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Heavens and Hells and us in between

Some facts first of all:

  • Over 1.2 billion people – more than 15% of the world population – are non-religious or unaffiliated. These include agnostics and atheists as well.
  • Every year over 4 million people convert to or from a religion. Some may convert to a different religion, while some – approx 2.5 million- may give up being religious altogether.
  • Approximately 1 million people join a religion from the unaffiliated, non-religious group every year.
  • By 2050, the count of non-religious people will go up to 1.3 billion as per current projections

But this post is not about religions and their superiority or inferiority. Nor is it about believers vs non-believers. It is about souls. Or rather, about the journey of souls. After all, isn’t this what religions are all about?

Every religion has its own pantheon of Gods and Saints, and holy texts that lay down how to conduct oneself in all worldly matters. But what is the end objective of any religion?

It is the promise of a living a quality life with the ultimate aim of reaching a state of being or place where we want our souls to land up in our afterlife : Heaven, Swarg, Jannat and so on, depending on which religion you belong to. Interestingly, all religions follow a carrot and stick policy to keep their flock in line, so the threat of a Hell, Narak, Jahannum etc or the possibility of being reborn as an animal or lowly being is also held out in each case. Promise of heaven alone does not seem to do the trick, so a negative reinforcement is always there to ensure compliance.

Now this is where things start getting interesting. The promised lands and the attractions they offer vary for each religion, as do the hells and their terrors. The paths to the promised lands also vary widely. For example, for Buddhism and Jainism any form of killing is abhorrent but for Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and most other religions sacrifices or even killings in the name of the Lord are a way of life. Some religions even sanction killing of non-believers as a guaranteed pass to heaven.

Obviously, the heavens and hells of all religions must be different places. Otherwise, how would it be possible for a person of one religion to land in hell for killing another living being while another person in another religion goes to heaven for a similar act?

So the heavens and hells of all religions would be floating somewhere in a multidimensional space, independent of each other. Accordingly, the Devils and Gods and their subordinate staff would also have to be different for each religion. The record-keeping mechanism of each religion would also have to be separate, so that the good and bad deeds of all souls under their own purview are properly maintained and accounted for.

And what about the 15% of the world population which is unaffiliated – or the non-believers? Who maintains their records and where? Where do their souls go in the after-life? Something or somebody created all their souls, so there must be a place for them to go once they leave the body. Without records, who or what determines where they go in the afterlife?

Perhaps they all end up as ghosts, you say? But that is a pretty dangerous supposition: having one destination for all such souls irrespective of what they do (their ‘karma‘, in other words) during their earthly sojourn negates all concepts of why we are supposed to do good or why we are not supposed to do evil. Evidently, this possibility negates the necessity of a religion altogether! Unthinkable, right?

While we are at it, here is another most interesting scenario to consider. Take the 4 million people who switch religions every year, the ‘converts‘. Say a Muslim converts to a Buddhist, or a Buddhist converts to a Christian. What happens to the account of good deeds and bad deeds of such souls? How are the records transferred between the record-keepers of different faiths? What happens to the 2.5 million souls who give up being religious altogether- what about their record of good and bad?

Queering the pitch are the different sets of rules of good and bad in each religion. For example, take scenarios where one religion bans any violence and killing of another living being (human or any living creature), while the second one permits and even selectively promises heaven for such deeds in select cases. Does a ‘good deed’ of such acts of one faith then get counted as bad karma in the other religion if a person converts? How is the record-keeping done? Who does all the administrative work involved in transferring a soul and its records from one religion to another? How to the back-end staff of various religions communicate with each other to enable this transfer without a hitch?

If we take the plea that souls start with a clean slate once people convert to or from a religion, that is also a very hazardous premise. This leaves us free to then lead a life a decadence and sin, secure in the knowledge that all we have to do at the end is to convert to another religion, or give up being religious altogether in order to escape the consequences of our bad karma. At the same time, those who have been good souls throughout, but are trying to escape from some form of oppression or dissatisfaction in their current religion will lose all their good karma earned in life so far. In other words, conversions will make sense only for the evil souls. Rather alarming!

The inescapable conclusion then is that different heavens and hells and pantheons of Gods etc is not really a workable model. We are thus left with two choices:

1.) We throw up our hands and proclaim that there is no heaven and no hell, and we live our lives purely by our choice made here. Nothing is carried forward beyond this life, and there is no certainty of a rebirth of any kind. Thus there is actually no need of protecting a religion or even working to increase a religion’s reach. After all, wouldn’t that be a useless exercise?

2) We believe in God and the immortality of souls, and therefore the necessary condition is that there is a single heaven and a single hell for all souls irrespective of religion. The accounting for good karma or bad karma is also common for all souls with common rules, and therefore it is complete foolishness for any religion to be fighting over who is superior and who is inferior. The aim should be to do the right thing in all conditions with the confidence that the one God watches over all. The most evil people thus are those who misuse religion to misguide their followers away from the good path and drive them to commit crimes in the name of protecting their religion or in spreading the name of their God at the cost of other religions. The sooner we realize this fact, the faster humankind will progress and prosper.

