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Guest Column

Religion and its Repercussions

Dr Sanjaya Gajurel

In the morning during Swasthani Barta Katha (story involving Hindu deities), my grandfather used to narrate the story which was quite impressive. He would not balk to elucidate the smutty contents in that sacred book such as linga (penis and vagina) and sambhog (sexual intercourse) though my grandmother would poke him intermittently feeling embarrassed. According to Hindu belief, Swasthani fulfills the wishes of devotees taking the fasting and reciting the book. Sometimes, I used to take a turn and after his death, I took over him. Though, I always loved to read it, I still felt that the story actually symbolized the male dominant society; devaluation of women and exaltation of men. Goddess Parvati had to meditate for years to get Lord Shiva and she was later rigorously tested for her fitness to be his wife. You can see almost all the main gods or prophets in every religion are males. In Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara; in Christian, Jesus Christ, Muhammad in Muslim, Mosses in Jewish and, so forth. Still today, women are struggling to get the same rights as male counterparts. One does not need to gesticulate the tipping of the scales in favor of men in those days. When the brawn was much more powerful than the brain. Male being physically stronger than female always had the edge to be the ruler. It is evolutionary. Women, as children bearers, were responsible for household chores and taking care of offspring whereas men were out there hunting and engaging themselves in other physical works.

The religion started out of ignorance and general funk and, hence, it is uncouth in itself. People did not have knowledge pertaining to things transpiring around them. So, they imagined that someone super powerful must have been residing in the sky watching their activities. The incessant pelting rain causing inundation, natural fire in the forest, earthquake eruption, and tornados were assumed enacted by that puissant extraterrestrial critter. So, people engaged themselves in worshipping and immolating animals to please it as God. By trials and errors, as well as through passed down observations, which later got ingrained in people, they created rules favoring the mighty ones. The rules were implemented in an inappropriate way to discipline people; making them conscious about the dismal outcome with bad karma and misusing it. In this 21st century, we are adhering to the same religion having ambiguous foundation and are waging war in the name of religions.

The dictionary meaning of a Religion is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often subsuming a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”. The genesis of religion can be traced back to the “ancient Near East” (www.wikipedia.com), the home of the early civilization consisting of the modern middle east, Mesopotamia (current Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeastern Syria), ancient Egypt, ancient Iran (Elam, Media, Parthia, and Persia), Anatolia/Asia Minor (modern Turkey), the Levant (modern syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), Malta and the Arabian Peninsula. According to Epstein, Greg M. in Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. New York: HarperCollins. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-06-167011-4, 2010), "Essentially all the world's major religions were founded on the convictions that divine beings or forces can promise a level of justice in a supernatural realm that cannot be perceived in this natural one." The imagination of people is pertinent to the existence of supernatural being in the form of prophet or god, seeking for the comprehensive answer for human problems and sufferings. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity are the major Religions in the world.

Nepal has a Hindu majority. Hinduism, often considered the “oldest living religion”, dates back to the late Neolithic (New Stone Era) in 5500-2600 BCE and includes a wide spectrum of practices and philosophies. Hinduism is also known for the religion of Vedic Period (1500 BC to 500 BC), period during which the antiquated scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad Gita, and Agamas) of Hinduism were composed. Vedic literature is divided into two categories: Shruti (which is heard and traditionally understood as revelation) and Smriti (which is remembered as stemming from human authors) that discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, rituals, and temples. The laws and prescriptions of Hinduism are based on the notion of deed (karma), Law of Nature (dharma), and societal norms having distinct intellectual and philosophical outlook. The word Hindu in Sanskrit stands for Sindhu, the local appellation for Indus River.

There is no founder of Hinduism as it was the culture that flourished and took a religious form. Demographically, it is the third largest religion. According to pantheism belief (Nepali Hinduism), there is a single God (Ishwor) and Ishwor is the entirety. The three main Hindu deities - Brahma (creator), Vishnu (preserver) and Maheshwor (resolver and re-creator), are the manifestations of the one supreme God, Ishwor, and form the Hindu Trinity. Other 330 million gods are the derivatives of these three main Gods based on the role and the cosmic tasks. Hinduism believes in each living being as a unique manifestation of God or God is residing in each of us in the form of Atma (Soul). Hinduism has belief in reincarnation determined by the deed in this life. Also, it believes that after death, saints go to heaven, a reward for their virtues. The damned wind up at hell, a castigation for their vices. Hindus pilgrimage in later stage of their lives seeking expiation for their crimes or sins if any targeting heaven. Hinduism is a religious tradition and tolerance to differences in beliefs of other religions. It grants the complete liberty of beliefs and worships and, hence, has no hard-line common set of beliefs.

