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Our primitive habit of greeting those who perform a ‘miracle’ has gripped our collective consciousness for centuries. We associate religion with miracles which are completely irrational. Our gods and goddesses, saints, and mahatmas perform great miracles; they lift mountains, drink up waters of great rivers, and take out ash (bhasm) and coins from the void to heal and surprise people.
How To Be a Saint 101
In the latest version of Sanatana Dharma, one can become a self-proclaimed saint. Just gather some disciples and followers and take a certificate of your being a saint from a 'bigger saint', add an esoteric title before your name, or just rechristen yourself with a spiritual-sounding one and lo! You are a saint!
Many sanatanis forget that Swami Vivekanand, one of the greatest exponents of Vedanta often used to mock miracles and considered them a waste of energy and time.
I wonder if one really understood the meaning of the Upanishads and the Gita, could one accept another mortal as a saint. How the so-called babas, saints, and gurus fleece the gullible and hijack their ability to think for themselves, is a question that keeps haunting one’s mind.
But in Christianity, sainthood is a huge affair. It is considered a great achievement. For years discussions are held, witnesses gathered and then it is decided, at the highest level of the religious structure whether such-and-such man or woman deserves the title of saint. This long-term ritual can take years to complete.
Faith Is a Blind Pursuit!
A story by Tolstoy comes to mind—'The Three Hermits' first published in 1886. The story is about three 'ancient elders' living on a deserted island. One day an archbishop passing through the sea route hears about him and is curious to meet him. When the priest reaches the island, he hears these three old men mutter: “You three, we three; Have mercy on us."
The archbishop explains to them the traditional meaning of the Holy Trinity (according to Christianity's doctrine of the Trinity) and the scriptural way of praying. He asks them to memorise the correct words. Those three old, tattered men compared to 'foolish sea creatures' can't remember anything.
By evening, after persistent effort, when the priest is satisfied that they have remembered the prayer, he withdraws from there and boards his ship.
The ship must have gone some distance and he sees that all three are coming towards the ship running on the seawater as if walking on 'solid ground'. The priest is taken aback. The three elders come to him and quickly tell him that they have again forgotten the prayer he was taught. They remembered it once but forgot it as soon as they tried to repeat it. The priest says to them,"I'm sorry, your prayer is the right one, and now you please pray for us too."
Those who declare someone a saint have to be even greater saints than him! Otherwise, how can they certify that someone is a saint?
Does Human Awakening & Inventiveness Overshadow Miracles?
It is said that Jesus Christ resurrected the dead. He revived four people in his lifetime. But who doesn't know about the dialogue between Buddha and Kisa Gotami!
Kisa Gotami's son had died and she went to the Buddha, weeping bitterly. The Buddha asked her to bring some mustard seeds from the house where no one had ever died. Kisa Gotami immediately got a clear understanding of the inevitability and omnipresence of death.
If someone can explain this, and if someone understands this, then it will be considered a big miracle because this understanding will remove the thorn stuck in the flesh forever; it’s not just a temporary cure which a miracle often is, if at all, it exists.
Thich Nhat Hanh was a Buddhist monk from Vietnam who lived in France during the final years of his life. He says: “The real miracle is not that someone can walk on water; the real miracle is how we all walk this earth together, peacefully.
When the Buddha was staying at Nalanda, a curious person named Kevaddha asked him about the miracles. The Buddha said in his reply: “If a bhikkhu performs miracles in search of followers and devotees, he becomes an object of embarrassment, humiliation, and shamelessness. Neither does one attain enlightenment through these miracles, nor does human suffering ends. Only that act which can end the suffering of man falls in the category of miracle."
I see the myriad wonders of science that happen every day, and I'm always in awe. When I can talk directly to my friend sitting thousands of miles away by phone within a few seconds, I feel it’s a great miracle. When a small tablet of medicine makes my migraine go away in no time, I bow down to its inventor and consider him no less than a miracle man or woman.
When I travel thousands of kilometres in an airplane in a short time, I wonder how miraculous the person who would have imagined and made it a reality, must be. We do not keep them in the category of Saints and Babas. But his miracles have changed our world.
When I look at nature, think about the resilience of the forests, the helplessness of the rivers, the dignity of the sea, I wonder who can be a greater saint than the one who has silently endured our atrocities for centuries. The dearest and wisest people of human society have just been our well-wishers. Turning them into saints and keeping them on a high pedestal is nothing but an invention of our crooked minds.
Rational Thinking Over Religiosity Can Address the Dilemma
A few years ago some letters were published that Mother Teresa wrote to her closest friends. The letters, published in the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, were edited by her friend Reverend Brian Kolodyjchuk.
The editor himself wrote that there was a period when Mother felt God "neither in her heart nor in the Church". Canonising a person who questions the existence of God in a particular religion also raises many questions.
As soon as someone calls someone a saint, he indirectly calls the rest of the people either non-saints or sinners. Being a saint does not necessarily inspire others to strive for sainthood, it can also create a sense of guilt within them.
Another thing to be looked at: in a world full of cruelty, inequality, and superstitions, even if there is one real saint, is it a great achievement? How would a drop of sugar reduce the infinite salinity of the ocean? To a world already riddled with hundreds of divisions, one more division between the saint and sinner will be added, and create another opportunity for others to live with a culture of conformity, adulation, and hero-worship.
According to the norms of organised religion, someone becoming a saint does not become a panacea for the sorrow of humanity; only that organisation's own exclusive, specific methods and traditions get new energy. Doubting and questioning them only weakens their roots, which is the last thing these organised religions want.
That's why the people associated with the same organisation cannot raise questions about this tradition of declaring some people saints. It would be suicidal for them. But common, rational, right-thinking rationalist, inclined towards atheism or skepticism should constantly raise these questions. Only then people will gradually understand the futility of unnecessary rituals and relinquish a hierarchical, dogmatic approach to religion.
(Chaitanya Nagar is a freelance journalist, translator, poet. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)