I am absolutely against superstition; all kinds of superstitions must be destroyed – but this does not mean that I am superstitious about this destruction. It does not mean one should go about destroying them without a clear understanding of them, that without due consideration one should simply be bent upon breaking them. Then such arbitrary destruction will also become superstition.
Every age has its own superstitions. Remember, superstitions have their fashion too. In every age superstitions take on a new form. Man drops old superstitions and takes on new ones, but he never gets rid of them forever; he alters them and he changes them. But we never realize this.
For example, once upon a time there was a superstition that the man who applied tilak, the forehead mark, was considered religious. What has applying tilak to do with being religious? But that’s the way it was understood. And someone who didn’t apply the tilak was looked down upon as irreligious. This old superstition is no longer in vogue. Now we have new superstitions, equally as foolish. If a man wears a tie he is considered distinguished; otherwise he is considered ordinary. It is the same thing, there is no difference at all. The tie has replaced the tilak, while the man has remained the same. Where is there any difference?
The tie is no better than the tilak. Perhaps it’s even worse, because at least there was a meaning to applying the tilak. The tie has absolutely no meaning in this country, although it may have a meaning in some other country. A tie is useful in cold countries where it helps protect the throat against cold. In those countries, a man who cannot afford to cover his throat against the cold must obviously be a poor man. A man of means is able to cover his throat with the help of a necktie; however, when somebody puts a tie around his neck in a hot country such as this, then it seems a little scary – one wonders whether such a man is affluent or insane!
To be affluent does not mean one has to suffer from heat or wear this noose around his neck. A tie means a noose; a tie means a knot. Using it in a cold country makes sense, but in a hot country it is totally meaningless. And yet, a man who has an idea of dignity – the magistrate, the attorney, the politician – is out there with this noose around his neck! And these very people denounce the tilak wearers as superstitious! One can well ask them, “Isn’t wearing a necktie a superstition too? Which scientific system are you applying, that you have tied this tie around your neck?” But since the tie is a superstition of this age it is acceptable, and since the tilak is a superstition of the past, it is unacceptable.
As I said earlier, as the tie has some meaning for people in cold countries, applying a tilak can also have meaning, but without first looking into it, it is utterly dangerous and wrong to call it a superstition right away – you may not have given any thought as to why a tilak is applied. People mostly apply it out of superstition; however, there was some scientific reason when people applied it for the first time. Actually, tilak is applied on the forehead at the spot between the two eyes where the agya chakra, the third-eye chakra, is located. Even with a little meditation this spot gets hot; however, it cools down with the application of sandalwood. The application of sandalwood is a highly scientific technique, but now it is lost; people are not concerned with that science anymore. Now anybody goes on applying sandalwood whether he has any knowledge of the agya chakra or has ever done any meditation or not.
It is strange to find people wearing ties in hot countries. Wearing a tie can have a scientific basis in cold countries, and similarly, a tilak has a scientific meaning for one who meditates on the agya chakra because sandalwood cools that spot. Meditating on the agya chakra, stimulation occurs and heat is created in that area – and it needs cooling down or else it will harm the brain. But were we determined to remove the tilak altogether, we would of course take it away from those who are wearing it pointlessly, but we would also be removing it from the forehead of the poor guy who may have applied it for his own reason. And if he won’t remove it, we will call him superstitious.
What I am saying is that there is no way you can determine what is superstitious and what is not. Actually, the same thing can be a superstition under one condition and scientific under different conditions. Something which might appear to be scientific under a certain condition, may appear unscientific under a different set of conditions.
For example, in Tibet there is a practice of taking a bath once a year – which is quite scientific, because there is no dust in Tibet and, being in a cold climate, people do not sweat. So they don’t need to bathe. Taking a bath every day would simply harm their bodies; it would cause them to lose much body heat. And how are they going to replace that heat? It could prove very costly to stay uncovered in Tibet. If man were to keep his body uncovered for a whole day, he would need forty percent more food to replace the calories lost. In a place like India, if a man goes about without clothes he is revered as a renunciate. Mahavira was sensible: he remained naked – and in a hot country like this, the more the heat leaves the body, the cooler it feels inside. But if a follower of Mahavira were to arrive in Tibet naked, he would deserve to be admitted to a mental asylum. To appear in Tibet like this would be absolutely unscientific, stupid. But that’s how it always happens.
When a Tibetan lama comes to India, he never bathes. Once I stayed with Tibetan lamas in Bodh Gaya. They were stinking so badly it was a torture to sit near them. When I asked why they were like that, they replied, “We follow the rule of bathing only once a year.” This is where I make the distinction between superstition and science. That which is a science in Tibet is a superstition in India. Here, these lamas are stinking without realizing their bodies are perspiring heavily and that there is much dust all around.