Thursday, 26 October 2017

Reading Kierkegaard’s Spiritual Writings in Kashmir

The noble souls who are dismayed by seeing how evil or untruth seemingly flourishes in the world, Kierkegaard thus consoles: “In this world, Truth walks in meekness and humiliation. It does not have a place to lay its head, and it must be thankful if one will give it a cup of water.”
It has been a singular misfortune of modern Kashmiris that they have been nurtured on philosophy and culture deficient diet contributing to manifold ills besides criminal betrayal of our cultural heritage. Although our institutions and scholars had given us translations of some important literary texts, we have, largely nothing to show when it comes to philosophy for which Kashmir had been originally famous. Major modern figures in philosophy have been virtually unknown for Urdu and Kashmiri speaking people in our State as no institution/scholar had dared to translate even secondary or introductory texts.
      Now, it is indeed a news (that Saifi family divulged recently) that we shall soon be greeted with publications of translations into Kashmiri and Urdu of a critical work on important group of modern philosophers titled Six Existentialist Thinkers made by late Saifi Sopori. (Although Rahi had translated parts of Nietzshean masterpiece Thus Spake Zarathustra but that is virtually inaccessible as it is not in book form – like the unfinished work on Sartre’s essay by Saifi.) One of the significant facts about Saifi is his wide ranging scholarship in diverse classical languages including Persian and Arabic that has contributed to his daring adventure – he has translated fully or partially from Persian, Arabic and English some important texts by Ghazzali, Sartre and Victor Frankel. Let us pay tribute to Saifi by reading the first existential thinker Kierkegaard’s spiritual writings in an immensely readable selection (even non-initaites in philosophy can enjoy it) Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. (Kierkegaard sounds quite familiar to Kashmiri mystical sensibility as his is fundamentally an attempt to marry religion and philosophy through mysticism in an idiom that has largely been the idiom of 20th century philosophy and theology.)
      Although Kierkegaard has mostly commented upon Christian tradition, his insights are almost equally applicable to other traditions, Islamic as well,  since his approach is not of a preacher or apologist of Christianity but of a seeker, a philosopher who attempts to transcend inherited theological structuring of universal concepts. Here is Kierkegaard explicating the famous maxim “one who knows the self knows the Lord” and showing the need of the revelation: “To see yourself is to die, to die to all illusions and all hypocrisy. It takes great courage to dare look at yourself – something which can take place only in the mirror of the Word.” The idea that it needs religion needs hard work of realization he formulates thus: “No one can lecture himself into eternity.” Here he states what does it mean to be a witness or giving  testimony required for one’s entry to faith. “What is needed is not professors but witnesses. No, if Christ did not need scholars but was satisfied with fishermen, what is needed now is more fishermen.” Companions of the Prophet (SAW) lived Islam and we have been struggling hard to capture that ardour in long expositions of creeds and rituals. Where is now that wine of faith that made them sell everything and follow the Prophet (SAW)? “Only when he becomes the way, the truth, and the life for you, only then does he become everything to you” wrote Kierkegaard about relationship to the Christ and the same could be transposed  for expressing a Muslim’s relation to the Prophet.
      Those who think faith or religion is something that we could introduce, impose or implement politically are thus warned by Kierkegaard “It is simply comical to think that one can “introduce” Christianity into this or that situation, just as one introduces improved sheep breeding. Christianity is precisely the one thing that cannot be introduced.”
      We might imagine that if  the prophets chose to visit us today, they  would  be received with great fervor. But Dostovesky thought that they would be arrested and Kierkegaard thought  similarly “If Christ lived today, attention would surely make the most desperate effort. Every day every paper would have an article on him. Every insignificant detail about him would be spread all over the country in thousands of copies. Everything possible would be dug up to make the situation demented, and harmless! Everything possible would be done to dismiss him.”
      Kierkegaard thus illuminates the problem of interminable debate on grace and fate determining our actions and people seeking to disown responsibility for their faults or sins. “In the world of the spirit, there is neither luck nor chance. The only one who is shut out is the one who shuts himself out. In the world of the spirit, all are invited; if spirit pertains to one single person it pertains to all.”
