Category Archives: religion

Label jars, not people

Free editorial on June 22

Stripped of all the clothes we wear to be part of the ethnic communities we ‘belong’ to, we will all look the same. The only way people will be able to label us is by skin color and sex.
However, these people are then introduced to this thing called religion. The funny thing about religion is that while it preaches about unity, it often encourages the opposite. Of course you can disagree and say that the leaders of these religions never laid down these rules and regulations.
All rules are manmade, as are all religions. We decide on what’s good and evil, what’s right and wrong. We decide on what will send us to heaven and what will send us to hell.
With religion comes add-ons to ourselves.  There are the vows and promises to be a better and more religious human being. However, there are other add-ons, the more visible kind.
People are identified as Buddhists if they wear a talisman or pirith nool. The sanga is identified by those robes that range from yellow to maroon. We look for white or red powder or paste on the forehead when identifying a person as a Hindu. We look for a rosary or cross when identifying a person as a Catholic or Christian. And we look for the beards, caps, burqa or shawl when identifying people as Muslim.
So, once those naked people take on the garments and various accessories they feel they should because of their race, religion or culture, they become people who aren’t similar. We are able to create more labels than skin color and sex. We categorize people by their nationality, race, religion, caste, beliefs and culture.
Take a human. They could be male or female. If born in our island, he/she’ll be a Sri Lankan. They could be Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or Burgher and can believe in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. He/she could belong to a particular sect of any of these religions.
While we are told to respect all people and all beliefs, we don’t actually do this. We believe that our religion is the best, our ethnicity is the best. Ethnicities claim ownership of countries, cities, neighborhoods, schools, companies and people. And when people belong to a particular religion or ethnicity and they try to force their beliefs on other people, there is conflict. Keep your rules and regulations, definitions of right and wrong, to yourself.
We can attempt to pinpoint where all the trouble started. Who was the first person to be aware of these differences between people? Who raised their voice first? Who is the bad guy?
We can post status updates, we can change our profile pictures, but we need to do much more than this. We need to stop categorizing people. We need to stop discriminating. We need to tell people that we’ve had enough with being different.
Listen. Understand. Accept. Tolerate.
It’s not that difficult to do.


The Better Man

One a very hot and sunny day I had the joy of listening to two ladies go on about their Lord, even though I kept telling them I didn’t believe in god and that I simply wasn’t interested. They didn’t seem to get the hint when I kept smirking and raising an eyebrow each time they started on a new topic. Not even the beads of sweat that kept dripping down my face seemed to bother them. Of course they were well armed with umbrellas!
After around fifteen minutes of standing and running the risk of serious sun burn, I was released, promised another visit and given two pamphlets about how I can be saved. I never saw the two ladies again. Maybe they had already decided that I can’t be saved.
Now I’m not making fun of these ladies even though I hate them and their kind as much as I hate those door-to-door salesmen. Not that they don’t have a whole lot in common! However, I don’t think they should try to convert me even when I have made my religious beliefs quite clear. Just as I respect them enough to not hurl swear words at them, they should respect me and let me live with my beliefs.
So we talk at great lengths about respecting the beliefs of other people. Yet, are we really ready to accept that people believe in things that we don’t? Or that they don’t believe in things we do?
Recently, I was surprised to see the shock on a certain individual’s face as he was told another was an atheist. So even though we may not try to crucify those who don’t have the same beliefs as us, we still take some time to grasp it. To really understand their beliefs.
When talking about beliefs, they go beyond religious beliefs. I mean, religions aren’t exactly as complicated as they are made out to be. You either have a god or many gods or none at all. When you die, you either go to heaven, hell, are born a human or animal or if it’s the end of Sansara, well, good for you!
But there are other things that build walls around people. Humans around the globe are still trying to understand homosexuality. Our opinions and knowledge and acceptance of things either make us more friends or more enemies.
However, there is a difference between tolerating a homosexual, an atheist or a murderer and understanding or rather accepting why they are so. I may not understand certain things about various cultures and I may not agree with them, but I accept them. I would never even consider covering my head with a scarf or wearing a pottu. Yet, I wouldn’t tell someone not to wear a scarf or pottu in my home.
There are certain principals I have, and certain things I live by. My grandmother called me an ideologist recently, telling me that I don’t seem to give people room in my life if their ideologies don’t match mine. However, my ideologies deal with the basics about life. They have nothing to do with one’s religion, race or culture.
This is why I guess, I didn’t lash out at the two ladies marketing their religious sect. This is why I patiently listened to them, even though I wouldn’t expect them to listen to me talking about my beliefs. You need to accept that people have different beliefs. Maybe you don’t understand them. Maybe you don’t agree with them. But you need to accept them.
And it is with acceptance that you understand. I’ve rarely felt like an outcast in my own country because I belong to the ‘majority.’ A Sinhala Buddhist in a Sinhala Buddhist nation. My father is a Christian, working in Thailand, a Buddhist nation. He recently arranged an alms giving for the Sri Lankan Airlines anniversary and he said, “I’m a Christian working in a Buddhist country.” He added that he had to respect the country’s traditions and beliefs.
Sometimes we are in that minority. And when the majority-minority issue is more than just numbers, it becomes difficult to be proud of being the beliefs that makes us the minority. But we need to respect each other. And if a certain set of people seem to think they deserve respect, show them that respect. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. Yet, don’t respect that majority because you are the minority, but because you think they deserve it.
My father’s uncle recently told me the last words of his grandmother. A rough translation of them would be, “suffer small loss, and maintain peace.” Sometimes in life, we have to accept that we aren’t the most powerful. But by doing so, we are being the better person. In the end no Sena or All Ceylon organization will judge us and our actions. Some people believe God will do the judging. I think our karma will do the talking. But no matter what, our actions say a lot about us. So don’t try to get the last word, don’t try to win the battle. Respect and accept. Be the better man.