Gone are the days of meek acceptance and silent suffering. Except the mentally retarded and those who are incapacitated by circumstances, none would spend their entire lifetime without questioning or trying to analyze and understand their faith by birth. Economic development, social empowerment and nationalist movements in Third World countries have rekindled the spirit of rationality in young men and women everywhere. Information (and disinformation) emanating through the electronic media and internet is forcing everyone to be clear about one's own position regarding faith. To make matters worse or better, the terrific marketing spree unleashed by the organized faith is forcing even the irreligious and agnostic to take up rigid positions in matters of faith. If it is immoral to denigrate another man's faith, it is suicidal not to know about one's own.
The world is becoming digital in all respects. Everything needs to be presented in black and white for acceptance. Grey is no more an option in many cases. In olden days, such clarity was required only in scientific matters. But today no one is willing to accept anything that is illogical and insipid. Matters of faith are no exception. People are looking for clear definitions and meanings in all rituals and beliefs. Most of the organized faiths have already documented and systematized their beliefs thanks to the vast official machinery and money power. Unorganized faiths are threatened by the onslaught of 'faith marketers' even when the fact remains that being unorganized is the very strength of those unorganized faiths. But the distinguishing pillars of each faith need to be highlighted in this highly competitive field. Each one of us have to list out the USP (Unique Selling Propositions) of our faith to satisfy others and ourselves. Let me attempt one on my own viz. Hinduism (Hi-Faith for me).
All faiths are on firm footing and there are lot of things in common. The difference comes only in the super-structure that is built up to reach the ultimate. There is a big secret behind all that is there in this universe and our faith is the way to crack that secret code. Hypothetically we are building up a structure on the firm ground of reason to reach a certain point in space. The most stable structure is a dome and that is what Hi-Faith is. It can be said that a dome has infinite number of pillars but here we will search for the salient pillars that distinguish it from others. If I am asked to list a minimum number of axiomatic pillars of my faith, I would produce the following five:
Ishwar is one and Gods are its manifestations
There are many ways to realize Ishwar
There is no hell or heaven
Rebirths are inevitable based on karma
Mankind has evolved and not created
The first two in the above list is what makes Hi-Faith the most progressive, accommodative and democratic faith. Unlike other faiths, it declares that there are options available. In a way it exhorts individuals to think, to study and to develop his/her own method to realize the truth. I have always felt that in an ideal world there would be as many faiths as the number of human beings and Hi-Faith provides the blueprint to achieve it. Like in other faiths, Hi-Faith is clear about the uniqueness of the omnipresent and omnipotent power that is Ishwar. But it leaves enough provision for each individual to develop his/her own God based on the particular quality or manifestation of Ishwar that he/she likes most. That is why it seems there is an innumerable count of Gods like Vishnu, Shiva, Lakshmi, Ganesh etc., etc. The idol worship is nothing but a logical extension this aspect of Hi-Faith. All of us carry photographs of our beloved ones in our wallet. And an idol of God is nothing but an image of Ishwar to our own liking. It helps us to focus our efforts and thoughts in reaching it.
Another distinguishing feature of Hi-Faith is the absence of concepts like Heaven or Hell. The drama of life is played out only in this universe which we have discovered so far and what is yet to be discovered. If Heaven is where people live in luxury and happiness, we already have it in this world. Same is the case with Hell. Anything blessed (or cursed) with life has to play it out in this universe only and there is no running away from it. Perhaps those humans who are aspiring or preparing for a stint in heaven (or hell) are in fool's paradise unable to utilize the spark of rationality that exists in all living beings. For any discerning human, there are people around leaving in happiness and peril. And sometimes, these conditions are irrespective of his/her economic or social status is something for the proponents of heaven and hell theory to ponder about. More often it is one's own making that puts one in hell or heaven in this same universe. While our destiny defines our start (place and time of birth and parents) and end, it is left to the actions of the individual during the lifetime to improve or lose out in the race towards 'moksha' ' the absolute bliss. No one is born a sinner but those who sin cannot escape punishment. There is no scope for confession and repentance in Hi-Faith, only acceptance of punishment and avoiding further sin.
The most distinguishing feature of Hi-Faith is the belief in rebirths. I would rate it as the best system of rewards and punishments that Man has ever discovered. In this dome of existence, the cycle of rebirths provides repeated opportunities for individuals to climb towards Ishwar at the celestial pole. The surface is slippery and only those with determination and right dogma can aspire to reach the very top and escape the life cycle. Most of us are trapped inside the dome and it takes innumerable lifetimes of good karma to come on the surface of the dome for the final climb. The immediate fallout of this realization is the irrelevance of fear of death. The physical body is only a vehicle for the imperishable soul and it should not be given any more importance than what it deserves. This explains the practice of burning away our dead bodies, which is also the best method of disposing waste in modern times. Elaborate rituals to remember the dead ones have never been a part of Hi-Faith but it is creeping in thanks to the machinations of the priestly class. In fact, the mass prayers for the forefathers during specific days of the year address only those of our predecessors who could attain 'moksha'. It is common knowledge in Hi-Faith that only a few of us can achieve that, while most of our souls jump from one birth to another in no time.
And lastly, the most progressive feature of Hi-Faith is its 100% compatibility with Science, especially the most modern variety wherein we reach the conclusion that everything is just Maya and the truth is only one i.e.. Ishwar. Perhaps Hi-Faith is the only one that explains an evolutionary feature of Man in clear distinction from the creation theory of other faiths. Evolving avatars of Gods and a caste system based on the inborn faculties of men are clear expressions of this evolutionary theory. It is also unambiguous in the belief that Man is just one of the species and a spark of the same Ishwar is there in everything that is alive. In other words, there is no primacy for Man in Hi-Faith and Man has no sacred rights to kill or harm any other form of life. The abiding belief in non-violence and vegetarianism are manifestations of this simple realization about the meekness of mankind.