Your Religion should not define “You”


When we meet someone for the first time, we do not want to be influenced by an overt display of religion on that person. We would like that person to come through on his own terms, on his own values, on his own approach towards the meeting, and on his own persona. We do not wish to be influenced either by the name of that person, his title at his employer, or his wealth. Neither do we wish to be influenced by that person’s religion.

Ofcourse, this is just a wishlist (!). Mostly we will be influenced, for sure. The most impact comes from a public display of religious symbols, dress or even demeanour.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, notwithstanding any positive or negative opinions or feelings that these might cause in the mind of the onlookers. It is perfectly fine to wear what you want and display what you want to display in a free society.

But that is not my point.

While it is the right of people to do what they want to do, so is the right of other people to form opinions which they cannot be forced to disclose. Perceptions matter in this world, as I can share from my worldly experiences. As I assess a new person that I meet, I invariably tend to formulate a composite picture of him or her in my mind, and try later to independently obtain feedback to validate or invalidate my perceptions.

Is this a wrong approach? Not at all. In fact, there is no other way. The alternative is to let myself be pre-disposed to positive or negative feedback on that person even before I actually meet him or her. I generally try to avoid such a pre-disposition, as it is not fair to the person. I have to formulate my own opinion on my own instead of letting myself to be influenced by someone else, who knows the person I am going to meet.

The simple point in this analysis is the simple derivation that I always subscribe to: you do not wish to be assessed by what you wear or what you profess to be your religion. Your religious beliefs should not impact the conversation that you are going to have with a new person. It works both ways.

I strongly believe that your religion should not define or enslave you, atleast when it comes to your public persona. You can of course challenge the unpalatable definition of yourself when it is accompanied by visible religious portrayal. However, if that is the case, then you need to project that the conversation, or a business proposal, or a specific action that is the outcome of the meeting is not dependent on the other party’s acknowledgement of your religious principles.

After all, every person has his own religion, or sometimes no religion to wear on his shoulders. All parties have to be clear that there could never be any kind of special treatment for any religion. There is also no special treatment to be accorded as a result of religious displays, nothing special can be expected.

In a nutshell, a person is defined by what others perceive based on how that person behaves, speaks and interacts. Since we can assume nothing, it would be better not to expect special treatment of any kind, apart from the usual respect that needs to be accorded.

People who have followed my blog know that I am neutral on religion, and consistently refuse to be influenced by religious practices. I have argued in several posts that I am on my own with my own thoughts and independence. I have my views and never leverage those views to cause harm to anyone or any institution.

I do not want to be defined by my own religion. I am born as a Hindu, but that does not mean that I would let just Hinduism define me. It is fine to be influenced positively by religion – as I had written recently, I have subscribed to both Hinduism and Christianity, though I disagree with a number of their tenets. I think for myself and I define myself. I try to directly influence every conversation that I have, either with a known friend or a newcomer to my circuit. Many foreigners that I meet up with do not even know that I am a Hindu as I do not discuss religion beyond my blog!

All in all, I do not want to influence anyone or win favours based on my religion or its purported superiority. I do not seek friendship based on association with a religion. I do not portray religious symbols on me and I avoid wearing traditional garb which might give away my religious inclination.

I am not suggesting that everyone follow what I am doing. I want my audience to know that neutrality in religious matters, especially in the context of our fractious world, is better appreciated by strangers. It lets us focus on the business matters on the table. It provides a positive, neutral environment. It allows growth of non-prejudiced partnerships and ecosystem.

That’s all. I am not against any religion or religious fervour, bit I am not going to judge an individual based on it. I create my own mental picture and assess for myself, removing aspects that would corrupt my perception.

I think it is only fair for everyone involved.

Have a great week ahead folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st March 2019

The Shattering of Peace


It is now 14 years since our family visited New Zealand. We loved that country, its fine people, its air and water purity, its clean roads and rivers and mountains. We drove all the way from Auckland in the North Island to Queenstown in the South Island, a distance of over 3,000 KMs in just about 2 weeks. It was a fabulous family vacation, and even today if we take a vote at home about where we want to go for the next vacation, it is unanimous – New Zealand! Though we do not always follow that vote as we go to other places for different experiences!!

We had a great time travelling around New Zealand, interacting with its great people, drinking some fantastic wines, and enjoying the volcanoes as well as the fast rivers and forests and mountains. Outstanding experience!

So, I was so sad when I learnt about the White terrorist from Australia wreaking unimaginable havoc on a peaceful country (he could have done that anywhere, but choosing New Zealand was an abominable decision) and murdering 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch (we had been to Christchurch during our holidays), on a Friday. As we know, Friday is a holy day for Muslims and they go to mosques for lunch time prayers.

