By Anil Kala
There is a celebrated episode in Mahabharata known as ‘Yaksh Prasn’ (Yaksh’s Queries) which culminates in this question:
Kim aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)
Yudhishthir answers that despite knowing the inevitability of death our incessant desire for immortality is the most amazing thing.
The answer seemed very impressive to me until one day I thought this is really silly. I realized that things said in a dramatic manner often escape critical scrutiny. For example, that our desire to live at every cost is the most natural thing and the crux of our existence; without it life will not last another day. Didn’t Buddha say, ‘Being born is cause of all our miseries’? Therefore if there is no compelling desire to live why would anyone want to live? What seemed amazing though was the conduct of Yaksh Himself. This entity claiming to be a God, cursed to spend time as a Yaksh until he found answers to some questions, goes about killing people merely because they are too thirsty or do not know the answers to His questions!
Then what is the most amazing thing?
My own answer takes into consideration two key features of human nature: deal-making and self-preservation and if you make a projection on these, you get the most amazing thing—the idea of God!
It appears to me that once humans began making use of tools they became quite capable of dealing with their primary adversaries, i.e., higher order carnivores. But what really vexed them were the sudden and inexplicable natural occurrences such as floods and lightening, etc., that killed them. The deduction must have been quite simple: the ‘force’ wants life for consumption like the carnivores. So they made deals with the force. The Hindu ritual of Yagn appears to me a good example to explain this. The central object of a Yagn is sacrifice.
Initially the tribal chief or his counselor arrived at this simple conclusion that this ‘force’ wants life to consume so they make a deal and offer life on their own. If it didn’t work the counselor told the chief that the ‘force’ might not have seen the sacrifice so they lit fire and made noise to make the ‘force’ aware of the sacrifice. Sometimes it worked and that confirmed their belief in the exchange. When it didn’t work the exchange was considered insufficient so the sacrifice was raised from lower order animal to higher order and eventually to human sacrifice.
It is paradoxical that the more we evolve and the more analytical and argumentative we become, the idea of God gets entrenched deeper into our psyche despite any shred of evidence, direct or oblique, to suggest interference from heaven in any way in our existence.