Belief can make you drink and eat Animals’ Excrements – 8 Oct 15

While I wrote about a very serious political issue here in India yesterday, today’s issue might make you laugh. Or shudder and cringe. Or both. It is something which is now promoted even by government agencies and of course Hindu fundamentalists even though there is no scientific proof for any benefits: the consumption of cow urine and cow dung!

Oh yes, there are a lot of people here in India that believe that consuming the excreta of cows could be beneficial to them. They actually think it could heal hundreds of different diseases. Apart from that it is, of course, holy. Holy because it comes from the holy cow, whom religious Hindus even call the ‘mother of humans’.

This is not actually something new. In fact, quite ancient scriptures mention that a mixture of five cow products – milk, yoghurt, ghee, urine and dung – can be ingested in a ritual which will purify the body. Here in Vrindavan, Krishna’s town, the home of the ‘divine cowherd’, products made of cow pee and poo have been popular for years already. Now, with a party in power that promotes Hindu religion, tradition and values, all those products have suddenly boomed!

Obviously there is a lot of nonsense in the advertisements: not only do they claim that the excrements of cows have healing effects, up to healing cancer – the most popular claim for miracle cures. No, they even have the nerve to lie, saying the NASA had accepted the benefits of taking into your body what came out of the rear end of a cow! I would really like to know what would prompt the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the US to examine cow pee!

On a more serious note, I believe it is a way to keep people’s minds focused on cow excreta and thus avert their attention from real problems in this country. With the whole idea of the cow being holy however I cannot help but notice once more how hypocritical these believers are! They call cows their mother, worship them on special occasions and drink and eat everything that comes out of them with the feeling of holiness – but they don’t care what happens with cows once they don’t give milk anymore, they don’t care that they roam around the streets eating plastic and garbage and they use leather products like leather shoes and belts without a second thought! Where is your divine cow mother now?

It is the disturbed view of religion making one animal’s excrements holy! There has been a certain popularity to people drinking their own urine for treatment as well. Now you are drinking cow urine – you could drink donkey or monkey urine as well! Any good enzyme in cow urine could be in there, too!

Seriously, though, I would not recommend that! Dung and urine are products that the body has expelled because they are not needed, they are waste! After having been through several organs, these products could not be used anymore! So why would you drink or eat that? I have even heard of a certain danger of infection due to bacteria of the intestines which is found in cow dung!

This is the real power of religion! It can make you drink an animal’s urine and eat an animal’s dung. It is the same religion that keeps you from accepting a glass of water from the hand of a human being who is considered ‘untouchable’!

Don’t you think something is wrong there?

Narendra Nayak’s Presentation at our School exposing popular Magic Tricks of Gurus – 13 Aug 15

Today we had a program at our school which we had, although it was fixed on relatively short notice, anticipated a lot. Narendra Nayak, who is probably India’s most-known rationalist, came to visit us and give a presentation for our school children!

In 2009, when we were in New York, we stumbled upon a video of his early work online. In the video, he and a group of his students showed villagers the tricks of fake gurus and then exposed them, showing that these were not, as claimed, miracles performed with divine powers. I got in touch with him and for the past years, we have been following each other’s work. After our atheist meeting a few weeks ago, we were in touch again. He had plans to come to Delhi and offered to come to our school as well. I said it would be great to welcome him here!

That’s how he was standing in front of our school children this morning and spent three hours telling them that they should think before they believe anything, ask questions if they don’t understand and not worship anybody for allegedly godly powers because these don’t exist and we humans are all the same.

It was a pleasure to watch! The children saw with amazement how Narendra Nayak seemingly materialized a golden necklace, just like the already expired magician and celebrity guru Sathya Sai Baba used to do. They were in awe when one of their classmates could light an oil lamp that was filled with water instead of oil. They gasped when he apparently pushed a trident spear through his tongue. Excitedly, they watched videos of him performing surgery with his bare hands and deep-frying bread in hot oil, again just with his hands.

Several children and even teachers were called to the front and became part of the performance: they held a string that was cut through and then reattached as if it had never happened. They chose cards out of a deck which he then guessed, as if he was reading their minds. He touched their arm with a burning torch and put a burning piece of camphor on several students’ outstretched tongues without any of them being burnt!

