Jain couple gives up child for monkhood: What makes parents abandon children for religion?

Experts say that religious conditioning can influence your parental instincts.

Madhya Pradesh based couple 35-year old Sumit Rathore and 34-year-old Anamika were recently in the news for renouncing their three-year-old child to embrace monkhood. Jain monasticism is a rigorous system of monkhood that demands complete surrender to the order. Ascetics are asked to practice complete detachment from emotional ties and renouncement of worldly wealth. So as per the rules, the two have decided to leave their child in the protection of their parents and give up their 100 crore worth of property behind.

Since the news broke out, many people have condemned the couple decision to give up their child. Even people within the community have called out the Rathores, saying that monkhood shouldn't be at the cost of parental duty and side-stepping the Ghrihasta stage for Sanyasa is an act of grave irresponsibility. One could argue on end about the moral problems of the couple's decision, and frankly, nobody is qualified enough to cast the first stone on this matter.

What we can question about is the notion of parental altruism, a selflessness of poetic proportions that makes the progenitors sacrifice their own interests for the child's. Is it selfless in the real sense of the term, or just an evolutionary response to ensure that our genes are carried forth? Whatever it is, the Rathore couple's decision shatters our ideas of parental benevolence, making us think whether it is possible for a mother or a father to resist biological urges and abdicate parental responsibility. Psychologist Shraddha Sankulkar from Mind Matterz says that it is very much possible. In fact, it all depends on two areas of our brains: the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the limbic system.

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How the PFC and the limbic system work

"The PFC is the logic centre of our brain and the limbic system, its emotional centre and beyond that is the reptilian brain that is responsible for body's vital functions and survival instincts," Shraddha explains. A developed prefrontal cortex is a feature in primates and the human brain, enabling them with infinite learning and language abilities, abstract thinking and problem-solving. It is what marks us differently from the animals who work purely on instincts. PFC can be trained and developed from the time of a child's birth, which makes it leave behind its primitive animal instincts and become more refined, sophisticated and "human."

"The limbic system, on the other hand, is innate and does not have to be trained," says the psychologist. "When a child is born, it has an 'animal brain.' Until the child is not given social training, it will continue to remain crude and primitive. The neural circuitry of a young child, devoid of conditioning, is loosely connected and social training strengthens it."

In a way, the PFC makes us who we are as humans, logical and intelligent or emotional and impulsive. "Educated or cultured people tend to act more rationally because they have a trained PFC. It is more common for the uneducated and the illiterate to act more impulsively and emotionally," says Shraddha. The PFC also exercises control over our limbic brains, keeping a check on our emotions, desires and our animal impulses.

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How conditioning affects our instincts

But how we turn out as humans depends on the quality of this external conditioning. More often than not, people aren't brought up on values of rationality, equality and compassion as we may like to believe. Sometimes, this social conditioning can be centred on religious ideals, especially if the person is born into a religiously-charged atmosphere. "This constant hammering of religious and social conditioning can, in fact, change the way we are wired to think. In some extreme cases, religion will take precedence over our instincts of self-preservation and protection of the progeny because the PFC which is conditioned to influence our reptilian brain and keep our impulses in check. In this case, religion itself becomes the survival code," says Shraddha. "It is possible that the Rathore couple were subjected to extreme religious conditioning from a very young age. And this conditioning even overrode their parental instincts, making them give up their child for the sake of monkhood," says the psychologist.

"To test the relevance of this fact, researchers scanned the brains of people belonging to different religions and found that there were structural differences in the brains of people belonging to different religions, according to the extent of their conditioning," she points out. It is this very conditioning that makes fidayeens ignore their own need for self-preservation and carry out suicide missions in the name of religion.

Image source: Facebook/ Yatindra Kush Tyagi

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