Food is NOT religion

 

Food is a need we all have. Why has this become such a confusion and controversy? We need to remember we eat to live and survive and not really something that we need to obsess on, be it in the name of religion or anything else. This is the worst thing we can do to each other.food_02

religions

The fact is, religion has been formed as guidelines in every era.  Some religions used books, some stories and many used diktats. It is often said “Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life”. The fact is this is true for all religions as every religion has evolved as a way of life in whichever region they were born.

As far as belief systems are concerned, we must remember that these happened because of the region and the conditions where the religions were born.

 

Food and religion

All religions have their own guidelines regarding food mainly because of anthropology.

For instance, both Islam and Judaism have the similar guidelines. Of utmost importance in both religions is the way in which an animal is killed for its meat. There are very strict guidelines that much be followed for each, and there are differences between the sets of guidelines.

In both practices, the animal’s throat is cut, and it is drained of blood. The spinal cord must not be severed. Death is said to occur within seconds, but animal rights groups worldwide have long campaigned to have the practice outlawed, or, alternately, stun the animal before it is killed. In both traditions, the animal needs to be alive, healthy, and uninjured when it is blessed and the slaughtering process begins. There is debate within Islamic law on whether or not stunning the animal first violates this rule, but Jewish law is very clear on the matter. Stunning methods cause injury to the animal, making the meat that ultimately comes from it non-kosher.

The fact is both halal and kosher meats are likely to decay later than the method where blood is not drained. They also believe in killing instantly and though the blood drains gradually, according to them, the animal does not feel this.

Christianity does not have any particular practice but it is believed that meat consumed by Christians should not retain any blood, just like Judaism and Islam.

The fact is as these came from an era where the climatic conditions made it more likely to decay this was a major parameter in the times where there were no refrigerators or ACs.

In the huge debate on whether or not this is cruel to the animals, we need to remember food is just food and meat is just meat, however one kills it.

Eastern religions

Early Buddhist monks depended on food donated by supporters. Anything placed in their proffered bowls was to be accepted with gratitude and eaten, even if unpleasant. This included fish and meat. The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many do consume meat. This again depends on the region in which they originated.

The basic tenet of Jainism is non-violence. Jains do not believe in killing anything, be it even plants hence do not recommend eating root vegetables. From a higher perspective, one needs to remember that non-violence actually means not offending others and not just about food.  A Jain who truly understands this will never offend others about their food choices.

From the Hindu point of view, the killing of bulls was discouraged as Hinduism was born in an agrarian society. Swami Vivekananda often pointed out this obsession with food and had said “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef.” We went on to aver that “The ancient sacrifices and the ancient gods, they are all gone; modern India belongs to the spiritual part of the Vedas.”

Food is not who we are

We must remember religion is about spirituality not about what we wear, what we speak and most certainly not about what we eat.

One’s food doesn’t make one clean or purified or sanctified. Definitely, we do a much greater wrong when we make unkind and harsh comments about those who make different dietary choices than we do. This is one of the basic tenets of freedom and yes, about bonding too. Let us make food a medium of bonding not growing apart.

 

True Heroism

I do think we should not focus on the negative but the greatest challenge of all is defining terms that are negative or positive. Most of all, who is it that makes these definitions?

gurmeharkaurLet us take the example of Gurmehar Kaur. I had heard about her a long while ago when she was encouraged when she began on a mission towards peace.

Her father, Capt Mandeep was with 4 Rashtriya Rifles when militants stormed his camp in Kupwara in August 1999. He was killed in the gun battle that followed when he was just 30.

Gurmehar has spent almost all her years missing her father. She was two and her sister, Bani, was five months old when their father was killed.

In May 2016,  she was the subject of a silent video by Ram Subramaniam, an ad filmmaker whose Facebook page — Voice of Ram — aims to “create a positive change”.

In the video, Gurmehar recounts how as a six-year-old she tried to stab a burqa-clad woman because she believed Muslims killed her father. Gurmehar is who she is today hugely because of the parenting and the right values she has received from her mother. She explained to her that it was war that killed her father, not people and certainly not a particular community. “I fight for peace between India and Pakistan,” she has often said and considers herself a soldier of a different kind.

Though her life has been quite tough, she has learnt that hatred does not take us forward in any way. “Try and affect people in a positive way, that’s the only way to bring about a change,” she said in a Facebook chat on 30 January 2016.

This day is of course significant as it is the day we lost the greatest peacenik of all, Mahatma Gandhi. I am certain had he been here, he would have surely been proud of this young girl. Having lost her father and suffered more than many of us, the fact that she has embarked on a journey towards peace shows her as a person with tremendous emotional maturity.