      We know so many objections to religion are forthcoming from disbelieving camp. Kierkegaard, recalling Ghazzali and Sirhindi, hits at the core problem with these objections. “It is claimed that arguments against Christianity arise from doubt. This is a complete misunderstanding. The arguments against Christianity arise out of rebellion, out of a reluctance to obey. The battle against objections is but shadow-boxing, because it is intellectual combat with doubt instead of ethical combat against mutiny.” One needs to read likes of Wittgenstein to understand  the point that religion requires/is born through action. Religion is what one does rather than what one thinks or merely believes. Religion is first lived then theorized or built into a church or institution. When one acts rightly, even if one fails to understand the logic or doctrine behind it, one succeeds to participate in the world of Spirit.  Kierkegaard further explains: “The objections to Christianity may be dismissed with one single comment: Do these objections come from someone who has carried out the commands of Christ? If not, all his objections are nonsense. Christ continually declares that we must do what he says – and then we will know that it is truth.” He also laments that “Christianity has become a world view. Thus, before I get involved I must first justify it. Good night to Christianity! Now doubt has surely conquered. And this doubt can never be halted by reasons, which only nourish doubt. No, doubt can only be halted by imitation.” One can substitute the word Islam  in this passage and reflect on the situation today in the world of Islam where so many apologetic manuals explaining Islam is this or that kind of system or ideology but forgetting the basic conception of Deen as obedience and an existential affair that like a love affair resists any formulation or even analysis from outside. One surrenders with all one’s heart and mind or one doesn’t. And in that either/or are all objections born or resolved. As Kierkegaard puts it, “Becoming nothing in this world is the condition for becoming something in the hereafter.” God has purchased our souls in exchange for eternal life as the Quran says. We consent or don’t consent to the “deal” and that is the key question. “What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain understanding must precede every action.”
      The noble souls who are dismayed by seeing how evil or untruth seemingly flourishes in the world, Kierkegaard thus consoles: “In this world, Truth walks in meekness and humiliation. It does not have a place to lay its head, and it must be thankful if one will give it a cup of water.”
      To those who doubt how God is swift in taking account or chasing the guilty, Kierkegaard points out: “By the aid of conscience things are so arranged that the judicial report follows at once upon every fault, and that the guilty one himself must write.”
      Philosophers are vital for living cultures. In our search for modern world philosophers whom we should better study for fighting our own ills and giving voice to what is treasured by us, philosophers such as Kierkegaard, Whitehead, Iqbal and  Ananda Coomaraswamy are important. I conclude with Kierkegaard’s prayer that ordinarily people don’t expect from philosophers (it is in certain philosophers that we find the best praise of God, His prophets and prayers)

  • “Teach me, Lord, that the fight of faith is not a fight with doubt, thought against thought, but a fight for character. Enable me to see that human vanity consists in having to understand. Save me from the vanity of not being willing to obey like a child, and of wanting to be like a grown man who has to understand.
    Help me to realize that he who will not obey when he cannot understand does not, in any essential sense, obey you at all. Make me a believer, a “character man,” who, unreservedly obedient, sees it as necessary for his character’s sake that he must not always understand. Make me willing to believe even when I cannot understand.”

Post Script: 
It is especially to certain exceptional individuals from North Kashmir (including late Prof. Hajini, Prof. Rashid Nazki and Muhammad Ahsan Ihsan who founded/sustained such institutions as Adbi Markez Kamraz or Atiqa Bano who built Miraas Mahal) to whom every Kashmiri is indebted for making us more conscious about culture. Miraas Mahal is probably the single greatest achievement in culture by an individual in modern Kashmir – when I visited it, I could not believe my eyes and I request authorities like Secretary/Director Education to see how every Kashmiri school at least once visit it.

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