Dharma and Science
The invisible moon of Amavasya (no moon) eclipsed the Sun.
I was born in one kind of Hindu family and married in another. It is still not surprising to me that I grew up to be a woman without borders of man-made religions. It all began in my childhood with the love, warmth and security of a huge family. The family I was born into had traveled a long way to come and settle in Jabalpur. The place with different geographical existences- Satpura mountain range, Narmadaji, a mountain river in which Gangaji comes to wash the sins humans wash in her, many ponds, trees and the changing climates, gave me acceptance of diversity and openness. From day one I slept with my witch like grandmother feeling her wrinkled skin. Out of five paternal aunts two were married living in the same city, where we were welcome anytime without notice. Out of three uncles one passed away when I was very young. My neighbours’ homes were just as much mine as my own. The scars that I could have got from physical shift to unit family when I was ten, did not have time to settle with the love of my three younger sisters. Man-made ‘Religion’ does not express an equivalent in totality of dharma. I do not vouch following even the dharma; the dharma, which my wholesome family, and equally wholesome environment of my childhood, had tried to instill in me. Since man-made religions have not constrained me, I can only speak of dharma by which I bind myself to be free.
Science for me is as fascinating as dharma. Again it takes me into my childhood. I was barely three, when a tube well was being fixed in the inner courtyard of an old rented Parsi house. Even after 63 years of my life I can visualize the gush of water coming out and my imagination running wild thinking of water coming out from the inner sanctum of earth with each action of handle going up and down. I remember my aunt admonishing me to not waste even a drop of water. Other than the tube well there were taps, but we were told to fill a mug and slowly pour with one hand and do washing with other, a scientific way to save water. Dharma and science go hand in hand just like the lightning and thunder happening at the same time but reaching the earth within minutes of each other because of their own speed, I will say as per their respective dharma.
Not just human beings but all matter is bound by their own dharma. Flowing water does not accumulate moss, rain will fall downwards, fish will not live unless it stays in water, birds will fly, mountains will remain where they are unless there is earthquake, tiger will eat deer, deer will eat grass and cows will give milk, and so on. I could go on and on but other than human beings all live as per their dharma so man-made religions are made so we can understand to live in balance with the rest of the universe. All religions at best erase fears of death and at worst degrade women, and of course wars are created in the name of religions. None of the religious people will accept these drawbacks so does it mean that those who accept these flaws are not religious?
My mother of across borders (my friend’s mother in Pakistan) used to say that, ‘what Muslim, what Hindus, they are all Jaat’ (for her ‘Jaat’ meant with no brains). She no longer lives so there is no one to vouch what I relate about our relation and conversations. I used to tease her, ‘Mother, how can I be yours, I am born in an enemy country and a different religion’. She would immediately reprimand me with scornful pretentiousness. The brothers would tell her not to let me go back to the Institute. At night they would ask about Hinduism. Incidentally I was reading a book on religions at the time. Even though I am born in a Hindu family I would never ever take the liberty of speaking about Hinduism as religion, its simplicity and complexity is beyond me. For me Hinduism as philosophy is easier to relate to. Anyway I conveyed to them from what I was reading. They would listen wide eyed and say I am lying — I gave them the book! They kept saying that I was not like other Indians or any Hindu they had met. Of course that too was beyond me. Even though I find it difficult to call myself Hindu but I learnt that I loved my being Indian. It is a grateful inclusive identity of being born in this landscape and has the power to surprise me unexpectedly.
I am using some matter below, revised version of the last chapter of an e-book published in 2015, which took ten years to come into existence https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/574357, barely scratching the tip of iceberg that is India. Even though dharma was not my agenda it got addressed subtly to my surprise. This last chapter aptly subtitled ‘Afterthought’ has glimpses of both dharma and religion.
