Saturday, October 04, 2014

Darsanam & Dharmam

A precocious sounding 15 year old (a student of mine) asked - 'Why do we do all these crazy religious practices like doing aarthi for vehicles? I have a sense that the practices in ancient India had a different goal. Do you have any idea about them?'.

I said religion is a highly loaded word. Different groups of people make different meanings for it. As I experience it (and as I understand it), it traditionally does the following two things:

a. Darsanam - Each individual is a complex spectrum of characteristics. Religion and its practice should help the individual discover oneself in all it full glory.

b. Dharma - The world being so complex, we are continuously forced to make choices in the world (with complex consequences). Religion must provide cultural practices that help us in making increasingly healthy and socially optimal choices. Towards this, It also provides practices for us to nurture our ideals. For example, there will be a devata to nurture the quality of heroism. For example, Lord Muruga who is the ideal warrior, if worshipped will help to nurture those qualities in an individual who desires them.
In order to accomplish the above two goals, lot of social / political / economic / cultural practices came up in India as the above two D's were the explicit goals for most people here once upon a time. In modern times, much of these are practices are inappropriately applied to people who do not need them. For example, a tailor need not worship Lord Muruga as he/she is unlikely to need wartime bravery. Since people have mostly lost touch with the goals of darsanam and dharmam, inappropriate cultural practices are followed and hence they appear crazy So, each individual should figure out their goals in life and choose appropriate practices.

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