How we lost a historic opportunity: Anti Farm Reform protests in India

The past few months have been tough for India and her citizens. There has been a raging battle between a group of farmers, along with their support lobby, and the Government of India. Facilitating this have been two opposition ruled State Governments of Delhi and Punjab, and of course the initially tacit and now full-throated support of many opposition parties in India.

It has been painful for all concerned: the farmers who are at the forefront of the agitation, the Government of India, and for us who are witness to this high-profile battle.

The pain for this generation of citizens of the country will increase manifold if they could only understand what a historic opportunity has presented itself before us, and how it is being bled to death by both sides.

It can only be a fool who will come forward to proclaim that the current set of laws and rules governing farming activities in India are the best that can ever be. Had that been the case, we would never have been found debating on the issues of agrarian distress, farmer suicides, and lack of proper compensation to farmers over the last many years. The debates repeat with distressing regularity year after year, with no end in sight.

So what is the historical opportunity I talked about in the beginning? Perhaps never before have we seen this situation where the Government of the day had been browbeaten and virtually brought to its knees at one point by the protests of the farmers which had been largely peaceful till then, and by the intervention of the Supreme Court of India. The Government had declared-and still declares- its willingness to discuss all clauses of the farm reform bills with representatives of the farmers, and to incorporate all suggestions they wanted into the bills.

It was- and still remains to this day-a historic opportunity before the farmers to sit with the Government and hammer out what they actually needed to get over the perpetual state of agrarian distress in which we find ourselves with depressing regularity.

Yet what have we seen instead? A high-stakes, single-minded, blind call for repeal of the laws and restoring status quo. There is, astonishingly not a single debate anywhere about why the erstwhile laws should be considered to be the best that can be for the farmers.

So as one celebrity from the other side of the world so eloquently put it: why are we not taking about it? But this time we should be asking this of the supporters of the stir. What vested interest do you have that you want to let go of this historic opportunity to correct things once and for all?

The Government had already expressed willingness to sit with the farmers and work out all demands clause by clause. Why are you not using this chance to force the Government to agree to fully live, on-air deliberations on these farm bills? Let all experts, all the public see and hear everything-for and against. Let everybody witness a historic reworking of the legislation which could actually help farmers and their children for times to come.

The state of affairs as it stands now will only have one of two outcomes: either we go back to how things were before the bills were introduced, or the Government manages to wade through and keep the bills in their present form. Either way, the opportunity to have a bill of the farmers, for the farmers and by the farmers would have been lost for ever.

And that should weigh heavy on our conscience and our hearts. Whichever side we are supporting as on date. Because we have the chance, and we are letting it go. For our own selfish reasons. Or maybe just to gratify our inflated egos that we are right, and we will prove it, come what may.

And come what may it will be. Be prepared to once again discuss farmer suicides etc in the brutal summer seasons ahead. And be aware that we, this time, may be directly responsible for the deaths of these people.

I hope good sense prevails. And we sit at the table and get the best deal possible. Amen.

#farmprotests #farmreforms

The sheer implausability of My God, Your God and Their God

The world of today is deeply divided one along religious lines. Hindus, Muslims, Christians etc are all busily fighting and killing each other to protect their Gods against the attacks of other faiths. Add to this the fights between the various sects within each religion. All in the name of God. And those who die for the holy cause are all supposed to go to their religion’s concept of heaven. My God is Bigger and Better than your God, my Heaven is higher and more heavenly than yours, and your Hell is definitely much more hellish than my Hell.

But was this always so? No! Humans have existed for a mere 200,000 years or so while the Earth itself is over 4.5 billion years old. And the universe as we know it is over 15 billion years old. So what about God before Mankind appeared? God by definition is immortal, all powerful and omnipresent. So God must have been present throughout. Even at the time of the Big Bang.

So now I have a question. An impossible question. It relates to the origin of everything. Lets start with what we know. The Big Bang happened: It happened because there was super- compressed super-hot matter in an infinitesimally small space, which we call the Singularity.

But how did the matter get there in the first case? The only answer that anybody has is this: It was just there.

But how can something just be there? Well, the next best answer we have is that the concept of time and space as we know it started only once the Big Bang happened. Hence there was no space-time before this, and because there was nothing called “Time” before the Big Bang, there is no question of anything originating – because origin implies that there is a finite “time” for something to start. Hence without Time, the question of an Origin should not arise at all – and hence something can just “be” in such a scenario without being bound by the necessity of having to start at some point in time.

Problem solved!

Except that the problem is not solved. A clever play on words, definitely, but then that’s just what it remains. Because there are only two possibilities just prior to the Big Bang: the matter was “just there” and the Big Bang just happened, or the existing matter collapsed in an infinitesimally small instant into an infinitesimally small point. In the second case, there is necessarily an event preceding the Big Bang, and hence it would have required time, which implies that the Time preceded the Big Bang – and that makes it impossible to say that matter was “just there” without any reference to time. Hence the second case leads to a paradox and will have to be ruled out.

