I wait…


I wait for the day I feel worthy,

worthy of your smile,

its warmth, its radiance,

its embrace.

But I know it may never happen.

I wait for the day I feel worthy,

worthy of your glance,

its sparkle, its power,

its ever-flowing love

But I know it may never happen.

I wait for the day I feel worthy,

worthy of your giving hand of grace

on my head, my shoulder,

my cheek.

But I know it may never happen.

I wait and I wait; I wait

to feel worth of you.

But I know it may never happen,

Because all I do is wait.


A Fragile Faith

A faith so weak it’s kept behind keys,

A faith so weak it can’t face these,

These words of logic and questions from reason,

Even curiosity against it is called high treason,

A faith so fragile, so frail, so weak,

Can it truly be the truth we seek?

But say I, see the egg in its nest,

See it shielded there from predator and pest,

How fragile, how frail, how terribly weak.

How could it hold more than a beak so meek?

But unknown to us all, growing in its depths,

A phoenix stirs, the king of its sept.

So feeble an egg, brings forth such wings,

So can a feeble faith, bring forth great things.

@CNN Belief Blog’s recent coverage

Just this morning I visited CNN’s Belief Blog to see if there were any interesting matters of faith being discussed. I was not surprised to find that recent featured blogs dealt with the recent shooting at a Sikh Gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.

What I was surprised with was the discussion taking place in the comments of most of those blogs. People just going back and forth ruthlessly with personal attacks and ill-supported claims about whether or not God exists, whether or not Hindus are violent or peaceful, whether or not India is a democracy, whether or not violence is a part of religion, etc. It was sad because here’s a moment for a nation to reflect on the unfortunate incidents that occurred in Wisconsin and maybe discuss why that is wrong and can be avoided in the future and yet here is a sampling of the nation that is just taking part in more mud-slinging – mud-slinging that is done vociferously by faithful and atheists alike so if one thinks religion makes people extreme, the lack of one seems to do just the same.

But putting those emotions aside, I wanted to think about some of the points that were coming up in the blogs themselves and in some of the comments.

1. Turbans – outwards signs of a faith that causes extreme reaction because it’s personal. This article made me think once again about outward religious symbols. A person commented on this blog by saying that no sign or religious mark is really a part of a religion and does not truly signify faith:


Wearing a turban doesn’t make anyone any more Sikh than wearing a cross makes someone a Christian, carrying a rosary around makes someone a Catholic, wearing a hijab makes a woman a Muslim, wearing a beard and avoiding non-animal powered machinery makes anyone Amish…those are all earthly doo-dads and bangles and have nothing to do with religion. You can be a member of your religion without practicing any of these affectations.

I think Dal4cats has a point. The mark itself cannot always speak for one’s true, internalized faith. People who are not as religious, who do not truly believe or truly act according to one’s beliefs may still wear outward religious marks. However, that does not mean those symbols cannot stand for someone’s faith (though it may be imperfect and still in formation). Just think about the battle that a Sikh who wears a turban goes through internally. Every time he wraps on that piece of cloth, every time he looks in the mirror, every time he sees someone else’s eyes stare, when he’s called names or “randomly” chosen for a security check, he goes through a reaffirmation battle of remaining faithful to his faith. How can that not signify some level of faith? And just because you are Sikh and don’t wear a turban doesn’t mean that you have a true faith that does not need external show – you can simply be afraid of the tests that external sign will place you in or that constant reminder of who you are. So let’s not attack the use of symbols because they can and cannot mean something and we really can’t be the judge since we can’t truly test the faith of anyone else.

