Saturday, February 15, 2014

Hold of tradition

A Zen Master used to meditate along with his disciples in his house. The Master had a cat that used to come running often to the meditation hall and disturb them. So the Master would tie up the cat to his bed in the first floor enabling them to meditate peacefully downstairs. After the Master's passing, his students continued to come to the house to meditate and tie up the cat to the bed.

One disciple who had left for another country returned after some years. When he returned he saw many people coming with cats in their hands to the Master's house. However to his shock, they did not come to meditate but only to tie up their cats to the bed!

This is not unusual. We continue to do many things that were done in the past to keep the tradition going without sparing a thought on their relevance. Either we are unquestioning slaves of habit or attach value to what was done in the past in good faith. Over a period of time the purpose for a custom is lost sight of or not known but we still observe even when the raison d etre is absent. We tend to assume what our parents or grandparents have done should be for a valid reason and do not question its relevance in the changed times. It is out of reverence to our forebears or just blind faith.
I am not talking about our touching faith in God but many mundane things we cling to  more symbolically than really. Everything we do should pass the test of time and relevance. Just because a tradition was followed for decades, it does not become correct. The duration of a custom is not sufficient to lend credibility to it. In Hindu marriages in South India a yoke is placed on the necks of the couple amid chanting of mantra. It is symbolic for the couple to pull through their lives together like the bulls in yoke. Younger generations are often left wondering at this strange ritual.
A tradition should be relevant to modern times. What was done century back when the history and social practices were different have no sanctity now. Many abhorrent things were done in the name of caste, gender and tradition. It required a Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Easwar Chandra Vidyasagar and several social reformers to do away with the evil traditions. We should constantly examine what we do on the touchstone of relevance and time. Colonial practices or archaic laws of 19th century that are prevalent even today have no place  and should be jettisoned. Women should be given their rightful place.
Two families, distant cousins, in the adjacent houses were always quarreling. When a new comer to the village asked one of them for the reason, he said “They are wicked people”. The stranger prodded further asking how they were wicked. He replied “I do not know. Even in my father’s time the two families were quarreling. I learn it was so even in grandfather’s time”
“Do you have any specific reason to quarrel with him except for the past tradition?” the stranger asked. He shyly said none that he was aware of.
The stranger went to the other man’s house and repeated the same questions and got the same answers. He then brought them together for them to laugh at their foolishness and rejoice at their coming together.
We carry not only meaningless traditions, inveterate habits but silly grudges too for long without valid reason. It is time we evaluate them again for their utility and fairness. 


  1. Some stranger should come to enlighten all of us, Partha Sir! Logical explanation might help stopping the unnecessary rituals/practices.

  2. Perfect read for a weekend. Enlightening as always!

  3. The cat's story evokes broad smile.. The article is very nice..:)

  4. We still cling and carry on rituals that may have been valid some time ago but its time to ponder and evaluate their worth. An eye-opener post KP.

  5. Nice story of the cat, in our house all rules and rituals have been broken, those that are irrelevant for today's life.

  6. In our house too no rules and regulations are followed that are not relevant to our present mentality.
    One should evolve, not just stagnate in the same filthy pond, and even if the pond is filthy and dirty, we should be like the Lotus, and not let anything tie us down and find our own identity and our own beauty.

  7. A relevant post kp. We shd be rational &logical and qs and correct where reqd. But in our families most of the time the older generation refuse to mend thanks to archaic practices

  8. Sometimes the true religion is sacrificed for the rituals sake.

  9. One has to evolve to keep peace..