My footsteps echo in the cave that could harbour a whole football pitch. Cautiously, I climb down the rocky stairs. Because no more than an umbrella of sunlight illuminates the cave, a carpet of candles guides the way to the shrine. The shrine towers amidst the faces of rock and its vibrant rainbow colours counter the pale limestone. I spot a figure of god Ganesha at the shrine’s centre. The closer I approach the altar, the more I feel goose bumps of awe jacket my skin. This is one of the most intriguing sacred sites I have ever seen in my life – a Hindu shrine hidden away in karst.
The inside of a cave is certainly not the place which comes to mind first when picturing a holy temple. It reminds me of other religious houses which I have come across in similarly extraordinary locations. For example, where the rays of sunshine first kiss a new day before all other parts of the world welcome the sunrise, I stumbled across a miniature chapel belonging to an indigenous tribe of New Zealand. Also, I have seen temples embedded in unruly jungles as well as a church isolated in the desert.
Isn’t it interesting that religious houses can be found anywhere across the world, even in remote and extreme environments? I cannot think of any better evidence to highlight that religion has successfully established itself wherever humans reside, in each climate and in every culture. Religion has accompanied humans all around the globe for numerous millennia with worship taking many different forms and prayers being sung in many different languages.
Considering that religion has loyally stayed with mankind, it must cater to some innate human instincts. What are these firmly-rooted needs in us that the wide blanket of religion cradles in its sanctuary? In other words, what values are preached at the pulse of all religious institutions?
Looking past the various names and appearances, we can reach the heart of religion which appears to be supplied by two veins. These two veins represent belief and community. All religious individuals believe in something, whether it may be a god or another entity because humans cannot cope well without assigning meaning to existence as we know it. Belief helps to fill the baffling holes that an arbitrary earth leaves behind in us, making the intangible tangible for our minds. Belief can additionally help us to bandage the holes that shred our soul. Imbued by negative experiences and aggravating emotions, it becomes hard to muster up hope. But our belief throws us a lifeline, telling us to trust and have faith when we find ourselves robbed of the strength to carry on until brighter days arrive.
Like our belief, a community can cushion the impact of adverse circumstances on our condition too. With a community around us, we do not have to overcome bad times alone. Humans are tribal mammals so we generally manage life better together through mutual support. In turn, those who try to conquer the world alone likely fall prey to life’s twists quicker. Hence this is why humans intuitively seek community membership. Belonging to a community additionally allows us to profit from a steady exchange of knowledge which can teach us many valuable lessons.
Belief and community bind all religions at a joint core. It is a core that withstands all weathers, such as prolonged droughts or the weathering of a limestone cave.
[Ricarda Senger – she/her- rikkisdiary.com]
[Photo credit: Peter De Vink]