Friday, 26 June 2015

Fellowship of God

Divine music is broadcast from dawn to dusk in countless rhymes of nature in streams, in birds and insects, in winds and in many other ways if our ears are properly attuned.
Is God to be believed in or tasted? For believers ordinarily it is said that the former is the case. But for some more adventurous souls He is to be tasted here and now. “Her mokh wuchak deedar.” But ordinarily believers believe, and also taste something of Him.
Artists live by tasting Him. Those who are sensitive to the aesthetic richness of the sounds of Quran recitation and na’ts, or know how to offer nimaz-i-shouq, keep tasting it. Listening to great Qari is a rare feast from heaven. Mystics are entirely consumed in this tasting. Prophets preach only after first hand tasting of God. 
Divine music is broadcast from dawn to dusk in countless rhymes of nature in streams, in birds and insects, in winds and in many other ways if our ears are properly attuned. And from dusk to dawn is played  a special music that is vouchsafed to those who know the difference between the day and the night and that nights are reserved for special lovers and identify with the flower that opens at dusk and closes at dawn. For other lovers there is eternally broadcast soz-i mansoor that one can attune to. Thanks to heavens, all of us as lovers, as those who live for others (say our families or spouses), and as poets are given something from the great banquet spread everywhere.
All of us who see and don’t just look at things casually can taste something of God in nature. In every conversation we enjoy, God has been tasted. Every feast we serve or dinner we take gratefully and smilingly, God has been there as the ground of all the sweetness of the experience. Occasionally perhaps all of us have some special moments or experiences which we cherish for sheer intensity and the power to explode our ego. In these epiphanies that may be occasioned by seeing beautiful things or listening to beautiful sounds or may be by no apparent cause, we get peep into the secret garden of mysticism, the full fledged discipline or science of tasting God.
Let us try to understand how we participate as invited guests in the grand celebration.  Moses asked God what should he tell to Pharaoh when asked who sent him.  God said “I am that am.” Who is not absolutely certain that he or she is and who has ever been able to capture this I am ness? God is ‘I am ness’ we know from within and of this no sane man is doubtful. No atheist doubts God in this sense. Atheists are not fools and only the fools have said in their hearts that there is no God as the Bible says. I think in light of these statements the Quranic dictum ‘they didn’t deceive God but deceived only themselves’ is understood.
Love saves the world and not religion as popularly understood but the question is what is love and wherefrom does it come. Christ’s and Sufism's definition of God is that He is love. Love flowers into compassion to become the central tenet of Buddhism.
Religion talks about nothing but charity and love as Augustine said. The thing is to differentiate between love that God is and idolatrous identifications of love with any limited thing such as the self, the nation, the particular ideology or belief system. Faith is not belief. Faith is something that makes us participants in divine life. Ihsan perfects it and we see only God.
For mystics God is in this very moment, the vitality and mystery and beauty of every moment. He is the food also as Indian scriptures assert. Man needs God more than he needs food.  Give a person everything but deprive him of love and see how he kills himself.
To man is not an option given to hide fully from God; he can imagine sometimes that he has hidden himself from the gaze of Reality but willy nilly he is summoned to face It. And if he understands the code of  love that moves all things  he offers to be consumed by it.
Muhammad (SAW), symbolizing or unveiling the Divine or Love, is then alpha and omega and one cries  Diyi na darshun iyi na saalus/ Soz bi istaqbales jaan (O! will he not unveil himself? Will he not accept the invitation? To welcome him I will offer my life).
As Thoreau puts it in his entry in Journals on Feb. 24, 1857: "If my friend says in his mind, I will never see you again, I translate it of necessity into ever. That is its definition in Love's lexicon.” Kierkegaard’s point is also that one's consolation ought to be, "O, consider, then, that love endures!" What this enduring or abiding love means is explained by Kierkegaard. As  Andrew Zawacki explains Kierkegaard’s point: “In abiding love, the past is nullified by reconcieving any break not as a conclusion but as the inauguration of a possibility. The lover is one who refers to love itself before relating himself to another person, since only love is eternal, abiding, and hence capable of sustaining the lover's fortitude and faithfulness through any rupture.”  In truly Christian love (and one can add truly Islamic or truly Buddhist or truly Saivist love), according to Kierkegaard, there is no possibility of real disappointment from any apprehension of break. One can grant the obvious point that lovers are not incapable of disagreement incompatibility but, Kierkegaard asks us to note that two people in love are each individually referred to a third term, which is love itself.
"When one speaks of reaching a breaking-point," Kierkegaard points out, "this is because one is of the opinion that in love there is only a relationship between two rather than a relationship among three." "When two persons relate themselves in love to each other, each one of them all by himself is related to love."
The Upanishads say: "Man becomes true if in this life he can apprehend God; if not, it is the greatest calamity for him."
Whitman says about mossy patch of land as God’s handkerchief. We need to read great nature poetry to learn with poets how to be transported into another world by a mere sight of beautiful object. 
How much joy is available to all of us, the poor or the rich, may be understood by the following quote.
“Any joy is everywhere; it is in the earth's green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share.
Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul.
Joy is the realisation of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.”
I conclude with a quotation from Leuba whose work is to be approached in a critical spirit but here says something irresistibly beautiful:
“God is not known, he is not understood, he is used- sometimes as a meat-purveyor, sometimes as moral support, sometimes as friend, sometimes as an object of love. If he proves himself useful, the religious consciousness asked for no more than that. Does God really exist? How does he exist? What is he?  are so many irrelevant questions. 
Not God, but life, more life, a larger, richer, more satisfying life, is  in the last analysis the end of religion. The love of life, at any and every level of development, is the religious influence.”