Needless to say, everyone loved the show. But it was more than just a magic show! With every trick Narendra Nayak showed our children, he also explained how it worked. This made so many ‘miracles’ all of a sudden simple tricks achieved by speed, the right material or simply the basic laws of physics!

It made our children not only marvel in the tricks but also think about all the things they are told by religious believers about miracles. It made them wonder what is true and what is fake.

I believe it is one further step on the way to teach our children that they have to use their mind. That they should not blindly believe and follow. That they should ask questions and demand answers.

See pictures of Narendra Nayak's presentation here


Narendra Nayak show


Posted by Swami Balendu on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why it can be difficult for western Women to build a social Life in India – 2 Jul 15

I have been writing about challenges that western women can face when living with their Indian husbands in India. That ranges from issues with the mother-in-law to questions of how far you accept superstitious traditions to domestic violence, maybe even against your children. Today I would like to think a bit further, outside your relationship and outside your joint family’s home. What about your social life?

Obviously, when you move to another country, you will have to start from nearly zero with your local social life. I say ‘nearly’ because your husband and his family may be a help in this. May be. The problem is that it is not so much the approach where you can find people to befriend – India’s population is so big, you will normally find people – but whether you will actually want to be close with them!

Having grown up in the west, having been raised there, you are thinking in a very different way than the average Indian person does. This alone can make it difficult for you to cope with certain situations in India.

Let me give you an example: you are at the market with your husband and meet a female acquaintance of his. You get into small talk and you hope that this will be your first connection in India. Maybe your first friend. She seems elated to have met you, too! You exchange numbers and she promises that she will come by at the weekend. You get excited, prepare refreshments and get used to the fact that there is no certain time but just the words ‘at the weekend’.

Can you imagine your feeling when, on Sunday evening, nobody has come by?

Indian people mostly don’t give much importance to the words they say, especially when it comes to such meetings. You are used to fix a certain date and time and you will call if you cannot come. They didn’t think of it that serious in the first place! That’s how they won’t feel sorry about it either – it is a difference concept and perception! They have a different focus and mindset, which makes them think very different.

Of course the topics to talk about will also be very different, as the interest of each person depends on his cultural background as well. A lot of women don’t seem to have other topics than when you will finally get a child or several children – while you would actually like to talk deeper!

I have already mentioned the superstition which is so common in most families. Even if your Indian family is extraordinary and don’t believe in superstition or not so much, it is so common in the people around you that it plays a role in each and every talk! You don’t like to hear questions about auspicious timing, about fasts and ceremonies? Get used to it or stop talking to your new friends. Sounds harsh to you? You may experience yourself that you are just not interested at some point anymore to invest a lot of energy in that friendship.

I have also written about domestic violence and how you should never accept it in your home, against your children. But what do you do about your friends and your friends’ homes? Do you want to go there, have your children play with theirs and then watch your friends slap their own children because they didn’t obey? You won’t enjoy it and you won’t like your daughter or son to witness, see and experience that! You will start managing your child in your way, in your surroundings.

Maybe in India’s big cities where people are more open-minded and follow a different way, things are different. Not completely different though and not for everyone! It is not common to have a non-traditional approach on life.

I speak from my own experience with my German wife when I tell you that it can take a lot of trial and error to find just a few friends with whom you actually enjoy spending time. But again – it all depends on the individual situation, on every person involved and what you are really looking for. So go for it – I wish you all the best!

Should you decide instead to move to your country in the west together with your Indian husband, you can keep on reading my blog on Monday – I will write about some issues that he may face in that new environment!

Western Women married in India: do you follow ‘Indian Menstruation Rules’? – 30 Jun 15

I yesterday explained that a western woman marrying an Indian man and living with him in his joint family will have a few challenges to face. One of these will most probably be her mother-in-law and the decision until which point she will let her interfere in her life. Another aspect is the one that I would like to write about today: how far will you, a woman from the west, accept religious and superstitious actions. Will you follow them?

Again, as always, the questions that will come in this area depend a lot on the individual situation. Where did you grow up, how religious were your surroundings, which belief do you hold yourself and how far are you willing to practice a part of another religion just to please someone? At the same time it depends on your partner and his belief as well as his family and how strong traditions run in it!

