Blind Belief Brings No Relief

Herald Column 14 April 2007 - Blind Belief Brings No Relief

“We are complicating our lives with superstitions. Instead, let logic and science be our guide.”

Lately I have been spending some time looking for an office space. Apart from the sky rocketing prices, the other thing that has struck me has been the popularity of “Vaastu Shastra”. Vaastu compliance is mentioned as a key feature in many property listings and apparently is an important factor based on which people are buying property today.
In one recent interaction, I asked the owner of a place about the direction of a window, so as to figure out the light and wind that the room would get. In reply I got information on how the place was “Vaastu” perfect and how all previous owners and their families had prospered because of the Vaastu merits of the place.

For quite some time I was under the false impression that Vaastu Shastra only consisted of logical guidelines for construction. Although there are some practical aspects involved, Vaastu Shastra as it is practiced today also leverages religious beliefs; it claims that the changes suggested affect the health, wealth, marital success and even longevity of life of the owner. Vaastu suggestions are based on not only the building specifications, but also on things like the birth date of the owner and his/her astrological sign.

Vaastu Shastra’s claims about how it affects wealth, health, well-being, etc. have nothing to do with science or mathematics. However the feel given by the name and proponents of Vaastu Shastra is that it’s a complex topic that relies on precise science and mathematics.

If a person makes a decision based on which card a fortune teller’s parrot picks, he is well aware that there’s no science involved and he is just relying on superstition to help him make a tough decision. But with things like Vaastu Shastra, an attempt is made to make it seem like a science and so the ill- informed might actually rely on a Vaastu Shastra suggestion believing that it’s a precise science. Moreover,Vaastu Shastra claims to be based on the Vedas and most Indians tend to have blind faith in anything which makes such a claim.

People today are bringing down portions of their dwellings, redoing their interiors and going to remarkable lengths for Vaastu reasons. Look for Vaastu Shastra on the Internet and you will find a number of experts giving Vaastu advice that will solve problems ranging from debt, sorrow, stress, accidents, robberies and even untoward death. True believers I am sure can find some logic in most suggestions but it sure would be difficult to justify how robberies can be caused because my kitchen faces a certain direction.

Looking at current trends, architects who have studied the subject in colleges might soon become irrelevant. Vaastu Shastra experts will decide the layout of a building and the builder would then build it. Who needs architects? Vaastu Shastra however can be a great profession as you can become an expert without any specific qualifications.

Despite repeated efforts we still haven’t been able to pass any anti-superstition laws. So it would be far fetched to expect the government to pass some law that would regulate things like Vaastu Shastra. Many leaders right from the President of India talk of the need of a scientific temper, but on the ground we are further sinking in the superstition quick sand.
TV channels seem to have made a habit of contributing towards spreading superstitions rather than education. Not just the faith-based channels, but even mainstream entertainment channels are airing entire programs dedicated to Zodiac Signs, Tarot Card, Vaastu Shastra and what not. Believe it or not there’s even a book that claims to tell you how to develop websites which are Vaastu Shastra compliant!

There’s no denying that it is only human to seek divine intervention or help from super natural forces in times of calamity. However in today’s time when we are far more aware of the science inherent to nature and our surroundings, we need to try and take as best a scientific approach as possible. Science does keep changing and sure is still ignorant about many things; yet taking an approach in line with the science of the day is our best option.

Dr. Jayant Narlikar in his book “The Scientific Edge” talks at length about science in India and also a little bit about Vaastu Shastra. He says “Can Vaastu Shastra be called either architecture or science? Both the architects and the scientists reply in the negative. These rules have neither rational justification nor proof of their efficacy, but believers think that defiance could cost them their well- being”. “The Scientific Edge” is a must read for any educated Indian. One of the important learnings I took from the book was that it’s really up to aware citizens to stand up and voice their opinion against superstitions. If we keep turning a blind eye to superstitions, we are only contributing to the decline of Indian society.

I am no scientist but I don’t think it takes much science to see that a bathroom door can affect my health only if I accidentally bang into it. Vaastu Shastra is one example, but other fads like zodiac signs, numerology or Feng Shui are standing on just as shaky a foundation.

On a lighter note, there’s one way to make Vaastu Shastra beneficial to society. One house owner in my neighborhood recently brought down an unauthorized construction because it was improper as per “Vaastu Shastra”. So Vaastu Shastra achieved what the administration couldn’t in years. We can do wonders for Indian cities if somehow we can sneak in a tenet into Vaastu Shastra that says “If you build or stay in a structure that is not in compliance with the law of the land, it will lead to instant ruin of your health and wealth”.

Finally coming back to my search for office space, I am now considering if I should specifically advertise for properties that are fine as per architectural principles but are not “Vaastu Shastra” complaint. I might just be able to land a super deal.

(Continued… Click here “Blind Belief Brings No Relief” for the entire article). Published as part of my fortnightly column for the Maharashtra Herald)