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Secret of Destiny

Hardy’s Jude the Obscure shows how fate make the hero fall through sexual misconduct.

Complaints against fate are legion. Not just ordinary people but poets and philosophers have been voicing them. Hardy’s Jude the Obscure shows how fate make the hero fall through sexual misconduct. Cioron, arguably after Schopnhaur the most uncompromising pessimist philosopher, is all rage against the joke that man’s fate seem to be.
Kahlil Gibran asks why we aren’t consulted either at birth or at death.  Man has been sentenced (taking this life as a sentence) for sins he doesn’t know, both Kafka and Beckett seek to show in their literary works. Maugham  also portrays man’ bondage to desire and sin and huge costs of resisting it. For modern man God’s ways are simply beyond comprehension. He is hard put to discern any trace of wisdom in His actions.  Camus’ The Plague and Dostoevsky’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov put his case with apparently unimpeachable logic.  From Sophocles to Maari to Ghalib, the problem of man’s seemingly unjust suffering due to fate has been stated with such force that all attempts that ignore the terrible reality of fate and its seemingly (or really?) incomprehensible logic appear shallow.
Both the Quran and the Prophetic traditions have stated the case for predestination in so clear terms that there is no scope for an easier way out of the hard questions like what is man’s fault in coming to the world, who created Satan and what made him defy God, and Adam disobey Him. We can’t escape questions and skeptics and must resort to metaphysics that dissolves if not solves problems.
We can’t ignore complaints and criticisms. We can respond by noting why it is said that the secret of destiny is known to God alone. Ratiocination in such matters as that of predestination had already been condemned by the Prophet of Islam (SAW). It is Cartesian epistemology (questioned by Heidegger, mystics, perennialists and others) that posits a subject-object dichotomy and faulty theology and metaphysics that posits in the first instance such binaries as freewill and determinism.
Simply look at the logic of Infinite (no finite entity including you and me could fall outside God as Infinite so aren’t we  as spirits party in scripting fate?) or the questionable notion that God encounters the world from an outside (and we can take him to a hypothetical court as in OMG film) or pretension that we can detach ourselves from the very process we are part of and seek to scrutinize. We see why debating destiny the way popularly is done create antinomies.  Isn’t God defined as Mystery so how come we don’t see as fallacious any attempt as that of  logical or conceptual intellect to scan God or question freedom and fate if it itself, unwarrantedly, divides seamless Unity that  Reality/God for its convenience? It is the Self that writes destiny or plays out different role for pure sport or aesthetic reasons. We don’t ask why the rose blooms or the sun rises or we love.
Who asks why? Who knows only “wooden legged reason.”  Life precedes reason and thus needn’t be accountable in utilitarian terms to the later. Intellect or Intelligence intuits answer – it doesn’t need to argue. This explains why the debate on conceptualizing knowledge of the secret of taqdeer is discouraged. However some related questions are legitimate and we can’t escape engaging with them.
The test case for any preacher or advocate of religion is how he is able to convince himself, or a skeptic regarding the meaning of doctrine of fate in a manner that is not revolting either to reason or ethics. How unconvincing our widely read modern theologians can be for a sharp modern mind can be seen by taking a look on Syed Moududi’s pamphlet on taqdeer and Ghamidi’s answers to related questions. However, how well equipped our great scholastic tradition is in handling at least conventional arguments against God arising from such notions as evil or predestination can be seen by reading Maulana Qari Mohammad Tayyib (Falsafi- Naemat-o-museebat) or Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi on the issue of taqdeer. But, against rather sketchy and shorter presentations of them, more elaborate, technically elaborated and more comprehensive and convincing case for divine justice in the face of human misery and transgression is stated in Murtaza Muthari’s book Adl-i-iIlahi(عدلِ الٰہی).