One thing is for sure and you always have to remember: you don’t have to do anything you really don’t want to do. Nobody can force you to perform religious actions that go against what is deeply rooted in your heart. Always know this and if your partner tries to push you further in a direction you don’t want to go, it is time to consider whether it is real love and worth this struggle.

This being said however, I believe there are most often other ways to deal with such situations, as it is your love that keeps you together and makes you respect the other one deep within.

There are questions for daily life like the following: the meal is ready, you have helped cooking and your mother-in-law gives you a plate, directs you to the altar and tells you – or shows you, if you don’t have a common language – how to first offer every eatable thing to god before you eat it yourself. Will you not only stick to this rule but be the one to do this offering?

Then there are questions for once a month: in India, women are not allowed to enter the kitchen when they are menstruating. Still today, many don’t even eat together with their family on those days. They are also not allowed to do so many other things in daily life, like washing clothes or do the dishes. In some families women sleep in a separate room during this time! They are not pure during their period. How strict is your husband’s family with this tradition? In my opinion it is pure nonsense and a woman should not be degraded for something which is simply a biological, natural process of the body! If you feel the same, I would suggest you make your husband understand that this process is part of the cycle that one day brings sons and daughters – and nothing dirty or impure! It is your choice in the end how far you want to go in accepting or refusing such a superstition – but you should be prepared by having asked yourself this question!

So while you probably won’t mind joining the family’s ceremonies on festival days and while you will most surely go along with a lot of small things, there will be other aspects that bother you. I just want to ask you to please not keep such a problem inside yourself. You have to talk about it and your husband has to be open to hear and consider it. I am sure you will find a way that is comfortable for the two of you – regardless of the opinions of other people around you!

A Sadhu says there is Gold – the Indian Government starts digging – 4 Nov 13

I am going to tell you a story now which may be hard to believe. But although it seems incredible, it is something that really happened in India. And yes, maybe India is the only place in the world where it is possible that such an idiocy can happen.

Some weeks ago, a Sadhu called Shoban Sarkar told the people around him that he had dreamed of a treasure. It was a treasure not very far away from where he was, in the Unnao district of our state Uttar Pradesh. The place for the treasure was supposed to be an abandoned fort of the 19th century. He claimed that this was not just a dream, according to him, there were really 1000 tons of gold and silver buried in that fort and if you just dug there, you would find it! But there was a catch: if you didn’t dig properly, all of the gold would turn into mud!

India is a country with a whole lot of believers. Believers are not limited to the general public however, there are also politicians and ministers who believe all kinds of things. Somehow the dream of this Sadhu reached a minister of the central government and with his help the ASI, the Archaeological Survey of India, was convinced that this story might be true. The ASI is a government body that takes care of memorials, the maintenance of historical sites and also the kind of digging that now started in said fort on government order.

The news was all over the media. It was sensational and of course there were also critical voices to be heard. A whole lot of money was going to be spent on a digging only because a so-called seer had a dream of a treasure? There were skeptical people like me who made fun or criticized the government for this decision. Others came out to claim a part of the treasure: the former king’s relatives wanted to have their share if something was found on their forefathers’ land!

TV channels arrived and placed their big vans and equipment next to the fort and did live telecasting from there! The prognosis was that if this treasure was found, India would be leading the world economy, as it was the biggest treasure that was ever found on earth! Suddenly that village was full of life, people had come from everywhere and with that crowd, there had to be more security! There was lots of policemen and security forces at all times. The villagers were not slow in taking their chance to earn something with their sudden popularity. They started selling samosas, chai, pakori and more snacks and food in little stalls and even just at the side of the road.

They were digging and digging for days! When they had not found anything for three or four days, attention slowly started to decrease. The first reporters started to leave and some people returned to their homes. The sadhu kept on encouraging people not to give up though. When after six or seven days they had still not found anything, the involved government officials were obviously getting worried about losing their faces. Searching for something to say, a government officer told that the ASI was not digging because of some man’s dream but because a metal detector had actually indicated that there was something! Another person asserted that even if they did not find any gold, it would be like a treasure for them, if they even found some old statues! Nevertheless, people started getting discouraged after a few days and when they left, the food stands slowly disappeared as well. On the 12th or 13th day of digging, they finally decided to close the project. They did not find the treasure.