While I do not wish to taint this murderous attack as a religious one (Christian Crusaders attacking Muslims) or a racist one (Whites against immigrant Browns), it is inevitable. There is no point in hiding the fact that White supremacy is on the rise around the Western nations of the world (given a positive push by the Honourable President Donald Trump of the U.S.), and could soon emerge as the chief contender for global terrorism trained against immigrants and Muslims specifically, as opposed to ISIS. Both are very bad for the world; while ISIS can only be defeated militarily, White supremacy is better controlled by nation states and their enlightened leadership.

A fantastic example of leadership was on display over the past one week, and that is Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand. She demonstrated total empathy with the survivors and the victims’ families, and came through as a leader who would also make fast and rapid changes to her country’s gun laws in the aftermath of this disaster, without listening to special interest gun lobbies and wasting time. She was seriously wounded at heart that this attack could happen in her peace-loving and immigrant-welcoming country, and the whole country (including the immigrants and all the Muslim community) rallied around her leadership. They could sense and feel that she was in their midst, truly suffering the consequences of this attack on her “own” society.

I admired her mingling around and sympathizing with the plight of the survivors in a headscarf (similar to a hijab, worn by Muslim women), as a mark of respect and empathy towards them. Thousands of ordinary folks came out in support of the Muslim community around the mosque yesterday (Friday) during prayer time with silence observed, and hands entwined. And, the Prime Minister was there in attendance!

All this shows that a predominantly White country could do positive things towards immigrant victims and survivors who are not White, with the sheer willpower and commitment of the country’s leadership. The Prime Minister’s Cabinet, the Parliament and also the gun owners and gun shops came around in support of the new ban against assault rifles which was quickly implemented. Will this ever happen in the U.S., especially under Trump’s watch? Trump or no Trump, it is not going to happen in the U.S. Thousands of Americans are shot and killed using military-style weapons (which should have no place in a society) every year, including children and innocent bystanders, and the government does nothing except uttering vanities and both parties getting into a fist fight on TV shows in a totally partisan manner.

So, the peace is finally shattered in New Zealand. I am not sure that a country of just 3M people can recover from such a murderous attack. I would argue that apart from banning weapons of mass destruction like assault rifles with high capacity magazines, NZ should also carefully examine who comes in from Australia and other countries wherein White supremacy is firmly in place (though the supremacists might never win a public election). Imagine the reaction if a Muslim terrorist had killed 50 Church goers on a Sunday. The beauty of NZ is that it demonstrated that there is no difference between two such murder attacks. NZ will not go with one or the other – both attacks would eliminate peaceful folks who just turned up for worship and prayers. How would Trump react if it was the latter occurrence – all hell would have broken loose.

In a nutshell, there is no escape from close police monitoring, immigration checks, and gun control – all developed countries are learning that these factors play a very big role as we have seen in the Netherlands, France, the U.K., and Germany. Law enforcement needs to take an aggressive and serious view of individual freedom which transgresses into the larger good of the society. Individualism and religious conflicts cannot be excuses for murdering innocent civilians who play no part in such conflicts, and are after all, normal citizens going after their lives like any of us do.

I wish to salute Prime Minister Ardern for her resolute defiance and sombreness in the face of this attack on her country. Her empathy with a small immigrant community in her nation has captivated the hearts of all positive people around the world.

Hope NZ recovers from this disaster with a lot of healing. My best wishes to Kiwis of all colours,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd March 2019

Moral Decadence


It is a well known fact that most of the rich countries have committed huge sins and transgressed the moral boundaries of ethical living on this planet. Numerous examples of trampling on the rights of other countries and people can be cited in evidence.

Most European countries, the chief among these being the U.K. and France apart from Denmark and Germany have colonized distant nations and subjugated the people of those countries in horrible manner through several centuries. I am not leaving Japan off the hook – the Japanese committed innumerable sins across Asia which included killings and raping innocent folks. The list of sins committed by developed countries is very long, and that would include even the U.S. which has been responsible for countless deaths and disappearances caused by their invasions and regime change policy.

The focus of this blog post is not on these countries or their past sins. It is on the continuing sad story of the Blacks in the U.S. who are being tortured both by law enforcement and the common people due to the colour of their skin, which implies only one thing – deeply ingrained racism, and the very strong feeling that the Blacks are no better than slaves. This is abominable, and the racist feeling seems to be widespread across the U.S., going by almost weekly reporting of incidents whose subjects are Blacks going about their lives in the most innocuous manner possible. If a White person does the same simple thing – such as clearing trash in his own backyard, or waiting to swim in his own condominium’s swimming pool, or just taking a walk along a tree-lines boulevard, etc., no one would even bother to look. But if a Black person were to do any of these daily chores of life, it is absolutely reasonable for a police officer to stop the person and ask for his ID or engage in aggressive questioning. The evidence is mounting every day about such seemingly harmless occurrences, which are shot using phone cameras of bystandes and instantly posted on social media.

Were such things happening in the past?

Absolutely.

The difference now is the instantaneous publicity that is available via social media. And that makes such happenings come through as extremely ugly and damaging to the reputation of law enforcement.

