Having passed through the usual Marxist/atheist and agnostic phases, inevitable results of attending a radically-oriented college, I have now come home after a long time away. I am not into temple-hopping though. I go to two temples – Pashupatinath and the family shrine (Kul Devata). It is hard to explain these things. I find a certain kind of peace in Pashupatinath. Of course, I presume the shrine’s reputation as one of the holiest Hindu shrines carries weight. But I identify myself with Lord Shiva, don’t ask me why. It just happened. Maybe this is what is called Faith. I surprise myself quite often as I go to Pashupatinath in the early mornings to burn a few incense sticks and receive “chandan” (sandalwood paste placed on forehead). I admit I am skeptical of all organized religions. Maybe this is because I never learnt enough about the religion I was born into, Hinduism. Certainly going to a Jesuit school did not help in that regard, though the education St. Xavier's in Nepal provided circa. 1970 compared to any in the world. In any case, I have a simple belief: the link between any individual and the Power (“Shakti”) out there, God – if you will, is a very personal one. One does not need to belong to any organized religion to validate this link.
I visited Pashupatinath again recently. I did my usual incense/chandan routine and took a circle around the shrine. This circle inevitably passes through a roofed structure where prayers and bhajans (hymns) take place, and from next to it one looks over the Bagmati River and the “ghat” (cremation area) below. Less said about the polluted river, the better. I do like to look at the ghat and feel the inevitability of life. Knowing that one day I, hopefully, will be cremated there, it is a peek into one’s ultimate resting place.
This time, in this area, there was a small group of worshipers dancing to a bhajan. Some of the dancers were lost to the world, as they offered the bhajan to God and danced, some almost in a trance. The refrain of the bhajan is the title of this piece, which essentially is a question – Will I be born again or not? The tune was catchy, the rhythm upbeat, the voices were sweet and mellow and the chorus line was profound. Without going into a theological discussion on reincarnation, I can only say I stood there, as if transfixed, listening to the bhajan and choking back emotions I did not expect.
I am quite sure that the singers there all believed in reincarnation. The ultimate in piousness and virtue is not be born again. Hence, the chorus. Not to be born again is the objective. Being agnostic on the concept of reincarnation, I did not identify as such with the bhajan. But it got me thinking. I find it most convenient to think of death simply as the curtains drawn on life. Doesn't really matter what happens after. What is to be achieved is to be achieved in this life. All successes and failures are recorded by society and perceived by oneself - in this life. Ah yes, but there is the Soul - where does it go? This may seem pathetically naive, misinformed or downright obstinate, but I'm not sure there is a soul to continue on the journey after death. Heaven and hell are concepts that can be argued about endlessly. Before I totally confuse myself and anyone reading this, let me say what I think: after death, its curtains with nothing more; alternatively, the soul (the spirit, or whatever one calls it) is absorbed by the Shakti out there. After that, I just do not know and am not sure I really care.
So, "Pheri janma hola ki nahola?" Personally, that is no issue for me. I enjoyed the bhajan on a fresh Pashupati dawn. The intensity with which it was sung reflected devotion and faith. It was holy music to my questioning ears. It was profound.