From the beginning of calculation of time, humans have considered a power greater than themselves. Some have believed in the power, while others have found worshiping as a means to obtain their personal desires. We have been hardwired to believe in a force which is shy, mostly hidden from the human eye. For years I have questioned my unformed stance on religion. I tried to experience different philosophies, their comprehended versions, though often returned with an anticipated disappointment. The road to answers is uncertain, if not unreachable.
The place of birth creates a destiny for rigid beliefs. We have all derived our core beliefs depending upon the geographical territory of our lives. Having been born in a Hindu family, I was introduced to many Gods and Goddesses. Parents played a very little role in trying to make me inclined towards the realm of religion. But when a person is a part of collectivist culture, he is automatically equipped with the weapon of observation. Years of observation that had been spent over myriad ways of worshiping created confusion. Finding an ideal deity to worship equalized to finding an ideal romantic partner.
I lack luck in both the departments.
My need to find answers grew intense. Not just in the sphere of religion, even life started throwing major challenges. As per my habit, I returned to my old friend, escape. Escape is my means to obtain answers. Be it a major or a minor calamity, I have taken solace in escaping the geographical territory, to answer the questions created by mental intolerance.
Generally, I describe myself as an elaborate planner. I try to put all rights and wrongs in my mind, if not on paper. Planning gives me a room to control more aspects of my journey. I dislike being referred as an avid traveler. Each journey was planned at a crucial point of time, it was not a hobby, explicitly a need. People might put labels on me for selecting this sort of mechanism to face calamities, but my period of being affected by the world had come to an end a long ago.
Traveling supports my concrete thought; to leave my usual area of familiarization. All my journeys used to be meticulously planned, each segment treated as a priority. Venturing into foreign lands has felt tough, at times unachievable.
This time a different journey challenged me; the Himalayas.
Connecting with nature on a meaningful level is my preferred pastime. Natural connection is the essential source that has inspired me to extend my sufferings. The Himalayas are the pure representation of what nature has to offer.
I filled my rucksack with hesitation and left.
Dushyant, a free creature attacked by existential crisis came to the Himalayas for a reason. The reason was quite central to both of us: the quest to find answers. Both of us had similar journeys, but different expectation from the outcome. He worked as an environmentalist in a metropolitan city. The recent project on how to introduce more sustainable practices into the lives of people fascinated him. Unconventional ways of working had more to offer him, in his opinion. Albeit, he was a big believer in breaking the conventional ways of life, he often found himself governed by acceptable, demanded ways. Unknown to his own eye, majority of his problems had to do with societal norms.
On other times, he would have expressed his wish to find answers straightaway on Google, and would have come up with gazillion different answers. But this time the debate between conventional and unconventional ways of working did not tense him.
He packed his rucksack with unconventionality and left.
The story of our coincidental meeting compels me to believe in destiny. We met on a trail which was designed to fill people with epiphanies. As decided earlier, this trip was entirely unplanned. I selected one village in the state of Uttarakhand, and all other prerequisites were unattended.
While roaming aimlessly, I received a recommendation from a traveler. Though I was not looking for recommendations, my face must have exhibited the call for help. At first, I thought of dismissing it, but a sudden realization directed me towards this trek. The trek was quite commercialized. As a result of frequent traffic, I didn’t have to worry about my physical hunger.
Dushyant, on the other hand, had researched a lot about places that had mastered sustainable lifestyles. He came across a conversation where a local man told him about a community that had something to do with sustainability. Usually, locals are great porters of stories, but having been brought up in a city, Dushyant was skeptical about believing an old man who seemed on the verge of memory loss. He tried to inquire more, all other locals failed to support this theory. Instances of such invalid information were not rare in his life.
Once again he was caught between debates. He thought the Himalayas would cure this incessant habit of getting involved in mental debates; he was yet to understand the course of nature.
Reluctantly, he decided to go with the uncertain path.
We started our journey on the same day, though I started late, I reached in time to have a conversation with him. The first glance at his face gave away his purpose of exploring this side of the country. Hundreds of souls come to these cold and cruel parts with the same desire; to search for answers. We were different from them, we were adamant on staying until we had found them.
