This story starts from the time I started understanding the concept of God. In my childhood years, I just did what the adults around me did. I prayed in the school assembly, at home, in front of the idols of Hindu Gods, in the temple. I still bow my head when I pass a religious place (esp a Temple and a Gurudwara). I make the cross sign when I am in front of a Church. All this because I grew up in a neighbourhood where a temple, gurudwara and church are located in the vicinity. Also because, my parents, though they passed the Hinduism faith because they themselves are Hindus, never taught me to not respect other religions. I do not remember ever hearing them categorize someone by their religion. And I am really grateful to my parents for that. It is because of them, I was able to look beyond religion and made Christian, Muslim and Sikh friends who have been as good to me as any Hindu friend.

But in those years, I was taught to respect God and sometimes even fear Him. When I grew up a little, I somehow did not feel the fear. I used to ask myself if God is the ultimate being, if He is the epitome of righteousness and goodness, why would He punish someone for things like not praying to Him? I wondered what was really the truth behind the fear that people feel from God. And though I might not really know the real reason, but I think this has two aspects.

First, when these social rules were made and the rulers thought the ways in which they could make people follow them without questioning, I think the best way they thought was fear. If they logically explained to people a simple thing like ‘do not lie’, how many people would pay attention? But when they said ‘do not lie or God will punish you’…that would make them listen. Now, I think there was a need to say this to those people because there were only a few educated & learned men in the olden days and they must have thought it would be tough to reason with others who did not have any education and did not understand life as the learned men believed they themselves did.

The second aspect of fear might have begun when the religious leaders came into picture. Now, the learned men at least had their skills and talents to make people listen to them. But think about these religious heads of any society. In ancient India, a priest was someone who was educated, had spent years in meditating about life, and had some insights into a human mind. Many times, these priests were like today’s research scientists, who developed a skill or invented something. I have read many instances of this kind of knowledge accumulated by these priests in Hindu scriptures (though in those stories, these might seem like some magical powers these people had, but over the years I have come to analyze those were scientific inventions and not magical powers). So a priest was typically someone with skills, talent, education etc. But then, later on, a boy born in the house of a priest became a priest and so on. Unfortunately, the sons of the priests might not have the same skill set and talent as their fathers. So they used fear as method of submission by the public.

These were my understandings of the fear in religion. I can’t say if I am right but I know one thing for sure. God loves. He gives. God would never say to you “I will love you and take care of you only if you go to such & such temple and give the priest X amount of money to pray to me”! (Since the rule makers were the religious heads, maybe it was their way of securing an income for themselves). Anyway, so long back, when I understood these things – by using my mind, by listening to some good people around me, by reading about the horrors of extremist crimes committed in name of religion, I stopped fearing God. I started loving Him. I knew my relationship with God cannot be defined by another human being’s beliefs or teachings. I came to believe that God loved me, no matter what. He did not ask me to make sacrifices in return for love. His love is the purest and cannot be tainted with expectations, demands, monetary offerings etc.

I am not saying I don’t donate money in temples or elsewhere. I still go to temple, gurudwara, church but when I am giving money there, I understand it is not for God. It is for the priest, who earns his livelihood by praying and maintaining these religious places. I know I am not giving the money to God but to those who are trying to keep God in our lives (though their ways might seem crude to me). When I bow in front of a religious building, it is not out of fear but purely out of respect for God. Even though He is everywhere around me, those places still mark his abode for me. I somehow get peace when I visit those places, hence I show my respect towards them. Also, when I visit a religious place, I do with lots of faith in my heart; faith towards God. I still believe we humans require rules to love by otherwise there will be chaos everywhere. Hence, I respect those rules and try to follow them. I know the method might have been not up to my liking, but the intent behind the rules was good – to keep an order in the society and to ensure people were essentially good.

I used to read Rajnish Osho a lot in my teenage years and though there were things I did not agree with, yet there were some that left a mark on me. One such book I read was about happy religion. Osho mentioned in one of his addresses that in Hinduism, we almost always relate being religious with being sad. A person who devotes himself in God’s service is supposed to meditate in faraway places, being all alone, is supposed to be serious all the time, is supposed to sacrifice good food and clothes etc. Osho goes on to say this was true till Lord Krishna arrived on the scene. His religion was the only happy religion. Lord Krishna is a happily singing, dancing God who sometimes even playfully flirts with women. He preached that we could live a full life and do all our duties and yet be close to God. That book touched a chord in me. Many scriptures teach it and there are a few stories also in Hindu mythology to emphasize on the fact that one can live a full life and be a true devotee of God. My respected Guru also said the same thing to me – “If you do not forget God, He will always be with you”. The problem is, sometimes we stop asking Him to be with us.

So my relationship with God has been pretty simple – love Him, remember Him everyday and know that He is always there for me, no matter what. I do respect God, but I don’t fear Him. I do love Him but I might not sit with folded hands in front of His idol every morning. I would love to follow the rule of lighting a diya in my house every morning and evening, but not doing so does not mean I have forgotten God. I pray in my own way – I talk to God, all the time. When I am happy, I thank Him. When I am angry, I vent out to Him. I do not need a special place to talk to Him and I don’t even have to talk aloud 🙂 And I truly believe He listens and He is always around.