By Sumit Paul, New Age Islam
7 September 2022
Habits are manacles.......... A German proverb
“The most perfect manifestation of compulsive behaviour can be seen among the blind followers of all faiths, who follow their faiths out of compulsion and habit, which is ingrained in their psyche."
Sigmund Freud, “Evolution of Religious Behaviour”
“I just cannot quit smoking," rued a friend of mine. There are so many like him, who want to get rid of their ingrained habits but are unable to. ‘A habit is something that becomes a part of your consciousness and a compulsive habit takes over your consciousness,' succinctly described the behavioural psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was being shipped to St. Helena island, English jailor Malcolm Abrine ordered thousands of books (the only privilege Napoleon got) for the vanquished emperor because he knew that Napoleon was a compulsive reader.
The moment we think of British PM Winston Churchill and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, their images with an inseparable cigar dangling from the lips come to mind. Churchill and Castro both admitted that carrying a cigar became their 'compulsive habit' much more than smoking it. A compulsive habit is not always undesirable, though often it is. Neither is it always pernicious to health.
Many people are compulsive liars. They lie because they can't live without lying. It becomes their unconscious habit and they keep doing it unwittingly. If they are going to Delhi and you ask them where they are off to? They will say Calcutta. If such a compulsive liar has eaten chicken at dinner and you ask him what did he have? He'll invariably say something else. They are driven by a compulsion to lie, despite knowing that this is not good. They are at their wit's end as to how to slough it off.
Once the distinguished English scribe Lawrence Booth jokingly wrote in ' The Independent ' that ' Indian cricket players are compulsive(ly) bad performers on foreign grounds. But they are lions on tailor-made Indian wickets.' When a habit starts dictating terms and makes us yield to its whims and fancies, it becomes a compulsive one.
There are overwhelming compulsions and impulses that elbow into every individual's consciousness and remain there. Psychologists like William James and Adler have found that almost all human beings have a certain compulsive habit, only the intensity of it varies from individual to individual and at times, a compulsive habit becomes so deeply entrenched that we become unaware of its presence.
Making a gesture of devotion whenever we see a shrine is actually a compulsive habit that has become so deep-seated in our existence that we are no longer aware of it. It has been found that even atheists, who were once believers, bow their heads while passing by a shrine! Their conditioned past (of a believer) acts as a Pavlovian reflex to become a compulsive habit to feel a sense of 'veneration' for the unknown.
A few years ago in Kolhapur, I saw a modern-looking Hindu woman on a Scooty make a religious gesture seeing the statue of a rather insignificant Maratha warrior. Being a Hindu, she was obviously brought up and indoctrinated on idols and icons. So, a mere statue of a warrior became a venerable idol to bow her head to. We are all conditioned beings and cardboard creatures.
In fact, human beings are robotically conditioned, according to the evolutionary biologist Dr Richard Dawkins. Our so-called free will or volition is subservient to our chromosomic conditioning of thousands and lakhs of years. Mahir Ul-Qadri aptly penned, ' Hazaron Saalon Mein Banta Hai Insaan Ka Khameer/ Hazaron Saal Bhi Kam Hain Is-Se Najaat Paane Ko ' (The fabric of human beings gets formed in thousands of years/Millenniums are inadequate to free oneself of it). Remember, what is inveterate, you can't extirpate.
Embattled husbands and wives live under the same roof for decades as a 'compulsive conditioned habit' to be living together. Man is a slave to impulses and yoked under various compulsions. Despite his indomitable spirit to break free, he often fails. Our traits die with our death. The US part-time poet Andrew Smikel put it scathingly, ' When compulsions raise their ugly heads/ They cut you far deeper than the sharpest blades.'
Now the question is how compulsive behaviour makes us religious zombies. Jalaluddin Rumi narrates a true story in his Masnavi (Volume no 2): One devout Muslim would visit a village mosque every day. There was a donkey in the vicinity of that temple. Seeing that man come to the mosque every day, the donkey would also come and stand at the entrance to the mosque and didn't bray. Like that Momin, donkey also started behaving in a devout and disciplined manner. That man was very happy and told the Mujaavir (caretaker) of the mosque, “Look, he (donkey) too has become so religious." The caretaker smiled and said, “He has become disciplined because he's a donkey. He has nothing to do with Allah or the mosque. He comes and stands silently at the entrance because you give him some eatables after offering namaz. It's his compulsive behaviour. Don't call it his spiritual inclination."
The moral of the story is: We're all like that donkey, our religious discipline arises out of our compulsive behaviour and a fixed belief that this religiosity will get us god's blessings and benevolence. We, therefore, behave in a mechanical way. Our love for god stems from our conditioned behaviour. Remember, most of the religious people don't love god intrinsically, they love it out of a habit. After all, Aadat Salasil Ast (habits are manacles).
A regular columnist for New Age Islam, Sumit Paul is a researcher in comparative religions, with special reference to Islam. He has contributed articles to world's premier publications in several languages including Persian.
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