I was in Class 8. A new teacher came to teach us algebra. He posed a question:
“Ram and Rahim are two brothers. Ram is 8 years elder to Rahim. Also age of Ram is double the age of Rahim. What are the exact ages of Ram and Rahim?”
This is how I solved:
Let age of Ram be a.
Let age of Rahim be b.
As per the question,
a = b +8
a = 2b
Substituting second equation in first and solving, b = 8,
Hence, a = 16, b = 8 (Ans)
Another friend of mine, assumed age of Ram to be x and age of Rahim to be y. And hence came to following answer:
x = 16, y = 8 (Ans)
The teacher, gave my friend full marks and gave me zero. I was shocked.
He explained, “As per the solution in textbook prescribed by school – Mathematics for Schools Part 3, you are supposed to assume ages to be x & y only and not a & b.”
When I protested that how does that matter, I still got the same answer, he showed his generosity. He said, “Had you written one final statement that “Age of Ram is 16 years and age of Rahim is 8 years, I would have still given you some marks. But you just wrote a = 16, b = 8 and hence it is completely wrong as per the prescribed book. So as a sincere teacher, loyal to the prescribed book, I must give you zero. I hate to do so, but I am really sorry.”
I still protested politely, “But Sir, isn’t that very obvious? In a class of mathematics, you are supposed to assess my ability to solve and that I have demonstrated well. In fact I have displayed that I understood the concept and have not mugged up the book. Should you not reward that?”
He got angry, “If you argue, I will throw you out of class.”
I was dumbfound. For years I would recollect and narrate this incident, initially with bitterness, and then as a joke.
It is in the recent years, that I realized this joke to be indeed a very “serious” joke. A joke that has killed millions, nurtured seeds of hatred, stunted growth prospects of almost every citizen, spread miseries, crime, frustration, negativity and made hell out of this heavenly world.
We did not take our algebra lessons seriously. And we started teaching others. We started punishing others for understanding what we did not understand. Forget about algebra, we did not even take the first basic lesson of life sincerely when our mother would take us on her lap and teach us, “This is fire, this is sky, this is papa, I am mummy.”
In India, she would teach, “Yah Agni hai, Yah Akash hai, Ye Pitaji hain, Main Maa hun.”. In Pakistan perhaps, “Yah Aatish hai, Yah Asman hai, Ye Walid Hain, Main Ammi hun.”
Call it Agni, Aatish or Fire; Akash, Asman or Sky; Father, Pitaji or Walid; Mother, Maa or Ammi – they all refer to same thing.
Whether age of Ram and Rahim be a&b, x&y, a1&a2, u&v, p&q or whatever, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. What is important is the relationship between the two.
And if we look at the world today, and even the brutal history, this dreaded joke could never be understood by us. Only a few understood, and they are ones whom we call saints. They alone understood that whatever name we call anything, it hardly matters. The essence is all that matters.
How easy is it to be a saint! All you need to do is to recall the first education by mother, if you could not study algebra.
But still we find it so tough!
So we have one group shouting, “Proud to be Muslim” and another “Proud to be Hindu” and yet another “Proud to be Christian” and so on.
Ask them, what exactly Muslim, Hindu, Christian mean, and there will be huge debates and research and still no conclusion would be reached.
One would say, Muslim means a peaceful person who submits to will of God. Other would say, Muslim is one who considers Prophet Muhammad to be the last prophet. And so on.
Similarly, Hindu would be someone who believes in Ram and Krishna as God for some people. For others, it would be belief in birth after death. And so on.
Same goes for Christians. For some it is belief in Jesus, for some it is belief that Holy Spirit and Jesus are same, for some it is belief in Bible alone and so on.
In reality these are just names. If you call philosophy of Ram as Islam and philosophy of Prophet as Christianity, it does not matter. These are just words or rather symbols. Call anything as x or a or u or w, who cares.
But still we fight on these words and aspire to establish dominance of our own favorite word.
The irony is that the same word means something different to different sects. Just like you can use the same a & b as notations for a new problem as well. Or in same problem, you can swap a & b to mean age of Rahim & Ram respectively instead of Ram & Rahim.
Whatever name you call, howsomuch efforts you put to define them and explain them, they just remain petty symbols. Depending on time, situation, problem, question, a minimally smart person should gladly be willing to change these symbols with something else. Emotional attachment to symbols is an indication that you did not take your first lesson of life sincerely. You did not understand what algebra is all about. For you, it is more important whether a & b were chosen to solve the problem or x & y. Like the dogmatic teacher, we are paranoid about these symbols rather than appreciating the concepts. And hence, we punish the really deserving and reward the memorizing parrots.
We start being possessive about these symbols and make a mess of the world at slightest fear of losing the symbol.
In modern science literature, each of the symbols or terms are first defined. So there is a clear definition for force, energy, mass, acceleration etc. And then we try to deduce the relationships between these. The common language is first explicitly defined and then the real game begins. In realm of religion, politics, sociology, such universally accepted definitions do not exist. So the same word means something different to each of us. And we keep fighting based on these personal notions like fools, and make a mess of the beautiful world.
