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From Hoshang

To read the feedback from Hoshang on the article Creation, click here.

(Feedback on Article 'As Old As The Hills')

Greetings, Shakun

This may surprise you, bur I felt I should reply to this your latest communication.

My name is Hoshang Dastoor. And I am the husband of Veera (nee Madon), who was at Queen Mary's School with you.

Hinduism is a way of life, and there is no denying the fact. I particularly like its other name, that of Sanatan Dharma, with the meaning that that phrase carries. It is the all-accepting ambience of Hinduism that has made it possible, for instance, for refugees like us Zoroastrians to be happily settled in a land that we fled to 1,400 years ago.

However, there is a real, almost tangible need to recognise that all religions are ways of life, and not only Hinduism. When a human being is spiritual in the essence, when there is a subtle and profound understanding of the Godhead, or Divine (the term used is quite immaterial), then (and admittedly, then alone) do the artificial distinctions between religions - which have done so much to stir up in humankind the worst and most self-destructive emotions over the ages) crumble and disappear without a trace.

It is at that stage of one's spiritual development - if one has the inner strength to persevere in order to attain it - that the distinctions between religions not only disappear but become quite meaningless, and eventually the very concept of there being distinctions at all is absurd and patently untenable and alien to one's way of intuiting and living and responding and being.

It follows, without any fear of contradiction from anyone who truly comprehends the essence of my exposition, that it is entirely a matter of complete indifference as to which religion one is born into, or may adopt through conversion. As Jawaharlal Nehru once said:

"I am an Englishman by education, Muslim by culture and Hindu by an accident of birth." 

What is important, rather than mere formal religion, is continuous life-long improvement towards the goal of self-actualisation.  After all, the great givers of "ways of life", or religions (Hindu or otherwise) were really the ones who tried to foster this spirit among their followers.

It is a sad irony, though inevitably following from the imperfections of human nature, that one of the things all these great souls suffered from in common (both during their lives and long, long after their passing, down the ages) is that only a miniscule handful of their followers truly understood what the great ones stood for and taught, and that these were not necessarily always the most influential in spreading, or mis-spreading, the word of the original faith.

So what's all this about self-actualisation? Really, it's very simple. Take two men, for instance. They are the most intimate of friends, but one day they have a quarrel on some issue or the other, and one of them bitterly insults the other with unbelievably harsh words. The victim is shocked beyond words - he is absolutely devastated that his trusted friend should "destroy" him like that.

After two days, the aggressor, equally devastated in his turn with the severest guilt and remorse, says sorry to his friend. There is obviously great pain on both sides. the aggressor says something to the effect of: "Forgive me, I am extremely sorry. It was a moment of anger. I am only human. I am feeling very bad about it. It will never, never happen again."

They make up, tearfully. The wound is healed. Or is it? 

"I'm only human" , "I couldn't help myself", etc. etc. These are the specious excuses we thrive on. "I'm sorry" is meaningless. Remember the girl in Erich Segal's novel Love Story?  She tells her man, "Love is never having to say you're sorry", which, of course  means it's better to act in such a way that you don't hurt another person in the first place, rather than saying sorry after the event.

The socially conscience-less Hindus, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians, Bahai, what-have-yous, will say, "You are being theoretical. After all, we are only human."

And I ask, "And what happens if you restrain yourself in the first place so that you don't need to apologise later?"  I am met with blank stares. 

"Simply this, my friend - you continue to be only human. Controlling and restraining oneself out of consideration for another is also being human, so what's the difference?"

More blank stares.

"See brother, you continue to be only human, but you have raised yourself to a higher level of humanity. You have taken a small but positive step towards self-actualisation or self-realisation."

"So?" he asks.  (He is in that belligerent "So what?" mode, you see. He is definitely not about to begin taking any crap from someone like me whom he feels is a holier-than-thou do-gooder.)

I don't  know   whether the guy is feigning dumbness or not. I patiently say, not, however, being able to resist a hint of gentle irony:  "After numerous small steps like this one, my friend, you will still only be human, but you will be a somewhat better human being. You will be a bit nearer to practicing true religion in the purest form, precisely because it has no label attached. You will realise that there is really only one religion."

A small light of comprehension dawns on my listener's face, and I am just that wee bit satisfied and encouraged. This is a good feeling. (The guy is cute because he seems to have improved his attitude towards me with an open mind. Reminds me of what Dr. Kalyan Sunder Basu used to teach us at Jamnalal Bajaj Institute - "Information changes attitudes."  Wish it did that more often to people in a positive way.)

Striving to be a better human being is a way of life, otherwise known as "religion".

Different formal religions are like windows on a computer database. Each one gives a partial view of the database - only the Creator of the database knows what it really looks like in its entirety. Each partial view is governed, at least to some extent, by what one wants to see in there.

But wouldn't it be nice to open the windows further, a little at a time, to see and understand more of that database? To perceive not merely what one wants to see, but what is really in there.

I thought that I will share this with you. Please feel free to make of it what you can and what you wish to.

I will show Veera your e-letters that we received in her absence. She has gone for a holiday and is returning the day after tomorrow.

Thank you and with warm regards,
Yours sincerely,

Hoshang Dastoor

PS I just got a thought - maybe what you wrote about Krishna and Arjuna triggered it.  And it's this. The antagonists on both sides of the Kurukshetra War in the Mahabharata may have spared themselves the terrible destruction if only they had followed the Love Story dictum in the first place.

Is that the true message of the Mahabharata?

If only Yuddishthira had not gambled .....
If only Duryodhana and Dushassana (spelling OK?) had not been so wicked......
If only Dhritarashtra had not so foolishly doted on his sons .....
If only the Kauravas had not tried to kill the Pandavas by making and setting fire to the wax palace .....