For general readers who want more polemical than scholarly and jargon ridden answers one may refer to relevant portions in Taleem-i-Gousia by Syed Shah Gul Hasan Qalandri. However some modern formulations are not satisfactorily tackled by our scholastically informed scholars are best handled by metaphysicians like Schuon. A  part of the problem is best catered by existentialistically informed response presented in Islamic idiom by Jamal Khwaja in Quest for Islam. The Sufi view on destiny and evil is succinctly stated in Mir Valiuddin’s The Quranic Sufism. Here we first see why confusions arise in understanding evil and predestination and then state briefly few points elaborated in Valiudin’s work.
Confusions and problems arise because we think things including ourselves are created out of nothing, that God is some cosmic being or person whom we can somehow ask questions or who sees things from outside and then manipulates them. Problem in short is because the idea of Tawhid as Unity of Being is not understood, and people take a literalist view of God and scripture. Stace thus shows what is wrong with thorough going literalism.
Taken so, the doctrine implies that God is a person, a mind, a consciousness, and these words, too, must be taken in their literal meanings. Love is some kind of emotion or feeling or attitude or desire or at least a purpose– perhaps the purpose to act in a certain way, for instance, to achieve the happiness and good of created beings. But, can any of this be literally true of God? Only, apparently, if God be thought of as a finite center of consciousness, one mind among other minds. This mind, God, loves that mind, a human soul. But apart from this, to attribute emotions to God conflicts with the very definite religious intuition that God is unchanging. He is “without shadow of turning.”
This critique of a literal interpretation also applies to other psychological terms we use of Him, such as ‘mind,’ ‘consciousness,’ ‘purpose,’ ‘love’.
All traditions and generality of great thinkers largely agree on the question of doctrine of fate. Allazi qaddara fahada (– “And who destined and guided.”) states the key thesis on fate. The essence of Hindu, Buddhist and Judeo-Christian-Islamic perspectives on karma or fate and salvation is similar. From Plato to Nietzsche including Muslim philosophers not excluding Iqbal have upheld “higher fatalism.”
“The decree of predestination applies to essential natures (‘ayan),i.e. the creation of God is in accordance with the aptitudes of Essences. That is why it is asserted that ‘’You are the Destiny’ and ‘It is for you to decree.’
Valiuddin thus states the Aharite doctrine of acquisition that reconciles the binary of free will and determinism.
…actions are being created exactly according to the essential nature of things. In other words, whatever there is in the essence is being manifested through the agency of the creator. When all the incidents are happening according to my aptitude, and nothing is imposed on me against my nature, I am, then free in the true sense of the word. That is why Shaykh al-Akbar says: “Whatever has been definitely determined about us is in conformity with our nature, further we ourselves are determining it according to our aptitude’’.
This tallies verbatim with the commandment of the Holy Qur’an– “And He giveth you of all that ye ask for.” At another place it is stated more explicitly. “Lo! We shall pay them their whole due unabated.” “For God’s is the final argument.” The author of Gulshan-e-Raz makes God say: “The good and evil in thee, /Owe their being from thine own nature (ay’)/ It is my grace that gives a form/To what is implicitly therein.
Things aren’t created out of nothing, because nothing or not-being doesn’t exist at all, and out of nothing will come nothing. Creation is only the external manifestation or actualization of the ideas of God, or the essences.
Lest there be confusion if quietism follows or people take evil lightly and forget ethical responsibility in fighting it, I quote Ibn Arabi:
“Be content with [God’s] Decree not necessarily with each thing decreed, but, rather, with its Decree itself. And receive with joy whatever may come from Him.”
The secret is that the secret of destiny is better kept secret as it's too costly for mortals and too subtle for minds. The Greatest master of secrets of religion, Ibn Arabi, said that he was almost decimated when something from the secret of destiny was unveiled to him.
(Spirit, divine element in us, may see divine things) Lesser mortals can’t bear the burden of this truth. Some stories told in Tazkirai Gousia are dumbfounding. We may better embrace fate, script fate, submit to divine will but try to fathom it with profane tools.