What does it show when such things continue to happen? What does it say about the society in which Americans live? What does it say about the government which runs the country? What does it say about the police?

Only one thing – a precipitous decline of moral values, a huge drop in the perspective of Whites about Black people in general, lack of religiosity in the outlook, lack of influence of the Church or the Synagogue as the case may be, and so on. The moral decadence is stunning. I am not talking here about lack of morals such as indulging in mindless violence or prostitution. What I am talking about is the value of any human being on this planet which cannot be measured in dollars and cents, and cannot be considered as higher or lower than any other human being. White cannot have a value higher than that of the Black, and that assertion applies to Brown and Yellow as well. All colours need to be equal at all times.

Americans and the U.S. government cannot dismiss these law enforcement problems as unusual or rare occurrences – these are surely neither unusual nor rare in today’s America.

It is easy for the Whites and the Browns and the Yellows to attribute the cause of inner city violence to the Blacks. Violence in the U.S. exists all across the colour spectrum and across all sections of the society. One cannot affirm Blacks only to be the chief cause of violence.

Given the poor state of ensuring moral equivalence of human beings in the U.S., the country can hardly claim to be the beacon of freedom and justice for the free world. The “free” world does not exist for the Blacks in the U.S. – they are getting shot at by the police for doing their daily chores. Many Black lives have been taken away over the past year due to arbitrary and excessive use of force and total lack of reasoned judgement on the part of the police. You might have seen the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Across the U.S., well-meaning Whites are very concerned about such atrocious human rights violations, when the U.S. government is screaming hoarse on such violations elsewhere in other countries.

But then, other countries do not care anymore.

Why?

They can clearly see for themselves that the U.S. is one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violations against its own citizens.

So, why bother to change bad behaviour?

No need, let us continue violating the rights of our poor vulnerable citizens – even the mightiest nation in the world does it – isn’t it?

Such is the strong influence of the most powerful nation on earth which purports to be the most honourable country with respect for freedom and justice and democracy, with a Constitution which enshrines individual rights of citizens.

Would you want to chase your dreams in a country with moral decadence as the core principle in differentiating its own citizens? Think carefully. The Blacks have to get Dr Martin Luther King’s dream back in their heads and fight for their freedom which they are increasingly in danger of losing.

Participate in the CNN #MyFreedomDay on the 14th March against modern day slavery.

Cheera folks, have a good weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th March 2019

The pro-life argument


On this one thing of life and death, I am proud to be termed as a “conservative”.

I know that I am liberal (in U.S. terminology I am “left of centre” or left-wing liberal – which I do not agree with as I believe I am a centrist on most issues) in my views (both political and social), as opposed to right-wing conservative views. Being a liberal or a conservative comes from personal experiences and an understanding of what is good for the society as a whole, not just for oneself. It takes some analysis of the environment, politics, and society. It is not easy to “assume” a pole position because that is how the world sees your position. Irrespective of what the world thinks of you, you do have an absolute independent right to think what you want and position yourself in philosophical terms as a thinker in your own right. Who can challenge that?

So, let us now analyze one thing on which I side with the so-called conservatives. We do not have this kind of discussion in Singapore or India, but unfortunately the world gets influenced by what happens in the U.S. on most things. Though both India and Singapore are more conservative on social issues than the U.S., I have not seen such matters discussed in public or court of law, thereby prudently avoiding social disputes which could be rather disruptive.

However, in the so-called first-world great power of the U.S. there are many things being discussed which depicts a society in constant conflict with itself, such as racism against blacks, hatred towards immigrants, vindictiveness against people who hold opposing views, and amongst many such issues, abortion.

Abortion is an extremely sensitive topic in the U.S. My readers would be aware of the landmark Roe vs Wade judgement of 1973 by the Supreme Court of the U.S. I am not going to delve into it, except to say that ruling legalized abortion rights of women. If you have been following U.S. politics of late, you would have witnessed the U.S. Congress members questioning judicial appointees if they support the above judgement. In general (though not always), the Democrats support the abortion rights of women, and the Republicans do not support. President Trump has indicated that he is pro-life, which is another way of saying that once conceived, women lose the right to a legal abortion.

As I said earlier, we do not discuss abortion in our part of the world. However, I felt compelled to write about this topic as it applies to the U.S., as I read about “late-term” abortion laws enacted by some states in the U.S. I personally believe that once you hear and record the foetal (fetal) heartbeats, then any abortion amounts to taking the life of the foetus away from this world without its consent. I am not going to be liked by the abortion proponents in the U.S., as this subject matter is close to the heart of the left-wing liberals as opposed to the right-wing conservatives. I do not wish to colour this matter as a religious topic on which the Church, for example, would have a say. That is not the case (though the Catholic Church opposes abortion, to be sure). In my mind, what matters is the decision-making power of the individual woman who has conceived, and is staring at the possibility of abortion.

