Religion has always been one of these things that hovers over me whether I want it to or not.  I was raised with it in a very hardcore way – Vaishnav (in layman’s terms, ‘Hare Krsna’, but that’s not its actual name).  It’s a strange thing to think about now, that I am someone called Vrinda and that I, an American-Brit, happen to carry this insider’s knowledge of Indian philosophy.  I don’t usually tell anyone because I don’t like the judgment I often receive as a result – I had my fill of that while growing up.  I hate always having to explain to people that yes, in ways, it was all just as crazy as you’d imagine in your stereotypes; but, in other ways, when you look at the faith in its original form, over in India, before all the hippies and crazies got hold of it in the West…it’s actually not that insane.  Or rather, no more than any other religion in the world.  And for me, perhaps only because I grew up with it, it makes more sense than many other religious principles I’ve read about since. [br][br]But see, last night I was talking to my dad for a few hours, and he surprised me – when I said I have certain fundamental convictions based on what seems logical too me, but otherwise I have no beliefs about anything, just various unprovable ideas…he started to reply to this, and I was expecting the kind of answer I might have got from him a few years ago, something to the effect of, ‘But my ideas ARE provable, they’re just fact, everything else is BS.’  Instead, he said, ‘But Vrinda, you have to remember something: it’s all just a matter of what appeals to you.’  And there it was – suddenly I was free to say what I’d been thinking for years, that (for instance) my father’s religion (he’s the real Vaishnav, my mom abandoned it when they divorced and I have no idea if she was genuine about it all my life or if it was just one of what I have always perceived as her efforts to feel like she belongs to something, anything at all), my father’s religion seems almost to have been MADE for him.  So of course he would follow it; it answers every conundrum in his particular life.[br][br]And I see this all the time – each religion is carved into shape around the follower.  And I know some people will read this and think, ‘That’s not true – my belief is truth,’ but really, I say to each his own.  I’m not going to judge you for thinking that – maybe you’re right!  Who am I to say?  But MY belief is that the religion is shaped to the believer.  You follow what you’re drawn to, what attracts you. [br][br]I suppose a religious explanation of this would be what I was raised with (except this goes one step further) – that God appears to us all in different ways, according to what appeals to us, to draw us in, because He is infinite and therefore can ‘shapeshift’ if you like.  My idea here, though, is that it’s not just God’s form that changes; it’s the consequences and rules, as well – Heaven, Hell, reincarnation, karma.  All of it is shaped to what we feel most at ease with, what we’re willing to subscribe to.  And likewise, even my father had to admit that his lifelong idea that Buddhism is ‘negative’ and dark, empty, because it has no God, etc. – he had to admit that’s subjective and that, for some, it’s a healing concept, the very thing that has led to their salvation in this life, what’s prevented them from giving everything up – and in that sense, it’s most definitely ‘positive’.[br][br]Our whole conversation began because I’m reading a novel called ‘The End of Mr Y’ by Scarlett Thomas, about a woman who finds this ultra-rare novel by a 19th century sci-fi/fantasy writer she loves – the book is said to be cursed, she reads it and discovers it’s about telepathing and travelling via other people’s memories across time and space.  I’m about halfway through, and a lot of it has been discussions of philosophy and quantum theory, both of which I’ve heard a lot about via my dad.  So I was reading about the classic quantum theory that all particles exist in a state of all-possibilities, and that only when observed do they collapse into one sequence of events.  The idea, therefore, is that there must have been an Observer in the beginning in order to kick-start the creation of the universe, because without some Observer everything would simply exist in a state of ‘everythingness’.  The alternative is that we DO exist in such a state – the multiverse. [br][br]So this raised two points for me.  The first, which I called him with, was: how can we know what particles do when not observed, when surely we’d have to observe them in order to find this out, so we could never NOT see them observed…?  He said it’s a lot of math and mental equations, rather than something put into practise, although the ideas have led to physical applications (like computers).  Okay.  Then he asked me: multiverse or Observer – why not both?[br][br]Soo this got me talking about the idea that has been spinning around in my head since I was three years old when I made up a story about time travelling back in time in order to change a disaster in the past and bring a dead world (and its people) back to life.  What happens then?  Does the person who changed things suddenly merge with his other self?  If the world has been prevented from being destroyed, then that would delete his whole purpose for having to bring it back to life, which creates a paradox, etc. etc.  When I was about 20 I finally wrote the story when the answer hit me: time travel as we think of it must be impossible.  If there’s such a thing as individuality, then if you recreated this world, prevented the past from happening as it did, you’d be creating a new dimension but it wouldn’t be the world you knew; it would be some other version, including another version of yourself, and really the past YOU knew is irretrievable apart from via memory.  And if it WERE some other form of ourselves…it would contradict the nature of the soul.  How could a soul reach higher spiritual plains if it was split into endless possibilities?  Etc.  Are you with me?[br][br]And my dad quite simply said: but God is an infinite being, which means He is capable of EVERYTHING – ‘achincha bheda abheda tattva’ (anyone remember that Kula Shaker song??) ‘things are simultaneously the same and different’ – paradoxes are possible if we’re dealing with something infinite. [br][br]And I suppose the ultimate paradox is that his explanation there actually makes just as much sense logically as my theories.  