It was the Good Friday last week. It was also the day when summer holidays commenced, with much fanfare and rejoicing in our household. Since Mamma had a holiday too, and the next holiday is really faar faaar away, we decided to celebrate! Off we went to the mall for lunch. Mamma and the kids. There was some debate as usual on what to eat and where.
Dottie pipes up – “Mamma, was Jesus Christ a vegetarian or a non-vegetarian?” I gave it a hard thought and concluded that in all possibilities he was most likely a non-vegetarian. “Yippieee!” Came the delighted yell. “That means I can eat a chicken burger. Yay!”. I was puzzled. On further inquiry found out the reasoning behind this inference.
“Oh Mamma, you dont even know? On Lord Shankar’s birthday we could not eat chicken burger because Shankar was a vegetarian!”
So here is the background. The grand parents were staying with us during Mahashivratri. It was a day of fasting and puja for them. Kids were denied a chicken burger by daddy and daddy being the typical objective species from Mars (remember where men are from?) who only processes in binary, had provided a very simple and convincing explanation!
I have been struggling to field a lot of questions on the big one lately. These are sometimes tougher to handle than the standard inquiries about where do babies come from. These questions do not go to daddy for some reason.
Is god real?
Where does he live?
Why doesn’t he eat the ‘prasad’ you make?
Are there many gods?
Then why do we have so many photos in our ‘god home’ (dev ghar).
Was Krishna a god?
Was Ram a god?
Was Jesus Christ a God?
So are there different gods for different religions?
Did different gods make different people?
If this story (Ram or Krishna’s) is from long long ago, are they alive now?
Where are they?
Was god alive long long ago?
Did god make us? But we came from your tummy!
Werent humans really monkeys before?
Did god make dinosaurs too?
Do Dinosaurs/Dogs/Animals have a religion?
I could go on. Let me state clearly that I dont want to get into the big debate on god’s existence here. That debate could go on and on till we are blue in the face and still be inconclusive. I am looking for simple explanations that can help them understand. I dont want to push them in any direction – of belief or non-belief. Let them figure it out as they grow, read and experience. Let them make a choice to believe or to not, or to believe in something else. I want them to learn to question everything, not necessarily accept things the way they are told without questioning them. I want them to be able to know how to look for answers and find them. I want them to develop and learn to apply their common sense and reasoning abilitites to such things.
I myself remember being thoroughly convinced of god’s existence as a child, then gradually shifted to challenging it, to later accepting the debate itself. Or accepting the fact that there is no answer. Or that the answer is really within yourself and its a matter of choice. To understanding that religion is not really about god. That religion only teaches us beliefs, rituals and traditions. Which is again a mixed bag, and you have to carefully choose what you want to pick from that bag and what to discard, with whatever balance and reason you can find. And that because we can listen, observe, learn, sense and feel, we need to believe in something to guide our actions. That disbelief in the widely recongnized image or idea of god also means believing in something different. That spirituality is different from religion and belief. It is related to what you experience. What you observe, sense, and feel, and what you understand from it all, and how that influences your actions in return.
Afterall us human beings need a framework to define our own morality. Therefore God. If you call her that. And she (If you can personify that then for me its a ‘she’ because so am I.) is also context specific. For me she is my family and people around me. They give me a purpose, to take up responsibilities, to work with accountability, to perform duties and enjoy them too. To overcome any feelings like anger, fear, guilt, laziness, inaction, indifference, resignation and so on that have the capacity to drag me down. To understand that these feelings are natural and will crop up at different times and in different situations. That I need to make a conscious effort to understand them and to channelize them towards finding a solution. That does not require anything other than the willingness to do so.
But I digress. (Ahem. May be I should quit my day job and get into the ‘self help’ business.)
So here is how I tried to answer their queries.
God is not a person, photo or idol, or a character. God is everywhere. God is in our minds, so that we can think. God is in the sun, because it gives us light and energy, God is in our parents and teachers because they love us and take care of us. God is in our friends, in the earth, in water, in food, in everything around us. God is something that helps us to live, and to be happy and kind human beings. We pray, or do puja, or celebrate festivals, or hear stories of Rama, Krishna and Ganapati bappa because that way we learn about our culture and our traditions. The stories sometimes help us to act in the right way. They teach us to respect and care for people, and to try and behave in a way which benefits everyone. Festivals and ceremonies bring people together, and we make special dishes, and that makes everyone happy.
That does it for now. My responses got puzzled looks from unsure minds. But they seemed to be acceptable for the time being.
Have you parents faced these questions? What are your thoughts on how to handle them? Do you try to convince (or educate – if you will) your children about your own beliefs?