I realise that I have completed 54 years of my life. They say a cat has nine lives, but a human being has only one, unless you are a reincarnation. As I have not yet been recognized as a ‘trulku’ by anyone, I guess this is my only life. How nice! Having grown up as an orphan, living mostly in a student hostel, having embraced science to build my career to become a psychiatrist at the age of 45 years, I have not been convinced well to embrace any single religion or faith. Wait a second; I am, but not an atheist in the real sense of the word. I was born as a Hindu; I am still among the flock of Hindus and behave like one among them. I always tick ‘Hinduism’ as my religion, whenever and wherever forms and dossiers require me to do so.
I was fortunate to be very young, rustically naïve and, perhaps, ‘pure’ from an orthodox Hindu perspective to have been able to perform the final rites of my parents at the tender age of 12. As I was a long way from any exposure to modern worldly ways, I was able to meet the stringent dietary and daily protocols that would have been difficult today. If I had to do that now, perhaps my mind would question a lot of things. Is it really necessary to omit salt for 13 days? Why do I have to take only one meal? Why does wearing footwear in any way hinder? All in the name of liberating the souls of my departed parents.
I lived in student hostels most of my formative years. The same child who used to worship cows during Diwali was eating beef in the hostels of Trashigang and Kanglung schools. The child who used to fear being touched by a pig in order to avoid losing his caste started enjoying ‘phakpa sha’. The child who was ordained to believe that alcohol was the beverage of the lowest caste started liking a drink or two. If alcohol would define caste, then today I would be at the nadir of the caste system. Doesn’t matter though, as I don’t believe in it! Nothing really happened; perhaps I am lucky to have been born in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, or else I would have been ‘lynched’ by now for declaring that I have taken beef, a la Dadri.
When I was young, in the name of religion, a he-goat used to be sacrificed during Dushera. The goat used to be identified well in advance as the one belonging to ‘devta’ and the offering was for Durga. Of course, we enjoyed the meat afterwards. Back in school, we learnt prayers written in “chokey”, which the Dzongkha teacher made us memorize and recite line by line. It still happens in our schools! When I got scared at night I used to recite ‘Om, Mani, Padme Hung’! Even today, it is the only ‘mantra’ that I know or have learnt the most. When I get shit scared, my pounding heart goes ‘Om, Mani…’
My parents were straightforward Hindus; practiced what was passed on from generations, and the rituals were also pretty straightforward. I still don’t know whether some of the rituals should be practiced! By the time I became 10 or 11 my father suddenly discovered the influence of ISKON. One day he came home with a slate carved with ‘Harey Rama, Harey Rama, Rama, Rama, Harey, Harey! Harey Krishna, Harey Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Harey, Harey! I remember reciting that over hundred times. Nothing happened!
Around the same time, Vaishnavism came to our village from Surey, Gelephu. It required people to sort of get baptized by getting branded with ‘shankha’ and ‘chakra’ on each deltoid or thereabout. After that people were expected to live in purity – meaning becoming pure vegetarian, not mixing with people of other faith, etc. As the village headman (gup), my father refused to accept people converting to Vaishnavism.
By around 1975, Vaishnavism finally penetrated our village after the death of my parents. In fact, all my paternal as well as maternal uncles, my siblings, cousins and most of the Brahmins in my village embraced Vaishnavism. However, not everyone turned vegan.
This was the time my mind started questioning beliefs, faiths and religions. I keep hearing people say that ‘god is one’, even Facebook says so. But I also keep getting a message that ‘my god is better than your god’, or ‘my way is the best way to hit god’. At times I feel like a lost child; lost and stranded in the middle of nowhere asking for direction to reach my destination. But the directions are too many and mostly contradictory! How the hell will the lost child reach his destination?
Faith and religion are as confounding as is portrayed in the Bollywood flick ‘P.K’ One set of people believes that cows will help you cross the river to heaven – a mere touch of its tail is enough – after you die. Others have no problem eating beef. Yet others believe that some ‘mantra’ or ‘knowledge’ given by a particular guru will deliver you straight upstairs. While some think that pork is dirty meat, yet many enjoy eating it. Some say ‘don’t eat meat, for it is equal to cannibalism’; others advise that meat is very nutritious and the best source of protein. Some say, ‘oh you believe in that’? Then you have not gotten the real ‘gyan’! Anyone who has not received the gyan is not going to be liberated ever. You will remain as a restless soul after you die’.
Some say, ‘my guru is god, just believe in him and you will be liberated’. Some say, ‘just close your eyes and meditate and you will attain nirvana’ Some say, ‘look at the ash produced by my ‘Bhagwan’ out of thin air. Lick some of the ash and smear some on your forehead, you are done’. Producing things out of thin air is a roaring business and a vibrant profession in the world. Famous magicians such as David Copperfield and P.C Sorkar have produced many more things than mere ash, yet their audience does not claim that they are gods. So much claim, but the fact is I am yet to see these pretenders fly to heaven!
The primary essence I see in all of these is - be a nice person, help other human beings, be kind, don’t cheat, be simple and be satisfied. Perhaps all these can be summarised into four virtues: no anger, no jealousy, no greed and no hatred.
If this is the real essence, I think only Gautama Buddha summarised it the best, at least for me. I see that people cheat others and perform grand rituals to neutralize the cheating. While people try very hard to be devout and religious in the hope of liberation, rituals following the death of someone seem to be still necessary. Sometimes an ailing person may not be provided with the basic care and food while still alive, but is served the most sumptuous of meals once he is dead. Talking of dead, some say you need to burn the dead to liberate the soul, others believe that it has to be kept until the day of final judgement. Some believe that the soul is liberated in 13 days; others believe it takes 49 days.
Confusions abound! Each believer, though, claims to have a solid answer, sometime even challenging to show proof. Yet god doesn’t seem to come in one colour, race, appearance anywhere and say, ‘hey don’t get confused; here I am’.