Guard against inaccurate interpretations of religious texts
I REFER to the report “Political, social stability key to driving Malaysia forward, says Najib” (NST, May 10 ). Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak says stability can only become a reality if the country has interfaith harmony, which comes from mutual understanding and mutual respect among citizens.
Lately, there have been issues regarding religious matters that culminated in police reports and much more. We need to identify the cause of the dissatisfaction that leads to these problems. From my point of view, it arises from the dissemination of inaccurate information about the different religions at talks or forums. It is of paramount importance that those taking part in these events make comments that are based on credible, reliable and authentic sources.
Many text on the “dharmic religions” have been translated inaccurately since the colonial period. Sadly, these inaccuracies were passed down and accepted as valid.
Every story narrated in the Puranas contains symbolic explanations and inner meanings of the teachings of the Vedas. In ancient times, in order to teach the common people, examples from daily lives were used. However, these days, this ancient method of teaching can lead to confusion and mistakes in interpretation.
I will touch on one inaccurate interpretation of a Puranic story that has caused some displeasure lately, namely the Ganesha story. It’s important to recognise and understand the characters in the story.
The Shiva principle is formless and is an aspect of the formless Brahman. It is said to be the divine power that exists in the human heart.
Parvathi is the energy or Sakthi of the Brahman immanent in the microcosm and the macrocosm. In the context of the Shiva principal, his energy is portrayed as his consort. Parvathi is also symbolic of nature and Mother Earth. In actual fact, according to Vedic scriptures, there is no such concept of husband and wife relationships with regards to the aspects of the formless Brahman.
The story mentions Parvathi creating a son from sandal paste emanating from her hands and giving him life. She places the boy (Ganesha) at the entrance of her abode. He was handsome, strong and powerful and held the position of the guardian of Parvathi. When Shiva returns to the abode, he is stopped by Ganesha who refuses to allow Shiva to enter. Shiva cut off the boy’s head and later replaces it with an elephant’s head.
The inaccurate interpretation states that Shiva being a Hindu god did not know that Ganesha was his son and when he discovered it later, Shiva replaced it with an elephant head.
The real meaning of the story is that Man is a child of Mother Earth, i.e. Parvathi or Bumi-Pertiwi in Sanskrit. Man by his very nature will develop ego due to his knowledge, power, position and his physical looks. When that occurs, one becomes engrossed in the material world and moves away from God. Therefore, the egoistic head has to be symbolically cut off and replaced with a trained mind which is pure in intelligence, sharp in intellect, has a powerful discriminating power of right and wrong, which makes it easier to fully focus on God and this is represented by the Satwic (pure) elephant head.
It is futile to lodge reports when these inaccuracies still remain. Let’s not become victims of inaccuracies. The relevant religious bodies must endeavour to dispel all the inaccuracies in religion. May interfaith harmony be with us.