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Musings on God in The Fourth Monkey
“While you are in this expansive mood let me ask you what you think of this business of God.”
“Unwittingly, you have chosen just the right word for it. God is business – a flourishing business all over the world. People have been making a living out of it since time immemorial. Retailing God is a profession older than the oldest and resembles it in more ways than one. It professes to offer satisfaction, but aims at exploitation. It promises bliss, but imparts syphilis. It makes tall claims backed by no guarantee. And yet, men go ahead willingly and eagerly to be conned. Ancient men who created gods and wove myths around them were imaginative and sagacious people. But men who take these gods literally are myopic morons. Gods should never be taken seriously. At best they function as handy metaphors. Being afraid of a god is as silly as being scared of the monster one had sketched on one's canvas. It is equally absurd to be infatuated with the portrait or sculpture of a beautiful woman; you cannot make love to it, but you can end up making a fool of yourself. The makers of films are dubbed as dream-merchants, but the greatest dream-merchants are the purveyors of heaven. Look at the idyllic but sanitized settings of all heavens with minor variations to suit the local tastes. When an adult takes a cine-fantasy seriously we make fun of him, but billions over the globe move about dazed like zombies carrying empty-headed visions of Elysium. It is morbid.”
He pauses for breath. He certainly has strong views on the subject. Maybe my being the husband of a god-struck woman provokes him to speak so animatedly. He continues.
“God is the greatest fraud that man has foisted on himself. It is an April-fool prank that is played all the year round without its bluff being called even once. Children abandon their fantasies of fairies and ogres as they move into adulthood, but adults cling to the most vacuous fiction of God all their lives. Anyone who has not grown out of his childhood gods beyond his twenties is as ludicrous as an adult sleeping with a teddy bear, as fatuous as a man rummaging through antique shops for Aladdin's lamp, and as derisive as a man organising an expedition to collect gold at the end of a rainbow. One may take an indulgent view of these self-absorbent eccentricities if they make an individual happy, but when they become tools to flagellate others, as in the hands of religious zealots, the phenomenon becomes pathetic, ugly and downright vicious. Individuals with god-infested brains ought to be quarantined. If they are found propagating violence and hatred they ought to be treated on par with drug-pushers and homicides. They ought to be confined to long term isolated cells and given electro-therapy of sanity.”
He takes a breather. It is obvious he is not finished yet. He speaks like one inspired.
“Belief in God comes with a baggage: it includes miracles defying all known laws of nature; superstitions dwelling on portents and ambiguous prophecies; posthumous fate of soul entailing heaven, hell and reincarnation; a life-denying code of conduct advocating suppression of natural instincts; a rigmarole of inane rituals. The UN should come out with a white paper on God before it does irreparable damage to human psyche. There is no room for a personal God in contemporary thought. We must outgrow the mindset that holds in awe a man who claims to be God-incarnate or the Son of God or the Messenger of God. Listen to his message by all means, but evaluate it critically and accept only after it passes the litmus test of reason. The most insidious fall out of belief in God is a collateral belief in Devil. All the miseries of man can be traced to this deadly duo. Like Scylla and Charybdis, one of the two is bound to gobble him up.”
“You are using too broad a brush to tar the entire range of god-related activities. The concept of God is also responsible for most that is joyous, benevolent and moral in this world. The beatific rapture that one derives from the contemplation of God puts into pale any other kind of elation. Believe me; I've had a ringside view of the phenomenon. I am sceptical if it will ever work for me, but it sure does for my wife. I am convinced that there is no God, but equally convinced that He is the most ingenious brainchild of man – a grandiose fiction that is more fascinating than all the facts put together.”
We share the premise that God is fiction. Gupta dwells on the pernicious effect it has had on mankind, I on the potential it has of leading man into mystic ecstasy. I am surprised to find myself taking a stand contrary to my professed belief. Just as the compulsions of rhyme lead many a poet to express an unintended thought, I am led to formulate a dialectical view to rebut Gupta's fervid contention.
My spiritual quotient being rather low, all this talk, littered with the age-old jargon of soul, the supreme spirit, salvation, redemption, transcendent reality, cumulative karmic effect, endless chain of beings, incarnation, etc., leaves me utterly indifferent. But I watch with fascination the sizzling chemistry it produces in Shelly. Her face glows, her eyes sparkle and her delicate nostrils quiver with a rare excitement. I pretend to look impressed so that she may carry on. Nothing that I did or said to her, in our three decades of married life, ever produced this kind of rapture in her.
I discern in her talk the echo of Anandi Ma's vocabulary: ‘God gives a blank cheque to every one. You can fill the amount proportionate to your faith. The greater the faith, the greater the amount you can draw. No faith, no cash.'
To me faith was less of a blank cheque and more of a blank abyss. I could never persuade myself to jump into the awesome abyss of faith. It needs a certain foolhardiness to step onto the narrow plank of faith, blindfolded, to leave the rational material world behind to go across to the realm of shadowy beliefs. For some people the plank is as good as a cantilever bridge and they wonder why the others hesitate to step onto it. For some, like me, the plank is just not there. If ever I take the plunge, I would make sure that the parachute of rationality is firmly strapped to my back.
“You must come and hear her for yourself. You don't know what you are missing.”
If my going there makes her happy, go I must.