Who Will Teach Us?

For most women living here, Kashmir has always been hell. To live as a daughter is hell, to leave one’s home for the spouse’s home is a bigger hell. To continue to live in alien house (that rarely becomes home) is like serving a life sentence. Most homes are a hell for daughters-in law. Mothers-in law have their own hell to keep burning.
But let us today focus on the hell of our daughters who suddenly get deprived of the status as daughters and become only legal subjects, who are no longer humans.
One daughter-in-law reaches her home by 6pm where everyone including the mother-in-law and husband’s brother, are waiting for her to prepare tea and dinner for them. She is unable to take tea before7.30pm.  Kitchen odour must not spread to irritate anyone in the house and she must be very careful in the kitchen. Another has to buy the milk she boils that curdles for no fault of her own.  Another is caught between two dictators – mother-in-law and husband who make it a point that to not help her in any way in domestic chores as if it is her business only. Another can’t keep her daughters in the house for the day and has to take them to her parent’s home in the morning and then again take them back in evening.  There are countless stories that constitute crimes against women. Crimes against human dignity, crimes against God, crimes against all civilised existence. But there is no court, no commission to complain to. There is no civil society, no NGOs, no government, no pulpit managers who are concerned (may be some exceptions are there).

It is too painful to contemplate countless stories of brazen human rights violations that are, in psycho-spiritual terms, more damaging than often publicised cases of rapes and acid attacks. There are cases that constitute, so to speak, acid on the soul that destroys one’s whole personality. There are tears, tears and tears. One can’t resist tears while listening to conversations amongst women about what happens to them.
Isn’t it the case that most of us consider domestic work to be a daughter-in-law’s business? Isn’t it a fact that less than 5 per cent of women are respectfully treated as persons at their in laws. Isn’t it the case that there are sometimes contradictory authorities of spouse’s father, mother, sister and brother that she has to contend with? Isn’t it the case that a woman has often none to share her heart’s pain with the whole world? Prick any daughter-in-law and a flood of tears open brust forth.
Once it was a practice that bridegroom had to share all the expenses including wardan and wazi harie (chef’s expenses) as is required in Islam.  Once it was a community and not an individual that felt a daughter is to be married. A girl’s father hardly felt the crushing burden that marrying a daughter now has become.
I am not advocating sticking to legal definitions that may not require a daughter-in-law to work in husband’s home, but pleading for considering them as humans first. Give them love and they will, most probably, serve husband’s parents with love. Girls who are married are denied the right to have a separate home, right to enjoy life at the expense of husband’s salary, right to be herself. Love cancels all demands, all duties.
Daily, we chose not to take notice of it. It is our sister’s, our daughter’s turn anytime.  Can we do anything about it? I think if we don’t,  we will become like the Europeans who have dispensed away with the whole baggage of haash and nosh and their eternal conflicts and perverse behaviour. Elementary ethics is lacking in these cases. Who will teach us this?

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Who Denies God?

