RELIGION and I (Part 1)

As a primary school boy, I was sent to the Pilleyar (Ganesha) temple at examination times, although I topped my class by a large margin every term, except once.  I also accompanied my parents at other times.  We were ardent in our faith.  My father, having overcome a serious illness at about 33, died suddenly at 47, when I was 18.  Within 3 years I then lost the family’s savings through a spectacular academic failure.  So much for faith and fervent prayer.

My future was thereby destroyed, as clearly forewarned after my father’s demise by a perambulating yogi, but unheeded by us.  I doubt that my mother and I were competent to absorb such a warning.  In any event, surely what had to happen had to work itself out.  Late in life I realised that what the yogi had done was to turn my mother’s vision towards Australia, which was in a direction not normally taken by students from British Malaya seeking an overseas qualification.  My folly (or was it my destiny?) led to my mother and my sisters being impoverished.  So much for temple rituals and the priesthood.  I gave away God, Hinduism and all religio-cultural rituals.

Then learning and logic took over!  Studying the belief systems of the simpler societies at my university, and dipping into some anthropology, sociology, psychology, and the major religions, I realised that there has been, and is, an innate need in many, if not most, of us to understand what we humans are, and our place in the Cosmos.

I realised further that:  the complexity and beauty, as well as the observable but inadequately explicable aspects of the experienced world;  the exceedingly complex patterns of inter-linked cause and effect, action and reaction, and the inter-dependencies of the physical, chemical and electromagnetic forces affecting us;  the uniformity, the invariability, the predictive capacity of the laws of nature;  the ecological balance between mobile and fixed forms of life;  the intuitive yearning by sensitive souls for communion with sublime or higher forces not clearly understood;  and the inferred influence of the spirit world, all of which affect our lives, could not have occurred purely by chance.  Instead, they might, I felt, reflect the mind and soul of a Creator.  How else could all that have occurred?  By chance?  Is that another name for an inexplicable cause, akin to the gods of simpler people?

I did conclude, logically, that there had to be a Creator of all that exists.  I then noted, with great interest, that an academic and confirmed atheist had reached the same conclusion after a lifetime of non-belief in a Creator, for exactly the same reasons.  There has to be a Creator, he now accepts, thereby upsetting most severely his former fellow-believers in that causal mechanism named Chance.  Like me, he doesn’t claim to know; only that a creator god makes (unverifiable) sense.

 

(This is an extract from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’)

 

 

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VIKRAM SETH Quotes

Every object strives for its proper place. A book seeks to be near its truest admirer. Just as this helpless moth seeks to be near the candle that infatuates him.

Is it not love that knows how to make smooth things rough and rough things smooth?

I don’t think anyone should be banned. If you don’t like a book, set it aside.

I’m not sure anyone can understand a whole life, even their own.

Think of many things. Never place your happiness in one person’s power. Be just to yourself.

All you who sleep tonight Far from the ones you love, No hand to left or right, An emptiness above– Know that you aren’t alone. The whole world shares your tears, Some for two nights or one, And some for all your years.

Behind every door on every ordinary street, in every hut in every ordinary village in this middling planet of a trivial star, such riches are to be found. The strange journeys we undertake on our earthly pilgrimage, the joy and suffering we taste or confer, the chance events that leave us together or apart, what a complex trace they leave: so personal as to be almost incommunicable, so fugitive as to be almost irrecoverable.

 

(From AZ Quotes.  Vikram Seth CBE is an Indian novelist and poet. He has written several novels and poetry books. He has received several awards … Awards: Padma Shri, Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts, US & Canada.)

 

 

V.S. NAIPAL Quotes

If a writer doesn’t generate hostility, he is dead.

The Europeans wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else; but at the same time they wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves.

An autobiography can distort; facts can be realigned. But fiction never lies: it reveals the writer totally.

It’s very attractive to people to be a victim. Instead of having to think out the whole situation, about history and your group and what you are doing… if you begin from the point of view of being a victim, you’ve got it half-made. I mean intellectually.

We cannot understand all the traits we have inherited. Sometimes we can be strangers to ourselves.

The world outside existed in a kind of darkness; and we inquired about nothing.