Gurmehar has written a book on life in the forces and peace between the two neighbours. “We can have a cordial relationship, we don’t need to hate each other,” she said during the chat, as she took questions from people.

Her peace push has not gone unnoticed. She has quite a following in Pakistan and she hopes to visit the neighbouring country this year.

People are now blaming her for asking for a right to freedom of expression. This is not directly related to her but she knows this kind of freedom is very important not just for her but for the students and adults too. If friendship and peace and thought to be negative, where are we heading towards?

It is high time we join hands with her to understand what true heroism and maturity is all about and raise a toast to her and her ilk.

Sharing and resolving

rakshabharadia

Raksha Bharadia

I know Raksha Bharadia since the time I wrote a story for Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul of which she was the editor. She took the task very seriously and verified all the facts with me before publishing it and we have been friends ever since.

Now, she has taken up studying couple relationships and launched a website, www.bonobology.com

This is a non-judgemental space where she hopes to break some of the taboos associated with discussing love lives.

She has approached experts, therapists, sexologists, historians, divorce lawyers and, of course, the couples themselves.

Indeed relationships and tag lines seem to be all over the world now. Though there is a lot of hype, there is also a lot of loneliness with people not knowing what to do, where to get answers. In this context, I was happy to come across this site that is working to make this happen.

I was happy to see that people are indeed sharing their issues to be helped and through sharing, encouraging others also to do the same thing.   In India, this is usually even more of an issue as people don’t usually share their problems. This is what made Raksha venture into this domain as make it easier for people to address their issues.

I personally like the fact that this site is is all about love and relationships that we all need. As Raksha says, “We need relationships and love as  these are an essential part of our lives. Otherwise we would feel lost in this huge populace of 5 billion plus. Our lovers make us feel that we exist, what is important to us is relevant to them…We all need witnesses to our lives”

By sharing our issues, this site enables us to solve issues and most of all, makes us realise we are not alone in whatever issues that life throws at us.

Difference between spirit and soul

Recently, I was asked the difference between soul and spirit and initially did not really know the answer. On exploring further however, I found that all spiritual traditions explore it in their own ways but convey the same meaning.

intent2As far as Hinduism is concerned, soul is the core-self and is defined by Shankaracharya as chit ananda rupa shivoham shivoham. Thus soul is consciousness which is a continuum filled with bliss and is always pure.  We are surrounded by five koshas while one is alive and one identifies oneself with these koshas by ignorance of our inner self. The five koshas that are part of all of us are

Annamaya kosha

The first kosha is annamaya, the physical body that is first thing we identify ourselves with.

Pranayama kosha

The second kosha is pranamaya, the kosha composed of prana, or life force. This prana is a part of cosmic life. Each and every creature, each and every thing in this world is a part of cosmic life.

Manomaya kosha

The third kosha is manomaya, the kosha composed of the mind. Mind is consciousness. It is a field of energy by itself.

Vijnanamaya kosha

Vijnana means psyche. Vijnana is a Sanskrit word from the prefix vi and jnana meaning knowledge or awareness, inner perception or experience. Vijnanamaya kosha is related to a very unknown part of the universe and it is a link or sutra between the conscious mind, the individual mind and the universal mind.

Anandamaya kosha

The fifth kosha is anandamaya kosha. Ananda is when there is no happiness and no unhappiness. It means a state of eternal bliss.

While we are composed of these five sheaths or koshas, we are not that as soul is beyond the koshas. Thus, soul is a central core of our being, while spirit consists of soul with an ability to reconstruct the body and thus reenters a suitable body and is reborn.

In Christianity, there is usually no difference between soul and spirit.  We can carry our soul to where ever we are going because the soul is always with us. We exist in our subconscious mind, which is the soul, while not in a body. Our Spirit represent our true self, the spark of light, the Living Force. Somehow we are trapped into this material world via this body and we use it according to our desire and by the direction of Supreme Spirit (God) we utilize this body until it comes to an end.

Islam uses the words  rûh and the nafs – both of which can be loosely translated as “soul” or “spirit”.  The word rûh comes with the meaning of the divine infusion by which life takes place. The word nafs is more general in meaning than the word rûh and it just means sprit.  I have personally come across the term rûh  often as it is in romantic urdu shayri and poetry to convey meeting of soul mates.

Other faiths have their own explanation just like each language uses different terms and metaphors.

The most important fact is we all need to realize we are more than just the body, whether we can soul or spirit.  Nomenclature apart, all that we need to realize is that whether we call it soul or spirit, we all are part of the same higher power and consciousness, come from the same source and shall return to the same destination.

