Lessons from Papa #1: “God has no religion.”
My father’s teachings and guidance laid the foundation of my quest for knowledge. My growing years were filled with his wisdom, and helped shape my own principles, which I now share with you in this new series of blog posts, Lessons from Papa.
One of my father’s favourite sayings was a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “God has no religion”. Upon first hearing it, most people think it sounds oblique and naturally wonder what it means. Very rarely, however, do they ask for an explanation. The beauty of this quote lies in its ode to Gandhi and must be pondered upon in depth in order to truly understand its message.
What I want to share here today is how my father lived and breathed this belief throughout his life. The first thing he taught me about religion was to question everything. He would often say, “If you don’t understand something, why do it?”
The point of questioning everything was not to for me to drop the subject; but rather, to question it. My father was not asking me to stop practising what I had been taught since I was a child – regular prayers, meditation, and various rituals accompanying spiritual practices. What he wanted was for me to question the purpose of those practices.
Therefore, he encouraged me to not only read widely, but deeply as well. In doing so, he pointed out that almost all religions share similar principles: the concepts of truth, love, purity, service, non-violence and so on, are generally the same. Our house was much like a parliament of religions. We would have debates on different scriptures, from the Bible to the Quran, the Lotus Sutra, the Talmud, and the Guru Granth Sahib, to name a few.
My father saw that religion was sometimes used as an excuse to divide, instead of a reason to unite. Whenever I described someone sage-like as being religious, he would prefer to say that they were spiritual instead. The only true religion to him was the path within; for there, within us all, resides God.
After many dialogues held over dinner regarding the cardinal questions of why, what and how, a realisation finally dawned on me one day, as a teenager on my way to adulthood – we are all heading in the same direction. Or as my father put it, towards the same peak, but climbing from different directions. For example, a climber from the south, and another from the north, may initially appear to be progressing in opposite directions; yet they are really heading towards the same goal.
What is incredible is this: at the bottom of the mountain, the distance between the two climbers is the greatest; but as they move up, the distance lessens and the mountain itself narrows till it completely disappears at the top. Hence, my father would say, higher up the spiritual path, you will find virtually no difference in the goal, because you can clearly see across to each other. But for those stuck at the bottom, an entire mountain stands between.
Here, the mountain represents the rituals of various religions. One has to see past the mountain – or the rituals – to understand the true purpose. This applies to any situation, not just religion.
Do you try to question everything? Have you understood the true purpose of your actions?