This is a hot topic in the U.S. as you can imagine, especially in the light of the change in the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court towards the addition of more conservative judges by President Trump over the past couple of years. Both Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavenaugh are ambiguous on the Roe vs Wade judgement which is acting as precedence for the Supreme Court – given a strong case, they could tilt the court towards an anti-abortion judgement. The liberals are mortally scared of that possibility.

Notwithstanding that possibility, my contention is simple: does a human have the right to take away the life of an unborn (or going to be born) human, once it is unambiguously proved that the would be new-born is having heartbeats, and breathing like any other human? do we misconstrue this issue as the “inviolable right of a woman over her body” rather than a life & death matter, which needs to be investigated further? This is not about legal precedence or religious opinion. It is about making the right decision when that decision involves a new life. How can we compartmentalize this issue as women’s constitutional right only? What about the rights of the unborn baby?

There are ongoing multiple challenges to Roe vs Wade in various state courts in the U.S., such as in Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, etc., While these challenges would be vehemently opposed by organizations such as Planned Parenthood, American Civil Liberties Union, various womens’ and medical associations, the point is that this is not about securing or re-securing a constitutional right, this is not about liberals vs conservatives, and this is not about the Democrats vs the Republicans.

This issue is much larger.

I am not going to conclude on this matter here with my own prescription to solve the problem, I am just positioning the same in my own light, as I felt strongly about foetal heartbeats occurring in general six weeks into a pregnancy. So, now we are faced with a huge human challenge, which only humans can address and resolve. Not the politicians, not the courts, not any religion. May be Roe vs Wade will go unchallenged. May be women will continue to enjoy their constitutional right to aborting their foetuses anytime irrespective of the heartbeats. But one thing is for sure, Americans need more education on this topic than what has been offered to them in schools.

I know that abortion is a very sensitive topic – an extremely touchy subject to most women. I am not against their legal rights. I am just wondering if we have missed the pro-life argument posed by a heart-beating foetus, if it had a chance to present its case in a court of law?

Some critical thing to think about, right?

Of course, I welcome brickbats and strong retaliation from my women readers. As a generally neutral centrist, I welcome their feedback – positive or very negative, no problem with that. If I have to change my views, then there has to be an extremely strong rebuttal, for sure.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead, folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

3rd February 2019


The Disappearing Bond


There are many “bonds” disappearing as the world progresses in step with modernity.

One significant bond which is slowly but surely starting to fade is the religious fixation that we in our generation have or used to have. The millennials are mostly disconnected with religious rituals, though there are many exceptions. When I refer to millennials, I am referring to the global mindset of youngsters throughout the developed world, which is fast getting influenced by socialism and anti-capitalistic tendencies. Part of this mindset, comprised of a rebellious approach, is also raising uncomfortable questions about the influence of religion(s) when most religions are plagued by scandals, or seen as instigator of terrorism and violence against fellow human beings.

Is this surprising? Not at all. It is rather to be expected, as we as adult seniors, have not taken actions against rogue religious priests who have engaged in activities not compatible with their status as “god’s men” in this world.

Let me first cover Hinduism, which is the most pacifist religion the world ever invented, practiced by over a billion people (one out of every seven people on the planet). While it has much to be commended and adopted, there have been a million instances when it has gone against the downtrodden (I am referring here to the “untouchables” of India who were banished from entering temples for hundreds of years). The more recent aspect is the penetration of corrupted men masquerading as priests who have caused untold grief and violence, including sexual harassment. Several of these fake priests have been caught and indicted in the recent past by India’s Courts of Law. Unfortunately, the foundation of the religion itself gets shaken in the eyes of everyone, but more so in the eyes of the millennials who treat such folks with utter contempt and seek their excommunication and imprisonment for crimes committed by them against humanity. I am still a practicing Hindu, though not very religious, so I think I have every right to join the millennials in their contempt for illicit, corrupt and criminal activities done by the so-called Hindu priests (a select few, I should add).

The only other religion which has influenced me is Christianity, due to my schooling which spanned over 12 years (including Kindergarten), all in Jesuit schools. As my readers already know, Indian Hindu parents mostly preferred the academic rigour and disciplinary approach of Jesuit schools for the early education of their children, and my parents were no different. So, I was influenced in positive ways of life (not in a religious manner though) by mostly Christian teachers, while maintaining my Hinduism connection all those years. And, I think I have benefited vastly from the education that I had during my primary and secondary school, which not only emphasized academics but also placed immense value on ethics and character-building.

So, I was shocked (not for the first time, I have to say, as I had been watching this space for the past couple of years already) to see the Pope handing down punishments to his most important senior clerics as a long-delayed justice to sexual harassment victims traumatized over the past many decades. It has happened in many countries – Brazil, the U.S., Australia, and so on. It is criminal if the person ordained in the faith of God uses his enormous leverage over unsuspecting teenagers in such a bad and unpardonable way, leading to a lifetime of trauma for those poor folks. The drama of a conclave on such harassment and molestation is right now playing out in the Vatican, as part of a special conference called by the Pope to address the plague of sexual abuse, and I hope he does not condone cover ups which have been going on around the world shielding priests from Church actions against them.

