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Of Blind Rituals and Idiotic Traditions : The Monk and The Cat

January 10, 2009

This is a story I heard long time back. Recently I found this story here and another version of the story here (given below)

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, a cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. One day the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

 

 

This story is a brilliant illustration of how false and meaningless traditions persist and perpetuate across generations. All religions are  chock-full of such traditions/rituals which have been passed down for so many centuries and have become so intertwined with the religion itself that it is difficult to get to the bottom of it or clearly demarcate between the two. This leaves many believers confused about the religion itself and makes each ritual open to all sorts of interpretations.

For instance the number 108 has a special significance in Hinduism and Buddhism(check this entry in wikipedia to learn about them). I remember when I had my sacred thread ceremony (which itself is another baseless, classist and racist tradition in Hinduism), the priest insisted that I chant the Gayatri mantra (prayer to Godess Gayathri) exactly 108 times every morning and evening – no more, no less.  But, why was 108 chosen and not 180 or any number divisible by 10 or 16 which would have been much easier to compute with our fingers or finger joints. Why not any other number for that matter?

“So would chanting a mantra 10 times or 100 times make any difference?”

” Shhh. Don’t ask such blasphemous questions. If Godess Gayathri gets angry with you she may turn you into a dumb donkey in your next life ,” the believer would typically tell me.

One reason given is that the early number system (also the Hindu-Arabic number system) had only 0-9 , so numbers which were multiples of 9 were chosen (108 = 12 x 9 ) for ease of computation. However, this leads to the question “why 12 and why not 20 or 10 or even 2”?  I am sure that many people in this day and age of  ‘super-sonic aircrafts’,  ‘lightning fast downloads’, ‘one-night stands’ and ‘communication at the speed of light’ would be grateful to cut down their time spent on flattery and fawning, to something much more reasonable.  Why spend time repeating a mantra rather than contemplating it’s meaning or even the reason behind such a ritual? Maybe it was to prevent people from thinking and rationalizing too much, which was deemed a serious threat to the monopolization of power by the Brahmin class.

I am sure many Hindus would give their own interpretation to the “why 108?” question, most of which are based on circular logic. But the fact is,  there is no clear logical reason why it needs to be repeated exactly 108 times in the first place. No one knows for sure and frankly no one cares.

The typical argument given by a hindu or buddhist is ” if it’s written in the holy books, there must be a reason behind it.”  And, this is one of the problems with faith.  It dumbs down our critical thinking abilities and blunts our rationalizing faculties in an effort to mass produce automatons – good only for blind subservience to authority and the ability to follow commands without question. By discouraging the innate inquisitiveness of humans to seek logic in their actions, it encourages slavish behavior which engenders autocratic and dictatorial conduct, by a person or a special class of people. This in turn leads to an indifferent population, who would rather follow something blindly than question dogmas for fear of persecution.

Even though, I took a very small example in this post to illustrate a point there are many such idiotic rituals in Hinduism (and all other religions), some more harmful than the rest.  It is the purpose of this blog to point out these pathetic rituals and practises and I will try to write more about it in subsequent posts. But, for now I will take my leave and concentrate on my treatise about ” The Spiritual benefits of milking camels before meditative practices.”

 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 10, 2009 12:20 pm

    Nitwit,

    Enjoy reading this: (http://missionrk.com/faq.html)

    There are 50 petals in six chakras ( Six energy centers or power centers) of our body. 4 petals of Muladhara (base chakra), 6 Petals in Swadhistana ( Sex chakra), 10 petals in Manipuraka (navel chakra) , 12 petals in Anahata ( Heart Chakra ), 16 petals in Vishuddhi ( throat Chakra ), 2 petals in Ajna ( brow chakra).

    In addition to these 50, the four Antahkaranas (mind (manassu), buddhi, chitta, and Ahamkara) make a total of fifty four. when we do Mantra japa, each count of japa is targeted at the development of one of these. One Avruta or Cycle involves moving our focus from Muladhara upwards and then coming back downward till Muladhara. To complete this cycle, we touch each one of these 54 aspects twice; making a total of 108. In spiritual parlance, the number 108 has utmost significance.

