Be what you want to be
Be what you want to be
Aug 15, 2011: Young adults are faced with a world of choices when it comes to selecting a wardrobe, food, education, friends, vehicles, cellphone, e-applications, entertainment and ideology.
However, they are expected to stay bound to the faith they are born into. Sonal Srivastava examines why elective faith is an important part of growing up in a world where liberty is given high priority.
What does freedom mean to you? Does it mean the right to do anything you want, or does it go deeper than that? True freedom is that which takes you beyond boundaries you are normally accustomed to. It is to be able to do what you want, and to believe in whatever you want to believe, whether in a God who created the universe or the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - the god of the Pastafarians. The truth is that we are what we believe, but our belief systems are mostly decided by our family, friends or colleagues.
Inheritance of belief
Very often, the die is cast even before we learn to spell religion. By virtue of our birth, we adopt the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or Sikh faith, settling into a mould that should ideally be broken, if we want to free the mind of prejudices and become fully aware. Osho said: "Your freedom is a supreme value. Nothing is higher than that. But your freedom is possible only if you are not 'encaged' in your habits, unconscious patterns of living." Are we really free?
"Did you pray to God today?" Sudha asked little Shivansh, a daily ritual that most children grow up with, whichever faith they are born into. The five-year-old went running to the puja room, touched Krishna's feet and said the Lord's prayer he had learnt in school ("Our Father Who Art In Heaven..."), and wondered whether the Hindu god understood the prayer. To Shivansh, there was no contradiction here - a prayer was a prayer, whether it was addressed to a Christian or Hindu god. Regardless of being born into a particular faith - in this case, Hinduism - he ought to be at liberty to choose any belief system, as an adult. Doing so would be a natural extension of the succession of choices Shivansh would make as a young adult: Choice of college, stream of study, friends, clothes, and eventually, life partner.
Believer or not?
To follow a religion, you need to believe its tenets. "The creed you adopt should appeal to your logic and rationale," says Tarini Mehta, a lawyer. Born a Hindu, Tarini shifted allegiance to Tibetan Buddhism when she turned 18, impressed by Buddhism's simple teachings and meditation techniques. For 24-year-old Arjun Singh, Scientology emerged as an interesting option. It helps him understand his mind. "It is a lot about the mind and how to control it," he says. Born to a Sikh mother and Christian father, Arjun would visit both gurdwara and church as a child. But when he grew up, the New Age religion held his attention as it answered many of Arjun's questions.
Religion helps us cope with grief and loss in life. How you recover from a setback depends on what you tell yourself in times of crisis. Most of your life's decisions revolve around your belief systems, irrespective of whether you are a believer or not. Faith heals. There is scientific evidence that prayer can help people handle difficult emotions, but some don't believe in it. They follow an alternative belief system that rejects higher authority and brands everything associated with it as irrational.
"My parents are atheists," says Sumedha. "At home I'm not allowed to read Vivekananda's books, even though I find them interesting, so I read them in the college library." Sumedha's father is an active Communist Party member. He brought up his children as atheists and didn't give them surnames and discouraged them from reading religious or philosophical literature.
Atheism is also a belief system; for some, it is a religion. Eventually, Sumedha and her brother rebelled against their father's blanket ban on all things religious. They felt left out, prevented as they were from exploring beyond what they were taught. It's not enough for parents to free children from their own religious ideology; it's equally important that they let their children decide whether they want to believe in something or not.
Freedom of choice
Sometimes, parents feel that by inculcating strong religious beliefs and rituals from the beginning, the child feels secure, being part of a close-knit community that would offer comfort and solidarity in times of despair. "We didn't encourage religion in our household, so my son eventually grew up to be an atheist, but I feel that he might be missing out on something that comforts me. May be he knows how to deal with life without these props," says Neena Ghosh, a homemaker. She prays earnestly every day; this helps her deal with grief.
A family's religious outlook is an intrinsic part of its profile. Religion is part of cultural identity; children are named after gods and goddesses. Birth, marriage and death rituals are governed by it. Your faith or the lack of it becomes an integral part of your being.
Is religion a cultural and social convenience for most - to know what to do from the time we are born till the time we die - or do we need it to transcend the physical realm and merge with the Higher Consciousness? Whatever it is, choosing your faith is best done when your mind is free of fear and prejudice.