So, is it any wonder that religious influence is waning? I am not making any observations on other religions, as I do not have an exposure or experience with those religions. My experience is with Hinduism and Christianity, and I have to reiterate that my above comments have nothing to do with the core philosophies of these exalted and great religions as such. My contempt is more based on the fact that the religious interlocutors assigned to manage the relationship between God and Man/Woman, let the people down in an abominable manner, in ways which are simply not pardonable. Though forgiveness remains one of the main tenets of both religions, I would not forgive such criminals even in the normal world, why would I forgive them in their “religious world” wherein such things should never have been contemplated to start with.

So, the bond is disappearing. The number of practicing Christians is dropping in a big way, and the Pope would have concerns about it. The actions that he takes as part of the above conference should be strong and should not shield the senior clerics. His leadership should make the difference. What he does or does not do will also influence other religions and how people view the Church and other religions in this new context.

It is hard to reinstate a bond which has altogether disappeared, and we all should keep that in our minds as we join efforts to address the issues on the table. Nevertheless, as I had written in an earlier blog post (see under “religion” category), people do not need intermediaries to deal with when it comes to managing their relationship with God or even to coordinate their spiritual endeavours, and this has remained my view for many years. I am not going to worship a human being as the official representative of God in this world.

Cheers, and have a wonderful weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd February 2019

Wrong Expectations


This post might get me into trouble, I guess!

As my readers know well, I am a “liberal” in mindset, outlook and approach, but sometimes I have taken sides with conservatives when I feel the rational logic resides with them on a specific topic, though it has not been often. Everyone has a right to their own view, and everyone has a right to not support others’ views irrespective of the popularity or otherwise of such views.

I believe that liberal views promote an equitable society with a good balance, in general. However, I have always taken cognizance of the fact that conservatives have a certain hold on the richer, more well-to-do sections of the society which oftentimes get not only a seat at the table, but also get to make the rules of conformance in society. It is very true in a generally traditional, conservative and religious society.

Notwithstanding all the segmentation and fragmentation of societies the world over, there is one principle that I will never compromise on and that is, give equal opportunity to both sides (and to a third side, if that position exists!) so that arguments and counter-arguments can be heard and understood well. It is upto any individual to make his/her own conclusion, and it is also his or her prerogative to voice or not voice the same, in other words, you cannot force anyone publicly on a vote of conscience. This means tolerance and acceptance of contrarian views, though you may not agree with those views which could be anathema to your views. Tolerance and acceptance are not the same as acquiescence and agreement!

So, I read with interest the news coverage on U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s wife going back to work for a strict evangelical Catholic school in Virginia. I warned you, my readers, that this could get rather sensitive! Some mainstream newsmedia covered her decision to rejoin the school and teach there, due to the avowed principles of the school against the LGBTQ section of the society and its non-admittance rules against any member of that group. The school further states that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and so on and so forth.

Without going further into the individual person’s choice to be associated with such a school, notwithstanding the fact that she is the Second Lady of the U.S. Government as the wife of the Vice President, it is not up to any one else to pass judgement on her action or behaviour – simply because she has the individual right to do so and the freedom to follow her heart. There is no official government endorsement or support for her action.

Mike Pence condemned the attack on his wife’s decision to serve in the school and also the attack on “Christian education”. I am not sure what he meant and which media really attacked, but as a beneficiary of Christian education right from Kindergarten to High School, I can only say that without the dedication of Christian education system, many of us in India would not have succeeded in life, despite most of us belonging to the Hindu religion.

Coming back to this Virginia school, I totally and unequivocally disagree with their principles, but they exist in a free society and they have teachers and students enrolled. So, there is a section of society in the U.S. which agrees with those severe and incompatible restrictions, and endorses such a system of education. I can tell you however, that there is no such Christian school ever that existed in India!

Coming back to Mrs Pence’s decision, I respect her choice – both Mr and Mrs Pence are openly espousing the cause and rationale of Christian Evangelism, and there is nothing wrong with their position. They have an inalienable, constitutionally protected right to do so. We have to give equal importance to such positions which are not hidden from sight and are openly stated and defended. In this moralistic or religious clash, no one can claim to be right or wrong. Both sides could even be right!

My personal position, as I stated earlier in this post, is that I am not taking sides with any one philosophy, I am a liberalist with my own views on almost everything under the Sun, and I will not endorse any position if that is not compatible with rational logic. I am not a political person, neither am I a deeply religious person. I am not a Christian but appreciate the service that the Christian school system rendered for me. I try to learn about and appreciate other religions as a philosophical curiosity venture than anything else. I have more and enough blog posts on my blog site to justify what I am stating above!

