Category: Religion

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Gurus not exempt from Law


Spiritual Gurus have long been a bane of many religions around the world.

Their (largely) negative impact has been felt severely in India for a very long time.

Some gurus have positive impact overall. One of them is Jaggi Vasudev, the other is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar who runs the famous Art of Living (AOL) Foundation. There are thousands of others, but my simple view has always been that there is no need for an intermediary between God and I, or God and anyone else for that matter. Unfortunately, Hinduism, one of the most enduring religions of the world with over 800M followers, encourages the adoption of gurus to facilitate a communication with God. I do not agree with such a philosophy, though there are other major religions which follow similar philosophies, putting man over man. Humans look for a guide to help them navigate the world, and it is not at all a surprise that a Pope arises to guide Catholics, for example. The plethora of gurus in India does not follow any systematic approach, they crop up anywhere and everywhere where the gullible would fall at their feet and worship them. There are thousands of “magical” episodes when these human gurus have generated simply impossible manoeuvres which continue to fascinate their followers.

However, none of these “humans” are above the law of the land.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, his Art of Living Foundation, and his spokesman accuse the government and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) for giving permission to conduct the World Culture Festival in March 2016, which has completely destroyed the river bed of the Yamuna River which most Hindus consider as a holy river. Sri Sri is a charismatic guru, who is close to powerful politicians and the wealthy folks of India, and so it would be interesting if the expert committee’s findings would indeed find their way to justice in the current dispute between the government/NGT and Sri Sri/AOL. I don’t think it was appropriate for Sri Sri to accuse the NGT and the government for having granted permission to him for conducting the Festival.

Where is accountability and humility on the part of the famed Sri Sri?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his AOL are not exempt from the law of the land, and have to abide by the rules and regulations. Being close to God does not exempt him from the rule of law. It would be interesting to see how his ardent followers react to the findings of the expert committee.

It is clear that spiritual gurus cannot run a government, a court or the environment. They should focus on God, not make Hinduism a circus philosophy. It is always good to hear some of the lectures of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, but the wisdom of his speeches does not make him God. He is after all, an ordinary man, like all of us. If he commits a mistake, he has to pay for it. There cannot be an excuse. If a fine is levied (as it has been), then his organization has to pay it. Damage done to the Yamuna riverbed will take 10 years to fix, as per the expert committee. Who caused the damage? Not the government, nor the NGT. They merely granted permission, may be misguided, may be under some sort of pressure. But Art of Living Foundation and Sri Sri are entirely responsible for what happened. Who can contest this assertion?

Again unfortunately, most of us are emotional, and wish to kick folks who do not conform to whatever is the general trend of belief or philosophy, in this case of Sri Sri. If there is a variation to that thinking, then the people who think differently would be termed as traitors to the cause. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

Time to think on environment, time to think about Yamuna River, which has recently been designated as a “legal person” by the courts of India.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar should apologize, desist from repeating such extravaganza, and indeed pay the INR 5 Crores fine. We should all respect the law.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd April 2017

Religions and Future Generations


My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.

While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.

Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.

We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.

While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.

But, what about the next generation and the one after it?

My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.

However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!

Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.

Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!

Cheers, and Have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017

Man as the Maker


I guess the title sounds kind of deterministic or a sort of prognosis for things to come.

I thought a lot writing about this subject due to its sensitivity and the abject lack of sensitivity on the part of religious opponents who might see this as an affront to their religious choices and their theories that there can be no “maker” other than god. Religions are a part of the fabric of human life on this earth, and they have had an outsized influence on the development and behaviour of human species. However, most religious dogmas were the creation of man, and their continued sustenance demonstrates their hold on humanity, despite evidence that such dogmas resulted in the loss of millions of lives over the past few centuries and especially in the 20th century. Those religious dogmas have no scientific basis.

This is not a blog post which will argue the benefits or otherwise of following a religious faith or the practicing of non-religious faiths such as agnosticism or atheism. This post is more about the most crucial development in science today which allows man to play god, the creator of human beings of any characteristic, outside of the normal process of conception and delivery. If Man can play the role of the Creator, then can it be said that “Creationism” as a philosophy of the arrival of human species on earth could have been right in some way? If Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is correct, how can Man play god and create a new human or animal species?

I am sure the answer is based on Science. But I got this question into my head and could not get it out of my head for a while. Scientific Research has advanced to such a stage that today, man can create any kind of species (almost, not yet fully!) in a test tube in the labaratory environment. Science is not going to stop its inevitable march towards discovering new things all the time, and Scientists are pursuing the causes of things in this world based on evidence and research. Science is not going to go away and proclaim that all things in this world are a result of some godly intervention to make them happen, which is the Creationism Theory. Or, justify in some research-oriented manner, that god is an “intelligent designer” of all things on this planet, and these things are complex and could not have come into existence without a proper cause.

Man is on a non-stop quest on scientific matters. At the same time, religious conservatives are on a non-stop quest on establishing Creationism as the essential cause of all things we see around us. Both aspects are amazing, but it is clear which one is on the right direction.

