About a week back, my in-house monster was in one of her placid moods. I watched her open the door to the 'puja ghar', fish out two incense sticks from a cabinet below and circle the pantheon of Gods in an insouciant fashion. She chanted away in her three-year-old sing-song voice lines from the Hanuman Chalisa. I ran to get my video camera but when I returned, she had stopped glorifying the feats of the monkey god and had moved on to itsy bitsy spider with equal vigour. It left us -- my child, God and me -- smiling, for I believe it was a moment of perfect bliss.
Faith is a funny little creature much like a half-full octopus. It has a bizarre way of drawing some people towards it, just the way it drives others away from it. What it is not is complex. That is a quality that I would credit us humans with. We are a set of highly complex, cognitive individuals who have the tendency to complicate things around us. We don't like assembled concepts. We like to deconstruct at will, construct on whim and interpret when in doubt. But when it comes to faith, keeping it simple and heartfelt might be the easiest way to deal with it -- in a world criss-crossed by different faiths, the faithful and faithless.
Five years back when I was in Bhutan with my husband, we strolled around an awe-inspiring fortress (Dzong) that also housed prayer halls. It was here that I realised that people closest to Gods are those who listened closest to their hearts.
Right below a gigantic statue of Buddha stood a 20-foot-long table that was laden with the choicest of junk food. Monks kept coming back to the table, fussing over the offerings, rearranging them now and then. On offer were bags and bags of toffees, lollipops, cheese balls and jellies, and of course the ubiquitous incense sticks. And through it all, Buddha smiled benignly. And the monks? Of course they were smiling, their smiles reaching up to their tonsured pates, for clearly it was a moment of bliss for them.
So... was Buddha crazy to smile through all this? Maybe so, or maybe he was all forgiving (or maybe he did enjoy cheese balls after all!). Had his monks lost it? Definitely not. Time and again, research has proven the minds of monks to be some of the happiest and therefore the healthiest to inhabit this earth. It probably explains why Bhutan, which has a staggering monk population, ranks within the top ten in surveys that compare countries on gross national happiness.
At the other end of the faith spectrum is my childhood friend Noor. She was (and still is) a very happy, easygoing girl with a remarkable flair for mathematics. She rarely performed the Namaz, spoke Arabic with a flourish, flitted between salwar kameez and crop tops with equal ease and introduced me to Bryan Adams. Our other Muslim classmates didn't quite approve of her behaviour, but to me, Noor was as content as any body around. Clearly, she seemed to have worked out an equation with faith. One that didn't revolve around extreme forms of dissent or protest.
Looking back at these instances, I realised three things.
One, that bliss is easily attainable.
Two, faith left to its own, doesn't really mind how it's followed or whether it is followed in the first place. Faith is not a damsel in distress that needs rescuing. Nor is it some dark lord trying to yoke us to it. If that were the case, agnostics and atheists would be dropping dead like flies. And the last time I checked, they were growing in numbers.
Thirdly, and most importantly, when our equation with faith is forged from the heart and not by external forces -- such as agenda driven artistes, politicians or self-appointed pontiffs -- devotion, deviation and dissent need not slip into extremism, radicalism or bigotry.
Faith doesn't need us to fight its wars, embark on low-oxygenated pilgrimages, resort to masochism, glorify or defile its texts. It can take care of itself and reveals itself for whatever it is worth. You have to have faith in it.