So really, contradicting ideas are often equal, aren’t they?  Which I suppose proves his point. [br][br]So there I was saying everything exists purely in our minds.  The past is just memories; we can’t prove any of it, really.  And the future is just our imaginations.  And the present is gone as soon as we’ve thought about it, as each moment passes.  My dad said yes, we are nothing but perception – we ARE ‘perception itself’.  I loved that idea.  And he reminded me of another phrase I heard all my life but only now am old enough to understand what he means by it: ‘sat chit anand’ – we exist to seek happiness.  He began talking about how the one thing all living creatures are linked by is the desire for pleasure, and that pleasure is the pure driving force in life, the ultimate goal.  We all seek it in our different ways, and (as I pointed out) yes, pleasure is subjective.  We all shape our own different realities, see life through our own filters – and just as light shows us our surroundings, so our minds and bodies show us the world…but we can’t see it as it truly is, whatever that may be.[br][br]So I brought up all the thoughts kicking around in my head about Borderline Personality Disorder – the idea that all my emotions, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, are equally meaningless and everything is illusion – and really Jacques Derrida is right: opposites were formed by language, but in practise there’s no need for them.  My dad then said something I found fascinating: that nothing’s an illusion; it’s just that we’re deluded, by all these filters.  The world is real, but we can’t see it properly.  After so many years of hearing that nothing is real, and feeling like life was meaningless to him perhaps…I don’t know.  It moved me to hear this different angle to things, from him.  As I said: we’re all drawn to explanations that appeal to us.  And at the heart of it all, I’ve always wanted there to be meaning to things. [br][br]…which is a hard thing to feel when your personality seems to change every two seconds and you’re never sure what the hell you really are.  But my dad then mentioned dharma – one of those words that get thrown around all the time, but you’re never too sure what it means.  He said it’s the true essence of us, underneath all the filters.  It’s the thing that makes us special, unique – the ‘haecceity’ (his new word for the week, used as in: if we have two identical coins, what is it that makes them individual?  Apparently in the past people said it was the fact that they shared two different locations…except quantum theory came along and pointed out that at the subatomic level nothing behaves the way things do on the surface, and on that lower level there’s actually no such thing as space).  He pointed out that yes, while I am lost in filters (neurological disorders, etc.) there has always been something deep inside of me that has never shifted, never left.  Something about me is real, even if I can’t see it or identify it.  He said we criticise others because we have a sense of perfection in ourselves…because on some deeper level we feel something higher than what we see on the surface.  And even the most evil tyrants in history were more than their actions or words – there was something beyond all that, something more to them, apart from all the material influences that shaped them to be what they were. [br][br]The idea he once told me, about 12 years ago, that has never left me is that we see rocks can’t move without someone to throw or kick them, so why do we take it for granted that mountains can erupt on their own?  Last night he raised this question again – why don’t we assume that, just as with the rocks, there is someone out there moving the mountains?  And we talk of ‘laws of nature’ but how can there be laws without some sort of lawgiver?  [br][br]Then he said: ‘Vrinda, I think you’re a very intelligent person, yes?  And you told me before that you couldn’t have this conversation with everyone because they wouldn’t understand’ (and also because they might get into a serious argument with me about things, when really I don’t pretend to have serious beliefs about any of this – it’s all just theory for me, and an interesting subject too consider; I have no desire to convert anyone, or to be converted myself).  ‘If you spoke to someone who wasn’t on the same level as you, they wouldn’t be able to comprehend what you were trying to say – they wouldn’t even be able to see it.  So how can we hope to see something so much bigger and more intelligent than us?’[br][br]I have to admit, that struck a chord.  And I do often think perhaps we’re all just cells on some larger body, and we only think we’re so intelligent because this is who we are – but maybe amoebas think they’re quite smart, as well, and haven’t a clue we even exist.  Even ants don’t seem to notice we’re here.  When we accidentally (or, for some people, purposefully) crush them, perhaps they just take it as some terrible accident or act of nature that cannot be explained in their limited ways of thinking.

  1. bump 14 years ago

    wow…you’ve gotta wonder whether we’re ants to some greater being, so big we can’t even see it…then again, religion’s not really for me. organised religion anyways. i think 23 is too young to be making my mind up about stuff like that 🙂

    thought provoking stuff, really


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  2. thymeoperator 14 years ago

    "It’s kind of like film. Motion pictures appear to be moving, but in reality they are just a bunch of still frames being projected rapidly to give the appearance of motion. " [br][br]yes…but the point is: someone still has to be there to turn the projector. [br][br]"so yeah, if someone had two identical coins and asked what makes them individual, my answer would be the thing that makes them identical is the same thing that makes them individual, the belief that they are either. " [br][br]ah!!! brilliant answer – yes i believe you’re right.

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