OPINION

Two Paths to God

June 28, 2006
Hiba Tanvir

Two paths converged in the woods, and I took the path least travelled and that is what has made all the difference - Robert Frost.

It was a stormy night, water gushed angrily from the skies, thunder rocked the forest, and lightning flashed as if questioning the power of the darkness. Two men were caught in the midst of nature's grand presentation. They both wanted to seek God, they both believed He was the force behind what they had just seen. Both of them took on a journey in the woods, their destination was the same: To understand God.

But, their chosen paths were different.

One path seemed very attractive. It had a sign that said "R". It had a long trail of footprints, a security that it must be the right path. This path had another interesting aspect. There were many others on this path, they all looked the same, behaved in a similar way, dressed in similar clothes. More so, they loved to correct everyone around them. Initially, the man got rather annoyed by the constant unsolicited advice and suggestions he received on every possible aspect; how to walk, how to dress, what not to say, what not to think. When he protested and questioned, in uniformity everyone smiled and told him that God did not like too much questioning, God loves submission. The authority and aura of the people made him believe these were truly people seeking divinity, they must be right. He conformed, and soon became like them.

During their daily meetings to promote submission to God, and instill fear of God, they discussed the punishment God had prepared for those who do not believe and conform to His commands. Every action and word uttered had a label attached to it: Sin or good deed. Any question or discussion that demanded reasoning, or the use of intellect was considered a sin. Any question for which an answer could not be found in age-old books, or in the histories of those who lived before was looked down upon. This path believed that all the answers lay in one of two places: holy books or traditions of the great people who lived centuries before.

To ensure the spread of this message, everyone had to preach their beliefs and ideologies. But, there was a condition. The only way someone could be on this path was if they adhered to all the ideologies that were presented. If not, they were the misguided, those who had gone astray.

The man thought this path to God was very easy. All you had to do was fulfill daily rituals, constantly announce God's name before every act to make it a reward, preach to anyone and everyone, keep crediting your account with good deeds. But, the best thing about this path was you never had to think, or reason because others who claimed they were closer to God had already done it for you. This path never exposed itself to any outside light, force or person. It was self-contained. Nothing that provoked soul searching, or thought provoking ever happened here. This was wonderful. All of us rightly guided souls desiring God's pleasure on this path; we are the best people thought the man.

During a daily meeting, the man shared his experience of the thunder and lightning he witnessed in the woods and how that forced him to seek and discover God. "The thunder was God's rage, the lightning was God reprimanding you for the life you had been living, you were fortunate that you are now on the right path but think of all the others who are still believing in other messages and other Gods, it is your duty to guide them to this right path." The man who had by now forgotten to question, reason, rationalize was as usual fully impressed by the logic and power of these statements. But, he asked one question, "How can I preach to others when we've never been told anything about them, how can I make a difference when we make no effort to be kind to them, why will they listen to me when I have no respect or tolerance for their ways?"

There was an uncomfortable silence, but immediately holy books were picked up, pages turned and a long quote read out that really did not answer his question, but it was read with such power and authority that it had to be the answer.

On the other side of the forest, the other man sat disillusioned. He couldn't seem to find any usual or old path that led to God. But, he knew there had to be a way because he felt God in everything around him. He started walking, on a path that seemed rather unwalked. He was apprehensive but something from within kept him going.

Though he was alone, he heard God in the birds, in the gentle crackling of leaves, in the sound of the river flowing near by. He would talk to God sitting, standing, lying down. He started to understand his God by simply looking at and understanding His creation. By looking at how perfectly the skies lay stretched boundlessly above him, he knew God was boundless. He saw how a bird diligently built its nest, he understood God loved hard work. He carefully observed the river, its force, its energy, its constant movement, and its ability to diverge and take on new paths but to eventually converge in the magnificent ocean. He reasoned that maybe that is how God wants our lives and our minds to be; constantly seeking new paths, new answers, daring to question, and diverge from the usual pattern for if two bodies of water did not dare to diverge, the ocean would not be as deep, as rich and as magnificent as it is.

Each day the man was learning more about his ownself, his surroundings, and his God. He did not need books, or paper to record his learning. He was learning from his heart.

The man spent a lot of time in introspection, retrospection and wonder as he walked this path. He analyzed various parts of his life and his relationships. He searched for God's love, wisdom, and justice in all episodes of his life. He got what he sought. One night, as this man was walking, he stepped on a branch with many thorns. His foot bled uncontrollably. He was in immense pain, the only name on his lips was "God, help me!". His foot did not stop bleeding but he had managed focusing all his energy on God, so he became numb to his physical self. After a while had gone by, it started raining. The clouds clapped above, and more rain fell. The man was amazed at why God would choose to send rain and thunder when he was in such pain.

It seemed like a rhythmic pattern; rain and then lightning. The lightning seemed as if it was waiting for the rain to reach the earth below, and then it would follow with a flash of brightness. Being a keen observer, and assured that there was something God was trying to tell him, the man studied this pattern for quite a while. He realized what was happening; the rain kept washing away the blood that was flowing from his wounds, and the lightning showed him the condition of his foot. He felt better, whether it was a self fulfilling prophecy or truly Divine, he did not know or care. All he did know was that God is omnipresent, whether we choose to see Him is our choice.

