Friday, 3 April 2015

Seeking Answers in Silence

Mystics find the world as a Question. This is to be contemplated and not answered.
‘I said to the almond tree, “Friend, speak to me of God,” and the almond tree blossomed.' Nikos Kazanzakis 
In Kashmir today we find many people posing as mystics selling spurious things in the name of knowledge of God/Secret/Higher things. So many simple minded get trapped and fooled. One is bombarded by such clichés – leave all the books and get new knowledge. One is, in the name of higher knowledge led in the dark alleys of occult mysteries, jinn control, future prediction, spiritual power politics. Questioning and criticism and intellectual tests and qualifications are scorned. One wonders how come in the golden age of mysticism we had great thinkers and scientists in the camp of mysticism. One needed to complete knowledge of sharia or religious sciences before being allowed to get initiated. Let us read Tagore and some Sufi verses to better appraise any claimant of higher knowledge. 

Mysticism is often taken to be some sort of knowledge that is not available to most people ordinarily. It is taken to be an answer to life’s questions that resist answers at rational plane. A mystic knows, for instance, what happens after death and has some occult knowledge regarding constitution of things. A mystic poet is said to be one who has had some special ecstatic experiences and given special knowledge and key to the secret of existence. He is some extraordinary person who employs some weird techniques to arrive at a knowledge that is denied to non-mystics. 

Mystics find the world as a Question. This is to be contemplated and not answered. Mystery that everything is at its heart is inscrutable and as Umer Khayaam would put it: 

Myself when young did eagerly frequent 
Doctor and saint, and heard great argument 
About it and about; but evermore 
Came out by the same door as I went 

Hafiz made a similar point in his famous verse that states that none has been able to unlock the mystery at the heart of existence. 

Tagore in a poem makes a similar point implying that fundamental questions regarding subjectivity and identity are not answerable. Man himself is the big question. There is no logical route to solving this problem:

The first day’s sun 
The world’s first emergence: 
Who are you? 
There was no answer. 

Years passed. 
The last day’s sun 
Asked a final question 
Near the shores of the western sea 
Amidst the silence of dusk: 
Who are you? 
There was no answer. 

In Stray Birds the theme of mystery crops up time and again. A few quotes will suffice: 

"What language is thine, O sea?" 
"The language of eternal question." 
"What language is thy answer, O sky? 
"The language of eternal silence." 

The mystery of creation is like the darkness of night--it is great. Delusions of knowledge are like the fog of 

the morning. 
That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life. 
What is this unseen flame of darkness whose sparks are the stars? 

For Tagore joy and peace rather than conceptual clarity or logical understanding of truth are great values to be sought by him. It is truth as beauty that primarily interests him and in the domain of beauty and love there are no questions. Life is to be lived well, lived intensely, lived joyously, tasted in its depths rather than clarified. Alienation is man’s chief problem and mystic union and dissolving in the Great Beauty are his solutions. No questions arise. We should not see failure to answer them as something to be lamented. These questions don’t arise in a different conceptual universe that Tagore posits. “Put reason into life and life is gone,” remarked Tolstoy in epilogue to War and Peace. Eastern approach to reality is more aesthetic than cognitive. For it the supreme purpose of life is happiness and not certain logical decoding of the Sphinx puzzle. 

Tagore celebrates the virtue of negative capability – the ability to live with the doubts rather than be frustrated by them – a typical mystical virtue well advocated by Keats, and that makes Shakespeare great. Exoteric theologians and rationalist philosophers have answers. Mystics and poets have none. Their only offering is their songs, their smiles and tears. Do boal pyar kae is all that a poet has to offer as “answer” to life’s innocent looking questions. Zindagi terae masoom sae sawaloo sae pareshaan hu mein is what he has to say on the questions of life and death. He has no answers but a heart that empathizes, eyes that weep and a sensibility that identifies with the other and can participate in Life’s sacred though sorrowful dance. 
The mystic is an “extraordinarily ordinary person.” Enlightenment, explain great mystical thinkers, is dropping of all seeking, all future oriented enterprises. It is simply to be as one is in pristine innocence. It is just to be oneself without all conditionings. Ecstasies, great vivid dreams, power to predict future or read thoughts of others are incidental, sometimes may even prove dangerous so need not be sought. Experiencing God is experiencing world with open eyes, the eyes unburdened by the past memories or future dreams. It is like looking at the world with fresh eyes of the child. It is seeing with a still mind. Meditation or vision of beauty or contemplation of a work of art help to achieve such a cleansing of perception, a still mind, a vision without ego. It is simply seeing things as they are and not as they appear to manipulating analytical desiring mind. It is pure seeing or better witnessing. It is not seeing the Beyond but a state of receptivity to other, a state that allows the other to destroy you, to possess you so that you are no longer there to worry about the problem of the immediate and the ultimate or immanence and transcendence or the Beyond. `Vain is this seeking! unbroken perfection is over all!' as Tagore says. It is what traditions call as seeing through God’s eyes or disinterested seeing. It is “choiceless awareness.” It is seeing what is as Augustine would put it. It is, in one Kashmiri mystic’s words, seeing the world with an eye on which certain surmah has been applied. We can call it as a surmah of love. Rusul Mir, the mystic disguised as romantic, sold no ideology or maintained no shop of amulets or black magic but had opened the shop of love where he invited lovers. What distinguishes mystics like Tagore from other people is increased openness to experience, a heart that easily melts and can afford unconditional love. The fruit of such a sensibility is a certain kind of joy and peace and not more information or knowledge as ordinarily conceived. It gives wisdom which is not knowledge but something that transcends the knowledge accessible to scientists and logicians or profane thinkers. It may not yield answers sought at a dualistic plane by philosophers or theologians. It makes one more humble and teaches silence. It makes one sensitive and respectful towards the sacred mystery of existence which is the essence of all great religions and art. Tagore’s religion is a religion of an artist who knows nothing but that beauty is truth and truth beauty. The truth and beauty of Mystery that Life is moves and silences him. And in silence are all questions “answered” or dissolved. Fundamentalism, secular or religious, has dogmatic answers that it sells or propagates or seeks wide acceptance, even through overt or covert force. Mystics, in contrast, leave preaching to preachers and themselves dance, as Rumi says. Life and its joy is all that we seek, that knowledge or virtue reveal and heaven symbolizes. Those who know love have no inquiry or anxiety left (Ishq Falatoon-o-Jalenoos ma – Rumi) and have no business of debating questions or sectarian quarrels. And God is Love as Jesus tells and Love is God as Kierkegaard explains.
And “Jis phool ko soangta houn bu teri hae” Kazanzakis’ almond tree blossomed when asked regarding God. Can we radiate more freshness, joy, beauty, love and smiles when asked about God or go on arguing, debating, advocating our views of Him and even quarrel over that what is best contemplated, lived, tasted, shared in silence, in humility, in receptive mode?

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