After my posts yesterday on Religion, I was chatting with my friend Dr Mrinal Bose. He is a practising physician, a man of science and rationality, a secular man, and a humanist. And an aesthete, at least in regard to literature.
As a medical man, he is aware of human psychology, and in his training had spent some time in clinical psychiatry and been quite drawn to this work. He knows his physiology and biochemistry! Yet we can talk about matters like “spirituality” or “Religion”. He knows I am sharing my personal experience when I say something, and accepts and respects this. But he has his views.
He said: “If man had not created religion, the world would have been a better place.”
My response was: If man had not created religion, there would still be natural law, and Religion (with a capital R) is nothing but that. There is also self-knowledge, of body-mind, states, and self-realisation, which man has attained for thousands of years. The marriage of Religion to worldly concerns, of power and wealth, is another matter, and also inevitable. But that need not stop someone from looking at Religion differently, even specific religions and their associated beliefs, practices and rituals, and seeing all of this as something magnificent, which raises humanity to living light. For instance, how can someone know what a pilgrimage is for the inner-world of the devout?
Dr Bose also referred to something a renowned Bangladeshi writer had said in an interview, to the effect that only people who had the time engaged with religion. Peasants and workers did not have time for religion.
I agreed with him. I remembered the Buddhist teaching about a human life with the opportunity to learn - being as rare an occurrence as if a deep sea turtle which surfaces once in millenia came up precisely inside a tube that happened to be floating by at exactly the same time and place! And hence the necessary injunction, to utilise this life to the fullest, to strive to come to awareness, and to help bring other living beings to light.
I also mentioned that it was humble labouring folk, peasants, craftsmen and workers, who exhibited faith and devotion, and the "spiritual" impulse (in the innate sense, rather than any particular sect) was also found among the labouring folk. Hence a person like Kabir, the 15th century weaver, poet and mystic of India. He was heard and revered by the common folk, in whose language and idiom he gave voice to his deep spiritual feelings and insights. Not surprisingly, he attracted people of diverse faiths, and particularly Hindus and Muslims; his own faith was always ambiguous; he quoted Hindu and Islamic precepts, and also forswore external rituals and formal piety and places of worship. His songs and poems still resound in vast parts of India.
When I relate to Dr Bose, I see him as a friend, someone I like and respect and think well off. Because that is what my relation to him has occasioned. Yes, there are some things people could say, which are likely to shock and hurt me, and make me distance myself from them. But equally, there are matters on which I don’t let people’s words or views interfere with my relationship with them, and interfere with the fine commonality shared in other matters. That view is only one small part of them. We can still be one in essence.
I feel a commitment to try to think deeply about what someone I like says, which seems to run counter to my own thoughts and feelings, to see whether that statement can very exactly represent some aspect of my own view on that subject. And very often one finds that there need not really be any disagreement. Besides, merely hearing something one does not like to hear, which offends, or irritates – one need not then let this harden into a feeling of resentment or ill-will against the person.
Dr Bose is very blunt. And disarmingly so! I once sent him a set of synopses of stories (for films) that I had worked on over the years. He said: “Be original dammit, these are formulaic shit” (or something to that effect). I did get a bit of a start! But now, I am supremely grateful for that honest feedback. That helped to open up for me a new dimension of being. And so I always like to get some sharp critical outburst from him!
Dr Bose had also introduced me to the name and work of the Bengali writer Subimal Misra. That led to my taking up translation of his short stories. He also pointed out the parallels between the work of Misra and that of Elfriede Jelinek, the Austrian writer. Through Dr Bose’s feedback about originality, and my exposure to the writings of (and about) Misra and Jelinek – though I’ve been a serious reader for more than half my life, and nursed a wish to write (literary fiction, non-fiction) for years, for the first time in my life I awakened to some fundamental questions, some new considerations and discernments, some new realisations, decisions and choices.
Why write? Write what? Why? For whom? Why? How?