In a nutshell, let us not have wrong expectations of people, however exalted or powerful they may be. It is not necessary to agree with their stated positions on any matter. We should have our own thoughts about anything which impacts global affairs. I thought that this purported attack by “media” organizations on Christian Evangelism and School system was something of relevance to dissect and understand. If such an attack has happened, that is also despicable because not all systems and people will toe a Supreme Court judgement – they make their own judgements which, if not illegal, should be tolerated in a free society. In effect, tolerance should work both ways, if you know what I mean. It cannot be unidirectional in terms of complete support to the affected part of society – what about taking a non-supportive, yet tolerant view of the incontrovertible fact that there are people who exist who espouse a totally contrarian view which they think is their right to believe in, espouse and endorse – publicly or privately. The response should not be violence, we have seen that such an unacceptable behaviour happens even in the U.S., and so often in third-world countries (I am deliberately not using the politically correct terminology of “developing countries” here!).

Have a great weekend, and more to come from me during the next day or so,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th January 2019

Secular Experience Indonesia


I am currently on a family vacation in Yogyakarta (also called as Jogjakarta) in Central Java region of Indonesia. As my readers should be aware, Indonesia is a secular country though most of its citizens are Muslims; as a tourist guide put it to us, it is a moderate Islamic country with acceptance of other religions and full respect for those people who follow other religions. This is the result of a very long and rich history of tolerance, and also the fact that Indonesia was strongly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism before it eventually adopted Islam. I am not a historian, neither am I a religious studies specialist, and I am writing all this based on my understanding and interactions with people who I meet when I travel.

This means that most Indonesians were Hindus and then Buddhists before they became Muslims. That explains their moderate views on religion, though most are practicing Muslims. Christianity has also has had some influence on Indonesians. Most Indonesians are soft-spoken and polite, with a deference to almost everyone and especially to foreigners.

At one point in time, Yogyakarta was the capital of Indonesia, and there is even a Presidential Palace here – we passed by it on our way to see the Royal Kraton Palace, or the Sultan’s abode. There is not much industrial activity in Yogyakarta, the economy seems to be centred around tourism and other service industries.

There are two key temple zones around Yogyakarta – one is the Prambanan Temple which is a very large Hindu temple, with individual temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are hundreds of other smaller temples in the Prambanan temple zone. It was damaged considerably during a big earthquake which occurred in 2006, with its epicentre at Yogyakarta. The main temple has been restored with significant effort after the earthquake. The architectural design of the temple complex has obviously been influenced heavily by Indian Hindu temple construction, but the ingenuity of Prambanan construction comes due to the interlocking stones which prevents them from sliding down in case of any disturbances. The stones were gathered from the rivers which carried volcanic ash from the nearby volcanoes. During the restoration, concrete has been poured to solidify the structure. Amazing indeed.

Some pictures from the Prambanan temple as below:

We also visited the world famous Borobudur Buddhist Temple. At both temples (Prambanan and Borobudur), there were hundreds of school children streaming in, because December has school holidays in Indonesia. There were not many foreigners, my guide told me that most Europeans visit in July and August, and further November to March is a rainy period. Luckily we were spared from the rains so far when we visited the two temples, though it drizzled this morning quite heavily for a short while.

Borobudur is all about Buddha. I have always been impressed about Buddhist philosophy, though I may not agree with Siddhartha for abandoning his wife Maya and their only child, when Siddhartha left his family to get into meditation. Though Buddhism has many variants itself, the ideas pertaining to samsara, karma and nirvana are easily articulated and understood. Some of the ideas are in the pictures below:

Pictures from Borobudur Temple as below:

Overall, the visit to these two temples has been enlightening and revealing: the historic influence of India on Indonesia and several other countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., in South East Asia cannot be underestimated.

More coverage on my Indonesian vacation will follow, in the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th December 2018

Money is the Religion of Choice


One of my esteemed friends mentioned this catch phrase during our get-together party today on some special occasion, and it rung a bell in me.

I have blogged about the negative influence of religions in general on humanity. Of course, there is some positive impact of religions as well, but the continuing negative aspects overwhelm anything positive. Even today, hundreds of people are getting killed or imprisoned around the world due to some religious differences between themselves and the perpetrators.

But, let us put that argument behind us for a moment.

While it is hard to generalize, it is apparent that most people would choose money over almost anything else, including religion, in an increasingly commercial world. People wish to earn, or get money, for themselves and their families, given that life has become uncertain across several key parameters. Life long employment has disappeared almost everywhere, except may be in Japan. Keeping a well-paying job has increasingly become difficult, even in the IT industry, and certainly in the Financial industry, as Robotics and Artificial Intelligence come into the mainstream in these industries. Their impact is now being felt in many industries and avenues of human endeavour. Working people are getting impacted negatively, and those over the age of 40 are questioning their sustainability.

Given such a situation is fast emerging, it is no wonder that people want to save more money to handle the challenges of their future.