Dushyant looked a bit tired from all the physical exertion as well as mental apprehension. Just before I could assess more facets of his
personality, he posed a question with a grave tone.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked with a sense of inquiry.
I was baffled by his question. Also, I did not have time to indulge in elaborate discussions. Sunset was approaching and I had to reach
the camp before dark.
I shot an expression of surprise as an answer.
“Do you know what is at the top of the mountain?’ he insisted.
“You mean to say there is a God who is going to welcome me once I accomplish the summit?’
His momentary need to have a serious conversation was broken. A smile took over his face.
“You are funny. There is a very ancient temple at the top. Many mythological stories are attached to it. People come here when they want to see where Gods had once resided, and created the world. Your personality does not give me the vibe of a religious person that is why I asked.”
I was taken aback. The journeys where the sole purpose was to shape my definite opinion on religion, felt futile. I should have known answers do not approach you, when you go on a journey to search for them; they arrive at times when you are unprepared. Maybe this place will help me to retain faith in one religion. I held all these pieces of epiphanies to myself, and simply said no.
I asked him whether he was on this trail in search of God.
His reply stayed with me.
He said, “Do we need to go to places for the purpose of worshiping a God? Take a look around you, all these trees, mountain ranges, animals, even humans are a creation of God, if you respect them, you have worshiped the greatest God.”
I was charmed by his novel response. I decided to extend the conversation, which is a rarity, because in all my romantic encounters I have played hard to get. But this guy awakened a different sense of newness in me.
I got to know about his purposeful journey. After a brief interaction, he asked me whether I would like to accompany him, since I did not have a definite destination in mind.
I accepted his invitation without a moment’s delay. Later, I would be harshly, deeply criticized for taking decisions on a whim. My mother would use this example to justify her observation of me being too impulsive.
Dushyant, by nature was a true extrovert. His observations were properly aligned with his storytelling skills. He came with a lot of preparation, at times he made me feel as if he had been walking on this trail for years. A lot of tales were heard from both sides, silence was shared in equal proportion. We camped at a relatively safe and extremely quiet place. All the inessential accessories were with us, because essential things were provided by nature.
The night before, we had agreed upon Dushyant’s decision of leaving before dawn.
Next day, we prepared ourselves for a short but a steep trail.
Throughout the journey Dushyant showed utter confidence about the discovery of this place. After hiking for four hours, we reached a scattered community.
Just as we were passing the first house, a man with contended face approached us from behind.
“Are you looking for something particular here?” his eyes scanned our attire very cautiously.
I remained indifferent to his question; I was trying to look for cues which could confirm Dushyant’s hunch about sustainable practices in the community. I kept my silence, this was Dushyant’s journey. All the obstacles were expected to be encounteres by him.
Dushyant came with an answer as if he had been practicing it all along, without leaving a tiny detail, without drifting away from the point, without narrating any story, he told the truth in its truest form.
The man tried to focus on Dushyant’s words; nevertheless his decision seemed to have been made prior to any of our explanations.
“You have been fooled by an old man’s story. We have not even heard of such urban concepts. All my life I have stayed here, never had a serious thought of abandoning this place for something that promised to offer more and better. Pardon me, but you should leave. Our prayer time is about to begin, and I do not want any sour conversation before my favorite ritual.”
Even though I had decided to not intervene, I couldn’t restrict myself when I realized I was just an inch away from obtaining a definite stance on religion. Unconsciously I jumped into the conversation, and asked whether we could join him.
He looked serene. He took a breath as if to have received a special message and refused my request.
I was hopeful about being invited to experience this unique ritual. Mountain people are immensely kind when it comes to inviting strangers into their abodes. But this man shattered my concrete observation within seconds. Normally, we should leave when we are asked to, but I was audacious by nature.
“Why?” I asked with utmost rebel.
I sensed a long boring lecture coming my way.