Dedicated to those who struggle to believe and silently face the trial of doubt and disbelief.
“Faith is not a question of the existence or non-existence of God. It is believing that love without reward is valuable.”(Levinas)
“Conscience is God. He is even the atheism of the atheist.” (Gandhi)
There is a problem of declining faith all over the world that has of late increasingly made itself felt in our State as well. I know many young students struggling to believe but fail to find satisfactory solution to the moral and intellectual questions that popular view of belief in God received from culture seems to raise.  I know anxious parents watching their children slip into disbelief and losing respect for what they have considered holy or sacred.
I know of silent atheism of many bright people who chose not to talk about it. There are a large number of thinking people including apparently very religious ones suffering from certain doubt regarding some or the other vital issue connected with faith that ultimately is linked to faith in God. I know of too many who fail to convince children on such issues as rising early and praying regularly. And children are resisting, sometimes with vehemence.
The Quran doesn’t ask us to believe in God but Unity or Reality. We can say for the Quran existence of God isn’t an issue. It invites us to unity of Reality/Truth, an invitation hard to resist by any rational person. Jung was asked if he believed in God. He replied he needn’t as he has seen him as God is psychological archetypal reality. Tillich defines God as what constitutes our ultimate concern. After his lecture on symbols of faith a professor remarked: “Mr.Tillich, you have denied me God given right to deny God.” God as Absolute has never been in doubt for any world religion or almost all great thinkers though an anthropomorophic personal God has been passed over in silence by some including the Buddha. God as Being, as Being of being, as pure Being, as power to be is undeniable intellectually though as cosmic policeman, as capricious force he is no longer believable to many thinking people (that explains many sermons invoking such imagery no longer impress so many). No great religious thinker takes God to be a proposition one may conceivably reject on logical grounds, a being among other beings (one may question in the scientific worldview), some occult force who is required to fill the gaps in naturalistic explanations. God is the rasa of existence – sweetness of all sweet things.
For Sufis and gnostics He is the Beauty and Majesty we see everywhere. God can be seen in every event, every meeting with our friends or with other (yi chu mulaqaat…as a Kashmiri Sufi poet has put it). “You can meet Him in the streets, in the bazaar, on the hills, in the cottages of the poor, in the palaces of kings, in  hermitages and jungles, in workshops and offices—at all places.”
According to traditions, it is mystics, following prophets, who best understand what God is. Nasr says that if it were possible to teach metaphysics to everyone, there would be no atheists. I think it is possible to see how there is no atheist around and everywhere we see everyone worshipping one or the other of God’s Names. If God is goodness, beauty and truth, who is not driven by these values and thus seeking Him? Ibn Arabi, building on a Quranic verse, maintained that knowingly or unknowingly all are worshipping God.
Let us try to understand the universal language and drive of worship or faith in God so that we understand why the Bible says that it is only a fool who says in his heart that there is no God and why should the first and most important job of education be teaching of God? 
Those who know the grammar of religious terminology can only laugh at those who find errors in scriptures, who find faults with God’s work. For those who defy God only defy themselves. If one knows oneself to its depths and heights one knows God. Personal Lord of which Ibn Arabi talks is differently and uniquely associated with everyone and it is what sustains one. God is available to everyone or made accessible through prayer. Prayer isn’t petition but invitation.
