Pi follows many different religions in this novel. Explain which religions he follows and what they motivate him to do. What is Martel saying about religion in the novel?

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hgarey71's profile pic

hgarey71 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In Yann Martel's novel, The Life of Pi, the title character follows three religions: Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam. Pi sees religion through the eyes of a child, and because of this viewpoint, he sees the strengths of each religion and makes connections between them. Adults often focus on the differences and do not see the commonalities. Pi says the following about all three religions:

Hindus . . . are indeed hairless Christians, just as Muslims, in the way they see God in everything, are bearded Hindus, and Christians, in their devotion to God, are hat-wearing Muslims.

Pi was a Hindu by birth, and he was comfortable with the sights, sounds, and tenets of that religion as they had been there since his earliest memories. He describes it in the following way: 

"I am a Hindu because of sculputed cones of red kumkum powder and baskets of yellow turmeric nuggets, because of garlands of flowers and pieces of broken coconut, because of clanging bells to announce one's arrival to God, because of the whine of the reedy nadaswaram and the beating of drums, because of the patter of bare feet against stone floors down dark corridors pierced by shafts of sunlight, because of the fragrance of incense, because of flames of arati lamps circling in the darkness, because of bhajans being sweetly sung, because of elephants standing around to bless, because of colorful murals telling colourful stories, because of foreheads carrying, variously signified, the same word—faith." 

This explanation shows Pi to be a nostalgic person, loyal and fond of the sights, symbols, and traditions of his youth. Although he encounters two other religions that captivate him, he will not let go of his first spiritual love: Hinduism. 

When Pi was fourteen years old, he met a Catholic priest who introduced him to Jesus Christ. He found that the religion of Christianity had one story, and that was the story of Jesus. All of the other stories pointed back to this one character. He found it bothersome that a god would sacrifice his own son to atone for the sins of man. When he asked Father Martin questions about why Jesus did what he did, Father Martin always replied "love." Here is what Pi says about Jesus: 

"I couldn't get Him out of my head. Still can't. I spent three solid days thinking about Him. The more He bothered me, the less I could forget Him. And the more I learned about Him, the less I wanted to leave Him." 

Pi also says that it was the humanity of Jesus Christ that he found so compelling. A God that would come and walk and talk with His people, and then die as a sacrifice for them, was much different than the ethereal, powerful but untouchable gods of his Hindu religion. 

The third religion Pi studies is the religion of Islam. He was fifteen years old, and there was a Muslim neighborhood close by his father's zoo. Pi was drawn to this religion after seeing a man pray. He says the following of Islam: 

"I challenge anyone to understand Islam, its spirit, and not to love it. It is a beautiful religion of brotherhood and devotion." 

His mentor in the faith of Islam was a Muslim mystic named Sufi. He taught Pi that if a person takes one step toward God, God runs to greet him. 

Something in each of these religions resonated with Pi, and it was his desire to be close to and know God that set him on his spiritual quest. He and his parents experienced persecution because Pi was devoted to all three religions. The grown ups in his life felt that it was not possible to be devoted to more than one religion and that Pi should be loyal to the religion of his birth. Pi broke down the walls that separated the religions and found something for his searching soul in each. If Pi's views are congruent with Martel's, then he seems to be saying that religions have more commonalities than differences. At the core of each religion was a desire to know God, and each religion had value inherent in its beliefs.

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sciftw's profile pic

sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Pi follows three religions in the novel.  He finds value and meaning in Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.  

Pi likes Christianity because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. Pi narrates that it was Jesus's "humanity that I found so compelling."  Pi found a lot to admire in Christ's selflessness to sacrifice himself.  Pi found it illogical but touching, and after thinking about how selfless an act Christ's sacrifice was, Pi was a follower of Christianity.  

Pi like Islam because of it very active, and open devotion.  He likes the idea of praying 5 times per day, because it is a constant reminder of the faith.  He likes the open air mosques, and he likes the emphasis on the brotherhood of Islam.  

Hinduism appealed to Pi because it basically unifies god(s) with all of creation.  Related to Islam's open air emphasis, Hinduism places a spiritual component on many tactile and earthly items.  Pi also likes the idea of Karma.  To him it shows an aware universe.  It means that actions matter.  

Martel might be trying to say that following a specific religion is unnecessary.  He might be trying to say that all religions tend to lead to the same result.  A love for your fellow man, a love for the creation, and a devoted love to a god(s).  To Pi, and possibly Martel, each religion is simply a different expression of the same core belief.  Each religion has its own story and traditions, but they each provide the same function -- to give people comfort and guidance.  Pi simply was open about the fact that he was willing to take from each religion what gave him the most spiritual comfort. 

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