That is why, when someone says, are you proud to be Hindu, I proclaim proudly “Yes!”. Because, I interpret Hinduism to mean that philosophy having roots in Hindustan that considers entire humanity as own family and loves entire world as a cow loves its newborn calf. I get these concepts from Vedas – the oldest books of humankind, and hence I call it Vedic Religion. That is why I love Vedas.
But if you tell me that Hindu is someone who believes in birth-based caste system, then I am anything but Hindu. In fact because I am vehemently against caste-system, I may be considered greatest enemy.
Similarly, if someone asks about my views on Muslims, I proudly say, “I am a Muslim.” Because by root, Muslim means someone who humbly submits to will of Supreme Lord and that is exactly what I strive to do. If you try to prove me a different definition, that will not work. Because I am a student of algebra and hence I choose Muslim to mean what I consider to be most reasonable. If you tell me that Muslim is someone who believes in last prophet or doomsday or heaven or hell, I would counter by saying that there is nothing in word “Muslim” that refers to any such entity. I am a staunch rationalist and hence refuse to believe in any prophet or avatar or miracles or heaven or hell (as per popular interpretations). Nonetheless, if someone believes in these, that is his personal choice that I respect as much as my own right to differ.
As for Christianity, I am a Christian because I believe in many good things in Bible which resonate with Vedas. But if Christian means someone who believes in Jesus or Holy Spirit as God, or doomsday or story of resurrection, my rational mind does not permit me to endorse these. Again, if you believe in these, I respect your personal choice and respect my right to differ as well.
In nutshell, depending upon what definition you use, I may be the greatest Hindu, Muslim or Christian, or poles apart from these.
If God be some physical person above some sky or in a separate location, I am greatest atheist. But if God be defined as an impersonal entity permeating and engulfing the world that ensures everything functions as per unbreakable laws, then I see nothing but God everywhere and within everyone. You may call it law of nature, I don’t care. But my very existence – a purposeful existence – establishes existence of this entity and I believe in it. Again, if you refuse to believe in this obvious, that is your personal choice that I respect as much as my own right to expect the same respect from you.
The common elements of life that we all aspire for are same and universal for all. Things like honesty, patience, tolerance, peace, purity, self-control, wisdom, knowledge and forgiveness. I won’t get into what they exactly mean because they are, again, just symbols to represent certain concepts on which we all agree. The very fact that we live makes these our natural aspirations. These are common threads across all religions, philosophies and ideologies. So I define these as true religion. This is the religion that Supreme Lord (refer my earlier definition of God) teaches us every moment. I need not buy a Quran, Geeta, Vedas, Bible to imbibe these. They are within me. Other books may help refine my thought process, but nonetheless, even in their absence, given whatever I understand, I pursue these.
Even a tribal would protect his family, protect the innocent children, seek peace, maintain self-control in society so that Damini rape cases do not happen. A criminal also pursues exactly these. However due to frustrations, bad habits etc, he commits crime in mirage.
Everything else is secondary. That is external. These innate traits alone are the essential crux of life and living. If a religion stresses on these, I am greatest adherent of that religion. If it teaches that one should not hate or judge or be biased towards others because of their personal beliefs and symbols, I am a “messiah” of this religion of “universalism”. And have a dream to see everyone a “messiah” as well.
Algebra teaches me these are just labels or symbols.
Fighting each other for protection of these labels is not my cup of tea.( That is why I don’t drink tea perhaps! )
My religion lies in these innate traits that can never be destroyed. My religion is all about strengthening these traits within self and all. My religion is all about seeing my God in everything and everyone around. My religion humbly accepts that I forgive my own mistakes innumerable times daily. And hence I should have same forgiving approach towards others who are just like me, simply born somewhere else and using some other symbols.
My religion honestly admits that even my own views have been changing since my birth. It acknowledges that there is still so much in world that I am uncertain about. And hence, there is no reason for me to hate others or fight others to impose my own set of uncertainties over others.
How foolish it seems. None of us can claim that we have directly witnessed God, Heaven, Hell, Avatar, Prophet, Angel, Resurrection, Doomsday (whatever definition we give to them). None can claim that they have been able to understand Geeta, Quran, Bible totally. In fact we all agree that these texts can be understood only by special divine persons which none of us are. The reality is that we choose our beliefs in these matters based on hearsay, society, peer group and personal assumptions. There is no direct cognition. No one claims to be a prophet or avatar himself. And yet we decide to hate or love others based on how close ‘their’ blind assumptions are to ‘ours’! Or whether they chose our symbols or some other symbols to solve the problem of life!
And hence my lessons of algebra make me wonder whom do I fight and why do I fight? Whom do I hate and why do I hate? What do I grief for and whom do I grief for?
Its just a vast ocean of souls like me pervaded by God. And each of that soul, in its limited intelligence and bounded rationality, creates symbols and labels to understand the world around. These symbols are temporary, this feeling of oneness is permanent. So enjoyable, so soothing, so relaxing, so energizing, so driving, so compelling, so pure, so blissful!
Why do I not then just pursue and enjoy the permanent, follow my innate religion and ignore the temporary ill-defined symbols?
Hindu, Muslim, Christian…I don’t care.
Your personal beliefs….I don’t care.
All I care about is the God in you and me. The essence within.
I hope all of us start nurturing this essence! The world will become heaven again.