but could not do so in the din. I still do pooja on Diwali and have a temple in my home. At the moment, I am at a neutral stage where I still maintain that there is a Supreme Power, even though it may not always do what you wish, yet I am completely put off by mindless rituals and exaggerated snobbishness around festivals. You can call me very confused. I remember that the first time my toddler son had an accident, my father advised to get a Satyanarayan katha done at home, something we never did at our own home ever. Of course, I got it done. And, I understood that the pooja was meant to calm my mind and control my emotions. Since then, I have taken on to chanting and meditation as a means to calm my mind. And like your father, my father has been so patient and understanding though never a religious man himself. There are so many shades of myself that I see in you, and I continue to learn from your wisdom always. Sorry for this long comment! Your last paragraph is just sterling! Love and hugs!

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    1. I too have no knowledge of the scriptures or religious texts, Rachna, which is why I envy those like Srini and Manju 🙂 As far as rituals go, sometimes a surfeit of them also tend to turn you off them. Perhaps that is what happened to me in my teens. My mother used to be upset that festivals brought out the worst in me 😀 You are right. Rituals are meant to bring not only discipline, but take one’s mind away from unpleasant things sometimes and at others, to nurture culture and aesthetics. I think I will do a post on this aspect of rituals one day.

      The incident with your mother’s illness can only be explained with my father’s reasoning. It is all in the karma of the sufferer and their loved ones, who suffer differently. Also, prayers are not meant to get what we want. If anything, we get what we should be getting and often too, things turn out for the best, if we have enough faith in the Supreme, though at that time they look like they are not.

      We do seem to share a lot of similarities, but unlike you, I didn’t go along with rituals after my marriage. You certainly are more tolerant that way 🙂 After some years of half-heartedly going through with them after my marriage, (for fear of expressing my feelings) I had picked up courage to tell my MIL that I didn’t want to do them. I have left out this part in the narrative. Thanks for bringing it up. I will add it now.

      As for the length of the comment, please don’t worry. You know me, don’t you?

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      1. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so tolerant if I was living with then :). I left for the US with my husband soon after the marriage. Now my mil knows that I am not into daily pooja or doing diya etc. and she seems to be fine with it. We sort of give each other the space we need. At least I know that I do. Again, she does not live with me, so she may just put up with my behavior for the limited time she stays here. But, I do have a lot of love for her because she handled me with patience. I have always been a woman of very strong views though I do make my point to my elders with utmost respect.

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        1. One can do small and big things for each other if there is enough love, right? It makes it easier though, if the things you have to do are against your grain and you feel forced. So it is best to come out clean and have a heart-to-heart. It will be hard to begin with, but makes for better understanding all round. Ah, yes, I know how much you value respect to elders. Hugs.

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  35. My dear Zephyr — To each his or her own. And in their own time. Peace and love – Joe.

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    1. I understand you perfectly, Joseph. We all come to our own conclusions and choose our paths, but the most important thing is to let be. For everyone needs to find his or her own depth. Nothing can be imposed for it to be effective.

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  36. Very thoughtful post, Zephyr. You have evidently been reflecting on this subject quite a lot.

    It is put forth in the Rig-Veda that “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti.” “Truth is One, sages call it by various names.”

    There are so many ways to reach the Truth. Who are we- mere mortals- to say that observing rituals or not, believing in a certain form of God or not, going to Temples or Churches or not going, is the right way?

    “Don’t ever be tempted to reject something without trying to understand or experience it, to the best of your ability. “- I completely agree with this advice!

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    1. How I envy your felicity with the scriptures and how you quote from them at the drop of a hat! Yes, we are mere mortals, but tell that to a cocky teenager who knows it all! I keep marvelling afresh every time I remember my father’s calm response. Had he scolded or put me down, I would perhaps never had the courage to stumble on the path to learning. And yet, he was a very simple man, who didn’t let his knowledge make him unapproachable. you are right, I have been contemplating about this subject for a long time, and when I began writing it sometime ago, the focus had been different. If I had continued in that vein, perhaps it wouldn’t have resonated with as many people.

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  37. Such a beautiful post. Thank you for writing this. Although I am still in my cynical phase, I’m but slowly making a conscious effort of completely surrendering before ‘The Supreme Power’ and, also respecting others’ methods of reaching ‘Him’!

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    1. Thank you Maya. Once we realise that we need to look not only around us but also inward, we begin to see the confusions dissipating and us being able to find clarity. But most importantly, we need to keep an open mind. That is the most beautiful gift we have been given and we insist on cluttering it up with preconceived notions and half-baked knowledge to come up with terrible conclusions. How I envy the youngsters who have clear vision in their lives!

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  38. Beautiful. Very Beautiful. I hope you are back for good because the blog world really needs you.

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    1. Great to see you here, Ruchira! Thank you for liking the post and thank you some more for the ego-booster 😀

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  39. So far my journey has been trod upon like the above…my faith in universal energy is higher than any religion and that makes me juggle all my pains and problems of life as I complete my full circle.

    Well written article and I wish you peace and harmony!

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    1. Faith doesn’t need the props of a religion, but there is nothing wrong if it is too. We just need to be open enough to accept that belief, worship, prayers, lack of belief, all are part of this journey of discovery. Humility helps to a great extent, which is why it took me so many decades to find my path.

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  40. This is a beautiful blog post. It resonates with me so deeply. Thank you

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    1. I am so glad it found an echo in your heart. Ritu. Actually, we all go through these phases, but the outcome is different for each one of us.

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  41. Let the world be…yes. If we only stopped trying to fix each other wanting to box everyone into same categories or tell them they are wrong if they don’t fit in..wouldn’t the world be in a better place? A lovely piece..trully coming a full circle

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    1. Thank you, Bhavana, for liking and also sharing the post. This one was asking to be posted for a long time now, but the time came only today 🙂 We are so sure of ourselves and our opinions that we are hell bent on changing the world. Tolerance has almost vanished from the earth.

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