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Friday, September 13, 2013

Celebrating Friday the 13th

Today is Friday the 13th. In Western culture, there’s a superstition that Friday the 13th will bring ill luck to people when they attempt anything on this day. Indian culture too has its fair share of superstitions. Don’t continue with your journey (or work) if a black cat crosses your path. Or don’t take possession of a new house unless you first boil milk in it. Or respect a weekly timetable of “bad” 90 minute capsules (rahukalam). And many, many more.

There are normally two kinds of people. Those who follow superstitions and those who don’t. But there’s also a third category: who don’t know which category of people to follow! They often wonder: Is being superstitious good or bad? Is it foolish to be superstitious? Is being superstitious a sign of being too religious?

Let me share my learnings from my experiences of having been superstitious. Firstly, superstition means accepting something __ or even rejecting something __ without having any first-hand knowledge about it or believing (or rejecting) something blindly without verifying. So, in the true sense of the word’s meaning, a believer in God and an atheist, both are superstitious. A believer because, in the normal course, she or he believes so more by following than by seeking (verifying first-hand) and an atheist because, she or he, again rejects blindly without ascertaining if there is a case indeed for no-God! So, theists and atheists, both are capable of being superstitious. Just as scientists are too. Until Liebniz argued that it is possible to have just three digits in the counting system, as opposed to 9, the world of mathematicians was superstitious too. They accepted a 1 ~ 9 count, just as we have all done, without pausing to verify, question, argue or debate. So, the point being made here is that there is nothing wrong in being superstitious if you are comfortable in following something__anything for that matter__without questioning, without verifying.

To me superstitions are an integral part of growing up – of evolving. I once was sitting in front of a very learned astrologer, who, seeing the rings on my fingers, asked me why I was wearing them. I replied saying that a well-known gemologist had recommended that I wear them to “ward off the bad times” that I was faced with. He laughed and asked in Tamil: “Kallaala Vidhiya Matramudiyuma Sir?” (Can stones change destiny?). He then went on to explain: “Sir, don’t accept anything just because you find it comfortable to believe it or to follow it. Not even what I am telling you. Challenge every assumption, ask, seek…and from the answers you get, pick the one which you feel you can relate to the most. Choose that which you feel is the most common-sensical. In doing that you will always be at peace.” I have followed his sagely advise to this day.

So, the question here is not whether a superstition works or not. Or whether it is right or wrong. The question here is have you verified what you are following? Are you convinced of your line of thought and action? If you have done this check, then what you follow is no longer a superstition, it is a belief. And, importantly, if you have chosen to not believe something, it does not mean that someone else believing in it is wrong. Respect that the person may have as much strong evidence to support her or his belief as you have against it.

Bottom-line: any day, any time is good, but no day, no time is better than today, the NOW, to live and to celebrate Life! So, please don’t let anything – not even your beliefs – ruin this non-stop party called Life for you!

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