On the other hand, wealthy people want to make more money as it probably caters to their adrenaline rush needs, or just to keep proving to themselves that they can indeed make more money as and when they choose to do so. What does this extra money do except to fatten their banking accounts? Nothing. They are not going to take all their money to the graveyard.

The income inequality around the world, the kind of things that wealthy people flaunt around, the many things that working class people still do not have – all this and more drives the insatiable need for securing more money.

So, what is the religion of most people?

It is none other than money.

How about we fill up a government form with “Money” against the religion column?

Money, Money and Money.

Money drives peoples’ behaviour. It alters their behaviour. It forces them to err in their judgements. It prods them to take shortcuts. It sometimes pushes them to commit crimes.

Is that different from a regular religion?

No.

It is the same if you think carefully in terms of analogies. Religion does all of the above to normal people, and more. Religion also induces passion in people.

So Money is indeed, a religion.

It may not be for many people who would hate to replace or equate religion with money.

But, for many more people, Money has become a religion, and that is driving the demand for more money. That is driving more errors in judgements. That is damaging peoples’ reputations as we are witnessing recently (I am referring here to Carlos Ghosn of Nissan – Renault).

And, Greed knows no limits. It has no limits when it is used to fulfil peoples’ egos with desires.

Man’s desires have no bounds, as we all know.

Can a regular religion obliterate those desires and errors and mistakes and potential crimes?

Don’t bet on it.

It is not surprising most people have dual lives or dual personalities, if you know what I mean.

A businessman who is extremely greedy to make more money, even at the cost of his workers, could be extremely pious and religious. We have seen that behaviour time and again.

Hence, here is the unsavoury conclusion: Money is a Religion, and it more than qualifies to be one. The regular religions should take note! But I won’t be surprised if they know this already, as most religions are, in any case, money-making machinery which is well-oiled over the years. Money is, indeed, the oil for most religions.

Are you a convert to this “Money Religion”?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th November 2018

Hangzhou – an amazing destination


I spent the past few days in Hangzhou, the 4th largest metropolitan area of China, just an hour away from Shanghai by high-speed bullet train.

During my previous visit, I was not able to spend any time to see places of importance in Hangzhou, so I was determined to spend a day of personal time during last week’s trip.

As it has become the normal impact on any visitor, most major cities of China astound you with their modernity, infrastructure, lovely hotels, organized traffic and cleanliness. Hangzhou is no different. It is sleek and modern. It has relatively newer infrastructure with some gleaming new malls (I visited two of them). It is well-industrialized, and has a per-capita GDP of over USD 20K! It has good roads, and apparently well-managed traffic, but then Chinese drivers are as bad as Indian drivers in Indian roads, they cut across others and try to squeeze their way between two lanes, and quite rash in terms of speeding up.

Apart from the above, Hangzhou has a long rich history going back couple of thousand years. It has managed to integrate its historical past with its modern society, but I was not happy about the manner in which they are maintaining their old Buddhist temples. More about that later in this post.

I had time only to visit two important tourist destinations in Hangzhou: one was the West Lake, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site; the other was the stunning Lingyin Buddhist Temple & Monastery, also called “Temple of Soul’s Retreat”. Both places are so huge, it will be an injustice to write about the smallish experiences I had, but then I would like to share what little I did during just half-day of precious time!

First, I went to Lingyin Temple (it costs RMB 45 for an admission ticket or SGD 9). One thing you got to be prepared anywhere of tourist importance in China is the crowd. Even on a weekday, you will find thousands of people streaming in – not unlike India, but more in terms of numbers. Nobody speaks English, including the staff manning ticket counters, so you have to use sign language [I am always even more amazed with the huge growth of China’s economy given that the people struggle with any foreign languages, especially English, and still manage to sell all that they produce to the world!]. The only signs of Westernization are the KFC, McDonald’s and Starbucks – which are all ubiquitous across China. But even at these outlets, no one speaks or understands English so use your fingers to point items on the menu!

The Temple and Monastery were established at the present location by an Indian monk in 4th Century AD (a very important contribution by India to China!!). I went around the temple and walked on stone slabs which were probably 1,500 years old. Lingyin Temple is considered as one of the top Buddhist temples in all of China, and so it is no wonder it continues to attract thousands of devotees from around China.

From the Temple, I went to the “Broken Bridge” across the West Lake (around 5 KMs cab ride), which is the Northern part of the West Lake. As I said, it is a beautiful part of Hangzhou, which has inspired monks and artists over many centuries. It was so pleasant to walk across this bridge – I decided to spend more time and walk for a couple of KMs to enjoy the fresh air and see the Lotus flowers floating on the lake along with some pretty swans as well. A nice walk, but it was bit foggy around 5 PM. My guess is that the fog will clear off towards the nightfall, and it would be a beautiful locale with lights all around the lake’s periphery. I should say it was an excellent walk!

It was a great experience, but I quickly became modern by walking into a Starbucks outlet across the street (difficult to cross, like it is in India) located in a nice two-storey house.