Another Border in Women’s life! Atheism an Afterthought
Getting into atheism makes it difficult to send certain greetings but well wishes are wishes and remembrance make me feel nice even when it is considered a religious affair. Bijoya in Bengalee and Dashera/Navratri in Hindi feels more cultural to me than religious. Hindus have representations of female goddesses, the only religion I think, which continues to do so, others switched over to male god/s or one Supreme Being with the change to patriarchal society. This particular festival has a story (one of the several others related to it), an ode to female energies of the world!
There was once a monster demon who used to change to animal forms and one of the forms was buffalo so his name was ‘mahishasur’ (mahish — buffalo and asur — demon), who created havoc in Gods’ abode. He in his arrogance asked for a blessing not to be killed by a man so all the Gods individually or together could not kill him. In desperation after a lot of debate and discussion they created this female goddess with their respective female psyche/energies Durga with ten hands, with a weapon from different Gods in each hand, but being a Goddess she had one hand for blessing, she rode a lion and eventually killed the demon.
Ten days this ever powerful Goddess of victory of good over evil visits the earth (considered her parents’ home) with her children and that is when Durga Puja is celebrated for ten days and the day she goes back to her home is celebrated as Dashera. The part I like best is we, being born in Bengali family, convey wishes to family and friends on that tenth day, and for years I wrote letters with love and wishes to all and regards to elders.
To become an atheist, we need to know the relevance of believed and revered Gods and Goddesses all the more and respect the diverse nature of faith. One Dashera when I shared the story of Durga, I learnt Tamil and Bengalees among others have similar stories. My maternal aunt who is an atheist and lives in West Bengal gave a simple acceptable reason for not even thinking of going against this yearly extravaganza — for many this is the only source of livelihood.
One of the borders in women is ‘belief’ in God! The knowledge of various Gods is available in formal understanding of religion but I forgot to ask any of the women I met across India if anyone was atheist –maybe, as it is so much a part of me that I take it for granted. I have had my brush with God in not so recent past, with two of my sons becoming believers in different ways. The younger one accepted Christ probably eighteen years ago and the elder maybe ten years ago accepted ‘laws of spirit world’ with ultimate goal of reaching God. The younger one tried to reform me and gave up interacting with me completely but I cannot give up on him because of the way I am, definitely not owing to motherhood! My elder one has never tried to enforce any of his values on me and I bless him for this and also tolerating a mother like me.
My biological mother even though rational in many ways, has tried to tell me in different ways that there is this supreme-being and mother goddess who takes care of us. Only when people make me notice, do I wonder how come in a family where there was separate Puja room, with family continuously increasing with ever increasing family homes, did I become the way I am! Even my mother-in-law had a separate room for puja, only there was ‘Granth- sahib’, one God which my grandmother did not have in hers.
As a child, I assisted my grandmother in her daily ritual of prayers, which involved other than the regular changing flower and prasad offerings, bathing the toy-like gods, changing their clothes, washing and drying of their clothes, tucking them up in their beds with pillows, covering them with mosquito nets (Jabalpur is full of mosquitoes!), waking them up in the morning and so on. Along with a framed photograph of Mekka my grandmother had many Hindu Gods in her Puja room and wore a cross in her rudraksha mala (it cannot be termed necklace!). I imitated her actions; much later knew she did mudras (tip of different fingers when joined with the thumb in various combinations) and pranayam (breathing exercises)!
One of the days, I was probably four then, a thought occurred as a result of in house arguments what if these gods start fighting? I had the reply within a wink, ‘my grandmother would straighten them’! My Grandmother was superior than all Gods put together. That was the beginning and end of any God concept I could have had. I generally avoid telling people that I am atheist.
