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FAITH: Filling The God-sized Hole

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  About the Book:   In Faith. Renuka Narayanan, one of India's leading mainstream commentators on religion and spirituality, look at ways to fill the empty space that Sartre famously called 'the God-sized hole' in our consciousness. Eschewing extreme viewpoints, she tries to apply the Big Idea to our little lives, and makes many interfaith discoveries. This volume contains a selection of her writing in 'Faithline', the popular column begun in April 20...

 

About the Book:

 

In Faith. Renuka Narayanan, one of India's leading mainstream commentators on religion and spirituality, look at ways to fill the empty space that Sartre famously called 'the God-sized hole' in our consciousness. Eschewing extreme viewpoints, she tries to apply the Big Idea to our little lives, and makes many interfaith discoveries. This volume contains a selection of her writing in 'Faithline', the popular column begun in April 2000 which also draws frequent protest from the orthodoxy for the questions it asks or the pint it makes.

Prospecting the middle ground - 'a thorny, rocky, slippery path' -where several shades of truth can be glimpsed, Narayanan looks at every day events and comes up with codes to live by. A musical performance, for instance, become an opportunity to discover the joy of differences, and the joy of accepting such differences; while a good monsoon shower opens her eyes to the small pleasures of life that offset its casual cruelties. Among other things, Narayanan examines the angst of a secularist, the secret rhythm of Mumbai, the significance of festivals, the power of Devi and the popularity of Shiva. Drawing on our resources of received wisdom, she brings together the Suff and Thiruvalluvar, the Granth Sahib and the teaching of Zaratushtra, the Vedas and the Bible, Begun Akhtar and David Bowie, as she considers what it means to be human, and Indian.

Faith is an elegant, passionate appeal for a genuinely pluralistic approach, whereby we acknowledge the complex and sometimes bitter realities of our history, while adhering firmly to a positive vision of the future.

 

About The Author:

 

Renuka Narayanan is Arts and Culture Editor at the Indian Express, where she also writes 'Faithline', a weekly column on religion. She has co-authored A passion for Dance with Yamini Krishnamuthi and Maximize Your Life with Pavan K. Verma. She has also written The Book of Prayer and The Book of Indian Wisdom.

 

Introduction

 

This book owes its existence to Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Express, who made me create and anchor the column 'Faithline' on the paper's Editorial Page. It began in April 2000. I write it myself for Mondays and invite a guest writer or select an extract for Thursdays. There's a huge amount of elbow room allowed and it's been spiked precisely twice (of course, I can not tell you why). By a quirk of fate, 'Faithline' is the only space on religion/spirituality in the national media given to a fixed, in-house writer. It makes me proud of the Indian Express-that it took a chance with an untried writer on a subject as sensitive, in a society as patriarchal, in a country as explosive as India. Normally one has to look the part-a man, with a beard to confer instant gravitas on his pronouncements-but true to the spirit of India's feistiest newspaper, my editor picked 'a party girl in jeans'.

To some hardcore news colleagues, however, I initially seemed a mildly comic figure tending a tiny cabbage patch, or else a grim bookworm with a heedful of arcane information, standing on one leg in some lost tundra of arid opinion. Happily, things have turned out otherwise.

All writers desire this line as an epitaph: 'Her sins were scarlet but her books were read.' Express readers reacted swiftly, as people are wont to when used to a paper that actually breaks news. Letters and e-mails in response to the column suggested that a connection had been made with the Indian heart.

So the real find by this column has been you, the Indian reader. You really are pretty nice. You have a sense of humour, you are irreverent without being rude, your heart is generous, you are putting up a great fight against all the awful things dished out by life and paltry behaviour offends you very much. You are horribly sentimental, you hum like a taut lute striving at the least touch of beauty and goodness, you respond with joy to anything worthwhile and inspiring. And you are so incredibly affectionate! Your letters and e-mails are all the proof anybody needs that India's heart is oriented to the noble ideas of our Constitution, to the better traditions of Devabhumi.

That's you, the majority. There are plenty of men who write angry. Abusive e-mails and letters. Some time ago, I e-mailed His Holiness the Shankaracharya of Kanchipuram about this. I thought he should know. His reply, through his assistant, was, 'you are advised not to be perturbed or bothered by some adverse criticism and remarks. His Holiness blesses you to carry on with your good work.' This to a columnist who cannot accept Lord Ram as a worthy role model, who constantly questions her ancestral faith from deep within the tradition and absolutely wants to articulate a middle ground between faiths for dialogue, to build 'a community of communities' as the ancient Marthoma Ghurch, founded 52 CE in India by the Apostle St Thomas, puts it. (It is a church that is wholly India, owing no allegiance to spiritual or temporal powers elsewhere.)

Meanwhile, there's work to do in our self-definition of who we are and what makes us happy, realized beings. I would not like to make sweeping statements about how al religions are equally 'good'. Just as some priests of the Semitic religions may find it hard to fully accept the faiths that bloomed first on Indian soil, some Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Hindus may not be wholly comfortable with the doctrines of the Ahl-e-Kitab, or the people of The Book.