I believe I have not even scratched the surface of Hangzhou. To demonstrate how modern is Hangzhou, I thought it would be pertinent to show to you the walls of a modern restaurant in a glitzy mall that I went to for dinner. Make your own conclusions!!!

Let me also say one thing about Hangzhou that would be rather surprising: taxi fares and food are cheaper than Singapore, or even India. Definitely far cheaper than the Western world, for sure. I used the DIDI app for calling cab to the airport (and my friend did it for other locations) and it costed just RMB 100 (or SGD 20) for a distance of nearly 30 KMs in a new comfortable limousine (called “premier taxi” in the DIDI app). The DIDI app is similar to the OLA app in India or the GRAB app in Singapore, very convenient with reasonable fares, and it also has an in-built English to Mandarin translator!!!

Cheers, and Have a Great Weekend, Folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd September 2018

Child Abuse


I have been influenced by various religious philosophies over the years, but the maximum influence has come about from two – Hinduism and Christianity.

I will not dwell on Hindu Philosophy in this post, and instead focus on the major influence that Christian Philosophy has had on my upbringing.

Like many compatriots from India, I was educated in Jesuit educational institutions in India, which I hold in high regard for the values that they imparted to the students (most of who were not Christians, but Hindus and other religious minorities) and the quality of education that they delivered. My parents, like many other parents, did not send me to “localized” Hindu-focused educational institutions, but rather decided that Jesuit schools were better choices for their academic standing and values that they taught.

This, by no means, demean other excellent localized schools run by various religious denominations in India. There have always been a wide variety of good schools all across India. I am referring to a time line and a place in which it was determined that Christian schools were a better bet.

I am taking time to explain the rationale, as the Hindu ideology is a dominant influence in today’s India, and there are a number of people who would, without deep thinking, jump on to the Hindu bandwagon to the detriment of established institutions belonging to other religious denominations. Such a tendency is detrimental to social development and should not be encouraged by the government of the day.

Given this background, I am pained by the reported abuse of children by Catholic Clergy in Pennsylvania and other places. Such things happen with other religions as well, but the scale of abuse in Pennsylvania wherein thousands of young children were sexually molested by Clergy who were looked upon as saviours is simply shocking. It took a long while for a Cardinal in Australia to be brought to justice recently, and there were significant abuses in Chile, if I recall correctly.

What is also shocking is that the Pope did not proactively condemn these abuses vehemently in the first place. He let the court system to take its due course in Pennsylvania, instead of sacking and excommunicating all Clergymen who were found to be involved in child abuse practices. And, the court was vigorous in its attack on the Church in Pennsylvania, pointedly hitting at the coverups by the Church in all the child abuse scandals, over a period of 70 years!

Catholics apparently are losing their faith in the Papacy and his determination to hold his own folks to account – especially in such a sensitive area as child abuse. The faith had been misplaced it appears!

I just listened to the live CNN broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, referring to the hurt of children who were abused and the families which were broken by the practices of the Clergy in his welcome speech – he is a bold person, other PMs would not have dared to bring up the issue right in front of the Pope seated on the dais. Not only that, Leo Varadkar is openly gay in the majority Catholic nation of Ireland, which also has the distinction of legalizing abortion a few months ago.

Times have changed.

The Catholic Church needs to find its feet and carefully wade through the abuse scandal, and re-establish it credentials with specific actions – not just with words such as “we are sorry for what happened”, and “we feel the guilt” and “we will repent for such abominable sins”.

The irony is that the Church runs lots of schools for young children around the world. Hopefully, there are no more scandals involving young children at a very impressionable age, who will be forced to carry the sexual abuse trauma all through their lives. There is a huge press coverage on the Pennsylvania abuse scandal only if you care to look up on the web. It is sickening, to say the least.

This blog post is not about accusing the Catholic Religion or Church or the Christian Philosophy. The religion is above all such infractions and sins, it maintains its stature like the other religions of the world. My gripe is only about the hugely negative impact that the scandal would have on peoples’ faith, not just the Catholics, but also non-Catholics who have come to depend on the quality of the academics in Christian educational institutions run mostly by Clergymen and more importantly, on the value systems that were always imparted in these fine schools and colleges.

I hope the Church would take cognizance of such serious concerns, and address the same in an open transparent manner to reduce the anxiety of parents. Of course, the Church has to do a lot more to retain Catholics who have been departing the faith, but that is their core job of running the religion and they have to do what they believe is right. As far as I am concerned, I do not depend on any “middlemen or middle ground” for my faith – I am on my own, as I had written in several posts in the past.

Time to heal the victims, and hope the Pope will do his job on this count, and not delay justice in the future – he should not listen to his own Cardinals who could be wrongly advising him not to apologize, or not to take drastic actions. Now is the time to heal, repent and more importantly, take aggressive actions against erring Clergymen who have turned traitors to the faith which brought them up to where they are in the Church hierarchy with huge trust reposed in them by Catholics and parents.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th August 2018