SONGSOPTOK: To what extent do you practice ‘religious tolerance’? Since when (how long ago)?

ARIN BASU: Since childhood. I grew up in a neighbourhood in Calcutta where we used to play with Sikh children, lived next to Sikh families, and used to pray at Gurdwara. I went to a Jesuit school, studied for 12 years, then went to study in Medical College and graduated as a doctor where our only intolerance through those grueling years of training was against unhygienic practices, ignorance, and anything that made life difficult for people. Then went to study in America where I discovered the nuances of Buddhist thoughts and mighty liked it. My mum grew up in Pondicherry but I discovered Sri Aurobindo much later in life. There was no scope since childhood to be intolerant, rather a broad brushed view of fascination with different tenets of religious practices, and synthesis.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you believe all religions are the same?

ARIN BASU: Not really. Each religion emphasizes different aspects and perspectives of life as we live. For example, Buddhism is about the suffering in this world, and its causes and endless cycles of cause and effect, and introspecting oneself. While given the same problem and state of the world, Christianity would have you believe in the original sin. It is, at the end of the day, the perspective. As Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa would say, as many ways as there are ideas. Or the parable of the little pond from where people would draw water, that remained the same but the perspectives changed. So, no, all religions are not same, and that is all right. That is the way.

SONGSOPTOK:  In case you practice religion, do you consider all your religious beliefs to be true? What about those of others?

ARIN BASU: My belief is my false perception. There is a Truth and that exists outside of my perception. It does not matter. All of us are constrained by our own belief system. As the Buddha would have said, can the eye see itself? It cannot, yet the fact that there is vision is irrefutable. There is no absolute truth, nor is there an absolute untruth. Let’s leave at that.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you believe that all faiths are equally beneficial and equally harmless to society?

ARIN BASU: In a sense this is a good way of looking at the world (that all faiths are equally beneficial or equally harmless). But the reality is this, faiths do not exist in vacuum, there are interpreters of the faiths. In turn, there are sects and cults. For some people, having a faith is important. But what that faith will be is, conjectural. Faith becomes an issue not by itself, but how we perceive it, or how we are taught about it.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you believe all religious groups are equally beneficial and equally harmless to their followers?

ARIN BASU: Depends on what we mean by “harm”, and how we define the “harm”. Religions that are highly ritualistic can be risky for some people. Prolonged fasting, or for example, self flagellation can be dangerous. Then again, placidity is harmful as well.  Where people who put too much emphasis on tedious meditation can suffer from significant mental health issues as they perceive lives differently. But the extent to these damages and whether they are equal in extent is open to debate. These things vary in their intensity and their quality.

SONGSOPTOK:  Should members of any given religious group refrain from criticizing religious practices of others?

ARIN BASU: Absolutely. Besides uncivil, this is quite pointless.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you usually refrain from talking about your beliefs to others? Should you be ignoring your own religious ideas?

ARIN BASU: No, I do not refrain from talking about my beliefs to others (in fact I write about them, I analyze them, I think about them, I prefer to engage in dialogues). There is a room to inspect, learn, analyse, assess and evaluate one’s own religious ideas. It is a process of awareness of awareness itself.

SONGSOPTOK: What are the different ways religious tolerance, including secularism, can help (or hurt) the demands of a complex world?

ARIN BASU: A secular mindset makes one respectful of all others’ faiths and practices. There is a sense of equanimity and equipoise to see the world as it is. If you can see a rose as a rose and not taint with your own ideas in the head, there is no conflict. Secularism is aimed to bring about that balance .

SONGSOPTOK:  Should ‘religious tolerance’ be a part of the school curricula?

ARIN BASU: Yes. If not tolerance, at least a healthy, secular, look at different faiths that people in that country practice.

SONGSOPTOK:  Religious acceptance and bigotry appear to be the two sides of a coin (unbiased). People are equally likely to choose one over the other. Do you agree with that observation? Please explain.

ARIN BASU: Yes and no. Depends on how one chooses to view. If the meaning of religion is mired in the practices, rituals, and nothing more, it does look like that, as rituals make people defensive about their practices. Which is where antipathy to “others’” thoughts and beliefs arise. On the other hand, if the acceptance is total and one is prepared to believe that one is part of a universe where there is no duality, _that_ sense of acceptance will not make one a bigot. It’s not religion per se, it’s ego.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Subhodev Das

(Chief Advisor: Songsoptok)


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