SONGSOPTOK: «Belief is simple acceptance that a proposition is true, without regard to reason(s) while faith is the acceptance of a proposition rather than an epistemological (evidence-based) reason.” Does this reflect your understanding of the two words? If so, why? If not, then how would you distinguish between the two?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: The concept of belief involves a subject (the believer) who presumes an object (the proposition). The term ‘belief’ certainly refers to personal attitude towards ideas and concepts. It does not require introspection and circumspection. It is deeply rooted in the mind of the beholder based on individual distinction or inherited ideology. I shall quote C.S. Lewis here,” I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else”. Faith is an important constituent element of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. It is often described as:

-A Conviction that something is
-A determination to accomplish ones goals
-a sense of joy deriving from the other two

Faith is that inner strength or spirit that lets you think through even the toughest times. Sometimes it is simply the pillar one needs to fall back upon when in despair. As Ramakrishna figured out that all our prayers are answered. We just have to have faith and drop all fear. I shall now draw your attention towards a real life example of mine. In 1972, we met with a terrible accident while going to Hardwar. I lost my aunt and grandmother. My father and I started believing that it is the place that is unlucky for us. We decided never to go back to that place again. This is belief! My mother, however, thought otherwise. She had faith in God who gave her immense strength and assurance to travel alone to the holy place! She enjoyed her two-day trip and returned safely, thus, proving the trust and confidence that motivated her for the trip. This is faith!

SONGSOPTOK: Each person can inherit, adopt or construct her own set of beliefs and faiths, or it is a combination of the two. How would you qualify your own personal set? Were your faiths and beliefs handed down to you by someone? Who? Or were they acquired? If so, how?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: My personal set is a combination of the two factors- inherit and construct. My mother was a pious lady. I grew up amidst the chanting of mantras, witnessing various rituals, and observing her sincere dedication. She used to wake up exactly at 4 am irrespective of cold winter mornings, take bath despite the cold water and worship. She even dispensed her duties with equal dexterity. But in the process, she developed certain ailments. I did inherit the faith from her that helped me build my courage and self- confidence. But I constructed my own way of worshiping. I believe that valuing the tenement God has gifted us brings us closer to God than restraining our body from basic necessities would. My mother chose a path of selfless sacrifice while mine was to build the trust and confidence to improve my temperament and conduct of life.

SONGSOPTOK: In your own personal sphere, do you consider worship as a religious act involving rites, rituals or other types of practices? Or is it related to something that transcends religion? Can you explain your position with some examples?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: God’s nature and power is independent of the material world. There is a saying- one who serves people serves God. Buddha said sacrifices cannot change a man’s destiny. Sacrifices and rituals are empty ceremonies. My way of worshipping is, to an extent, is influenced by great saints like him and I do not stick to any religion in particular. India, despite being a developing country, disburses generous amounts of fund for festivities. One can fathom the kind of progress that would have been possible, had these funds been directed towards more constructive work. This was well told in the film “Oh My God”, where the protagonist strongly insists on the scores of milk, wasted in rituals, to be better used for feeding the needy. This idea struck a chord in me. I love visiting the Lotus Temple in Delhi where there is no deity and visitors can pray in their own way. To me, religion or ‘dharma’, is something above baseless rituals and rites. True dharma lies in helping those in need, being humble, helpful and conscientious. Even Jainism discarded the system of caste, shunned rituals and encouraged social service.

SONGSOPTOK:  “Faith takes over where reason leaves off” – do you agree? Can you explain your point of view?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: Faith and reason are always in conflict. But in reality, they work together to help us know and love our Maker. Over the years I have developed certain ailments and I have inconsiderately blamed my Lord for them. However, with time, I have come to realise that everyone is suffering in some or the other way and that something within us gives us the strength to sail through. My faith has, thus, given me the wisdom to reason well and be a better person. Even in Mahabharata, Draupadi’s faith-driven call to her Lord brought Krishna to her rescue from the sinful act of her vastraharan.

SONGSOPTOK: Did you ever face a conflict between your beliefs, reason and knowledge? How do you react to such situations?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: Yes, there has often been a conflict between my beliefs, reason and knowledge. Today, despite our great deal of scientific achievements, there are certain phenomena which science yet cannot explain. It is aptly said that through beliefs you can achieve many things where your arguments and knowledge might fail. I have grown up seeing my mother perform pujas only after bathing and wearing fresh clothes. She kept separate utensils for the temple which was among the many rules she felt necessary to manifest her devotion to God. Initially, I found myself indulging in the same things. But as time rolled by, I accepted my Lord as a family member. Trust me, he even shares soft drinks and chocolates with us. I believe in praying anytime, anywhere as the circumstances allow me to.

SONGSOPTOK: Are you a believer? What do you believe in?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: Yes, I am. I believe in a universal religion which moulds me into a mature and pragmatic human being. Nobody in this world is perfect. But I have gratitude and respect towards God for helping me improve inner self.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that it is essential to convince and convert others to your own system of beliefs and faiths? Why? Can you please describe the reasons for your answer?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: No, I don’t think I should try to convince or convert others to fit into my beliefs and faiths. We must accept a person’s individuality along with their beliefs and perceptions. We can only light up the torch but how to adjust its illumination is subject to an individual’s discretion.

SONGSOPTOK: Do you think that each individual has some form of faith or belief, whether related to religion or not? If yes, then what do you think are the main reasons?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: A Bengali fable rightly points out that even an atheist cries out for help, when his boat begins to drown in the middle of the sea, despite having no one around. He cries out to no one but his faith that will make him think and find a way to sail through. Faith being a source of strength can be found in anything depending upon the individual. Some may find it in deities while some within themselves.

SONGSOPTOK: “A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.” said C.S. Lewis. Do you agree with this view? Or do you think that some form of worship is indispensable for humans? Why?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: God’s glory cannot be tainted by men. The beautiful world we call home is His creation. However, I must emphasize that an atheist is closer to God than the perpetrators of deceit and terror in the name of religion. Mahavira opined that we can attain freedom through right faith, right conduct and right knowledge. Buddha too, points towards the eight-fold path and certain code of conduct. True worship is devoid of dishonesty. It is to work for deliverance from sins and engage oneself in the welfare of others. Jesus too, tried to spread knowledge through simple teaching. Even when he was crucified, he only thought of the welfare of his people- “God forgive these people for they do not know what they are doing.” This is worship!

SONGSOPTOK: You may or may not choose to answer this – but nevertheless we would like to know who do you worship? Why do you worship? How do you worship? And above all, in what way does it help you in your everyday life?

SHARMILA DASGUPTA: I worship my Bal Gopal. In 6th grade I visited Vrindavan with my parents where I came across an idol of cute little Gopal. I was immediately attracted to it and ended up buying it without the knowledge of my mother. I bought the idol only as a showpiece and never thought of worshipping Him until I lost my mother two years after my marriage. It is then that I found solace in Him. I shared my joys and sorrows with him. After I lost my father, His presence filled the void in my heart. His idol is only a representation of him. He resides within me and all of us, becoming the pillar of our inner-strength. He has always answered to my sincere prayers and led me to the path of wisdom and peace.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen

(Editor: Songsoptok)


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