And it was strange, I thought, that sorrow lasts and can make a man look forward to death, but the mood of victory fills a moment and then is over

(From AZ Quotes.  Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, TC, is a Nobel Prize-winning British writer who was born in Trinidad. Nobel Prize in Literature, Booker Prize, Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society)

FINDING GOD

God can be realized through all paths. All religions are true. The important thing is to reach the roof. You can reach it by stone stairs or by wooden stairs or by bamboo steps or by a rope. You can also climb up by a bamboo pole.

You may say that there are many errors and superstitions in another religion. I should reply: Suppose there are. Every religion has errors. Everyone thinks that his watch alone gives the correct time. It is enough to have yearning for God. It is enough to love Him and feel attracted to Him: Don’t you know that God is the Inner Guide? He sees the longing of our heart and the yearning of our soul.

Suppose a man has several sons. The older boys address him distinctly as “Baba” or “Papa”, but the babies can at best call him “Ba” or “Pa”. Now, will the father be angry with those who address him in this indistinct way? The father knows that they too are calling him, only they cannot pronounce his name well. All children are the same to the father.

Likewise, the devotees call on God alone, though by different names. They call on one Person only. God is one, but His names are many.

(I found the above in my hard-drive. Source not recorded.)

 

The facade of democracy

Australia plays a prominent part in the push for developing nations of interest to the Western world to adopt our form of politics.  A vote for each adult should lead to governments based on representative democracy.  This will replace traditional tribal governance with rule by political parties (the new form of tribalism), aided and abetted by religious groupings (the other form of tribalism). … …

Western democracy is the form that Australia and its stepfather the USA insist, either patronisingly or ferociously, on foisting upon countries of interest to us.  These include the most powerful, viz. China, to the least, viz. any small nation being ‘minded’ by Deputy Sheriff nations appointed by Sheriff USA. … …

I mean no disrespect to the notion of sheriffs delivering democracy, but do wonder if the form of democracy preferred by the Ultra-West is the optimum form for citizens in non-Western nations to participate in their governance. … … Is it that democracy simply permits foreign exploiters to rip off some of these nations, and to pollute their rivers, without much benefit to the ‘natives’?

Does the one-size-fits-all approach to democracy take into adequate account the wide variability in governance prevailing in those countries we believe should have policy or regime change?  Purely in passing, I do wonder how Australia can claim to have a view as to whether there should be regime or policy change in another country.  Who the hell are we?  We Australians would not accept being on the receiving end of such views if held by another nation.

In any event, does our insistence that other nations should adopt our preferred form of democracy also allow for the variability found within the nations of the West, especially in the areas of eligibility for voting rights, optional vs. compulsory voting, delineation of electoral boundaries, terms of office, bicameral vs. unicameral parliaments, etc?  Does it realistically allow for the variable stages of socio-economic development in the real world and, probably, the need for a compromise approach?  Or, is this just an attempt by us either to break down tribal leadership, or to impose neo-colonialism?  Should the target nations consider this adage:  Beware the peddler promising you a charmed life were you to buy his snake oil?

… … My unusual experience with Australian representative democracy at its three levels of government says that it is quite a sham.  Its advantage over tribal or other forms of leadership is that our political leaders can be replaced from time to time – to what end?  Since the tribes of Western democracy, the political parties, would remain permanently on the pitch, how is the nation better off?

Isn’t our choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, there being little difference in modern times between their policies?  In the dark of political control, all cats are grey, remaining categorically self-centred;  like cats at dinner time, our political parties at election time offer voters unlimited love! … …

Our political system, as a whole, is based on the individualism underpinning the political and social ethos of the relatively new nations of the West created by immigrants;  viz. the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand being the nations of interest to us.  I term them the Ultra-West.  Their tribes are almost all political, even if tinged heavily by religion or otherwise coloured slightly by ethnicity.

In the rest of the nations created by white people for themselves (white people accounting for no more than 15% of the world’s population), tribal allegiances of a varying nature may continue to prevail.  After all, the white nations of Europe began to be constructed only about four centuries or so ago to reflect tribal agglomerations, the presence of some minority tribes notwithstanding.  Each tribe underpinning a nation is necessarily infused and influenced by its religious affiliation.  In this context, how different are they from non-European nations ruled by a theocracy, or a god-king, or the military, or a satrap of a dominant foreign power, with some camouflage provided by a form of election? … …

On sensitive issues such as voluntary  euthanasia (no one would be killed under such a policy),  overseas aid directed to family planning (viz. birth control);  replacing the monarchy with a republic;  direct election by the citizenry of the president of a future republic (instead of being appointed by the government of the day);  a national bill of rights;  the importation of certain medications related to birth control;  how do we allow the values of the Vatican and other political conservatives to prevail at all times?  The view that our lives should be guided by authority – how different is it from the practice of the former Soviet, or the current rule by the Chinese authorities?

