Guard against in­ac­cu­rate in­ter­pre­ta­tions of re­li­gious texts

New Straits Times - - Letters - ARIFF SHAH, Pe­nang.

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.

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