'Life of Pi' by the Canadian writer Yann Martell is the winner of 'The Man Booker Prize 2002' and it is a best selling novel. It has an unusual format with a number of stand alone stories with in the main narrative. The following is one interlude when a young boy is exposed to a fundamentally important human need; this helps us to realise that some human needs are beyond human help; some questions are difficult to resolve without God’s grace and intervention.

Mr. Pi Patel was a fourteen year old Hindu boy who lived in Pondichery with his family who owned the zoo in that city. He got exposed simultaneously to Christianity and Islam during a family holiday at the hill station, Munnar, in Kerala, India. In this story, there are three significant hills at Munnar, the middle hill has a mosque, the hill on its left has a church and on the right side hill from the mosque has a Hindu temple. During the course of his holiday Pi Patel inadvertently got acquainted with the priests of these three temples of God. Through these good-natured religious men Pi got to know the God they venerate and worship. He showed a deep leaning to all three God channels. Each of the priests wanted to make a claim on Pi as their own religious conquest and endowment. Pi visited the church, the mosque and the temple and worshiped God according to each tradition. They were greatly impressed and treasured their conquest.

Then the priests grew with jealousy and suspicion of each others claim on this boy and begin to report to Pi’s parents about Pi’s visits and leaning to the church, the mosque and the temple. A meeting was arranged for meeting with priests, Pi and his parents. At the meeting each priests claimed that Pi is a true follower of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Furthermore, each priest in their turn defended their faith and its superiority over the other two. It was too much for the traditional conservative Hindu parents to absorb and understand. They all admired Pi’s love and devotion to God at such a tender age and his fundamentally important wider ecumenism. Nevertheless, the priests insisted and said authoritatively, “He can’t be a Hindu, Christian and Muslim. It’s impossible. He must choose.” Father of Pi pointed out that there is freedom to practice religion in India, but they all insisted he should choose one he cannot be a member all three religions at the same time. Finally they asked Pi what he thought about it all. Pi diplomatically quoted Gandhiji and saved the day: “Bapu Gandhi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I want to love God.” Pi’s father, a man who never entered temples of his ancestors cleared his throat and said, “I suppose that’s what we’re all trying to do, love God.” How can you reprimand a boy for wanting to love God? The three priests departed with stiff, empty smiles. However, the question is begging for an answer: How can you reprimand anyone for wanting to love God? What is preventing us from loving God?

What does loving God mean? Is it strict observance of the laws of religions? Is it the faithful observance of all sacraments? Laws and sacraments have a role in directing us to God. As St. Augustine said, “Sacrament is the outward flow of inward grace.” Jesus taught us how to love God. In St. Matthew’s Gospel we read: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5: 23, 24). Our relationship with others is the very essence of our relationship with God.

Loving God has to be translated into loving our neighbours too. This love is about putting others first and destroying our ego boundaries. It is about the kenosis, self emptying. We see the importance of this self emptying in life and ministry of Jesus (Phillipians2).This love is about offering life voluntarily for the benefit of others. Further along in Matthew’s gospel we read: “I will tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matt 25: 45). Therefore, whatever we do for the people in the margins in the society, we do for God. Loving God is a not an abstract idea and this idea must have legs; it has to be realised and incarnated in our love for others around us and beyond. Jesus gave us a new commandment on how to love God: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34.35).

Our God, the Father of mankind, who created everything that is created and the Lord of everything there in, does not live in shrines and institutions created and managed by human beings. A great Indian poet wrote:

“Beloved Lord, you are the all-prevailing reality.
When the entire universe is filled with you,
How can I build a temple for you?
When you are effulgent like millions upon millions of suns
How can I offer my small candle light?
When you are the indwelling reality of all beings,
How can I call you by a particular name?
When the entire universe in your stomach,
How can I offer you a little food in worship?
And all I can hope to do is to empty myself in you,
Who is the ocean of divine love.”[1]

The boy, St. Augustine met at the sea shore had the divine wisdom to remind him that “And you’re wasting your time writing a book about God, you will never get God into a book.” This is what religious gurus have been trying to do since the dawn of time trying to get God imprisoned in a book or religion. This is what three pious priests at Munnar sold to Pi Patel at their attractive spiritual corner shops. But it is God who gave us the status to be his children and He also came in search of us to have communion with us. Our God is not far from us because ‘it is in him we live and move and have our being.’ Thus, beyond confines of religious or denominational laws and restrictions or existing demarcation lines between faith communities, we need to find and operate God’s love and enjoy wider ecumenism. It is in this freedom we break walls of division; it is in this freedom we see the beauty of all true religious faiths without its protectors and providers; it is in this freedom we realise ‘sodharma’ in the context of ‘viswadharma.’ It is in this freedom to love God and all God’s children we will be able to realise universal in our particularities and through our particular God-given and grace-driven lifestyles we will be able to demonstrate to others universal truths.

Pi Patel may be the product of the imagination of the novelist, but it raises a second fundamental question for all of us. The question is whether religion is to be regarded a ‘human construction’ or it has some kind of mysterious transcendent divine origin and reference point. I wonder whether it is possible to have an absolutely sanitised-religion like the one Bonhoeffer imagined, ‘religionless Christianity.’ We may have to develop a sensitivity to see how God works at the heart of the secular world. In this realisation we may be able to transform the secular into the sacred and find confidence and comfort in a religionless spirituality; it is a spirituality that is not sectarian, but holistic; it is a spirituality that opens our hearts and mind to others, as children of one God, rather than separate us from others. This attitude may help us to see the importance of Wesley Ariarjah’s statement on wider ecumenism: “Wider ecumenism is not a search for a universal religion; nor it is an attempt to undermine the specificity of religions. Rather it is an attempt to see unity in diversity, collaboration in the context of differences, and togetherness in a world that is torn apart by division and dissentions.”[2]

1. Sai Baba Gita, ISBN 81-86822-85-2, page 3
2. S. Wesley Ariarajah, World Council of Churches, Current Dialogue, Issue 47, June 2006.

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