Today was a major solar eclipse. In our house, we hadn’t religiously followed the usual prohibition about food, temple closing, etc. during an eclipse in the past. This time, the discussion arose about whether or not we should eat food, sanitize vegetables, and so on. Ma asked my opinion. “If you ask me,” I replied, “do the things as you would otherwise normally do and don’t bother about eclipse.”
A mild debate erupted in the house. “We don’t eat because the shadow of Rahu and Ketu has a negative impact during the eclipse.” A member (let’s call M) pointed.
“Those two planets do not exist; astronomy has proven it.” I retorted.
“Māno to hain, na māno to kuchh bhi nahi,” M argued. (translation it exists if you believe. If you don’t, nothing exists – a popular answer to dismiss reasoning in our culture.)
“What’s the harm in following the injunctions. If we don’t eat for some hours on one day, it doesn’t do any harm.” M continued.
“Well, if we are doing something out of devotion, there’s no harm. You can stay hungry for the whole day if you feel like doing for the lord. But, if you ask me to stay hungry out of fear from eclipse without any scientific basis, then it’s not acceptable to me. This is how our religion has become week and is mocked by others.” I continued, “It is true that watching an eclipsed sun with bare eyes can be harmful for eyes; there’s a science behind that. But regarding not eating food or drinking water during the eclipse, there’s no basis for that.”
“But children, senior citizens and those who are ill are allowed to have meals, etc. It’s restricted only for adults.” M said.
“You see the anomaly here? If it’s harmful, it’s harmful for everyone, right? Why are they allowed? Because you can’t stop children from eating. But if it’s really harmful, the rule should be equally applicable.” I retorted.
“We don’t even go to temples during the eclipse.” Someone said.
“Ah, I think because as you said watching sun is dangerous for the eyes perhaps for that reason the rule got made so nobody goes outside,” Ma interjected with a sense of realization.
“Pandits even wash the temple after the eclipse is over. there’s got to be something.” M interjected.
“I can tell why. When people realized that rays were harmful during the eclipse, they started considering it inauspicious. and that’s why the cleaning thing would have started.” I said. (even it’s recommended to bath after eclipse; sounds similar?)
This is how truth gets distorted over generations. I recall Swamiji saying once (paraphrased):
Generation after generation, stories were weaved around the truth. Eventually, truth was left far behind somewhere and we’re left with those stories.
The discussion continued. “You know, Swamiji has said that these are special days (eclipse, festivals such as Diwali, etc.) as these have been perfected (Siddha) by sages and are quite good for sadhana. You’ll find it easy to meditate as the mind would be relatively calmer than other days.” I said.
“Yes, it’s recommended to do pooja (worship) during the eclipse,” Ma added.
“Yeah but you see, the reason you hear for it is that it’s an inauspicious period and hence one should do pooja to fend off its bad effects.” I continued, “So people have turned the truth on its head. Which was considered auspicious and empowering due to tapa of sages, now considered dangerous and something to be feared from.”
The most flexible, versatile, and open religion of this planet – Sanatana Dharma – has reached a sorry state in current times for many reasons. One major reason, as I see it, is our lack of courage or enthusiasm to question the belief system we’ve been imparted; because of our lack of curiosity to discover the truth and as a result, our inability to separate the truth from superstitions.
A simple test of any belief as I’ve learned from Swamiji is if it instills fear in you; if it weakens you, it cannot be true; you should reject it. Because truth empowers you; it makes you stronger. Truth liberates you.
If anyone ever creates fear in you, be that person an expert astrologer, a religious authority, a preacher or swami etc., it’s a good time to abandon him or her. It is so easy to bank on fears. For your own good, if you wish to lead a life of freedom, don’t give anyone the right to instill fear in you. In any which way.
Thanks, Abhilash for reading a draft of this and helping with the post image.