What we should be addressing is why we should or should not accept people’s public and personal representations of who they are. In particular, I want to address those people who believe that for all of us to get along and accept each other it is necessary to ban such external religious symbols – the French surely fall into this category with their laws against public exhibition of faith but so do some of the people who are quoted in the above linked blog and their commenters. My point is this: if you only accept a uniform and cleansed image of people in society and relegate things that make them unique or form their individual or subgroup identity into their personal homes or other spheres, are you really accepting those individuals? Or are you just forcing them to limit themselves to socially accepted, sterilized personalities? I think the answer is clear that if you really are a heterogeneous, pluralistic society you would allow for individual expression – only limiting it when it impedes on another’s expression or safety.

We live in a country where there was a successful movement to allow men and women in the armed forces to be open about their sexuality; this week there are people celebrating that the U.S. Army has its first homosexual General. We tolerate and in some ways even support transgender and homosexual parades with the most outrageous displays because we believe it is a part of their right to live as they wish and express their sexuality. Wear a Boston Red Sox jersey and no cop in New York will give you a ticket and no one will question your right to support any team you want. Cut your hair in outrageous fashion, wear clothes how you want, and tattoo your body wherever and however you please, but please do not wear your religion on your shoulder, head, or around your neck. That seems funny doesn’t it? To Turban or not is a not a debate that should be alive today. No one wearing a turban should feel compelled to change. The debate should not exist because it should be a settled debate, in this country at the very least, that we accept individuals entirely – not with their religion relegated as a private embarrassment.

2. Violence in Religion – I don’t think there is anyone who should claim that their religion does not sanction violence. Any follower of a religion which believes in justice or self-defense will find permissible violence in their faith (and those who do not have a religion find permissible violence in their justice systems).  The problem really is with religions that accept violence to a greater degree and allow it to be committed outside causes of justice and defense. When violence becomes an accepted tool for submission and conversion or when a religion preaches beliefs that strongly propagate an expanded role for violence, the religion can be said to be a violent religion.

That is a general point I think everyone should remember. Now a lot of the name-calling and bad-mouthing that goes around confuses me because I feel there are a number of underlying questions that are not yet answered. I hope someone can help me with these: How much do the people doing the arguing really not about the other religion and its practitioners? So many YouTube videos and articles are quotes to support claims, but are YouTube and articles of any kind (academic or journalistic) accurate and/or complete representations of the truth? There is a whole discussion about how objective or truthful media is in that previous question. What is an extremist? Is there a percentile definition of “fringe group” or “extremist”? Can a religion be judged by incidental actions of its practitioners? If yes, any practitioners, some practitioners, loyal practitioners, official members? What is more valuable in judging a faith – the direct reading of scripture or the currently accepted interpretation of the scripture? I feel that anyone who is going to on about which religion is peace loving and which is not should first squarely address these questions. It would really clear the air and allow for real conversation as opposed to the mud-slinging that originates from false-pride, hatred, and ignorance.

Well, now there’s some food for thought. If you want to read about outward expression of religion in India, check out a blog I wrote a while back: Mumbai’s Religiously Oppressive School Uniforms.

Helping Does Not Excuse

A thought I had while introspecting. It surely applies to spirituality/religion but quite possibly to every aspect of life.

Helping others progress does not excuse standing still yourself.

True Objectivity

Objectivity is a respected ideal aspired for by everyone who wishes to know the truth. Academics, scientists, reporters, authors, therapists, etc. all make an effort to remove all biases and shed all personal paradigms to get a clear vision of the objective truth. The question is: can anyone truly become objective?

This question is not new and is often discusses in academics and professional ethics discussions. The discussions always speak about ingrained biases of identity – ingrained into us by education and upbringing and by nature as well. People fairly argue that gender, racial, and religious biases are extremely difficult to overcome completely. However, there is still one more basic bias that we almost completely and most always (except maybe the biologists) completely overlook.

