The book I chose as the first one to look at on my spiritual quest was a wonderful book, Life with Pi. Pi is what I would call a syncretist. That is a person who tries to combine different beliefs from different sources often by blending them, or merging them, into one. This word is often used in religion. Some people don’t see religions as opposing each other, but rather as different views of the same truth. Fundamentalists usually have great difficulty with this. They see their own religion as superior, and the rest as inferior others. Many cannot see anything worth noting in the religion of others. This was a very common assumption by representatives of western religions when they encountered indigenous religions around the world. They were blind to what was before them. Syncretism, on the other hand is inclusive, or what I have called expansive.
In the book, Pi said, “I am a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim.” He had no reason to believe that only 1 religion could show the way. Why would he? Why couldn’t he believe and practice all three? Pi was only 16 years old and he thought he had a lot to learn from all of them. Pi even said “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith.”
On the other hand, Pi’s father saw himself as “part of the New India–rich, modern, and as secular as ice cream.” He did not have a religious bone in his body. He was strictly business. “Spiritual worry was alien to him; it was financial worry that rocked his being.”
Pi’s mother on the other hand was neutral on the subject of religion. She had a Hindu upbringing and a Baptist education, and according to Pi this cancelled both out leaving her “serenely impious.” That is the impiety I prefer! Or perhaps that is the piety I prefer.
Pi is puzzled by those who think they have to defend God. “As if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless.” These are often the fanatics of fundamentalism. These people forget the Golden Rule. Their empathy has been shredded by false religion.
According to Pi,
“These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, ‘Business as usual.’ But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.
These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. “Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”
Does this not sound a lot like the Old Testament prophets? I posted a blog about them.
Pi also saw the same source for his ideas: “an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.”
I actually think the word “love” is a bit strong here. I prefer something easier–fellow feeling or empathy. Loving others can be very hard. Seeing oneself in the other should be easier. It is harder to love the other, but it is enough to see oneself in the other. And that makes all the difference.
That is what religion is all about.