Bells and Whistles -The Difference Between Your Gym and Mine(‘s)

My spousal equivalent offered some perspective the other day, which I found interesting and applicable to religion/spirituality. I find myself trying to relate almost everything to religion/spirituality, but that’s besides the point.

Our gym, which we’ve held memberships at for the last decade, was for the longest time the only one of its kind in our entire state. Recently, though, the fitness company acquired a few gym locations which had belonged to another fitness company. These new locations underwent a brief period of renovation and remodeling before re-opening with our gym’s  name. When they did, while they had obviously been sucked under our umbrella, they were noticeably…less. They didn’t have all the bells and whistles associated with the original “mother” site.

During this time of transition, many of the members of the other fitness company who frequented the locations we took over began using the facilities at the mother site. They were often impressed and rightly so-the mother site has lots and lots of amenities that make the extra cost associated with membership there valid. Many of these new folks were completely dazzled. Many of them, however, weren’t. For those folks, a gym isn’t nice(er) because it has a spa or cafe or laundry service. It matters little to them that they can access two hours of free childcare every time they visit or that there are tanning booths in each locker room. These people think that the only real gyms are those which are sparse. Dumbells. Treadmills. Little else.

So, I’m considering this notion…and the god side of my brain activates. It occured to me that religions differ in many of the same ways gyms do. Two ways specifically: the bells and whistles(or lack thereof) and the people who attend.

Some religions like Islam and the Bahai’i Faith and Jehovah’s Witnesses are comparatively sparse in relation to other paths. Not much imagery or iconography. Their music stays pretty much simple. Even their Scripture is somewhat minimalistic, usually just one book and sometimes only one translation/version of that book is accepted.

In contrast, there are religions like mine(Sanatana Dharma) and Catholicism, and a number of others, who are fairly ornate. There are many many holidays throughout the year. Each holiday is super festive. We have volumes of Scripture and multiple versions or translations of each volume. Multiple and varied conceptions of the Divine and our means of worship develop into fabulous rituals-some of which are truly ancient.

One gym has only free weights and treadmills. Another offers an additional spa, child centre, and tanning. One religion has a prayer mat only and another brings incense, bells, and ritual bathing of icons/murtis. Are the bells and whistles of one gym really extra? Or are they just a fancier experience? Are they a distraction? And if they aren’t, what is it about them that makes the minimalists develop aversions to them?

I suspect a good test for these questions would be the believer’s attachment to or requirement of one or the other. For the person who abhors incense, bells, and multi-thousand-year-old chants, maybe their mind is struggling to open. Maybe these folks have difficulty recognizing that The Divine is bigger, all-encompasing, all-pervading than they are willing to imagine. And for those who can’t accept minimalism in this case, maybe they’re too attached to the iconography and malas and chandan. Maybe some of these believers are missing the point as much as those on the opposite side?

Surely, if one’s path allows only a simple prayer mat The Divine will be realized. Likewise, if one’s path condones severe austerities and mandirs with multiple conceptions of the divine, and a billion books of Scripture…The Divine will be realized. But if the person on either of these paths, while developing their devotion-their bhakti, becomes rigid and and grows to refuse that The Holy can be experienced in Its fullness in a differing manner, The Divine will certainly be missed.

Om Tat Sat Om