I have written quite extensively about the Kumbh Mela in the past two weeks and I think I have given you a complete picture of what this festival is, including the reasons why it actually takes place and what people hope to get from their ritualistic bath in the Ganges. I got to know however that some people got a bit confused: I wrote that Hindus took their dip in the Ganges so that they would go to heaven. They thought Hindus didn’t believe in heaven but in reincarnation and that they would hope for liberation, reaching Nirvana and not heaven. How does this all fit together?
I think I already mentioned once or twice that religion is not very logical. It is actually quite confusing and even contradicting itself in many aspects. In Hinduism there is such a large number of holy scriptures that they obviously cannot all say the exact same thing. Within Hinduism there are several philosophies and it is not possible to believe and follow them all at once. Followers thus have the opportunity to believe whatever suits them best and what is comfortable for them.
Heaven is a concept that does exist in Hinduism. For understanding who goes there, you need to know a little bit about the Karma philosophy. During your life, this incarnation, you do good Karma and bad Karma. This all accumulates and when you die, you can compare it to making the balance sheet of your bank account at the end of the year. All the bad Karma you collected is set up against the good Karma you collected. If you remain with a negative balance, you go to hell and if you have a positive balance, you go to heaven. You only stay in heaven or hell until you have ‘spent’ that Karma there – the more Karma-money you have, the longer you can stay in heaven. The more Karma-debts you have, the longer you have to spend in hell. When you have spent it all but still have a wish left to experience something good or bad, you go back into another incarnation, another life on earth.
This is the basic concept that is behind the bath in the Ganges. If you take your bath in the Ganges at the Allahabad these days, you can wash yourself free of your sins. It is a cancellation of your debt, a way to ask for Karma debt relief and it will be granted by jumping into the holy, dirty river. Your Karma bank balance after this bath is definitely positive – and you can go to heaven or spend longer time there.
So you see, this idea means that you don’t really want to be liberated. You receive liberation when you have no wish left to make experiences, be that good or bad. You can thus say, everybody taking their bath at the Kumbh Mela means their aim is not liberation, the end of the cycle of reincarnations but going to heaven in between lives on earth.
No, wait, that is not fully true. There are also people who take their bath in the river for liberation. And yes, that is also written in the scriptures! It is even written that you can get liberated only by seeing the Ganges. Oh, even better, it is written, if you are thousands of kilometers away from the Ganges and you remember it and shout out its name, you can reach liberation.
You can turn it as you like, you can wish for whatever you want, heaven or liberation, Hinduism is flexible enough to grant you everything. But again – if you jump into the Ganges with the wish to be liberated, you still have one wish, the wish to reach liberation. Liberation however is written to be only reachable if you gave up all wishes. What to do now?
I would suggest leaving religion and any attempt of trying to understand it. You won’t succeed but just get more and more confused. There is much more to say about Karma, religion’s confusing and contradicting philosophies and the consequences – I will keep you posted about my thoughts in the next week.