But since we all have to live together and work together, it makes eminent practical sense to talk to each other more, find out more about one another, visit more, eat meals, play games, share community projects. Only through contact can we developed attachment. If every residents' welfare association in India were to make an active effort to include every community in each little project-and if non-vegetarians of every community were a little careful of the sensibilities of vegetarians and vice versa- we might be able to pull it off. If we had more Muslims in our mainstream colonies instead of pushing them into ghettos and exclusive enclaves, if Muslims met Hindus halfway instead of stereotypes. Is there another way, really, to resolve our problems as communities and thus as a nation?

Politics and sociology are huge issues, no doubt. But deeper still is the important relationship between a person and God: how do we fill the 'go-sized hole in us', as the existentialist Sartre put it? Every faith has its answers, but there's also a host of good literature, folklore and films to illuminate life codes, amplify earth-songs and help us build a private inner standard of things we'd never do, and thing we ought to do.

Is God, perhaps, to be found in the defining and refining of these choices, in connecting with a marg darshan that aims to help rather than harm others? Adrift on the Sea of Samsara, what can one do but try to find the God-in-us, through words and deeds?

The letters of so many Express readers have kept 'Faithline' bobbing along. I don't presume to have the answers. But I guess we want to be open to the questions and take a good shot at peering into the unrelenting face of Chaos and perhaps sport that one fiery star of Meaning. Meanwhile, it seems important to play whichever hand we are dealt with grace and goodwill and hang on to the comfort of the Name. Despite all the evidence against the existence of Divinity, we seem to need God anyway.

 

Contents

 

Introduction xi
Middle Ground  
Prospecting Middle Ground 3
Past Imperfect 5
Keeping Differences Alive 6
Can you Really have too much 'Tolerance'? 9
Do you need History for Faith 11
The Grace of the Gurus 14
Black Day for Hind 16
Persian Ellora, Tamil Medina 18
True Grit 20
Kaifi Azmi's Songs of Faith 22
Works and Days 24
The Geometry of Justice 25
Thoughts to Remember 27
The Master Painter 29
Don't Defile us 31
Speaking of Shiva 33
Event Horizons 35
The Way of the Goofy 38
Vaishnava Janato 40
If this is Hinduism 41
Other Kinds of Arghya 43
Kim's Testament 45
The Love that Dare not speak its name 46
The Heart of Darkness 48
Who Light your Lamp? 51
A House for Mr Vishwas 52
A Sacred Truth 55
Life Codes  
Quotidian Miracles 59
Yoga Karmasu Kaushalam? 60
The Squack of the Ire-Bird 62
Learning to React 64
Baisakhi Beginnings 65
Why Worry Kills 67
The Poverty of Affluence 69
Allah Megh De 71
No Lights in Jhajjar 73
The Sancitty of Food 74
The Mohini Method 76
Seeking Sudama 79
Husbandly Ethics 81
King Solomon's Mind 82
The Boy who was Sold 84
The Song of Samir 86
Learning to Live With Loss 87
The Point of Education 89
The Coin of Kindness 91
A Line-Up Light 93
Deep Upanishadic Angst 94
Being Glad for Others 96
Willoware Morals 98
Smile of a Summer Night 100
A Paean to Plumpness 102
Annapoorna's Bequest 104
The Politics of Forgiveness 106
When Hell Freezes Over 109
The Wife of Baat 111
The Bomb in Baby Carriage 113
Heart's Ease on Earth… 115
Going it Alone 117
Fraud and God 118
Something to Expiate 120
The Heart has its Reasons 124
Belief Through Bad Times 126
Beat the Blues with God 127
God's Footprints  
Taking Side of Truth 133
How many Gods, Yajnavalkya? 134
Subtle Truths 137
Why Idols And Awatars 138
Just who or what is God? 139
You make me Laugh! 141
Comfort my People 143
Footprints on the Sand 145
No Hand on Your Head 147
Dial M for Mozart 148
War and Pleas 150
Emotional Responsibility 152
Nine Ways to God 153
Scriptures and Sense  
Not Yagna, But Sankirtan 159
Mahadeva Mahakala 161
Mother of the Universes 163
Nine night of Devi 164
Devi Loves a Drink 166
'Victory Day' Blues 167
Hidden Harmonies 169
Holy Bolts 171
Celebrate 'Subversion' 173
Festivals  
Dealing With Demons 177
The Therad of Honour 178
Out on the Ledge 181
Why Celebrate Deeawali? 183
The Freedom of Shakti 187
Earthsongs  
A Nigh on the Ghats 193
Maari-Amman at Dainkund 195
Nice Meeting you 196
Played out in Pushkar 198
Puri's Prasad 199
Needing to Believe 201
The nature of Happiness 203
A slow, sweet Ache 205
A Shower of Gold 207
Inner Landscapes 209
Two Tales of Madurai 212
Sweet Legacy of Shravan 214
The Cathedral of Charters 216
Buddha at Kamakura 218
A River Sutra 219
Why it Matters… 221
The Faint-Hearted Secularist 222
An Earthsong 224
Music and Mystics  
The Most Fantastic Pain 229
A Week of Inayat 230
The Fifthlamp 232
The Way of the Sufi 233
Heaven on a Hillside 235

 

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Item Code: IDE406 Author: Renuka Narayanan Cover: Paperback Edition: 2003 Publisher: Penguin Books ISBN: 0143028847 Language: English Size: 7.8" X 5.2" Pages: 250 Other Details: Weigth of Book 203 gms
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