God, let all those who blaspheme, note is “praised on every tongue.” It is the question of both definition and vision. Vision with all its ecstasy may be denied to unworthy but some aspects of the Treasure that God is are given as free lunch to all. Isn’t there an eternal feast of beauty, love, joy, goodness, mystery, wonder all tasted or experienced to the extent of one’s intellectual, artistic and spiritual development? God is Irresistible according to the Quran. No man can resist Him. Who can resist the pull of the Divine Names of Beauty (that ground all lovely things in life we seek on our own such as joy, beauty, peace, love) and push of the Names of Majesty (anger, power)?  
Man’s problem is that only something that transcends man and his finitude (this we call God in the broadest sense) can give him fulfillment. Ala bi-zikr-llahi tatmien-al quloob.  Man is ever trying to look skywards, to fly, to transcend his given state. No animal does it. Tell anyone his deepest wish and he can’t name it. It is what we call God. Man refuses to be happy without God as twentieth century literature amply demonstrates. The problem with man is he doesn’t get happiness with any transient thing. Denying man the right to be happy, to be blissful, to enjoy orgasm with the universe every moment which mysticism provides him is gross violation of human rights. Happiness is an inalienable attribute of Spirit that Sacred denying secularism doesn’t fully recognize though it does, because it is human, recognize its images and reflections and they alone sustain it. Man is “condemned” to worship God – the very passion to seek truth and in its name deny God may well qualify as a form of worship because God is truth or truth partakes of the Divine.
The greatest of philosophers from Plato and Aristotle to Derrida and Levinas (such great names as Hegel, Bradley, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Whitehead included), great Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and other religious or traditional philosophers, our greatest artists of all ages and greatest writers from Homer till date, Eastern and Western all fundamentally share something of what Karen Armstrong documents in her masterly texts  The Case for God and A History of God as mystical view of God or transcendence.
Even in the age of modernity that is said to be largely secular there are hardly any lock, stock and barrel atheists who have no use for the Sacred as embodied in art, in culture, in play, in work ethic and counltless other cultural formations and pursuits. Russell who is often cited as amongst the most brilliant agnostic philosophers treasured Heraclites and Spinoza as the greatest philosophers and both were essentially God intoxicated philosophers. Our greatest scientists from Newton to Einstein (post Einstein we don’t find a scientist of his stature) have also been  believers in the Sacred, the Mystery (let us remember the old maxim of ignoring inferior thinkers or men and these will include many Nobel laureates as well). So atheism has always been a shallow doctrine. Theism too has been transcended by the great religious geniuses (from Buddha to Schuon) who are essentially Absolutists or transtheists.
So we find the best minds in every field agreeing till date regarding the reality of Transcendence/Sacred and defining human state as a quest for what transcends man. Love pulls us as does beauty as does joy as does mystery and wonder.

To where? To the Netherlands of Spirit/Sacred. So who is an atheist?  An atheist is one who despairs (as the Quran implies), who is joyless, love forsaken, who has nothing to thank for as he sees nothing as gift, and is beauty and mystery insensitive, and thus lost soul. A theist is one who can unconditionally love God. Take a look and see who is who. Don’t trust labels or masks people wear.
To sum up the purpose of life is to seek happiness, as one Chinese maxim puts it, and God is the ground or principle of all happiness and in Himself is the Supreme Joy.
The eyes that haven’t seen God haven’t seen anything or seen only vaguely, in a fog and thus missed blinding beauty all around and killing joy within us. Ask children and artists and mystics like Rumi how Love summons us all. Ask Hafiz what a feast life is. Atheism seeks to compromise quality of the feast we are invited to take. I am not ready for this compromise.