Let’s come to the first case of infinitely huge amount of matter just being present in an infinitesimally small point when the Big Bang happened. Obviously, the equilibrium was disturbed by something to have made it possible for the Big Bang to happen.This disturbance could only have preceded the Big Bang, and hence this too is a case of an event happening just before the Big Bang which brings the concept of Time into play again. If Time precedes the Big Bang, then obviously we cannot rule out the concept of an Origin of everything also.

So obviously, Time as we know it may not have existed before the Big Bang, but Time in a cosmic sense was definitely present before the Big Bang, otherwise the preceding causative event could not have taken place.

Hence if Time exists in any Cosmic sense, then we need to consider that matter or energy would have originated at some point of Time.

How did it originate then? Even if we consider a scenario of only pure energy being present in a vast nothingness at first, then the energy must have originated from something. If we call the unknown originator of everything as “God“, then we come to the real conundrum:

Without anything in existence at the point of origin- matter or energy – how and from where did God come into being? Whose God is it? If it is all the work of the one and only God, what do we make of our plethora of Gods of all religions?

So other than just simple faith in a “ One God who existed without any origin” and this premise that “matter or energy were created out of nothingness and just came into existence“, we have no other answer to the impossibility of it all.

So it all boils down to the one God for the universe.

Then finally comes the question which must be asked of all religious zealots and bigots preaching the supremacy of their religion and their God: If it all comes from the one God, what are all religions fighting for? How can you lay claim to the one God, who created all others and everything in the Universe at the same time?

Can you guess the answer?

Organizational Values

Every organization worth its salt has three things in copybook fashion: Vision, Mission and Values. While the Vision and Mission do have a lot which is laid out in concrete terms, let’s turn our attention to the amorphous term called “Values”.

Every new joinee is told with utmost seriousness “we live by our values, and you are supposed to embody these values in everything you do”.

So far so good. Now, does this translate on to the ground?

All organizations want to be known for their Values system, and wax eloquent anout how their employees embody those values; and almost all value systems read alike! Semantics may differ, but in the end all will be talking about five or six  of the following concepts-

  • respect and dignity for all
  • spirit of innovation
  • diversity at the workplace / non– discrimination
  • speed of execution
  • spirit of teamwork
  • responsiveness
  • going the extra mile / customer-oriented
  • honesty / integrity
  • fairness
  • can-do attitude / result oriented / entrepreneurial spirit
  • never-say-die spirit

Missed anything? Isn’t this what your own organization also talks about, perhaps in different words?

Values are supposed to be in place to guide organizations and all employees and Top Management in all that they do. They are supposed to be particularly important in difficult situations. And they are supposed to be completely non-negotiable, despite business compulsions, else they will be meaningless!

Junior staff are actually held accountable for them, and are extremely likely to fare poorly in appraisal cycles or increments if they have been found wanting in any of the Values. But what of the Top Management?

Difficult times… hmmm? What can be more difficult than when the Top Management feels the organization is facing an existential crisis?

So litmus test: if the values do hold water, can an organization just issue pink slips to its unsuspecting employees in hard times – many of them may have been assured just a short while back “don’t worry, things are all right with us and don’t think of leaving”… Out of the window go the values of “treat people with respect“, “fairness” and “maintain dignity of the individual” when top management has to go for tough decisions, because staff are kept in the dark till the last moment and in most cases not even given time to react. Such actions are justified by reasons like “this is what is best for the organization” or “There is no other option left”. But the acid test of any Values system is during hard times, isn’t it?  Isn’t top management supposed to embody the values of the organization and shouoldn’t somebody be there to hold top management accountable for such breaches of the values system? 

Let’s take the spirit of innovation: Innovation by its very definition is something which is a change from what is usual, and might also challenge existing policies and processes..In most cases, what do you think happens to the junior level person who tries to suggest changes in the “way we do things around here”? And if people are supposed to conform to norms at all times, the only person who will ever innovate will be a person with a lenient or perceptive Boss or skip Boss who may also be willing to defend her or project her favorably.. which brings us to the usefulness of the value of “non-discrimination”. It is so dependent on your Boss. You have bad bosses, you go nowhere but out of the company!! 

Honesty and Integrity: Bribing officials to get work done (“do what is necessary”), fudged data, personal favors extended to officials looking after certain POs which the Comapany desperately wants to land etc. are all par for the course for most corporates etc are all par for the course for most corporates. Taking personal favors from vendors is also rampant, and since these people generally ‘get things done’, so the Top Management will often turn a blind eye to such things, or worse, may even be complicit in such dealings. These will never be acknowledged, of course, so don’t even think about anybody admitting to such things. Its only when somebody is caught in the act that such dealings ever come to light. 

So, whither Values? Isn’t even professing to live by such a set of values itself a betrayal of these values?? Is this an outdated concept whose time has come for it to be thrown out? Hand over heart, what has been your experience on this? Let us know in the comments!