I am a big fan of the "Speaking Tree" column in The Times of India.
Over a period of time I have realized that people around me ( that sometimes includes me too) are regularly confused about faith.
I still remember the first day I went to see my supervisor. I was lost and jet-lagged and the third question he asked me was, " Are you a Hindu?" and when I said "yes" he asked me if I was a "practicing Hindu".
I have never really thought myself as a "Hindu" all my life so it took me a while to say yes and it has taken me a long, serious contemplation to find out if I practice any religion!
I think, we take religion too literally. The Geeta talks about reincarnations and rebirths and it is written in succinct Sanskrit that needs repeated reading over a lifetime.
I believe in God but I have my own custom-made personal God. I think He is the ability within us, that helps us move ahead and evolve as better human beings ( if we intend to do that). He is the ability to bounce back after failure and the belief that we are going to be alright, when we are actually not alright at all.
I read a very funny story about an atheist a few years ago. This atheist was so much against the existence of God that on one of the walls in his house, he wrote repeatedly, like a scripture a sentence that read "God is nowhere". Eventually he got married and had a baby son. His son started reading and spelling out words and he went into the room and read " God is Now, Here".
I do not know about life after death but in our everyday life we do go through a lot of places that are like rebirths. For example ( to make this a little lighter), think about a habitual chocolate eater. She decides to give up chocolate and drop some baggage around her waistline. Everything is fine for the first few weeks but then she begins to crave it and ends up breaking her resolve! That is a reincarnation. :)
Then she decides that she will take the vow again ( after she has successfully added even more baggage) and this time, she goes without it for three months and manages to drop a staggering five kilos! Then one day three days after a first date with no sign of the guy calling back and a pressure-filled week at work, she comes home and dips a big spoon into the chocolate ice cream tub! That again is reincarnation!
Then some day, she meets a Fitness Guru ( whose name has an S an A and a couple of Es in it) and takes tips from her. :)
She does not deprive herself of chocolate and starts going for regular walks and jogs. She includes a whole lot of health food in her diet and gradually loses all her extra kilos without having to stay away from chocolate. She realizes that a regular work out not only makes her look good but also keeps her fresh and alive. She begins to get appreciated for her energy and good looks and she likes herself more as a person.
Twenty years down the line, she is still the same size and you can see her dipping spoons in tubs of chocolate ice cream every now and then. That is Moksha!
That is what the Geeta says about desire. You attach yourself to it and hanker for it, you will keep going back to it and making the same mistakes that make you feel miserable. If you accept it as a part of your life and think beyond it, it will never turn into this attention-seeking-tantrum-throwing-ill-behaved-child and make you commit the same mistakes again and again.
Just as they talk about Death and Salvation in a cosmic sense, there are a million little deaths and salvations we attain in our lifetimes without realizing their importance.
Life is a big bunch of little moments that take us towards Death but Death is not as static as it seems to be. We have to live through many tiny deaths and make sure that we don't live the same loops that we have left behind all over again!
Religion is a balanced way of life and as long as you live happily it doesn't matter what book you follow. After all they all arrive at the same truth! :)