The Vedas (knowledge in Sanskrit) are the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. There are four Vedas Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda, all organized around canonical collection of verses; individual verses in these compilations are called mantras (spiritual transformations). Vedic mantras are recited at prayers, religious functions, and liturgies for various reasons such as dispelling devils and as blessings. The first three vedas are related to sacrifice (yajna), offering of food, objects, animals, and even human to God as an act of propitious or worship. For example, oblations (ghee, milk, grains) are poured in the divine fire (agni) to reach to the gods and attain certain wishes. The fourth Veda is the collection of spells and incantations, contemplative hymns, and apotropaic charms; incantations for exorcism as an example. Upanishads are philosophical Sruti (heard). Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra are the main Upanishads which are components of monastic schools of Hinduism. There are morals like “Karma gara phalko aasa nagara (carry out good deeds without expecting fruition of your deeds)” in Bhagvad Gita. Puranas are the narratives of the chronicle of the universe from creation to destruction, genealogies of kings, heroes, and descriptions of cosmology, philosophy, and geography. Mahabharat is the longest Sanskrit epic narrative of Kurukshetra war between Kauravas and Pandavas authored by Vyas that portrays victory of the right over wrong. Ramayan is another Sanskrit epic that depicts the duties in kinships and portray the victory of virtuous over wicked.

Buddhism is more of a philosophy - “the rational inquest of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct” - than a religion, as it teaches Buddha’s Noble Truths: the sufferings and their causes and the ways to the cessation of suffering. Buddha was the founder of Buddhism, who got enlightened and initiated teaching a path to enlightenment through his experience around 6th and 4th centuries BCE. Buddha was born into a Royal Shakya kingdom as Siddhartha Gautam in Lumbini, Nepal in 563 BC but later renowned as Gautam Buddha after his enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, India. He was not a God and never claimed to be one. Instead of indoctrinating his teachings, he himself asked his disciples to experience and validate them. The first Noble Truth is the irrefutable fact that life is suffering as it includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. The pain also includes psychological suffering such as frustration, disappointment, fear, and anger. The second Noble Truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. I believe that the progress has become possible with the craving and discontentment nature of mankind who constantly strives to fulfill his desire. Yet, I have the conviction that the second Noble Truth relates to deluded craving out of ignorance. Buddha himself had craving for discovering the truth of life which made me leave his wife and a son; not fair for his family. The third Noble truth is the overcoming of suffering and attaining liberated state of enlightenment (Nirvana) and then focusing time and energy to help others. The fourth Noble Truth is about following the path to liberated state by-the-book as laid out by Buddha’s Noble 8-fold Path and experiencing the cessation of suffering.

The Noble 8-fold Path has eight sections but are categorised under three higher trainings - Prajna, Sila, and Samadhi. From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, July 2012), Prajna (Drishti and Sankalpa) is the wisdom that purifies the mind allowing it to attain spiritual insight into the plausible nature of all things. Drishti is pertinent to viewing reality “as it is” but not as “appears to be” whereas Sankalpa stands for intention of renunciation, freedom, and harmlessness. Sila (vac, Karma, aajivan) teaches ethics and morality; abstention from unwholesome (noisome, hurtful) deeds. The five precepts of Sila, therefore, are nonviolence, refrain from theft, refrain from sensual/sexual misconduct, speaking truth, and mindfulness (refrain from intoxicants - drugs and alcohol). Vac bears on speaking truth but in a not-hurtful way, Karma is to act in a non-harmful way, and aajivan is living a non-harmful livelihood. Samadhi (vyamya, smriti, samadhi) is the mental discipline requiring to develop mastery over one’s own mind so as to prevent cravings. It requires practices of various contemplative and meditative regimens. Vamya, smriti, and samadhi pertains to Samadhi endeavor to refine, to be aware, and be conscious of the present reality, and to focus respectively.