Isn’t it incredible? How much money was wasted on this claim of some old man who obviously just wanted to have his fifteen minutes of fame? The Sadhu’s opinion is obvious: you didn’t dig properly. If you just committed to it properly, you would find the treasure for sure! What a country are we living in!?

Tolerance for Faith vs. Responsibility to save Children from Superstition – 9 Oct 13

I yesterday told you that I received quite some feedback when I told how our employees left their job because they had chicken pox. While I yesterday told how some superstitious people asked why we had sent them to the doctor, there were others who concentrated on another question: when they asked whether they could come back after getting cured from chicken pox without any medicine, we refused. Why?

I was, in connection with this decision, blamed that I took someone’s job because they didn’t believe what I believe in. First of all, I want to reply to this accusation. I really and honestly normally don’t care what my employees believe in. If they are Hindu, Christian, Muslim or atheists – it is absolutely their own matter and neither do I ask them about it nor do I interfere. Their way of seeing the world has nothing to do with the quality of their work. I keep a professional attitude about this and also expect the same from them.

Most, if not all, of our employees have a pretty clear idea of the fact that we are not religious people at all. They know that the only person in this family who keeps an altar and actually uses it for worship is my grandmother. They know that even on big religious festivals, we don’t perform any ceremonies, on fasting days we eat as usual and you won’t find any signs of a religion or caste on us. We don’t stop them from doing their own worship though.

It works well in our daily situations and there has never been such a problem but now we took this decision for one reason: while our employees’ faith is nothing that we want to take any influence on or judge about, we have several young boys at the Ashram for whom we do carry a certain responsibility. These children were given into our care not only so that we provide them with clothes, food and whatever else they need but also to teach them – in school and at home. Morals and ethics is something that a child learns in the culture of their home and these boys’ home is the Ashram.

We are open to the world and tolerant – these children will get to know about Hindu faith by the culture spread in their surrounding. When this religion turns into dangerous superstition however, there is a limit. That is the point where we have to show them by our words and actions that they should see things scientifically, that an illness gets cured because of medicine and the natural strength of your body – and never by a ceremony.

We are of the opinion that it would give a wrong impression to these children if our two employees leave because they don’t want to take their medicine and then come back. A medicine that these children had to take themselves. The employees would come back and teach their superstition, trying to prove the children wrong when these argue that they had medicine for the same problem. Those people who have seen the effect of medicine and nevertheless don’t want to take it but rather lose their job would be stubborn enough to actively talk against said medicine, influence the kids not to want to go to the doctor and plant all kinds of nonsense in their heads.

If superstition comes from ignorance, it is one thing but if it comes from a senseless stubbornness or blind faith, it is wrong. And we take our responsibility for our children serious – that’s how we want to keep them away from the influence of blind, superstitious faith!

Is Superstition the only Cure for Chicken Pox? – 8 Oct 13

I yesterday told you how we lost two of our employees to the chicken pox. No, they didn’t die but left because they didn’t want to take their medicine – and we didn’t want to endanger anybody else. And yes, we told them that they would not get their jobs back if they came here a month later fully cured.

When I shared this story on social media, I had a whole lot of responses, most of which were expected, some of which were based on ignorance or were downright insulting and some others which were supportive of our action.

There were two questions mainly raised or two points where people didn’t agree with us and our actions. The first one was the action of taking the children as well as our staff to the doctor. It is normal – religious and superstitious people in India believe that chicken pox is the anger of the goddess showing and that you have to endure it as a punishment, performing ceremonies and poojas. People tried to educate me that this was a disease that heals without any doctor and that there is no medicine for it. They said our doctor was actually the superstitious person who believed in a medicine that didn’t work or that he was actually cheating us.

People who replied in this way practically think that my family and I and along with us all those people in the west who go to the doctors for it are just stupid. That’s it – we are being cheated by doctors in whom we naively believe that they could help us. They even said there was no existing medicine against it! My reply: do your research!