The story of this man somehow reached the self-contained path on the other side of the forest. It was discussed in the daily meeting where it was presented as a case study and the following speech followed: "Any person who doesn't conform to God's way will be punished. The rain and thunder were warnings to this man that he must stop wasting his life and turn to the right and straight path. So, all of you here, learn from this story, Do not wander aimlessly in search for answers, all the answers are in our great book. You do not have the ability to understand God's ways and powers. May God protect us from his Punishment and guide the wrong doers to our message."

The path chosen by the other man had another unique quality. All the people he met along it were walking at different speeds, in different ways, speaking in different languages, and hardly had anything in common except one: A true sincere desire to experience God. Each seemed calm and content in their journey. The conversations along the way were either about someone's attempt to understand Divine justice, someone's disillusionment with their past ideologies or a discussion about God's love.

Time passed by and life continued like this for both the men. After many years, the two men met. They remembered each other and sat down to share their lives. "So, what did you learn about God, how was your journey in seeking God?", asked the man who had chosen path "R". He smiled and said, I learnt that God is not a force that I can ever completely comprehend in a lifetime, it's a life long journey, I seek to understand God every day, every minute. I feel God's love for me speak to me through everything around me. The unrest and inner chaos with in me is always a sign that there is a lesson waiting to be learnt. The inner calmness and serenity within me is a signal that I have learnt and understood some aspect of God because every bit of understanding about God should make one more content and at peace with one's own self.

The other man listened with astonishment; he looked at him with shock and asked, "So, did you pray? Did you spread the message? How did you know you were on the right path? Were there more knowledgeable people to guide you?"

"Prayed? Of course I prayed. Every time I spoke to God, I was praying. And what message was I to spread? Each human being must seek their own God, their own definition of God. God is not a force that can be captured in any message, or book. On my chosen path, there was no hierarchy of knowledge; each person seeking God was knowledgeable in their own right, each person's knowledge about God differs because each individual experiences a different aspect or attribute of God. There is no right or wrong way to understand God as long as that understanding makes you a kinder, more tolerant, more loving person."

The man was astounded; he had never heard such an interpretation. When it was his turn to share his learning, the man said "I never got a chance to learn, or wonder about God. Everything was simply taught to me by people who seemed to have learnt all that there was to know about God. God to me seemed like some distant force that had to be constantly pleased by my good deeds. I never got to meet people from different places or people with different understandings of God. People who were homogenous in every possible aspect surrounded me. Nothing and no one ever challenged me to think, or question my self. Life was rather robotic, rituals filled each day. And God's love that you keep talking about, I never felt it. In such a rigid approach to God, there was no space for God's love, kindness, or justice. There was only talk about His Power, His Rage, His Punishment. I wasted my whole life believing I had understood God, and I had not even felt a glimpse of Him."

The two men sat quietly under the vast blue sky in a silence that seemed to be continuing their conversation about God. Maybe because God can only be truly felt and heard in silence.

The path named "R" was called Religion. Spirituality was the other path.

The day I'm able to do justice in describing the euphoria writing gives me, I'll believe I've become a writer.
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#1
temporal
URL
June 28, 2006
11:37 PM

Hiba:

in the battle of religion and spirituality where is ambiguity, indifference, skepticism?...for they are also the thorns and stones lying in the jungle path and both men would have had their altercations with them at some stage

khuda, bhagwaan, eeshwur dil maiN hay humaray...this 'dil' is not heart alone...it is heart+mind...a concept a bit alien to english

the R follower believes god created him and the S follower might say god is his heart-mind's construct...while a third woman might say both god and man/woman are mutual creations

nice blog

and welcome to DC

#2
Kush
URL
June 29, 2006
06:17 AM

Little difficult for me to digest your story, still try to understand better.

But one comment in your story like:-

"The two men sat quietly under the vast blue sky in a silence that seemed to be continuing their conversation about God. Maybe because God can only be truly felt and heard in silence."

[edited - flame baiting]

#3
Desh
URL
June 29, 2006
12:27 PM

HIBA:

FAntastic POST!! You have said soemthing that I have always believed in.. and blogged about. Unfortunately, most folks would like to "Box" ideas and thoughts... as Temporal is also trying in his comments (sorry T.. but that is how I see it :-))..

Religion = Spirituality + Dogmas + Cultural distortions

I had written a post "Open Source Spirituality" (http://www.drishtikone.com/?q=node/1551) where I have argued that Spiritual knowledge disseminated as an OWNER leads to creation of Religion.. but when the spiritual Masters would disseminate their knowledge as "Contributors" that would lead to true dispersion of knowledge in the spiritual realm. Would love to get your views!

Cheers,
Desh
Drishtikone.com



#4
Sabiha
July 1, 2006
09:41 PM

I Really enjoyed the article. I have recently been thinking a lot about religion vs spirituality. Many questions and thoughts which float randomly in my mind, I think you have done an excellent job of penning them down.

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