Divorcing ailments

divorceailmentsWhen I was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I was distraught at first and then did all I could to learn more about the ailment, what could happen and what I would need to do.I visited all kinds of doctors, learnt about many therapies and kept reading and re-reading on all the research that was going on. The fact was the more I read, the more confused I became. If one research would say probably nothing may take place, the other would say one may die earlier, become totally paralysed and not even able to think.

In Tamil there is a saying, “Even nectar when taken in excess becomes poison”.  This excess reading and thinking that I initially thought was empowering me was doing just the reverse.  Slowly and surely, I stopped doing all the kind of things I was doing.  I started understanding that knowledge does not necessary mean wisdom. I started doing all that I could do and focussed all my energy on this instead of despairing on things that were either a wee bit difficult or that had not even posed a challenge for me at that point.

I started focussing on gratitude, building and making relationships robust and doing all that I loved doing. My life came back on track, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

When I had accepted living with the ailment, the universe blessed with finding a solution to my ailment too through acupuncture.  Serendipitously, the doctor happened to be extremely close to where I lived so it was also very convenient.

Now, having healed myself, I have written a book and have tried to inspire others.  A few more lessons that I have learnt in this process is that people heal only when the wish to heal and that there is a time to heal for everyone.

Whether one heals completely or not, I hope and pray that everyone divorces any ailment they may have and not remain wedded to it in this data driven, wisdom less world.

Those who wish to buy my book on healing from multiple sclerosis can do so at

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Or

http://www.amazon.in/Dancing-Life-Living-Multiple-Sclerosis/dp/938139881X/ref=sr_1_1/279-7583332-8041567?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1442035925&sr=1-1

Users outside India can buy the book at

http://www.uread.com/book/dancing-life-jamuna-rangachari/9789381398814

The eBook versions are NOW available at

Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.in/Dancing-Life-Living-Multiple-Sclerosis-ebook/dp/B01HB9KRDM

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dancing-with-life-jamuna-rangachari/1123950921?ean=9789381398753

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/dancing-with-life-2

 

Empowering the disabled

Among the many inspiring people I have encountered in my life, Javed Abidi is someone I am happy to have come across and interacted with.

javedabidiBorn with congenital spina bifida, a developmental disorder, Javed went abroad, got trained as a journalist and did become very well known in the field.

Later, he decided to join the disability movement and has truly make a difference. He has now traversed the world on a wheelchair, advocating the rights of the disabled. Considered a pioneer of the Cross-Disability Movement in India, he was instrumental in the drafting and passing of The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, and in the setting up of the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) in 1996. He has been its director since 1997. In October 2011, he was appointed world chairperson of Disabled People’s International (DPI), a global organization working for the rights of people living with disabilities.

In the process, Javed has introduced cross-disability culture to the movement. This has been vital for getting groups dealing with physical and mental disabilities to learn of, and listen to, each other. He sees the lack of information-sharing and communication between disability groups as having kept them apart and virtually disinterested in larger issues of the field. Thus he is spearheading nationwide surveys and researches – the first in the history of the movement – to assess the roles, potential, strengths, and weaknesses of the citizen, business, and government sectors vis-á-vis the disabled. The results have exposed grave areas of weaknesses and spurred the movement to address them.

Javed has been systematically training these various disability groups in campaigning and negotiating skills, and helping them to campaign in the political arena for disabled rights. Through lobbying and recourse to litigation (in an historic public interest case that will affect considerations of the disabled in Indian airports), Javed is now concentrating on the successful implementation of the recently passed Disability Act. Simultaneously, as head of the National Council for the Promotion of Employment of People with Disability (NCPEDP), he is working with the corporate sector to define clear employment policies for the disabled within their agenda.

The latest success he has had is spearheading along with others, the passage of the disability bill by the Rajya Sabha in the winter session of 2016.

Many sceptics still say this may achieve nothing much but the fact is, each step does make a difference in the journey of the society becoming a little more human and yes, humane too.

 

The cards that we are dealt with

randypauschRecently someone sent me a video of the late Randy Pausch, who continues to inspire me through his words and his book, The Last Lecture. It is a wonderful talk and book that I recommend that everyone to everyone.

In his book, Randy Pausch talks about his own dreams and his desire to help other fulfill their dreams. ‘If you knew were going to die, and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?’ is the question he asked himself. That thought became the spark that turned into a book, The Last Lecture. For Randy, it wasn’t a hypothetical situation. He was fighting pancreatic cancer. This book is not about death and dying, but rather about fulfilling all your dreams before dying. Specifically, it’s about accomplishing your childhood dreams and about how you can try to achieve them.

Pausch delivered his ‘Last Lecture,’ titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, at Carnegie Mellon University on 18 September 2007. He also gave an abridged version of his speech on The Oprah Winfrey Show in October 2007. The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical ‘final talk’.

