I like going to a temple that is either beautiful or has a pleasant atmosphere, be it Hindu, Jain, Buddhist or Sikh. Nor do I resist visiting a church, masjid or a synagogue when someone with me suggests we go. On my own initiative however I have not often been to a place of worship. Having gone, never have I felt touched, delighted or consoled. Intellectually, I concluded a long time ago that a place of worship was meant to help the devotee to focus his attention on the Almighty. The moorty or image of an avatar, be it of Krishna, Shankar, Mahaveer, Buddha or any other helps the devotee to concentrate. As does the Granth Sahib in a gurdwara. The distinction however between idolatry and non-idolatry makes no sense to me. In Catholic churches, invariably a crucifix is prominent and quite often the statue of Virgin Mary. Are they not idols? Why does a Protestant church also generally have a crucifix or at least, an altar? And always at the head of the church whereby every devotee can view it.
Why the mehrab in every masjid? Except to help the namazi to focus towards Mecca before he commences prayer? In fact, in the context of non-idolatry, why need there be the church or the masjid at all? If protection against inclement weather is an explanation, why not any building? Why a stylized construction which is what a church or a masjid is? My answer is to enable the worshipper to get into a mood and to focus on the never seen Almighty. Destroying other peoples' places of worship is nothing else but an excuse or a justification to eradicate their religion and take over their loyalty to the iconoclast's faith. Christianity and Islam both claim to be non-idolatrous. Why then should an Islamist convert a church into a masjid, as was done to the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul? Why did the Christians, soon after their re-conquest of Spain, reconvert masjids to churches? As they changed the Almohed mosque into a cathedral at Seville. It is nothing but aggression or retaliation in the name of god. Here, the question must arise as to what is god and is there one? No one has seen or met him. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans and Sri Aurobindo were believed to have had a glimpse of the divine or the ultimate reality. No one has claimed to have met god or even a super person who legislates morality, manages the universe and dispenses rewards or punishments like a judge.
The faith in Jehovah (for Jews), God or Allah is a matter of belief. Fair enough. The Hindus who follow the path of bhakti are equally driven by faith. The Buddhists and Jains however are not blind believers. There is no concept of God in these faiths which are at once an explanation of life as well as prescriptions of good and correct conduct. Original Hinduism or sanatan dharma (eternal faith) also did not have the concept of a godhead. It placed its faith in the concept of cause and effect, not far from the principle of Physics that every action has a reaction, equal and opposite. Karma and bhagya, deed leads to destiny, is little else.
It was under pressure from competing faiths, especially under attack from Islam, that Hinduism had to be taken from the classes to the masses in a language and a manner which even the illiterate could understand. That is why was introduced the equation of swami and das, or master and servant or God and man. That is how the avatars, like Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, deities like the many devis Durga, Saraswati came to be popularly taken as gods and goddesses. The progression from the intellectual to the popular was so great that the Christians from Europe were able to allege that Hinduism was polytheistic (many gods) unlike Christianity which was monotheistic (single god). This claim is doubtful because Christians believe in the trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Surprisingly, a number of Hindu leaders, including Swami Vivekanand have admitted that Hinduism was polytheistic. Does that not mean that they also incorrectly accepted avatars and deities as gods?
If I have been able to understand the fundaments of greater Hinduism, which would include all faiths that were born in India, the divine is the super system that comprehensively runs the universe. Is it not wonderful the way unvaryingly revolve the seasons? Summer succeeds spring, how fruit mostly follows flower, the sun rises and sets with perfect regularity. How all human beings are so same and yet not identical. My own life is largely a reflection of karma and bhagya. Where I have striven and with aptitude, I have, more or less, been rewarded. Whenever I have been wayward, careless or wrong, I have been punished. Wherever I have merely desired, and not deserved, I have failed. If my endeavour to know myself had begun earlier, I would have known sooner what I am and what I am not. Then I would have chased fewer shadows and failed less. And in turn, I could have deployed more of my energy in the direction of my aptitude and wasted less time on endeavours driven merely by desire.
One good beginning to knowing the divine is to first know oneself as much as possible. It is however difficult to know oneself; one's ego stands as a curtain in between. The conquest of one's ego is an uphill task. Hence many people are mostly driven by desire and not by deserving. For what one fails to achieve, the person resorts to visiting places of worship, meeting holy men, doing pujah, prayer or ibadat. Pujah is to flatter the unknown, not necessarily the divine, to swear a mannat (offer of sacrifice) is to offer a deal or bargain to the unknown and to make a sacrifice is to induce the divine to giving what one wants. Having said all this, in the life of everyone, there are bound to be some mysteries which cannot be explained by the formula of karma and bhagya in the current life. Like, apparently undeserved punishment, misfortune or even a tragedy in the life of some one who has lived his life rightfully.
