How I became a Hindu

In the matter of faith, I considered myself an atheist for a while without really making sense of the word for myself. All I understood atheism to be was a renunciation of God & the subsequent religions that followed. Without even realising it, I’d put myself in the path of revolting against everything modern civilisation was created on. The logic went something like this. If god or religion doesn’t matter to me, why would marriage matter to me at all? With that in mind, life went on for a while until the lockdowns of 2020 came by. In the time of solitary confinement to a small space in a metropolis, I was forced to re-evaluate the situation. I lost hunger to eat food; it took me hours to finish a meal. Something seemed missing no matter what I did & one fine evening, when I’d gone for a drive, I realised the obvious. The phrase “social animal” used to describe humans began to make more sense. And it wasn’t just companionship. Life felt meaningless & purposeless. The nearest example is to visualise a boat in water which is steered around with the currents flowing. The boat goes where the water takes it.

I saw myself in a mirror & upon great force from my mother, had myself go through a few medical tests to realise how far I’d strayed off the path. For some strange reason, I struggled with maintaining some discipline in life. Someone I consider a teacher I’ve never met, Charlie Munger, mentioned how envy isn’t a sin one can enjoy like gluttony in some annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway. To familiarise myself, I read through the 7 sins and wondered why they were called sins. The story of St Peter at the Pearly Gates aside; the 7 sins began to make sense on why one must follow them. I was being both a sloth & a glutton through the lockdown. If this was a sin, I needed to cleanse myself first. Regulating my food intake whilst moving around more frequently followed right away. The results weren’t immediately obvious but I did feel an improvement. Maybe religion’s purpose was to offer humans a map to navigate through the ebbs and flows of life? I wasn’t sure, but being a little religious worked. Without having to believe in the myths of god and the stories of god, one could follow the religious tenets. We repeat things in scriptures too literally without ever asking why or how they came to be. However, this wasn’t an approach that would work with a faith like Christianity. I was missing the obvious; the Dharmic Sanatan civilisation I was born into. More commonly used word for the same – Hinduism.

Before getting married, the one thing that I’d dreaded was the endless number of rituals. I still maintain that Christians & Muslims have figured out how to have efficient weddings as far as the rituals are concerned. That would be an incomplete sentence because the point of a wedding is not to just say two people are married. The Hindu wedding is full of teachings & moral lessons for both the bride & groom through the rituals. One particular ritual caught me completely off guard as I sat through it. The snāthakam ritual is one very peculiar ritual that brought me into the fold of how the Hindu civilisation looked at marriage. Life has 4 aasramas – brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha & sannyasa. Translated, they mean youth while being celibate, having a household & driving social life, becoming an advisory elder that lives away from the main society & full renunciation of all worldly things. Through snāthakam, a man has officially ceased to be a celibate youth and will be prepared to take on the next aasrama of life – grihastha. Grihastha is not just being married to another person. There are responsibilities that one has to society & to family. The dharmic obligations change. I was duly informed of my responsibilities to the woman who would be my wife & partner in running a griha, or a household. At the main wedding, the rituals were more about letting us know of our responsibilities to each other & how the two of us should be. Through the rituals, it became explicitly clear that a marriage isn’t just a long-term monogamous relationship with another human being.

In other words, I found love for a faith. This faith isn’t in any god. It’s in a system of rules for life without having to thank a god for the scripture. Ever since, my fascination for the Hindu dharma was only going up. One could be an atheist & believe in no god but be a Hindu. Indian stories & myths largely center around the concept of Dharma. My favourite example to offer is of Arjuna & Krishna. At the battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna is confused when he has to face his own teacher that he respected as a parent who is now his foe in battle. To make things worse, the foes are his own cousins. His dharma had at least 3 sides to it – one of a warrior, one of a student, one of being a blood relation. Only one of the three meant he could go to war. The other 2 were suggesting he not take up arms. However, if he didn’t take up arms, his own brothers would die. This is what Charlie Munger would call a Lollapalooza effect. That is when Krishna tells Arjuna about his duties to his kin. That at the battlefield, the dharma of being a kshatriya superseded all other dharmic obligations on Arjuna. And that Drona, Arjuna’s teacher, was fighting as a kshatriya despite being a brahmana by birth.

This example with all its subtlety envelops the concept of Dharma & one’s duties to the situation at hand. The duty never ceases to exist. One always has a duty to something. And in such discussions, I found myself becoming a Hindu more and more, as I grow older; and hopefully, wiser.

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