A CLOSET WITH STIFFLY-HINGED DOORS

Three days ago I was asked a straight question which required a direct answer. Usually these are the questions I enjoy answering as it takes little effort. Straight question = straight answer. But this is the one question I always dread being asked as it is the one question that has the potential for real physical danger. No, it is not “are you gay?” On today’s social acceptance scale, this would be the easiest to answer. That weather-beaten closet has well-oiled hinges and an easily turned key.

It starts with “Do you believe in …” and here the problem initiates. You see, I don’t believe in anything. The word “believe” means “accept as true; take to be true” and I accept not, neither do I take to be true anything. It’s a cop-out—a failure to face some problem squarely. It means to give up the need to search for answers, to find out for yourself. It means the truth, if there is such a thing, will always remain out of reach or belong to someone else with a more dominant personality.

“Do you believe in God?” asked the delightful staunch Kashmiri Muslim over a cup of chai. I am in a country that has, at last thumb-suck count, over 33 million gods and growing, in a community that is staunchly Tibetan Buddhist—the Dalai Lama being the official leader here—surrounded by all sorts of other faith systems including Sikh, Jew, Islam, Jain, Christian and whatever else requires the kneeling, bowing down to, praying, muttering, wailing, beating drums, gnashing of teeth, burning candles, incense, offerings or some ritual to worship or show reverence to some or other unknown and unseen “higher presence” (including ancestors) in expectancy of intervention, or near or distant future reward or punishment.

“No” invited a look of blankness and a launch into all the teachings of Mohammed. Now just because I don’t believe in something doesn’t mean I don’t know about it. Raised in a strictly Christian family—both my parents, both sets of grandparents, my in-laws and their respective entourages are all practising Christians and most of them in the ministry—I had no option as a child but to unwillingly follow suit. I won competitions for reciting the most verses in the Bible, I sang at church gatherings, I did all the stuff required to maintain a semblance of familial and community harmony, but it stuck in my craw. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so…” I struggled to say “Jesus” and I would mumble the word.As for the Bible … written by whom and when?

I have read and looked into many religions, read the Koran in translation, attempted the Bhagavad Gita, dabbled here, read there, studied and pondered. I need to do this to understand others, what makes them tick. And none of them makes any sense. Sure, they are lovely and not so lovely bedtime stories, but then so are those written by Hans Christian Andersen or the brothers Grimm, which are just as believable or “true”.

So I posed the same question I asked my parents as young child: “what if this is all there is? What if, when we die, we turn to dust, it’s over, it’s done, what then? Does it matter? Shouldn’t we simply be living morally and doing good deeds because that’s the way we should be living? Why do we stand and clap our hands, or bow and fall on our faces to something we don’t know, in the hope of one day going to some mythical Heaven or Nirvana, in fear of going to some Hell?”

“But people don’t work that way” is the scariest response I have been given, and true for almost 98% of the world’s population. “People” it would appear, in order to make sense of their daily trials and tribulations, of debilitating diseases, of sudden deaths in flaming car accidents or plane crashes, of birth defects, of acts of cruelty, of sudden natural disasters (a.k.a. Acts of God in insurance policies, thus eliminating the need for pay-outs), require a higher being to be blamed or acceded to, or used as a crutch or an excuse. “God’s will be done. I am waiting for God.”

On a trip to New Zealand a few years ago, I was telling a dear lady about the orphanage in Cambodia I had started and she asked, “Which church do you belong to?” I responded “none”. “Then why do you do it?” In horror I looked at her and responded, “Because it needs to be done. Isn’t that why we should be doing things?”

I feel sick to my stomach when someone tells me “God is good” or that “dear Jesus takes such good care of me” or “we were waiting for a sign.” “God sent you,” I was told in Kenya where I closed down the orphanage exploiting children that “God” sent me to run. Wonder what they think now? To wait for some sign or some guru to give a blessing for an action that should be taken, is beyond the pale. No wonder the world is in the state it is.

Is there anything I do believe? No, there are things I know and things I don’t know and if they are important enough to me, I will make the effort to find out.

I know tomorrow the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, maybe not for me, but it will for someone and for this planet. It’s a law of nature. As long as this earth keeps turning on its axis and orbiting its sun in this galaxy, this is what is going to happen regardless of whether it is inhabited or not. I know that there is goodness in every human being—I may have to dig horrendously deep sometimes to find it, but it’s there, and if it’s worth the effort, I will keep digging. If not, I walk away.

I live in a state of joy, gratitude and thanks. Not to some ethereal omniscient carrot-and-stick presence … to life itself. For my intellect and physical attributes I am grateful that my parents were not first cousins. For my health, said same parents and a strong constitution acquired from a childhood of non-namby-pambying. For my comparative youthfulness, again my genealogy—thanks, mom. For my constant thirst for knowledge, again, my parents who urged us to find out, to learn, to question…a bit of a dichotomy this on the religion front.

And I have no fear of dying. None whatsoever. I don’t want to get hurt, or become ill as that means pain and recovery and could take a long time at great expense. But I don’t have a death-wish either. I enjoy living and I walk without fear. I like what I do and how I move. I live to live, to do the best I can with what I have been given. To alleviate suffering where I find it, to give a smile, a hug of encouragement, a meal, a shoulder to cry on, to walk on this planet as gently as possible and take in all the wonders with the eyes and mental faculties I was gene’d with. The only meaning to life, is what I give it and should meaning ever leave, the only one to blame or wail to, or look to for reawakening is me. I do not congregate, or bow, or worship, or pray, or light candles unless there is a power failure or I burn aromatic oils for the sheer pleasure of the scent.

I am, and one day I will am not. It’s a fact. It’s the way it is. And I delight in being.

 
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