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Does Logic intelligently take over Traditions?

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By Roli S

Geography has been one of my favourite subjects. I graduated in it and I have taught it in schools to teenagers, who have always challenged me and demanded answers to many questions that they had regarding formation of planet earth, the solar system, space, the universe, etc. I have always batted for the subject and told my students that they should respect it as first there is geography then there is anything else. When they used to ask me why it is so, I told them because geography taught about the formation of the sun, planets, satellites, etc., and if planet earth had not been there in the first place, there would be nothing else. You, me history, science, anything! This was my way of inspiring them to appreciate the geography.
Space exploration, Chandrayaan 2 and other praiseworthy feats of the scientists of our country have been in the news lately. I remember how the entire country waited throughout the night with bated breath to support our scientists when the ‘Vikram’ Lander was to touch down on the surface of the moon in the month of September. The computers and the huge screens in the control room were tracking the path of the “Vikram Lander’ to “The Moon”. Yes, this is real. There are footprints on the moon and very soon there will be footfalls. The mystical and unreachable moon, the jewel in the sky, moon, the shining magic and the most sought-after celestial object for the human race is now reachable! And my scientific bent has always admired the efforts, the study and the research conducted by thousands of scientists to unravel the vast mysteries of the universe!
Because the celestial natural objects have remained out of reach and fascinating, they have raised many emotions in the hearts of human beings and many fears in their minds, too. Traditionally, the human race has woven stories around them throughout history. The myths, the parables, the symbolism has kept humans occupied, till scientists and explorers began to solve the mysteries by providing facts and scientific reasoning.
As a teacher of geography, I have taught my students about the natural satellite, moon. I have told them that the Moon, occasionally distinguished as Luna, is an astronomical body that orbits the Earth as its only permanent natural satellite. It is the fifth-largest satellite in the Solar System, and the largest among planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits. It is thought to have formed about 4.51 billion years ago, not long after Earth. The most widely accepted explanation is that the Moon formed from the debris left over after a giant impact between Earth and a Mars-sized body called Theia. The Moon is in synchronous rotation with Earth, and thus always shows the same side to Earth, the near side. After the Sun, the Moon is the second-brightest regularly visible celestial object in Earth’s sky. Its gravitational influence produces the ocean’s tides, body tides, and the slight lengthening of the day.
I have told many such facts about the moon to my students, so I am not surprised when a few of my students ask me about the relevance and the practice of ‘Karwa Chauth’ and its relationship with the moon. They have asked me, “Is it really possible that the moon is a God and it grants long life to all the husbands of all the wives who fast on the ‘Karwa Chauth’ day?”
I have to give these growing minds some answers. Isn’t it? So, I have told them that traditions are often passed from generation to generation with no other explanation besides, “this is the way it has always been done”—which in my opinion is not a reason, it is an absence of a reason. For many traditions the logic is – it is our family tradition. Who am I to break it? So very often I have ended up telling especially my girl students, when they have asked me about rituals surrounding natural objects, that just as it takes people to start traditions, it takes people to end them. A tradition is not a reason for action -it is like watching the same movie over and over again but never asking why you should keep watching it. But if you are asking me these questions about the relevance of some rituals then you have the power in your hand to decide for yourself whether the tradition empowers you and you want to take the traditions forward, or you need to make some changes in the way it is carried on. I have encouraged them towards having a scientific bent of mind and told them often about the poem by Rabindra Nath Tagore: “Where the mind is without fear and head is held high; Where knowledge is free: Where the world has not been broken up into Fragments by narrow domestic walls; Where words come out from the depth of truth: Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection; Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit; Where the mind is led forward by the ever widening thought and action into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake”.
I have introduced them to Buddha’s teaching: “Believe nothing merely because you have been told it; Or because it is traditional; Or because you yourself have imagined it; Do not believe what your teacher tells you, merely out of respect for the teacher; But whatever after due examination and analysis, You find to be conducive to be the good, The benefit, the welfare of all beings, That doctrine believe and cling to, and take it as your guide.”
My students have often been exposed to the words of APJ Kalam, former President of India, who has recognised the importance of the scientific mindset and stated, “Every Indian must develop Scientific Temper, science and spiritualism seek the same divine blessings for doing good for the people….. science tries to provide solutions for a better material life, while spiritualism looks to answer how to lead a righteous life.”
A scientific mindset refers to an open, questioning mind. A mind that seeks truth and accepts it when proven. A mind that is curious to understand the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of life while accepting that all questions may not be fully answerable. The defining characteristics of a scientific mindset are curiosity, logical ability, objectivity, emphasis on empirical evidence, open-mindedness, ability to recognise change and variation. I have left my students to decide for themselves with an open mind what is important to them.
I have myself seen traditions evolve over a period of time in today’s market driven, business oriented, technologically savvy world, where today’s youths are trying hard to find a balance between traditions and practicality. What changes will happen in the celebration of a day like ‘Karwa Chauth’ depends on how much love and respect the men and women will have for each other, how much desire they will have to carry on the traditions forward without sacrificing their creature comforts. I wonder how long till the ‘Karwa Chauth’ turns into another ‘Husbands’ Day’, just to have a good time sans fasting and all that, and how long till there is a ‘Wives’ Day’ as well where husbands perform the rituals with all the paraphernalia, as they think having intelligent, professionally successful wives is equally advantageous and rewarding!

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)