Pausch’s lectures have become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles.

Celebrating the dreams we all strive to turn into realities. Sadly, Pausch lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on 25 July 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.

The fact is all do need to die one day. Everything that happens to us is not in our control. However, instead of worrying about this,  wouldn’t it be wonderful if we make our aim that of leaving the world at least a wee bit better?

As Randy himself has said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

 

Laws, laws and laws

lawsMy twenty four year old son shared with me recently that he does not consider it a duty to look after his parents but he would definitely want to do this as he loves his parents. “Nothing should be forced upon anyone as then then it never really works in the proper way,” he mused and then talked about various issues like gender stereotypes, societal ills and then about laws that are made to subdue the problem and not correct it.

For instance, when sex determination tests are legal all over the world but not in India, does it not show that we as a society are still grappling with complete acceptance of both genders? If this is the case, will just banning these tests shape the society to become an equal space for all? When we know there is an issue there, we need to address people’s mindsets and not impose a law to keep the issue under wraps. For if these tests are banned, either doctors who practise these tests illegally or quacks will operate for sure. Apart from these tests, if there are no tests, a child may be born in a home where she is most unwelcome.  There may be many views on whether this test should be allowed or not, but the fact is that despite women doing all or perhaps more than what a man can do, she still needs to be accepted as an equal in a world with a patriarchal mindset.

This fact is applicable to all areas of life, be it corruption, inefficiency and other aspects of our work life and personal issues like marriage, divorce, and laws like the prevention of dowry that has always been there but never enforced completely as the society has not changed to support it.

Society will change only when we as individuals change as we create the society and are not created by society.

Practice what you preach

 

gandhi3There are some people from whom we can never stop learning lessons. The oft repeated quote of Mahatma Gandhi  where he says “Be the change you want to see in this world” is powerful because he himself showed his in action.

Gandhi’s life also shows us how he took every little request seriously. During the 1930’s, a young boy had become obsessed with eating a lot of sugar. His mother was very upset with this. But no matter how much she scolded him and tried to break his habit, he continued to satisfy his sweet tooth. Being totally frustrated, she decided to take her son to see Mahatma Gandhi who was the boy’s idol. She had to walk many miles across the country, for hours under scorching sun to finally reach Gandhi’s ashram. There, she recounted her

difficult journey and asked him to ask her son to stop eating sugar

Gandhi listened to the woman carefully, thought for a while and replied, “Please come back after two weeks. I will talk to your son.”

The women looked confused. Then she took the boy by the hand and went home. She made the long journey home and went there again after two weeks as Gandhi requested. When they arrived, Gandhi looked directly at the boy and said, “Boy, you should stop eating sugar. It is not good for your health.”

The boy nodded and promised he would not continue this habit any longer. The boy’s mother was puzzled and asked him why he had not said this earlier.

Gandhi smiled and whispered in her ears, “At that time I was not qualified to advise the little one. Because I too, was same like him, eating a lot of sugar myself two weeks ago.

We may feel this story is too petty for a cause like demonetisation, black money, corruption and so on but the fact the world is created through small steps.

In the brou-ha-ha of demonetisation, I am certain he would have personally declared all his assets before asking others to do so which is something none of its proponents are willing to do.

Is life designed to be serendipitous?

universeSerendipity is one of my favourite words. To me, it means the manifests the engineering of the world as the universe, whether we call the engineering to be done by a higher power, higher consciousness or the Divine.

We do often feel we are making all the decisions in our life.  When we look more deeply, we will realise that there are many aspects involved in every step, whether it is people or events. This often is taken to mean that everything is predestined.  It really is not so. Life is a fusion of what we wish to have, how we go about getting it and how we handle all the so called obstacles on the way. Yes, it is not that the path is always as we wish it ought to be, but if we observe all that we can learn through the path that is shown to us, life becomes an adventure as it was always meant to be.

For instance, a senior teacher who regularly teaches holistic living in schools told me something quite interesting. He said that a few years back, he met with a minor accident and hence, he could no longer do all the asanas and teach them as he was doing earlier. Instead of stopping the classes, he now focusses on pranayama and nutritional guidance. Since he also knew  therapies like acupressure and sujok, he teaches that too to the students. Now, his class has become even more popular than before. Many people with ailments have also started taking his guidance. In a sense, his life has become enriched through a minor setback as he just looked for a different direction and path. He views his accident as a serendipitous event that made him a teacher and healer.

There are millions of such people all around us, who view life as a series of opportunities of various hues.  When something goes wrong, they just change the direction and start following a new path.

This is really why I consider life itself as a series of serendipitous events. We do not know the design, but if viewed positively, there are always opportunities for all of us.

 

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