I was brought up on C. Rajagopalachari's Mahabharata and I loved it. It spoke strongly about the rights and the wrongs. But it was most absorbing and instructive and meaningful when it probed the grey areas. 

Incidentally, one of my favourite stories in the great epic is that of Yuddishthira's final test. Somewhere in the long road of life, Yuddhisthira did managed to become a somewhat better human being ....

But I could go on and on.

Bye for the present and best wishes,
Hoshang Dastoor

(Feedback on Article Creation)

Dear Shakun,

Hello, I'm Hoshang Dastoor again. Your appreciation of my response to "As Old As the Hills" shows that you are a really broad-minded and holistically-thinking person, for which I humbly and sincerely salute you. Some Hindus, in general, could be uncomfortable and perhaps offended with what I had written.

Now I am writing about your article on Creation. What you have said is beautiful and elemental and awesome and timeless and seminal beyond description. Thank you very much.

The concept of creation is so boundlessly vast that one utterly despairs of comprehending it in mere human, physical and temporal terms. All of us who studied science were raised with the idea that it is not possible to create something out of nothing, and therefore, the idea of creation has always been understood to be the formation of matter from other matter, or the generation of some form of tangible energy from matter or from another form of energy.  Not to mention the "immutability" of the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy.

So what, if anything, is the Prime Element from which God created the Universe? Once the Primordial Atom was There, the Big Bang almost explains itself. After all, what else could conceivably happen to the Primordial Atom other than the Big Bang? If this sounds like crass intellectual hubris, forgive me.

But (and this seems to be right on the thin line between the Unknown and the Unknowable) where did the Primordial Atom come from?  How did He make It happen?

When I was a little boy (and often even later on, due to the sheer enjoyment that it provided) I loved to read, among other things, Rudyard Kipling's Just-So Stories for Children, which, like all truly great fiction for the young, is ultimately for the adult, as it contains several profound truths that you go back to with a wonderfully renewed understanding when you are older.

My favourite story was The Elephant's Child, which was set in a distantly bygone age (as per Kipling) when the Elephant had no trunk, but just a little "button-nose" like anybody else. And the Elephant's Child was full of  " 'Satiable Curiosity " , which, as the name suggests ("insatiable", really), was never ever satisfied. And he was spanked by all his relatives for asking the most embarrassing and awkward questions - to which, needless to say, they had no answers. So they spanked and spanked him harder and harder out of frustrated annoyance and an acute sense of their own ignorance, and this only made him persist in asking all those questions of his, and all  because he was so full of " 'Satiable Curiosity ". (Incidentally, and most delightfully, he lived in Africa, and his relatives consisted of  "his Broad Aunt, the Hippopotamus", and "his Hairy Uncle, the Baboon", not to mention several other spanking [pun intended] adults!).

Now, one fine morning, the Elephant's Child awoke with a brand-new question, which he put forthwith to all his "Dear Relatives", and for which he consequently got from each of them a harder spanking than usual. The question was:

"What does the Crocodile Have for Dinner?".

To regretfully cut a terrific story short,  he eventually meets the Crocodile at the banks of "the great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees" (most amazingly, you won't believe this, Veera actually visited this area and saw the river and has taken photographs on her recent vacation in Africa). The Crocodile, lurking in the murky waters of the great river, is earnestly asked the question by our dear seeker-after-knowledge, and in benevolent response,  tries to eat him by catching hold of his nose and pulling him into the river, but the Bi-Coloured Python Rock Snake lazing on the banks of the Limpopo comes to his rescue, wrapping himself round the Child's middle, and they both pull back desperately. Eventually, the Elephant's Child escapes with his life as Crocodile's grip on his nose is loosened and is lying exhausted on the banks
> of the Limpopo River.

He then discovers that his button-nose has grown into a long, long nose (because of the tug-of-war, of course) and further finds to his delight that he can use it to ward off or swat all those flies that had been so bothering him.  He could also easily eat all those delicious bananas with his new long "nose".  And, most gratifying of all, the attitude of all his "Dear Relatives" towards him and his 'satiable curiosity undergoes a sea change for the better!

Of course, Shakun, with all your wisdom and insight, you can quite see why I dwelled on the Elephant's Child.

The way I see it is: The Elephant's Child is humankind, and humankind is full of  " 'satiable curiosity ". It is inevitable that we should ask fundamental questions to which the answers are not easily forthcoming. Our curiosity about Creation is an essential part of Creation itself.

The Great Mystery is that our natural curiosity need not, and necessarily must not, always be fully satisfied. So is it ordained. However, since we are all Elephant's Children, we all have " 'satiable curiosity". Significantly, we shall keep on and on asking the Great Questions, despite being spanked and cuffed and beaten again and again, with the innate and unflinching conviction that we shall be rewarded at last with a Truth that envelopes us with the most radiant enlightenment.

Going further still, the ultimate reward for us persistent Question-Askers is not the direct answers to their questions, as we may sometimes naively expect. If this sounds crazy, let me explain.

The ultimate reward is the sense of serenity and peace that comes upon human beings when they realise that some questions can never be answered, and so submit in total surrender to His Divine Will. The beautiful paradox here is that we cannot achieve this state of acceptance to the non-answerability of our questions unless we persistently and passionately ask these questions in the first place.

But once we achieve this state, we instinctively know which are the questions that we should not ask.

Dear Rudyard, we are all your Elephant's Children, and not for nothing. The finest trunk is being happy and peaceful with no trunk at all !

Thanks again, Shakun, for your writings and the opportunity to respond.

I really wish that your mother gets better and that God gives her the serenity to bear her suffering.

All the very best, and may you keep inspiring many with your understanding and teaching.

Sincere regards from us both,

Hoshang

 

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