Big Questions, Little Answers

So, I am at a significant crossroads. My boyfriend was raised with strong Christian beliefs based in the Bible’s word, and his mother gives him regular doses of Heaven-Hell implications of being with me. At the end of the day, however, this is not about what his mother believes, but what he believes. JW actively chooses to be with me, is loving and caring, and has never asked that I believe what he believes. Yet when actually confronted with the question, “Do you believe I am going to Hell because I have not proclaimed Jesus as my savior?” he answers … haltingly … hesitatingly … shockingly … “Yes.”

The process and path of reconciliation, if there is to be any, is long and hard. Within this process are many steps, and I share with you in all vulnerability, an excerpt from a message I recently wrote him:


“I feel that you have misunderstood an important point in my way of navigating the existential questions and spiritual dimension of life. I am never, for once, ignoring the larger relationship of the individual to the cosmos. (In fact, it is because I feel that we as individuals are connected to each other and the universe and God in such a huge way that we don’t fully know, that I feel it completely inappropriate to see “evil” such as Hitler, or Saddam or the drug addicts in the alley [behind my building], as separate from myself. I see such “evil” as another side of me, you, us … for which we have responsibility in our personal lives….anyway, this is a different discussion…)
To return to point, my focus on an individual life is because it is the starting point to know the bigger truth. All can be understood by navigating from one’s own heart, soul and experience of the world. It starts there, and ends there, because that’s what we have been gifted as the tools in this life. I am not negating huge bodies of collective knowledge (whether they be the Bible, Quran or Gita) – but I am saying that the same knowledge must be re-acquired by each of us, in our own experiences, firstand, beginning with our individual selves. This is the only reason we are here – to do this work. In that process we may find apparent differences, not because our truth is, in essence, different from what is written down by others, but because the words and the present reality in which we experience the same truth are different. And it is through this process that we eventually come to understand why all the Holy Books say different things and are still valid versions of the same truth!
I feel that placing inordinate emphasis and subscribing unquestioningly to the already written word negates the very purpose of our individual births and absolves us of the responsibility we must have towards this life – an amazing gift. This is the same reason for which I do not feel I can just become a disciple of some great Buddhist master and become fully enlightened. Jesus and Buddha were here to show us the way through their example, not their words. They, and many other masters, were here to point out a few things, nudge us towards the path they found, but the work must be our own. I see people who are simply willing to take refuge (whether in a master, in Jesus Christ – by reducing him to their “ticket to Heaven” – or the scriptures) as refusing to do their own spiritual work. In essence, this becomes a sort of [spiritual] laziness, an irresponsible behavior. I’d go so far as to say that if there is really a “sin” in God’s eyes, this must be it – to not do our own spiritual work in this life, not “bear our own crosses”, conveniently saying that Jesus was here to bear it on our behalf!
When I don’t give you answers to the bigger questions, it is not in the least because I am ignoring them and neither is it because I don’t have a sense for the answers. In fact the bigger questions (and answers I receive) hover around me all day, and drive many of my choices, creative and otherwise. I choose to not articulate them, because of 3 reasons:
(1) I find that as soon as they are articulated (including in my own writings such as This too will change, they fall short of their grandeur. Because God (or the Higher Truth) is such, always a few inches away from the grasp of our limited minds, from being described in human language terms…
(2) I do not wish to impose my own mind’s limited ways of describing my experiences on another person. An experience I have may be complete, but my words to describe it are not. They can never be. So I choose to let the individual complete their experiences without the burden of my words.
(3) I am hardly along in my soul’s journey, and the picture is still foggy, slowly forming to a bigger, fuller one. What I know today is a snapshot in time, and it will change and evolve as my spiritual experience grows.”


I would be greatly interested in your thoughts – as readers and writers, friends and mothers – people on the journey that is life. Here are also some quotes I have collected, which together paint a picture that resonates with me…

Life is a chance to grow a soul.
A. Powell Davies
True religion is real living; living with all one’s soul, with all one’s goodness and righteousness.
Albert Einstein
An authentic life is the most personal form of worship. Everyday life has become my prayer.
Sarah Ban Breathnach
Life becomes religious whenever we make it so: when some new light is seen, when some deeper appreciation is felt, when some larger outlook is gained, when some nobler purpose is formed, when some task is well done.
Sophia Lyon Fahs
Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.
Thich Nhat Hanh
As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.
Mahatma Gandhi
And in the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.
Abraham Lincoln

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. sarmila.basu

    good points!

  2. Anonymous

    I am going to shock you. Tell your boyfriend he has to change his views. Why is he with someone who he thinks is going to hell. My husband is Christian and I am not. He only cares that our kids learn both religions and then chooses. If you have kids, will they go to hell acc to your husband or will they all go to heaven and you to hell

  3. Khushi

    The quotes you have here resonate with me too. I am also a great believer in the power of love. Not love for God but love between two human beings and what that can accomplish. So I think what a person says about what he believes is less important that what he really feels. And often what one really feels cannot be expressed

  4. Anonymous

    The google ads on my site for this post has turned into ‘Are you a good christian?’. THat aside, I am glad you are having a frank discussion. Sometimes that helps clear the way. You may not be going to hell later, but if you dont resolve your issues early you sure will be in hell in this life

  5. Pry

    Nice Quotes!!I am with Anonymous…He has to change his views…Is he goin to hell too if he is living with you??

  6. Tana

    Thank you all for your candid views. Much appreciated!

  7. ranu

    I found this quote by Ahoka while reading the book by Amartya Sen, Argumentative IndianIt says”For he who does reverence to his own sect while disparaging the sects of others wholly from attachment to his own sect, in reality inflicts, by such conduct, the severest injury on his own sect”.
    Good post

  8. Sophie

    Your blog conjures up the great spirit of ‘vasudaivya kutumba’ (Universal family). I especially admire you for expressing the complicated thought that good and evil are two sides of the same coin. There is a section in the Geeta where the “great complete form” (Vishwaroop) is revealed by Krishna to Arjuna. In that Arjuna sees death, birth, laughter, sorrow all residing in the ‘same universal being’. This is with brahmand/supreme creation.

    Surely, a visit to India with intellectual interactions on multi-religious world views may help!

  9. Tana

    What a delight to gain your erudite perspective. I smiled thinking that just witnessing someone with a Christian-sounding name relate eloquently (to a person with a Muslim-sounding name!) subtleties from the Gita is evidence of Indian multiculturism and secularity. Thank you. Yes, a trip to India is on the cards.

  10. Indrani

    I loved your post. A very thought provoking perspective. Somehow I am of the opinion, religion is something which is very private. Its one’s connection with the Almighty- by whatever name we may call him,one to one, with no priest or pundit in between. As far as hell and heaven is concerned, I feel, if one does good to all living beings, that person is already in heaven, as he has developed a state where he sees, does and thinks of good only.

  11. Tana

    Wow, how elequently expressed, Indrani. Thank you.

  12. Yasmin

    Lovely post, Tana.
    And I was happy to know that you’ll be publishing a book soon. It’ll be an inspiration to many. All the best!

  13. Tana

    Thanks so much, Yasmin. I didn’t forget your nudge to work on a book in a previous post thread!

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