On these and other major issues such as the nation’s involvement in someone else’s wars;  and the demands of our stepfather or heavy-hitting foreign investors or rich contributors to the party, what can we voters do to have official decisions reflect the will of a substantial majority?  The popular answer is ‘sweet fanny adams.’ … …

Could true democracy then be achieved by independent parliamentary representatives who would vote in parliament as directed  by their voters?  A citizen’s referendum on major issues?  Religious fanatics and agents of foreign powers would then be effectively contained.

(These are extracts from my book ‘Musings at Death’s Door.’)

 

 

 

 

 

EDWARD SAID quotes

Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.

The sense of Islam as a threatening Other – with Muslims depicted as fanatical, violent, lustful, irrational – develops during the colonial period in what I called Orientalism. The study of the Other has a lot to do with the control and dominance of Europe and the West generally in the Islamic world. And it has persisted because it’s based very, very deeply in religious roots, where Islam is seen as a kind of competitor of Christianity.

Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.

The Orient that appears in Orientalism, then, is a system of representations framed by a whole set of forces that brought the Orient into Western learning, Western consciousness, and later, Western empire…. The Orient is the stage on which the whole East is confined. On this stage will appear the figures whose role it is to represent the larger whole from which they emanate. The Orient then seems to be, not an unlimited extension beyond the familiar European world, but rather a closed field, a theatrical stage affixed to Europe.

Ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied.

Part of the main plan of imperialism… is that we will give you your history, we will write it for you, we will re-order the past…What’s more truly frightening is the defacement, the mutilation, and ultimately the eradication of history in order to create… an order that is favorable to the United States.

(From AZ Quotes.    Edward  Said was a professor of literature at Columbia University, a public intellectual, and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies.)                                                                                                   

 

Extracts from ‘It all went terribly wrong’

“That’s a great prospect,” he thought to himself with silent glee. He was peering through the convenient slit in the curtains across the bay window. There she was – a sight to behold. Solidly built, languishing on the sofa with her eyes closed. What was uplifting was that she was nude. In the soft pinkish light, she looked delicious. On a warm night, her nudity was unexceptionable.”

“He sneaked up on the woman silently. Her long blonde hair further cushioned her head. Bending over her from behind, he clamped a hand over her mouth. Her soft lips were parted. With the other hand, he grabbed her by the throat. Then it all went terribly wrong. He heard a terrible scream. It had burst from his brain. It had then worked its way to his lungs and then to his throat. Blindly, he rushed out of the room.”

“He found himself in the master bedroom. In the soft green light, he saw yet another unclad body. But this one was different. It did not attract him as had the other dead one. A huge knife handle was sticking out of the back of the male body. This time he heard no scream.”

“Still running wildly, with the testosterone now replaced by bile rising into his throat, he found an exit. It was the side door. He rushed out, only to trip over the dead body of a very large dog. “It all went terribly wrong” was his thought as he crashed to the ground. As he fell, his head hit a concrete pillar. As he lost consciousness, he felt a strange sense of gratitude; the dog could not bite him.”

“In the meanwhile, a neighbor had rung the police. She was an elderly woman, made slight by wear and tear. She was in poor health, with weak eyes, but with excellent hearing. She had told the police that she had heard screams from next door. … … The latter were screams of joy, she had said to the police. Even in her present physical condition, she was able to remember her own experiences. For memory is not a function of age but of significance.”

“The police finally arrived. They usually do. … … Unsurprisingly, he tripped over the dead dog in the dark. As he fell, his revolver was discharged accidentally. The bullet hit the man in black just as he was trying to get up.”

” The ghosts, seeing all and hearing all, including private human thoughts, giggled to themselves with silent glee as they glided away gracefully to that gargantuan garden for ghosts.”

(This is one of the short, short stories in my book of fiction ‘Pithy Perspectives.’)