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OP-ED: The search for higher purpose

  • Published at 02:10 am September 28th, 2021

Examining our fascination for meaning beyond the tangible

From our vantage point, perched high on the ladder of life, the votaries of evolution inform us that strands of protein combined to form a peculiar organism out of the primeval stew. An electrical impulse in its rudimentary brain then set off that chain reaction of no return, eventually propelling the beast out of the nourishing ooze and on to terra firma.

True to its inbuilt algorithm, the amphibian demonstrated viability beyond the soup. Its primitive lungs were now equipped for a drier mode of existence, an adaptation that compelled a universe of fauna into the possibility of life above the swamp. The consequences of this decision still reverberate.

From there it was but a short vault across the chasm when, four hundred million years later, a creature appeared, held upright on two puny feet and bestowed with a brain so precocious as to gain the wherewithal to overrun the surface of the earth. 

The advent of Homo Sapiens was the outcome of an accelerated timeline otherwise programmed to inch along excruciatingly on a scale measured in millions of years. At some point during the linear tale, organic impatience and wired ambition must overcome inertia, and so it did.

The algorithm chaffed at every step, and the hyper-thought that resulted from hyper acceleration provoked a grunting and foraging species to cast its simian gaze beyond the confines of an unforgiving physical environment. 

Thus, the stories etched on rock walls, tell-tale signs of the ritual of burial in the communities of early man, communication by symbols, this is the tantalizing aroma of evidence suggestive of a search for higher purpose even at the dawn of early complex intelligence.

Fire, water, sun, and air, the elements without which life is meaningless, but when angered make existence impossible. The attempt to comprehend a fury incapable of explanation sustained the fear that accompanies the precariousness of survival. 

And there appeared the origin of the notion of a greater power forged by geography to give comfort and meaning to our puny existence. This is religion, and we attach thereto the phenomenon of God, for one subsists on the other.

Our land and the East is the wellspring of soul-based religion, where fascination for meaning beyond the tangible was projected even on to the heavens. Further West, where existence at the time was more desperate, preservation of the temporal body was imperative. 

Today, we face a crisis in the existence of the body, but the well-nourished European strives to soothe the spirit. Ceaseless thought further refined belief, which in turn gave rise to philosophy.

Philosophy wrote the scripture for the masses. Prayer, abstinence, and meditation were devised as the mechanics of the manual to control and subdue those baser instincts to which we are vulnerable. The Vedas, an accumulation of the thought of the time, dwelt on the notion of Brahma, the universe. 

The Puranas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads then debated God and all qualities, criteria and phenomena that remained to be ascribed and attributed to the godhead. The blight of the “Ism” had come of age, an alien accretion foisted on the collective of humanity, for it taught that we have meaning only if we hold a certain belief.

But, every animal, whose mode of thinking and working is unique and defined, has a religion. Only human beings do not have a uniform approach. The members of each species, regardless of their location, behave in the same way. 

For, crucially, they have discovered not only their religion but also their dharma. And so it is that the familiar concept of religion is but one unit which develops according to the compulsions of a region. Dharma is an all-encompassing term which contains all religions and much more.

And what of the much-reviled “legions of the godless?” Atheists, ironically, are in permanent quest of the greater dharma of humankind. Most may not believe in a superior being, and some might completely reject the notion. 

But, importantly, they have discovered the lacunae in our existence, which they then strive to fill. Whether this involves an understanding, belief, or appreciation of God for them is immaterial.

Can one be a true and complete atheist? Is it right to deny divine existence so completely as do the crusaders, since denial betrays a greater knowledge than that held by the God-fearing and “true believers?” 

Does one need gods and goddesses, and from whence the pressure to rely on deities? In a few short weeks, Ma Durga’s benevolent smile shall once again permeate the fragrant and joyous swirl of the puja pandal. 

This, to me, is the formal and emotional recognition of my belief in women’s power, and the pandal is a representation of the values that I hold most dear. Can there be a greater religion?

We are still hunting for dharma, that complete and holistic mode and manner of life and conduct. Please continue to forage as ordained by the logic of the protein embedded in you.

For, the permanence of truth lies within you.

Sumit Basu is a freelance writer based in India.