This most basic bias is the human bias. We are humans and bound by our physical forms. We can only experience the world through our five senses. There is very little we can understand that goes beyond sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. That is why to study the invisible parts of physics we have to make them visible through computers that monitor colliders, electron microscopes, telescopes, etc. Everything we analyze, study, consider, believe is formed on foundational knowledge which is formed most predominantly if not completely by the five senses. So, we are not simply physically bound but intellectually bound as well. Why do we have difficulty imagining non-earth-based life or matter-dense forms? We cannot truly understand the world as “seen” by light rays or photons. We cannot understand the world as experienced by protons, neutrons, or electrons. In essence, we cannot understand the world outside the physical human paradigm. So how objective is our knowledge? How objective and thereby complete is our science?

Here is when most people would respond – so what? What’s the point of talking about a bias that we all share and can do nothing about? We all have the same limitations, the same handicap if you will, so it is as good as non-existent. We cannot remove this bias so what’s the point in discussing it? The problems with these arguments are: when one says “we all share” in the first argument, the definition of all includes only humans and not all of creation and when you are trying to completely understand all of creation then well the definition of all that includes only humans is not sufficient to remove the negative effects of the physical human bias. And secondly, the belief that we cannot move past this bias is also wrong.

The Hindu and Swaminarayan belief in becoming atma and detaching oneself from body-conscience can help alleviate if not obliterate the physical human bias. The rishis of the past described cosmic events with details that are being confirmed through modern science today. They were able to do that, they were able to understand things beyond their physical limitations and describe those events because they are worked to overcome the physical human bias, which we may choose to call dehbhav or body-consciousness, and move towards the state of being atmarup – soul-conscious. They realized those many ages ago that our science and our understanding of the world could not be truly objective and complete without shedding the physical human bias. Not only did they realize it, they propagated a lifestyle and religion that pushed everyone to move from dehbhav to atmabhav from identifying oneself as the body to identifying oneself as the soul to overcome this bias and to become truly objective in our search for the Truth.

To Err is Human

Recently it has struck me that this quote, rather what it stands for, has become really pervasive and misused. By accepting this quotation, we’ve made imperfection part of the definition of being human. That’s sounds good when we want to not be hard on ourselves or be more forgiving, but there are negative results as well. If you believe that perfection is unachievable then you stop striving for it; you become complacent about your flaws and stop working to overcome them. So now when sadhus or preachers, parents or teachers tell you to work harder, to make improvements in your habits or lifestyle, you simply ignore them because they’re asking you to move towards a goal that is unattainable. Maybe worse is the fact that due to our belief that being human necessitates imperfection we cannot resist but strive to find the flaws in great people – to lower them from their heights so that we no longer have to keep them as role models. Put those two together and you get a society that devalues positive role models and is content in being mediocre-at-best.

This is a really dangerous situation for a spiritual aspirant and especially a Swaminarayan devotee. As Swaminarayan, God has told us that we are capable of perfection, indeed, that we must become perfect – for what is brahmrup stithi other than perfection? If we fall into the trap of thinking that it’s okay, normal, and part of the definition of human existence to make mistakes and keep imperfections we doing more than being soft on ourselves; we are saying that the mission God gave us, the ultimate principle (siddhant) of becoming Aksharrup and offering Purushottam true devotion is just a big gimic; it’s fake; it’s impossible; God is wrong; our Guru is wrong.

Maybe it’s time to reconsider “to err is human”…

Mumbai’s Religiously Oppresive School Uniforms

During a recent visit to India’s greatest city, Mumbai, I had the chance to speak to a few Swaminarayan devotees in an area commonly referred to as “Proper Mumbai”. In the course of conversation I came to learn that their elementary-school-aged children were being harassed by a teacher because they wore their tilak-chandalo* to schools. They were being hit over the head and ridiculed among other things. Once, during an exam, a teacher even walked over to take a swipe at a kids forehead hoping to smudge or spread the mark of his faith. I was appauled that teachers in such a supposedly civilized city and at a respectable private school would act in such a way.

