Page last updated at 18:03 GMT, Saturday, 28 February 2009

'I thank the universe for the good stuff'

Writer and actress Meera Syal has starred in Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42, and has published two novels, Anita and Me and Life Isn't All Ha Ha Hee Hee.

The actress, who was born near Wolverhampton in 1963, has spoken to BBC News about religion and spirituality.

Would you describe yourself as religious?

Meera Syal
Meera Syal was awarded an MBE in 1997 for her work

I would describe myself as spiritual rather than religious.

Do you believe in god, and if so, what sort of god?

I believe in a divine power/spark/energy rather than an old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud!

I think as human beings we carry both divinity and the capacity for devilry within us, and the responsibility lies with us in what we choose and how we use those capabilities.

What do you think happens after you die?

I do follow the Hindu doctrine that the body is merely a vehicle for the soul, and that the soul is immortal and continues after the body has given up.

I'm attracted to the idea of reincarnation, that the soul has other journeys and experiences beyond one body.

I certainly find that more believable than the idea that we go to one of two places, fluffy heaven or fiery hell.

Does it change your view of someone when you find out that they are religious and how?

Not at all, in fact it makes them more interesting, as I find anyone with a strong belief interesting.

Faith is such a fascinating area, someone's ability to place belief in what some might describe as the unknowable or the unprovable.

However, where the religious faith crosses over into political doctrine, that's when I might make my excuses and leave.

Is religion a good thing?

As with anything, it depends on how it's interpreted and used.

If one's faith gives you joy, a sense of purpose and most importantly, respect and compassion for your fellow human beings, what's not to like?

However, when religion is used as a big stick with which to punish, threaten or scare people into behaving in certain ways, and especially when it is used as an excuse or "divine right" to wage war on others, well, it becomes a pretty bad thing, wouldn't you say?

What impact has religion had on your life?

Right from childhood, I have been brought up with a number of religious influences; my father is Hindu, my mother Sikh, I grew up in a mining village where I attended Methodist Sunday school every week with my parents' approval, as they taught me all paths ultimately lead to the same God.

My four best friends are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and C of E and I would say all of them represent their faiths perfectly because they are all loving people.

If I had to describe myself as anything, it would be a Theosophist as I truly believe the great religions all share the same aims of love, compassion, self respect and social responsibility.

As for the impact it has had on my life, well I have tried as far as possible to live in a way that encompasses those four qualities, I thank the universe on a regular basis for all the good stuff and hope I learn from the not so good.

Have you ever had a religious experience and can you describe it?

Several times when faced with natural beauty or beautiful music or art.

The creative experience is a sort of divinity, and great art or natural beauty I think expresses the mystery and emotion of the divine.

What is your favourite religious song?

My Sweet Lord by George Harrison.

Which religious leader, if any, most inspires you?

Mahatma Gandhi.

What is your favourite religious book?

I can't say I have one, but the Dalai Lama's The Art Of Happiness had a lasting effect on me.

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