We do find the odd perfectly pious person suffering serious setbacks. We know that the person has done no wrong to deserve such punishment. Although, no one knows what he/she did in the previous life, incarnation or janma. This continuation or carry forward is the unknown, unknowable factor. This is where, in my view, Physics ends in the chain of karma and bhagya and faith begins. Personally I do have faith in the transmigration of souls, from one life to the next. For no justifiable reason, I believe I was a tailor in my last life.
Reasoning however is made easier by a look at the Semetic religions and how they explain life in relation to god. For one, Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all totally committed to the concept of god whether Jehova, the Holy Trinity or Allah. Secondly, their explanations are written down, virtually codified, and hence they are called Religions of the Book.
Jews revere the Old Testament and its first five books together called the Pentatench. These books are ascribed to Prophet Moses, pronounced Musa in Islam, who received the original revelation from God on Mount Sinai, traditionally situated in Egypt. They form the birth record of the three Semetic religions. The comprehensive Book called the Torah also consists of the entire Hebrew Bible with the laws, customs etc. that were passed down. Commentaries on them by the ancient Rabbis or Jewish teachers are also recognized as parts of the Torah.
With the advent of Christianity, to the Old Testament was added the New Testament which together comprise the Holy Bible that we know of popularly. The early pages of the Old Testament clearly state the premise of the Semetic religions : that there is only one God and there is no other than the One they respectively believe in. The Jews insist on Jehovah, the Christians on the Trinity comprising the Father, Son (Christ) and the Holy Spirit while Muslims swear by the monopoly of Allah. To quote from the Bible “You shall have no other gods before My face. I, the LORD your God, am a God who brooks no rival.”
The first sentence of every Muslim prayer is LA ILAHA IL-LA I-LAHU (there is no deity But Allah). The explanation of how the world was created, as stated in the opening pages of the Old Testament is :
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, “Let there be light”, “Let there be a firmament between the waters”. God called the firmament Heaven. There was evening and there was morning. God called the dry land Earth. “Let the earth produce vegetation”. “Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; let them be for markers of seasons, days and years”. “Let the waters teem with shoals of living creatures”. “Let the earth bring forth living creatures, live stock, reptiles and wild beasts”. “Let Us make man in Our image”. There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. On the seventh day God ended His work. He rested on the seventh day.
Ayats 30-39, Surrah II (Baqra) of the Holy Quran explain the creation of Man on parallel lines. Islam acknowledges the Judaic prophets beginning with Abraham and ending with Jesus Christ as a prophet but not as Son of God. Moreover, Islam insists that Muhammad was the last prophet who delivered the final message.
The thrust of the aforesaid is that all the three Semetic religions are revealed and the revelation was the supreme Truth, period and no argument. It is a classic premise to launch a thesis in Deductive Logic which should flow faultless from deduction to deduction, derivation to derivation, corollary to corollary. But on the irreversible condition that one does not question the premise. Islam is a perfect piece of such an exercise.
This then is the deductive logic of Islam. Therein lies a secret of its success. Contrast this illustration of the up to down command and its inexorable consequences with the inductive logic of the eastern approach especially of the Hindu ethos. A Jain scripture has summed up its essence as anadi and anant no beginning, no end to the universe. It was a philosophical way of stating “we don't know enough”. The river of life flows on; from where one is standing on the bank one doesn't know its source nor its end. Its source and delta are too far away to be visible. Hence there are few assertions; only suggestions. That all living beings should try to strive for eventual mukti or release from the cycle of births. The more rightfully lived one's life, the superior the next rebirth until ultimately one gets an exemption from the cycle of births which is salvation in western idiom. There are no promises of a great time, say as in heaven or in Islamic jannat; only a potential of eternal peace through mukti. By being not reborn, the individual soul becomes one with the total soul or paramatma.
The corollaries of this eastern down to up approach are noteworthy. Inductive logic means the inference of general laws from particular instances. For example, presume that four Hindus from different corners of India meet and the colour of the rose flower happens to come up for discussion. The Punjabi might claim that roses are red for all of them he has seen were red. The Assamese might say white roses are all he has seen. The Tamil might say pink and the Gujarati yellow. All four might argue and eventually disagree. But implicitly all would agree to disagree. The unspoken sentiment of each of the four could, at the end be, I am right but perhaps the others also may be not wrong. On the other hand, a Semite could well assert that the Almighty meant the rose to be red. All other colours are either other flowers (not roses) or even weeds.
My open and argumentative mind would not be able to absorb the command of deductive assertions contained in the Holy Books. I would prefer to be left to myself to conclude from my particular experiences.