Of course, I soon discovered that the reason for such rash actions was that the school, like many private secular schools in Mumbai, has a uniform code which prohibits students from wearing any religious symbols in public. Meaning if you’re a Christian you can’t have your cross on the outside of your shirt, if you’re a Sikh you can’t have your hair tied up in a pagh or bun, if you’re a Muslim you can’t wear a hat or headscarf. In essence, you should cleanse yourself of your faith’s marks before entering school. I was a bit stunned to say the least. As I tried to understand the policy and my reaction my mind focused on the following thoughts:

1. What is the purpose of a school uniform? I’ve always heard it’s to assure an environment focused on learning. It stops the genders from peacocking themselves to each other with unspoken contests about who has the coolest, most expensive, or most revealing clothes. It stops people from wearing gang symbols that lead to battles on school grounds. So maybe this policy was also meant to make sure that there were no fights in school over student’s religions. I can see how one might wish to do that. But the fact is, I’ve yet to come across any epidemic of fights caused by religious hatred in Mumbai’s schools – including those without such policies. Is it really necessary to make religious symbols the equivalent of gang signs in private schools? And isn’t taking the idea of uniformity to such an extreme of erasing any traces of personal identity just another form of zealotry (albeit nonreligous)? This position makes even less sense when one considers that institutions that value discipline alot more that elementary schools, institutions like the military in which discipline is the difference between life and death, don’t ban such benign marks like the tilak chandalo. Members of the BAPS fellowship are well aware of the example of Prakash Mehta – a satsangi who was supported by a military court in wearing his tilak-chandalo while serving in the Ameican Army. Interestingly the school’s policy only applies to students. I asked a man who teaches at the school where those kids studied what he would do if Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, came to visit his school. He said, of course Mr. Singh would be allowed to wear his turban. The rules are only for kids. Why is that? If religious symbols are so potent and distracting, why shouldn’t anyone who enters the school grounds be stripped of their religious identity as well? On the one hand, we accept as a fact of life, if not with pride, that our nation’s Prime Minister is a conspicuous Sikh and on the other hand we insist our children should not have to deal with conspicuous faith. That doesn’t sound like good policy; it sounds like hypocrisy.

2. There is also the question of what such a policy teaches children about faith. It is hard not to see such policies as overt efforts to promote the lack of faith in children. Schools are institutions of learning. They hold a place of respect and honour in our communities. When schools ban religion from their compounds, they essentially send a message the religion is not a thing welcome in respectable and honourable society. They implicitly teach children to be ashamed of their faith and practice it only in hiding away from the public eye. Some people may just call this secularism, but I disagree. This flavour of secularism, as practiced in nations like France, has lot led to more and more segregation and hostility. On the other hand, I grew up in a secular nation, in America, and I wore my tilak chandalo proudly and was often encouraged by my Caucasian Christian peers to do so. So this isn’t just a secular effort to bring peace and goodwill; it’s a dangerous policy because…

3. It means the school is not serving it’s purpose – to educate the future citizens of the world; it shows that the school is failing at one of its main missions – to prepare these children for the “real world”. The communities these child citizens and future leaders live in will certainly be pluralistic societies. They will see and interact with Prime Ministers who are overtly Sikhs and businessmen who are conspicuously Muslim. They will be dealing with people from different cultures from around the globe and if they can’t learn to tolerate each other, understand each other, and cooperate with each other, you will have created just a new order of extremists.

The long and short of it is this. There is a trend in private education in Mumbai that is working against the religious freedom that true secularism includes; there is a rising tide trying to relegate religion to shameful recesses away from society. And something must be done. People with means and minds should be talking about this policy in a real open debate and working to expunge this policy. And for people without means but with minds: they should use their hearts and minds to make powerful decisions like changing schools and enrolling their children in their fellowship’s version of Sunday school or bal mandal to assure that while receiving a “world-class education” their children are not falling prey to the false-secularist who wish to wash them of their moral and spiritual values.

*the tilak-chandalo is a religious mark applied by Swaminarayan devotees ont heir forehead. It consists of a large U made from sandalwood paste with a filled red circle in the center made from vermillion.