Buddhism is dominant in sparsely populated northern part of Nepal which comprises of Tibetan Mahayana tradition with approximately 3000 monasteries. Vajrayana Buddhism is popular in Kathmandu valley. Some Nepali has also turned to Theravada practice. Theravada (Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia) and Mahayana (East Asia) are the two major branches of Buddhism. The third branch Vajrayana is practiced mainly in Tibet, Mongolia, and Nepal. There are several revered Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal; the most sacred are the ancient stupas of Swayambhunath and Boudhanath. Buddhist pays respect to images and statues of Buddha in a calm posture and with compassionate smile, not in worship, but to express gratitude for the teachings. Prostrating, spinning of prayer wheels, collective chants, and burning lamps are some popular Buddhists mores in Nepal. Some Buddhist believe that, if a piece of of paper containing mantra is kept inside the prayer wheels, the prayers message reaches to God by spinning the wheels.

Christianity was introduced in Nepal in the 16th century through some western missionaries. After 1990, with the restoration of democracy that provided sovereignty to practice one’s faith, the plethora of foreign funded churches emerged. Christian missionaries have spread Christianity through volunteer works. So, the intention, in the name of catering to the community, is to fulfill the ulterior motives of propagating Christianity in the universe. So, this is one mild example of how religion is corrupting human. The acute examples are in front of us where people are combating in the name of religion - terrorist attacks, discrepancies in the form of religion. In ancient time, the prudish way of disciplining people through religion, though biased, served the purpose. In this 21st century, holistic education should be the only alternative to bring peace in the planet disrobing people out of ignorance; beckoning them to become self aware of their comportment and practices.

The majority of Muslims approximately 75-90% are Sunni; the second sect is the Shia. Indonesia has the largest Muslim community. Islam is the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing religions in the planet. The system of governance in Nepal is still based on Hindu scriptures but Buddhism was accepted as a segment of Hindu society but Muslims, the third (minority) religious group in Nepal was allowed to practice their faith under certain restrictions: debarred from propagation of Islam, interdicted to adhere to the Islamic code Sharia in respect to dissolution of marriage by pronouncing talaq (the formula of repudiation, three times), and, inheritance needed to be ground worked on Hindu-scriptures code. Most of the Muslim community resides in the Terai region; some of them in the city of Kathmandu and the western hills. The four distinct groupings of Muslims depending on their advent to Nepal are Kashmiris, Chaurate, Tibetan, and Madhesi. There are around 200 madrassas and 300 mosques in Nepal within 10 km border with India. The Islamic marital jurisprudence is blatantly prejudiced towards women. Polygyny is permitted in Islam under some conditions, however, polyandry is forbidden.

There should be only one religion - the religion of “Humanity” and one should worship the “goodness” in people rather than God. Such radical remarks on sacrosanct religion might amount to heresy but facts need to be exposed to be seen in a new light with different sets of optics, excoriating the outdated ingrained beliefs. We cannot deny the fact that we still have limited knowledge about the Universe. Until microscope was invented, we did not know that there are organisms like bacteria and virus that are invisible to naked eyes, and still can be lethal. Also, without the invention of powerful telescope and other space technologies, we would have never discovered new heavenly bodies in the outer space. So, are we really willing to corroborate the existence of God on this footing? Also, those who believe that God created the Universe, are denying the fact that life began with a single cell, and those who have started relating it to the existence of test tube baby, are still arguing that the environment to procreate and sustain life must have been created by God; interminable inane debate. We are still in the hunt for extraterrestrial creature which must be residing in, we do not how many of the planets, satellites, or even stars, in different environments than earth.

(Gajurel, a Ph.D. in computer engineering from Case Western Reserve University, USA, works as Computational Scientist at the same university. Email: sanja[email protected])

(Editor’s Note: Nepalis, wherever they live, as well as friends of Nepal around the globe are requested to contribute their views/opinions/recollections etc. on issues concerning present day Nepal to the Guest Column of Nepalnews. Length of the article should not be more than 1,000 words and may be edited for the purpose of clarity and space. Relevant photos as well as photo of the author may also be sent along with the article. Please send your write-ups to [email protected])

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