    I’m pretty sure this is good enough “scientific” reason to majority of the followers!!! I know a pretty smart engineer who advocates the magic number of 108. Or even 21 for that matter.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      January 11, 2009 10:31 am

      HA, Thanks for the link. I must admit that this is a much better explanation than I have heard from other Hindus or Sanskrit scholars however this clearly proves how good intelligent people are at finding reasons for something totally baseless and then fudging the data to fit the conclusion. As I mentioned in my post that most of these explanations are based on circular reasoning which is a type of logical fallacy (“begging the question”) and this explanation is one such proof. This explanation has quite a few problems

      1. Even though the position and association of the chakras with the human endocrine system and the endocrine glands is worthy of discussion, the description of chakra and it’s significance itself is not clear and varies depending on whom you ask. The petals in the bottom 5 chakras are assumed to be the number of vertebrae or nerve pairs found at the position of that chakra. We have to remember however that this nerve pair explanation is much more recent and is different from the ida, pingala and sushmna “nadis” mentioned in hindu religious texts.

      2. Although most modern scholars agree to the 7 major charkas (Thanks to your comment I opened my book on chakras and auras after a long time to verify this), there is still some debate about the number of chakras. Some authors point to chakras in the hand and feet, some consider a chakra at the coccyx to be a minor chakra, some do not consider the crown charka or the Sahasra chakra (chakra with 1000 petals) to be a chakra at all. If Wikipedia is to be believed here is what it has to say:

      “However, the earliest Sanskrit sources (Upanishads) list either only four or five chakras. The Yogatattva Upanishad (sloka 83-101) lists five and describes these chakras as being interrelated with the five elements: earth, water, fire, air, space. Over time, less ancient sources have added two or three major chakras to the original list while contemporary New Age writings have added a plethora of minor ones.”

      So for the person to choose only 6 chakras seems arbitrary and seems like deliberate attempt to ignore available information since adding the Sahasra chakra in the count would severely invalidate their reasoning. Also, if we consider the nerve pair and vertebrae explanation to the other chakras it invalidates the reasoning behind the 2 petals of the brow chakra or the 1000 petals of the Sahasra Chakra as there is no vertebra or any nerve pair associated with those chakras (at least as far as my understanding goes). So to fudge their data and force the explanation to account for the two petals of the brow chakra, scholars are quick to point out the two lobes of the pituitary gland. So that again begs the question why is it that the petals in the lower chakras are explained by nerve pairs and the brow chakra by number of lobes of a gland? The explanation of the 1000 petals of the Sahasra chakra is even more ridiculous.

      “the combined vibrational energy from the six or seven chakras (48 or 50 petals) below the crown chakra may gets its vibrational strength multiplied tenfold, thus producing either the 960 (2x48x10) or the 1000 (2x50x10) petals …”

      This begs the question – why 10-fold, why not 1000-fold or no folds at all? Although to be fair to the contributor of this article he/she does admit that it is “…..yet not understood.”

      3. When the explanation based on the physical part of the body fell short of the number and failed to explain the “why 108?” question the website conveniently brings in the non-physical part – that of the 4 functions of the mind according to ancient Sanskrit literature – to prove their point. The function of the mind and their separation into different activities is more philosophical than physical and cannot be given any scientific credence to.

      4. The author mentions that one cycle of mantra chanting helps “develop” all 54 aspects but then why does a “complete” cycle consist of repeating it (completing the cycle twice). Why not just spend more time on each aspect rather than repeating it? If we have to repeat why not repeat it 4 times or 10 times? Why not just chant the mantra once for each chakra rather than the number of petals?

      Ah ! But then I forget …

      “if it’s written in the holy books, there must be a reason behind it.”

  2. Prudhvi permalink
    October 2, 2013 6:34 am

    Great post i’ve been looking for this story and i got another story too

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