“Five years ago this trail was known only to us. A group of people came to explore, since then it has not seen a day without people stepping on it. Look around, can you call this place natural? I am not pushing the entire blame on city people. Humans in general are gullible. We don’t ask questions when everyone around us is doing the same thing. When millions of people are using plastic, how can you keep yourself away from a created boon? After all we have this innate desire to fit in, to replicate behavior in order to please people. How can we run away from our true nature?”
We were listening intently.
“Once I let you into our community, you will witness some unseen practices. Later, you might be inspired to inculcate those in your own lives, you might tell other people about them. This used to happen earlier. Through oral stories people came in search of a grand destination, today it takes just a picture to shake the world.” He took gentle pauses to leave the impact of his words.
“When city people leave, the remains of their personality stay back in the form of non-degradable items. They take our thoughts, but forget to take their trash. On the other hand, we might get attracted by city people, their luxurious lifestyles, and their ways of neglecting the nature for personal gain. Soon, we might flee from this place in order to own what city people have shown. As humans, we get swayed by things, even though we think we are in control, our behaviors state a different story. I cannot risk it all for the sake of recognition.” He thought of adding more reasons, however, time seemed to have been prohibiting him.
Dushyant was ready to accept this expected defeat, while I was too overwhelmed to make a decision.
As I was coming up with ways to counter his opinions, nature interjected in the form of a snowfall. Both of us rushed to take shelter at the nearby tree. We started to shed off the accumulated snow from our bodies. Meanwhile, that man started calling out people. One by one people started appearing from their houses. I could see some people had left unfinished chores behind.
My eyes caught a glimpse of strange behavior.
First they looked at the sky, put a wide smile on their faces, joined their palms to express gratitude, and then at last bowed in no particular direction.
Dushyant whispered something in my ears, but my senses were too invested in making a meaning of what my eyes were capturing.
The man returned to us with a change of his decision. He took us through the community.
“Today, we have a special meeting,” he started. “We gather at a place, sometimes by the river, other times overlooking the mountains. The main purpose of the gathering is to share our experiences of worshiping.”
“What you saw now is one of the many practices of worshiping. We refer to the nature as our mother. Mother, because only one creation takes upon the job of protecting and providing for her children at the cost of her own life, depletion of her needs in order to fulfill our wants, extinction of her parts for extension of materialistic possessions. At regular intervals she tries to warn us about our ignorance, because she wants us to take strict actions. But we twist these warnings as per our level of comprehension. Here, we pay very close attention to her messages and moods. We bowed when the snowfall took place, because we accept and respect her ways of behavior.”
“As we are growing up” the man continued, “we are taught to pick and preach one religion. Here, we allow something exceptional. Our children observe us carefully until a certain age, until maturity kicks in, until they detect differences in opinions. They are encouraged to find their way of worshiping. Enforcement of beliefs is unacceptable here. A man is free to have faith in his way of worshiping, in his choice of a deity.”
For the first time, I listened to a man without interruption.
He elaborated, “As a community, it is utterly important to bind all members through a common thread, in most cases, the common thread is religion. In India we have millions of Gods and Goddesses; despite such a wide range no human has ever seen him. There is a saying in Hindi, ‘Bhagwan kisne dekha hai?’ which translates as ‘who has seen the God.’ We see God every day. Mother Nature has given us many elements to worship. Trees, streams, rivers, insects, animals, birds, mountains, oceans, and yet humans choose to
worship what is unreachable through senses.”
“I worship a tree, while my wife and our children worship the mountains. When I say we worship them, we speak to them, care for them, look at them, adore them, express our gratitude, and at times have intense conversations. There is so much beauty to our eyes it seems impossible, unjust to hold onto one element. Despite this confusion, there has not been a single argument over which way of worshiping is superior. All of us have distinct stories for the choice of worshiping; we respect each other’s unique relation to these elements. Here people have free will to choose their form of worshiping, they can choose a deity.” He completed his description with a long sigh.
Dushyant was nowhere close to his answer, while I had found most of the answers.
We kept our promise of not interrupting their ritual. Just about when we were leaving, the man posed another question. In order to find answer to that, I would have have to wander for infinite years.
He said, “Speaking of pure faith, if humans are rational, why do we keep worshiping a God that cannot be confirmed by any sensory organ?”