My father teased my grandmother no end about ‘her gods’ and did not allow rituals in the new house we shifted to. Even when he invited sadhus (religious men)I did not associate them with his dharma or God! I grew up thinking that he did not believe in Gods and took it as human centred. I got a shock when we were told that we would be visiting the temple of Khermai, a goddess who cools after chicken pox, which is referred as the mother goddess coming to visit the body. I was in 9th, a very old 13 years. It was late by then as I had already learnt of a space in which God was not essential. When my mother-in-law took me around with her to temples I religiously bowed my head to all the deities. It was out of respect for her but I kept wondering where people got so much devotion from. I just did not have any conceptualization of God.
That turned into an understanding when I have had to put my energy into exploring reasons of human exploitation by other humans. I am satisfied in the knowledge of coming out of my mother’s womb, have no urge whatsoever to know what will happen to me after death, my understanding limits in this life as it seems limitless to me.
When my younger son accepted Christ, I gave him six months to settle in this change. I told him after that, ‘If he could not change Christian laws in favour of women then he could well be praying to anyone’. He accepted my perspective about Christianity only because he heard a similar reasoning from a Christian woman. I laughed telling him he would have to become a woman to understand such things. I am generally patient till one day I blew my top when he said there were laws for masters and laws for slaves. I was very sure Christ would not have said that. I told him not to even consider uttering a single word on the issue — he had no clue what buying and selling of human beings meant.
My elder son accepted God without religion, reaching God through spirit world. I did not wait even a day before cautioning him that spirits also were products of patriarchal world, thus blood that created human beings in mother’s womb during periods was considered impure by these spirits. Constant lighting of lamps for creating positive energy was nothing but resource burning. Now he has a spiritual Guru still there are times my rationality raises its head. All my reasoning does not stop me from respecting all the Goddesses and Gods in the world when they provide peace for human beings.
When there is love, acceptance is a way of living.
When there is science of dharma, science too has its dharma. The basic rules are same for both. When I say that all matter has dharma, obviously science which involves matter has its religion, the same as matter. Even if Hydrogen and Oxygen had a mind of their own and refused to unite to form water, they could not as it is their inherent nature or dharma. Green plants make Oxygen in the presence of Sun; they cannot make Carbon-di-oxide, against their dharma. Just imagine rays start flowing in crooked lines and there are no shadows. The universe would not have eclipse, solar or lunar, partial or full. My spiritual Guru Maashree says, ‘The Universe has everything in space, nothing falls on the other, as they do not have egos they remain in their space’. Just the thought itself is so mesmerizing, and peaceful. Science does not transgress its religion thankfully.
Not everyone knows the story of Durga, neither stories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bible, Koran or Granth Saheb. As I traveled India I realised I did not know about people born in other man-made religions. There are many things of dharma which are similar in families irrespective of religions like caring for sick, respecting elders, loving youngsters, also customs like dowry and eating habits were region wise — in South India mostly people of all religions had idlis and spoke English; upper class people irrespective of religions had the same paraphernalia of marriage celebrations; it was scary to see religion demarcations post 2002 Gujrat pogrom in urban areas, while in rural areas people were blissfully unaware of Gujarat, let alone what happened there; more scary to me was my mentioning the religious identity of people I met, other than Hindu. This only stressed the fact that I was not really free of the man-made religious identity I was born in. I would not still consider this as a rule. It could be just Newton’s law of motion — as this was being suppressed and negated it was showing off its ugly head in equal and opposite reaction.
Human beings play with science and religion. They do not follow the science of religion or the religion of science and cause havoc on earth, the only living space for human beings. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘Science and religion will meet and shake hands’ (p.140 Pearls of Wisdom 2007). I am sure he was mentioning this about the man-made religion. Dharma and science have been integral to each other. He rightly states, ‘Science is nothing but the finding of unity’ (p.157 Pearls of Wisdom 2007). The function of dharma is no different. Science is in the pursuit of unity which already exists and dharma is in an ongoing process to get this unity established in the understanding of human beings. The work of dharma is difficult as it is obstructed by human ego whereas science deals with matter which always follows its dharma. When human beings follow the science of dharma or even the religion of science in life, the dharma of human beings will be accomplished.