Friday, 4 April 2014

WAITING: Beyond Hope and Despair

Reading Samuel Beckett on Waiting
Most of us complain that our prayers are not heard, that nobody is ours or we are lonely, that love doesn’t turn up the way we want, that Mahdi/Christ/Messiah isn’t coming. All these complaints are dissolved if we understand how to wait, and why. Learning how to wait one has to read Beckett, move to Tillich, to mystics and of course to Tradition (al-Deen). We will have to note the secret that Sufis have – the secret of patiently waiting and moving beyond hope and despair. Just wait and ask for nothing. That is the station of raza.

 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett is considered a classic. But so far it has been interpreted mostly in pessimistic terms or at best as a species of comedy that involves mocking laughter. Its heroes are waiting for certain Godot who never comes but they don’t lose hope. Godot doesn’t come while they play absurd games to pass time. Some critics have identified Godot with God and interpreted its failure to come as our loneliness in a world without God. Modern man thought that God is irrelevant. Even if He is man’s exile or loneliness can’t be helped.
 The best interpretation of the play is the one that states that Beckett laughs at our inability to wait for nothing. He calls for getting mature and to laugh at our predicament. “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness” he stated elsewhere. However, I wish to look at the play in light of what may be called theology of waiting. Tillich has insightfully written on it. If the play is about waiting as some critics have pointed out and not coming of Godot why not attempt to look at what does waiting mean? God is not to be blamed or a party here.

Religion is the art and science of waiting. God never comes. One finds nothing at the end of the tunnel. We are required to submit, to wait. Separation and not Union is our destiny. God is “unattainable quest.”
Our most soulful prayers are not answered. They are heard but kept in waiting. Waiting till the doomsday, till we learn that it is best to wait and wait and our prayer should have been: 'O! God teach us to wait, to wait without complaining.'
Love is waiting for an object that never comes, for no object, for absence. Love seeks but doesn’t find. “Our saddest songs, that happen to be the sweetest ones also as Shelley noted, are born of pining.
The best kept secret of mystics is that mysticism is the art of getting lost – lost in wonder, perpetual wonder, perpetual quest, perpetual movement towards Nothing. The highest station is the station of wonder (maqam-i-haiyrat) according to the Greatest Master (Shaikh-i- Akbar).
No big questions are really answered by either religion or philosophy or science. The end of all wisdom is dropping or dissolving of these questions. We are counselled by all of them to wait for answers. Answers dawn on us in a state of waiting and require patience to wait, to wait till eternity. Once we consent to wait, to see the point that we are not God, that reason’s feet are wooden, that there is no such thing as Truth but little truths, that the Absolute defies both human speech and thought (Wa ma uooteetum minal ilm-i-illa qaleela) we become humble and that is our salvation. God can’t be scanned for He is inscrutable. God can’t be seen as long as we see with these eyes and not the Eye of God. We see with the Eye of the Heart only if we know how to wait, how to perfect the art of attention, how to see and not just look or think, how to let God be our Seer. It means we will no longer be agitated impatient creatures seeking answers at our plane or on our conditions.

                   Waiting is human; arrival is superhuman. Waiting is life in time; arrival is beyond time and to be human or creature is to be subject to the bondage of time even if there are intimations of eternity. As long as man breathes and moves in the world of space and time he can’t be immune from the ills flesh is heir to. To be human in relation to the Absolute is to be in waiting – waiting for the End that is yet to come. Even if one is grasped by eternity the body which is of the world of compounded things, the world of time, is condemned to live in waiting and exile. The home of the Spirit is not accessible fully in all its splendour as long as one lives on earth. Parinirvana is not granted to man in this life being attainable only when all fetters of existence have been cut. A man can’t see God in all his splendour and live. Waiting, ceaseless waiting, waiting till eternity has the final word, till eternity consumes him fully, is the destiny of man. It is not a purposeful waiting but neither could it be dubbed as an absurd predicament. For a temporal entity the only life is to participate in eternity while waiting. If life is something more than a struggle not to cease breathing it is by virtue of participation in eternity, by virtue of ceaseless waiting for God through remembrance of Him. There comes no full stop, no arrival point when That is no longer transcendent. To be absolutely united with the One, one has to be literally annihilated. One can’t afford not to wait; we are condemned to wait because of our precarious existential predicament. We are waiting animals and that is why we don’t commit suicide. Man lives because he waits. What does he wait for? For anything or for nothing but wait he does. To refuse waiting is to claim superhuman status for oneself. Men continue to live, to choose life instead of death, to use Biblical expression. With every breath that we consciously take we declare our faith in life, our waiting for life, for that which is yet to come, for that far off event to which everything which is. Men wait and wait. They are waiting for nothing. Yes they have no objective for waiting. To wait for nothing is to wait for God, or wait in God. God is Void, Nothing. One waits for God when one doesn’t wait for any particular thing, for this or that thing. When one surrenders the will to seek, to arrive and accepts finitude, one creaturely status, one is waiting in God. History is unfolding; the story of creation is not yet over. God is ever busy in His work, ceaselessly creating. He has not yet finished his play. As long as history/time is experienced as real and the life of body as inescapable reality with all its pains and sufferings all too real one is waiting.
                         Beckett’s Godot never comes because life can never cease to unfold its creative possibilities. Life can never arrive; it is eternity of travel, of the moment. This moment is eternity, eternally creative, eternally vibrant with fresh possibilities. Arrival is in a way death. There is not a full stop to the life of Ever-Living. The notions of arrival in time, of grasping God at some future time are absurd. Time is not, travel and traveler are not, arrival and straying and failure to arrive are not from a strictly nondualist eternity-centric perspective.  Beckett’s despairing drama presupposes linear view of time, hardly takes any cognizance of the notion of timeless and absolutizes the dualist worldview. Bad theology and bad metaphysics create a despairing situation for Beckett. Meaning in finalistic terms can never be realized; Godot can never come. Life can’t be subject to any single or finalistic notion of meaning and purpose. Any notion of purpose that humans can construct will be a product of thought, of time, of that which is itself theoretically deconstructable or challengeable. Purpose is anthropomorphic, sentimentalist and utilitarian notion. Life moves on and doesn’t require any justification in human terms. “A rose is a rose is a rose.” You can’t ask for its purpose. Similarly we can’t ask why we love, why we love our mother and our child.  Men need to arrive, to meet Godot because they have yet to travel within, yet to meet their own selves. For the gnostic or sage there is nowhere to go, no need to go, no need to seek. Men suffer because they have yet to renounce the self that seeks consolation, that refuses to face the void or nothingness, that seeks its own kingdom in defiance of the truth that there is no self to be sought or strengthened or salvaged from the wrecks of impermanence of all phenomenal things. There is no problem except for those who are problem to themselves, who have yet to know themselves.

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