Friday, 30 October 2015

Martyrdom is the Ideal Life

 By performing the supreme sacrifice of the self one is united with the Eternal, the Infinite.

Hussain’s faith or philosophy states in simple words three points. The greatest adventure or meaning of life lies in death. Time and all its games it plays with us are meaningless except in light of the Eternal. We must die seeking justice and liberation of the Proles ( all the oppressed regardless of colour or creed). All these ideals are Socratic ideals, the greatest philosopher- matyr of history. For Socrates the purpose of philosophy is preparation for death. He refused to take allegiance of the corrupt rule or ask for pardon or even exile to escape death sentence. The spirit of his great Apology recalls the lectures delivered by Imam Hussain(a.s) to his family members and the opponent’s army. The point is that one must respect the call of the conscience. And as Socrates asks, who knows that death is a punishment? He says that he owes a cock to Heaven for the favor of taking away the burden of life. He asks poison maker to hurry up and faces death as if it is the first night with the bride. He makes a great defense of his actions – as does Hussain – and leaves no moral argument to the jury that sentences him. If purpose of life is preparation for death – death in life – so that death loses its sting and one no longer is afraid of death, why not seek martyrdom? Hussain and Socrates both died for truth and justice and freedom of conscience and constitute two great examples for mankind. Those who understand Socrates and elementary lessons of ethics appreciate Hussain’s point in defying Yazid. Yazid’s defense at the hands of certain scholars is never convincing to even any impartial secular historian and if moral and spiritual sublimity is the ground of winning an argument, then history and all great thinkers and poets have given a judgment that Hussain is their hero. I now seek to explain why death/ martyrdom is the ideal life according to both religion and traditional philosophy. We can also then understand why poets have had no difficulty in expressing our collective conscience regarding Hussain(a.s).
      What is the common problem of religion, philosophy and higher art and literature? One could well reply in the words of the Buddha that it is “ suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Why are we born and why do we die? Why have we been hurled into this vale of tears? What is the end of all human endeavors? For the sake of what do we consent to live and suffer? What great object irresistibly drives man on and on and gives direction and meaning to everything? What is that vision that the artist perceives and attempts to communicate? What constitutes man’s deliverance? Where is the final rest or the object of our love and how to seek it? All these questions are reducible to the question of suffering and its cessation. All the countless varieties of suffering and evil, darkness and despair, fret and fever, fears and anxieties and nameless horrors constitute the fact of dukkha from which man is ever attempting to escape. The search for transcendery moment from the fret and fever of life is the raison d’etre of all our endeavours from aesthetic to philosophical. The pull of the Infinite, the manifestation/ actualization or unfolding of the Spirit is what makes the grand history of man. Philosophy is contemplation on death and thus the search for the deathless, the Good, the Unborn and the Unconditioned both in Platonic as well as Indian and even all traditional philosophical traditions.
      What else is the object of religion? And to what end do our poets and artists point out ultimately? We need not answer as we all know it in the depths of our being. It is something that transcends mere life as ordinarily lived on purely animal plane. It is a sort of immortality.
Nothing in the world of becoming ever satisfies him. He is eternally restless. His salvation lies outside the world though he in vain seeks it here in this samsara, in the world of senses and desires and that constitutes his tragedy. God is the unheard melody of which all earthly melodies are a reflection. He is the dance of the spirit, the song of existence, the ideal, the unattainable ideal of all human endeavours.Man has come from God and must return to Him. But he falls too easily to the temptations of Mara and sleeps the sleep of heedlessness. But come to God he must. He must realize nothingness of the self and the Infinity of God. And death of the ego – the essence of martyrdom – is the inescapable path for all of us. We must travel on the road on which Hussain(a.s) travelled. Come what may he has to travel though slowly and painfully on the return path to God as the Quran says. And God does accomplish His ends and He can’t be defeated as the Quran makes clear.
      Even if narrow is the straightway and studded with thorns, even if steep and sharp as razor’s edge is the way of salvation as the Dhammapada says and thinner than the hair’s breadth is the bridge that needs to be crossed over to reach heaven there is no escape from it. This is the vale of soul making even though it happens to be the vale of tears for that purpose. Though created in trouble as the Quran acknowledges man must say yes to the call of the Spirit. Though man’s condition is “inconstancy, weariness, unrest” and finitude his deliverance lies only in transcendence.
      Though born in time and caught up in the whirlpool of samsara he must appropriate the Eternal, the still centre outside the world though it also resides in the depths of our being. Man’s predicament is that he is situated in the realm of Between, between earth and heaven, time and eternity, nothing and everything, beasts and angels, the world of things and the world of spirit, immanence and transcendence, good and evil. He is, as Rumi put it, “midway between, and struggling.” Were reality just the insane ignoble mystery of things as Leopardi fancied and everything reducible to dance of atoms or nothingness, were there no such thing as the good, the sacred, the beautiful and the Infinite, the beatific vision, the bliss of pure consciousness and prayer, our enquiry regarding evil would not proceed beyond a plain or perhaps bitter description of this sorry state of man and life. Men have had experience of the transcendent, the experience of unadulterated bliss. Sages and poets have always sung of the celestial songs celebrating essential goodness of life. All religions are based on the vision of goodness attainable here and now.
      Life is both true and beautiful and in fact blissful and to make this realization possible there have been revelations and messengers. Faith in the goodness and blessedness of life is the only “ dogma” of religion, a conviction born of intuition that is held by all religions. It is goodness and bliss of heaven rather than evil and misery of hell that has the last word in the worldview of all traditional civilizations. All religions are united in the belief of cessation of suffering, of temporality of evil and eternality of goodness and bliss. The absurd declaration that life is a futile passion and existence a surd is only a recent heresy. An incorrigible faith in the sacred mystery of existence and ultimate goodness and blessedness of life ( a proposition that theology expresses by its assertion of God’s goodness) and transience of evil is the universal faith of mankind although this goes along with the emphasis on evil of the desiring self and attachments and all compounded or temporal things. Everything in this world is cursed except the remembrance of God as the Quran says but we must remember that for the gnostic or the Sufi every existent exudes the perfume of the Beloved and it is the Breath of the Compassionate that has created and is sustaining everything. Nothing but God is manifested everywhere. The world becomes indeed the garden of delights, the feast of the Spirit, the primordial Edenic Garden for a unitarian consciousness of a jnani or a Sufi.
      For the consciousness that has transcended the separative and limiting principle of ego and thus time and finitude there is bliss and peace that passeth all understanding. It is the universal experience of seers and prophets ( and to a certain extent of artists) that we can escape finitude, evanescence and mortality though there are tears for misfortune and “ mortal sorrows that touch the heart.” By performing the supreme sacrifice of the self one is united with the Eternal, the Infinite. The cost is great as the self and its desires and the world are so dear to us but the prize is fair and the hope great as Plato said.
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