Of course, the body needs to build its antibodies against the varicella-zoster virus, commonly called chicken pox, itself. I know that there is not something like a pill that will cure this disease in three days and you will be fine! You can however support your immune system in its fight and you can do a lot to relieve the symptoms! There is antiviral medication for adults and there are ointments and powder containing zinc. You can take something against the fever and you can wash yourself to prevent spreading! There is a whole lot you can do – and that’s how our kids were all fine again after about a week while without treatment, it can take several weeks for patients to get fine again. Additionally there can be many complications that affect eyes and brain – not something you would like to risk, would you?

Oh, but yes, people do! As you can see in the example of our former employees, they just don’t believe in medicine but prefer believing in their superstition, even when the positive result of the medicine is in front of them. If they get better, it was the grace of the goddess – not their immune system being strong enough to fight the intruder in their system! They will pray, make offerings and suffer for weeks but they won’t change their minds. I hope that someday people will – or maybe the next generation.

The second point where people raised questions was the fact that we told them not to come back once they were cured. I want to write about the questions and also the answers to this aspect of this whole story tomorrow.

Superstitious People rather give up their Job than their Superstition – 7 Oct 13

Last week I told you that Apra had got chicken pox – by now, she is nearly back to normal, just a few of the red spots are still itching and most of them are nearly healed already. Amazing what a child's immune system can do! I wanted to tell you about the other people at the Ashram who had chicken pox, too, and the interesting problem that we had due to this disease.

It is quite normal for a family with a small child to have chicken pox at home once in their life. It is probably nearly unavoidable for children who go to kindergarten or school to contract this disease at some point. Schools are like breeding points where the virus enjoys the close contact to so many people. It jumps from one to the other before you even know it. This is how, once Pranshu was done with his treatment, Pawan and Jay Singh were lying in bed with fever and chicken pox all over the body. In that time, we did our greatest efforts to keep Apra away and even isolated them as far as possible so that nobody else of the large Ashram family would get infected.

We were not successful however, as you already know, and I think this virus is quite sneaky, too, as it only ever showed itself on the next person when the previous one already seemed to be healed. However it did it, I don’t know but it also infected not only our baby girl but also two of our employees, 25 and 35 years old.

We did what most people in the west would see as the logical consequence for seeing someone with red itching blisters all over his body and a fever that makes him shiver from top to toe: we sent them to see a doctor. We paid their doctor’s fees and their medicines – after all we wanted them to get fine again and the rest of their co-workers to stay healthy.

They were living at our Ashram, like a big part of our staff, and they had phoned and told their family about their illness. The next day, members of their families showed up at the Ashram, requesting to speak with us. We were told that these two men should not take their medicine but that ceremonies had to be performed instead. It was, in their opinion, the anger of the goddess that showed itself in these blisters. Only devotion and offerings would fix that.

It is a normal, crazy superstition here in India that there is no cure to chicken pox. I wrote about this before, in 2010, and there is unfortunately still no change to be seen. People think there is no cure, it will vanish by itself and nothing should be done. On the contrary – if you take medicine or put ointment on the chicken pox, you can further anger the goddess because you refuse to take her punishment!

We showed our staff members the children who had recovered within a week with the help of the doctor – but they did not accept any such argument. The expensive medicine was thrown away and they left the Ashram with their families. When leaving the gate, they asked whether they could come back after getting cured but we denied. They were ready to give up their job but not to eat medicine.

Having shared this story online on social networks while it was happening, I received a lot of different, interesting and also disturbing feedback which I want to share with you tomorrow.

No Difference in Faith and Superstition – Lose the Faith in your Faith! – 5 Jul 13

With topics like yesterday’s, there are always religious people telling me that I am mixing up two things: faith and superstition. I am told that I should not call the faith in god superstition and that I have to separate the two. In today’s entry I would like to make it very clear that I am not confused about the meaning of the word ‘superstition’ and that I also don’t confuse faith and superstition with each other. I know very well what you are trying to tell me but I have to tell you, I think all of your faith belongs into the same category as religion and superstition. Let me illustrate that to you.

Obviously it is religious people and people with faith in god who say such a thing. Why? They don’t want to be called superstitious! They don’t like it when I say religious acts are acts of superstition. For them, putting a flower at an altar is faith while hanging lemon and chili at the door, which is done against evil energies, is superstition. For me, there is not much difference in between the two – both is done with the belief that there is some supernatural force responding to this action. You are told to trust in that although there is no proof to it. You should pray to someone whose existence is still in question. You call that faith, I say it is fiction.