If Man can create a human being from a test-tube, and shape its genes and chromosomes, and that can result in a particular species which has certain pre-identified characteristics, what does it mean? Are we all at an inflection point? Are we going to witness the usurping of all things godly by Man who seems to be assuming great powers to make things as he deems fit? Does this sound like the “Maker”?

Well, it is abundantly clear that man’s quest for scientific discoveries is going to lead him to more surprises and more influences than he can manage. He will ultimately gain full and complete access to the technique of making a man. Then, can he be considered as a “He”, meaning god with a capital “G”? Would Man then have arrived at a point when he can demonstrate that capability to all and sundry? Would he be excommunicated by the religious gurus we will have by then? Will people believe in this Man? What will happen?

Nobody knows.

It is only funny that Man has come full circle around. He originally offered the Theory of Evolution to justify how man evolved from monkeys and chimpanzees. Now he discovered Creationism of his own type, based on scientific methodologies. How will the original religious Creationists take this kind of intervention by Man?

Not too kindly, I guess. This is their turf!!!

Religions still dominate our culture. And it is surprising that even in the U.S. wherein scientific discoveries are at the maximum level (including the creation of new species), there are enough number of ultra-religious folks who simply do not believe in any of this science, and push their own ideas on how human species came about – from the one and only god. The British seem to be more sobre. Even Archbishops in the U.K. seem to believe in the Theory of Evolution while not disputing the influence of god.

OK, now it is time to meet Man the Maker of new destinies. This would mean that we indulge in scientific studies ourselves, and discover for ourselves the possibilities at almost the outer realm of science. It is critical not to make judgement calls, and analyze what Man is discovering without actually jumping into it. Take time to analyze and determine for yourself. Check the evidence. Talk to others. Don’t indoctrinate anyone. Let everyone find our for himself or herself.

It is an interesting thought process to follow, and I am not yet done with this line of thinking. There is more to come along these lines. In the meantime, think for yourself, and don’t get indoctrinated by dogmas.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th October 2016

 

The anachronism of royalty


I am forever surprised with loyalty demonstrated by British citizens (not all of them of course), Canadian Citizens (a far less proportion) and Australian Citizens (a far far less proportion) towards the British Queen. There are many other nations under the British Commonwealth who also revere the British royalty. The same situation is prevalent in Japan towards the Japanese Emperor, and in several other nations which have maintained royalty in conjunction with democracy.

India has had a long tradition of Kings and Princes (rarely Queens, however). The “subjects” – meaning the citizens – were loyal to their respective Kings and the King’s word was considered sacred. The King (or Kings as India had numerous states) was considered the next best thing to God’s presence on earth. People who violated the mandate of the King were punished. Of course, that was the system of governance in the past in most countries around the world. The society, the culture, the arts were all built around the King’s Court.

However, I have not been exposed at all to the royalty of any country, and do not have much knowledge except for information that has to be crunched before passing History exam in the school. I have forgotten most of it, like most others, because History was never considered a “serious” subject, and was one essential component to passing from one grade to the next. That’s all was to it. I missed the political learning that could have been derived from History lessons and happenings of the past, which laid the foundation for political science.

Recently, I became interested in the Netflix serial “The Tudors”, and read up about the Tudor dynasty. It was very fascinating to see the machinations of King Henry VIII in the 16th Century England. I saw that he was charming (as portrayed in the serial and Wikipedia !!!), calculating, vindictive, lustful, and politically minded. There were numerous incidents in the serial which demonstrate his depth of knowledge on the political happenings in England, his acute sense of his limitations, and his ability to reward and punish folks who were involved in his Court.

While history can surely deliver serious learning to political scientists, its place in modern thinking is to be re-examined. Royalty is an anachronism in today’s world of social media. Respect for elders and royalty should be maintained as such, similar to what one would do to elders in one’s own family. There is no doubt that royalty should be treated on par with government in a country which has subscribed to both. However, the thought comes up often in discussions with British people – that if royalty is to be funded by the common man’s tax monies.

Taxation has always been a major issue with royalty. Kings imposed new taxes to fund their palaces and to fund wars. The common man complained, often quietly, as the alternative to paying taxes was going to prison. The situation with modern governments is not much different however. We all have to pay taxes to satisfy the demands of the government of the day in our respective countries, and we do not entirely determine how the monies are used as our elected representatives determine that.

In the case of Kings, it was different. They can choose whatever area they wish to spend the money on. They carried that sacred line to God which empowered them as “men above mortals”, as King Henry says on several key occasions in the Tudors serial. He was absolutely clear that the royal bloodline was even above the mandate of the Pope of Rome. He fought with the Pope and declared himself to be the Head of the Church of England, and decimated abbeys and monasteries, and seized their wealth.

Can you imagine such happenings in today’s world?

