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Taking the Lord’s name in vain?

The Bhakti movement centred around the existence of one God, the equality of all worshippers, the non-necessity of elaborate rituals and the importance of humaneness and brotherhood.

Anjali Mehta | New Delhi |

There is no universally accepted way to interact with the Almighty. Some consider Him (or Her as the case may be) as a friend and do not hesitate to seek His help to overcome their worldly woes ranging from a tough exam to some coveted financial gain. Some hold the Almighty in deep reverence and leave it to Him to shape their lives. Some swear by elaborate rituals and others prefer a lack of adornment. I personally think highly of the Bhakti movement that first originated in South India in the 7th and 8 th century, CE, which strongly emphasized simplicity.

The Bhakti movement centred around the existence of one God, the equality of all worshippers, the non-necessity of elaborate rituals and the importance of humaneness and brotherhood. The omnipresence of God has always been widely accepted by most of humanity. However, His name is increasingly being misused by people the world over as a cover for their own dubious intentions. Several actions do not reflect true reverence for the Almighty. For example, it does not seem at all right when a suicide bomber is blowing up someone to bits or a mob is lynching people, all the while invoking the Almighty’s name.

It is certainly questionable that the path to salvation be littered with the corpses of fellow humans. In recent times, a few popular institutes of worship were found harbouring secret dens of worldly pleasures. While the gullible masses reverently sat outside chanting God’s name with their eyes gently closed and a prayer on their lips, steamy scenes were unfolding in the darker portals of the buildings. One so called ‘godman’ even had a pleasure cave resembling the typical luxury villas of gangsters on tropical islands. Perhaps only the sea, the sand and the blue skies were missing!

It is very unsettling to find people donning the special robes that identify them as ‘men of God’ and then indulging in a wildly hedonistic lifestyle away from the public gaze. A beautiful song asks the Maker how the devotee can ever face him on the day of reckoning , given the sins and trespasses committed – the lyrics run thus : “Maili chadar odh ke kaise , dwar tumhare aaoon”- “(Lord) how will I be able to face you at the end with this body cloaked in sin”? More shocking discoveries have emerged as priests of diverse religions have been accused of sexually abusing the followers of their faith.

Surely, harming other devotees by molesting them against their will can simply never be the path to God. Moreover, whereas one would associate an ascetic with kindness or gentleness, it is noted that some ‘men of God’ can be particularly vicious and vengeful. Submit to their unwanted attention and all is well. If, however, you point out their malfeasances, they will hound you to the ends of eternity. In recent times a vengeful Bishop has hounded a sister right out of her convent and a disgraced Swami has used his influence to have his young accuser clapped into jail on charges of extortion.

Another dubious activity is grabbing land in the name of the Lord. One fairly popular modus operandi starts with putting a small photograph of a deity (even a rock with tika or tilak usually suffices) with a garland around it, on a pavement or under a tree and counting on peoples’ fearful superstition to not remove these items from there. This happened outside our colony. Someone put a picture of some deities under a shady tree with a large trunk. Soon worshippers started leaving coins there. Over a period of time, enough had accumulated to be able to create a tiled enclosure for the idols where people on the way to the bus stop just outside the colony duly stopped to worship.

Our colony already boasts of an actively functioning Gurudwara and Mandir since many years, so this was a ‘bonus’. No one objected to the status quo till a little shop came up adjacent to the ‘tree mandir’. Tea and tobacco items began to be sold here and it attracted a lot of middle-aged men who would sit there smoking and gossiping. The so called ‘mandir’ was now forgotten and a small commercial pavement hub (possibly the real lucrative intention?) developed. Several citizens who found the public footpath blocked and the presence of unwanted hangers-on near the bus stop a big nuisance complained to the municipal authorities to demolish the tree mandir and help them reclaim the pavement.

Their requests met with stiff resistance, mainly from the hangers-on in the tobacco joint as well as some devout worshippers from the area. This story ended well with the tobacco shop and mandir ‘complex’ being ultimately dismantled. However, such scenes are a regular feature at many public sites. Such occurrences should alert us to the multiple ways religion can be put to self-seeking or nefarious use. Religious premises or financial collections can sometimes be used for dubious activities.

Caretakers of religious precincts may lose sight of their sacred duties and mislead, extort or bully the trusting worshippers. The gullible public may save themselves from many a rude shock and bewilderment were they to keep their minds open and alert and not approach religion and religious authority blindly. Many true ascetics, who could have been excellent role models for us, chose to lead austere lives in fairly remote places, well away from humanity, to reflect on life and God.

Intuitively, they knew that the deepest and most important thoughts are likely to arise when one is sitting quietly with scant worldly distractions in the lap of God’s most beautiful creation, Nature. Seeing that we don’t often have access to many real prophets around us it may well be time to think more profoundly about the Lord ourselves and make our own judgements about how to comport ourselves in an ethical and wise manner.

(The writer is a Delhi-based medical practitioner)