Next day, we go together. It is the fifth of the seven lectures. When Anandi Ma settles down, Shelly reverentially touches her feet and receives her blessings with a benign touch of Ma's hand on her head. The evening is devoted to Krishna 's role as a shrewd tactician of warfare, as an unscrupulous manipulator of men and situations, and as a motivator of detached performance of one's duty. How she philosophically defends the ethically indefensible acts of Krishna is beyond me. From there she moves on to the ideal of Nishkama karma – action for action's sake. ‘Work not for reward; but never cease to do what you have to do', ‘Do thy work free from selfish desires; do not be moved by success or failure', ‘Poor are those who work for reward!' She quotes from the Bhagwad Gita .
It eludes me why the modern man is always advised to live by the learning contained in the Gita, the Upanishads, the Tao, the Torah, the Gospels or the Sharia. Granted there are some nuggets of wisdom in them, but there is lot more of dross too. For the lesser mortals it is not easy to sift the two. They simply quote the scriptures and damn one another for falling short of the obsolete code. They ignore the evolution of human thought over the millennia and stick to the kindergarten of nursery-rhyming folk wisdom enshrined in the moth-eaten papyrus of the sacred texts. Knowledge cocooned against inquiry in the wrapping of divine truth is the biggest pitfall. Man must constantly engage himself in reassessing the validity of the inherited knowledge. Otherwise, his learning curve would resemble a circle, a cipher.
The audience listens with rapt attention. It cuts no ice with me. I find poetry in Shelly's private acts of devotion, in her supreme love for Krishna , but the oratorical faith flexing of Anandi Ma leaves me cold. My worst fears are confirmed. Try as I may, I cannot make myself feel even a whit nearer to enlightenment.
The most bandied about word in the hour-long discourse is Soul ( atma ) and its desire to merge with the Greater Soul ( paramatma ). I don't think I have a soul. Yes, my body does have consciousness, which registers pain and pleasure. It thinks, it imagines, it stores memories. If some like to call it soul, let them. It certainly isn't in any need of salvation and hence has no use of a saviour. It is inextricably linked with the body. It is not awaiting some grand finale of rewards and retribution. It is not going to insinuate itself into the fanciful bodies of other creatures. It does not play games of that kind. One does not have to make any extra effort to get it released from the presumed cycle of death and birth, no need to seek Nirvana or Moksha . It ceases when the body ceases. Those who talk otherwise are deluding us, having deluded themselves in the first place.
Anandi Ma is one such person. She dispenses the spiritual claptrap typical of pulpit preachers the world over. She no doubt possesses great persuasive power. She knows all the tricks of rhetoric and can reduce to a pulp any intellectual toughness that the listener may possess. She can sell ice to an Eskimo and make him rejoice at the bargain. She peddles spirituality to the gullible masses that throng to her discourses loaded with blank cheques of faith and goodwill. I must be the only person who escapes her spell, but counting the two-fold effect on Shelly the average works out well in her favour.
She quotes a passage from the Gita: Krishna tells Arjuna, ‘Give thy mind to me, and give me thy heart, thy sacrifice, and thy adoration. This is my word of promise: thou shalt in truth come to me, for thou art dear to me. Leave all things behind and come to me for salvation. I will make thee free from the bondage of sins. Fear no more. Tarry no longer.'
I see tears streaming down Shelly's cheeks from behind her specs. With throats choked, the audience is transported to a new level of spiritual ecstasy. Anandi Ma then addresses me directly, or so it seems.
“There are people who are colour-blind. One wonders why they can't see a colour that is so obvious to everyone else. Similarly, there are people who are god-blind. The divinity, which is immanent in each little act of creation, eludes them. Everyone else bathes in the glory of God, but these divinity impaired creatures are left high and dry.”
Shelly looks at me, underlining the message. After the discourse she introduces me to Anandi Ma. She blesses me and says, “You don't know how lucky you are, Madan ji. You have a gem of a soul in your wife.”
“I know. I believe she is a sensitive woman having an unusual spiritual experience.”
“You underestimate her. She is not an ordinary human seeking spiritual experience. She is a singular spiritual being going through human experience.”
Our dialogue is cut short. Others elbow us out to seek the blessings of Anandi Ma. We detach ourselves from the crowd and make our way home.
“What did you think of her discourse?” Shelly asks me.
I hedge my comments, dwelling on the sterling performance of the evening and eschewing my reservations about the contents. She is on a high. I don't want to act a spoilsport. I even encourage her to vent her veneration for her newfound mentor. Her elation is my best reward.
They spend three days with us. Shelly is very happy to see her son back even though for such a short while. She is, however, disappointed to see him spending most of his time talking to his new friends. Their conversations, their concerns and the things that make them laugh are altogether different from hers. The much talked of generation gap is all too apparent. Rupesh is courteous, polite and respectful to us and to his grandparents. We cannot really fault him on that count, but his futuristic vision of the brave new world makes our own look dated and hopelessly out of sync with his.
I notice he is a touch supercilious when he talks of his mother to his friends. He sounds apologetic about her quaint rituals of worship and her practice of going without food and speech once a week. In an animated discussion among his friends I overhear him speaking his mind.
“A man who discovers penicillin does more to redeem mankind than all the saints and mystics put together. The next man who discovers cure for cancer or AIDS should be graciously installed among the pantheon of gods and worshipped round the globe. A man-god may restore a limb or drive out devils from a sick brain, he may even raise one from the dead, but does he have a panacea for the ills of mankind apart from a string of banal platitudes? It isn't enough to lift a hillock on one's little finger to save one's fellow cowherds from the fury of a cloudburst. This may earn the gratitude of the survivors, but hardly a reason for unborn generations to commit themselves to his worship.”
They share his views. One of them adds, “What the world needs today are population and pollution controllers, sanitary zealots, political economists and visionary builders rather than saints and prophets or god-men and man-gods.”
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