Well, the real principle today is that all men are equal. There is no one above another man. There is no man who is closer to God than any other man. There is mortal equality, and of course, God sees all of us on an equal footing. The middlemen who profess closeness to God have a “profession” of faith, which may not be possible for us to adhere to. We should focus on what we do best in our daily lives, and leave the rest to a force greater than nature itself.

If Kings have provided the image of God on earth in yesteryears, so be it. That is not the case today.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th July 2016

Singapore

Respect for Cultures and Religions


I landed in Bangkok this evening, and noticed for the first time a small notification kept at the desk of the immigration officer. It was about “respect for Buddha”, and it said that it is important not to have a tattoo of Buddha, or show other signs of disrespect to Buddha and Buddhism. I am not able to recall the exact sentence on the small notification placard, but it was a clear communication to tourists to be careful when it comes to treatment of Buddha while they are in Thailand.

Thailand is a Buddhist country, and so I was not surprised with the notification itself. But, in the context of what happened earlier this week in Bangalore, the contrast was striking. In Bangalore, an Australian tourist was accosted by a group of strangers at a cafe when they noticed that he had tattooed a local Hindu goddess on his leg. Come on, of all places, the goddess was on his leg and that too, he was showing that off by wearing shorts in a Hindu country.

I am not in agreement with a whole lot of social media stuff on this occurrence which blasted the people who cornered the tourist and the police who made the tourist write an apology to appease the protesting public. It is critical to show respect to other cultures and religions, especially when one is visiting a foreign country. The concerned Australian did not demonstrate common sense, and assumed it would be fine to show off a Hindu goddess on his leg to a predominantly Hindu public in India.

There have been a multitude of protestations on how come a Cosmopolitan city like Bangalore, considered as the Silicon Valley of India, could be “so retrograde” as to chase a foreign tourist on this matter, and why police should force the tourist to write an apology. But, the weakness in such arguments is that these thoughts ignore the simple fact that most people of any city are common public and not IT programmers, who would get inflamed on obscene or disrespectful display of what they hold dear, especially when it concerns religions. How would a Catholic country react if such a display has been shown on the leg of an Indian tourist in their country, defaming their god or goddess ?

I think we have too many soft policy thinkers in India, who are seduced by capitalism and keep themselves going by comparing the U.S. with India on points such as these – in many areas, people all around the world are the same. May be in emotional displays, India may be on the extreme sometimes, and the crowds could turn violent on emotional matters. But, overall, people feel the same when it comes to things like these.

In a nutshell it is stupidity and total lack of sensitivity on the part of the Australian tourist. I doubt if other Western tourists would have done the same in India. It is critical to know the history, geography, culture, customs and religions of a country which you are visiting. And, avoid things which would put you into difficulties like what happened in Bangalore.

May be India needs to display some notifications on the multi-cultural sensitivities of India when tourists arrive at the Immigration counters.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th October 2015

The rising intolerance


Secular countries with a dominant adoption of a specific religion are rare in this world.

I can think of only two prominent examples in Asia. One is Indonesia, which has a predominantly Muslim population but remains as a secular country to this date. The other is India, which has a majority Hindu population (though divided amongst itself in a thousand ways with multiple religions – there is no one single Hindu religion which offers a pathway to all Hindus) and is also constituted as a secular nation.

One expects to see irrational behaviour in a monotheistic or non-secular country, against the minorities. Examples abound, but given the sensitivity of people towards their religious faith, I don’t think it is prudent to list some of these examples. Of course, everyone talks about such examples or incidents with a total disconnect to the same, as these are not controllable or manageable in any manner. Governments do not even wish to comment or even mildly protest when one of their citizens has been grievously impacted in such a non-secular country. The rationale behind is that no government wants to affect “bilateral relations”, which is hogwash and a way to hide behind language semantics and not do anything.

However, when intolerance rises in secular countries, there is serious cause of concern not only in those countries, but around the world. This is because Secularism is a strongly conceived and well-established philosophy to afford equal treatment to ALL religions in the eyes of the government. The two key thoughts in this sentence are “equal” and “all” – there is no religion for a government or even a party which contests elections in a democracy. When these ideas get damaged by action or inaction of elected governments, then the only conclusion is that the constitution has been violated.

Secularism can only be protected when the freedoms to assemble and to express one’s thoughts without fear or favour, are protected by the government. If the government fails in its duties to protect its citizens who exercise their rightful freedoms, then that would mean the government is taking sides with someone involved in the conflict against the freedoms being exercised. And, in turn, the principle of Secularism would come under threat – when the thoughts being expressed do not conform to the expectations of someone else, and in some way are considered to be against the dominant religious faith in the country.

These are complex issues, and the only way to ensure that situation does not get out of control is to mandate that secularism is the way forward and there is no change in that official philosophy. When that kind of forceful imposition of the constitution does not play out publicly, then the divisive forces will gain ascendancy in their will to impose fear and uncertainty.

India is a great country and is now firmly on the path to becoming a superpower with the fastest growing economy in the world.

We should protect the gains made by India over the past couple of years – this is critical for economic and social reasons.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th October 2015