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Fanaticism: Rational or Irrational

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Life is unfathomable but people attempt to fathom it through diverse perspectives. Owing to its broad social, cultural and economic spectrum, nowhere is this diversity of beliefs as pronounced as it is in India.

When everyone is granted freedom of expression by the constitution, dissent is inevitable but violence is no way to express it. Anyone who responds to a dissenting view with violence only shows his cowardice. Noted scholar Prof. M.M Kalburgi from Dharwad was recently assassinated apparently for his views against idol worship. His assassination is condemnable and the loss is not just for the state of Karnataka, but for the whole world of philosophy. The people who have killed him are no different from barbaric terror groups like IS.

In our country, differing perspectives have always been welcomed and have brought a unique richness to our culture. The Bhakti Sutras present the views of different sages while revering all of them. The way disagreements and conflicts are dealt with also shows the refinement of a society. The famous debate between Adi Shankara and Mandan Mishra was settled by a very novel criterion to decide the winner involving a pair of garlands. What a contrast with the debates we see on TV these days!

Truth is so vast that one perspective alone cannot contain it. It might even appear to be composed of ideas which seem to be in conflict with each other. That is why the Bhagavad Gita is full of contradictions. Therefore, the wise ones, even though they might have differing views, converge on one point – “Perhaps…” The more you know, the more you realize you do not know.

While everyone can choose to express themselves however they wish to, it is also not appropriate to hurt people’s sentiments under the garb of freedom of expression. There is an old sanskrit saying,

“Satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam

priyam cha nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah”

which means “Speak the truth with a pleasant speech. Let it neither be a truth that is unpleasing to others nor a lie that is pleasing. Such is the eternal code of conduct.”

While God is formless, there is no harm in attaching a form to God if it makes one happy. What matters is feeling connected to Divinity and if someone feels that connection through a particular form or idol, criticizing them for doing so is unfair. From a rational perspective, idols and rituals have no meaning but for many, they do uplift the spirit. If not in the idol itself, Divinity does reside in the feeling that the idol evokes in the heart of a devotee. There are people at every level of understanding and realization and the magnanimity of our ancient culture is that it includes everyone, whichever level they are at.

Fanaticism is having a closed mindset over what is right and what is wrong. Even rational views, if closeted hard, can lead to fanaticism. Even irrational views, if open and sincere, can lead to the Truth.

[This article appeared on the IBNLive online portal on September 7, 2015:]


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