The Religion of Pi

In that wonderful book, Life with Pi, Pi is a young Indian boy, the son of a zoo keeper. He ends up on a small boat sailing the ocean with a Tiger, zebra, orangutang and a hyena. An unlikely combination to say the least . Pi says that before the book is over he will make us believe in God.

Pi is many things but today I want to emphasize that he was a syncretist. That is a person who tries to combine different beliefs 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. Syncretism is inclusive, or what I have called expansive. It is the religion I prefer.

Pi said, “I am a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim.”  All at the same time! He had no thought that only 1 religion could show the way. He had a lot to learn from many of them. Why exclude any? Pi even said, “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith.”

Pi had a father who 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.” Reminds me of Mennonites.

His 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 best kind.

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.” What a poor conception of God.  Yet the fanatics of fundamentalism take exactly that position. 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, (Indian coins) 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?

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. I prefer something easier–fellow feeling or empathy or compassion. Seeing oneself in the other.  It is harder to love the other, but it is enoughto see oneself in the other. And that makes all the difference.

In a real sense such a person is “saved.”

Leave a Reply