In the same context I was once asked whether it would thus be superstition to go to a temple. I said you can answer this question yourself! What is a temple? It is a house or a room, the walls adorned with silver and gold, in the middle an altar with a throne on which you can see a statue, often of stone, sometimes of silver or gold as well. You go there, put some food in front of it and ring a bell. You have been doing this your whole life long and you know very well that the plate with the food has never been touched by god. The food never got less. Nevertheless you still claim that god ate it and now it is holy prasad for you that you can eat and offer your guests – and eating it will be beneficial. If you didn’t offer it to god, the food would not be as good. Isn’t that superstitious?

The whole concept of going to a temple is superstitious! Your faith tells you god is omnipresent. If that is so, why do you have to go to a building made by people to meet him? Why does god need servants there who, at least in Hindu temples, feed him, clothe him, bathe him and take care of him? If they don’t take good care, if their hands are dirty or if they do a mistake in their service, they believe it is bad for them. Isn’t that superstitious as well?

All this is part of your ‘faith’ but I just showed you how you could call it superstition, too. I tell you one more thing: your faith tells you not to argue with people like me. Read your scriptures, it is written there! Why? Because you won’t be able to prove anything anyway. Believers however never learn this lesson. They argue and after two unsuccessful attempts, they have to retreat and say something like ‘God’s ways are mysterious’ or ‘It is about the love in the heart!’

No, they won’t learn and that again is a sign of superstition. There is no proof and that’s why you have to keep on believing, no matter how illogical it seems and how often you are proven wrong!

Faith and superstition don’t seem as different from each other now anymore, do they?

Complete Trust is too dangerous – just pretend believing in God – 4 Jul 13

The tragic story that I told you about yesterday sparked some discussions in the media and of course also online on social networking sites. Many people just dismissed the case saying that this man and his family were uneducated and foolish. Another person said ‘It is not good to be too superstitious’ and some religious people said you should not try and test god. I wanted to reply to these and similar statements and, believe it or not, defend this man a little bit.

Why would I, the non-religious non-believer, come to the defense of a man who killed himself and his family in order to see Shiva? Because I think they have been fooled by religion into believing that Shiva would actually come and save them! It was not his intention to die or kill his family, he honestly believed he would be saved.

Those people who said he was just stupid are obviously not aware of the fact that he was not uneducated at all! He was a freelance photographer, he sent his children to school and you cannot say he was like the illiterate villager who will believe anything you tell him. No, he was not illiterate and while you may call him superstitious, there are many educated people who call themselves religious and faithful who are also very superstitious because they believe all those stories of the scriptures.

I have to laugh if you say ‘It is not good to be too superstitious’ – a little bit superstitious is okay? You now call this man too superstitious because the holy food that he gave his family was poisoned and he thought it would not harm. The fact however that you think this food is ‘holy’ at all and has some good benefit is fully fine for you! Isn’t that superstition as well? You eat this food each time after going to the temple and think it will help you – he thought even poisoned food will be good. Isn’t it the same?

The root of superstition is religion and its stories, which you can see very clearly in this example. Scriptures insist that all their stories are true and this man was actually simply a very, very faithful believer! He had full trust in god and god’s power to save him. So much that he even made a video of the evening. He read all those scriptures in which devotees are saved and he followed their example. Many believe the stories are true but few dare to do the experiment. What killed him in the end? Superstition or just a very strong faith?

So shouldn’t you all religious people actually celebrate him as the one real believer? One who had so much faith that he even ate poison? You are scared and don’t believe enough in god to be confident that he would save you! If you cannot do what this man did, you don’t really have faith in god and the scriptures!

What can we learn from the whole story? Maybe that you should not trust god completely because if you do, you will die, waiting for him to come and help you! Fool god, tell him that you believe in him and have full faith while you would never actually trust him that much!

If this is the way that you take your religion, I am again surprised that you manage to lie to yourself or your god that much. If this is what you want to do, you are free to do so but I think it is not honest. If you call yourself religious, you should believe in it 100% with all its scriptures and full faith, like this man.

And if not, I think you should not oppose me if I say that those scriptures which spread such superstition and lead to the deaths of whole families should be destroyed and forgotten so that they can do no further harm!